The Little Things Make the Difference

23 January 2010

As much as it is the big things we discuss when we're talking about bushcraft or survival, the little 1% items do add up to making a big difference.  

Typically these are things which make up the contents of my pockets; my every day carry items (E.D.C.). These items are not all a big deal but as with so many things, “the devil is in the details

From the Soles of My Feet

It's an old truism that warm feet make for a warm body and there are 2 main ways which you loose heat through your shoes. The first is through conduction through the soles of the shoes into the ground and the second through faster conduction over the whole foot when it gets damp. An easy way of reducing the effect of both of these is to increase the insulation around your foot – especially the bottom of it. I've found that felt insoles are very effective in this, adding comfort as well as insulation from the ground. They also provide insulation against any moisture condensing on the impermeable shoe soles.

A Square Foot of Cotton

As with many people who wear glasses, I'm a fan of cotton handkerchiefs and always have a clean one or two in my pockets. Aside from the obvious functions they have a few extra uses. A fresh handkerchief provides a ready made dressing for any cut or injury (remember to boil wash them if you've been blowing your nose!) a bit of extra insulation around your shirt collar and, if cut up, some emergency cordage.

Protection from Ice and Wind

Chapped lips, split fingers or chafed shoulders are never a lot of fun and if you're spending a decent amount of time outside then you need to make some allowance for these things. Protecting yourself from these things is just about forethought, a small pot of vaseline or Carmex fits easily inside your pocket and can make a big difference to your comfort.

Keeping Time

Navigation is a question of finding your place. It's not just a question of direction but also distance and sometimes the easiest way to measure distance is in time. As I have previously mentioned, time can be used in relation to walking speed, to figure out how far has been travelled in a given direction. If you are travelling through flat, fairly open, terrain then you can be fairly comfortable that an hour in one direction I going to be the same distance as an hour back again. In the winter months of shortened daylight it is also well worth keeping an eye on the time to ensure you don't get stuck out in the woods in the dark and facing an avoidable overnight stay.


It's only a ten minute walk from our flat to the woods and on the way I typically grab a drink in the shop. It's sensible to be well hydrated when your out as you'll feel happier and healthier – at the moment when we've got six inches of snow on the ground we've got no danger of not being able to find water. A handy container makes it a lot easier to melt snow and avoids any blistering or waste of calories through lost body heat when melting snow.

Fire and Light

Another little thing I tend to pick up in the shop, particularly at the moment when I don't have access to my full range of kit, is either a lighter or a box of matches. I'm sure you all know how important the ability to make fire is and neither of these methods ways more than a few grams and is pretty cheap as far as insurance policies go. I also keep a fresnel lens in my wallet, not a great lot of use when there's 90% cloud cover but useful for examining things and removing splinters too.

A Friendly Folder

As American Bushman has recently been talking about, some knives are more “sheeple friendly”  than others (The Moose 06/01/10). The knives tend to be the old fashioned ones, slip-joint folders, swiss army knives or perhaps the British army folding knife. All good, non-locking, everyday knives which are fine for a wide variety of tasks. The knife is most definitely a question of personal preference – my choice is for an SAK Electrician Plus – a large blade and a small blade enhance the whittling possibilities whilst a saw and awl really add to the number of things you can easily craft.  

It's a tool that can ride in your trouser pocket without wearing a hole through them or requiring a big tactical belt to hold them up. A little folder will handle the majority of everyday chores without offending anyone. I admit, I'd rather take my Leuku or Mora for serious carving, fire building or shelter building but my SAK is a lot more practical.

A Little Extra Makes a Big Boost

I'm sure none of these items is a real shock to you, it's always worth looking through the every day contents of your pockets and thinking of the benefits and possibilities they offer you.

Read On

Taking Note

12 January 2010
For the last 3 and a bit years I've had a blog of some description to document my outdoors
activities. However, as a bit of a traditionalist and someone who spends ample time at work with a pen in my hand I have always been keen on a more physical record.

