Children’s “Bushcraft Bag”

 

When my kids turned about six I gave them the beginnings of what we would eventually call their “Bushcraft Bags”. My intent was to stock a shoulder bag with age-appropriate items that are typically used by bushcrafters and then send them into the woods behind our house to learn on their own and with me. They / We built forts, shelters, and a myriad of other things the kids dreamed up. We were blessed to have 20 acres of woods and 50 acres of marshland behind the house for these adventures.

I spent a fair amount of time creating a list of items for their Bushcraft Bags. In this post, I’m going to share that list and my thoughts and reasoning on each item. I will do my best to break up the list by age so that you can follow along as your child grows. Be aware that the age I chose was based on the skills and knowledge that my kids had developed at the time and the trust and responsibility that I have put in them with the tools.

The Bag
The first thing I had to determine was what bag I was going to select for their Bushcraft Bag. Was it going to be a string backpack, which seemed to multiply like rabbits around our house? Was it going to be a small backpack, duffle bag, or a messenger bag? In my perusing of the old interweb, I noticed that a lot of bushcrafters were using a military surplus Swedish bread bag from the WWII era. This bag is essentially a small, canvas messenger bag. So, I decided to visit one of the army surplus stores in our area to see if there was anything similar. I eventually settled on a new, Rothco brand, canvas ammo shoulder bag. I chose it because it was small, inexpensive, available in multiple colors, had a couple of small pockets, and appeared to be very durable. The only thing it lacked was being waterproof.

Next up was determining the contents of the bags. I separated the contents that I selected into several categories. Cutting tools, fire starting, shelter, cordage, food and water, knowledge, observation, and safety. Let’s go through each of these categories individually.

Cutting Tools
This category is one of the most sensitive to age and to a parent’s sense of safety because it includes pocket knives, fixed blade knives, folding and non-folding saws, and all types of axes. I must preface this by stating that you must spend time with your child teaching basic knife skills and accepting the fact that they will cut themselves at some point.

  • Pocket Knives – When my kids received their bags they are 6 and 7 years old. I, therefore, selected a knife that I felt was appropriate for their introduction to knives. Since they were used to me always having a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife on my person and often asked to see it I decided that they needed their own. I selected the My First Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. It is a simple knife with only one blade, a screwdriver, and a bottle opener. The blade has a rounded, unsharpened point to help reduce the chances of an unintentional stabbing. When the kids turned about 9 I upgraded their pocket knife to one with a few more options. On a daily basis, I carry a Victorinox Climber Swiss Army Knife. It has all the basic tools that I use regularly. So, I thought something similar would be a good choice for the kids. I selected the Victorinox Super Tinker for them. The Super Tinker differs from the Climber model in only one way, the corkscrew found on the Climber has been replaced with a Phillips head screwdriver. I did not see a children’s knife needing a corkscrew.
  • Fixed Blade Knives – In the bushcraft world, there were really only three ways to go with this choice. Handmade, extremely expensive (Ray Mears Woodlore), or the inexpensive MoraKniv products from Sweden. The decision was obvious. Besides, I am a Morakniv nut and will proselytize their virtues if given half a chance. At the time I was shopping there was not a blunted-tip knife from Morakniv so I selected the model 510 and ground the tip down for a bit of improved safety. This model knife is no longer produced, to may a bushcrafters lament, but if I was choosing a model from the current product line I would select the Morakniv Safe as my kid’s first fixed blade. When they had reached the point that I thought they understood how to properly use a fixed blade knife I got them each a Morakniv Companion. I later added the Eldris to their collection. I adore the Eldris because it has a symmetrical grip, a short blade, and one of the first decent plastic sheaths that Morakniv has released. I was also able to purchase the Companion and Eldris in different and matching colors for each child thus eliminating arguing over which knife was whose. Just an additional note about all knives: Make sure that you purchase your child a stainless steel knife. You will regret purchasing a knife carbon blade for a child because they rust quite rapidly unless they are properly taken care of.
  • Folding Saws –  One of the things that my children’s really enjoyed was the construction of shelters and “forts” while they were in the woods. The one tool that is an absolute requirement for this activity is a saw. I elected to provide them with a small, folding saw. I elected a folding saw, as opposed to a fixed blade saw, so that the blade was safely covered when in their bags and it did not require a separate cover for this purpose. There are multiple folding saws available but the go-to for Bushcrafters is the Bahco Laplander. It’s a useful size, durable, and comes with a locking and replaceable blade. This saw will last them for years.
  • Axes and Hatchets – My kids are now in their middle teenage years. I have not purchased an ax or hatchet for them yet and doubt I will. I allow them to use youth axes and hatchets under supervision only. There are just too many things that can easily go wrong, due to proper use, that can cause major traumatic damage to a person quickly. I won’t allow them to use one unsupervised until they are equipped to handle a potential situation both in training and with a proper first-aid kit.

Fire Starting
This is also a category that is age-sensitive in my opinion. You may want to consider adding these items to their bag but restrict usage and possession of them to times when they have adult supervision. Use your best judgment, every child is different.

