Getting into bushcraft is an exciting journey that will surely take you to many different worlds and landscapes. The experiences you gather are hard to match with anything in the world or even in other outdoor activities.
The thing about bushcraft is, it can be difficult. We’re talking about getting yourself outside to live comfortably for an extended period. While it may not be as tough as surviving a plane crash on a desert island, it won’t be too far off.
There are plenty of tools that you need to make sure your bushcraft experiences go off without a hitch. With the right piece of gear, you can do just about anything. A lot of people see the gear as being the fun part, but personally, I see the gear as a way to get you to the skills. That’s where the real fun is in bushcraft!
This list of the 13 essential bushcraft tools will be the perfect foundation for building your gear up. I hope you’re ready because a whole new world is about to open up for you to see.
Essential Bushcraft Gear and Tools List
While not every piece of gear on this list is absolutely necessary, it’s what I can deem “essential.” Each piece of gear on this list is in my personal go-bag, and I have found a use for everything over and over.
Shows like Naked and Afraid may try to convince you to go without gear or even clothes. Don’t let TV fool you into thinking that’s what bushcraft is like. True bushcraft requires these tools!
If you need to pick the single most important tool out there for bushcraft or survival, a knife is it. The blade is your best companion when out in the woods and can be used to do just about anything when you know how to use it.
A good knife can be used to create more tools when it’s all you have. Anything from batoning wood (splitting it), cutting down a small tree, to preparing any food you may have caught. Even to catch food in the first place, a knife will be wildly helpful to make a successful trap.
Not only will you want a knife, but you may also find yourself wanting multiple. This is a big reason for setting aside a generous budget for a knife, or a couple.
Getting multiple knives will help you have separate knives for separate occasions. Bushcraft requires a wide variety of tasks that you need a knife for. Even different environments will call for a different style of knife. To get a better idea, we need to look at the two popular types of knives that are carried for bushcraft.
A fixed blade knife is one that will typically have a sheath and doesn’t fold in on itself. Technically a butter knife is a fixed blade knife, but you don’t want that with you on this kind of expedition. Out of all the bushcraft tools available, I would choose a fixed blade knife over the rest of them.
Fixed blade knives are incredibly useful for tough abuse while hacking at branches or batoning wood for a fire. The best-fixed blade knives have a full tang, meaning the metal runs all the way to the butt of the handle. The metal’s length gives you fewer weak points either in the handle or where the knife would fold.
For fixed blade knives, I am a huge fan of Morakniv. This Swedish brand makes durable knives that are much more affordable than other brands. They hold an edge impressively well, and you don’t feel bad about batoning away at some tough wood with it. I have one in just about every different bag or car of mine, just in case.
Folding knives are great as a compact carry, which is why they’re typically just called pocket knives. The folders that are out there today are built to stand up to a lot of brute force as well, but nothing can change the weak point that is the hinge.
Folders are good to have for tasks that don’t include smashing the living crap out of the knife. This would be anything like carving traps, cutting rope, or gutting a fish. I like to have a folding knife on my person the majority of my life, but all of the time when I’m out in the woods.
My personal favorite brand for folders, or even a more expensive fixed blade, is Benchmade. They stay true to pretty classic designs and have been in the game for a long while. Their knives are top-notch, which is the only kind of knife I want with me on a bushcraft trip.
While a knife can be used to chop your way through any thick wood, it will quickly dull the blade and ruin the knife. Bringing a small saw along with you saves your knife and makes the cutting worlds easier for you.
You need to cut wood often when out in the woods. Whether you are building an effective shelter or just gathering firewood, wood needs to be trimmed down to size. Breaking branches can be difficult, and you often will prefer green wood to dry rotted wood for building structures. A saw is going to be necessary for trimming those strong limbs.
While a multi-tool with an included saw is always nice to have, I’ve found those saws to be difficult to effectively use and much more likely to slice myself with. There are two different saws that I would recommend for adding to your bushcraft gear before heading out.
Just like folding knives, there are great choices for folding saws to bring out with you and not take up a lot of space. Most of these saws will stay sharp for a long time, so long as you avoid trying to cut any rocks in half.
No, not that kind of chainsaw. Although, if you’re really feeling up to the heavy pack, they do make some crazy-efficient electric chainsaws these days.
