The Premise: Mors Kochanski is one of the forefathers of modern bushcraft, a skillset and mindset steeped in the traditional skills of our ancestors. Bushcraft emphasizes self-sufficiency through knowledge and improvisation as opposed to reliance on advanced gear and technology. Kochanski summed up his philosophy with an appropriately concise quote: “The more you know, the less you carry.”
Born in Canada in 1940 to Polish immigrant parents, Kochanski grew up on a remote farm in Saskatchewan. When he wasn’t busy assisting his father, a carpenter and WWI veteran, Kochanski spent his time hunting, trapping, and exploring the woods with his five siblings. Attending school required him to walk 7 miles each day on a rugged forest road. This independent lifestyle helped him develop a deep appreciation for nature, and eventually led him to a career as an outdoor instructor at the University of Alberta. In 1988, Kochanski published his first and most famous book, Northern Bushcraft. Its title was later shortened to Bushcraft.
The 411: In the book’s introduction, Kochanski states, “There is nothing in the bush that does not have a use at some time or other.” This statement forms the foundation for a dense tome of what he calls “basic existence skills.” The introduction also makes it clear that this book is intended to be approachable for anyone who wishes to become more comfortable in the outdoors. However, don’t take this as a sign that the content will be oversimplified — it most assuredly is not.
The first six chapters of Bushcraft focus on core skills. Firecraft explains the essential nature of a fire in the wilderness. It goes into detail on ignition sources, tinder materials, fuel requirements, and the benefits of various layouts, pot suspension systems, and cooking techniques.
Axecraft, Knifecraft, and Sawcraft — prioritized in this order — emphasize the value of these cutting tools for all other bushcraft skills. Cutting techniques are shown for everything from felling trees to delicate carving and shaving. There’s also a clear emphasis on blade maintenance, safety, and first aid.
Bindcraft is a shorter chapter on how to improvise cordage from more than a dozen natural materials.
Sheltercraft discusses how to build a “micro-environment” to escape the elements. Kochanski provides guidance on shelters ranging from simple open-fronted windbreaks to permanent, fully enclosed dwellings for the entire family.
The following six chapters change focus from skills to specific natural resources: Birches, Conifers, Willows, Shrubs, Moose, and Hare. In keeping with this book’s foundation, Kochanski writes about how to find, harvest, and repurpose every substance within each of these resources.
Nearly every page of Bushcraft features highly detailed illustrations. The New Edition also features 14 pages of color photos in a supplement at the end of the book.
The Verdict: Whether you’re a sheltered suburbanite or a seasoned outdoorsman, this book is packed with lessons that can improve your wilderness survival skills. Its near-encyclopedic information density makes it a volume that must be patiently studied rather than skimmed, but Kochanski’s diligent explanations of each technique make it easier to digest. The multitude of diagrams are hugely helpful as well.
Although Bushcraft has value for all survivalists, it’s not precisely tailored to every survivalist. It’s decidedly old-fashioned, and despite being written in the 1980s, it often feels equally relevant to the 1880s or 1780s. Even common tools like a lighter are never mentioned. On one hand, this means the skills within are timeless and reliable; on the other hand, they sometimes feel needlessly antiquated.
A larger and more prominent issue throughout the book is its regional focus. Kochanski wrote it based on his experience in Canada, and its original title was a better reflection of this theme. Most of the content is relevant to any locale, but some — especially the final six chapters — will be less useful outside of the Great White North. Also, all units are metric, so Americans should keep a converter handy.
While Bushcraft isn’t the only wilderness skills book you should own, it’s deserving of a place in almost any survivalist’s library. Even if you have access to modern gear, proficiency in traditional bushcraft skills will build your creativity and help you learn to stay alive with nothing more than your wits and a sharp blade.
Book & Author
Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival (New Edition)