Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Neanderthal and our survival!!

Over the years I have put forward several less than savoury theories, the fact that modern man is breeding in inheriant weakness by turning natures concept of survival of the fittest backwards or by suggesting that our ancestors where more intelligent, adaptable than those of races that never ventured out of Africa.

Well my suppositions where/are simply based on common sense and knowledge of the sort of skills required for people to survive that type of journey and in those types of climate - for example making fire on a frozen glacietate continent requires a huge leap in thinking from lighting fires on the sun baked savanna - but it seems science has finally backed me up.

Yep and in a most interesting way.

It seems the mystery of the Neanderthal disappearance and our own Western Ancestors ability to over come the problems of migration which saw others fall by the wayside (true survival of the fittest) is due to the fact the cromagnon man and the neanderthals joined forces - more correctly we absorbed them into our species - mating with them, not multiracial - multispecies.

Up until now the only real clue of this were the remains of one small child who showed similar characteristics to both species and of course the shared caves of Isreal.

But now Scientists have found, in DNA, a gene from the Neanderthal's and it is present in about a third of the human population THEY THINK..........what they are saying is that Neanderthals lacking the intelligence to make superior hunting tools like the ATLATL for example had to be more communicative and hunt in groups while Cromagnon man had the ability to be a solo hunter but was also more gifted in curiousity and inventiveness - the joining of both types of hunter ment groups of curious, inventive, communicative and cooperative hunters could cross the ice in persuit of game - working in teams and problem solving, finding new ways to make fire, finding new plants and game to eat ..............IMPROVISING ADAPTING AND OVERCOMING!

Nature doesnt do Political correctness ............

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Bushcraft is dead - long live camping!!

18 years ago when I first started down bushcrafts dusty trail I bought a book in a small book shop on Padstow Harbours front - the Author a chap called Raymond Mears captured my imagination with his almost unbridled love of the subject he was writing about - get out there build nature shelters, light fires and live like a native it cried from every page ..............

A few years later same guy was doing 3 minute clips on a programme called Tracks the same theme, armed with a blanket, a billy and a cutting tool he showed us how to go bush .........

And inspired we copied him, we went bush - for several years I only took a us army poncho liner, a mess tin and a knife and would go out and over night camp in all sorts of places all over the world for this is what bushcraft was all about - I was living like a native, when it was cold at night I built a bigger fire or changed the lay! When I was hungry I looked for food but didnt mind the empty stomach if I found nothing that day ....................

Then bushcraft became a hobby ..................................BECAME POPULAR .......................was twisted and changed beyond recognition...................didnt it??

Now most, if not all, self professed bushcrafters go camping in the woods! The desire to live the simple life, like a native, has been replaced with a commercial franzy that tells us we need the latest hammock and designer techno tarp - your not a shrafter without the must have (or one of the many copies of) a woodlore style knife! The average shrafter needs a 125 litre plus bergen to carry his kit which is OK as the car parked at a safe walking distance from the expedition style camp so he'll not even break sweat!! He needs food - and lots of it - he needs his kitchen set up and his folding chairs and his ..................the list is endless!!

Bushcraft has become camping ................camping without the showers and the camp shop for sure but camping none the less

You think I'm being over dramatic, maybe but think on this - there are now 50 or 60 schools in UK - some good, some bad - some teaching to the highest standards others appaulingly lacking but ALL teach the same skills, shelter building, fire lighting, carving, foragng ect ect - these subjects ARE what bushcraft school to my knowledge teaches "How to put up a tent" "how to fry a full english over a camp fire" "how to put the batteries in your shiny GPS"

The term Bushcraft suggests the use of crafts - crafts require the application of skills - today you dont need skills to go bushcrafting, pah why bother, when you can buy everything you need, if you lack the knowledge you just buy more kit to replace it ..............................

So if the subjects and skills taught are bushcraft why is it that so few people who pretend to be bushcrafting actually build and sleep in shelters? How many so called bushcrafters forage their meals (and no a trip to the local supermarket isnt foraging!)

Bushcraft has become camping, it is what I as a kid we called camping, its what families did when they went camping! What we called bushcraft skills when I first started out are now called Survival Skills ...............

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Follow baggy the bear!!