But seriously, one of the niftiest little saws that I have had in my gear repertoire is a pocket chainsaw. These are just the chain of a normal chainsaw with two handles attached to either end. They coil up to a small size and do wonders at clearing trails or cutting any large-sized trunks to pieces.
Hatchet or Axe
When your knife starts to go blunt and lose its edge because you’re constantly splitting logs or cutting down trees, you’ll regret not having a hatchet or axe with you. Since these two tools are made specifically for splitting wood, it won’t just be easier for you, but easier on the rest of your gear as well.
While there are plenty of knives that will be up to the task, I’ve found that carrying an axe in a wooded environment has been worth the weight. With an axe, you’ll be able to fell trees easily to build shelters or start smoke-filled signal fires.
Another way of looking at what you do in bushcraft is by how many calories you burn. Every calorie you burn, you need to find a way to replenish. That can be difficult when out in the woods, and any way to save those calories is a must. The effort that goes into chopping wood with an axe is significantly less than that when using a knife.
To get a better idea of what hatchet or axe to carry with you, check out our quick review of the best.
If you practice bushcraft recreationally, having a shovel along with you helps you follow LNT principles easily. If you are practicing bushcraft in a survival scenario, it will help you follow LNT principles to help deter anyone from following your trail. Therefore, it’s always helpful to throw a shovel onto your bushcraft kit list before heading out.
Shovels are the best resource for digging fire pits – which can help conceal smoke – and digging catholes – the most basic health and hygiene aspect of bushcraft. If you are in a winter scenario, a shovel can be used to create snow shelters without giving yourself frostbite.
A lot of bushcraft shovels are multi-faceted and have multiple tools for essential bushcraft gear built-in. These can be good options to cover a couple of items on our list, but I advise against letting it cover all of them. With some of these tools, you will want to buy the best, which means getting something that focuses specifically on that tool.
I tend to prefer a simple shovel that will be incredibly durable but doesn’t try to act as many things that it isn’t. I have done a lot of time in the woods, and there has never been a single time I wished I had a bottle opener on my shovelhead.
Blade Sharpener/ Whetstone
All of the tools that we have gone through so far will dull over time. If you are going to be out in the bush for an extended period, you’ll need to keep your tools sharpened. The sharper your knife, axe, or shovel is, the better it will function.
Using a whetstone is a skill in itself. Some blade sharpeners are much easier to use but simply can’t get the edge as sharp as you can with a proper whetstone.
Depending on your environment, it’s possible to get your own whetstone made up from river rock, but that isn’t an easy skill to pick up right away. It’s always been a much better idea for me to carry a dedicated whetstone. They don’t weigh much, and the benefit they give me is immense.
I do encourage you to check out how to make a whetstone while in the bush, just in case you ever find yourself out there without any proper gear and need to sharpen a blade. It can make all of the difference.
Shivering in the dark underneath the tree canopy while soaking wet is overrated. Even when you go out for a single evening to camp with friends, you’ll want fire. Not only does it keep you warm, dry your clothes, cook your food, or signal for help, it simply feels good. It’s comforting to have around. Oh, and it does all the other things, like save your life.
There are a lot of really cool ways to start a fire when you’re in the bush without any matches or a lighter. Firestarters should be at the absolute top of your bushcraft gear list. Yes, if you are stranded you can bowdrill a fire or strike with two quartz rocks. However, the amount of energy that goes into that survival skill is huge, and you want to save that energy.
A firestarter makes it quick and easy to get a fire going even if your hands are barely working from the cold. There are a couple of different fire starting methods out there to check out and include a few in your bag.
This short rod of flint and steel helps you to easily strike sparks that can lead to a quick fire. If you haven’t used one of these before, the learning curve is small, and you’ll have it down in no time. These still make sparks even after going for a swim, which gives them an edge over most lighters and matches.
Most Ferro rods come with a small steel striker, but if you don’t have one, your knife’s back end will work just as well.
The more obvious choice for a fire starter is a lighter. They are the easy-to-use and an instantaneous solution to most people’s fire problems. The only problems with lighters are their inability to function when wet, and their limited gas supply. They’re still a great idea to have around; just keep them dry.
For bushcraft, you can buy matches that are coated with wax to protect the match from any water damaging it. These are nice to have as a backup to any other methods. Keep them in a secure place inside your pack and only pull them out when it’s necessary. Remember, you’ll have a limited supply once you start using them. But there are good options out there.
