In January I was tagged by Hendrik of Hiking in Finland to name my three favourite Bushcraft and/ or Camping items. Due to old age and my declining memory and partly because things have been a little hectic so far this year, I never got round to posting my response. Sorry Hendrik, but thanks for your patience. So without further ado, here are my three favorite Bushcraft items, in no particular order.
The Knife: Dan Koster Custom Bushcraft
This knife was custom-made for me by boutique knife maker, Daniel Koster and I couldn’t be happier with the final result. Here are the specifications I chose:
- CMP3V high carbon steel for better edge performance
- 4-inch full tang blade approximately 5/32-inch thick
- Aluminum Corby bolts and 5/16-inch landyard hole
- Full Scandi grind at ~12.5 degrees
- 3/8-inch natural canvas micarta handle scales
- Black handle liners
- JRE custom-made leather sheath
One thing I disliked about the Koster Bushcraft knife was the thickness, of the natural canvas micarta scales. After several months of regular hard use and far too many bouts of hand fatigue, I finally decided to re-shape the micarta scales myself.
I based the desired form factor for the scales on several other bushcraft knifes that I had seen where the scales are form fitted to a more natural grip with thinner sections front and back and a thicker, rounder middle section.
As with many of the smaller knife makers, Dan focuses his attention to making superb knives and leaves most of the leather work to partners who are better suited to that line of work, which in this case is the marvelous skills of JRE Industries. JRE has been making quality custom-fit leather sheaths for all manner of knifes for a long time and have become very well known for their bushcraft style sheaths.
As you can see that there is no snap down retaining strap to keep the knife secure in the sheath, it is held in place by fit alone. The sheath is a perfect fit and holds the knife very securely and deeply. Mine is a right-handed sheath with a combination belt loop and neck cord loop on the back held in place by two heavy rivets. There is an additional vertical loop of leather on the long edge that securely holds a fire steel, allowing me to carry my knife and fire starter all in one convenient package!
The Kuksa: KUPILKA 21
KUPILKA cups, bowls, and cutlery are made of a new “biomaterial” that is actually a thermoplastic natural fiber composite material made up of 50% pine fiber (wood) and 50% plastic (polypropylene). The benefits of this new natural fiber composite compared to standard plastic are better heat retention and a higher durability thanks to the incredibly stiff structure.
The benefits of natural fiber composites compared to natural wood are that it doesn’t require maintenance, doesn’t absorb smells and is impervious to humidity. In fact all KUPILKA products are actually dishwasher safe.
Here is my 21 hanging from the tip of my trekking pole at te end of my tarp. I hang it here at camp so that I always know where it is and to be able to grab it quickly if I smell someone brewing fresh coffee or tea.
The actual word KUPILKA stems from the Finnish word for cup which is “Kuppi”. It also refers to a term used by Finnish people decades ago, when men and women warmed up their hands with their “Kuppilka” or “little cup” by drinking hot beverages during the rough Finnish winter.
Not too many years ago I used to make and sell my own pottery (I’m pretty good with my hands) and one of my favorite things to do was to carve a small pattern into the wet clay around the edge of the pot.
I’m surprised at how perfect the Kupilka biomaterial is for carving and engraving. It doesn’t take very much effort, especially with a power tool like a Dremel, and the results are gorgeous. Since my first attempts at engraving my Kupilka 21 I’ve wanted to try something a little more adventurous and decorative.
The Saw: Bahco Laplander
Not only is the Bahco Laplander folding saw amazingly efficient at cutting through wood, thanks to the quality Sandvik 7-inch blade, it’s relatively lightweight weighing just 6.4oz. Considering what an effective and versatile cutting tool it has proven to be, I don’t think that’s too much of a weight to benefit trade off – at least not for me.
The Bahco Laplander is probably one of the most well known folding saws on the market. Popularized by Ray Mears, it has earned a reputation for being extremely rugged and reliable. Bushcrafters all over the world have adopted it as the their “standard” backpacking saw. From what I can tell, it’s earned that reputation for good reason.
