The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild - Dave Canterbury (2016)

Part I. Packed-In Food

Chapter 1. Deciding What to Bring

“Variety is as welcome at the camp board as anywhere else. In fact more so for it is harder to get.”

—Horace Kephart

Understanding what to pack should be the first priority when venturing out, just as much as leaving a good game plan with someone close to you in case of an emergency. I tell my students there are really five key items that need to be within any pack at the onset of a trip:

·        Cutting tool

·        Combustion or fire-making devices

·        Cover, including clothing that will protect you from the elements

·        Metal container that can be placed into a fire if needed

·        Cordage for use in bindings and lashings

These simple items will help protect the most important thing, which is your body’s core temperature. Hypothermia (getting too cold) and heat exhaustion (getting too hot) are the main killers in outdoor emergencies. These five items are all used to manipulate the surroundings to control the body’s core temperature.

These five items are also the most difficult to reproduce from the landscape, requiring specific materials, skill sets, and sometimes great amounts of time.

9781440598524 Milk Wee

Milk Weed (lookalike—avoid)

Cutting Tool

The knife must be capable of many things, from cutting small limbs from trees to butchering game. You should always have a backup, like a pocket knife, as well. But your primary blade should be a sheath knife that you keep on your hip. Secure it well so it will never be lost. It should have a 5" blade in case it is needed when other tools are not present to process fire materials, be a full tang (one solid piece with the handle attached) so that it is strong enough to stand abuse, have a sharp 90° edge on the spine to aid in tinder processing or scraping a ferrocerium rod, and be made of high-carbon steel for use as a last-emergency fire resource for flint-and-steel ignition.

Combustion and Fire-Making Devices

The combustion device you choose is a matter of personal preference. For me, I want three such devices, all in my pockets with backups in the pack:

1.    A Bic lighter is about the most foolproof device ever made for creating flame. If conserved and used properly it will give you fire in almost any weather.

2.    A ferrocerium rod (ferro rod), which can be purchased for a few dollars at a sporting goods store, can come in handy and help conserve the lighter if tinder sources are prime or highly combustible.

3.    A magnification lens can be used as a renewable resource, especially if used in conjunction with making char (which is always a priority as it helps all three devices last much longer).


For clothing, pack at least two full sets of socks and undergarments, trousers, and shirts. Carry clothing that is comfortable in all seasons. Do not forget to plan for rain and wet weather. In winter, use a heavy wool layer that will act as insulation. Nothing beats wool in cold-weather climates. If freezing rain and sleet are an issue, combine the wool with an oilcloth raincoat.

Leather boots are an absolute must for long-term wilderness activities. Remember that boots are only as waterproof as they are high. Carrying a second pair of boots will save a lot of trouble on long trips so you can alternate and avoid wearing them out. If carrying a second pair is too cumbersome, bring a pair of moccasins to wear when walking around camp so that you give your boots an occasional rest.

A good hat will protect you from the sun and conserve body heat—most of which is released through the head and the neck. Kerchiefs and scarves have been staples of the woodsman’s kit for hundreds of years and have many versatile uses.

A sturdy pair of leather calfskin gloves will protect the hands from briars, brambles, and blisters when doing normal camp chores. In winter, arctic mittens with wool glove liners are indispensable.

In addition, you’ll need a cover element for normal environmental changes. It should be large enough to cover an area as long as you are tall plus 2' and have good, sturdy tie-out points for suspension if needed. This should be combined with an emergency space blanket (the heavy, reusable kind) and an emergency bivvy (heat-reflecting blanket). These are very lightweight and the size of a softball when compressed.

Small backpacking-style tents provide comfort and security from bugs and other wigglers. The downside is that their construction restricts your view and eliminates the ability to use fire as a heat source. There is always a tradeoff with any piece of gear. There are a lot of different types of tents on the market, but I would suggest selecting one that is made of the heaviest material you feel comfortable carrying. You will appreciate the durability.

Metal Container

A metal container can be aluminum, stainless, or titanium, but stainless is the strongest and most durable. It should have a nesting cup of the same material that can stand the full flames of a fire.