If you’re practicing bushcraft, it most likely means you’ll be moving around from place to place. It lets you find new hunting grounds and escape any potential harm you may experience in a former site. The downside to the movement is that you may need to find a new water source. If you are unsure of where you will end up, you’ll need to bring water with you.
Even if you aren’t moving campsites, most of the best sites aren’t always directly next to water. It’s a good idea to have some space between you and water sources. Plenty of animals head to the water for drinking or fishing, which can put you side by side with a hungry grizzly. Rivers are also prone to flash floods that can carry you away faster than you can ever anticipate.
To avoid all of these issues, you’ll want to transport water to a basecamp that is just a bit away from the river. It’s inefficient to carry water in a single water bottle, and it will never be enough. Therefore, there are some great water carrying options out there for bushcraft that solve all your problems.
You can find durable water containers that are essentially extra tough bags for lightweight solutions to heavyweight water bottles. They take up almost no space, and it’s easy to carry multiple at a time.
If you’re creating a bushcraft basecamp and want a water system that can store a lot of water, a collapsible jug is a lightweight and portable option. These can hold a large volume of water and act as the office water cooler for you and any companions you may have.
To bring all of this gear around with you, you need a reliable backpack that has enough volume to fit it all. There are hundreds of options when you start to look at bushcraft backpacks. To make the best bushcraft pack list, you’ll need to decide a few things before purchasing a rucksack.
First, how long do you plan on being out? If you want to go for a week, you need a bag that will carry at least 40 liters. If you’re only going to be out for the day, you can allow yourself a 20-30 liter pack. There’s a lot of gear involved in serious bushcraft, so I tend to carry a 40-liter pack with me. It has been able to last a couple of weeks but can get quite heavy.
Second, look into the different kinds of material that bags are made from. This determines both the durability of the pack, as well as its ability to fight off the weather. When you’re out for a long time you will rely on a pack that doesn’t break easily and will keep all of your gear dry.
For a shorter trip, I really like the packs that Maxpedition has to offer. These packs are well-built and have a lot of different storage systems that work to help organize your gear. They’ll last you a long time out in the bush and are reasonably priced.
If you’re going out for a longer haul, check out the Tasmanian Tiger TT Trooper Pack. It’s tough, water-resistant, and has a 50-liter capacity that should hold you over for a while. If you want an even bigger pack, check out Teton Sports for a long haul with a massive load.
You’ll be going in and out of your backpack multiple times every day. That means you have multiple times throughout the day that you can either regret or love the decision you made. This is one that is well worth investing some money into and spending a lot of time researching and trying on packs.
Sure, you can make rope from natural fibers, but that’s a skill to learn for survival situations. It’s also a pretty difficult skill to master. I haven’t ever been able to make rope that is the same size as a regular paracord (P-cord) with equal strength. It may be impossible.
Para, meaning seven, refers to the seven strands of fibers housed inside a sheath to make up this thin, yet strong, cord. You’re likely to hear, Para-550, or P-550, when experts talk about cord. This refers to the amount of weight paracord can put up with. The thin strand of cord will hold around 550 pounds before giving in and snapping.
With paracord you can easily put up shelters with lashings or use the cord to build traps to catch dinner. It’s useful to strap gear to the outside of your pack, and to build an emergency fishing line. I’ve even used P-cord to string up my hammock when a strap broke and I needed to sleep off the ground to stay away from snakes.
The need for string or rope will continue to find its way into your day-to-day. Having a bundle of paracord isn’t going to cost you much in terms of finances or weight. It’s easy to find at any local hardware store, or you can always visit a fancier outdoors store.
First Aid Kit
Going out for a month-long expedition? Going out for a day hike? Going out for an hour? What about to the mailbox?
Take a first aid kit.
It doesn’t matter how long you are going for. Medical emergencies happen the most when you are the least prepared for them. They come at any time and there’s no excuse to not always have a first aid kit on your person.
Some essentials that you need to make sure are in a first aid kit include iodine, ACE bandages, ibuprofen or other NSAIDs, Benadryl, Aspirin, sterile gauze, gloves, epinephrine, a thermometer, and so much more. Luckily, experts put these together for you, with most of the priority items included.
