A week in the woods - Elementary Bushcraft Course

Elementary Bushcraft Course, 20-26th July 2014

After looking through various courses and companies for bushcraft courses I sent my wife a link to a course, Elementary Bushcraft, from Frontier Bushcraft and then promptly forgot about it - that was until earlier this year when I got the same email back from her with the words "it's booked" and from that point I was counting down the days and compiling kit lists until the course date (July 2014) came around.

Now what this post is not is a list or description of everything we did on the course - if you want to know all about it then go on the course!  What I wanted to do is to lay out some of the concerns, challenges and questions I had before and during the course in the hope that it will be of use to anyone attending both this and similar courses - things like kit; what to take and what you really dont need.

Feather sticks - almost art when done properly
So where to start?  Although it may seem slightly odd I want to do the last bit first - then if you read no further you'll know what I thought of the course, the instructors and the company I picked, Frontier Bushcraft.

To all of the above the answer is excellent.  I know that sounds a bit simple but honestly the quality of organisation, instruction, content, location and delivery was fantastic - it's easy to find negative reviews on the web for just about anything these days but people don't seem to want to take the time to write about the good bits, so I'm going to.  If you have an interest in bushcraft and are able to accept that it's not always going to be easy or "go your way" then do this course, with Frontier Bushcraft.

Yes there were times when I got "the hump" as did pretty much everyone on the course (instructors included I'm sure, although they were too professional to admit it) and some of the activities took longer than we expected or would have liked but, you know what, that's life - things don't always go to plan and not everyone is perfect at everything - that's what learning is all about and none of us would have been on the course if we knew it all already.

One thing that I took away from the course (that wasn't "bushcraft" related) was that theoretical knowledge is no substitute for practical experience and in many cases can actually be a negative factor in applying those practical skills in new environments - I guess what that boils down to is that listening, watching and practicing is, in some instances, way more valuable than reading books and YouTube clips and thinking you're the next Bear Grylls!

Paul demonstrating fire the way it should be lit - quickly and easily!
Stepping into the unknown.....

Aside from the course content (here) and kit list I really didn't know what to expect and have to admit to feeling somewhat nervous arriving at the meeting point on Sunday afternoon - not least as I had no idea who else would be on the course, would they all be more experienced than me, or know one another, would I get on with them?

To answer the last question first, yes - and I think everyone made some really good friends from the course, there were certainly a few people that I'm really glad I met and will be keeping in touch with; that's more than can be said for most of the corporate functions I attend!

Everyone was pretty much in the same boat as me, with varying knowledge in a range of subjects the common theme was a will to learn from the instructors and improve the skills and knowledge they already had.

So after we'd all said our hello's and cast surreptitious glances at each other's kit to see if we'd brought too much or too little we headed off with Paul for our short walk to the the base camp site for orientation and to start the course....

It's amazing how a parachute hanging from a tree and a kettle can become "home"
As I've alluded to I struggled a little with the kit I took and certainly took too much but this was another valuable lesson from the course as it gave me a chance to test out some of the items and to define (to myself) what was needed and what was just pure overkill!

So, here are the items I took that I really didn't need (full kit list for the course is here);

  • Socks - far too many!  I think I may have double packed them to be honest but the lesson here is that a few pairs of liner socks and 1/2 pairs of thicker boot socks will suffice
  • Warm layer - now this is still necessary but wasn't needed due to the weather but I'd still take one again even it is stays in it's stuff sack.  For reference I took my Montane Prism coat
  • Tent - it was on the list so I took one, opting for my Alpkit Kangri over the Marmot Grid to give me some more space but I should have taken a tarp and bivvy bag - luckily I was able to borrow one and used this all week
  • T-shirts - I didn't use 3 of the tops I took, not counting the long sleeved merino base layer as it was too hot.  2 x merino layers and a travel shirt would have been ideal
  • Shoes - I wore my Salomon shoes once, and my Meindl boots for the rest of the week
  • Day sack - not having a small day sack I took Donna's Deuter 24ltr rucksack which I didn't use at all, opting to carry my water bottle when we went on short trips
  • Wash kit - yes you need one but as always I took too much!
  • Towel - I took and used 2 bandanna's which were perfect and the travel towel stayed in my bag taking up space
  • Trousers - the Haglofs Rugged Mountain Pants were unused and are not a slim, light item
There were a few items that I packed and used that were not on the kit list but I was glad for them during the course, the key one being my PowerMonkey Extreme solar battery charger - an item that was shared around the group and thanks to the plentiful sunshine during the week stayed charged and allowed us to keep "comms" running!

Michael with his flaming tinder bundle!
So what did I take away from the course and would I recommend it?
Yes I would recommend it, to anyone with an interest in the outdoors and a willingness to learn more about the natural world and how we can work with nature it is a fantastic experience, made better by the knowledge and delivery of the instructors.
I'll admit it was tough at times but this made me more determined to knuckle down and "crack on with it" and by the end of the week this attitude was showing from everyone on the course; we were working together more effectively and intuitively, learning from one another and using each others skills and experiences to best effect.

The elation you feel when you create your own ember and light your first tinder bundle is amazing but its even better when you can share this with other people who, less than 5 days before, were complete strangers - there is more to life than work, money and the reg plate or badge on your car and, whilst it may sound a little odd, for me this was one of the biggest take away's from the course.

The course has given me a real determination to get outside more and practice the skills learnt on the course and to increase my knowledge with further courses - Intermediate Bushcraft and Canoeing - as well as to impart some of the bushcraft and camp skills acquired over the week on the Scouts.

So, here's to the continuation of a long held interest in bushcraft that's been re-kindled and the start of, hopefully, something even more....

The end to a perfect week


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