I used to be a bit of a kit bore. I remember once having a conversation about the properties of three-ply Gortex with my former partner at 2am in bed. Needless to say the relationship didn’t last long after that.
Type “survival kit” into Google and a plethora of “essential” items will seem to spill out of your screen. Rambo knives with built-in fishing hooks, waterproof matches, paracord survival bracelets with plastic buckles that double as emergency whistles. If you are worried about the end of the world, go out and buy the lot. Then make sure you’ve got enough rations to last you until 2030 and lock yourself in a concrete bunker.
I’ve learnt less stuff actually takes being out in the wild to a whole new level.
After my Walking the Amazon series in 2010 Discovery Channel suggested it would make good TV to leave me stranded alone on an uninhabited tropical island for two months with nothing; no food, no tent, no water, no knife, not even any clothes. They asked me if I thought I could survive. I was honest, “I really don’t know!” I said. “Perfect,” came their reply and the show was commissioned.
It was overwhelming to be dropped off on the beach, stark naked, and having to think about all the things I needed to do to stay alive. I had to find water, food, make a fire, find somewhere to sleep - and because there was no-one top help me - the consequences of getting it wrong were quite dire. I’ll be honest - I panicked.
I’ve now done 180 days of naked survival without a knife and the one incredible gift it has given me is the freedom of not being reliant on kit. I know I have the skills to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and this gives me peace of mind – I know I can indeed look after myself.
To let you into a little secret, I’m actually not a Doomsday prepper. I very much doubt I’ll be called on to catch fish with my bare hands to feed my emaciated family any time soon. But that’s not the point. I think learning bushcraft skills is so important because it gives you a deeper understanding of nature and therefore a heightened confidence that you can live comfortably with nothing to rely on but you own two hands - and half a brain helps too.
In a world where we all impose limitations on ourselves by claiming we don’t have the right kit, or can’t afford certain things, learning to work without tools in nature is a simple, but powerful antidote. And the more you learn, the greater understanding you have of the interconnected systems that make up our beautiful planet.
So be brave, go and sit in a wood for a day, better still; stay overnight and sleep under the stars. It’s free, it’s liberating, and even if you get drenched in the middle of the night, you’ll still most likely come home with a massive smile on your face.