Your cordage should be multiple-ply so that it can be broken down to small enough fibers for sewing if needed, but strong enough to hold a ridge beam as well. A #36 tarred bank line is what I recommend.

Beyond these five essentials, I find five more simple items to be of the most use. These will also make an emergency first-aid kit when combined with the others:

·        Large cotton bandanna or cloth at least 36" × 36"

·        Roll of duct tape

·        Headlamp

·        Compass with a mirror and movable bezel ring

·        Sail-maker’s needle

This entire kit should weigh less than 10 pounds, and from this we build our basic kit for woods running.

Now to the pack itself. The size of the pack is dictated by what we carry or the conveyance available to us. Assuming you are carrying the pack at least part of the time, you won’t want anything too large, but a pack that’s too small won’t carry what you need.

A day pack is too small and an expedition pack too big, so stay with something in the 35–70 liter range, depending on your body size. Other factors to consider are the amount of time you are planning to be out. Is it only a night or is it two or three? Some of the added weight can be counteracted by using foodstuffs that can make multiple different foods with a few additions, like instant biscuits or dried beans and rice. You must also consider your own fitness level when carrying any load. The maximum load most find to be comfortable walking over distance is about 30–35 pounds. If you are trekking any more than a day or two you should allow at least 10 pounds of this weight for food, cook gear, and water.

There are hundreds of pack brands on the market to choose from in many styles and colors.

Choose a pack that has been made from a durable material such as heavy nylon or canvas. Either of these makes a good choice in materials as they can take much abuse. A military surplus pack that has good solid buckles and straps is purpose-built to take the rigors of the outdoors and is a good low-cost choice to start with.

Remember that the larger the pack the more we are tempted to pack, and the more pockets and pouches we have the harder it is to find what we need. I like a single-bucket design with maybe one outer pocket or flap pocket myself. A waist belt on a pack as well as a chest strap will make it much more manageable under load over distance for sure and this should be considered if that is the intended use of the pack itself.

If the pack is simply a storage facility to be placed into conveyance I would suggest heavy material and straps so that it is durable enough to withstand being jostled and thrown in and out of a boat or sled, or on and off horses or ATVs.

Nutritional Needs

When you’re choosing what food to pack in on your trip, you’ll need to weigh a number of considerations, including how long you’ll be gone, how much food you can reasonably expect to gather or catch from the land, and how you’ll be carrying your equipment and gear—whether you’ll be trekking by foot or using vehicles for transportation.

Our first consideration is nutrition. The body needs certain inputs to operate and function at optimal levels. Among these are protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. But the most important is water. Most people need about 4 quarts of water per day. Exercise increases that amount up to and sometimes more than 6 quarts. One of your first decisions is how to make sure you have enough water.


In the daily diet, proteins are provided through many sources that include lean meat and nuts as well as dairy products. Supplemental protein powders also contain large volumes of proteins and these are generally mixed with water or milk, making them easier for the body to metabolize. Look at any trail energy bar and the main listing on the front of the package will be grams of protein.

Many of the protein powders on the market will last a long time. Some come in large plastic containers that can be used for other things after. Find one that is at least 30 or 40 grams of protein per serving and that mixes well with water. Country Cream is a good brand that actually tastes like milk when mixed with water. This can add daily protein and vitamins when used as recipe ingredients or just consumed as a liquid. Ovaltine and similar mixes will also increase vitamin and mineral intake.

Energy bars are a good choice as well, but the commercial breakfast bars are more palatable in most cases and full of good nutrition as well.

Carbohydrates and Fats

Carbohydrates and fats will give you needed daily energy for exercise, to fuel your body, and to help generate heat. You can get much of this from simple sugars, found in many candies and sweets, but you also need more complex sugars produced from carbohydrates that come from starchy foods such as potatoes, breads, and pastas. So-called “whole grains” provide your body with necessary nutrients like iron and folic acid, along with fiber, which helps your digestion.

You need both carbohydrates and fats for energy. Your body uses calories from carbohydrates first, but then after about 20 minutes of effort, your body begins burning calories from fat. Fat has other benefits as well: It helps your body process fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K; it helps insulate your body; and it produces fatty acids that your body needs for brain development, blood clotting, and other bodily functions.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins are organic compounds that your body needs for normal cell growth and function.