The handle is made from a strong plastic that has an army green colored rubberized coating called Santoprene. It provides a very positive non-slip grip surface along the entire length of the handle even when wet or wearing gloves.
The Laplander saw utilizes a black coated Swedish steel blade made by Sandvik. The blade cuts through the toughest of wood with very little effort thanks largely to the coarse hardpoint XT7 toothing and the fact that, unlike a tradition hand saw, this blade cuts on both the push and the pull strokes.
The blade length is just a touch over 7 inches according to my measurement with an overall saw length of 16 inches (9 inches closed). The blade length is referred to as a 7-inch blade and replacement blades are readily available online.
The Axe: Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe
Hopefully Hendrik won’t notice that this is number four… An ultralight small forest axe? Hardly, but to my way of thinking, every ounce that I carry has to pay its way, and the weight that a good axe adds to my overall pack weight is well worth the effort. I got my Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe from Ben’s Backwoods and have been using it for several months. It is as razor sharp now as it was the day that I got it.
Gränsfors Bruks is a small Swedish family operated company formed in 1902. Ever since it was founded the company has been making axes and crowbars of the finest quality. The smiths at Gränsfors Bruk are famous for their skill. The axes and the production of axes at Gränsfors Bruks today are based on the following five fundamental principles:
- An axe becomes as good as its smith. There has to be a craftsman behind every single axe.
- Unnecessary stoning, grinding, epoxy fixing, painting, and other cosmetics are eliminated. This is good for the environment, inside and outside the factory.
- More sensible production demands less natural resources at the same time as the quality and durability of the axe increases. Also, increased durability will decrease the total consumption of natural resources and decrease waste.
- We have an unlimited responsibility for Total Quality. Working conditions, product quality and concern for nature are some parts of the Total; humanity and ethics are as important.
- High level of knowledge of a product will increase its value.
Weighing in at 2lb 2.5oz, the Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (SFA) is definitely not like any of my other light weight, multi-tasking backpacking equipment that’s for sure. However, I guarantee that you will use a heck of a lot more energy to split your firewood without an axe than you ever would by carrying an axe. It can also be used as a backup knife and hammer if required.
A good axe, a well balanced, sharp, hand-crafted axe, is actually a delight to use and carry. Hand forged axes are also typically much lighter than their mass-produced drop forged counterparts. Not to mention the SFA is a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship, made by experienced axe-smiths.
Each axe head is individually hand forged by professional axe-smiths. They take great care in the forging process of each axe so that the finished piece requires no grinding, smoothing, or painting to eliminate imperfections. The smiths at Gränsfors Bruks have nothing to hide and are extremely proud of their craft. So much so, that when they are happy with their work and have accepted the final axe, they mark the head with their initials beside the company’s GBA crown stamp. The initials ‘KS’ indicate that my axe was hand forged by Kjell-Åke Sjölund.
I had read many wonderful reviews of the SFA and was somewhat worried that the hype would set my expectations too high or spoil my experience with this little axe. I’m happy to say that the reviews were absolutely spot on in every way. This is a superbly well made axe that will easily last you a lifetime if you look after it. It’s the type of gear that can be handed down to future generations and continue to perform as well as the day it was bought.
Tag – You’re It!
So now I’m tagging Chad of Stick’s Blog because I know he’s a gear geek and I am very curious to see what three items of his would be most Bushcraft-like.
I’m also going to triple-tag Barry Smith, Henry Landon, and Paul Kirtley of the excellent (British) Frontier Bushcraft website and blog. It’s been one of my favorite daily reads for a long time, so I can’t wait to see what they share as their favorite items.
Share Your Favorite Three Bushcraft Items
If you have any of these items yourself and would like to share your experience or opinions, please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear what you think of them. If you have three different bushcraft items that you’d consider to be your favorites, please share those below too – we can all learn from each other.