Havent seen this for awhile - it still makes me laugh so my continued thanks to Tref and his

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Survival - its not a dirty word

In the bushcraft world many people get quite ................... ermmmm excited at the mention of SURVIVAL SKILLS ..............WHY??
What do they fear? Kit separation anxiety syndrome (after all must bushcrafters cant survive without all their flash gucci kit can they? or is it just going outside their comfort zone (we all like being in the bush when the suns out - its warm - we have a campfire and a car full of food near by)
Survival skills are key to bushcraft skills for without the later we can not build bushcraft skills we can depend on any more than we can build a house without foundations!!
Survival skills are the common sense skills, the nitty gritty that leads us to bushcraft!
To qoute Lofty Wisemen "Life we survive til we die"
A recent google of "survival course" found 158,000 sites .................of those almost all are professed Bushcraft schools who also list survival in their itinery .............bushcraft and survival courses ........wilderness living and survival ............our own WEISS course (wilderness experience International Survival school) whats the hang up with wanting to do survival training?
Even Mr Mears' books and programmes "the survival HANDBOOK" "EXTREME SURVIVAL" even "the WORLD OF SURVIVAL" - Good enough for Ray good enough for me say!!
Maybe its a comfort zone thing - UK shrafters like to sit around the campfire!! Before you ponder this think on the fact that from my own experience Swedes, Danes and even Spainards.......... our shall we say europeans all seem more iinterested in learning survival skills over bushcraft!
But its just a word and I think the reason most schools list bushcraft and survival courses rather than just bushcraft or just survival (and you will note there courses themselves rarely are just bushcraft or just survival) is because the over lap is to great .................bushcraft and survival are the same thing - they are feathers on the same bird - so survival isnt a dirty word well not if you wish to be a well rounded outdoorsman with the skills to live and thrive in the wilderness!

Winter WEISS

It may seem a strange time of year, the heart of english summer time, to be thinking of winter and sub-arctic bushcraft or survival but for us at bearclaw bushcraft the March 2009 Winter WEISS course is our next biggest adventure.

This excellent course is without a doubt one of our best and certainly one of my favourites! Unlike the testing Temperate WEISS course the Winter course is built around the standard educational model we use for standard courses, ie Students are well feed, kept warm and taught .............. each lesson following the standard EDI instructional pattern.

For this course we provide all the food and equipment so I you need to bring is warm clothing and a smile!!

We have a couple of places left at the moment so to fill them and thus aid us in closing the books I'm offering a 10% discount to anyone who books now (this will likely cover travel costs - offer closes when last place is gone - or 5 November whichever comes first)

So dont miss out on a great, fun and fulfilling experience - book today - your deposit secures your place in a winter wonderland!!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Beekeepers WEISS TRIP - A BLOG

Stuart - aka the beekeeper, has written a excellent peice on his travels to sweden and the courses we had the pleasure of having him on.

Hope you dont mind me adding the link here buddy!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

KUKRI - the bushcrafters friend

KHUKURI \ KUKRI KNIFE: A mid-length curved knife comprising a distinctive “Cho” that is the national knife and icon of Nepal, basic and traditional utility knife of Nepalese, a formidable and effective weapon of the Gurkhas and an exquisite piece of local craftsmanship that symbolizes pride and valor which also represents the country and it’s culture. Believed to have existed 2500 years ago; “Kopi” is the probable source of the Khukuri that was used by Greek in the 4 th BC. However, khukuri came into limelight only in and particularly after the Nepal War in 1814-15 after the formation of British Gurkha Army. Basically carried in a leather case, mostly having walnut wooden grip and traditionally having two small knives, it is one of the most famous and feared knives of the world.

Kukri Blade
Belly (Bhundi): Widest part/area of the blade.
Bevel (Patti): Slope from the main body until the sharp edge.
Bolster (Kanjo): Thick metal/brass round shaped plate between blade and handle made to support and reinforce the fixture.
Butt Cap (Chapri): Thick metal/brass plate used to secure the handle to the tang.
Cho/Notch (Kaudi): A distintive cut (numeric 3 like shape) in the edge functioned as a blood dropper and others.
Edge (Dhaar): Sharp edge of the blade.
Fuller (Chirra): Curvature/Hump in the blade made to absorb impact and to reduce unnecessary weight.
Fuller/Groove (Khol): Straight groove or deep line that runs along part of the upper spine.
Keeper (Hira Jornu): Spade/Diamond shaped metal/brass plate used to seal the butt cap.
Main body (Ang): Main surface or panel of the blade.
Peak (Juro): Highest point of the blade.
Ricasso (Ghari): Blunt area between notch and bolster.
Rings (Harhari): Round circles in the handle.
Rivet (Khil): Steel or metal bolt to fasten or secure tang to the handle.
Spine (Beet): Thickest blunt edge of the blade.
Tang (Paro): Rear piece of the blade that goes through the handle
Tang Tail (Puchchar): Last point of the khukuri blade.
Tip (Toppa): Starting point of the blade.