Types of Vitamins

There are two types of vitamins, those that are fat-soluble and those that are water-soluble:

·        Fat-soluble vitamins are those that bind to fat in the stomach and are then stored in the body for later use. We are less likely to become deficient in these vitamins (A, D, E, and K), but more likely to build up toxic levels of them, usually due to extreme overconsumption or overzealous supplement use. (Or maybe just an unhealthy obsession with kale chips . . .)

·        Water-soluble vitamins make up the rest of the 13 essential vitamins. They can be absorbed directly by cells. When in excess, these vitamins are flushed out of our system with each bathroom break. The water-soluble vitamins—vitamin C and the B complex vitamins, including biotin, niacin, folic acid, and pantothenic acid—need to be restored more frequently, but the body can tolerate higher doses.


Minerals are inorganic substances (meaning they contain no carbon) that your body needs to function, and all hold a place on the good ol’ Periodic Table (flashback to sixth-grade chemistry class!). There are two groups of minerals: macrominerals like calcium and sodium, which the body needs in large doses, and trace minerals, like selenium and chromium (only a pinch required).

While very important in the long term, vitamins and minerals are less of a major concern short term. However, while in camp it never hurts to stock up on the immune-boosting qualities of vitamins like vitamin C. Some forms of drink mixes provide a heavy dose of immune system boosters. Certain pine needle teas and other plant teas have very high amounts of this vitamin as well. Depending on your experience level and comfort level in the woods, stress and lack of sleep can play great detriment to the overall immune system and it is much easier to get rundown and sick in these situations.

Pine Needle Tea

Pine needle tea is high in vitamin C. Be careful on species selections as there are pines that are toxic if consumed. For example, you will want to avoid ponderosa pines, Norfolk Island pines (also called Australian pines), and yew trees (the yew is not a pine but is sometimes mistaken for one). Lodgepole and Monterey pines may give you digestive troubles.

To make a simple pine needle tea, bring water to a rolling boil and remove from fire. Add a handful of green needles. Chopped is best to release the volatile oils. Place a lid over the container and let steep about 15 minutes, then strain and consume. There is no set ratio of the number of needles to water. Just experiment to find what suits your taste.

Daily Calories

The amount of calories needed daily to maintain good health and the breakdown of these calories depends on age, weight, and other physical conditions, such as how much you exercise. It is generally based on what’s called the BMI, or body mass index. There are online calculators that will give you the breakdown of what your daily caloric intake needs should be and how those calories should be supplied.

However, for this discussion we can look at an average for a healthy active male and see that 2,000–3,000 calories per day is a suggested amount of food intake (for women it is 1,800–2,500 calories). Approximately 45–65 percent of total calories should come from carbohydrates, 20–35 percent from fat, and 10–35 percent from protein.

What these numbers really stand for is what you should strive for on a daily basis to maintain good health. However, when we are camped and relaxing or on a hunting trip these concerns of perfection in portioning don’t mean a whole lot. It is better for us to understand that a good variety and a balanced meal will make any trip more enjoyable for all and if the side benefits are great food and enough energy to get our daily activities accomplished, well, then that is what we were after.

See Appendix A for the nutritional values of various game animals and of various nuts.


As stated previously, water is one of the most important daily requirements for good health. From a camp standpoint, water provides needed liquid for coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and mixing with “Just Add Water” (JAW) foods.

The problem is we don’t want to carry a lot of it because it’s heavy. One gallon of water weighs 8 pounds.

Now, we know that we should always camp near a water source if possible. This is one of the 4 Ws of selecting a good camp location (Wood, Water, Wind, and Widowmakers are discussed in my book Bushcraft 101).

Bushcraft Tip

Keep these four elements in mind when making camp:

1.  Water: Always camp near a water source because traveling a long distance daily for this can become an issue especially if an injury is sustained during the camp or if no large containers are available to hold water.

2.  Wood: You will want plenty of this precious resource nearby, not only for cooking but for warmth.

3.  Wind: The wind direction can be important from a smoke standpoint. Smoke from your fire should be blown away from your shelter, not driven toward it. It is always best to set a fire lay with crosswind to help feed the fire. Also, wind direction indicates weather. If you do not want rain blowing in on you with an open shelter you must pay attention when building it.

