The Modern Hunter Gatherer - Book Review

2 comments
13 December 2009
Written by Tony Nester this book is a realistic guide to developing the skills needed to become a hunter gatherer in the modern world. Although the author is based in Arizona (something of a hotbed of primitive technologists) the book gives ideas that are applicable to different climates and countries.
Although the book is subtitled "a practical guide for living off the land" I would say it is something a little different. It is more of a guide to how to develop the skills to do so, rather than a simple how to tome. This has advantages as it means that basic principles can be applied to different eco-systems and situations without having to produce an encyclopedia.

Tortoise Mind, Full Belly
I've recently been reading, as part of the JMBU course, a book called "Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind" which talks at length about the benefits of instinct and slow, natural learning rather than a more traditional and structured approach. I feel that the ideas about slower ways of knowing are well suited to Nester's new book as it provides a framework, effectively a student's guide, to hunter gathering rather than a simpler attempt to transfer facts.

A Quality Original
The book is well written and free from the errors that have plagued some very well known bushcraft writers' works. The photos and drawings are clear and there are good pictures of trap layouts, hunting tools and techniques. The sections devoted to broader bushcraft skills and developing your trapping skills are particular favourites of mine and, in general, the book achieves something remarkable in the field of bushcraft/survival literature - it is original.
There are no major mistakes that I noted, other than the labelling of a pukko as a Mora, and the book is a professional production.

International Issues?
The author does have an American take on hunting, taking the .22 rifle as his weapon of choice and concentrating mostly on small game. I feel a European author would have written more about birds as a food source (pigeons are perhaps the most easily encountered animal here) and may have leaned towards a shotgun or air-rifle due to gun laws and the lack of space here.

Opinion
In short, this is a great book and offers a variety of inspirations to develop your own hunting, fishing and gathering skills. It isn't really a simple how-to book but a deeper learning guide and as such has become a valuable part of my bookshelf.
Other reviews can be seen at Woods Monkey and Jack Mountain Bushcraft.
Read On

Away from the Survival Tin

10 comments
6 October 2009
After coming across yet another article on making a survival kit out of an Altoids or tobacco tin I've finally had enough. It's not that the article is bad or even that the idea is bad, it's just that the thought process involved is too general.
Building some sort of survival kit is not a difficult task but it does involve a following a logical train of thought.

Step 1 - Don't do Dumb Things
I'm not saying that all dangerous situations are avoidable but you can put measures in place to reduce the risk. The first thing is to listen to the little voice inside your head that says "should you really be doing that?". This inner voice is one of the most important things the solo bushcrafter or walker can cultivate. You probably don't need to fell that tree, jump over that ditch or descend that slope if you think about it. If in doubt, sit down, have a drink, come up with a plan and take things slowly.
Aside from causing accidents then the other main way of causing problems is to get lost. Despite many people saying that a mobile phone is a great tool it is about as much use as a chocolate teapot if you don't know where you are. Every day people break down on major roads without having a clue which junctions they're between or even what road they're on - and it's a lot easier to find you on a motor way than in a national park!
To avoid getting lost you need a map and a compass. Using either alone takes more skill than using them both together so have both. Don't bother with a little button compass, get a real, full size one with a base plate. After that get hold of one of the many books on navigation you can get through your local library of pick up something such as a "Be Expert with Map and Compass" via amazon.
There are 2 ways of causing problems with using a compass. The first is to place it near something electrical or made of metal when taking a reading - don't do it on the car roof, next to a bag of pans or a rifle or under power cables. The second is to trust your own sense of direction over the compass.

Step 2 - Where and How Long?
Where are you going? You need to ask as you have no need for taking any devices or equipment for food gathering unless you are more than 10 days from help. In Europe you are never 10 days from help as long as you've told someone where you are going to be. The location also influences the signalling choices you make - signalling mirrors are great if people are searching by air but less so if there is a ground search. I recommend a mix of signalling methods as none of them is heavy or expensive. A mirror is fairly cheap, fits flat in a chest pocket and is great if you are going in an area where an air search is likely. A whistle is also good as it can, depending on local conditions, be audible several miles away. The third signalling item I recommend is an LED torch with a flashing option. It lets you see a bit in the dark and lets people see you. In wilderness areas, with low light pollution, this would be visible from a long way off.
So, now people can find you we need to stay alive till they get there.

