Bushcraft Gear List

Bushcraft Gear - Bivvy Bag

What is the best bushcraft gear you can buy?

Below, we have compiled a bushcraft gear list detailing the top equipment that is currently on the market.

Unless you want to do the whole ‘naked and marooned‘ approach, you will need to take some gear with you.

With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to create a list of what we would recommend kit wise.

As you will see, we haven’t gone for cheap rubbish here! We are firm believers in always buying the best you can afford.

Good kit will last you many years, even a lifetime, and is usually worth the extra few bucks.

You will end up with good quality gear, that is usually better to use – and if you ever want to sell it on, there is usually a market for the decent items.

This can’t always be said for some of the cheap rubbish that you see peddled out there.

Go for the best and build your kit up slowly. It will be worth it in the long run.

Anyway, on to the gear…

Trousers (Pants)

Best Bushcraft Trousers Pants
Classic (but pricey) bushcraft trousers

If you want the best bushcraft trousers out there (or best pants if you’re over the pond), then the Fjallraven Vidda Pro are one of the best options available.

There’s no shortage of people using these, but for a very good reason though…they’re solid trousers and made for the job.

Designed in Sweden, Fjallraven has an excellent reputation for quality – and if you go for these trousers you will not be disappointed.

Fjallraven Vidda Pro video
Bushcraft Trousers Pants Fjallraven Vidda Pro Best Buy

They aren’t cheap and are by no means completely necessary, however, we consider it an investment worth making if you are serious about your gear and overall comfort.

Product links: USA | UK | CAN

Backpack

Karrimor SF Sabre 75 rucksack - Bushcraft Gear
Karrimor SF Sabre 75 rucksack

You need something to carry all that kit in.

There are numerous rucksacks out there, with varying qualities and features.

Our opinion is that you want to keep it simple. You want a solid, hard-wearing pack. that will last for years and not let you down.

Our favourite is the Karrimor SF Sabre 75.

For a daysack, this may be a little on the big side, but if you are out for an overnighter or multi-day trip, then it’s not hard to fill up a bag like this with all your kit.

Highly recommended!

Product link: here

Looking for a bit more of a rundown on bushcraft backpacks? Check out our article here.

Knife

Bushcraft Gear - Knife - Morakniv Companion
Morakniv Companion – this one needs a clean!

A fundamental tool in the field and therefore an essential piece of equipment, your knife has a multitude of uses – which makes it a vital tool.

One of the most popular knives out there is the Morakniv Companion.

These just can’t be beaten for functionality and price.

Sure, you can spend a lot more and get a fancier knife – but you don’t need to!

One of these knives will do everything you want it to and more and will last a very long time.

And you won’t be crying if you ever lose it!

The only thing you need to decide is if you want to go for carbon or a stainless blade.

The carbon blade is easier to sharpen, but oxidises easier and needs more care to prevent it rusting.

The stainless blade is slightly harder to sharpen, but is lower maintenance and therefore probably the best option for all-round use.

Or, considering the price – why not get both!

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Firesteel

Firesteel Ferro Rod - Light My Fire - Bushcraft Gear & Equipment
Light My Fire ferro rod and striker

You need a reliable way of starting a fire, whether rain or shine!

There comes no more reliable than the trusty firesteel.

These always work and don’t require any special storage, so are a great item to carry in your kit.

There are many different types available, you can even make your own by purchasing a blank and then fashioning your own handle, from deer antler, etc.

However, for a ready to go option, the Light My Fire is a solid choice – from a trusted brand.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Axe

Granfors Bruks Small Forest Axe - Bushcraft Axe
Granfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

If you are going to chop wood, you need a decent axe.

There comes no finer than Gransfors Bruks of Sweden.

Their Small Forest Axe is a great size for all-round camp activities.

It’s powerful enough to chop hefty logs while being compact enough to carry on your person – making it perfect for bushcraft purposes.

Each one of these axes is individually hand made, with the blacksmith’s initials stamped onto each one.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Folding Saw

Folding Saw - Bahco Laplander - Bushcraft Gear

Carrying a folding saw is a great, portable way of sawing smaller branches around camp.

They are fairly small and super sharp when needed.

One of the most popular is the Bahco Laplander. They come in green and are tried and tested.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Boots

Hanwag Tatra Top GTX Boots - Bushcraft Equipment
Hanwag Tatra Top GTX Boots

A good set of boots are essential for ankle support and comfort and another critical item on your bushcraft gear list.

If you are active around camp or hiking – you need some sturdy boots.

Investing in a good set from the start is money well spent.

Make sure you allow some time to wear them in though before going on any extended trips.

There are a few good makes, however, one of the notable ones is Hanwag, with their Tatra Top GTX boot being extremely comfortable for all manner of outdoor activities.

If you do go for a set of these, make sure you get the wide option if you have medium-wide feet, as the standard fit is quite slim around the toe area.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Socks

Thorlo KLT Hiking Socks - Bushcraft Gear
A good set of socks is essential for your comfort

If you are wearing boots, you want a good set of socks.

The thin type that you might wear day to day, just ain’t gonna cut it.

Invest in a few good sets and your feet will thank you for it.

One of our favourites is the Thorlo KLT Hiking Socks.

They provide great cushioning and will help keep your feet warm in colder conditions – while still wicking away sweat when your feet get warmer.

Purchase links: US | UK | CAN

Tarp

A good tarp will help keep you and your kit dry

If you are staying outside you will probably want a shelter of some sort.

One of the most versatile is a good quality tarp system. They can be used in a multitude of ways and will keep the worst of the rain (or sun) off you.

You can go larger for groups etc, but a good standard size for personal use is 3 x 3 metres.

One of the best is the DD Tarp 3 x 3.

Product links: US | UK | CAN

Meths burner

Trangia Alcohol Burner - Meths Stove
Trangia alcohol burner

If you want a low-tech, reliable stove, then a meths burner may be a good fit for you.

They are super simple and just work.

The two contenders are the Trangia and the Esbit burner. The Esbit is slightly more user-friendly than the Trangia as it has a small handle to operate the simmer ring.

However, the Trangia is slightly better built and is, therefore, our burner of choice.

Get the full rundown on bushcraft stoves here.

Purchase links: US | UK | CAN

Paracord

Paracord-Hanked-550-Green
Paracord is an essential item for your kit bag

Paracord is just one of the things that you need in your kit. Its uses are almost limitless.

If you do buy some, don’t buy the cheap stuff, it will only let you down.

Go for real paracord, which is made in the USA by Government approved suppliers.

This is the only way you can guarantee you’re getting the real thing.

You want their commercial-spec or their mil-spec. The mil-spec will cost more but is the exact same cord that the US military get.

The same manufacturers commercial-spec will usually be equally as good strength and material wise.

So in general, the commercial is the one to go for, as it balances quality with a sensible price.

Make sure it is USA made though. We have more on this in our article here.

For the UK we recommend Clutha Paracord, which is 100% genuine – USA made cord.

For the US and Canada, Tough-Grid cord is your best bet.

Purchase links: US | UK | CAN

Bivvy bag

Bushcraft Gear List - British Army Bivvy Bag Green
Using a bivvy bag is a great way to help keep you and your kit dry

Using a bivvy bag is a great idea if you are sleeping out. They provide you with some extra protection from the elements, increasing your chances of a good night’s sleep.

They can, of course, be used on their own, with your sleeping bag inside, using the bivvy as your sole outer protection.

This is great for sleeping out under the stars, in good conditions.

They are also great when used in conjunction with a tarp or basha – which is the preferred method if you are expecting rain or snow.

This can be done straight on the ground, or in a hammock setup.

You may even want to use one inside a tent, affording you a bit extra warmth when needed.

Most are breathable and waterproof, but the quality does vary.

British Army Bivvy Bag

One of our favourites is the no-nonsense, British Army Gore-tex bivvy bag that is pictured above.

As with most equipment designed for the military, these are solidly made with fully taped seams and a drawstring hood section.

They are heavy compared to others, but this is made up for by the excellent, bomb-proof quality that they afford.

They will last you for years.

There is no zip on these, so you have to slide in and out, but on a plus point, this means there is less to go wrong.

As they are made with Gore-tex, they are relatively breathable, while still providing a good degree of all round water protection.

They are designed to be used underneath a tarp as the hood does not completely cover you, but you can sleep out in them on their own if the weather is dry.

If it does start to rain though, you can always roll over and sleep on your front if necessary.

The only problem is that these bags are not easy to come across these days, especially new.

If you can get one though, we would recommend them for a heavy-duty bag.

Due to the sourcing problem, we will recommend another which is more widely available, this being the Snugpak Special Forces Bivvi Bag.

Snugpak Special Forces Bivvi Bag
Snugpak Special Forces Bivvi Bag

These are not Gore-tex, but do incorporate Snugpak’s Paratex Dry Fabric, which is designed to do a similar thing, in that it allows moisture from your body to escape, while not letting any outside moisture in.

They feature a central zip, which helps with getting in and out of them, as well as being very lightweight and packable.

Some users find that they get a condensation build-up in these bags, but this will depend on the conditions and sleeping bag used etc.

They are ultimately, a well-made bivvy bag for a reasonable price – that you can actually get hold of!

Product links: US | UK | CAN

Sleeping mat

Thermarest ProLite Plus - Rolled up in hand
Thermarest Sleeping mat

A sleeping mat, although not completely essential, is a great way to aid a good nights sleep.

They generally come in 2 forms. One being the standard foam type that rolls up into a tube otherwise known as a roll mat.

The other type is the inflatable, which has become much more popular over the last few years, as the technology has improved.

The inflatable type allows you to carry a mattress in a relatively small package and then inflate to a usable size very quickly when needed.

One of our favourites is the Thermalite ProLite Plus which we have reviewed previously here.

It is lightweight and packs into a small stuff sack, so will not take up much room – but still gives you some decent padding during sleep.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Hammock

Image: DD Hammocks

A hammock is a great way of sleeping off ground, keeping you away from the cold floor as well as any bugs or other creatures that might be crawling around camp.

They take a bit of getting used to at first, but once you learn how to sleep in them they are a great way to camp out, assuming you have something to tie them to of course.

Two decent trees are ideal, but anything that will provide a strong anchor point will do.

The fact that they can be packed away into a small stuff sack or similar makes them a great addition to your portable sleeping system.

One of the best out there for the price is the DD frontline, which includes a bug net and has proven itself all over the globe.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

First aid kit

Lifesystems Pocket First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is a must

It’s always sensible to carry a first aid kit with you in your pack and have it close by.

During bushcraft activities, you will be often be using knives, axes etc, as well as being around open flames.

Accidents can and do happen, so it’s best to be prepared for this, especially if you are a long way from medical assistance.

What you need to carry will depend on where you are going and what activities you intend to do once there.

A good option is to make one up yourself, which can then be tailored to your exact needs.

You may want to buy an off the shelf kit and then add to this as necessary.

There are plenty of these available at a good price. We have included links to some decent kits to start off with below.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Water filter

Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System - Bushcraft and Survival Water Filter
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System

Obtaining clean drinking water is a must. You do not want to be getting ill.

There are a number of options for purifying water, including boiling, sterilization and filtration.

Water purification tablets are one option, but they do leave a bit of a taste in the water. The Katadyn tablets are one of the best if you do go down this route.

Boiling is another option but does require you to have a heat source, which is not something you are able to do – or have time for.

The modern water filters are one of the simplest and convenient options.

You can go for the bag type such as the Platypus Gravityworks, which is a good choice for around camp, but if you want something a bit more portable, then the Sawyer mini below is a great choice.

Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System

The Sawyer Mini Filtration System is a multi-functional water filter that is lightweight and easy to carry.

It can be used with the squeeze pouch that is provided, with your own bottle or bag – or placed on your hydration bladder hose, to filter water on the go.

The filter unit can be cleaned out and reused, so should last you for a good while indeed.

The units are USA made and a great price for what you get.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Water bottle

Nalgene Narrow Mouth Water Bottle - Bushcraft Gear
The Nalgene is the best water bottle – bar none

You need water! It’s vital for your survival and general well-being.