Kukri Scabbard
Chape (Khothi): Pointed mettalic tip of the scabbard. Used to protect the naked tip of a scabbard.
Frog (Faras): Belt holder especially made of thick leather (2mm to 4mm) encircling the scabbard close towards the throat.
Lace (Tuna): A leather cord used to sew or attach two ends of the frog. Especially used in army types (not available in this pic).
Loop (Golie): Round leather room/space where a belt goes through attached/fixed to the keeper with steel rivets.
Lower Edge (Tallo Bhag): Belly/curvature of the scabbard.
Main Body (Sharir): The main body or surface of the scabbard. Generally made in semi oval shape.
Strap/Ridge (Bhunti): Thick raw leather encirlcing the scabbard made to create a hump to secure the frog from moving or wobbling (not available in this pic).
Throat (Mauri): Entrance towards the interior of the scabbard for the blade.
Upper Edge (Mathillo Bhaag): Spine of the scabbard where holding should be done when handling a Khukuri

Cutting tool Used for domestic purposes, for kitchen use, for gardening, backyard clearance, household work, in and around living area; a basic cutting tool.

Outdoor For jungle use as a machete, during safaris, trekking, camping out in the woods, hunting, fishing, cutting and clearing bushes, branches /small trees, forestry activities, also used as hammer, digger etc, basically a survival tool.

Military For parade (Kukri drill), on duty or guard, training, exercises, warfare, combat, close counter fighting, army ritual ceremony, presentation (when an officer retires, he is given a special “Kothimora” sliver Kukri to mark his loyal service and duty), regimental insignia and distinction.

Religious and Cultural For beheading domestic animals during festivals (mainly Dashain), to perform ritual ceremonies (which requires slaughtering for example; vehicles opening), during marriage ceremonies (bridegroom with his traditional marriage dress), royal ceremonies (in the absence of the king, his kukri will represent him), special ritual occasions (particularly which requires blood and blessings), Poojas. Also in castes like Rai, Magar Gurung’s tradition, a kukri is buried along with the dead with a belief that by doing so it would destroy all his demons and sins. In remote villages there is a practice of presenting kukri to a grown lad to mark his manhood and maturity.

Presentation, Display and Collection As gifts (to honor or thank someone in a special way), for decoration (to decor or adorn ones place, a special way to enhance the beauty and ambient), Collector’s pride and preference, unique souvenir and memento, prizes and cup, owner’s prize possession, business promotion and awards.

Myths and Beliefs The famous legendary story goes- every time a Gurkha draws his weapon out, if he was unable to find his enemy’s blood then he had to put his own, other story also goes- long time ago it was believed that Kukri was also used as boomerang; means; it was thrown towards the enemy, beheaded him and swung back to the user’s hand; kept under pillow to prevent bad dreams and nightmares, in villages and rural areas carrying kukri symbolizes manhood for boys, to keep away satins, ghosts and black magic, to safe guard and protect a family spiritually and religiously. As well, a very popular saying in Nepalese as “Kukri Bhanda Karda Lagne”, sarcastic meaning “To be over smart than his/hers elders”

Pride and Honor National icon, national weapon, national souvernity, symbols/monograms for many Nepalese Government departments and branches (army, police, security, forestry, scouts etc), representing Nepal internationally and worldwide, naming local products after “Kukri” (Khukuri Rum, Khukuri Choorot/cigarette etc), unique national memento and souvenir, honest and powerful recognition, trademark for security forces at war and peace, a precious gift used at the highest official level

Ornaments and wealth Precious and valuable ornaments (to adorn oneself with special curio type replica kukris), to show one’s status and size (gold and silver Kukris at home, office etc), history shows kings, ministers, generals etc displaying big expensive kukris to demonstrate power, money and pride.

But above all this a Kukri is a excellent full sized camp knife Ideal for all the tasks we'd ask of an Hatchet or small forest axe. And with the two smaller knives a far more complete outfit. THe smallers knives (usually 3" in length) are the Karda which is a utility blade ideal for whittling, food or game prep and all tasks the bigger blade is deemed to cumbersome for. The OTHER tool is a chakmak this is a sharpening device not really a stone more like a file ................but it is also the tool used with flint for fire light as in your standard flint and steel.

And as a parting thought - if you have to have a Kukri wielding buddy - fingers cross you have one like this ...............

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Candle iin the wind

Illuminating the darkness, warding off that which scares us in the primordial night has always been one of mans concerns............nothing is as comforting on a night alone in the woods as a fire, a torch ya great 0 but a fire now thats a friend.

But what about modern man in our plastic world...........susperstitions bah......... the dark holds no fear for me .............. ya right, Ive camped many a lonely week both near and far and even I get spooked by the boogey man once in a while.

The Native americans called the boogeyman the Wind-a-go spirit, a creature which whispers in your ear, twisting your thoughts - scaring you or sapping your morale - the Indians say the only way to dispell a wind-a-go is to do something positive action on a cold lonely night, in a place where a fire isnt a option I've often found a candle does the job nicely !

Ok, ok SPOOKs aside lets consider the humble candle!

