by Todd Walker
Snap! My ax handle was in two pieces. Now what? Would I sink or rise above a tool failure?
The good news is that my truck was a short walk from fixed camp. I crossed the creek, pulled a hill, and grabbed another ax from my truck. The day was saved.
Could I have made a stone ax? That’s a ridiculous notion seeing as how I was cutting a cord of firewood with an ax.
Every outing is different. People have different styles and tastes. Skill sets vary. I’m now knee-deep into building a log cabin in the woods with hand tools. You better believe I carry more than a knife and belt ax to the project. I bring what I need to make the job easier. Here are the most used tools at this stage of felling, bucking, and debarking logs…
- Bark Spud
- LogRite Jr. Arch
- Cant Hook
Once the walls begin to be laid, my tool box will expand considerably. This cabin project isn’t a camping trip. An ax is the only tool from the above list that goes camping with me. Tools in your kit should be able to multitask but some are trip or mission specific. I have different kits depending on how I want to play in the woods.
The internet is full of proselytizers. One denomination promotes Kit Dogma. Others preach from the Skill Cult pulpit. If you don’t convert to one side or the other, you’ll be damned to hell if you’re ever in that dreaded “survival situation.” Can I get a witness!?
Note: When using the term “Skill Cult,” I’m not referring to Steven Edholm’s excellent YouTube channel and blog. While I can’t speak for Steven personally, I think he’d agree with me on the point I’m about to make. He uses and makes a variety of tools coupled with self-reliant skills for the stuff he’s doing. I highly recommend checking out his content if you haven’t already!
Kit Dogma vs Skill Cult
Believe it or not, grown men get their under britches in a wad over kit and skills. Virtual fist fights break out about the best knife, ax, saw, and get this, which trousers are best. The same is true if you ask which skill is most important to a woodsman. It’s a symphony of swollen egos chanting, “We’re NUMBER 1! We’re NUMBER 1!”
The internet has done us no favors in this department. New pilgrims see all this and think they have to pick sides. Failing to question the nonsense, they’re lured into the trap of conformity. And lists. And rules. And hero-worship.
The truth, however, will set you free!
Here’s the truth…
You need both kit and skill.
The pesky part of this truth is you must have a deep desire to learn how to use your kit to improve your skills through your experiences. This truth is the hardest for most of us to wrap our heart and hands around.
Dogmatic attitudes are displayed in more than just religion and politics. Beware of kit evangelists who aggressively enforce sacred cow gear.
Which kit items are essential? This begs another question… for what? What ya doing in the woods? Car camping, hiking, canoeing, backpacking, hunting, tramping, photography, fishing, primitive camping, foraging, Classic Camping, building shelter, etc., etc., … you get the picture.
Here’s a thought…
Bring what you need to the woods. No shame in packing the gear you need to match your skill level. Camp comfortably, no matter how many sacks of stuff it takes. This ain’t a competition. Play by your rules on your home field. With each trip to the field, you’ll figure out what to leave home or add on your next outing.
Marketers teach us, the consumer, why we should choose one product or service over competitors. I’ve heard some disgruntled woodsmen complain that Madison Avenue has set up shop in the woods. There’s nothing new about this trend. At the height of the Golden Age of Camping (1880-1930), Henry Ford, Abercrombie & Fitch, Duluth Pack, Pendleton, and others made lots of money selling sporting goods to outdoorsmen. Young’uns are shocked when I point out the history behind the expensive “A&F” logo on their apparel.
Let’s be honest, we’re all gear junkies to some extent. It’s easy to miss the point of kit collections. All this stuff is just shiny gadgetry unless we anchor them to the landscape with skills. Our lineage always leads us back to the land.
Through years of camping, my constant companions have been my ax and knife. There aren’t many tools which have enhanced my comfort around the campfire more than these. Of course, my trusty thumb drill (Bic lighter) is always in my pocket. No, I don’t always use primitive friction fire methods. Yes, I have backup fire-makers depending on my intentions. Some hardcore folk may frown upon this dependable open flame, but, again, match your kit with your skill level.
Here’s something else to keep in mind concerning kit selection. A YouTuber unboxes a tool and talks fit and finish. Don’t bristle, it’s just that I’ve never found “shiny object” reviews to provide practical help. Videos of someone actually using the tool in the field is better, but not enough. I need to wrap my hands around it and see how it fits my needs.
My interests range from Stone Age technology to modern camping. And I have kits to fit this wide spectrum.
I’ll confess that I lean heavily toward skill cult. This doesn’t discount the need for quality gear in my journey. I’m all about buying/making dependable gear that fits me and suits the stuff I’m doing.
My blue-collar overland rig is a roof top tent atop a homemade utility truck body. One of the reasons I love this trailer is that it reminds me of Daddy’s old 1970 model GMC plumbing/welding truck. With calloused hands, he taught me the lessons of his trade, work ethic, and the value of a hard days work.
My working-man upbringing translates well into outdoor living skills. It takes hard work and patience to not only develop these skills, but keep them in proper context.
I’ve found in my experience that when skills grow, kits shrink. Practicing primitive skills may seem silly to modern campers. However, these primal first skills are the common denominator linking us to our past and the land. Making fire by twirling sticks together, for instance, takes careful attention to detail on every step of the fire-making process. That’s the practical part of primitive fire. The priceless piece is the flame lit in my soul.
Which skills are essential for your camp? However you answer, the essence of our discussion here is the context of how these skills (and kits) relate to you and your wilderness.
These are my baseline recommendations. Your camping style may differ…
- Ax and Knife Craft – Beginner article on using axes around camp can be here. Practical knife use tutorials can be found here and here.
- Fire – Possibly the most forgiving of all outdoor living skills.
- Shelter – Tents and tarps for modern shelter. You can never have too many tarps when camping. Primitive shelters are good to know how to build but take lots of time and energy. And there’s that context thing. Take what you need for comfort and dress for the weather.
- Camp Cooking – Filled bellies make for happy campers. Here’s a look at my camp cooking set up at fixed camp.
On your journey from tenderfoot to thoroughbred camper, remember, don’t drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. Discover your essential kit items, through actual experience, which will enhance the skills necessary to sleep at night in your wild places.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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