To store it, you are going to want a bottle of some sort.

If you want a straight-up water bottle, then there is no finer than Nalgene bottles.

These are quite simply the best plastic bottles out there and we use ours daily.

Made in the USA, they come in narrow or wide mouth versions and are also BPA free.

We use and far prefer the narrow mouth 1 litre (33oz) everyday bottle, as they are far easier to drink from than the wider type.

Drinking from the wide ones usually ends up with you spilling water down the sides of your face as you drink.

Go for the narrow type if you are using the bottle purely for drinking.

If you buy one of these, you are unlikely to regret it.

They are bombproof and are everything that a water bottle should be – solid and no fuss.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Dutch oven

Lodge Dutch Oven - Bushcraft Gear Cooking

If you are at camp for a while or have the ability to transport one, a dutch oven is a great option for your cooking needs.

Get the full lowdown on camp dutch ovens in our article here.

If you want the quick answer on the best one to get, then we recommend Lodge dutch ovens.

They are tried and tested and with a little care, will last you a lifetime.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Binoculars

Leica Trinovid HD binoculars - Bushcraft Binos
Leica Trinovid HD binoculars

A good set of binoculars (sometimes known as binos) are a great asset to have with you.

They let you scan areas in the distance with ease and come into their own when wildlife spotting or during hunting activities.

It’s not just the size that matters!

The optics are the most important part of the binoculars, far more than the actual size of them.

A smaller, but higher-quality set, will let in far more light and be far sharper visually than a lower quality, larger set.

It, therefore, pays to invest in great optics, especially if you are using for hunting etc in low light conditions.

Binoculars are one of those items that you really notice the extra quality on, so it pays to spend a bit on them if image quality and light gathering matter to you.

In low light, such as dusk, a good set will pick out the animal or object long after a bad set will, which can make all the difference to your day or hunt.

Once you have decided on a good brand for optics, then size plays into it.

Size selection will depend on whether you want an ultra-compact pair or are happy to lug around something a bit chunkier.

For a good all-round pair, that will work well in woodland and out on the open hill, a set of 8 x 42’s are a great choice.

There are a variety of good makes to choose from, including Zeiss, Swarovski, Kahles, Steiner etc, all of which are a great choice.

Our current favourites are the Leica Trinovid HD 8×42, which are German made and top-quality.

Like the others, they cost a bit to purchase, but presuming you don’t lose them, should last you a lifetime.

Purchase links: USA | UK | CAN

Summary

We hope this list gives you a good insight into what we feel are the best items to buy if you are looking for any of the above kit.

It is by no means exhaustive and we will be adding updates to this as time goes on.

It does, however, give you our position on what we recommend for each item. We hope you found it useful.

If you would like to let us know your favourites or something you would like included, please do so in the comments.

We would love to hear from you.

James

Bushcraft Hub

Is Gorse Flower Edible?

Is Gorse Flower Edible?

Yes, gorse flower is edible. You need to make sure that you only use them in small quantities though, as they contain alkaloids, which are mildly toxic.

You would have to eat quite a few for them to have any effects, but it’s worth being aware of that.

Gorse (Ulex Europaeus) starts to flower around late Autumn, continuing through Winter, with the flowers reaching full bloom around Spring.

These edible flowers have a pleasant, almost coconut aroma and can be picked and used for many purposes, including adding to a salad or brewed into a tea.

One of the more popular ways to use these is to ferment them into wine, which if successful, produces a very nice drop indeed and is well worth the effort.

What can you use gorse flowers for?

You can use gorse flowers for a variety of recipes, but the most simple way to consume them is to simply eat them straight from the bush.

Some other ways to consume them include:

  • Tea
  • Salad
  • Wine

Can you make tea from gorse flowers? How do you make gorse flower tea?

Yes. You can make tea from gorse flowers.

Pick a small handful of fresh gorse flowers, place in a teapot and cover with a cup’s worth of freshly boiled water.

Leave for around 8-10 minutes to brew and then serve. A tea strainer will help with this.

Gorse flower tea benefits

Gorse flower tea has been used for its medicinal benefits for years.

This includes ailments such as:

  • Coughs
  • Colds
  • Sore throat
  • Heartburn and many more

What do gorse flowers smell like?

Gorse flowers have a coconut smell with some citrus notes.

They smell wonderful and are slightly surprising considering the menacing look of the gorse bush itself, which has some pretty hefty spines on it.

When it comes to flowers, the gorse bush wants to be inviting!

Is gorse good for bees?

Yes, gorse is good for bees. The flowers produce nectar and bees love it.

There is also a very small amount of nectar within the flower, which helps attract the bees in the first place and gives them some food in return for their pollination efforts.

Is gorse flower poisonous to humans?

No, gorse is not poisonous to humans (as such!).

You can eat the flowers as mentioned above, or make them into a tea or wine, but don’t overdo it, as the flowers contain small amounts of alkaloids and can be mildly toxic.

Are gorse thorns poisonous?

No, gorse thorns are not poisonous to humans either, but they certainly can cause you a lot of pain!

Although the flowers are a sweet treat to eat, you wouldn’t want to be getting stuck in one of these things, as the thorns are extremely nasty indeed.

When picking flowers (or just being near them in general) watch out, or you may get a good spiking!

Does gorse have pollen?

Yes, gorse does have pollen.

It gets attached to bees when the bee flies into the flower, as well as the flower formed in such a way that it extracts some pollen off the bee that it may have on it from visiting other flowers, therefore allowing for pollination.

Is gorse good for firewood?

Yes, gorse is good for firewood – certainly for getting things started anyway.

Gorse is easy to light burns hot and fast, so be prepared for that.

Keep the fire away from other bushes, as they will easily catch in the right conditions!

Due to its fast burning nature, you may want to add on some slower burning wood in order to have a more sustained fire.

Why is gorse flammable?

Gorse contains a small amount of flammable oils (around 2-4%).

These, along with the dry wood that gorse consists of means it burns easily – and it burns hot!

Is gorse a hardwood?

No. gorse is not a hardwood in the traditional sense of what a hardwood is, like oak etc, however, the branches it produces are very sturdy in construction.

What animal eats gorse?

The case-bearer moth’s larva eats the seedpods of gorse.

Goats, sheep, cattle and horses are also known to eat it.

If you do decide to get your own animals for this purpose, do check out some breeds that prefer it more than others.

Is gorse native to the UK?

Yes, gorse is native to the UK.

There are 3 types of gorse species in the UK.

These are:

  • Common Gorse (Ulex Europaeus) – This, as the name suggests is the most common species in the UK and what you will typically find when you come across a gorse bush. This is also the only type that will grow to around 2.5-3 metres tall, so if it’s up at this height it will most certainly be Common Gorse.
  • Western Gorse (Ulex Gallii) – Low growing and found in the West side of Britain, along the Atlantic Coast.
  • Dwarf Gorse (Ulex Minor) – Another low growing gorse variety, that generally grows to around 30cm in height and is generally found South of the River Thames in Kent and on the South Coast in Sussex and Dorset.

Summary

So, Is Gorse Flower Edible? Yes indeed!

Although extremely thorny, its coconut-scented flowers can be used for a variety of things including tea, wine and simply just snacking on them.

Keep the amount you consume to a sensible quantity though, as they do contain alkaloids, which are mildly toxic.

Looking for more foraging? Take a look at our Common Limpet post here.

Navigation with a Map and Compass – The Fundamentals

Navigation with a Map and Compass

Being familiar with a map and compass is fundamental to good navigation.

From a safety perspective, you should not be in the outdoors without having at least the basics covered.

GPS units are fast becoming the favoured option for navigation these days, whether it be in a vehicle, on our mobile phone, or a standalone unit.

However, it’s far too easy to solely rely on them.

GPS is a fantastic thing – and when it works, it’s an easy way to navigate, doing all the hard work for you.

It’s always easier being told where to go!

However, you are relying on a lot of things to get that position or next bearing.

Will the batteries last? Can you pick up enough satellites? Are there trees blocking the sky?

It’s not always a straightforward and guaranteed process.

Added to that, electronics can fail – that’s a fact. And if that’s your only navigational tool, what now?

Objective of this article

The aim of this post is to take a complete novice through the basic elements of map and compass, and clearly explain how they are used in the real world, whether it be for bushcraft, survival or adventure purposes.

This will also be handy for the more experienced among you who may need a refresher – which let’s face it, we all do from time to time!

The low-tech option

A map and compass are low-tech – time tested navigational tools.

They don’t require electronics, batteries or satellites to work and therefore, have very little to go wrong.

If you’re going off the beaten track, make sure you learn some basic map and compass skills at a minimum and be sure to carry them both with you – even if it’s just as a backup.

There’s nothing wrong with using GPS if you want to – just don’t solely rely on it.


Maps

There is a lot of information on a map, which can seem a little overwhelming when you first pick one up.

In this section, we will run through the fundamentals and get you up to speed.

Map symbols and what they mean

The symbols, diagrams and all other information that are on your map, correspond to an actual feature or landmark on the ground.

These markings – and what they mean, can be found in the area known as the map key or legend.

It is worth familiarising yourself with these symbols as it will make your map reading more efficient.

You do not need to know them all, as you have the legend on the map close by – and some are self-explanatory – but the more you know, the easier your life will be, as you will not have to constantly cross-reference.

To assist you further, the Ordnance Survey has put together a set of educational flashcards. You can use these to help memorise the symbols and meanings.

Ordnance Survey flash cards
Ordnance Survey flashcards

See the full list here

How to fold a map correctly

Your map will usually arrive pre-folded, so this part is done for you. The problem arises when you need to get it back that way!

To refold it to its original state, follow the steps below:

  • 1 – With the map laid out flat in front of you, fold the bottom half underneath the top half.
  • 2 – Concertina back in on itself, following the direction of the preformed creases.
  • 3 – Fold in half again – Done!

Map scales

What does map scale mean?

The scale of a map depicts its direct relationship between a distance measured on the map and the distance that this measurement relates to on the actual ground.

For example on a 1:50,000 map, this means that for every measurement you take on a map, everything is 50,000 times bigger in the real world, hence the scale of 1:50,000.

OS maps are generally produced in one of two different scales – 1:25,000 & 1:50,000.

What does 1 2500 mean on a map?

It means that 1cm on the map, equals 25,000cm in the real world. This is known as 1:25,000 scale.

Using the 1:25,000 scale as an example, a 1cm measurement on the map = 25,000 times that distance on the actual ground.

So if you convert the real-world figure to meters – a 1cm on the map would become 250 metres in the real world (1cm: 25,000cm).

4cm on the map would become 1km (100,000cm) in the real world – and so on.

How big is a grid square on a 1 25000 map?

At 25,000 scale, a map’s grid square is 4cm x 4cm and equals a 1km x 1km square on the actual ground.

What does a 1 50000 map mean?

It means that 1cm on the map, equals 50,000cm in the real world. This is known as 1:50,000 scale.

Using the 1:50,000 scale, 1cm = 50,000cm in the field, is equal to 500 metres.

This equates to 2cm = 1km.

How big is a grid square on a 1 50000 map?

So a grid square on the 1:50,000 scale, is 2cm x 2cm in size, as opposed to the 4cm x 4cm for the 1:25,000 scale.

So, although the size on the map is different, the grid squares represent a 1km x 1km square on the actual ground for both scales. Hopefully, that’s not confusing.

As you can see, the 1:50k map’s 1km grids are smaller (2cm). This means that the map can cover larger areas, which at times has its advantages.

On the other hand, the 1:25k map’s grids are larger, with the total map covering an overall smaller area, but because the grids are larger, the map is ‘zoomed in’ and therefore shows more detail.

The video below is a Royal Marines training aid and helps explain this visually.

Royal Marines – how to read a map video

Which os map is best for walking

In simple terms, if you want more detail, go for 1:25k scale.

If you want less detail and more ground distance covered on the map – go for 1:50k.

The way I remember this quickly is ‘Less is more’, i.e., the lower number (1:25k) gives more detail than 1: 50k.

Your selection should be based on the situation and preference.