I always carry a pair of tallow candles in my bergen, its a old habit learn from years of experience. Tallow is a edible veg oil so in theory a food source but better than this (you'd have to be bloody hungry to eat a candle) this type of candle has a long life - both on the shelf and in its burn time (typically 10 hours) thats a lot of illumination for a tent or shelter and its a lot of battery power saved!

More importantly a candle is a source of heat - we often burn candles in our teepees on courses to drive out the damp air - they warm the tent by a few degrees (in a snow hole this is critical) but more importantly they warm the tent to the eye casting a comforting welcoming golden glow!

Any candle will do of course - IKEA tea candle 100 for a £1 are almost as good - but I still prefer the long life candles and will often burn the tea candles saving the long life ones for real emergencies .............have you every wished you had a candle in that dark bothy or shelter?

No, next time you venture out into the woods try it - take a candle and see how you get on, not just for light but for the thousand of other uses they can be put to from lubing a bow drill bearing block to waterproofing matches .............

Monday, 23 June 2008

Vildmark and WEISS 2008

Sweden 2008.

This years Vildmark and WEISS were with out a doubt the best ones ever - from both an instructional and students prespective.

The weather was challenging as was the WEISS course but I am proud to say everyone still passed even after doing the bow drill test in a torrential downpour!!

The highlight for me was two fold - firstly the the high standard of the course and secondly the fact we have now had students from 8 differnet countries pass through the school making it a truely international course in every respect.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Factory over hand made - the knife question??!

Most Bushcrafters are of the impression that a hand made knife of carbon steel is the best they can get and many aspire to this.

But is it?

Is the hand made knife - pound for pound - a better tool?

Of course if you want something special - made to your specs using materials of your choosing like the Leuku below - then a custom job is the only answer but if your looking for a work horse - why spend all that time and money?

Technology is such that many factory made knifes are now cheaper than ever before and yet of the highest quality - perfectly mixed steels of flawless quality and digitally set tempers which can not be matched by the hand maker? Can they?

We are all familiar with the Forst Mora - made popular by Mr Mears and now the standard issue tool by most of the better schools for novices but what of Brusletto or Helle ...... Martinni or any of the other Finnish or scandinavian makers with centuries of tradition behind them?

They all offer a vast array of tools so much so thant even the most picky of people must find one among the range they like!

Of course theres the argument - "well as in any hobby you should have the best tools you can afford" but does price really reflex quality?? Or does price actually just reflect the fact that a hand maker can not make the same type of knife in the same time span and with the lower overheads of a major factory?? If so then surely the "best tool you can afford" isnt a reflection on the tool and its ability but on the name of the maker?? Your paying for a brand name - Alan Wood knives for example, I've owned two and while the workmanship is great they cut the same as a Mora clipper - indeed in use the clipper is more versatile.

Recently (with the down turn in the global and UK economy) I decided to veer away from the hand made ranges and look at the mass produced tools out there ..........and have been pleasnatly surprised how good they really are.

My favourite (pictured above) came from Attleborough Accessories in Norfolk and is the Brusletto Middelalder - a factory custom job aimed at collectors and as such a limited run - which originally was rrp £70 BUT they are now selling at £30. For this price you get a lot of quality in the knife and it now piggy backs with my Wilderness Knife as my field utility knife!! The feel of the tool is excellent and the quality equally so certainly matches any hand made knife I've ever owned!

Other knifes in the Brusletto range I like are the Bamsen (my oldest knife which I used for many years until I joined the woodlore team) the Granbit and Troll are both equally good and make fantastic utility tools.

Of course ALL of the above doesnt detract from the pleasure you get from receiving and owning a unique hand made tool - but if your looking for a work tool, if your more practical than romantic, and if you want to own many knives for the price of one then a mass produced knife may be your answer .............after all even Mors Kochanski preferred one (the Erikson mora) to a custom job and as a man with a life times more experience than most people how can we fault him.....................

So next time your pondering a new cutting tool - give the factory ranges a thought - with the money you save you could even afford to go out into the wilderness and use it ")

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Out with the old in with the new part 2

During our recent Fasach Ile course the old style Kelly Kettle won its strips since they moved production of the kettles to eastern Europe I've not been a fan - the older models were bomb proof but the new???

Anyway as luck would have it being so impressed in Scotland I decided to search for a new and better item thats similar to the Kelly ............. and loo and behold I found one ..........made in Britian by the guys who used to make the old Kelly Kettles - happy days!!

Even better - where the Kelly Kettle just has a cork bung - these have whistles, which do two things - whistle when boiled but also by sealing the spout they also ensure both a quicker boil time and no boil over!!

Coming soon to the trading post the new Kettle is known as a GHILLIE kettle and as well as being better made, more varsatile it also comes in three sizes thus making it more adaptable to the users uses from the lone hiker to small or large groups!

