Bushcraft vs Survival


Is it Bushcraft or Survival?


In many of the blogs that I read and YouTube videos I watch and even in some of my own posts, I see, hear and use the words “Bushcraft and Survival” interchangeably.  This is likely due to the similarities they share since they both tend to involve the wilderness and the outdoors, fire, shelter, water, etc.  But in reality the two things are quite different. In this post I will briefly talk about what each one is, how they differ and why its important to understand the differences.

Survival Situations?

A “survival situation” is any kind of event (usually short term, statistically 72 hours or less, though many have gone on much longer) that requires you to take  actions to save your own life or someone else’s life.  Typically, these situations are out in rural or wilderness areas where no one else is around to assist and they generally involve extreme weather or injuries, being lost or some serious issue that is immediately threatening your existence.  If you are lucky you will be prepared and have some equipment and resources with you. But often these situations happen precisely because the people were unprepared in the first place.  Survival situations can also happen in urban areas, especially during natural disasters or other emergencies where police and fire fighters or neighbors are occupied with other emergencies.

Essentially, every decision you make and every action that you take in a survival situation is based on your ability to meet your most important need at that time.  Like a medical emergency you have to triage what needs done first and what is most important.  If you get it wrong you may die. Your goal is getting rescued or getting home as soon as possible.  The survivor should “consider” the possibility that they may have to be stranded long term.  However, in most cases their actions and their mindset should be geared towards efficiently and effectively meeting the needs at hand and those needs they will have over the next day or two and that’s about it. Unless there are clear indications that the possibility for rescue in the short term is highly unlikely for whatever reason.

Read  the following to see an article that talks about the five basic needs in a survival situation and goes over How To Prioritize Your Actions In A Wilderness Survival Situation.


Bushcraft or bushcrafting is when people go out into the wilderness intentionally to test their skills and practice techniques that could be used to help get them out of a survival situation or techniques that may be able to be used for a long term self reliant existence in the wilderness.  Typically this involves carrying the minimal amount of gear needed to effectively meet your needs while utilizing as many resources as possible from nature.  Many of the techniques are similar to native American practices. Some of these techniques are also similar to ones that were used by pioneers, trappers and frontiersmen, etc.

How Are Bushcraft & Survival Different?

I recently heard a blogger or YouTuber (sorry I can’t remember who or I would give you credit) explain the difference as follows. “In bushcraft you are putting yourself into a situation intentionally to practice your skills, in a survival situation you are doing everything  you can to get yourself out of the situation as quickly as possible.”  Whoever said that nailed it exactly.

So a key difference between bushcraft and survival is that the bushcrafter has planned for their situation and they are focused on conserving resources and doing everything they can to extend the life of their gear or supplies and they are attempting to practice techniques that would enable them to prolong their stay or their ability to stay out in the wilderness if they chose to do so. The person in a survival situation desperately needs to do everything possible to make their situation as short as possible because their very survival depends on getting home or to safety quickly.

Why Is The Difference Between Bushcraft & Survival Important?

It’s important because even though some of the techniques used by bushcrafter could be used by a survivor, many of the techniques that may need to be  used by a survivor would probably never be used by a bushcrafter.

I believe a person in a survival situation should do and has an obligation to do whatever they need to do to stay alive and return to their family.  Even if that means cutting down trees, killing animals, abusing or misusing tools and knives, drinking unboiled/untreated water, etc.  Their first concern is getting home and if gear gets dinged up, or a few trees, bugs, plants or animals die in the process that’s ok.  Bushcrafters don’t have the same sense of urgency so their techniques are and should be more conservative, more deliberate and less aggressive.  Now I am not saying survivors should take survival advice from Bear Grylls and go running rampant through the wilderness hanging from trees and biting the heads off of snakes.  But often the survivors approach will be more aggressive than the bushcrafter.

Obviously, these are not technical definitions, just my thoughts on the difference between the two.  I point this out because I feel it is important for readers of this site  to understand where I am coming from and why I teach or explain somethings the way I do.  This site’s primary focus is on teaching wilderness survival techniques.  While I do touch on some primitive survival topics and bushcraft topics those posts should be viewed as skills sets that may augment a survivors knowledge base so that they can use those skills in an emergency if needed.  But like I said earlier many of the skills I teach here may not be skills that a pure bushcrafter would agree with and may actually oppose.