If you have a lot of medical training, I recommend building your own first aid kit from a base that you can purchase. If you are more inexperienced, MyMedic puts together rather thorough first aid kits that are a great purchase.
I can’t recommend Wilderness First Aid courses enough. The basic skills you can learn in this course will save your life or any companions. If it’s exciting to you, try out further courses like Wilderness First Responder or a Wilderness EMT course.
Hauling a tent around is going to be excessive when you’re trying to be lightweight and efficient. A tarp is a quick and easy way to shelter yourself from the storm, but also has a lot of other purposes when you are out there.
A tarp works as an impermeable membrane that can be used to line the inside of a hypothermia wrap. It will trap heat more effectively that most other things you have with you in your pack. It can be used to collect water when you are using various methods to find hydration. A tarp will be your home, your safe haven from Mother Nature.
Construction tarps work well, but they take up a lot of space. They are perfect for anyone on a budget or just trying bushcraft out. You also might already have one in the garage.
Other tarps are typically made from a silicone-nylon blend, silnylon, that is incredibly lightweight and waterproof. They make a great roof over your head when you need it and don’t take up loads of space in your bag. These can test your budget, but some cheaper models are available and still work great.
I have slept years under this tarp in multiple rainforests. To this date, I still use it in challenging environments and have never experienced a single leak.
You can check out some of the best bushcraft tarps here.
Water Purification Method
In order to stay hydrated (and alive) while you’re in the woods, you’ll need to find your preferred way of treating water to drink. There are a few different methods, and everyone has their own opinion on which is best.
Water treatment started old-school with drops of bleach. This has proven to take a toll on your stomach after a long time but is still effective. If you’re in an emergency and have bleach you need to use two drops of water for every liter of water you are treating.
Luckily, we aren’t forced to treat water like the Boy Scouts in the 1950s. There are other options that are just as effective, but better for you.
My preferred method is a water filter. The Sawyer systems are incredibly compact and will treat water for a lifetime. The only danger of using a filter is that the filter can break and render it useless.
Chemically treating water with tablets or drops can be effective for a while, until you run out of supplies. This method takes a little bit longer, but works just as well. Chlorine and iodine are pretty popular for people that like to use this method.
The most high-tech method is UV treatment. A steri-pen blasts your water with UV rays and makes all of the harmful bacteria and protozoa unable to reproduce. It’s safe to drink because they can’t reproduce to a large enough population to harm your system. For this, you need batteries. Batteries aren’t very bushcraft friendly.
The last, emergency method is boiling your water. This is typically reserved for when you have no other options. You have to boil the water until it is at a rolling boil, then you have to wait for it to be cool enough to drink. But, it still works.
While I prefer water filters, I can see the benefits of all of them. I recommend carrying multiple forms of water treatment systems just in case one fails.
Cooking & Eating Utensils
Simple cooking utensils can make your bushcraft experience feel a bit more like home. It also makes one of the most essential parts of your day a lot easier. There are times I’ve ended up having to use my knife as a fork, which can be a bit too dangerous for some.
Do you Really Need Tools for Bushcraft?
Jumping onto old school forums with bushcraft experts can be dangerous to your mindset about tools. The old-schoolers often will say you need nothing. Some will claim you only need to take a knife if you’re “serious” about bushcraft.
While it’s true that you could survive with nothing, or with just a knife, that isn’t what this is about. Bushcraft is about being prepared for the outdoors and encountering everything with a solid and stable mindset. Tools bring reassurance and capability that is hard to find in the woods at times.
When one of the old-timers tells you that tools are unnecessary, just say okay and walk away. Know that these tools are there to help you become prepared to take on the wilderness. If you want to move towards a toolless life, get the skills first and slowly figure out what you deem essential.
Bushcraft is a lifestyle that not too many take on. It can be dangerous and extremely difficult at times. Getting into bushcraft is even more intimidating if you didn’t grow up doing it. Using the right bushcraft tools in your system will help you ease yourself into the world of bushcraft, and is a great chance to get practice on more technical skills.
For a beginner, I would recommend bringing each of these tools out with you. It’s a big investment, but it’s worth every penny. Over time you may find that you want less or more tools of the same or different styles. Everyone gets their own experiences in the backwoods, and everyone is entitled to their own gear.