Step 3 - What can go wrong?
It is always useful to run through a few scenarios of what could go wrong. In Britain I'd go for the following as being the 3 main ones that could cause problems.
  1. Sudden change of weather
  2. Accident
  3. Getting lost
Now, by having a map and compass and knowing how to use them we should hopefully eliminate number 3 so we are left with the first and second problems. The first problem is probably the most likely in the UK and common in any area where mountains affect weather patterns. Aside from looking at the forecast and keeping an eye on the sky there are a couple of pieces of kit you could take with you.

Fighting the Cold and Wet
First is something you wouldn't think of as part of a "survival" kit but something you may well have on you for an enjoyable walk. I'm going to break with tradition and recommend a thermos flask of tea. The logic behind this is that hot drinks often comfort and calm people down and by sitting down and having a cuppa you'll be less likely to run around like a headless chicken and make the situation worse. The water in the drink is of benefit as is the fact the drink will be warm. Next up is something a little more usual for a survival kit. I recommend getting a big, strong plastic bag. You can pick up the bright orange survival bivvy bag or any other similarly sized bag. Don't worry about space blankets - they do work but flap around like crazy and tear easily. A bag is more use because you can either get inside it, split it and make a shelter from it or turn it into a raincoat. Bright colours are better as they can be seen easier and don't hesitate to use it over the top of a regular coat - the plastic is more waterproof than most breathable, seamed coats are. If you buy one, try to keep it in its original packaging as once opened you'll never manage to fold it up as small again.
The next item in our fight against the cold is something to sit on. Water and the ground both conduct heat away from you quickly so having some form of insulation between yourself and the ground is helpful. It's also nice to be able to sit down in comfort the rest of the time. You can get various types of sit-mats in camping shops.
The last item in this section is some extra item of clothing - a jumper, jacket or fleece. This bit should already be somewhere in your wardrobe so shouldn't cost you a penny.

Step 3 What can You do?
The final section on my version of the survival kit is the medical section. I am not medically trained so my first aid kit is very minimal. I have plasters, disinfectant wipes a couple of absorbent dressings and surgical tape. I know that most people would recommend a lot more but what I'm trying to say here is to take items commensurate with your skill level. If you know very little about first aid then you aren't going to be sewing yourself up or splinting a broken leg. Simply take what you can use and resolve to increase your first aid knowledge (I'm currently starting to work on mine). My first aid kit is designed to patch up small cuts and scrapes and little more, use your knowledge to assemble what you think is necessary in this area.

Off We Go
Hopefully we now have a survival kit that, rather than rusting in a tin, covers us in the event of some of the most likely scenarios. It isn't exhaustive and by trying to avoid the old SAS style kit complete with snare wire and flares I hope we've got something that is more useful on more occasions to more people

Over to You
What do you think of this type of survival kit? Would you recommend something entirely different? Please comment below.
Read On

Brambles and Bread

4 comments
11 September 2009
Last Saturday we had a family walk towards Holywell and stopped along the way to pick up some berries. We got a good number of blackberries although there were others out and about looking for them, the berries went nicely after tea on Monday.
There were tons of elder berries in their huge umbrella like stalks about and easy to collect as well as a few sparse hops flowers. We saw lots of chub in the river and also picked up some crab apples closer to home. All in all it was an enjoyable walk. There was also a sloe tree which was fairly heavily laden, promise of sloe gin later on in the autumn.
Earlier on Monday I'd had a go at making bread using the recipe in the River cottage Bread handbook (pic courtesy of RiverCottage.net) which my wife gave me as an anniversary present. It wasn't too hard following the instructions as it goes into the technique fairly thoroughly. I've got some better, stronger, flour which should help the second batch. The bread was nice, moist but a little dense as it didn't "spring" much when it went into the oven. I also need to be more through when forming the bread shapes before baking. I do recommend the book if you want a beginners baking book.
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The Woodcrafter's Measure - Part 3

1 comments
13 August 2009
As promised, here is the third and final article on ways of measuring in woodcraft that are a not based on lasers, tapes or any gadgets. In this article we'll be using the maths teacher's best friend - the triangle - and looking at how its special properties can be useful in the woods.

An Old "Indian" Trick
The first use of the triangle is an old, possibly native American, trick for measuring the height of trees and other objects. I still remember being taught this on a trip to a nature reserve when I was ten. The idea is simple. You start with your back to the tree and walk away from it. Occasionally you bend over and look back at the tree through your legs. Once you have got so you can just see the top of the tree then you turn around and count your paces back to the tree. The number of paces away you are is equal to the height of the tree. Of course, this is prone to errors depending on how flexible you are and any lean of the tree but can be surprisingly consistent between people. It works as your field of vision when bending over forms a special 45-90-45 triangle and means that the distance from the tree is mathematically equal to its height.