Conversely, in some situations, a 1:25k can actually show too much detail and in doing so, cause the location’s features to become over detailed and less clear.

A 1:50k version of exactly the same section, showing the same feature, although less detailed, can actually be clearer to read – as it is less convoluted.

If you are covering larger areas, such as in a vehicle, then the 1:50k version is probably more appropriate and also means you can take fewer maps with you.

Personally, I like the 1:25k version for outdoor navigation on foot here in the UK.

One of the most popular here in the UK is the Ordnance Survey Explorer range of maps. These come in either the standard version or the Active version, which features a waterproof coating – allowing it to be used in all weathers.

I tend to opt for the standard version and keep it in a map case if the weather is bad.

Navigation with a Map and Compass -  OS Map image
1:25,000 scale Ordnance Survey Explorer map – Cairn Gorm

How to set a map

Setting a map simply means aligning the map’s North, with actual North in the real world.

Do this visually by aligning landmarks on the map, with landmarks on the ground. Your location must be known to do this though.

You can also do this by using your compass. More on this in the compass section later.

Grid references

How to find a grid square

In order to identify a location on a map, you need to accurately pinpoint its location.

This is done in the form of a grid reference. 

On a larger scale, for mapping purposes, the UK is broken up into 100 x 100km squares, or grids.

This is known as the National Grid.

These grids are assigned a pair of letters to identify them as per the diagram below.

Note: The USA, Canada, and many other countries have a very similar system. For this article, we will use the UK system – but the same principles apply – just adapt to your area.

How to find a grid square - National Grid Lines Map
Source: Ordnance Survey

When you purchase a map, you will no doubt have noticed that the map has two letters stamped on it in certain places.

These two letters correspond to one of the areas in the image above that your map is covering.

Your map will likely cover a few different sections of these squares and will, therefore, mention multiple letters in places.

What comes first in a grid reference?

Whichever of these sections you are working off on your map forms the first part of your grid reference. e.g. NH

This way, if you are trying to communicate this grid reference to someone else, they will know which section of the country you are referring to when you state the two letters.

Now that we have established the 100 x 100 km mapping area you are working from, we now need to narrow this down considerably, in order to pinpoint the specific location.

How grid squares are broken down

Now, this 100 x 100km NH section mentioned above, is broken down further into 10 x 10 km squares as below.

How grid squares are broken down
OS National Grid square NH, divided into 10 x 10km squares

You will see these on your map, as the thicker blue lines that intersect at every 10th digit on the map, ie 10, 20, 30…

This has now given us a 10 x 10km (100 square km) area to work in, as shown by the yellow box above.

This is progress, but we still need to get this area down further to achieve any sort of accuracy.

Next, each of the 10x10km squares are broken down further into 1km x 1km grid squares.

How to Find a Grid Square on a Map
A smaller 1 x 1km section of the much larger NH area – this is an actual grid square on a map

Grid squares

How to find grid square

We are now down to the actual grid squares that you see on the map.

These are 1km x 1km wide and of course, give us a total area per grid square one square kilometer.

The red square in the image above signifies one of these squares.

We can now get a reasonable amount of accuracy by simply making reference to this square.

It is still a fairly big area but gives a good high-level indication of where something is located on the map.

We state this by giving a 4 figure grid reference.

How to take a 4 figure grid reference

what are eastings and northings on a map?

What are eastings and northings on a map?

Eastings are the numbers that run along the bottom of a map, from left to right.

Northings are the numbers that run up the side of the map, from bottom to top.

How to read eastings and northings

Eastings

Always start by referencing the numbers that run along the bottom first.

These are known as Eastings, as their numbers increase as they travel East.

To help with the correct sequence, remember the adage:

“Go along the corridor, then up the stairs”

So along the corridor = Eastings.

For the red square above, this would give us a number of 97.

Notice how we reference the number at the start of the square (97), not at the end.

Northings

Now we go “up the stairs” by stating the Northing figure.

This equals 18.

We now need to put these two together to obtain a 4 figure grid reference.

This gives us 97, 18.

We are not finished yet though!

As mentioned earlier, there will be multiple 97, 18 grid squares across the country, so we need to signify which mapping area we are referring to.

We do this by adding the area code at the start of the grid reference.

In this example, we are working off map section NH, which gives us a complete 4 figure grid reference of NH 97,18.

By communicating the above, everyone will know exactly what 1km x 1km section of the country you are referring to.

This is how you give a 4 figure grid reference.

How to take a 6 figure grid reference

Knowing where we are within a 1km square is helpful, but for a more precise measurement, we really want to drill down further and get that location within 100 metres of the actual location on the ground.

To do this we take a 6 figure grid reference.

This is done by breaking that 1km grid square down further, into 10 sections, from left to right and bottom to top.

How to take a 6 figure grid reference

We have our 4 figure grid reference from before of NH 97,18.

This represents the whole of the red square above, but we want to pinpoint the Boat House, so we need to go further still.

As you can see, we need to divide the grid square up further into sections of 10.

You will need to do this mentally, as the grid squares do not go any smaller on a map.

Your compass romer will assist you if this helps. Use the correct romer for the scale of the map you are using. In this case 1:25,000.

We can now locate the boathouse by counting along the bottom first – “along the corridor”.

Then…

Count upwards (“climb the stairs”) to reach the correct square.

In this case, it is 3,3

We now need to add this to the grid squares 4 figure grid ref of NH 97,18 to give us NH 973, 183

This is a six-figure grid reference and is the most common format used for navigation purposes.

Why do we use 6 figure grid references?

A six-figure grid reference is usually the most commonly used type of grid reference, as it gives a decent amount of accuracy for a location.

As above, it gives you an area of 1000m squared, which on the ground is a fairly ‘tight’ area to work with.

However, if you want to get more accurate, you need to break things down further…

How to take a 8 figure grid reference

As mentioned above, a six-figure grid reference is usually as far as you need to go for a good indication of location.

However, there may be times when you need to drill down even further still and provide an 8 figure grid reference.

How accurate is a 8 figure grid reference?

An 8 figure grid reference will give you an area accuracy of 100 x 100 metres – which gives us a total 1000m square area of accuracy.

This tightens things up considerably!

To do this, as you have probably guessed, the square from the 6 fig example above, is further divided into ten each way, to give us another figure to add to our grid reference.

You will again need to do this mentally, and it is a bit tricky to exactly pinpoint it sometimes.

Your compass romer may help, although the numbers are meant for 6 fig references, not 8, so you will need to mentally divide this up.

Example of an 8 figure grid reference

For the location of the Boat House above, we look at where its location is in relation to the smaller square that it sits in.

How to take a 8 figure grid reference
Boat House location – 8 figure reference – grid lines and numbers are imaginary

If we divide this up again – this sits at 4 across and 3 up of the square.

We now add this to our six-figure grid reference to give us NH 9734, 1833

This is how you obtain an eight-figure grid reference.

It’s just a question of drilling down further.

Grid reference quiz

Using the above principles, work out the following (answers at the end):

Grid reference quiz - waterfall

Question 1

What is the 4 figure grid reference for the waterfall above, highlighted in blue?

Grid reference quiz - Blue grid
Waterfall location within grid square NN 91,97 – mentally divided into 10 each way

Question 2

Now, turn this into a 6 figure grid reference by dividing up the above blue grid square mentally.

We know the waterfall sits inside grid square NN 91,97.

We now need to determine where it sits within this grid square.

What two coordinates do we need to add to make this the correct six-figure ref?

Next example

6 figure Grid Reference Quiz - Church
Church location within grid square HL 15,76

Question 3

The above grid square is an entirely fictional HL 15,76 (there shouldn’t be any churches in this region)

Turn this into a 6-figure grid reference, to give the church’s location.

You now should have a good understanding of how grid references work and how to obtain one.

I would suggest you now practice this with an actual map to hone these skills further.

Answers:

Question 1 = NN 91,97

Question 2 = 3 & 2, which gives us the total 6 figure grid ref of NN 913,972

Question 3 = HL 157, 766


The compass

We now move on to the compass and how it relates to navigating with a map.

What makes a compass work?

So, what makes a compass work? Well, the short answer is that the compass has a freely moving and rotating magnetically charged needle, that points to Magnetic North.

This function can then be used to give you a North direction, as well as the others, such as South, East, West and everything in between.

The compass can be used on its own – as well as being able to working conjunction with a map.

As you will see, when M&C are combined, they become highly effective navigational tools.

Let’s explore further…

What are the parts of a compass?

Let’s start with the parts of a standard baseplate compass and what the purpose of each part is.

Note: I am using a plate compass for this article, chiefly a Silva Expedition 4, which is a time tested and an incredibly functional unit, used by NATO and many other organisations worldwide.

Your compass may vary slightly, but will not differ much.

I am also basing this article on the Northern Hemisphere. If you are in the South, you will need to adjust accordingly.

Compass Baseplate Section

What is the baseplate on a compass?

This baseplate is the main ‘plate’ section, that the compass is based on.

On here you will find:

The direction of travel arrow

This is the arrow that points to the direction of travel. There is also an illuminated line just past this arrow, which shows the arrow’s position at night.

Direction of Travel Arrow - Silva Compass
The direction of travel arrow

Ruler

Used to help measure distance on a map and provide a straight edge to draw and take bearings with.

Compass ruler - Silva Expedition 4 Baseplate
Compass ruler

Romer scales

What is a compass Romer?

These are sets of right-angled lines that will be marked out in different scales. These being 1:25,000, 1:40,000 and 1;50,000.

These are used to help obtain a grid reference depending on the scale of the map you are using – by dividing up the map’s grid square into 10.

This gives you a more accurate way of obtaining a 6 figure grid reference.

See the map (grid reference) section above for more info.

Romer scales on Expedition 4 - Map and compass navigation
Romer scales on Expedition 4

Magnifying lens

What is the magnifying glass on a compass for?

The magnifying lens is used to enlarge sections of the map to help you read it.

It also has the added benefit of being able to help you start a fire if needed.

See more in our article here.

What is the magnifying glass on a compass for?
Silva compass – magnifying lens

Rotating bezel section

How to use a compass bezel – compass bezel function.

This is the part that rotates within the baseplate, known as the compass bezel.

This allows you to adjust the angle of the compass against the baseplate which allows you to take bearings, set a map etc.

On this bezel you will find:

Degree markings

These are marked on the outside edge of the bezel, from 0-360 degrees. There will also be North, East, South and West markings on here.

How many degrees are there in a compass?

There are 360 degrees in a compass bezel.

These will usually be marked out as a line for each degree, with a larger marker for every fifth degree and numbered every ten degrees.

How many degrees are there in a compass? - Compass bezel with degree markings
Compass bezel with degree markings

Index line

What is the index line on a compass?

This is the marker that the numbers on the rotating bezel match up to – which indicates the degrees figure for your bearing.

Orienting arrow & Orienting lines

What is the orienting arrow on a compass used for?

This orienting arrow points to 360 degrees (North) and gives a reference for the compasses magnetic needle to line up with. This comes in handy when taking a bearing.

These are also straight lines on the bottom of the bezel, that are parallel with the orienting arrow, that are used to line up with the grid lines on the map.

These help when taking a bearing from a map, or transferring one onto.

What is the orienting arrow on a compass used for? - Orienting lines and orienting arrow
Orienting lines and arrow

Magnetic needle

What is the magnetic needle used for?

This is the business part of the compass that points towards Magnetic North.

As you can probably guess the red end with ‘N’ on it signifies North.

What is the magnetic needle used for? - Silva compass magnetic needle
Magnetic needle – red end points to magnetic North (crazy ay!)

Declination scale

Used on an adjustable declination compass to offset the difference between grid and magnetic North.

More on magnetic declination below.

Adjustable declination compass - Silva Expedition 4
Declination scale

Luminous parts

The key parts glow in the dark to enable you to operate at night.

As you can see in the image, the key parts are illuminated to allow for operation.

Silva compass glow in the dark
Silva compass glow in the dark

What are the parts of a compass – video recap

This video from OS gives a brief visual run-through of the above sections:

Magnetic declination

Compass declination explained

Before we move on to bearings, we need to discuss magnetic declination.

