Bushcraft skills are often thought of as survival skills. While they are certainly useful in a survival situation, they are most helpful in taking our time in the woods beyond survival and making it comfortable.
These abilities are often referred to as pioneer skills, as they were necessary for survival before the advent of electricity, gasoline engines, and indoor plumbing.
Due to modern conveniences, many people do not build a fire or boil drinking water daily as our ancestors did in the 19th century. Learning these skills is important not only for recreation but also for emergency preparedness and self-sustainability.
These bushcraft skills can be practiced in your backyard or at a simple campsite. As I mentioned in What is Bushcraft, most bushcrafters I know are outdoorsmen that just like to be outside and make things with their hands.
Keep reading to find out the bushcraft skills that are most important both for survival and making your time in the woods comfortable. I also have a tip on the best place to read more about these skills.
Keep an eye out for my link to a free first-aid training course and easy camp meals!
Bushcraft Camping Skills – Campsite Selection
While it’s not really an exciting skill to practice, selecting the wrong place to camp can make all of the other skills ineffective. Or it can make your situation even worse.
When choosing a place to camp, there are a few factors to keep in mind. Although it may seem overwhelming at first, with time, selecting a bushcraft campsite will become second nature.
- Length of Stay: How long do you plan to camp here? Shorter stays will require less resources than longer ones.
- Firewood: If you plan to have a fire, ensure it is legal. Can you cut down trees? Is there enough deadfall around camp to use instead?
- Weather: Which way does the wind usually blow? Ideally, the wind should be parallel to your shelter and fire so smoke doesn’t blow into your shelter.
- Elevation: Warm air rises, so low valleys tend to get cold. Ridgetops tend to be windy. The ideal location is halfway up a hill between a ridge and a valley, if possible.
- Water: Do you have a water source nearby? Are you close to a water source that could flood? Don’t forget that floods start upstream. Just because it is not raining where you are doesn’t mean the river or stream can’t flood from rain miles away.
- Overhead Hazards: Make sure for safety that there are no dead trees or branches overhead that could fall with the wind. Cliff sides or overhangs where rocks could fall into your campsite are also dangerous.
- Make sure you are allowed to camp in the area you have selected. Get permission from the landowner if it is private land, or make sure you don’t need a permit if you are on public land. Also, find out if you can have a fire, cut trees, hunt, fish, etc.
Bushcraft Knife Skills – Knifecraft
Using a bushcraft belt knife is one of the most important bushcraft skills to master. Without anything else, you have a chance to survive in the wilderness if you have a good belt knife. See our guide to the best bushcraft knife for our top picks.
Just like any other cutting tool, knowing how to use one safely is what you should focus on. Avoid the “triangle of death,” the area around your upper legs and groin where your femoral arteries are.
Here are some bushcraft knife skills to focus on:
- Safe grips such as the knee lever and chest lever grip for carving
- Batoning wood to make kindling
- Cutting notches like a V notch, stake notch, bail notch, and cabin notch
- Shear cuts for making feather sticks or cutting small saplings.
- Shaving bark for fire tinder
- Cutting holes in sticks to craft items
- Cutting fine splits and end nocks
- Sharpening a knife – both field touchup and restoring a damaged edge
Always ensure you have a proper sheath for your belt knife, and keep it in the sheath when you are not using it.
Bushcraft Axe Skills – Axecraft
Axecraft is a bushcraft skill focused on effectively and safely using a bushcraft axe or hatchet. Besides the knife, the axe is an important tool for the bushcraft camper. Much of what we use at camp involves processing wood, and the axe can make quick work of a tree or log. See our guide on the best bushcraft hatchet for our top picks.
Some bushcraft axe skills are:
- Cutting down trees (felling) for firewood or shelter materials
- Limbing a tree
- Splitting wood for fuel
- Carving large pieces of wood to make tools
- Notching or bucking logs for shelter or other structures
- Using an axe as a hammer for tent stakes or spikes
- Using an axe with a baton to make shingles or planks
- Sharpening an axe
- Replacing an axe Handle
When working with an axe in the woods, safety is crucial. Felling a large tree with an axe is an extremely hazardous activity, as both the swinging axe and the falling tree pose a risk of injury. It’s important to understand the proper techniques for using an axe to minimize these risks.
While it is not practical to get into all the ways to safely use an axe here, always keep a sheath on your axe head when it is not in use. Mors Kochanski’s book Bushcraft is one of the best I have seen on how to use an axe. See our Best Bushcraft Books review for details on this book.