The Magic Stick
A similar principle can be used for lengths as well as heights. The first step is to get a stick. The next part is the clever bit - the stick needs to be cut or broken to the same length as your arm, from knuckle to shoulder. When you hold your arm parallel to the ground you once again form this magic 45-90-45 triangle when you hold the stick straight up. This is true because you are holding the stick up at 90 degrees and the stick and your arm are the same length. Measurements can be made in the same way as the Indian trick but can be made in different planes too.

Measuring a River
There is a method that can be used to measure river widths that uses the magic little triangle too. It is well diagrammed here and essentially makes you create a large triangle and then a scale model of it. By measuring the scale version on dry land you are then able to multiply up to the real size of the river.

Shadows in Scale
What is a shadow? Simply one side of a triangle formed by the sun with the suns rays and the object making the other two sides. This enables us to use shadows as a measure for tall objects (largely trees). First off you need to find a stick and then using the techniques discussed in part one work out its length. This stick is then placed into the ground. A second stick is then cut to the same length as the shadow of the original stick. The number of times this second stick will fit into the length of the trees shadow can be used to tell us the height. For example, if it fits in 26 times and our first stick was 1m tall then we know our tree is 26 times taller and hence 26m tall.

Professional Measures
The laws of trigonometry are used by professional foresters as they use a special tool called a clinometer which measures angles enabling heights to be deduced. Indeed, the clinometer is not particularly different from the sextant and I hope to have a play with one of those in a future post.

Part 1
Part 2
Read On

Anthropology and Bushcraft

1 comments
10 August 2009
If you have followed either Ray Mears' or Bruce Parry's programmes on TV over the last decade or so you'll see a strong link between trying to understand the lifestyle of a people in a different part of the world and the hobby of bushcraft.

Beyond Bushcraft Books
Although there is a wealth of bushcraft and survival literature out there after you've read a few books you find a great deal of similarity and repetition in books and very little in the way of new ideas or inspirations. In search of more information I have turned to other disciplines as a way of gaining more knowledge.

Anthropological Answers
The science which provides useful and inspiring information about modern people living in the wilderness using their traditional skills is named Anthropology, a science studying people, societies and their way of life. With yesterday, August 9th, being the international day of the World's Indigenous People I finally felt compelled to tell you all about it.

The Other Side of Eden
The first book of this type I read was one I found on the Jack Mountain reading list in their student handbook. The book looks at the marginalisation of hunter gatherers and as such is named The Other Side of Eden. The book concentrates on the inuit people but also takes in other native American groups and their lifestyles. The discussions on the languages spoken, their vocabulary for describing fauna, flora and weather and the nature of speech in an oral, not written, culture are all fascinating for the linguist in me. The book also looks at their hunting strategies and how the idea of wilderness living skills and adventure are very far apart. For the people who live the skills, adventure is what happens when things are out of control. This is a book I recommend if you are interested in hunter gatherer lifestyles and especially those of North America.

"Savages" of South America
The next book I picked up was a battered second hand copy of a book discussing the lives of South American native people and their war with the oil industry, modernisation and Christianisation. The book was titled "Savages" and despite having a few interesting insights into food storage and jaguar shamans it was mostly anti-globalisation literature dressed up as anthropology. The writer was not a speaker of the Huaorani language and has received a fair bit of criticism for this, the style is also a little new-age

Reindeer People
The final book, and perhaps the most noteworthy is the most recent I have read. Called Reindeer People it is a mix if a study and story that combines the human elements of the latter with excellent referencing of the former. The book looks at the lifestyles of the Eveny (also here) reindeer herders (a people related to the Evenk group seen in a Ray Mears episode) and how their lifestyles were changing during the collapse of communism in the USSR. The book is well written and easy to read with the only quirk being a few extracts being translated into English and their written equivalents then being noted in brackets in Russian. Not too bad if you have a basic grasp of spoken Russian and not a major deal but I could see this being an irritant if you don't.

Polar Research
The writer, Piers Vitebsky, is a professor at the Scott Polar research institute in Cambridge. The research institute is the centre of British polar studies and has a very famous museum. Sadly, the museum is due to be closed for the best part of a year - until spring 2010 - for rennovation. As a result I've not yet been there.