This is the term given to the difference between Grid North and Magnetic North.

In simple terms:

  • Your compass needle will point towards Magnetic North.
  • Your map’s vertical grid lines point towards Grid North.
  • True North is different again and generally ignored for M&C purposes.

As you can see – they are not the same and are located at different points of the globe.

Magnetic Declination Diagram

What is the difference between magnetic north and true north?

Ok, so let’s get this multiple North business out of the way!

As above, there are variations between Grid North, Magnetic North as well as True North.

To be successful in navigation, you need to understand the difference between the three.

Let’s run through them.

What is Grid North used for?

Grid North is what the vertical lines on a map point to. 

The reason for the difference between Grid North and True North is the fact that the vertical lines placed on a flat map, do not perfectly replicate the physical ones that are present on the round Earth.

There is a variation – even though it’s hard to get your head around how this can be the case.

In practice, this variation is very minimal and for most navigational tasks, it can be ignored.

However, just know that there is a difference between Grid N and True N.

What is Magnetic North used for?

Magnetic North or MN is what a compass needle will point to – which is the Magnetic North Pole

It differs from True North above, as the magnetic pole field sits slightly off centre to True North.

This magnetic pole also shifts ever so slightly over time.

Due to this, when comparing MN against GN on a map, an offset is manually added in to allow for this.

This is known as magnetic declination or magnetic variation.

How much of an offset depends on how far away the two Norths are between each other, at that point in time.

The magnetic pole is constantly moving and varies from year to year.

Therefore, when you need to transfer a bearing between a map and compass – or vice versa, you need to manually add in (or subtract) the difference.

The current offset is usually displayed on your map and is known as the declination diagram. 

On this diagram, there will be a date mentioned and the offset figure in degrees.

It will state the difference between True North, Grid North, and Magnetic North.

It will also tell you what the variation is each year and in what direction the variation is moving.

What is the definition of True North

True North is the point at the very centre of the top part of Earth, otherwise known as the North Pole.

It is the Earth’s top axis point.

This is also what the North Star’s position relates to – when its position is transferred down to the Earth’s horizon.

For map and compass purposes, you do not need to worry about True North too much – just to have an understanding of what it is.

And now for the video explanation of the above:

Using a compass to navigate (How to use a compass to find direction)

So you have your compass, you have your map – let’s get moving!

Orientation of the map

What is map orientation?

Firstly, it is helpful to orientate your map, so that it is facing the same way as the land in front of you, i.e., North on the map is facing North in the field.

You don’t have to do this, but I find it simplifies things, especially when you are learning.

To align your map, you can use features on the ground, to give you a good idea.

See How to set a map above.

A quicker and more accurate method though is to place your compass on the map and line up the orienting lines with the vertical grid lines on the map so that they run parallel with each other.

The orienting arrow should be facing North (upwards) on the map.

Keep these lines together and rotate the map and compass, until the magnetic needle’s North rests inside the orienting arrow.

Your map is now facing Magnetic North.

How to take a bearing using a compass

Map bearing to compass bearing

Assuming you know where you currently are on the map, you will no doubt now want to navigate somewhere else.

To do this, firstly find where you are and where you want to travel to.

So on the map, you will now have your start and finish point for this particular leg of the journey.

There will be a straight line between these two points – the direction of this line will form the bearing.

We now need to transfer the direction of this straight line between the two points on the map – to the direction between your start and finish points on the actual ground.

Transferring the bearing (convert map to compass bearing)

To get this bearing onto your compass…

Start by placing the compass edge next to your start point on the map – this is your current location.

Rotate the compass, with its side edge pivoting on the start point, until the other end of this edge lines up with your intended finish point.

The finish point should be at the same end as the direction of travel arrow at the top of the compass.

This ensures the direction of travel arrow is pointing in the right direction for where you need to go.

With this lined up and held in place, rotate the bezel until the orienting lines marry up with the vertical grid lines (eastings) on the map.

Once you have done this, adjust for declination if necessary.

Remember, when adding magnetic variance from grid (map) to mag (compass), add the variation on to the bearing.

Now, lift your compass from the map – it’s time to line your compass up with the real world!

With the compass in your hand and in front of you, rotate the whole compass until the magnetic needle’s North sits inside the orienting arrow.

When these two line up, the compasses direction of travel arrow will be pointing where you need to go.

Pick a landmark in the distance that is on this line. This is your direction of travel.

This whole process can be repeated to cover long distances and is how you use a map and compass to navigate.

Transfer bearing from compass to map

If you want to transfer a bearing from the ground onto a map, you do the above in reverse.

This is handy if you can see a landmark, but are not exactly sure where you are on the map right now.

To do this – from where you are standing, line up the compass’s direction of travel arrow with the landmark in the distance.

Now rotate the bezel until the magnetic needle is inside the orienting arrow.

You now have your bearing – which now needs to be transferred to the map.

Adjust for declination – ‘mag to grid get rid‘ – so deduct the current degrees variation.

Now find the landmark on the map and place one of the straight edges, at the top section of the compass on this point.

Now, rotate the whole compass – pivoting the edge on the landmark, until the magnetic needle sits inside the orienting arrow.

Your position is now somewhere on the line that extends down the edge of the compass from the landmark.

How far is for another article where we will cover resection.

This process takes extra bearings from other landmarks to help pinpoint your actual position on the map.

For now, though, you have the basic ingredients for taking a bearing, from map or compass and using it to navigate.

This will get you started on the right foot.

Magnetic compass errors

What can distort a compass?

Metal: Your compass is a sensitive magnetic instrument and can be affected by metal close by.

Be aware of this and don’t use a compass near large metallic objects, such as a vehicle or iron gate, as these can skew the readings by sending the needle off course.

Compass type: it might sound obvious, but make sure your compass is suitable for the region that you are operating in.

That being the Northern or Southern Hemisphere.

Most global compasses will operate in the North, South and Equator regions, but check yours is suitable for the area you intend to work in.

Further info and resources

Mountain Navigation by Peter Cliff

If you would like some further reading on the subject, we would highly recommend the above book, Mountain Navigation by Peter Cliff.

It’s a nice straightforward book to read, without any unnecessary information.

Purchase links: UK | USA | CAN


Silva Expedition 4-360 Compass

To purchase the compass mentioned above (Silva Expedition 4-360), you can do so by clicking on the relevant link below.

Purchase links: UK | USA | CAN


Where can I buy an ordnance survey map?


To get the relevant outdoor maps for your country, visit one of the links below.

Purchase links: UK | USA | CAN

Summary

You should now be familiar with the basics of map and compass navigation and how the two work together.

This will help you in the field by giving you the very foundations of navigation – which will help you now, but also in the future, as your knowledge and skills progress.

As ever, thanks for reading and please let us know what you thought in the comments below.

Has this helped you? If so, please share with a friend.

Fire lighting – Ignition

The Fire Triangle in action

This article outlines the main fire lighting options that are specific to bushcraft applications, in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are a number of ways to light a fire, with various tinder and ignition options available.

What you use will ultimately depend on your environment and what you have with you.

For this article, we will concentrate on the equipment used to start a fire, using a spark, flame or other magical force.

After reading this post, you should have a solid understanding of the different firefighting methods available and how to implement them effectively in the outdoor environment.

Matches

Picture of matchbox
Matchbox

Although it has slightly fallen out of favour to the more widely used lighter, the humble match is still a great option for fire lighting, as long as you take a few precautions.

It is good practice to become proficient at lighting a fire with just one match.

This way you do not to go through all your matches just to get a single fire lit.

Ideally, you should be aiming for one match, one fire!

This is easier said than done, but with practice and with the correct preparation, this can be achieved consistently.

Remember, prepare your kindling and fuel in advance, so that everything is ready to go.

Good practice

Keep the matches dry: it sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget about your matches until you go to use them.

Matches and moisture don’t do well together – the heads will soften and disintegrate when trying to strike them.

Store your matches correctly, in a dry environment.

A dedicated waterproof matchbox is the best bet, such as a 35mm film canister, with a section of the striker glued to the inside lid.

If you have the time, you can also make one out of birch bark.

Ray Mears has a video on how to make one below:

How to light a match correctly

Everyone can light a match, can’t they? Well yes, but most don’t do it correctly. And why would they?

Most of the time it’s not the end of the world if you go through a few matches at home, lighting the BBQ or some candles.

If you are out in the field though, away from it all, it can really matter!

You need to get maximum use out of those matches and not use half the box to get a fire lit.

It may be your only ignition source, so learn to make them count.

Correct fire lighting technique

Assuming your matches are dry, the most important thing to have ready, before you even think about getting a match out of the box, is your kindling and main fuel source.

Using a standard pack of matches, find out which way the heads are facing. 

If the weather is dry, open the matches however you like. It will not make much difference.

Should it be raining or snowing though, open the pack from the other end (stick end) and keep the open end pointing downwards.

Put your back to the wind if it is raining, to shield the pack even further.

This is to stop any chance of a water droplet, or snowflake, getting in there, potentially ruining your match heads.

Assuming your hands are dry, take one match from the box by pulling one out and downwards.

Close the box. 

Hold the box in one hand, with the striker facing towards the match in the other hand.

Grip the match at the bottom of the stick with your index finger and thumb.

You now also want to place your middle finger directly on the match head itself.

This provides support to the match head and minimises the chance of it snapping on you.

If you have not done this before, you can be forgiven for being a little nervous about burning this finger when you go to strike the match.

However, in practice, the striking action is so fast, that your finger will be well out the way of the burning match head before it gets a chance to burn you.

You should naturally remove the middle finder when you strike and just have the match gripped between the thumb and index finger.

Strike the match!

Now that you have lit the match, immediately cup your hands and shield the flame.

You do not want the flame blowing out from a gust of wind. 

After a few seconds, the flame should establish and the main wooden stick should start to take and establish a stronger flame.

Now carefully take your flame to your kindling and keep it shielded while you ignite it. 

Once you have lit the kindling, you should now have an established flame that you can slowly build on with your different wood sizes, until you have a well-established fire.

Once the fire is stable and doesn’t need your constant attention, place the matches back in their box – not on damp ground.

Place back inside your pocket/backpack etc, to ensure they are kept dry.

You only used one match didn’t you, so you have plenty left for next time 🙂

Cigarette lighters

Clipper Lighter Bushcraft Firelighting
Standard refillable gas lighter

It doesn’t need much explaining and indeed some would regard it as cheating, but we all use lighters from time to time. 

They are fast and reliable.

Even though this is a common igniter, I would 100% advise that you practice and become proficient in the other methods (match, firesteel, etc), in all weathers.

This ensures that you can light a fire confidently, in a variety of conditions and environments, with multiple ignition options at your disposal.

If one fails you have another to use – it always pays to have a backup option.

Gas lighters

The disposable type is the most common and what most people think of when they think of a lighter.

I would urge you not to use disposable lighters if you can, as they are not great for the environment.

A good standard one that I like is the Clipper. They are refillable and you can replace the flints in them when needed.

They also just work! 

Windproof lighters: Another gas option is the windproof type – sometimes known as a butane torch.

These are designed for lighting up in bad conditions, by providing a jet like flame.

They use a piezo ignition and create quite a roar, which in turn uses up more gas than the standard type above.

The only problem with these types of lighter is that I am yet to find one that is reliable, as they all seem to break pretty quickly and stop igniting, hence me not recommending them.

If you do find a good one though, please let me know in the comments below.

Petrol lighters

Black Zippo Lighter
My trusty Zippo

One of my favourites is the petrol lighter, or to be exact a Zippo.

I just really like these and have used my trusty black version for donkey’s years.

They are solid and have that great unique ‘Zippo’ sound when opening and closing.

They are refillable, using the recommended specific lighter fluid – but at a push, you can also use other fuels, such as petrol or Coleman fuel.

Be very careful with these though and follow directions.

You can also replace the flints and wicks on them – and genuine Zippos also come with a lifetime guarantee.

The fuel can evaporate if left for a while, but if you are a regular user, these are a great option.

Correct technique

Using a lighter is pretty instinctive and I’m not going to insult you my telling how to light one up. There is only one way to do it.

