The three rules of comfortable bushcraft camping

One of the most important things in long-term camping is a good night sleep. To achieve that, you need to follow three basic rules regarding your camp site, roof and bed.

Bushcraft Camp

1. First of all, make sure you’re not wasting your time. Your camp cannot be too far or too close to a river.

Wilderness bedToo far, and all your basic needs and tasks will be a pain, requiring you to walk for several minutes to bring a litre of water just so you can go and repeat the process a few minutes later.
Too close, and you won’t be able to hear anything but the roar of the water running by. It may seem pleasant and relaxing when you just want to chill out and listen to it for a few minutes. But after some time, you realise that even the quietest creek can make falling asleep difficult and, what’s even more important, interfere with your most useful night-sense – hearing.
Camping too close is also associated with the risk of flooding.

Beaver dam

2. Make sure your roof is not leaking. I see a lot of pictures of shelters on Facebook, Twitter and so on, with roofs less than adequate. I never criticise them because they’re often erected more for fun with kids than as a survival training.
wilderness bed rear viewBut habits are habits and personally, I think practice is only fruitful when it makes you better at something. So what’s wrong with most of those roofs? For starters, the slope is way too gentle and thatching much too thin. If you’re going to make a roof strictly from natural materials, it needs to be at least 30 cm (12″) thick and at a 60 degree angle. The roofs I see most often are at 30 to 45 degree angles and you can literally see daylight through them. That’s not even gonna protect you from wind, not to mention heavy rain, and you will not sleep at all, let alone sleep well.

Bushcraft Cooking Notch StickOn the other hand, making a proper roof to the right specification takes hours of hard work. Therefore, I’d suggest using bashas, tarps, ponchos or something of that nature whenever possible and only resorting to boughs, grass and moss for better insulation or to protect your tarp from sparks.

Tarp with hammock rear view

3. Do not sleep on the ground (if you can avoid it) and make sure your bed is as comfortable as you can afford to make it at the time!

Dog in bushcraft campA slightly raised bed has several advantages. Firstly, it’ll keep the, so called, creepy crawlies out. At least to some degree. You shouldn’t have  problems with snakes, mice and rats either. But  most importantly, it’ll keep you dry in case of heavy rain. Your roof may be perfect but it won’t stop water from flooding your camp when inch-deep puddles begin to form. Not the best way to find out you forgot about something important.

Bushcraft camp front viewA raised bed acts a bit like a hammock but allows you to roll over as much as you like and even sleep on a side or your belly with your back straight. The extra space under the bed can be used for storing things in waterproof bags/containers or for placing hot rocks to keep you warm at night. Such configuration makes getting rid of ticks from the bedding easier as well. Simply put some smoking logs, fungi or pieces of punk wood under the bed for some time before you turn in. The smoke will take care of the parasites.

The shepherd’s axe and bushcraft by Polish highlanders

Some time ago, I traveled to the Tatra mountains and even climbed one of its highest peaks Rysy, which is also the highest point in Poland.

Simon the HighlanderBut what I really wanted to talk about are things I saw there. Not just up the hills but also in the local museum. So let me explain how all this relates to what we know today as bushcraft.


Me in the Museum


Ciupagi i kapelusz thumbnailYou see, I come from a country where up until relatively recently, people had to be largely self-sufficient. You can still observe that, especially, in the Polish highlands. The highlanders are renowned for their independence, hardiness and strong attachment to tradition, which by the way is also quite unique. Many of them still dress, sing and dance like their ancestors 200 years ago! Although, now it’s mostly to entertain tourists. They also have their distinct dialect, which to me sounds pretty damn awesome. I guess it’s a bit like the Appalachian American, which I also find very pleasant to listen to, only it doesn’t seem to have any negative connotations in Poland.

Highlanders Clothes  Swinica mountain

So when you go to a museum in the biggest and most famous tourist town in the area – Zakopane –  you quickly realise that self-reliance, survival and bushcraft are not just empty words, fads for crazy people with too much money and too little to worry about or terms reserved for some distant tribes from tropical regions. You learn that this is how people lived less than a human lifetime ago in a large European country.

What did I see? Well, just take a look at this awesome outdoor cooking rig and shepherd’s axes.

Highlander Bushcraft cooking rig

These, by the way, are probably the most underestimated survival tools I know. You take it on a hike as a walking stick but if need be, you can use it to take down a small tree, delimb it, split wood, drive nails or use it as a weapon since it is practically a little pole axe.

Timeline photo z ciupaga  Ciupagi thumbnail


Nowadays, the axe has become more of a prop in traditional dances and performances and is most often sold as an unusable souvenir. However, you can still find and buy proper shepherd’s axes, although, I hear that outside of Poland they can be ridiculously expensive. I got my carefully selected axes, with historically accurate ash wood shafts and decorated carbon steel heads for about $15-$20 each, and decided to bring this tool back to live and use it like in the good old times. It worked great.

Me as a highlander  Góralso kompozycjo

Ciupoga z copkom Ciupagi i kapelusz


But let’s take a look at some other interesting bushcraft and survival type tools I saw in the museum. Bear in mind, that these are things used on a day-to-day basis just a few decades ago.

axe heads and anti_wolf dog collarDecorated axe heads and an anti-wolf collar for a shepherd’s dog

Highland cleaver  Highlanders knives and pipes
Regional cleavers, typical highland-style knives, pipes and brooches

Highlander hunting equipment  Hunting_trapping
Hunting and trapping equipment including some massive bear trap, and hand-made slingshot/crossbows. Joerg Sprave from the slingshot channel would be proud.

Drill_chisel  Highlander White Room
A pump drill and a ‘spoon-making chisel’, plus an entire ‘white room’. It’s called white because it was the only room without a fireplace. It was to preserve the bright wooden walls and protect them from smoke.

And a little something from the mountains themselves

Bear  Słowacka strona z żółtego szlaku


Alpine accentor  chamois


My mountain  Cabins in the Mountains