Rigour over Rhetoric
In my opinion anthropological literature can provide a new avenue of information and ideas for bushcraft. From my, albeit limited, reading I would say that choosing those books with more academic rigour than political agenda will be rewarding. The 2 books on northern peoples were really fascinating and eye-opening and I'd definitely recommend them. One advantage of this type of research is that you can pick an area whose skills are relevant or interesting to you. For me that will always be the northern forests.

If you want to see some beautiful pictures check articphoto.co.uk
Read On

The "British" Museum

0 comments
13 July 2009
On Saturday my Wife and I went to the British Museum in London. I was really looking forward to seeing some of their prehistoric collection after watching Ray Mears episode on stone age Britain several times.
Does Britain Have any History?
The museum itself is huge and divided into sections based upon geographic region. Within each sections rooms are either themed or put in chronological order. It is here where the first issue I have arises - the museum has a massive collection of indigenous items yet 90+% of the space is devoted to items from around the world. Egyptian and classical artefacts take up the largest space including such items as the Rosetta Stone. Aside from the political wrangles over certain high-profile items it is simply dissappointing that so little effort and space is devoted to the history and archaelology of Britain. It would be better named "The World Museum in Britain."

The British items and in a gallery for European objects from the dawn of time to the present. Only one room seemed to be focussed on the stone ages and it was badly presented and minimal. 95% of the human history of Britain in one disorganised room.

There were other exhibits of bushcraft interest including those on the native Americans and their tools and clothing, however, much of this exhibit was temporarily closed.


Only The Shiny

The museum also suffers from a magpie like tendency to chow only shiny objects. Instead of trying to give an impression of how our ancestors lived they try to dazzle you with hoards and gold of "possibly ritual" significance.

Not Worth A Visit

If you're interested in prehistory, the lives of our forebears or exhibits related to bushcraft then I seriously recommend avoiding the British museum. Sad to say but it isn't what it should be and was a massive dissapointment.
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Breakfast Pancakes

0 comments
13 June 2009
I was up early and wanted to make something warm for breakfast for the pair of us. No eggs, no milk and not a lot of promise in the fridge so it would need to be something simple.
Having read far to many classic camping cookbooks the idea of pancakes came to mind. These are also known as flapjacks in North America and not an awful lot different to Scotch, or drop, pancakes.

How To...?
Having read through Tim Smith's "Simple Little Sourdough and Outdoor Baking Book" I remembered the idea that a large number of normal recipies containing perishables (milk and eggs largely) can be made successfully without these ingredients.
I had a quick look through a few recipes on the internet but found nothing special; In the end I simply grabbed a few ingredients and went to work.

The "Recipe"
First off was to grab some sort of bowl for mixing in and chuck into it a pinch of salt and 3 pinches of sugar. To make up the bulk of the pancakes you need flour, I simply used plain flour - about 12 tablespoonfuls and mixed it all together a bit. To make it rise, and following the North American prescription, I added a heaped tablespoon of baking powder to the mix. To make it into a batter I used water - it's readily available, cheap and I hadn't run out of it. You need to add enough water to make a fairly thin batter. It needs to be thin enough to pour so it must be thinner than the "ribboning" that cookery books talk about. I whisked it together to prevent there being any lumps, you can easily fashion a whisk by binding birch twigs together or bending them and then binding them to make a balloon whisk - a technique I first saw in "Prehistoric Cooking".

Cooking
I heated up a big frying pan and melted some butter into it. You'd need a fair bit of fat to cook these as I had to put a little fresh butter in after cooking each pancake - they seem to absorb quite a lot. I poured them out with a ladle but they could, with care, be poured straight from the bowl. They need to be a bit thicker than the normal, English style, variant.They were then simply fried until golden on one side and then flipped over onto the other. It probably took less than a minute per side per cake. After that I just stacked them up on the plate. The mix made 6 pancakes, three for each of us, about 6 to 9 inches across. We ate them with jam as that's what we had left in the fridge.
All of this would be simple enough to do on a campfire or stove, probably easier than on out tempermental electric hob, and the ingredients are cheap and keep well. I think I'll give some of those other recipes a try when I unpack my books again after the move.
Read On

The Woodcrafter's Measure - Part 2

1 comments
12 June 2009
In this post we'll be looking at another way of measuring distances using the body, this time longer distances. The post will be focused upon the 2 basic measurements we can take as we walk; the step and the pace.

