Which Is Better: Wilderness Knowledge or Survival Gear?

People often try to make up for a lack of knowledge with survival gear.  Which is better?

In a perfect world both are desirable, but there are a few things that happen as you spend more time in the wilderness practicing your bushcraft.

The first thing you’ll notice is that you are no longer afraid of every little twig snapping and owl hooting in the forest around you.  Instead of asking, “What was that?” you’ll soon think, “That sounds like a turkey!”  My kids are getting to the point where they can interpret the sounds in the forest and they now walk back and forth between my tipi and the house unassisted and without fear.  One evening when there was moonlight my son asked if we could walk home without our flashlights and he got to experience the night forest the way our ancestors did for thousands of years.  He thought it was cool and we talked about night vision and how you don’t always need man-made tools to do things.

Another thing that happens as you spend time studying the forest is you start to  really see things.  As I walked through the forest last weekend I was taking stock of the resources around me.  At one point I saw a paper birch with bark hanging off just begging to be harvested for tinder.  In my opinion birch is some of the best natural fire starter in the wildness, so I marked its location in my mind and kept walking.

fire starters
Fire Starters

Later on I passed a stand of pines and some turkey droppings.  With the right mix of pine sap, droppings, and wood ashes you can make a natural glue.  You can also make pine needle tea, which is very high in vitamin C.

Further down the trail I passed a stand of old cattails.  Cattails are the wilderness version of a supermarket.  If you’re ever in a survival situation and you find a stand of cattails be assured that your chances of survival just got a lot better.  Depending on the time of year you can use them to help start a fire, make a bow or hand drill, make cordage, you can eat various parts of the plant, use the head for insulation, collect pollen to make little cakes out of, etc.

I walked past a clear brook that would make a likely watering hole and shortly after that there were deer beds and lots of turkey sign.  A veritable deer superhighway went from the swamp to an open field not far away and if I wanted to do some hunting that would be the spot.

A stand of spruce and fir trees made finding a tree suitable for a bow drill kit almost a certainty.

With all of these prospects around me I knew that within a few days of being turned loose in the wilderness with minimal gear I’d be able to survive ok for at least a few weeks.

Compare this to folks who have lots of gear, but no wilderness experience.  They walk through the woods seeing trees and hearing noises and wondering what they are.  They walk past valuable resources not understanding how they could be used if they got lost and used up all their consumables.


Don’t get me wrong, I love gear.  I’ve got tons of stuff and have given friends and family a lot of cool equipment over the years, but if you’re an experienced woodsman and you’re going into the woods for just a few days you really don’t need a whole lot of stuff to take with you.  bush knife

Here’s a few of the essentials I typically carry with me:

  • Knife
  • Fire Steel
  • Good sleeping bag and bivy
  • Steel water bottle
  • Paracord
  • Headlamp
  • Cotton bandanna
  • Compass
  • Duct Tape
  • Multi-tool
  • Spork
  • Map and compass
  • Freeze dried food

This list draws off Dave Canterbury’s 10 C’s of Survival Gear.  His last C is a canvas needle, which I’ll pack sometimes, but I usually prefer a good multi-tool.  I add a few other items as well, but the core gear is usually the same.

One piece of gear that I really like is a military grade poncho.  It has many uses such as shelter, rain catch, collecting and carrying stuff, and actually wearing it as a poncho to keep the rain off.  Do spend the extra money and get a good grade poncho though.  If you buy something cheap you’ll probably regret it later when you try to build a shelter out of it on a stormy day.

The Next Step

When you go beyond the basics you move from surviving in the wilderness to dependence on technology.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you should first be able to live with just the basics (or even no gear at all) before going into the wilderness relying on a bunch of gear that might break or wear out over time.

If you’re on a long term bug-out or living through an SHTF situation understanding how to survive with no gear will make it so that when you’re out there with gear it’s a force multiplier.  You’ll be that much better with even minimal gear and thriving instead of running out of food and being helpless when your gear breaks.

tipi and gear in the snow
Tipi in the Snow

Going into the wilderness with little or no gear and knowing you could survive if something happened is very liberating.  I always carry a minimal amount of gear when I head into the woods and know that if I got lost or somehow forced to spend a night I’d be ok with the minimal stuff that I carry with me.  Learn how to do this and you could also enter the forest with that confident feeling know that even if you get stuck out overnight or for three nights you’ll be fine.  (Maybe a little hungry, but no worse for the wear.)

Take that next step and get out there and start learning about how to survive in the wilderness by yourself.  Start out by camping with the gear you usually take, then start paring it back until you find yourself down to the absolute necessities.  Once you’ve reached that point try and learn how to make some of the stuff you need such as a shelter, or a container made of birch bark to boil water to make it clean.  Our ancestors did it from the ground up and if you spend some time in the bush working on your wilderness skills you’ll be able to get an idea of how they lived as well.

You can’t learn if you don’t get dirty!  Get out there!

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor


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