It also comes with a decent carry sack which has sholder straps so it can be carried like the old school slipper bag!!

And .............phew the list goes on - if you seal the spout with cling film and replace the whistle its waterproof seal means you can carry it full of water - thus not depleteing you drinking water on day hikes!!

As you can see I'm impressed - thats why I decided to start stocking them!!

The king is dead long live the king!!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Out with the old - in with the new??

Once upon a time the wily woodsman could wander far and wide with just his possibles bag, knife and axe as his only tools.........

Nessmuks trinity - hatchet, knife and pocket knife are proof of this - but can the modern traveller do the same?

Can we, in a day and age of techno gear get by with just a couple of simple tools?

I think not - the trinity still exists but I think if Nessmuk was alive today - even he would use a multitool!

Over the last 20 years I've experimented off and on with various models from the original Leatherman - threw the Gerbers and SOGS - and back to the new Leathermans and I think it safe to say the Leatherman WAVE has come to be my favourite - its certainly earnt its stripes on the last few trips I've had and now if a perminent addition to my kit!

Another modern replacement is the possibles pouch or bag - not so long ago I was told by a top outdoorsman that wearing a possibles pouch made me look like a re-enactor. Not so long ago same said person was wearing one and now even sell them proof of the pudding is int he eating a possibles pouch is a handy bit of kit ........but again in recent times I've found myself replacing my traditional leather pouch with the modern version of it - either a snugpak Responce Pak or the USMC 3 in 1 pouch its modelled upon.

Regardless which pouch you go for (the only real difference being the 3 in 1 converts to a shoulder bag) the room for gear is impressive offering us the ability to carry a waterbottle and mug in the main section, first and survival items in the side pockets and or the front pocket ect ect - and yet taking up no more or extra space on our body!!

Out with the old in with the new those two cases I say YES!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Fasach Ile - the movie

Well I've been playing again - sometimes a picture paints a thousand words so enjoy!

Fasach ILE

Well another great course!! Well done to all who attended what was possibly the coldest, windest course I can remember!!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

HNEFATAFL - good game good game!

Hnefatafl - The Viking Game
The game was popular in the Viking homelands of Scandanavia as early as 400AD and was carried by the Vikings to the lands that they conquered. Over the centuries the game developed and artefacts from the game have been found as far afield as Ireland to the Ukraine.

The name Hnefatafl means "The Kings Table", and through manuscripts which detail the game, the rules and instructions of play have been gradually worked out, although there is no doubt that there were many different versions of the game.
Hnefatafl was last recorded as being played in Wales in 1587 and in Lapland in 1723. Its decline began in the 11th century when chess grew in popularity.
'Tafl' is a great game for the bushcrafter too - a game requiring all the skills of chess but one of shorter duration buting it a excellent fire side companion!!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Kit husbandry.

Our kit is generally our first line of defence against the elements when we go bush ..........regardless of wether were weekending it in sunny sussex or on a course in the frozen north. It therefore seems obvious to me we should look after it!!

Good care and maint of kit will see it giving you years of service - some times even becoming like trusted friends.

Yet all that common sense above is so found lacking in the individual - more than once I have been told I should design a course about how to be efficient in the field.

For example on a trip to the snowy world the group we lead had to tow Pulka's with their gear in - arriving at the car park everyone quickly packed and harnessed up, well all except one team. Due, in part, to misinformation this pair found themselves packing and unpack their pulka while the whole rest of the group stood around getting cold - having not gone anywhere that wasnt a problem but had we been hauling and been warmed up maybe even a little sweaty - that delay would have chilled us and in extreme bad weather could even have killed!!

More so in the snow Maja maja disou (a mishceivious sprite who hides people gear in the snow until the spring thaw) would have a field day with a disorganised shrafter.

The principle of ruthless efficiency is simple - we use a item and then we put it back.

Study the three pictures below - all are experienced outdoors mens gear - all the kit needed for a week in the mountains at temperatures down to - 25 - see if you can see whose kit Maja maja disou would have the most fun with??

Question - a kero lamp is knocked over - the curtains go up - its midnight and mihus 17 outside - who of the above people is most likely to be able to grab all their kit and flee the building, survivng both the fire and the killer weather outside??

The idea also extends to your personal kit - that which you carry on your body. A possibles pouch for example might contain first aid and survival items but is no good if you unpack it and leave the items all over the table when you go out - as a rule I always carry a small cuts (and a FFD) first aid kit on my person if its not in a pocket its on my belt. The same applies to a cutting tool - which is always clean and kept sharp - a blunt knife is a screwdriver!