The Step
First we have the step, the measurement from the heel of the right foot to the heel of the left foot (or vice versa) when taking one step forward. This measurement is not widely used as it falls between the foot and the pace - it is generally equivalent to 2 1/2 foot lengths and equal to 1/2 a pace. There is a need to remember that the ancient Romans referred to a foot as being a pes and that this isn't the same as a pace.

The Pace
This is the more important of the 2 measurements. It is the distance from the heel of the foot, through 2 steps, to when the same heel next hits the ground. The reason that it is important is that it lets us estimate the distance we have travelled with a degree of accuracy.

Using This
I was planning on writing a whole article on how to use this information, along with counting paces and pace beads, for navigation. In this case though, someone else has got there first and written an excellent article over at The Rucksack. I really don't see where I can add a lot to what they've said so I'll just link to them!
This method and these measurements are great for combining with maps, making your own maps (pirate style) and for longer distances (the height of trees, length of fields). My own personal experience in orienteering, proved that the method can be fairly accurate on the flat but it takes a lot more experience to employ it in really rough ground
Read On

Cups and Containers for Survival Kits

3 comments
5 June 2009
A look through survival literature reveals a real plethora of containers used for containing the kit. In this post we'll be looking at some common containers and discussing what their relative merits are as well as which are most suitable for what task.

Survival Tins
By far the most common container recommended is the tobacco tin as recommended by Lofty Wiseman. You often read that the tin can be used to boil water - the average size of tobacco tins I've found is about 225ml (7.6 fl oz). Considering fires are rarely perfectly level and water bubbles as it boils there is no way you could get even that much water into the tin.
Now, these tins are good for fitting in pockets - particularly jackets and combat type trousers - and are robust, cheap and readily available. The trouble for me with this container is that, according to the rule of 3s and Cody Lundin's excellent book water is actually a pretty important factor.

The Rule of 3s
As a quick reminder to all of us here is the rule of 3s;

You can survive
3 minutes without air
3 hours without shelter

3 days without water
3 weeks without food
3 months without hope/human contact


Remember that this is a very general guideline, it may be different depending on weather, helath, activity etc. With the "average" survival scenario running up to 72 hours then we can see that some water, especially warm water, would be a useful thing. A solid pot can also be used as a shovel in snow or when building a debris shelter.
Boiling water for as little as 1 minute (at sea level) will kill anything that can be killed through boiling.

Last Things First
To this end I tend to think of kits as being built backwards from their container as this is what defines what can be carried. You can see a fine example survival kit following this logic using a Swiss Army canteen over at Woods Monkey. I have previously tried using a tin mug to make a sort of brew kit using a tin mug as a container and a plastic bottle which originally contained about 50 bits of chewing gum.

The Old Tin Mug
The container is a standard sized steel mug, probably not a lot bigger than 250ml capacity but due to its shape a lot better for boiling water in. Lower surface area means less chance of water jumping out when it boils and the handle makes it an awful lot easier to pick up afterwards than a tin. The kit simply consists of a wax stove, mug, plastic bottle, tea bags, matches and a pack of soup to stop it all rattling about. I've got some old information, complete with rather poor pictures here.

Military Option
Another container I've seen much talked about is the Crusader Cup. This cup is the European cousin of the GI Canteen cup and is likewise designed to fit under the NATO issue canteen. These cups have quite a following in bushcraft circles. Personally, I've no experience of them but they do sport a range of accessories (lids and cookers) fit onto water canteens. The kidney style shape may make it more compact and this is an item I shall definitely be on the lookout for. The capacity is 750ml (1.58pints) so this is a fairly decent amount.

Bushcrafter Chic

There has been a fair bit written on various blogs of the fads and fashions in bushcraft as a hobby. I've never been to a big meet so I've yet to see a horde of Swandri clad Gransfors axe wielding clones - the Zebra billy can is another one of those items on the bushcrafter's must-have list. From what I've read it is an excellent pot and trying to find a real pot in a camping store at a sensible price is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I am very interested in getting hold of the biggest size, the 16cm pot, which has a 100 fl OZ / 3 litre capacity. Why so big? You can always put less in a big pot but you can't put more in big pot. This size may be a little on the large size for a survival kit - if it's too big then the likelihood is it won't be with you when you need it! Ben's Backwoods stocks all different sizes down to the 10cm pot.

