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Book Review: Bushcraft by Mors Kochanski

Bushcraft by Mors Kochanski
Bushcraft by Mors Kochanski

I get tremendous personal satisfaction from learning, practicing, and using my outdoor skills when I go hiking, and it’s become an integral part of every day hike or backpacking trip I take. But there are so many outdoor skills that I am unfamiliar with covered in Mors Kochanski’s classic “Bushcraft”, that I could easily spend the rest of my life becoming proficient in them.

Who the heck is Mors Kochanski, you’re wondering? Considered by many to be a grandmaster of wilderness survival and primitive skills, Mors Kochanski is credited with popularizing the term ‘bushcraft’ and coining the phrase “the more you know, the less you carry.”

If you mainly hike well blazed trails, you may never need any of the skills described in Kochanski’s Bushcraft. But if you hike, canoe, ski, camp, fish or hunt in less-traveled areas, where self-sufficiency is the rule, you’ll immediately see why the skills covered in this book are so valuable.

Covering firecraft, axecraft, knifecraft, sawcraft, bindcraft, and sheltercraft, Kochanski provides a wealth of information and rich illustrations about each technique along with a variety of applications that you can practice on your own. There are also three chapters that cover the major tree species of the Northern Canadian Forest (birches, conifers, and willows) that illustrate many applications that they can be used from basket making to homeopathic medicines.

For example, I learned more about axes, their design, use, maintenance, safety precautions and tree felling in one chapter of Bushcraft, than the combined knowledge about them that I’ve gleaned from other sources. Having read it, I also now realize how dangerous an axe is in untrained hands and the need for hands-on instruction.

The same holds for firecraft, even though I’m no slouch in that department. For example, I learned how to construct a parallel firelay, which is a fire that will burn all night, and keep you warm from head to toe. Instead of a teepee or pyramid style fire, you cut two bigger logs, about head-height, and stack them on top of one another, lengthwise and parallel to the wind, to keep the smoke from blowing out at you. Once lit, you lay down lengthwise next to the fire and it will keep you warm while you sleep. While I wouldn’t use a fire like this except in an emergency, it does help eliminate the need to feed a fire all night because it’s intended to be slow burning.

Mors Kochanski’s Bushcraft is chock full of useful techniques like this and a gold mine for anyone interested in acquiring more backcountry skills. I’ve already reread my copy several times and plan to reference it for years to come.

Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) purchased this book with his own funds. 

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13 comments

  1. Definitely a great read. I love the ingenuity that bushcraft encourages. Ray Mears is another good option; I have his book on bushcraft, too, and like this one, it is excellent.

  2. His name has come up several times. He sounds more practical than some of the others. I understand that he has championed the Mora knife — which is affordable, relatively light (depending on which one you buy), and practical.

  3. Definately a must read for every serious wilderness traveller. Along a similar vane, I would recommend Garrett Conover’s ‘Snow Walkers’ Companion’ for traditional winter travel in the wilderness.

  4. I love this book, along with bushcraft 101, and Ray Mears books and DVDs which if you can’t get in the US I am very sorry.. It’s wonderful, inspiring and stimulating… And yes the more you know the more you buy extra bits of gear to try things out!

  5. Have you watched “An Axe to Grind”? It is film from the USFS featuring some of their experts in hand tools. When they maintain historic buildings, they use hand-hewn lumber for repairs.

    https://archive.org/details/gov.usda.fs.mtdc.0823-2d01-mtdc.1.1
    https://archive.org/details/gov.usda.fs.mtdc.0823-2d01-mtdc.1.2

    Here is the book that goes with it:

    http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfpubs/pdf99232823/pdf99232823Pdpi300.pdf

  6. Glad to see you appreciate this one, Phillip. It is one of my personal faves for practical knowledge. I consider this and Mark Twight’s “Extreme Alpinism” the two best opposite-of-the-spectrum books to read for a great balance of outdoor skills.

  7. Northern Bushcraft is pretty much one of the only books on wilderness skills published after 1960s I consult.

    There are an awful lot of hooey out there in the bushcraft world, and Mors is the real deal. I wish some of the Russian texts are published in English, because like Canada (and to a lesser extent, Alaska), Siberia is the last link to the western world in term of wilderness-living.

    it’s unfortunate most of these skills are now only maintained in the southern hemisphere or in the developing world.

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