However, I will mention trying to avoid rolling the strike wheel the wrong way, as this messes up the flint. That’s all I will say.

Once lit, as with matches, cup your hands to protect the flame whilst it ignites your kindling.

Place back in your pocket and get that fire roaring!

Ferro rods

Swedish Fire Steel - Light My Fire - Ferro Rod - Ferrocerium - Fire Lighting
Swedish Fire Steel – Light My Fire

The original ferro rods were composed of a mixture of 30% iron (ferrum) and the rare earth metal cerium – hence ferrocerium rod.

In recent times, this has been shortened to ferro rod, but is also known as a Swedish fire steel – or just fire steel.

Modern-day ferro rods are made from an alloy of rare-earth metals, known as mischmetal, which includes iron and magnesium to harden the material.

When struck with the back of a knife, or metallic striker, this action causes the metals to shed from the rod and combust.

This produces incredibly hot sparks – that can reach temperatures of around 3000 deg ℃ (5432 ℉).

If you have a good dry tinder such as some scraped birch bark or amadou, these sparks will ignite it very efficiently, with just a few strokes.

Ferro rods are incredibly simple in design and will last a very long time – that is their beauty.

They are very low maintenance and will still strike in all conditions, even if it is wet and cold.

They are an excellent tool, even if you only carry one as a backup to your lighter – I would always recommend carrying one when you are out.


Which ones are good?

Most firesteels are able to create a good shower of sparks.

Some are easier to use than others, with different lengths coming into play and handle options.

Some people like to take the time to make a custom firesteel, by affixing a handle made from deer antler or similar onto a blank rod. This makes for a nice looking tool.

Most standard options have a plastic handle though and are a solid, no-fuss option.

The one I currently use is the Light My Fire – 2.0 firesteel.

Light My Fire are a Swedish company, with their factory based in Västervik

They have been around a long time, and this simple to use and uncomplicated design makes this a great choice if you are looking for a decent ferro rod.

Flint and steel

Flint and steel striker in hand - fire lighting
Traditional flint and steel striker

The flint and steel is a traditional and time served fire lighting method.

When the steel striker hits the flint, the flint removes a very small piece of the striker’s metal and this creates a spark.

Not the other way around as is commonly believed.

You will not get anywhere near the same amount of sparks as you would with a fire steel, but this method does work and is ultra reliable.

The sparks produced are known as ‘cold sparks’, so you will need to be patient and try and catch one while it’s still glowing.

If you manage to get this spark to land on your chosen tinder, such as char cloth or some birch bark, you can then blow on this to encourage ignition.

As per the video below, you will need a nice sharp stone for this to work correctly, so that the small fragments of metal are removed.

Flint is ideal for this due to its ability to shed material and leave an incredibly sharp edge as it flakes away.

You can obtain some locally, or bring some in and keep it in a pouch along with your striker and tinder.

With some practice and correct technique, this is a great, reliable method, that has very little to go wrong.

Fire piston

Camp Fire Piston - Slam Rod - Fire Starter
The Camp Fire Piston – USA made

A fire piston – sometimes known as a slam rod – uses compressed air to ignite a small piece of tinder.

The fire piston is made up of two sections, one male part, one female.

The tinder – usually a piece of char cloth (see below) – is placed at the end section of the male part.

The male part then slides into the female (sorry).

When pushed down with force, the airtight seal causes the air inside to compress and raises the temperature to around 250 ℃.

This is usually hot enough to ignite the tinder.

The male part can now be removed and the ember placed onto your awaiting main tinder.

You can now blow on this to get your fire going.

Which one to get

There are a multitude of fire pistons on the market, with the bulk coming from China.

If you can, go for an American made fire piston.

One that works and also looks great is the Campfire Piston. It is made in the USA out of hickory wood.

A good video showing the fire piston in use can be viewed below:

Bow drill

A bow drill set is a great tool to use in the Northern Hemisphere and can create a good ember even with slightly damp wood.

You will need the following parts to create one:

Bow section: the main part that is drawn back and forward to create the drilling action. This is a formed from a carefully selected tree branch.

Cord: this attaches to the bow and is what grips and spins the drill. 550 paracord is usually used for this.

Drill section: this is what spins and ‘drills’ into the hearth below to create an ember.

Bearing block: used to create a low friction ‘cup’ that sits on top of the drill section and is held in place with your non-dominant hand.

Hearth: the base section of wood that stays fixed in place and is ‘drilled’ into, to create an ember.

Ray Mears demonstrates the process in the video below:

For an even more detailed look, MCQBushcraft has an excellent video on this also.

Magnifying glass

A very basic but effective method is to start a fire from a lense, usually a magnifying glass.

If you carry a standard plate compass, such as the Silva Expedition 4, then you will have a magnifying lens built into the compass.

You do need bright sunlight for this to work, but assuming the sun is strong enough, you can move the lens closer to the tinder until you have a small concentrated spot of light, that is laser focussed on your tinder.

If the beam of light is intense enough, the tinder will start to smoke and with a little help – eventually, ignite.

This is a great method to use, as it enables your compass to have a dual purpose.

Not much use if it’s cloudy though!

Summary

As you can see, there are many different ways to get a fire going. I would encourage you to try and master as many methods as you can.

Not only is it fun, it could save your bacon one day and is certainly not wasted effort.

We positively encourage you to leave a comment below or contact us to let us know what you think, good or bad.

We read them all.

Until the next time….

James

Bushcraft Hub

Camp Dutch Oven Cooking

Dutch oven cowboy baked beans

Dutch ovens provide a fantastic way to cook outdoors.

This article guides you through everything you need to know about camp dutch oven cooking, from selection to care and maintenance.

There are also some tasty recipes to try out!

Let’s jump in!

What is a camp Dutch oven?

A dutch oven that is designed for outdoor use, is commonly known as a camp dutch oven.

Put simply they are a cooking vessel, constructed of heavy, cast iron material, that allows you to cook efficiently over an open fire.

These ovens enable you to cook a wide variety of foods, from bread to more exotic main meals and will serve you well for your camp cooking needs.

This article explains what they do and how you can use them within bushcraft and other outdoor activities.

Camp Dutch oven cooking coals on lid

History of the Dutch oven

The dutch ovens of today owe their original design to Englishman, Abraham Darcy after he travelled to Holland to look for a better way to mould metals.

At the time, the Dutch were experts in casting brass pots using sand, which was a different method to that of loam and clay, which the Brits used.

He returned to England and decided to use cast iron instead of brass to make the pot, and the first incarnation of the cast-iron ‘dutch oven’ was born.

During the American colonial era, legs and a lid flange were added.

This version of Dutch ovens (legs or without) is what we know these days as a camp Dutch oven and were the cooking vessels favoured by the early American pioneers.

Often mentioned in peoples wills, as to who they should go to upon the owner’s death, they were an item of great importance and value.

They were the oven of choice for the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 – 1806, as they travelled and mapped the waterways from Pittsburgh in the East, to the Pacific coast out West.

These days, dutch oven cooking is very much alive and well, with a multitude of organisations around the world, such as the International Dutch Oven Society, still practising this fun, tasty and authentic way of cooking.

Design and features

Most ovens are made of cast iron and black in colour (unless rusty) – and have a pot and lid section.

There are some aluminium dutch oven designs out there, such as the GSI version, but these are not so common.

Most designs usually have a large carrying handle, which also allows the oven to be suspended over a fire, using a purpose-made tripod or pot hanger.

As above, most camp-style ovens also have 3 legs on the bottom, which are designed to let the oven sit directly in the fire’s embers, whilst providing stability and keeping the main pot raised above the coals.

Some users prefer not to have these legs though, which we will get into later.

As a large part of the camp Dutch oven cooking process comes from the heat above it, they all include a lid that is designed to have embers placed on top of them.

This allows heat to come from above and below.

This lid features a lip around its edge that stops the embers from falling into the pot when the lid is lifted – and into your food!

Due to their cast iron construction, they are heavy, so are not really suited to any hiking activities!

However, if you have a vehicle to transport it in, such as a car, 4wd or canoe, they are an excellent option for your campfire cooking, especially if you are staying put for a while.

Why do some Dutch ovens have legs?

Lodge Camp Dutch Oven

As above, you can buy a camp-style dutch oven with legs, or without legs.

The rest of the oven is generally identical.

What you go for will depend on how you intend to use the oven and your needs.

Indeed Ray Mears comments in the video below that he prefers a dutch oven without legs, due to the possibility of them breaking when being stored and transported in vehicles.

Take a look at Ray baking some bread below to see what I mean – it’s also a good recipe!

As you can see, he’s opting for no legs, due to the portability factor.

Our opinion:

We would argue that the legs are very robust, and do not get damaged with normal use and transportation.

You should be storing your oven in a better manner if that’s a problem, but everyone has their views, and they do indeed have the potential to catch on things.

If you are solely going to cook on a tripod with your oven, above a fire, then the legs may not be necessary for you and it may be best to go for a simple legless pot.

If however, you are only going to buy one oven, and want to be able to use it straight on top of embers, with the added functionality of still being able to use it on a tripod, we would opt for the legged variety, as it allows you to comfortably do both.

Of course, the best thing is to have two ovens, one with legs, one without and you can then choose which one is best suited to your trip – or take both.

How to season a cast iron Dutch oven

As with all cast iron cookware, a dutch oven will need to be seasoned before it can be used.

Many ovens now come pre-seasoned, so you can technically cook on them straight away.

However, this factory seasoning can almost always be improved on, so it would be wise to season the oven yourself before use regardless.

This is an essential process to get your oven off to a good start.

Does a Dutch oven need to be seasoned?

Cast iron in its raw state, will rust and is not non-stick.

In order to make it non-stick, we must first correctly season the iron.

This seasoning process applies a very thin layer of oil to the metal surface of the oven, which is then placed inside a larger oven or stovetop and heated to a very high temperature.

This process ‘bakes’ the fat onto the metal, to form a hard and protective layer on the oven surface, known as seasoning.

This technical name for this is polymerization.

This ‘baked-on’ layer (which is actually a chemical reaction between the hot iron and the fat), stops the oven from oxidizing, keeping rust at bay.

Done correctly, this now provides a natural, non-stick coating to the surface. 

This aids the cooking process and obviously helps prevent food from sticking to your pot.

With care, as you use your oven in the future, this protective layer will build and improve further.

How to season a cast iron Dutch oven and lid

If your dutch oven comes with a yellow waxy coating on it (which is a rarity these days) this will need to be completely removed before starting.

This waxy coating has been placed on by the manufacturer to protect the oven from rust during transportation and storage.

Wax fully removed, start by cleaning away any surface residue from the cast iron.

You need to get down to the bare metal.

To do this, use a scouring pad or some steel wool with hot soapy water, and scrub well, all over the pot and lid.

Rinse all surfaces well with clean water.

TipIf you have a used, rusty pan, follow this process also, until all the surface rust is removed and you are back down to the bare metal again.

Dry thoroughly with a tea towel, ideally lint-free.

Once towel dry, let the oven air dry, or even better place in another low-temperature oven, so that any moisture is completely removed from the surface.

You can also place the oven on a burner and watch the surface change colour from the bottom upwards, as the water evaporates.

This ensures the metal is completely dry.

Now leave to cool.

With the oven now completely clean and dry – apply a thin layer of vegetable oil to all of its surfaces – inside and out, on both the pot and lid sections.

Wipe off the excess oil, so that it looks like the oven is almost dry again.

Don’t worry, there will still be a very thin layer of oil on the surface, which is what you want.

The best oils for seasoning cast iron

It’s best to use vegetable oil – which can be made from soybean, canola (rapeseed) or sunflower oil.

However, all cooking oils and fats can be used for the seasoning process.

100% pure flaxseed oil is very good, although this can be expensive.

Alternatively, you can also use melted shortening.

You ideally want a ‘drying oil’, that hardens as it heats and doesn’t leave an oily residue.

I keep it simple and use standard vegetable oil.

In the UK is usually either rapeseed oil or sunflower oil.

This currently works well for me.