Civil War Vintage
Just because something's old doesn't mean it's bad; and that's cetainly true of the American civil war vintage mucket. As the name suggests it's a blending of "mug" and "bucket" into the portmanteau "mucket". In Britain I suggest going to Warhorse Sutler (bottom of page) and checking out the stainless steel version - not authentic but not rusty like a tin one. These little pots usually hold about 750ml and contain and integral lid (with lifting knob or hook) and bail and are excellent little bits of kit. I used them often back in my reenacting days and seriously recommend them as a good pot and container for a survival kit.

Re-use and Recycle
An old tin can may not be glamourous but it gets the job done. I find that tinned fruit cans are a very usable size - all you need is some pliers, an old coat hanger and a sharp point. You simply punch holes through the top for the bail and then bend the wire into place. With judicious slection you could find a smaller can to go as a lid/frying pan and then you can seal it all up to make a complete container and cook kit for peanuts. Some of the old timers went into this in a bigger way and Wildwood Wisdom has a couple of pages devoted to tin can outing kits.

The Industrial Approach
What about if you're making a long term kit, bug out bag or family kit? In that case I'd have to go for a proper steel bucket. Don't get a dodgy looking galvanized one from a garden centre but a proper, nigh-on-indestructible, one from a catering supplier. They have lids handles and come in up to 15 litre (nearly 16 quarts) capacity. Think about it - if you need to clean water for cooking, cleaning and washing - for example after a flood when sewage is flooded out of drains and tanks and up onto street level - what type of container do you need? I've even seen recommendations on preparedness websites suggesting a bucket, filled with useful materials, food etc. makes a great gift for getting people into the idea of preparing and making contingency plans. For serious base camps, the heavy duty steel and bail is a good combination and even makes Jack Mountain Bushcraft's kit list.

A Master's Opinion
I couldn't end here without mentioning some of the things that Mors Kochanski, one of modern bushcraft's greatest practioners, has written on the subject of pots in survival kits. In an article in issue 5 of the BCUK magazine (no longer in print) he wrote that a good pot needed a lid that could be tied down, to be made from solid guage steel, to have rounded corners for ease of cleaning and a bail. He also stated to buy a pot twice the size you expected to need. In his booklet, "The 2 Kilogram Survival Kit Field Manual" he mentions using a 3 or 4 litre oil can, suitable cleaned. In his booklet "The Tools of Survival and Survival Training" he mentions the need for a pot of 7 cup (1.6 litre) capacity with a tight fitting lid with a ring, not knob, and a strong handle.

What Next?
I hope you have seen that there are lots of good container/cups/pots to build a survival kit around and that the ability to purify water is an essential part of any kit.
I hope to get hold of some of the above mentioned items for review over the coming months and also put together a tin-can cook kit for budget bushcrafters. If you know of any good reviews of alternatives, or the items mentioned above, please drop me a line.
Photos on strange backgrounds are my own, others come from the websites of suppliers linked in the article. If you wish them removed then there is a link at the top with my e-mail.
Read On

The Woodcrafter's Measure - Part 1

5 comments
1 June 2009
It is sometimes useful to be able to measure something in the woods, be it the height of a tree, the thickness of a stick of how far you've walked.
In this 1st section we're going to look at using the human body as a measuring tool, especially for crafting projects, and we're going to start with a few history lessons.

Da Vinci and the Vitruvian Man
Da Vinci's love of nature and his exploits in many areas marked him out as special. This drawing, one of the world's most recognisable images, is drawn to scale and show many of the relationships between various parts of the body in length. To help make sense of it there is an annotated version on Wikipedia.

The Measure of a Man
The picture is based on Vitruvius's writings. He is a 1st century AD Roman Engineer who stated that;
  • a palm is the width of four fingers
  • a foot is the width of four palms (i.e., 12 inches)
  • a cubit is the width of six palms
  • a pace is four cubits
  • a man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
  • the length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height
  • the maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is a quarter of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of a man's height
  • the length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the length of a man's foot is one-sixth of his height
In case you're wondering quite what a cubit is, it is the measurement from finger tip to elbow and was a much used measurement in the ancient and mediaeval world. A Polish king, Wladyslaw I was even given the sobriquet "the Elbow High" in a reference to his short stature.