Once accused of carrying a load of s**te in my pockets by a fellow we'll call Johnny I challenged this deep and meaningful remark. The kit I carry in my pockets (a old army habit) is plentiful but all of it useful - as was proven when I magically conjured up items needed for a first aid lecture, or on other occasions when I magically produce the contents of a fire lighting lecture from my personal gear - so this isnt a load of s**te quite the reverse its all practical gear which I know how to use and which has won its place there from hard earned experience!! But its also not an item more than I need carry - ruthless effeciancy again!

Last thought on ruthless effeciency - be wary of arrogance, I am the expert I know everything I dont need this, or you have to much of that ect ect sound familiar??

We hear it all the time - but heres the thing, their level of skill and yours might be different, the expert who brings all his kit up in a landrover can afford to carry loads of gear - the expert who works predominently in a cold enviroment or a desert will have a finely tuned kit but will also have all his creature comforts - while you have to carry in your gear - maybe even get it in via customs ect - maybe the enviroments new to you too so you have a few 'just in case' items.

Thats cool as long as you treat the "we live here" or the "we know best" gang with a pinch of salt learn from them thats the whole point but evaluate what your learning - many is the time Ive been with so called experts or natives who've shown major gaps in their skills, their personal hygiene and their ability to function without kit!

So to summarize - carry less by knowing more is our aim - thus lightening our load and proving we have the skills to move through nature at one with her - but where we do need kit we need to show good skills - for kit husbandry is a skill and an important one probably more important than bow drill for example - so its a skill we must master. Be selctive of what you carry and how and where - have safety items to hand always - but most importantly if its not being used its packed - that way if the world turns to a pound of pooh in the night you can grab all your gear in a heart beat and escape the problem - maybe ruthless effiecence is a skill above all others that will be most likely to save your life!!

Bearclaw Winter WEISS 2008

The Weiss course was designed and established 40 years ago and the programme hasnt changed much since then.
Essentially the idea is you do a summer or temperate course to test your everyday skills - (skills which are much of a much ness the world over, by this I mean fire lighting in Swedish summer is not much different to fire lighting in scotland or Africa or Australia .............but fire lighting in the frozen north when the woods appears dead but is really just frozen is a different matter!) then you progress to a winter course which teaches you the skills needed to preserve life either above the tree line or in a snowy wonderland!!

Ideally all those attending the Winter WEISS are there by either invite or by the fact they have proven themselves good enough to pass the Temperate course. In many ways they are the elite, showing courage, fortitude and great personal inner strength as well as the highest level of personal skill.

The course itself is more relaxed than the Summer WEISS as learning is key - at minus 12 with a wind chill of minus 25 you can not afford to make mistakes!! The subject range is wide and varied as you would expect but the skills required to preserve life are paramount and as such much time was dedicated to them - especially such things as teaching the students (by trial and error) the difference in snow types and the types of shelters you can and cant build easy it is in a survival manual when you read "build a snow trench or a quince"!!
The Winter WEISS students now the reality of it! Half a day was spent making Quince and digging out snow blocks - in the wrong type of snow ...............the school of hard knocks maybe but the lesson was well learned!!

As was the fact of how warm the interior of a well made snow hole can be - indeed so much so that several people chose to sleep outside as the shealters were too warm!!

After life preseveration comes Life saving .........and here our Swedish instructor Kim (author of medical/first aid manuals and ski patrol leader) did a great job teaching the course practical skills for the winter enviroment including a avalanche casualty evacuation with a real casualty (we a live one anyway.

Ultimately the winter enviroment is a beautiful place - but a world not to be taken lightly!! As Robert Service says in the poem "spell of the Yukon - send me you strong and your sane!" for the winter WEISS, like the winter world of the north, is not a course for the fair weather crafter - it is a course design by and lead by expereinced winter outdoorsmen and it is a course aimed at teaching those who have reached or are reaching the peak of their bushcraft skills and training so congratulations to all those who attended this highly educational learning experience!!

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Winter WEISS 2008

Playing catch up with all things means I havent had time to put virtual pen to paper but having just returned from a excellent week in the Swedish mountains on the winter weiss course I thought I'd link Johans Blog to this post so you can all get a taste for the fun we had - at least until I get a chance to compile my own thoughts.

Brilliant piece Johan mate!!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Bushtucker Man - a breath of fresh air

Everyone needs inspiration once in awhile, for many of us people like Eddie McGee or Jack Hargraves were childhood friends and guru's.

For the modern 'shrafter' its more likely to be Ray Mears but somewhere in between - shrouded in the mists of time is Les Hiddens aka the Bushtucker man, unknown by some and half forgotten by others.

Each inspiration has their own strength and credit is due to them all, Eddie McGee and Loft Wiseman both inspired me as a soldier to explore the fields of Military Survival and E&E skills, Jakc Hargraves was a countryman and inspired me to seek out and enjoy the countryside as a entity in its own right and Ray Mears was a inspiration, teacher and friend who taught me much about Bushcraft as a subject and the teaching of it.

