Bushcraft Holiday

In this blog I wanted to talk to you about bushcraft and whether or not you take it on holiday?

I have had a few trips away and some have been based around improving or honing my bushcraft skills, but others have literally been holidays with my wife or family and not centred around bushcraft, however it always seems to find a way into every trip I take.

Be it a trip to the Sahara Desert with Woodland Ways, that was my first experience of an expedition abroad. Where I booked on as a customer, to the holiday I have just come back from with Kara where we spent 10 days in Fuerteventura, bushcraft is always there somewhere.

On the Sahara trip I knew bushcraft was going to be part of this trip, that’s why I booked it. It was on this trip that I got my first ever hand drill ember thanks to Adam Logan, using materials gathered in country and that planted a seed within me, as now whenever I go on any trip, be it work or holiday I always try to do fire by friction with locally sourced materials, even if sometimes I don’t know what those materials are.

Sahara hand drill ember

But it is not just friction fire that goes on holiday with me. Kara & I went to the Gambia for a holiday and knowing the water was not going to be safe to drink we took my Lifesaver Liberty water filter. We didn’t need to buy any bottled water the whole trip. Whilst in the hotel I would fill the sink and filter the water from there into our water bottles. Whilst out I would find a water source and do the same.

Dont drink the tap water

This did lead to an interesting encounter one day. As I was filtering water from a lake I saw a “log” drifting towards me. So I moved away to higher ground and sure enough that “log” turned out to be a croc that had other ideas for me. Also on that holiday I found the plant Sotol Dasylirion wheeleri that I know had been used for cordage and so I harvested some and spent that afternoon processing the leaf down to make cordage. Nothing special there you might think. However on the trip we stopped at a village and me absentmindedly processing the plant ended up with a crowd around me watching me. An old guy in the crowd said “you are making string; I remember seeing my grandfather do that”. This struck up a conversation with some of the locals and I was treated as some sort of celebrity.

Hmm, Might get my water elsewhere
Processing plant fibers for cordage

They were amazed that some random white guy on holiday knew how to do something that was becoming lost knowledge to them. Later the same holiday I was sat by the pool twisting said plant fibres into cordage and Kara started laughing. I asked what she was laughing at and she explained that the German woman next to me was telling her husband that “this man next to me is making some sort of string using plants” Kara speaks fluent German and I don’t. A conversation then ensued in German where Kara explained what I do for a living and that this was normal for one of our holidays. Well that’s what she told me she said!!??

Other bushcraft skills that have accompanied me on trips away have included homemade clothing and equipment. On the winter trips I have done, most of my kit has been homemade or home modified to fit the purpose of the task. Also, don’t believe all you read or hear about certain bushcraft skills.

Winter Trip with home made kit

As it has been said that bow drill is not possible with pine into pine and at temperatures below -20c. I have done bow drill with pine into pine at -27c whilst snowing and I have both physical witnesses and video proof as I know many would say “you faked it”. Nope, I did it just to see if I could.

Bow drill ember at -27c.

I don’t have to be in some foreign country to practice these skills. On a week away in the lakes with Kara I found some dead standing Elder Sambucus nigra that I was able to harvest a couple of stems from and manage a hand drill ember with that at the side of a lake.

Hand drill in Lakes

On the last Yukon expedition I did with Jason, circumstances worked against us and we had to come off the river and transfer to a lake system. We still had an amazing trip, but to give the customers more I said I would walk into the woods, gather the materials for a bow drill set using nothing other than a bit of Para cord and my bowie knife and have a go at a bow drill ember. This was well received and the task was all done in real time with customers watching and unbeknown to me, Jason filming. The ember was achieved and it felt great to be able to do that there & then with no prior prep work.

Bow drill ember Yukon

Hand drill is one of my favourite methods of friction fire as it really just needs one bit of wood, if it’s long & thick enough. It’s a very simple method that is very rewarding. I have to admit that in hot dry climates it is much easier. The ember I did in the Mojave Desert was very easy. I cannot remember the wood used, I think it may have been from the Creosote bush Larrea tridentate but the base board and drill came from the same plant and as I recall it worked very well with not only me but two customers also getting embers. Whilst in Kenya with Woodland Ways it was a privilege to watch the whole Maasai village come out to demo hand drill to us. Later back in camp I did the hand drill with sticks I had found whilst out walking the bush. I remember two of the elders sitting watching me with deep interest. When I had finished they walked away without saying anything to me, but Daniel our fixer out there said “they were very impressed that you did that on your own without help”. You see friction fire is not normally a solo effort it is always a team or tribal effort. It’s just the white man’s ego that says you’ve got to be able to do it on your own.

Hand drill Mojave Desert

And lastly the holiday I have just returned from to Fuerteventura was definitely NOT a bushcraft trip. It was a luxury holiday that Kara & I needed. It included days by the pool doing nothing and a few trips out when I hired a car. One of those trips saw us visit a windmill that had a cactus garden where “obviously” I asked if I could take some leaves from some of the plants. Now my Spanish is not that good that I can ask this in Spanish, but thankfully the guide spoke excellent English and when I asked she said she would have to ask the boss. The boss came and she asked why I wanted the leaves, so I explained that historically natives would have used the cactus leaves to make cordage with, even using the strong spine at the tip of the leaf as a needle to sew with. This sparked a quick discussion in Spanish, then the guide explained that she had seen this done when she was a child and yes she remembers her grandfather making string this very way. After a bit e discussion I was lead to the garden to harvest whatever I wanted.

Later that day we visited an Aloe Vera farm. Again after looking round and buying some products I asked if I could take some of the dead dry stems and leaves. Again thankful the guide spoke good English as I explained that I wanted to try hand drill with it, and again it was no problem and they were more than happy for me to take whatever I wanted.  Back at the hotel on the veranda of our apartment I had a go with the Aloe Vera, it started out well and I am convinced it will work, but the drill stem I had broke up under the pressure of my clumsy mits before I could get an ember. But examining the powder and drill I am absolutely convinced this combo will work. Another couple of sticks I picked up whilst out walking in the park with Kara, sorry I don’t know what the tree was, but they worked.

Alo Vera hand drill set

It was funny coming home from this holiday as packed into my suitcase along with all my normal stuff was two VERY large cacti leaves, one about 4’ long the other 2’, a palm frond of about 6’ long and an assortment of sticks. I hate to think what I would have to say had I been pulled up at the airport.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share that with you and give you a little insight into what my amazing wife has to put up with when we are away. But it is great to be able to carry these skills with you wherever you go. They weigh nothing and they travel well. So why not take them with you and practice wherever you are. It’s a great skill and it can literally break down language barriers and bridge cultural gaps. But watch out for those crocs!!


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