How do you think survival and bushcraft differ? Or does it really matter? Should all of the techniques be done the same in manner, even in different types of situations?


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6 thoughts on “Bushcraft vs Survival

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts which ought to generate a great deal of conversation.

    Over recent months I’ve been trying to grapple with the crossover between skills and techniques used in bushcraft, survival, hiking, backpacking, camping and overlanding. Whilst I haven’t reached any conclusions yet, it is pleasing to see you addressing two of these topics.

    You mention that bushcraft involves testing skills and practising techniques. I agree and offer the view that, to me, bushcraft is very much about the practical application of the skills and techniques.

    For instance, when camping or hiking I find myself using bushcraft skills and techniques in day to day activities. I don’t consciously think that I am now doing bushcraft. There is a just a simple flow between various activities that makes for an enjoyable outdoors experience.

    I am also of the view that there are different forms of bushcraft, such as traditional and indigenous bushcraft skills that the purist bushcrafters often focus on. It is very important to keep these skills alive as they are often of cultural or historical importance.

    I wouldn’t class myself as a bushcrafter in the above mentioned sense but do enjoy the practical application of bushcraft when camping or hiking. I also think that bushcraft should evolve and introduce new methods and techniques.

    To me, bushcraft is about the practical application of the craft of the bush.

    Allan McDonald

  2. Allan,

    You make two excellent points! There definitely is cross over between all of the items you mentioned and there is certainly different forms of bushcraft, be it modern or primitive. I should have pointed that out! Thanks a ton.
    JJ recently posted..Bushcraft vs SurvivalMy Profile

  3. I’m glad you’re addressing this topic. They are not interchangeable.

    Bushcraft is living there. Survival is getting out of there.

    Survival is what you do to maintain life one moment longer. Bushcraft is how you live with the resources available to you.

    Survival is a subset of bushcraft.

    Just my two cents.
    Tim Smith recently posted..Stirring The BaconMy Profile

  4. Tim,
    Thanks for commenting. I hadn’t really thought of survival as being a subset of bushcraft, but I can see why you would say that. Survival is for a much more specific set of circumstances and Bushcraft can cover a whole lot more. Like Allan was saying it can range from Modern to Primitive and everything in between. Thanks for the 2 cents! I think it was more valuable than that though. 🙂

    I would like to add your site http://www.jackmtn.com/ to my list of survival websites if that is ok with you?

    Cheers JJ
    JJ recently posted..Bushcraft vs SurvivalMy Profile

  5. I like the distinction that JJ made survival being involuntary and bushcrafting being intentional and the comments that have been made. Perhaps you could also list Primitive Living in addition to Bushcraft and Survival. Perhaps another distinction can be made between skillsets by the length of time you are planning on surviving in the wilderness. Wilderness Survival tends to be focused on the shortest term possible until rescue is affected (normally 4 days or less,) while bushcrafting tends to be intermediate at perhaps 4-10 days to a month or even slightly more, and Primitive Living Skills coming in to play long term (perhaps several weeks to a month or more … possibly permanently.) Clearly, there is some overlap between the three skillsets, but perhaps length of intended stay could be used to help distinguish between the three.

    Thanks, JJ. Thought provoking topic, great site.

  6. Martin, I hadn’t thought about breaking primitive living out separate from Bushcraft, but I can see how that could make sense. It does seem like many people use the term Bushcraft for an intermediate length experience. I think this may possibly have something to do with the fact that Bushcraft actually has a couple of different definitions. I just checked and Dictonary.Com defines it in the following two ways:

    1. Skill in anything pertaining to bush country, as in finding one’s way, hunting, or finding water.
    2. Ability and experience in matters concerned with living in the bush

    Definition 1, kind of goes more along the lines that you were kind of pointing out. It doesn’t really point out a time frame, but it kind of gives the impression of it being more of a skill based, short to intermediate term thing. But Definition 2 leans more toward a longer term experience, which was sort of what some of the other guys were pointing out.

    Thanks for the comments!


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