Are They Any Use?
These measurements have several advantages. Firstly they are portable, you can't forget your body and you've no need to buy a new one just for measuring. Secondly they are consistent - they change little through your adult life (as an aside the stability of foot size is thought of as one reason why women love buying shoes so much). The problem is that my hand and yours are different sizes.
The positives of this outwieght the negatives for us - using a handle which is a palm long means it will fit in our hand regardless of size, a snowshoe with finger thick sticks should support our weight. If you watch any of Mors Kochanski's videos (especially "Sticks as Tools and Implements") you see your height, arm span, palm and finger width much in use as measurements. Fenlander even uses body measurements to great affect when teaching how to build a fire.

You're Always Prepared
Having said that these are measurments that you can't leave behind then it is no surprise that Baden Powell made use of them in "Scouting for Boys". The key measures he talked about were;
  • Breadth of thumb being 1 inch
  • Span from thumb to forefinger being 6.5 inches
  • Span of thumb to any over finger being 8.5 inches
  • Wrist to elbow being 10 inches
  • A cubit being 17 inches.
Of course you can check your own measurements in these categories before you head to the woods for a bit more accuracy.

More Information
These measurements are known as "anthropic units" and being based upon nature have a natural role in woodcraft. In the equestrian field a hand('s breadth) is still used as a measure while a handful and a pinch are ever present measures in the kitchen. Searching under "body based measurements" also brings up some more information.
I hope to have reminded you of this important part of your bushcraft toolkit - look forward to part 2 about the pace and longer distances and part 3 where we play with triangles. I should hopefully do a little ready reckoner card at the end of it all too.
Finally, remember what Plato said

"Man is the measure of all things."
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What are My Tags?

6 comments
6 May 2009
If you're wondering what each tag on this blog stands for, or simply looking for a different way of browsing things then this post is for you. It will guide you through what the tags are, what you can find under each of them and where to find it!

Classic: These posts are about the "Golden Age" of woodcraft. From Nessmuk through Kephart and Baden Powell all the way up to Ellsworth Jaeger. This is the era of canvas, leather and carbon steel when there were still relatively untamed wildernesses to explore and not a lot of rules or regulations about doing so. Essentially this epoch runs from around 1850 to 1950.
Posts in this category will include suitable resources and kit, using techniques described in the books and the more traditional elements of woodcraft. There will also be a few historical articles.

Survival: This is a section which will be focused on the basics of staying alive, in the short term, in the wilds. Look for modern techniques and ultra modern kit here as well as the ubiquitous survival kit. There will be a combination of my thoughts and opinions as well as links to important articles and reviews.

Primitive: From Archaeology to anthropology to modern primitive skills it will all appear under this heading. I shan't restrict it strictly to stone tools as I expect to come all the way up to the iron age. I'll be looking to mix my own re-creations with background information and useful articles that I come across. As far as historical periods go the two which I'll probably be focusing on most are the Mesolithic, the apogee of hunter gather life in Britain, and the bronze age. The bronze age is a period which has interested me for years and Otzi the iceman gives us a remarkable snapshot into bushcraft from this time.

Review: A rather simple heading where I'll include reviews of kit, books and websites. If it is something you can buy, borrow or download then it'll most likely end up here. As I'm a bit of a bibliophile expect a good few books in here. I am currently trying to cut down on my knife addiction.

Link: If I come across a good website, or I'd like to introduce you to one of the websites, networks or blogs I follow, then it'll come under this heading. I shall be working through the blogs I enjoy to recommend them and drum up some readers here.

Update: This is a kind of catch-all heading. My previous blog went through three or four incarnations and colour schemes whilst it was in use so anything like that will be mentioned here. If I'm going to be away for a bit, can't post for a while, or have added some new function or widget then it will fall under this heading.

Observation: I noticed that a large number of posts made were about the weather but I'm looking to get into posting more about astronomy too. These observations about the natural world will be in this section, along with any animals or tracks that I have seen.

Virtual Cabin: Whilst I can't afford the log cabin homestead I'd love I can still have a virtual one. This section will contain any information I wish to post about cabins, traditional homesteading skills, preparedness and food. I've not posted a huge amount on this topic before but it is something which greatly interests me and I hope to be more prolific in this area in future.

Tutorial: One thing sadly lacking from my blogging is good, step by step, tutorials and instructions as to how to make something. This is a situation I hope to rectify on Woodcrafter's Log and all posts of this type shall come under this heading

Outing: If I've been to the woods this is where you'll read about it. Be it a weekend course, a trip away or a quick walk it'll all come under this heading.








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