All these people had shaped me and, I suspect, each other and many of you too - yet I cant help but feel somewhere along the line we, as bushcrafters, have lost sight of the goal!

We've drifted away from way 'shrafting' was meant to be and become to obsessed with the modern buy culture! Each 'character' leads us to new wants - Lofty was the survival Tin, Ray a woodlore knife and a swanni for example..........but is bushcraft about kit or how we use it?

Buying into the dream is one thing, buying the best kit you can afford to enhance your experience is another but buying kit for kits sake, for the label for the brand surely isnt what bushcraft is about?

To my mind at least bushcraft is about being one with nature, learning to utilize natures bounty, learning to improvise, learning to become a modern Aborigine or a modern hunter gatherer ........................its not about wrapping oneself in a artificual shell that cuts you off from the winds cool caress or carrying a stove and full field kitchen to ensure one has their favourite gluten or meat free whatever can you be part of the enviroment if you cut yourself off from it or try to impose your own 'learnt' social prejudises on it - remember Nature doesnt do PC!!

Well if that is the case, if the guru's have lead us into the commercial quagmire then I have to say, half forgotten until recently, lays the Bushtucker man. I can remember watching his series on TV back in the 90's long before Mr Mears had his TV break with Tracks Major Les Hiddins was showing us how to do things bushway!! And i was lucky enough to see a few episodes of his series a few days ago and I sat their enthralled.

The things that impressed me so much were his presence on screen, he talks to the viewer like your were a friend, no arrogance no condescending tone and also his kit, no flashy brand names, no expensive gear just plain simple clothing and we'll used or improvised tools. In todays climate of TV and media power Les' whole show like a trip back in time to a simpler age.

And as mentioned above this got me thinking, and I hope it will you to!

What is bushcraft? Have we lost the path, have we forgotten what it is, what it was supposed to be?

If Bushcraft is not the destination but the path - what is the destination? Is it a shed full of gear and a armoury of cutting tool to equal any dark age warlords arsenal? Or is it the ability, with very little gear to enter into the nature and become, if not a part of it, at least comfortable?

What happened to carry less by knowing more?

I can remember a time when the goal of every wanna be 'shrafter' was to be free of all the gear and clutter - a knife and billy can and a blanket withthe skills to provide everytihing else was our dream!!

Watching, rediscovering the Bush tucker man has been a breathe of fresh air for me. I am out doing or teaching bushcraft all year and personally I hadnt realsied how much I had become gear orientated myself. Its a bad habit and one I will now stop and turn around, seeking to once again simplify.

The knife may now be a Wilderness knife , the billy a swedish army mess kit not a old commerical bean tin, and the blanket may now be a Whitby or hudson bay not one liberated from Nans airer but the journey and the rediscovery will still be the same - all thanks to Les Hiddins the Bush tucker man!! maybe this little taster will help you understand or wet your appetite!!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Bearclaw Supports........

The Bearclaw Bushcraft team like to support charity when applicable and as such we would urge all the Blog readers to visit the website below and make a donation - no donation is to small and it all goes to a great cause.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Fjallraven 30L Vintage sack

The new Fjallraven Vintage 30l rucksacks have arrived.

These are exactly the same as the 20l rucksacks just .....................bigger by 10litres but that ten litres has turned a humble rucksack which would comfortably hold a weekends kit or a weeks worth if packed with care into a Tardis which seems to swallow kit!!

Having tested the 20l all last year and having grown to love it and use it as my main sack I cant wait to get the 30l on my back.

The Fjallraven Vintage 30l is available in both green or khaki and will soon be added to the website but in the mean time well done to Fjellraven for listening to our advise and for producing a traditional looking yet highly functional rucksack thats perfect for almost all our bushcrafting needs!

Visit the bearclaw website for specs and prices ect!!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Down still not out

For a long time down sleeping bags and clothing have existed, but for the bushcrafter the fear of the insulation lose which can happen if the down gets wet has always put people off.

But because of its insulation qualities, its warmth to weight ratio and its general user friendliness the Bearclaw team have been trialing different down items over the last year.

Sleeping bags - in my youth, as a young soldier we were all issued the good old 58 pattern down bag and for at least 7 years I used one of these sleeping in trenches, ditches, under bashas and in tents, I have slept in a 58 bag which in the morning was covered in a layer of ice and looking back never seem to remember them letting me down - indeed with the water proof base and hood I remember many a time sleeping under the stars and when it started to rain simply rolling over so the bottom became a water proof top!!

So impressed with these bags am I that I now sleep in one still on all our expedition style courses. Their only down (excuse the pun) side is the bulk - being designed to roll into their own hood.

