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





Polish Tarp by KollteX – Review and Abuse Field Test

Tarp Half Tent

Some time ago I received a tarp for testing. I took my time to do it right as I like to ‘torture’ equipment to see what I can expect from it when shit hits the fan. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t intend to break it deliberately. I just wanted to use it like I normally would and see what fails first.
The tarp is about 3 m long by 3 m wide (10×10 ft) and weighs approximately 800 g or 1.8 lb. So it’s a large, but relatively lightweight, square piece of waterproof cloth.

Tarp with hammock rear viewIt’s said to be waterproof up to 600 mm of water or have a 600 mm hydrostatic head. This seems like a rather poor water resistance compared to many other tarps and tents of which even the cheapest ones easily reach 2000 or even 5000 mm. But this is a separate matter and I’ll get back to it later.


KollteX Tarp hammock and cameraThe main job of a tarp is to keep us dry. But this one has at least one more feature borrowed, as far as I know, from the military. It can be used as a stretcher to carry an injured person. It even has special reinforced loop-like holders. The fabric seems quite thin (which is probably inevitable considering its low weight) but when folded in half, it’s actually really strong.

Half Tent KollteX Tier OneI didn’t have enough man power to test it properly but I did manage to stretch it between two trees and use it like a hammock. The first attempt ended up as a failure with me landing on my ass. That was , however, my own fault as I overthought it a bit and attached the para cord incorrectly. It tor the tarp’s edge a bit but it was still usable and I tried again. This time everything went to plan and soon I was dangling few inches above the ground. I only weigh about 80 kg (176 lb) and I’m not sure how well it would work for a heavier person.

So we know the tarp can be used for carrying heavy objects. But that’s an extra feature. What about its main job? Since it wouldn’t rain here, I had to produce an artificial rainfall. And it was a heavy one. I used a garden hose pouring water from close distance for good several minutes. The tarp took it well. Or so it seemed at first. On closer inspection, it turned out that the main heavy duty tape wasn’t sealed at all. After asking about it, I was told by one of the distributors that this was just a prototype and the issue would be dealt with in the future.

Honestly, I don’t think it should be left for later. Something like this should really be taken care of before testing. Especially that it defies the main purpose of every tarp – keeping rain out. Saying ‘we’ll do it later’ just isn’t doing it for me because the devil is in the detail. Unfortunately. So it isn’t so much about when you’re gonna do it but how it’s gonna be done. And at this point, one of the most important parameters of the tarp remains a mystery.

Despite that, I decided to continue my tests and see how the tarp feels when setting it up and so on. It’s huge, soft and light, which makes it easy to work with. Overall, I like the idea. It’d be interesting to see the finished product and how it takes the everyday use and abuse.

What’s interesting is that it already seems to be available at×3-wz93-kolltex-p-1483.html and costs roughly $39 or £25.
Maybe only the one I got hasn’t been finished..? Maybe it’s a different model..?