Bushcraft Saw Skills – Sawcraft
Knowing how to use a bushcraft folding saw, and a bow or buck saw is a bushcraft skill at the top of my list. While safer than an axe, attention to safety is still required.
I have seen most injuries occur from people trying to use a saw that is too large for the task. While big saws seem generally better, they may not be for you.
Here is some bushcraft saw skills to master:
- Felling trees – This is safer than using an axe, but you still have the falling tree to worry about.
- Limbing a tree
- Splitting wood – Yes, you read that right, see our best bushcraft saw guide for a video
- Notching logs or sticks for structures or for crafting other utility items
- Processing deadfall for firewood
- Sharpening a saw blade
- Selecting the correct saw blade for the job
While a saw is much easier to use than an axe, there are still nuances that must be learned. For example, some saws are designed to cut in only one direction. If you don’t recognize this in your technique as you are cutting, it can lead to frustration and possibly a broken blade or injury.
Bushcraft Fire Starting Skills – Firecraft
Starting and maintaining a fire is essential for maintaining body heat in cold weather, purifying water, and signaling for help. Without it, your time in the woods will be short and uncomfortable.
While starting a fire may seem simple, there is a ton to learn.
Here are some bushcraft skills for starting a fire to focus on before you head into the woods. These skills will also help you better understand what tools you need. Look at our best survival fire starting kit guide to help you as you are starting out.
- Finding and identifying natural dry fire tinder
- Constructing a “birds nest” and twig bundle
- Using a Ferro rod
- Using flint and steel (or a hard rock and your bushcraft knife or saw)
- Building and using a bow drill
- Gathering and cutting kindling
- Making a feather stick
- Making char cloth – See our how to make char cloth guide
- Starting a fire with a magnifying lens
- Building a fire lay
- Choosing a safe fire site
- Maintaining a fire
- Properly extinguishing a fire
While this is not an extensive list, it is the basics that you should focus on. Start with how to gather and use tinder and kindling and light it with a trusty Bic lighter.
Starting a fire with a bow drill should be the last thing you do after you have mastered starting and maintaining a fire with the other methods.
I’ve found that many people face difficulties when it comes to choosing the right type of fuel to use for their fire. They may use sticks that are too large or lack enough dry material to sustain the fire, regardless of how they initially ignite it.
Keep local regulations in mind when starting a fire. Make sure there are no fire bans, and fires are allowed in your area. Starting a fire in a no-burn zone is a serious offense.
Bushcraft Shelter Building Skills – Sheltercraft
Building a bushcraft shelter in the woods is a huge topic (which is why we have a 4000-word article called “Bushcraft and Survival Shelters”).
There are many variables at play here. How long do you plan to camp? Is cutting trees or building a shelter even allowed where you are? How much time do you really want to spend building a shelter?
If you own the land, you can take your time and build a long-term bushcraft shelter. For me, this is a lot of fun for the family.
Lay flat hammocks are also great, especially where it is hard to find flat ground. See my full Haven Tent Hammock Review to find out if a hammock is right for you and save 10% off with our discount code!
Simply put, you need something to sleep on, in, and under.
Here are some bushcraft shelter skills to focus on.
- Make your own oil-cloth for a canvas tent
- Pitching a tarp in various configurations for shelter
- Make and tie a ridgeline for a tarp shelter
- Make your own tent stakes – or see our guide to the best tent stakes
- Make your own ground pad or mattress for sleeping
- Build a lean-to shelter
- Build a debris hut shelter
- Build an A-Frame shelter
- Build a raised bed inside your shelter
- Construct a safe heat source inside your shelter
- Identify natural material for coverage and insulation
- Build a wall to reflect heat from a fire toward the shelter
You can study and practice building shelters for years. At the end of the day, the second priority of survival is maintaining your core body temperature. Even if you plan to build your own shelter, have a backup plan and basic items in your kit to get you out of the weather.
Water Sourcing and Purification Skills
Clean drinking water is essential for humans. While the survival rule of 3 gives a general guideline that we can only survive for 3 days without water, this could vary depending on the person and environment.
Water is needed not only for drinking but for cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene during a long-term stay in the woods.
No matter if you are just planning a day hike or a weeklong bushcraft trip, you absolutely must have a plan to obtain clean drinking water.