Heating process

You now need to get the dutch oven very hot in order to seal it.

You will need to use your kitchen oven if your camp oven will fit inside.

Alternatively, you can use a kettle type BBQ so that the lid creates an oven in itself.

As the dutch oven now has a thin layer of oil on it, this process can cause some smoke, as the oil heats up.

Therefore, this process is best done outside if you can, but if you have to do this inside, prepare accordingly by ensuring good ventilation.

As with most things like this, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for your particular dutch oven.

As a general guideline, you will want to get your oven up to around 205 ℃ / 400 F for the seasoning process to work correctly.

Once complete, this process seals the oven, protecting it from rust and giving the oven its natural non-stick coating.

If you are looking for a perfect finish, this process may need to be repeated a few times (4-6) to get the desired result.

With careful use, cleaning and storage, the oven should not need seasoning again and the seasoned layer will actually improve over time.

If it does need doing again, and your pan starts to rust, or the seasoned layer is just not up to standard anymore, simply follow the steps above to restore it back to its full glory.

The short Lodge video below also goes through a similar process.

Fuel for Dutch ovens

You can use a variety of fuels with your oven.

If out in the woods, you may have some decent dry firewood available to you.

If using this, you want a type that produces a good bed of embers when it burns down, as these are what provides the majority of heat for your oven.

Go for hardwoods like Oak and Ash if you can, as these will produce a good bed of embers.

Softwoods will burn quickly and will work, but will not produce as good a bed of embers like the above hardwoods will.

How to use a Dutch oven with charcoal

You can also use charcoal, which is a popular choice, which you can bring with you.

This generally comes in either lump wood or briquette form.

Either is good, but the briquettes seem to hold the heat for the longest time and give a good steady burn.

Tip – If using charcoal, an easy way to get your coals going is to use a chimney starter, such as the Weber version pictured below.

Charcoal chimney starter for camp dutch oven cooking - bushcraft cooking
A chimney starter gets the coals lit using just newspaper – no lighter fuel required!

How many coals do I need for a camp oven?

If using wood, it’s a bit more of a guess as to the number of embers that you need.

It depends on the wood used and oven size.

Experience will help you get a good idea of cooking times and temperature for your oven, so get cooking and find out what works.

If using charcoal, the rough rule of thumb is to use twice the amount of coals as to your oven size.

So, if you have a 12″ oven, then you need 24 coals.

This is quite simplistic but is a good rough guide.

For a more exact heat and coal number, including the amount that should be placed above and below – the table below shows the suggested amount.

Dutch oven coal temperature chart

Dutch oven coal temperature chart

Cleaning a camp oven

A good cleaning and maintenance regime will keep your oven in tip-top condition.

Clean your oven as below:

  • Scrape all food residues to loosen them from the surface and remove.
  • Pour in some hot water and scrub with a brush until all food residue is removed. Use some washing up liquid if necessary.
  • Rinse out with fresh water and dry with a lint-free tea towel or similar and leave to air dry.
  • Now place a small amount of vegetable oil in the pan, and wipe this around both sides of the pot and lid, so that all the surfaces are coated with a very thin layer of oil.
  • Your oven is now clean and ready for its next use.

Can you use soap to clean a dutch oven?

The short answer is yes. There is no issue using a mild detergent, such as washing up liquid to clean a dutch oven.

There is a common misconception that the soap will remove the seasoned layer, as soap breaks down fat and it is this fat that forms the seasoning.

However, the fat has gone through a chemical process when the oven was seasoned and is chemically bonded to the metal through this heat process.

It will therefore not be removed with soap, so feel free to use it if required.

How to store your cast iron Dutch oven

Store your oven in a clean, dry, well-ventilated area.

Your oven should have a very thin layer of oil on all of its surfaces to protect it during storage.

Do not use lard or similar, as this can go rancid if left for a long period.

Use vegetable oil and wipe off any excess.

If storing the pot and lid together, leave a small gap by placing a folded up tea towel or similar between the pot and the lid. 

This will allow fresh air to circulate inside the oven, allowing any moisture to escape and help prevent any rust from forming.

What utensils do you use with a Dutch oven?

You can use all normal cooking utensils in your oven, both wood and metal, without them damaging the seasoned layer.

Just use them with care though and don’t be too rough.

How long will a camp dutch oven last for?

Properly cared for, your oven should easily outlast you and can be handed down to the next generation.

They should easily last 100 years or more and there is no reason why they can’t last for a few hundred years.

There is something deeply satisfying about owning and using something that you know will still be able to be used by your family, long after you have gone.

Not the dying bit though!!!

Purchasing one should definitely be considered an investment and is why I would recommend purchasing a good quality one from the outset – and looking after it.

What size dutch oven should I buy for camping?

The 8-quart (12 inch) is a good size for cooking larger meals, for multiple persons, but is also fine for smaller meals too.

We have this size, as it is a good all-rounder, whatever you decide to cook.

We’re also gluttons when it comes to food like this, so having some extra available is no bad thing in our opinion – it will all disappear 🙂

There are different sizes available to suit your needs, so go with what you feel is best for you.

A smaller size will do if you generally only cook for 1-2 people.

What is the best camp oven to buy?

Camp Dutch Oven Cooking - Lodge - Cowboy Beans
Rustling up some Cowboy Beans

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

There are multiple brands of camp dutch ovens on the market, with the cheaper ovens often being made in China.

These are often of a much lower quality than the USA or European brands – that’s just a fact.

If that’s all you can afford, or just want to dip your toe in and try dutch oven cooking, then these will certainly have their uses – you may end up disappointed though.

We always strongly recommend going for the best kit you can afford – it usually works out cheaper in the long run.

If you go for one of the decent makes, and your dutch oven ends up lasting you 100 years or more, that initial investment will seem quite insignificant, given the years of use and enjoyment that you and your family get out of it.

With that in mind, we would recommend either Lodge or Petromax dutch ovens.

Is Lodge a good Dutch oven brand?

Camp Dutch Oven Stew

Yes. They are considered the best brand out there.

We personally own and currently use the Lodge 8-quart 12 inch – deep camp dutch oven.

We went for this as Lodge, in our opinion, make the best ovens and have a great pedigree. 

They are made in Lodge’s USA factory, to a very high standard. 

They are pricey, especially in Europe, but as above, we view it as an investment and see it as great value considering what you are getting in return.

No-nonsense and great looking, these will last you and your family a very long time indeed.

Links: US | UK | CAN

Petromax Dutch ovens

Petromax Camp Dutch Oven

A good alternative to the Lodge is the Petromax oven.

They also produce camp dutch ovens with leg and non-leg options.

The lid on these is a bit more elaborate than the Lodge’s and are a bit harder to keep clean, but is not so much of an issue that it should stop you from buying one.

Where are petromax Dutch ovens made?

Petromax are made in Germany, not China like so many other brands – so this gives you some peace of mind over their build quality

They certainly look nice and are a great alternative to the Lodge.

Links: US | UK | CAN

Camp dutch oven inspections

When you receive your dutch oven, new or otherwise, take a few moments to check its build quality.

  • Place the lid on the oven and make sure that it’s a tight fit all around.
  • Make sure that the lid does not rock and sits flat on all sides.
  • Spin the lid to make sure that it easily rotates and is circular.
  • Check the oven sidewalls to make sure they are of equal thickness all around.
  • Inspect all surfaces, inside and out, for any notable cracks or blemishes on the metal’s surface.
  • Ensure that the bail arm is secured to each side of the oven, at opposite sides to each other. These alternate fixing points prevent the handle falling off if the oven tips to one side when carrying the oven.

Camp dutch oven accessories

You don’t necessarily need any special accessories to use your oven, you can use what you have in the kitchen – even a stick to lift the lid if necessary.

If you want the correct kit, however, you may want to take a look at the below.

Camp Dutch Oven Lid lifter

One item that you will need when cooking with these ovens is some form of lid-lifter.

You can use a claw hammer or a strong stick, but a proper tool for the job is a purpose-made device such as the one made by Petromax below.

Petromax dutch oven lid lifter
Petromax lid lifter

This has the added advantage of being able to be used as a poker for the embers of your fire.

Links: USA| UK | CAN

Campfire Dutch Oven Tripod

If you want to raise your dutch oven above the embers and also have somewhere to hang your camp kettle, a tripod may be a handy addition to your camp set up.

The Lodge version features an adjustable chain so that you can vary the height and therefore the temperature of your cooking.

Lodge campfire dutch oven tripod
Lodge tripod

Links: USA | UK | CAN

How do you make a camp oven tripod?

Want to make your own? Here’s a great DIY option from Mr Mears…

Cast Iron Chainmail Cleaner

Chain Mail Cleaner
Chainmail cleaner

To keep your oven in tip-top condition, a chain mail cleaner, such as the Petromax one above is a good addition to your kit.

As mentioned previously, a good maintenance regime will keep your oven in tip-top condition for many years to come.

These are therefore a worthwhile investment.

Links: USA | UK | CAN

Summary

Camp Dutch ovens are a fantastic time-tested cooking vessel.

Large and heavy they may be, but if you are staying at camp for a while, they are usually worth the effort of transporting and setting up.

They create delicious meals and are a joy to cook on.

If you haven’t tried one yet, I hope this article has at least spiked your interest to do so.

It might even be the start of a lifelong obsession!

As ever, thanks for reading.

James

Thermarest ProLite Plus Review

Thermarest ProLite Plus - In Stuff Sack

The Thermarest ProLite Plus mat is designed to be compact and lightweight, while still providing a decent amount of comfort for the user.

Weighing in at just 670g in the regular size, this is a lightweight mat – that is suitable for many uses – when space and more importantly, weight, are at a premium.

My personal reason for buying this is for backpacking and canoe/kayaking trips.

Time will tell how this performs, but first impressions are very good.

How it looks and feels

On opening the packaging, this does indeed feel like a quality product – and so it should at the price of around £80.

The materials feel good quality and durable, considering the mat’s lightweight properties.

When packed up, inside its stuff sack, the size is certainly compact for this type of mat, which helps when space is at a premium.

Where is it made?

The mat that I purchased, is made at Therm-A-rest’s EU factory, which is located in County Cork, Ireland.

This is good to see, with so many products being produced in China these days, it’s nice to see something made in Europe like this.

My only slight disappointment was that the stuff sack is made in China.

This is not the end of the world, but I do think you should keep it consistent, especially when one of the main selling points is the mat’s EU origin.

I would like to see all the components made in the EU.

Never mind….

Therm-A-Rest also produce their mats in their US factory – to serve the North American market.

This is their original and main factory, and where your mat will be made if you are buying over the pond.

However, as I purchased this in the UK, we get the European made version, which should be equally as good. If not better 🙂

What’s inside the bag?

Asides from the mat itself, there are also a set of instructions included.

ProLite Instructions - Front
Instruction leaflet – front
ProLite  - Instructions - Rear
Instruction leaflet – rear

How to use a Thermarest mat

Thermarest ProLite Plus - rolled up - compressed
The rolled-up mat

Inflating the mat

Upon taking the mat out of the stuff sack for the first time, you will find it wrapped in a clear plastic sleeve.

Remove this and you will be able to unfold the mat.

As the mat has been in storage in this compressed position, you will probably find that it is a bit reluctant to actually ‘self inflate’ at the beginning.

I actually thought that something was wrong with mine the first time I used it.

Unfold the mat and lay it out on a flat surface.

Open the valve and you should see it at least inflate partially, but the first time you may not see any movement at all.

Self-inflating process

The reason the mat will start (hopefully) to self inflate, is that the memory foam has been compressed and will try to return to its original shape when unrolled – and with the valve open.

In doing so it expands and in turn pulls in air from outside, which inflates the mat.

This self-inflating process will only inflate the mat to a certain point.

To get the mat to a usable point, you will need to put in some extra air by blowing it up yourself.

Place your mouth over the valve and put in some good puffs. You will need to do this a few times until it is full.

There isn’t a non-return valve on this type of mat, so you have to be quick with your last breath.

At the last moment, turn the cap in one motion, in order to seal the air in.

Once this is done, you are good to go. It’s very simple!