For courses when we're a foot and need to pack compactly I personally now favour the Fjallraven Distance P5 sleeping bag, this bag packs down to the size of a grape fruit, weighs next to nothing and is remarkably warm for its size - comfort rated only to 4c I've used my bag year round and using common sense (i.e sleeping in some of my clothes ect in really cold conditions) I've never had a problem with it. Indeed it is now my favourite of all bags!!

Another bag which has found favour with the team is the Alpkit Dream 500 - I personally have one but have never used it as the Distance P5 suits my needs but I know JP likes his. One thing with the Alpkit kit is the bivi bag while good quality is a little shy on volume being a broad shoulders chap I find them very confining to the point of actually being unusable!

Now onto down jackets, I dont know what it is about a down jacket but their is a comfort level which comes with these which is far more than just the jackets cut. The down itself seems to self regulate and thus far I seem to found that the jackets I've tried never seem to over heat?? Again weight and pack size is excellent. Going back to our fear of the lose of insulation in the wet - how many people go out into the woods without a waterproof jacket, poncho or ventile smock??

OK, ok maybe your one of the few, or your just unlucky and caught out without one, well the Montane Anti-freeze down jacket has a waterproof shell!! Simple!

Down jackets are the ideal thing for dry cold with out a shadow of a doubt, but our trials have found they hold their own in typical uk weather too ...................

As for the cost - well yes down is more expensive than most other insulation materials and that may inhibit some people - but look at it this way, your clothing is your first line of defence in the wilderness, if dressed correctly, for the temperature range and weather conditions you could survive many days without shelter, fire or a cutting tool - now consider how much you'd happily spend on a knife?? Suddenly down isnt so expensive.................

Lastly - another interesting thing I've found with down is you dont get the clammy feeling often found in synthetic bags or clothing!! Down may not be for everyone but its worthy of consideration - me and the boys are definate converts back to this simple, more traditional material and thats because we've found it works!


Sunday, 20 January 2008

Camp kitchen

Much has been written about the best knife or jacket or rucksack for bushcraft but little if anything is written about the humble cook pot or stove!!

For many a billy can is best - but ask them why and they dont know - or they will answer "it can be hung over the fire" - so in essence they limit themselves to this one pot because they lack the skills or fire management, Granted a Swedish Army Mess kit is highly versatile and serve as many pots rather than one but even that may not be good enough.................

Imagine your kitchen at home. Do you cook everything in one saucepan? Or do you use a frying pan, a saucepan and a kettle??

So why do we feel we need to limit ourselves in the field??

In Lars Falts book FRILUFTSBOKEN and in Woodcraft by Nessmuk we see that a small kettle and a frying pan are incredibly versatile. Soldiers in the jungle are often taught to carry a frying pan as its a better cooking pot for that enviroment - why?

A pan or pot with a large flat surface area heats up the cooking materials quicker and more evenly - it requires the cook to stir the contents to stop them burning but for speed of warming a ration pack meal or boiling water a frying pan works amazingly well - saving fuel and time!! Remember a frying pan can fry, boil and be used for roasting or as a hot plate for bannocks and breads ect

But maybe boiling water in a frying pan isnt the ideal answer - after all what if you want a brew with your stew - well here the small camping kettle comes into its own - something like a trangia 27 or the Gelert camp kettle which has a folding bail arm can be used to boil water on a stove or hung over the fire - it can be used as a billy can too - Lars Nilson has a good picture in his book of him boiling a couple of fish in his kettle! And in Sweden the coffee pot is never far from the fire ......lets also remember the oldest name for a cooking pot hung over the fire is kettle, or a translation of that.

And then what about our stove - gas or Multifuel stoves can be expensive and the fuel doubly so - they also require you to carry in the fuel and containers and once used require you to carry out the empty containers ... and as a backwoodsman surely we'd rather cook on the open fire anyway??

So why not look at something simpler - a hexi stove or a Tommy cooker as their known for example these are cheap - the fuel blocks can be used as tinder for fire lighting as we'll as with the stove and once used their no rubbish to carry out.

Another consideration for our cookware and stoves is size and effeciancy - a frying pan can sit happily at the back of a ruck sack taking up no room unlike say a Zebra billy can with its useless fold down bail arm that sticks out awkardly.

And something like a Tommy cooker has very few working parts to break and the blocks burn well in most temperature ranges unlike gas or white fuel ...........

Of course the above ideas may not suit everyone - the light weight camper might be happy with just a crusader cup and cooker - or the scout leader who has to feed a pack might want a big double burner ect - but persoanlly speaking I dont think we should be blinkered by convention or limit ourselves in our solo kits to what we think looks bushcrafty - try something new, see what you think!!

And remember a good meal and a hot drink are pricelss in the field, lifting morale and marking the end of pleasant days in the bosom of nature their second only in importance to a good nights sleep - so why skimp!!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Saturday, 5 January 2008