Remember that most natural water is contaminated with bacteria or parasites that can make you sick. Even if you find a clear mountain stream, it is likely naturally contaminated and unsafe to drink.
Here are some skills to focus on to ensure water does not become an issue.
- Finding a water source in the woods
- Judging the safety of standing vs moving water
- Selecting the proper water container
- Selecting the proper bushcraft pot
- Building a pot hanger
- Prefiltering with a coarse filter to remove turbidity
- Boiling water to purify it
- Using a water filter (proper use and cleaning)
- Identifying water indicator trees from a distance
- Extracting water from birch trees
- Building a multilevel tripod water filter from natural materials
It is important to remember that you always need a metal container to purify water. It is ideal to have two: one to gather and purify water and the second to store clean drinking water. This also prevents cross-contamination.
The best method I have found is the combination of a Grayl Geopress water filter and the pathfinder nesting cup. With this setup, I can quickly purify water, and I have a second container for food that doesn’t take up any additional space.
Bushcraft Cordage Skills – Bindcraft
Bindcraft is an all-encompassing bushcraft skill that includes making cordage from natural materials, using manmade cordage like paracord, and tying knots.
Cordage can be used in nearly all of the skills we are discussing. From building a shelter to first aid, being able to tie and use the correct knots makes life much easier in the woods.
Here are some bushcraft skills to practice with cordage.
- Selecting the proper paracord and bank line
- Identifying natural materials to use for cordage
- Weaving and braiding natural cordage
- Tying basic knots (see below)
- Tying lashings (Cross, Shear, Square, Diagonal, Tripod, Round)
- Making bindings (for tying arrowheads, for example)
- Making fish nets
- Making cordage from rawhide
- How to make and use toggles
Here are some basic knots to learn and practice that are useful around camp.
- Lark’s Head
- Stop knot
- Marline Spike Hitch
- Prusik knot
- Jam knot
- Half Hitch
- Fisherman’s knot
- Reef Knot
- Trucker’s hitch
- Clove hitch
- Timber hitch
- Slip knot
Knots are fascinating to me. You would think that a knot is a knot, but things like a prusik knot are just amazing. Simply taking two pieces of cord and using it for pitching a tarp or climbing without untying it is so simple yet so useful.
I keep a piece of paracord and bank line beside my chair to practice tying knots. If I don’t practice, I find that I forget.
Bushcraft Forestry Skills
When you are in the woods, trees are one of the most abundant natural resources. Identifying each species and its uses will make your time in the woods much more comfortable.
I will admit being able to identify trees is one of my weaknesses. It mostly requires memorization, and comparing pictures in books to what exists in nature is not straightforward.
Learning the leaves is the easiest way to identify most trees. It just takes time and repetition to learn the trees in your area.
Here are some forestry bushcraft skills to focus on in the woods.
- Identifying trees based on their leaves and bark
- Which wood is the best for firewood
- Which wood is the best for building material
- Which trees have nutritional or medicinal uses
- How to identify “Fatwood”
- How to use pine sap as an adhesive
- Making containers from wood bark
Trees are a resource that we can use all year long. Bushcraft is essentially “living with nature.” Ultimately, we all look at trees a little differently if we understand just how important they are.
Bushcraft Foraging Skills
The wilderness is literally full of plants that have benefited humans for thousands of years.
But, with modern conveniences, we have forgotten so much. Being able to walk through the woods and understand what you can and can’t eat, what makes a good seasoning, and what can make your headache go away are all very rewarding bushcraft skills.
Here are some foraging bushcraft skills to learn:
- Identifying plants (learn the harmful ones first)
- Understanding which plants have poisonous lookalikes
- Harvesting wild edibles in your area
- Which plants have medicinal properties
- Identifying edible nuts
- Identifying edible fruits
- Where the most beneficial plants usually grow
Food usually isn’t an issue in a short-term survival situation. But, it is hard to live with just foraging for an extended period. This skill is one of the hardest and could be dangerous if you consume a poisonous plant.
I think of foraging as a supplement to the overall outdoor experience and a way to understand nature better.
Start with some wild onions or garlic as a seasoning. Or, just pick some blackberries. I have an area on my property full of them, and we enjoy them every summer.
Bushcraft Trapping Skills
Trapping is an ancient skill that is very rewarding when you need food in a survival situation. Since it is passive, it should be your primary method of harvesting food from nature. You can just set traps and check them a couple times of a day while completing other tasks.