Packing the sleeping mat away

Deflating and packing away the mat is almost the reverse of the inflation process.

The main difference is that Therm-A-Rest recommends that you squeeze the air out of the mat first, by opening the valve and folding the mat up in half and then in half again, towards the valve end.

Once this stage is complete:

  • close the valve again and unfold the mat – most of the air will now be out.
  • fold the mat in half, length-ways, and tightly roll up from the bottom.
  • once you get near to the top, open the valve to expel any further air that has been pushed up.
  • roll all the way up and then close the valve again.
  • the mat will hold its folded shape and you can now place the mat back in the cloth bag.

Video run-through

A video of the inflation/deflation/storage process is below.

However, note that the ProLite Plus will require folding lengthways first before rolling up, as the stuff sack is smaller than the one in the video.

Comfort

I’m 6ft 2”, with fairly wide shoulders and this does feel quite slim underneath, compared to other full-size mats I have used.

However, I went for the regular size, as I wanted to try and strike a balance between comfort and trying to keep the weight down.

I tend to sleep on my side, and this feels comfortable for that, with a good layer of padding under my body, providing a good level of support.

Even when lying on my back, it still feels good – although a little slim.

I also haven’t noticed too much of a sweaty back when sleeping on this mat, which is a good thing. Some mats can be bad for this.

It’s just my arms that are not on the mat and lay to the side of it, which is not too much of a problem – I can sleep like this.

If you go for the larger version, it is another 12cm wide (5”), so it would be more suited to bigger persons, but does come in at an additional 210g, at 880g.

Not too much of a problem if you’re not concerned with weight, but it all matters if you are trying to minimize what you have to carry.

Your requirements

If you are buying this mat, then you are probably doing so based on weight, over outright comfort.

As ever, it is about trying to balance this comfort with what you plan to do.

I would say the regular size is a good compromise for most larger adults, but go with what you feel is best for you.

However, it must be remembered that this is designed to be a lightweight mat and if ultimate comfort is your goal, I would look at a different mat.

Something like the Thermarest Basecamp would be the one to go for, but they are a lot bulkier.

ProLite Plus Mat - Logo
Printed logo on mat

Where you can use it

You can use this mat in a variety of applications.

In a tent, inside a bivvy bag, a hammock or just straight up on the floor.

It’s suitable for inside or outside use.

Place your sleeping bag on top and away you go – it’s as simple as that!

Long-term storage of your mat

Therm-A-Rest recommends that you store the mat in its inflated state when not in use.

If you do this, you will need to find a suitable place to do so, down the side of the wardrobe or similar.

This is presuming your other half will let you.

Storing the mat in this way will keep it in optimum condition, as the memory foam will be fully expanded, ready for your next trip.

ProLite Plus Specification

[table id=3 /]

Summary

This is a great mat, that’s lightweight, while still providing enough cushioning for you to sleep comfortably.

The fact that this is so packable means you can take in on almost any trip and still enjoy a good night’s sleep – without lugging around a hefty and bulky mat to do so.

I wish they did it in a green option, but I do actually quite like the red all the same.

If you are after a lightweight mat, that you can easily carry, then I think this is a great addition to your kit and would definitely recommend it.

Thanks for reading.

James

Bushcraft Hub

P.S. – please leave your comments and thoughts in the section below – it keeps us on the right track and ensures we are giving you the best content.

Thanks again!

What Does Paracord Mean?

Paracord-Hanked-550-Green

The term ‘paracord’ is the shortened version of parachute cord.

It is used for the suspension lines on military and commercial parachutes.

However, due to its superb strength and other properties, paracord is also widely used for a variety of other applications.

In fact, its potential uses are only limited to the imagination.

Paracord uses

The options are almost endless, but to give you an idea for bushcraft and survival purposes, let’s list out a few common uses for 550 cord below:

  • Erecting shelters: whether stringing out a tarp/bivvy or used as a binding to construct shelter from natural materials.
  • Lanyard: to ensure precious items such as a knife or compass do not fall out of your pocket and get lost in the bush.
  • Bootlaces: some use paracord as their standard lacing system, or it can be used as a replacement if your main laces fail.
  • Animal snares: if absolutely necessary, the inner strands can be removed and used to trap wild game.
  • Emergency fishing line: as above, the inner strands can be removed and used as fishing line.
  • Bow drill cordage: strong, pliable cord is an essential element of a bow drill. Paracord does an excellent job and will help you get that fire going.
  • Equipment repairs: for lashings etc, or for more delicate tasks, the inner strands can be removed and used for sewing.

Make sure it’s real

It must be clearly stated that not all ‘paracord’ is actually paracord. Confused? You’re certainly not the only one!

There are a great many imitations on the market, of varying quality, with most claiming to be the real thing.

Most of this cord is imported from China. This is sometimes known as ‘Chinese cord’.

It may be marketed as 550 cord, but it is usually much cheaper and of a much lesser quality than the genuine, US made article.

It will certainly have its uses for less demanding applications, but you need to know the difference, especially if you are going to depend on it.

Put simply, if you were going to rely on it to jump out of a plane, would you trust the imitation version?

I certainly wouldn’t!!!

550 Paracord - Green - Hanked
Hanked 550 cord

Mil-spec paracord

Genuine ‘mil-spec’ cord is made in the USA, by trusted and certified US government suppliers.

The U.S Department of Defense extensively vets these manufacturers to ensure compliance.

This ensures that the quality and specification of their ‘mil-spec’ cord meets the Department of Defence’s strict paracord requirements, MIL-C-5040H.

These requirements stipulate what raw materials must be used, down to the exact construction method required.

This paracord is called MIL-C-5040, commonly known as Mil-Spec.

Mil-spec is manufactured in different strength ratings, but 550 (type III) is the most popular, this being 550 pounds in strength.

[table id=1 /]

Most paracord that you see on the market claims to be ‘mil-spec’.

However, unless it has been made in the USA, to the requirements of MIL-C-5040H,  by an approved government supplier, it is not mil-spec.

It is vital therefore that if you are after real paracord, that you purchase it from a reputable supplier.

It is also worth knowing that mil-spec cord will have a coloured strand inside, that is unique to the manufacturer.

This is known as the Manufacturer ID Marker.

The purpose of this is to essentially provide traceability so that the end-user (military) can identify which manufacturer produced the cord, should there be any issues in use.

This presence of this identifier is another way that you can tell if your paracord is mil-spec or not.

The most popular strength mil-spec paracord will be the type III, 550 class.

This is the most commonly available and provides great functionality.

Mil-C-5040H type III specifications:

  • Approx diameter: 3.8 mm
  • Weight: 6.6 g per metre
  • Certified minimum tensile strength: 550 lbs / 249 kg
  • 100% high-quality nylon yarns
  • Sheath structure: 32 Strands
  • 7 core strands, each made up of a further 3 twisted strands
  • Rope Construction: kernmantle
  • Unique manufacturer ID marker inside the cord

Commercial 550 paracord

In addition to their mil-spec cord, US Government approved manufacturers will also usually manufacture a commercial version.

This is known as 550 Type III – commercial spec.

This is almost identical to the mil-spec, but with some subtle differences.

It still consists of 7 core strands, as per the military-grade version, and has the same strength rating, it just differs in its construction.

Instead of using 3 intertwined strands per core strand, as the mil-spec does, commercial-grade 550 uses 2 intertwined strands, per core strand.

It also does not have the internal colour coded core (Unique Manufacturer ID Marker) that the mil-spec does.

Although it varies slightly in its design, it is as strong as the equivalent mil-spec version and a great alternative, should it be made by a reputable supplier as above.

Commercial 550 type III Specifications:

  • Approximate diameter: 3.8 mm
  • Weight: 6.6 g per metre
  • Certified minimum tensile strength: 550 lbs / 249 kg
  • 100% high-quality nylon yarns
  • Sheath structure: 32 Strands
  • 7 core strands, each made up of 2 twisted strands
  • Rope construction: kernmantle

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For those looking for genuine paracord for bushcraft or survival purposes, the above (and their strength variations) are the only 2 real options.

Safety

Although it is extremely strong, paracord is not to be used for climbing activities or similar.

The 550 lb / 249 kg rating (assuming you are using 550 cord) is its ‘static load’ rating.

This essentially means a load that is not moving and stable.

When climbing, you are placing what is known as a ‘working load’ on the rope.

This will likely be much, much higher than your actual body weight in a static situation, due to the movement and shock load placed upon the rope.

There is also likely to be abrasion from the rope touching rocks etc under tension.

Serious injury or death could occur, so do not use paracord for this purpose, or anything similar.

Summary

Paracord is essential bushcraft equipment, that has a multitude of uses.

If you are serious about your equipment and want the best out there, go for the ‘real deal’, genuine US made paracord, that has been manufactured by a US Department of Defense approved supplier.

Unless you specifically need a certain type of cord, the two main options are:

  • 550 type III mil-spec or
  • 550 type III commercial-spec.

Mil-spec is more expensive, but this is the exact cord that the US military gets and is, therefore, more expensive to produce, due to the manufacturing requirements.

If you opt for 550 Type III commercial-spec, you are getting an almost identical cord to the mil-spec above but made for commercial use.

Just make sure it is from a supplier who also supplies the military.

The commercial is usually sold at a more competitive price.

Either of these two cords will serve you well.

We use and recommend Clutha paracord. This is US-sourced, from a reputable and US Department of Defense approved supplier.

You can find them here.

Thanks for your visit today! We hope you found this article helpful.

James

Bushcraft Hub


What is the Best Bushcraft Stove?

Bushcraft liquid fuel stove - MSR XGK EX

Although it is generally preferable to cook on an open fire, there are times when you will want, or indeed need, some form of bushcraft stove.

Fast and reliable, they will get things cooking in minutes.

So what’s available?

Wood burning camp stoves

If you can’t have an open fire due to it not being practical, or perhaps they are prohibited at your location, then you may be able to use a wood-burning camping stove.

These are also sometimes known as Hobo Stoves.

If used with wood, these are as close to an open fire as you can get, whilst having the benefit of keeping the flame concentrated and controlled.

Of course, the main benefit of a wood-fired stove is that you can operate them using free fuel.

This is presuming this is available at your location, or you have brought some in with you.

Most of these stoves are fairly compact, with some being foldable.

They pack down into a smaller carry bag, making them suitable for transportation.

These stoves are primarily designed to burn small twigs and sticks, but most will also run on a variety of other fuels if required.

This includes hexy blocks or meths/alcohol.

Some will even let you incorporate a gas burner.

There are various models and designs on the market, with some performing a lot better than others.

The main options are the foldable box type or the wood gas type.

Box type

Honey Wood Stove - Bushcraft
Backpacking Light’s Honey Stove

The box type wood stoves feature a series of sections that slot together, allowing for different configurations, providing a solid base and pot support.

A popular choice is the Honey Stove which is made by Backpacking Light.

The Honey Stove consists of multiple pieces that can be constructed in a variety of fashions.

You can alter this depending on what you are cooking/boiling and what fuel you are using.

This stove allows for many fuel types including dry leaves, grass, wood, hexamine blocks, to name a few.

It can also incorporate a meths burner (Trangia type) and will even utilise an Optimus Nova burner if required.

All in all, it’s a very versatile choice for bushcraft activities.

These stoves fold down to a very compact size and are therefore ideal for transportation.

Similar alternatives to the Honey Stove include the Firebox or BushBox XL.

Wood gas stoves (Solostove)

Solo Stove Lite Wood Gas Stove
Solo Stove Lite

These types of stoves are usually cylindrical in design and incorporate an external jacket.

How does a wood burning camp stove work?

This jacket funnels warm air (taken from the external vents below), upwards.

This warm air is then deposited into the top of the main fire compartment, via the internal vent holes, just above the flames.

The Solo Stove diagram below shows the process in more detail.

Solo Stove Airflow Diagram

As you can see in the diagram, the airflow process effectively fans the flames, similar to when you blow on a fire to get it roaring.

This creates a hotter, cleaner burn, and also helps to reduce soot build-up.