4.  Widowmakers: These are dead standing trees in the proximity of your camp and nearby that could fall during a wind or storm, causing equipment damage or personal injury.

However, after selecting the site you must be able to make that groundwater resource potable. Most things you would cook that use water will need that water to be hot anyway so boiling is the easiest and safest method to create potable water in the short term. Filtering that water before boiling will make it even better.

Water disinfection tablets like chlorine dioxide and iodine tabs are very useful tools. But it must be understood that chlorine dioxide tabs are actually poison in large amounts, and iodine can have adverse effects on health in certain circumstances as well. In addition, they cannot kill giardia, a type of parasite that causes stomach distress. However, with all that said they are very good to have as an emergency backup to boiling. Use them in conjunction with filtration if chemical contamination is a concern.

Filtering Water

There are many apparatus on the market today that will do a pretty good job and most products name a percentage of contaminants they will remove on the package. However, I go back to the cooking and say if we can cook, we can boil!

If you want to filter the water before boiling to remove turbidity or sediments or just to give yourself better peace of mind that it is as clean as you can get it on the fly or in a temporary camp, there are a couple of ways to create filters. You can also carry some type of pump filter to remove most contaminants prior to boiling.

You can build a makeshift filter. This is not difficult given the proper materials at hand. Make a tripod from 3 saplings about 2" in diameter and 6' long. Use 3 tiers of a fabric like a bandanna tied to the tripod to create nests that material can be placed into. The first layer should receive some course filtering media like grass or weeds, the second should be charcoal from the fire if possible (not ash), and the final tier should be sand.

Pour water slowly from the top and let drain through the tiers into a catch basin. Then boil the water that is in the catch basin. It may take a couple runs through the filter to get clean-appearing water. This will help filter large particulates from the water but will not replace a good ceramic-type filter if available—a makeshift filter is an emergency measure. See Figure 1.1.

9781440598524 Tripod Water Filte

Figure 1.1 Tripod water filter

Another method is to use a 2-liter bottle top as a funnel, inverting it and placing it in the bottom portion of the bottle. You layer the same filter mediums inside. See Figure 1.2.

9781440598524 Funnel Water Filte

Figure 1.2 Funnel water filter

Boiling Water

To make water potable by boiling, bring it to a boil at 212°F (100°C). Letting it boil for 10 minutes will eliminate most of the bugs that cause intestinal distress. However, boiling doesn’t remove chemical toxins, which is one reason you may also want to use filtering.

If you’re boiling hard water—water with a lot of calcium salts dissolved in it—you’ll find that a deposit will build up on your utensils. This can be removed with vinegar.

Boiling does not permanently eliminate microbes from the water. If the boiled water is stored, microbes can collect. So you only need to boil as much water as you are likely to use up in the near future.

Tips and Tricks

·        For clothing, I recommend 10- to 12-ounce durable canvas pants like the tree-climbing pants offered by Arborwear. Long-sleeved, lightweight, canvas, button-down shirts are comfortable in all seasons, and cotton T-shirts take advantage of evaporative cooling in the summer.

·        Moccasins, elk hide or buffalo, are handy when stalking game in dry leaves.

·        Look for varieties of tents with mesh tops and a rain flap, which helps alleviate condensation issues.

·        I prefer to carry packets of Emergen-C for daily use as an immune booster.

·        Ceramic-type filters from companies like LifeStraw, Sawyer, and Aquamira are almost 100 percent effective for disinfecting groundwater resources.

Pine Needle Tea

Pine needle tea is high in vitamin C. Be careful on species selection as there are pines that are toxic if consumed. For example, you will want to avoid ponderosa pines, Norfolk Island pines (also called Australian pines), and yew trees (the yew is not a pine tree but is sometimes mistaken for one). Lodgepole and Monterey pines may give you digestive troubles.

To make a simple pine needle tea, bring water to a rolling boil and remove from fire. Add a handful of green needles. Chopped is best to release the volatile oils. Place a lid over the container and let steep about 15 minutes, then strain and consume. There is no set ratio of the number of needles to water. Just experiment to find what suits your taste.