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Bushcraft Books

Although this is the main page for our bushcraft book reviews and recommendations we also run regular bushcraft book features on this blog, check them out here.

I wrote a little while ago about why I won't ever review gear on this blog, what I also said was that people should save money on expensive gear and instead buy books. Books will increase your knowledge about bushcraft and as we all know the more knowledge you have the less equipment you need.

What I aim to do here is bring your attention to, and briefly review, some of the books that have been most helpful to me as I have learned bushcraft skills, some may be about 'bushcraft' while others might be about specific skills which we can apply to bushcraft or about people who use bushcraft skills.

I have highlighted a few of these books as 'must haves' for any bushcrafter, based on how influential they have been in my development of bushcraft skills and the amount or quality of information in them.

The SAS Survival Guide by John 'Lofty' Wiseman.

'Lofty' Wiseman was the youngest person to pass the rigorous selection process of the British Military's elite Special Air Service (SAS). He served all around the world and among other important duties within the regiment ran the selection course and the survival training school. After leaving the SAS in 1985 he wrote the world famous SAS Survival Guide. 

This is one of the first books I read on what at the time were called 'survival skills'; the word bushcraft came later. I remember 'borrowing' my Dads Collins Gem version of the SAS survival guide on a regular basis when I was younger and trying to use the skills that were described in there. As a child many of the skills seemed completely out of my reach but now as an adult I still return to this book over and over again to find new things to try or experiment with. It is so full of information that even the most avid bushcrafter or survival enthusiast would struggle to practice everything in here. It does have a definite survival focus rather than some of the books which came later with more of a recreation/hobby vibe and what lofty is presenting here are the skills that will save your life rather than the skills for a fun weekend bushcrafting; that's not to say that a lot of the skills aren't fun to practice as a hobby.  

It is by far the most well used book in my bookshelf and was probably one of the biggest influences in my life as a 'bushcrafter'.

Bushcraft; Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival by Mors Kochanski

A fantastic, and actually in terms of the amount of skills and techniques described and illustrated probably my favourite bushcraft 'manual'. This hit the shelves a couple of years after The SAS Survival Guide and I get the impression that Mors Kochanski is as much of a legend in Canada as Ray Mears and Lofty Wiseman are in the UK. His book is full of very useful information and practical advise on the use of tools and natural materials. The sections on tools; axes, knives and saws and their safe and effective use in the Northern Woodlands are particularly good. The line drawings in it are really nice and easy to follow and there are plenty of them.

He does only address wild foods very briefly in this book though and what is included is very specific to upper latitude North American Woodlands. In the newer editions some photographs have been added as a supplement at the back.

Outdoor Survival Handbook by Ray Mears

It was probably Ray Mears who popularised the word 'bushcraft', at least in the UK, through his books and particularly his television programmes. This was one of his earlier books and one of my favourites, in terms of the amount of copyable skills presented in it. Like Mors Kochanski's Bushcraft it contains some really useful line drawings to help demonstrate the skills being described.

This book is nicely separated into the four seasons and includes some very useful information regarding common wild foods that can be found in the UK, although the pencil drawings don't really do them justice and may not be all that useful, other than as a loose guide, when it comes to learning to identify them.    

Bushcraft and Essential Bushcraft by Ray Mears

The first of Ray Mears's books that I read, the full hard-cover Bushcraft is a nice one for the bookshelf while the smaller Essential Bushcraft might be better suited to tucking into a rucksack pocket while you are out and about.

There is a significant portion of the book which is dedicated to equipment and a lot of very expensive kit is shown off in it's pages, something I'm not entirely comfortable with

In Bushcraft as well as sharing some skills Ray refers to the skills of native peoples and pictures some of their skills, there is some fantastic photography in this book as well as some pencil diagrams for clarity. Mr. Mears also attempts to define bushcraft and explain what it is and I like his definition;
"Bushcraft is the term I employ to describe a deeper knowledge of the wild and of nature. It is a huge tree that branches out in many directions to botany, zoology, craft work, outdoors leadership and countless other divisions. At it's root though is a reliance upon oneself and on nature. In the study of bushcraft we step beyond survival and learn the subtlety that makes outdoor life both certain and enjoyable".
Ray Mears

The Woodland Year, The Woodland Way, The Woodland House by Ben Law

Ever since Ben Law built his woodland home on grand designs he has become very well known for his life and and work in the woods. His books include a great deal of practical advise, direction and insight into working traditionally in the woods. Some of the books include recipes, I particularly recommend the chestnut soup recipe on page 147 of The Woodland Year. These books are fascinating for anyone interested in woodland management and for any any student of bushcraft there is a great deal to learn from traditional woodland management methods.  

Animal Tracks and Signs by Preben Bang and Preben Dahlstøm

One of the best books on tracking and indirect animal sign I have ever read. A massive amount of detail on footprints, feeding sign, scat and other indirect methods of identifying animals and interpreting their movements. 

Bushcraft; The Ultimate Guide to Survival in the Wilderness by Richard Graves 

Originally published as ten separate manuals in the 1970's and since then compiled into one volume, I only came across it for the first time fairly recently, about two years ago, but it's one of the most complete bushcraft manuals I have read. The line drawings in it are easy to follow and the section on trapping is very realistic and thorough.  I would highly recommend this book for those learning bushcraft skills.

Make it Wild and Go Wild by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks  
I Love my World by Chris Holland

These books are fantastic and will give you loads of ideas for things to do if you want to introduce your children to bushcraft or nature and outdoor based activities.   

This list of books is by no means exhaustive and I will be adding more reviews from time to time as and when I get the chance, ones which I will add to this page soon include;

The encyclopedia of Green Woodworking by Ray Tabor

This is a fantastic book for those of you interested in applying your bushcraft skills to something more than just recreational bushcraft. I think it's easy to forget in the UK where we don't have a surviving population of indigenous or first nation people that we do actually have a body of knowledge which has been preserved for generations among rural people living from the land. Even if a lot of these traditional skills are mostly forgotten they are still important and fascinating and this book gives a marvelous overview and detailed descriptions of many green woodworking skills. You will learn here about tools, uses of different types of wood and how to create a range of traditional woodland products such as hurdles, gates, chairs shave horses and more. It also covers coppicing and the harvesting of material for green woodwork.

No Need to Die, Real Techniques of Survival by Eddie McGee 

One of the earliest survival books, the line drawings are sometimes useful and sometimes not, the fungi section for example isn't really helped by the illustrations.
The tracking section is really good and offers some really good advice and tips and the drawings do help here, it does focus on tracking people though rather than animals.
There is some great stuff that is often, if not always, overlooked in other books though, like how to use a watch to find North, basic celestial navigation, vegetation zones and other useful stuff.

Coming Soon;
  • Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes by Margaret M. Wheat

  • Society of Primitive Technology Publications

  • Deer Stalking best practice guides 

  • The Books of Thor Hyerdhal

** NOTE ** Some of these books contain chapters or sections on traps and snares, particularly The SAS Survival Guide and Richard Graves Bushcraft, be aware that most if not all of these traps are illegal under UK law. For information on legal traps for use in the UK see my article in issue 56 of Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine or check out my series on this blog on Bushcraft and the Law.

Please also consider checking our my own book on the topic of Bow Drill Fire Lighting which can be found here;

1 comment:

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