The above process will begin to happen once the fire in the main compartment has warmed the stove up to operating temperature.

Wood stove round-up

Whether you opt for the box or wood gas type, these stoves are very popular and have very little to go wrong.

They are therefore a great choice if you are looking for a no-nonsense stove, that should last for many years.

The fact that most can also incorporate other fuels, such as meths or hexy blocks, is an added bonus and further increases their versatility in the field.

The main consideration on which type to go for would be transportation.

If you want one that can fold away into a flat package, the box type is probably your best bet.

They take a little assembling, and they can be a little frustrating to put together at times, but once together, they are solid.

If portability isn’t your primary concern and you are happy with a fixed unit, the wood gas type is a great option.

These are already good to go, so are great from a time perspective, but do not fully pack down.

Your choice will ultimately boil down to space and your trip length.

What is a Solostove?

A Solostove is a type of wood gas stove that is cylindrical in design and incorporates a jacket, so that cold air can be drawn upwards from the bottom of the stove, warmed by the flames and then delivered to the top of the stove where it fans the flame and produces a hotter burn.

See the image above for a visual description.

What is a twig stove?

A twig stove is a type of camping/outdoor stove that uses natural materials, such as dry twigs, leaves, pine cones, pine needles etc.

These stoves are a great option if you have a reliable supply of fuel as they can be run on free to find materials.

Additionally, some models allow you to incorporate a basic burner, such as a Trangia or you can just use a basic hexy block. See above for more on these.

Meth burners

Trangia Meth Alcohol Burner Bushcraft Stove
Trangia Spirit Burner

Sometimes known as an alcohol or spirit burner, this style of stove is another simple option for bushcraft activities.

They are generally known as Trangias, although this is a brand name and they are not all made by Trangia.

These stoves are small in design, lightweight and portable.

You will need some form of pot support as well, as these will not generally work with a pot placed directly on them.

However, there are many options available.

How does a Trangia work?

These burners all work on the same principle, in that you partially fill the main central chamber with fuel, then light it.

The main chamber will slowly burn (sometimes it’s very hard to see) and heat up the stove and fuel.

Once it is up to operating temperature, the fuel that is in the outside chamber, starts to vapourise.

This vapour then rises up to the small pinprick vents at the top, where it combusts.

This is often referred to as ‘blooming’ and means the burner is now ready to cook on.

Trangia spirit burner

The Trangia Spirit Burner pictured above is the best known and most widely used meth/alcohol burner out there.

Low cost, virtually indestructible and brilliantly simple in its design, this is a fantastic, relatively lightweight stove, with a multitude of applications.

Designed back in 1951, at Trangia’s headquarters in Sweden, not much has changed.

It is made of brass, with a weight of 110g and consists of the main burner unit, screw-on lid and a simmer ring.

The simmer ring’s design allows the flame to be regulated and also allows you to extinguish the burner completely when finished.

The stove is designed to run on methylated spirits (denatured alcohol). This fuel can be obtained very cheaply from your local hardware store.

It is worth noting that this burner can be used on its own if it is placed in a sheltered depression and your cooking vessel suspended above.

In general, though, the spirit burner is designed to be used inside a cooking system.

Examples include Trangia’s popular 25-2 cooking set or other makes such as the Honey Stove mentioned above.

The meth (or alcohol burner) is an extremely simple and effective cooking system, that has stood the test of time.

Esbit alcohol burner stove

Esbit Alcohol Burner Methylated Stove - bushcraft stoves
Esbit alcohol stove

A good alternative to the Trangia is the Esbit Alcohol Burner.

It is based on the Trangia, however, the Esbit also incorporates a foldaway handle, that operates the simmer ring.

This lessens the possibility of you burning your fingers when adjusting the flame – making it more user friendly.

You can purchase the Esbit here: USA | UK | CAN

Gas stoves

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Gas Stove
MSR PocketRocket 2 Gas Stove

One of the most convenient and simple options out there is the gas stove.

As long as you have a ready supply of canisters, these stoves are a great choice for your cooking needs.

They provide a quick, clean heat-source, providing minimum hassle for the user. They are just as quick to dismantle and pack away.

Gas selection

Historically, gas canisters were 100% butane. This is the worst performing gas for stoves.

In the early days, 100% butane fueled gas stoves struggled to work at all in cold conditions.

This is due to the fact that butane’s boiling point is approximately -2 deg C.

Essentially, this means that below -2 deg C, butane gas reverts back into a liquid.

It, therefore, loses its pressure and does not want to leave the canister, as it is no longer a gas.

This doesn’t help matters if you are relying on it to ignite.

What gas do you use for a camping stove? The modern solution

In more recent years, nearly all gas canisters are a butane/propane mix, generally around 70% butane and 30% propane.

Propane has a much lower boiling point of around -42 deg C.

When combined with butane, the mixture provides good performance well into the minus figures.

Another gas commonly used in isobutane.

This shares the same chemical structure as butane but delivers higher pressure, which increases flame performance.

If you want to read more about gas stove fuel options see the MSR article here.

Modern gas stoves may struggle at extreme altitudes, but for most applications, they will operate absolutely fine.

Due to the above, these stoves are slowly becoming the choice of professional mountaineers.

This is due to their simplicity and the fact that they are generally more lightweight and safer in use than liquid fuel options.

Fuel availability

One thing with gas stoves is that you do need to have the correct gas canister cartridge for your stove.

You also need to be able to find these fairly easily should you need to get replacements.

This is not usually a problem in more developed parts of the world, but may be an issue in more remote regions.,

Make sure to check this before setting off if you are likely to need more.

How does a camping stove work?

In general, most gas stoves simply require you to:

  • attach the gas canister by screwing it onto the burner (clockwise)
  • deploy the pan and stove supports (if any)
  • turn on gas by opening the valve
  • ignite

Simplicity!

Some stoves even feature an integrated piezo ignition, which ignites the gas for you when you turn on the gas.

This is a handy feature to have.

However, even if your stove has this, you should always carry an alternative form of ignition.

This could be a ferro rod or lighter, in case the piezo ignition fails for whatever reason.

Top-mounted canister stoves

This is the most common type (see picture above). The gas canister screws onto the bottom of the burner and acts as the stove’s base.

Because of this, top-mounted stoves require a very stable and level surface to place the complete unit on.

This style of stove set-up often becomes top-heavy.

This is especially true if you have a lot of liquid in the cooking vessel that might slosh from side to side.

This sloshing can then end up tipping the stove over, including your food.

It is therefore important to site the stove correctly in the first place, on a flat, level surface.

Be vigilant of any gusts of wind that might have your pot toppling.

You also need to guard against you or your companions knocking into it.

Although the above is a bit of a drawback with this style, the fact that they are simple and generally cheaper than other designs, makes them a popular and solid choice for your bushcraft cooking needs.

Remote mounted canister stoves

Primus Express Spider 2 Gas Stove - bushcraft stoves
Primus Express Spider 2

This style of gas stove is by far the most stable, due to the burner being much lower to the ground and having a set of wide legs for stabilisation and support.

The gas canister is attached to a hose that allows the canister to sit to one side, adjacent to the burner.

However, due to the additional materials used, they are generally a little more expensive to buy than the top-mounted style.

Other than that, they generally operate in much the same way as topmounted stoves.

Liquid fuel portable stoves

MSR XGK EX Liquid Fuel Stove
MSR XGK EX

Liquid fuel stoves generally cost more than their gas-fired cousins.

They also usually weigh more and involve a bit more effort in their operation.

With this in mind, why would you choose to opt for liquid fuel over the more common gas cartridge type?

What are the advantages of a liquid fuel stove?

In most cases, it chiefly centers around the fuel that you can obtain.

If you are operating in remote locations, for extended periods, a liquid fuel stove may be the better option over gas or other types.

The reason for this is that gas canisters are not always readily available should you run out.

They are usually stocked in outdoor shops and available online.

However, if you are out of area and certainly if you are in a different country, you may not be able to come across them quite so easily.

You can obviously bring 1 or 2 in your pack when you are on shorter outings.

For extended trips though, such as expeditions etc, you need to be mindful of how much fuel you are likely to use.

It is likely that you will find that you do not have the room to be taking heaps of gas canisters with you.

Added to this, once used, empty gas canisters need to be brought out with you and disposed of responsibly.

This creates additional dead weight and space that you will have to carry out with you.

Here lies the advantage of liquid fuel stoves!

In most places around the world, you can find some form of fuel to use in your stove.

Available fuels

Most liquid fuel stoves burn a variety of fuels, that are readily available across the globe, so you should never (hopefully) find yourself without a fuel source.

These include – white gas (also known as Coleman Fuel), petrol (auto gasoline), kerosene, diesel and more.

Read more on this here.

If you are travelling by vehicle, an additional benefit is that the stove can share the same fuel as the vehicle.

This can simplify things by eliminating the need for additional fuel storage.

How much fuel should you carry for your trip? Check out this MSR article here.

Economy

Because they can run on standard unleaded petrol or in some cases diesel and other fuels, they tend to be more cost-effective, when compared to resealable gas canisters.

This is especially true if you are on an extended trip.

This needs to be balanced with the fact that they are usually more costly to buy.

However, over the lifetime of the stove, this difference is negligible.

Safety procedures for using a liquid fuel stove

There are safety considerations to take on board when using liquid fuel stoves.

You have a bottle of extremely flammable liquid, usually petrol or similar, a few inches away from a roaring burner.

This sounds worse than it actually is, as the stove is obviously designed to operate this way and is safe as long as you use it sensibly.

How to fill a liquid stove fuel bottle

MSR Stove Liquid Fuel Bottles
MSR Fuel Bottles

One of the big things to remember is to wipe everything down after filling the fuel bottle, as you will no doubt spill a small amount whilst doing this.

Tip – It sounds obvious, but do not fill the bottle over its max fill line.

If you do, when you go to insert the pump, it will spurt out fuel all over your hands and the bottle, as the fuel pump takes up quite a bit of volume.

Only operate the stove once the stove is properly connected and you are sure there is no fuel residue left on the outside.

Can you use a camping stove inside a tent?

As with any stove, only use in a well-ventilated area. It’s not a great idea to use stoves inside of tents.

Apart from the obvious reason of potentially burning the tent down, you can get carbon monoxide poisoning too.

Follow the instructions and use some common sense and you won’t go too far wrong.

Remember, gas and other stoves are potentially hazardous too.

How to use a liquid fuel stove

One thing to note is that liquid fuel stoves require priming before they will work.

This means that a small amount of fuel is pumped into the stove and burnt off before it can be used properly.

The main purpose of priming is to heat up the section of metal tube that sits over the top of the burner.

This is known as the Generator Tube.

This is what fuel passes through before it reaches the burner. Once this is warm, it transfers heat to the fuel passing through it.

This, in turn, enables the now heated fuel to vapourise and combust correctly when it reaches the actual burner.

Stove Maintenance

MSR Expedition Service Kit for MSR Stoves
MSR Expedition Service Kit

There are more moving parts on a liquid fuel stove as opposed to gas.

Due to this, although very reliable, it is essential to carry some form of field repair kit if you are relying on your stove to function effectively.

Most of the stoves mentioned below will come with a small parts kit included.

However, it is wise to bolster this with some extra parts such as those included in the MSR expedition service kit.

Periodic maintenance of the stove is required to ensure long term performance.

The MSR expedition service kits will cover most eventualities in the field and are a good item to carry with you.

If looked after, and properly maintained, these stoves should last a lifetime.

Summary

There are many options available when selecting a bushcraft stove.

If you have a good supply of small twigs etc and don’t mind longer boil times, the closest and most environmentally sustainable option is the wood type, such as the Solo Stove, or Honey Stove.

The fact that this fuel is usually free and readily available, further adds to their appeal.

However, if you want or need to go down the fuel route, meths, gas and liquid fuel stoves are all excellent in their own right.

Your choice will depend on the environment you will be in at the time, trip length and of course, personal preference.

Hopefully, this post has outlined the main bushcraft stove options available.

If you feel you would like anything else mentioned, please leave a comment below or use the contact us page and I will do my best to oblige.

Thanks for your visit today