For a typical bushcraft trip in the US, trapping is somewhat problematic to practice since there are wildlife seasons and regulations for trapping. Most states have specific trapping seasons, limit the animals you can trap, and limit what type of traps you can use.
Most of us interested in bushcraft have watched and studied the 10 items the contestants on Alone selected (see our Alone gear list guide). Many chose snare lines, but many did not use them for snares. A few winners made it because they had an effective trap line set up with their snares.
Here are some trapping bushcraft skills to review:
- Locating and identifying game animals
- Identifying game trails
- Recognizing animal behavior
- Identifying game animal tracks and sign
- Understanding what game animals eat
- Identifying and harvesting the correct bait
- How to make and set a snare
- How to make and set a deadfall trap
- How to make and set a cage-type trap
While trapping can be difficult considering state regulations, it is worth trying if you have an area available. Keep your initial expectations low, and be patient. It is a primitive skill that takes time to master and could be very useful when you need it.
Bushcraft Hunting Skills
While trapping is a passive way to harvest game animals, hunting is an active way. While you can hunt any game animal, it has more benefits for the time you spend if you hunt big game animals.
Similar to trapping, rules, and regulations are depending on the state for when, where, and what type of weapon you can use.
Going on a hunting trip in a remote area where you can camp at night is an amazing experience. For many, hunting is the primary reason for the trip, and bushcraft takes a back seat.
Regardless, in a survival situation, having hunting experience is a huge advantage. I recommend that everyone at least try hunting just to have a connection with nature and a better understanding of what is involved.
Here are some bushcraft hunting skills to explore:
- Take a hunter education course
- Understand how firearms work
- Learn the different types of hunting firearms
- Learn the different types of hunting ammunition
- Learn how to shoot a rifle and a shotgun
- Understand the different types of bows
- Learn how to shoot a bow and arrow
- Reload a spent shotgun shell in the woods
- Learn how to scout for big game in your area
- Understand the behavior patterns of game animals
- Learn the different ways to hunt (still or stalk)
- Understand the effects that weather has on game animals
Over 25 Million people hunt in the US every year. It is one of the world’s oldest primitive activities that is still done today. Having the experience is certainly valuable when you really need it.
Bushcraft Fishing Skills
Fishing is interesting since there are so many ways to do it. I think that it can be one of the most exciting and one of the most frustrating ways to get food.
There are both active and passive ways to fish. All of them have their challenges. In some ways, active fishing is harder than hunting because you not only have to find fish, but you have to convince them to take your bait.
However, like hunting and trapping, there are rules and regulations that you must follow. Be sure to review them before trying any of these methods.
Some bushcraft fishing skills that you can learn are:
- Fishing with a standard rod and reel
- Fishing with a handline
- Setting a trot line
- Natural and Artificial bait selection
- Where fish tend to be at certain times of day/year
- How to make and use a dip net
- How to make and use a gill net
- How to make and use a Seine net
- How to make a fish trap (funnel and tube style)
Almost twice as many people fish than hunt in the US every year. Since fishing is a year around sport in most areas, it is much easier to practice modern and primitive methods.
Bushcraft Cooking Skills
Cooking at camp is essential for purifying water and cooking food. In many cases, depending on where and when you are camping, you may be unable to trap, hunt, fish, or even forage for food. In these cases, you will have to pack in your own food.
Due to the weight and no refrigeration, this can become a challenge as well.
Not only is cooking at camp an essential bushcraft skill, but preserving food is also. If you harvest a big game animal, what do you do with all the meat?
Here are some bushcraft cooking skills to think about and focus on:
- Understand foods that can be packed that have high nutritional value and do not need refrigeration
- Research pre-packaged camp food or dehydrated meals
- Understand simple camp foods that do not spoil quickly
- Review substitutes for common ingredients that can be packed
- Selecting the proper tools for cooking at camp
- Preserving foraged food and game
- Cleaning and butchering game animals
- Cleaning and cooking fish
- How to bake with a Dutch oven on a campfire
- Crafting utensils from wood
- Building a pot crane, tripod, and rotisserie over a fire
- How to dry and smoke meat
- Building a rocket stove
- Building a can stove
There are many survival recipes online for both bringing stable food with you and for cooking once you are at camp. Trail mixes and prepackaged foods are the easiest and what I normally use.