  • Firesteels – The firesteel or “Ferro Rod” is almost ubiquitous to the Bushcrafter’s toolset. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Bushcrafter that does not have one in their kit. In fact, most of them carry one every day. A firesteel is a small metal rod that can be struck with a metal striker to create a shower of extremely hot sparks. They are the most reliable fire-starting tool available because they work when wet, at high altitudes, are very reliable, and have a long lifespan. They do take a bit of skill, practice, and fire tinder preparation to use successfully.  If you were to pick one fire-starting for your child’s kit this would be the one I suggest.
  • Flint and Steel – The flint and steel are probably the earliest portable fire-starting tools used by humans after the age of beating rocks together to make sparks. There are several disadvantages to the use of this item though; they are unreliable when wet, take a lot of practice to become reliable for the user, and often require a specialized tinder (charcloth or horse hoof fungus ‘amadou‘) to successfully catch a spark. The use of flint and steel is a valuable skill but is not one I recommend for the beginner.
  • Lighter – Pressurized and unpressurized lighters often find their way into a Buscrafter’s kit due to the simplicity they offer to the art of starting a fire. While lighters, of all types, have their uses they come with a long list of disadvantages; they don’t work well after being submerged in water or when at high altitudes, they are susceptible to windy conditions, their fuel supply is limited, and if one part breaks the whole lighter is useless. A lighter should be part of every kit as a secondary fire-starting source but should not replace learned skills.
  • Matches – Traditional wood and paper matches should not be considered simply because of the susceptibility to the damp. If you decided to add matches as an option for your child’s kit you will need to supply them with storm-proof matches.

There are other fire-starting tools out there, these are the most common and are the items that I considered when assembling the parts for my children’s Bushcraft Bags.

Cordage
When the kids first received their bags I included a couple of hundred feet of natural, biodegradable twine for them to use when constructing “forts”. This allowed them to go all out but kept me from worrying about them leaving behind a bunch of trash in the woods. As they got older and became more responsible, I upgraded them to paracord for this purpose. I found that they still preferred to use the twine for a long period of time. This type of twine can be easily found in the garden department of big box home improvement stores

Food and Water
The lack of food and water was never of great concern since they were usually close to home. I did include a 16oz Nalgene bottle and a stainless cup for them as part of their initial kit. Even while they were in close proximity to their home they often took a granola bar or pack of crackers with them, just in case. The cup was mostly used for catching minnows and crawfish in the creek.

Knowledge
As part of their basic kit, I included two books. The first was Survivor Kid: A Practical Guide to Wilderness Survival
by Denise Long and the other was North Carolina Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Animals (Wildlife and Nature Identification) by James Kavanagh. I added to this tangible knowledge by spending time with them on their endeavors.

Observation
Observation is an important skill that a child will develop over time as they spend time in the environment. Each child will develop their own areas of interest over time. Some areas of focus that are common are wildlife, wild edibles and foraging, shelter construction, hunting or fishing, survival skills like orientation, and wood carving. Each and every one of these interests is a legitimate part of a strong bushcraft skillset. In fact, most Buscrafters learn about all of them to some degree so that they are more diversified.

There are often additional items that a Bushcrafter will add to their kit based on their interests and you should interest add supporting items to your child’s kit as well. Those items are things like a magnifying glass, binoculars, compass, ruler, wire for trapping, fishing line and hooks, specialty wood carving knives, wild edibles guides, etc. One of the most useful items that I found to add to their kit is a small ruler that also has a thermometer, compass, and magnifying lens in it. This item is especially useful for those that become interested in tracking.

Safety
Safety covers an interesting array of items and situations. Rather than just spit out a list of items to consider let me break it into categories.

  • Injury – With the inclusion of knives, saws, fire-staters, etc. a bodily injury is going to occur. In this case, it’s not if but when. Luckily these injuries will mostly be minor scrapes, bruises, cuts, and burns. It is best to provide a very basic first-aid kit as part of the child’s items. This kit should include; assorted band-aids, a couple of gauze pads, tape (add a pair of kids scissors), burn cream packets, tweezers (for splinters), antiseptic wipes, triple antibiotic ointment or Bacitracin packets (optional), and Hydrocortisone cream packets (optional). Store items in a mint tin, plastic box, or zip lock bag. Optionally, you could go with a small pre-made kit. I recommend that you review the items in the kit and when / how to use them with your child.
  • Lost – There is always the possibility that a child may get themselves into a situation where they feel like they are lost or don’t know how to get home. There are two items that should be included in their kit for this situation. A small compass (with instructions or training) and a whistle. When considering whistles you should be looking at ones designed for rescue purposes and not athletic whistles. Athletic whistles have a bead or pea in them that can freeze in cold weather and be affected by water. Rescue whistles have no moving parts and are a lot louder than athletic whistles. The Fox 40 Classic Whistle and the S.O.L. Howler are excellent choices. Make sure your child understands that 3 short blasts then a long pause is the universal “need assistance” whistle pattern.
  • Weather – As we all know, the weather can change quickly and unexpectedly. Your child may be caught in a situation where it is better for them to shelter in place rather than try to get home. This is especially true if there is a creek or stream between them and home during a sudden storm. In these situations, your child may need some sort of quick shelter. There are a couple of solutions that are quickly deployed and inexpensive. I chose to include a small tarp but you could provide a poncho or sheet of plastic painter’s tarp. I do not recommend that your child use a trash bag unless you have slit the bottom and sides so it is a flat sheet of plastic. I do recommend that the material you provide is a bright color that contrasts the colors of the area so you can easily locate your stray.

Other Items
There are several other items that I included in the bag that I don’t think need more explanation. Additional items were pencil/pen & paper, pencil sharpener, a flashlight or headlamp, extra flashlight battery, fabric or ziplock bags for collecting stuff, and duct tape. As your child grows and developed more proficiency you might also consider adding some of these items; magnesium fire starter, water filter, wet stone for knife sharpening, wood carving knives, flint & steel, camping hammock, billy pot (cooking), and alcohol stove.

I have outlined how I approached this project with my kids. There are a million other ways to do the same and no way is completely right or wrong. Hopefully, you will get some ideas to help you out. No matter what you choose to do you should involve your child in all the choices you make. There are also many opportunities for you to spend time teaching and learning with your child. Take the time to assemble the first aid kit together, or learn to set up a quick tarp shelter with them. Make the most of this time, revel in their experiences and learning, and trust them.