Friday, 21 March 2014

The Swiss Army knife, context is everything.

I've recently been looking a lot at Swiss Army knife (SAK) reviews online. There is one thing that has me a little confused though, how few reviewers get the context of the tools in it, then complain about them being used.

To understand the context of the SAK, you have to understand Switzerland. Switzerland is a neutral country, therefore unless it's defensive, they are non-combatant. Their army spends most of the time in barracks, unless on exercise. Most of the tool choices were made not to be a combat knife but an EDC for a barracks based soldier. 

Let's take a look at some examples to make sense of this. The hook for example in my eyes is a lace hook. This is an aid to help you get correct tension on your boot laces. It also is handy for twisting off materials like wire ect. 

Another good example, is the scissors. Now I've used scissors for usually light tasks such as nipping off threads and cutting plasters. These are everyday jobs, in the context of a soldier. 

Finally we come to the bottle opener. It is what it is, but in the context of a soldier it's important. As a soldier, you also have to be a gentleman. I've seen bottle openers on many military knives, including Sgian Dubhs. In the barracks at dinners ect, a soldier, usually an officer was expected to open wine bottles.

So the inclusion of these tools makes utter sense to me. Now how these are handy to us bushcrafters goes without mention, we've all used the SAK and found uses for the tools, but reviewers need to realise that this is a very certain type of military knife, and never to be used overseas as a survival knife.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Coastal bushcraft, relearning everything.

As mentioned I live in SW Scotland, it's a great place to live for a bushcrafter. I can litterally experience every type of environment (apart from dessert), not too far away from my doorstep. I have coniferous and broadleaf woods, open moorland, mountains and coastline all within 12 miles. Recently I've been thinking though, I've not done much on the coast, a little fishing and foraging, camped a night or two aswell. This made me think though why not attain more coastal skills. 

The solway coast is basically a very large estuary, a few miles across that separates my region of Scotland from Cumbria and the lakes. However the tide is viciously fast and in some areas the seawater disappears all together at low tide. There is also a risk of quicksand to contend with too. As well as the occasional WW2 mine that was installed to prevent U boats attacking the munitions factories in the area.

Now kit wise I need to pack for pretty terrible conditions, and leave my carbon knives at home. It's imperative I take more care here than anywhere else as the risks are so high. I will also have to buy a copy of the tide times from my local pub (they also deal with the permits for fishing the annan river). For anyone who is interested, in my opinion a £2 printed book on the tide times may well save your life. For this coast it's imperative you know them many people have been swept out on this coast. These can often be bought at chandlers and tackle shops too. 

So once the weather improves a bit, don't fancy the risk ATM, I hope to get out and learn a lot more about Coastalcrafting. 

All the best,

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The importance of being fit and healthy........ And eating right.

This topic means a lot to how well we perform in the outdoors, how well we cope with stress and fundamentally whether or not our body gives out to the elements.

We all hear the old,1.5 hours of exercise a day, and the healthy balanced diet equations we get told by medical professionals and dietary experts all the time. How relevant is it to us as outdoorsy types....... The answers is more important to us than anyone else realy. We depend on being fit and healthy.

Ok so it has been said by Napoleon, that an army marches in it's stomach. He had a very good point, we need energy and plenty if it. What outdoors people deal with is harsh weather, strenuous tasks and often having a suppressed diet as we only can carry what will fit. This means what we put in to feed our bodies is critical to how well we perform. I personally like to take a good multi vit supliment, this is to subsidise the quality of the food and the nutrients I will burn up. 

There have been recorded cases though of starvation, not because people haven't eaten, quite the opposite, they were eating all the wrong stuff. The Hudsons bay company recorded countless deaths due to rabbit fever or as it's sometimes called mal de caribou. This disease is a form of protein poisoning and costs vital nutrients, thus killing you from malnutrition and dehydration. Lean meats lack nutrients, not an over night thing but over weeks this can be fatal. So eating a balanced diet will help, fact is you will stave off the problem far longer. 

On the topic of exercise, I am fit, not marathon runner fit but fit enough to hike 30miles in a day with 45lb of gear. I have to say that in the last couple of years I've stepped up my fitness regime. When your not in the wilderness it's vital you stay in top shape as it will help you in the long run. It's pretty easy to condition yourself though. You need to look at what will help you.

Firstly is Cardio work, your stamina is so important as this is what keeps you going. I like to make sure I've done 1.5 hours of this per day. Now I'm not talking blast training but enough so I feel a bit tired an out of breath. Over time you will be able to go far longer and take far less time to recover. Also your circulatory system will do a fine job at keeping you warm which is an added bonus.

The next thing I like to work on is strength. Believe it or not the best weight in the world is gravity, stuff the gym membership. Your own body weight is all you need. I like to do the usual press ups, chins, and plenty of core work. It is free too so there is no excuse. Also try carrying a weighted pack. This will tone up the muscles and condition them to load bearing.

I've also recently taken up yoga. Stop sniggering at the back, seriously it's been very beneficial to me. I've sustained a fair few serious injuries, thanks contact sport, and I get problems with my joints because of this. Yoga has allowed me to stop taking pain killers and to be infinitely more flexible. I've also noticed I'm a lot more relaxed aswell. Great thing is nature is the best place to do it as the setting is relaxing. Imagine the sound of a river and the birds, now think how relaxing that is.

Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure how all this will help you, but try and spend 2 months doing this. Your body will thank you and you'll notice the difference. Keep it up permanently and you will be by far and away a much happier person who continuously will out perform yourself in the bush.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

All Gear and no idea?

Well here's some territory that may get a bit awkward, this is my way to stop what I think is becoming the biggest scourge of the bushcraft world. There is a growing tendency for the armchair bushcrafter, who just buys a load of expensive gear and doesn't realy use it, or even how.

Well here's my point, how much do you realy need, and how much do you really have to spend. Don't get me wrong I know as good as anybody there are things in life that will cost, but there are some poor excuses for crass consumerism that is going on these days.

Take my first example, the woodlore Clark Gable belt, yes it's real. This belt is sold at a stupidly expensive amount of money and I wouldn't say it's anything special. I have a basic good quality full grain belt, it is strong and durable and will go on for many years. Best of it is was very reasonably priced. 

My next example of monetering I can menting is the price of blanket shirts. I can make a blanket shirt with the very little skill I have for less than £50, now I've seen some being sold for up to about £250. Seriously if I can make one all be it a bit more no frills, for 1/5 of the price it makes you question.

As you can see though high priced gear is all around us. 

So now we've waded through that let's discuss the hoards of crap we can buy as gadgetry to help us get through a night. 

Now somthings are worth their weight in gold, the head torch for instance. But there is a whole barrel load of junk that is accumulating on the market as we speak. 

Let's mention one to begin with, the joyous survival kit inside a bracelet. If you do your homework this is pointless, I wouldn't trust anything I'd find inside one of these. But it's a fashion statement. If I need ultra heavy duty cordage I have it in the form of a hank on my belt. Next piece of useless tat I've found was that they still make the SAS survival kits. Now if I'm covered in gear and I have an SA80 to boot this will make sense. To joe average bushcrafter it's useless. Anyway you get my point.

It's fair to say spend your money wisely, good comfortable boots are worth spending your money on rather than a bit of tat or some rediculously expensive bit of overpriced Gucci gear.

To be a Womble.

Wombles, for those who aren't old enough or never got to watch it, were these oversized furry critters who picked up litter, and made use of it.

I bet now your thinking, what's that got to do with bushcraft and survival. Well the truth is there is so much trumpeting and drum banging about using natural materials. However you find man made rubbish lying just about everywhere, what were told is use your environment to your advantage, and that rubbish is in your environment.

You'd actually be surprised what can be scavenged, and then repurposed. knowing that might save your life one day. Furthermore your actually doing the environment a favour by clearing up debris. 

Following floods there's a good chance there's somthing washed up that might be of use to you. Things like old gas bottles are often fly tipped, think that might make you a stove. Old paint cans can be cleaned out and make a billy, or a wood gas stove. Sometimes you find old chainsaw blades, resharpen them and add 2 split rings and you've got a chainsaw in a can.

 My personal favourite though is fishing tackle. Anglers often loose, hank or tangle it up. Many waterfoul get killed by it lying around. My answer is harvest it, keep the good stuff, safely dispose of the rest.

But there's a benefit to all this if we remove the rubbish and clear up the environment, we don't just get get free kit, we also promote bushcraft as a serious pastime with good intentions. Bushcraft needs a lot of promotion, but promotion also requires us to promote responsibility. If we move the LNT philosophy to also clearing the rubbish left by others, we make people realise that we aren't there with destructive intentions. We promote looking after nature, the environment and keeping it safe and pleasant for everyone and everything. 

Now there's a few health warnings I have to give. Don't get hurt, cover wounds and make sure your up to date on your jags. 

Be safe, Shug

Monday, 3 March 2014

Sherpa walk, the best way with a heavy pack.

I bet your thinking, what's the Sherpa walk? Well it's a type of walking used by the Sherpas of the Himalayas. Sherpas lives revolve around the mountains and often have to carry perticularly heavy kit. 

The boots Sherpas use aren't the solid plastic stiff soled boots we see on mountaineers. Yet they still manage to tackle some of the toughest terrain on the globe. The knoledge I'm going to give you is their secret in doing it.

When we try to climb uphill we all tend to use a wide gait, the same gait as we use on the flat ground. This striding step both strains your tendons and joints, and burns vital callories which on a meager diet isn't good at all. The Sherpas use a lot of smaller steps. These allow your muscles to work more naturally and use the elasticity to their advantage. 

When you add a heavy pack your muscles have to work far harder. The strain on your joints is also noticeable. When we revert to the Sherpa walk this becomes far less noticeable.

So today I decided to see if this was definitely the case, and the one and only way to do it is to find a steep rugged area and give it a go. So I grabbed as much heavy kit as I could and stuffed a fairly large pack full. I think it was a good 80lb of kit in there. Anyway I strapped my pack on and headed for my chosen incline. 

So I tried both methods of walking without a pack first. I found that it was easy enough both ways. The Sherpa walk was unusual at first but pleasant. The next time it was with the pack. This was where I found the biggest difference. The standard gait felt strenuous in comparison, this I had never found in all the years I've been in the outdoors.

Just to say though, I want anyone who reads this to go out and try it, it works for me.