For a very easy option, Nutrient Survival has freeze-dried meals that only require hot water to be added. Their Grab and Go packs include a full day of meals and even include my morning coffee and some snacks and dessert. They are a great way to “smooth it.”
I enjoy cooking and experimenting with different ingredients. Beef jerky, seasoned rice, and a drizzle of olive oil make for a simple yet tasty addition to any camping meal.
Bushcraft First Aid Skills
Inevitably an injury will happen to you or someone you are with. When you are out in the woods, it is important not to panic and know how to react since you are likely hours from help.
The most common injury in the wilderness that you will see are breaks, strains, and sprains. While these usually are not life-threatening, they cause mobility issues which make the other bushcraft skills harder to do.
Another common occurrence in the winter is falling into cold water. If you have your bases covered with shelter and fire, as we discussed above, you should have the resources with you to make a quick shelter and get a fire going in a few minutes.
If this seems crazy, put some gear together and start practicing. Once someone’s body temperature starts dropping, you don’t have long to recover.
In the summer, heat stroke from excessive exertion is also common. Knowing how to identify and rectify it is just as important as treating hypothermia. While being cold is obvious, heat stroke can sneak up on you.
Here are some bushcraft first-aid skills to study:
- Build/purchase an IFAK and know how to use each item (see our Best IFAK Guide)
- Learn CPR
- Mobilizing a limb with tree limbs and cordage
- Understand how to Stop bleeding
- How to use a tourniquet
- How to apply bandages and dressings
- How to treat gunshot wounds, knife wounds, and axe wounds
- How to treat foot rot/trench foot
- How to treat burns
- Identify and treat shock
- Learn the Heimlich maneuver, both on someone else and yourself
- Identifying stroke and heart attacks
- How to treat digestion issues
- How to treat insect or animal bites
- Learn medicinal plants in your area
- How to make a decoction and a salve from plants
First aid skills are great to learn not only for bushcraft but for emergency preparedness in general. Before you focus on any other skills, focus on this one.
Mountain man medical has great purpose built med kits and a video training course that is free.
For more details on the kits that MyMedic offers, see our Full MyMedic Review guide. You can also save 15% by using code “SURVIVALSTOIC15” at checkout!
Bushcraft Navigation Skills
Navigating your way through the wilderness is a basic bushcraft skill that you should practice before heading deep into a remote area.
The first rule to always follow before heading out is to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. If they don’t hear from you when you are supposed to return, they should call for help.
People naturally walk in big circles when they do not have a bearing to focus on (called lateral drift). This is why you always hear people say if you are lost, stay where you are.
It is common when hunting in a remote area to travel a few miles from camp. It is easy to get disoriented at different times of the day.
With basic navigation skills, you won’t have to wait until someone finds you.
Some wilderness navigation skills to learn are:
- How to use a compass
- How to use a topographical map
- How to keep a pace count
- How to use the terrain to navigate
- How to identify north from the vegetation
- Finding your location on a map
- How to navigate around an obstacle
- How to mark a trail
- Using the sun to navigate
- Using the moon to navigate
- Using a stick and a star to navigate at night
Using a compass and map requires practice. It is not something you can just read about and pick up. Take a look at our full guide on the best survival compass. Get a good topo map of your area and start small. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, this one skill could save your life.
How to Learn More about Bushcraft Skills
To learn more about all of these bushcraft skills, review our guide of the best bushcraft books. Buy a few of them, study, and focus on one skill and practice it.
Make sure you follow a logical progression. For example, it makes no sense to start a fire with a bow drill if you can’t keep one going.
Go on a camping trip first at a regular campground and just practice cooking, for example. Try out your water filter from water at the lake on a fishing trip. Take one step at a time and be patient. Before long, most of these bushcraft skills will be second nature.
Final Bushcraft Skills Thoughts
The main reason people bushcraft is because they like to be outside. In a survival situation when you don’t have modern conveniences, knowing these skills and tools and having the best bushcraft gear are life savers.
With some experience, you can thrive living outdoors like our ancestors did. Just think of all the pioneers that headed out west in the 1800s. They all had to survive in the wilderness with just what they had. While it may seem crazy today, humans have survived for thousands of years.
Like “Nessmuk” said in his classic Woodcraft book, “We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home.”
This article sums up the bushcraft guides and gear reviews that we have created. I often receive great gear I have never seen before in my survival subscription box from Battlbox. Check out our full review. Also, take a look at our Prepper guide on emergency preparedness as well!