What was the goal of this trip?
The goal for this trip was to go out, and in a short amount of time, build a sufficient shelter to stay overnight using just the materials from the forest around us – no tarps and no cordage, just simply what was in the environment.
I found myself in a grove of spruce and tamarack which was perfect for what I wanted to do that day. Lots of straight timber, and lots of dead standing timber to utilize and create a makeshift lean-to using a downed tree.
When you’re going in blind to a location, you don’t know what you’re going to find, so it was key for me to keep my eyes really engaged on the forest and what was there that I could use. I found this one particular type of fallen tree. It was sufficient to not only sleep under but sit, split firewood, prepare food and even use it as a makeshift table.
I also wanted to cook up some venison steaks from the last hunting season.
Walk me through the primitive natural shelter
Using the down tree that I found as the primary support for the lean-to, I cut maybe 15 straight poles to the same length and maybe 10 short poles for the foot end and the head end of the shelter.
I rested them upon the fallen tree making a lean-to-type structure. Once that was completed, I went about collecting spruce boughs which ended up being more tricky than I thought as the woods were fairly immature and therefore didn’t have a lot of large spruce boughs to be collected.
I ended up having to go further afield and collect lots of smaller ones for the shelter, which is a good example of how things can go when you’re in a new area. You might have almost everything perfectly set up but then you might have to go and work a little bit harder to get one more thing you need. After the spruce boughs were laid on the back of the shelter, I collected more and put them down as a base for the bed. I laid my sleeping bag out and that was fundamentally the whole setup of the shelter. It was very simple, effective, and quick for a single night in the woods.
You used the fallen tree for many purposes
Yeah, that’s something that has come with experience with time in the woods – looking for things in the immediate environment that can now become a useful tool. The tree was very solid and made a perfect place to split wood and do a lot of the axe and knife work that I needed to do for the preparation of the fire.
I also flattened off part of the tree with an axe and created a sort of table or cutting place which was exactly what I needed for the food preparation. It was at a very good height that if I wanted to, I could have sat on it like a stool.
This tree ended up being a sort of all-in-one house to use with multiple applications. I would definitely try to find something like that again if I needed to make a quick shelter. Going into this, I didn’t know exactly how useful that tree would be. It was a really great learning experience for me.
It’s kind of a classic example of using your mind creatively to solve problems and find solutions with a minimal amount of effort, rather than bringing excessive amounts of gear, or spending a lot of time crafting individual items when a single fallen tree can provide so much to you, if you can picture it that way.
What kind of fire did you make on this trip?
So, this trip I wanted to make a fire that would burn evenly and quickly to create a nice bed of coals to cook on within 35-40 minutes of burning. I decided to go with the upside-down fire technique which, for me, has always been a really good fire for even burning, not a whole lot of smoke and quick coal creation.
What's the technique for an upside-down fire?
Start by placing three or four large logs in the snow or on the ground. Then work your way up with each layer added being slightly smaller and stacked perpendicular to the previous layer. By the time you get to the top of the pyramid, the thickness of the wood should be pretty small.
The beauty of this fire is, once lit, the embers fall through each layer igniting it, and allowing the fire to burn unattended. Because each layer is stacked perpendicular to the last, it allows a lot of airflow, which means this fire will burn hot and fast, allowing for a very quick bed of coals to form. This makes it ideal for cooking on.
What made you choose the food to cook ?
I think it’s really special to go back to the woods and prepare the meat that you’ve spent time harvesting in the previous year. There’s something really full circle about that. The venison was delicious. After you’ve had a tough day building a shelter, it’s a nice way to finish.
What was your favourite bit of the day?
I just received the Adventure Sworn Classic Bushcraft knife. I really enjoyed using it for the first time on this trip. I found it to be very comfortable in my hand and just a very well-put-together knife. The scandi Grind proved to be very good at feathering. It had a good spine for batoning wood and it proved to be a very good blade. I’m really excited to get out and use it again.
It was also super satisfying striking my ferrocerium rod against the spine of my knife with the wood wool tinder. That specific technique is one I learned recently and provides excellent control and directed sparks making the fire lighting super simple and satisfying.
I think ultimately getting out into the woods and practicing your bushcraft and wilderness living skills is the best way to become more comfortable in the outdoors. It’s interesting as your skills develop and you gain experience, the way that you see the woods change or, maybe, a change in yourself.
Suddenly, as you walk through the woods, you start seeing resources, wild edibles, fuel and shelter around you, whereas before, it would have just been wild woodlands. Over time, everything becomes less intimidating and more welcoming, and I just love that.