I know that Pablo has been doing the same thing for a couple of years and his posts are a good start on the subject. I've had a moleskines notebook in my coat pocket for a coupl
e of years, It's a little the worse for wear now and I must say it hasn't proved as robust as I'd hoped and the spine has broken.

Analogue Replacement
As I've not had a decent digital camera in a long while I've also been sketching quite a lot in the notebook and transferring that to a more substantial leather bound A6 notebook I bo
ught from WH Smiths. I've also put some important notes in the pages as well as the observations I make and ideas I have.
The Pen is Mightier than the Pen Drive
The emotional and mental impact of making real written notes is also worth remembering. As many involved in education and training are aware, the very act of writing something down helps to fix it in the mind. It was also educational for me to realise, when we were packing our possessions, that I keep letters and cards from my family for years whilst I empty out my e-mails and SMS folders on a regular basis. A written record offers something both more permanent and empirical.
The final argument in favour of a written record, excluding massive power cuts, is that it ties in with the learning I have been doing through the Jack Mountain Bushcraft online course. Their student handbook explains the needs and benefits of written records, in particular a log book to demonstrate how knowledge and expertise have been gradually accumulated.

The Pages
The images in the article are scans of my tracking and wildlife notes from my last trip out in the snow. Sadly, my hand writing looks even worse when put on a computer screen.
Bigger versions are Page 1, Page 2 & Page 3.
Read On

Tracking and Carving in the Snow

9 January 2010
Thursday morning I got out into the forest again for a decent length walk, there wasn't any wind there the temperature was only about -6 centigrade and there had been a lot of snow fall the night before.

Rabbit Tracks
Despite the fact there was 6" on snow off the paths there was a lot of good tracking to be done - probably my greatest tracking achievements! I found a set of rabbit tracks in their traditional triangular shape and managed to back-track them to a bury underneath a fallen tree. The total length was around 300m and it was interesting to note that the rabbit kept largely to the packed trails (1-2" hard snow) rather than the deeper stuff where it could. I also managed to pick up some feeding sign (birch buds) that was in association with the tracks.

Deer Trailing
At one point the track was intersected by a deer trail which I was able to follow for about half an hour, until getting to the meadow on the edge of the wood where there were a huge number of criss-crossing deer tracks. These tracks were obviously made at low speeds - mostly walking or standing and it was interesting to see how small a space deer can fit through.
I managed to find a deer bed which was very easy to see - a large scrape with all the snow cleared all the way down to the frozen earth. It must have been quite an effort. I also managed to find some feeding sign in association with these tracks, the shoots had been cut off much more cleanly than the rabbit signs and there were clear standing prints by the shoots.

Birds on the trees
I also had the chance to look out for the ever present wood peckers (green today, last week I'd seen a jet black one) whose noise carries a huge distance in the cold. More entertaining than the woodpeckers are the little blue and yellow birds standing upside down on pine trees and pulling off slithers of bark. Their very fast chirping song is quite distinctive and after having gone through the RSPB Bird Identifier I believe that they are nuthatches.

Mors' Predator Call
Whilst walking around I also had a go at carving what Mors Kochanski refers to as a "predator call" in the Hare chapter of Bushcraft. Mine was a bit oversized as I only had my pocket knife with me and was working on dead standing beech wood (chosen to minimize impact). I batoned the SAK through without difficulty though batons and folders are probably not an advisable combination. I then carved out a "V" shape and tied the 2 halves back together using some willow bark I stripped off bushes on a field margin. I picked a piece of long thin birch bark to use as a reed and was delighted to get a sound out quite easily. It sounded like a mix between a kazoo and a whistle. I'll try making a smaller one again in the near future and see If I can figure out how to change the tone more easily and get more of a squeal.

Taking Note
Sadly, I don't have any photos as our cameras are in transit from Britain to Poland; I have a notebook with sketches which I'll talk about in a future post and maybe scan at a later date.
I've got a collection of sketches of track patterns and shapes, the longer trail patterns, pictures of the bitten off shoot ends as well as the deer bed. I also drew my version of the predator call and added some bird sketches to the notes on their behaviour. I hope to one day add some sketches to the blog in the style of the old fashioned woodcraft books.
Read On