Leave No Trace Camping; The Harmful Side Effects

If you are looking for an interesting read about Leave No Trace camping, this article from masterwoodsman.com is a good choice.

Recently while stumbling around the web I came across a great article from masterwoodsman.com about Leave No Trace camping. The article is titled “Leave No Trace Killed Woodcraft…Almost” and can be accessed through the link. It is certainly worth the time to read if you have a few minutes.

Basically the author, Christian Noble, gives a solid dissertation on the harmful effects of the Leave No Trace (LNT) camping protocol that is so popular today. Generally is seems his beef with LNT is not the environmental impact, but the negative human and cultural impact it has. He states LNT has created a society of visitors to nature, not participants. One good section reads:

“Inevitably, groups wanting support (and protection) for wilderness meant supporting some sort of recreational access. Minimal impact camping was born. A new “modern” wilderness ethic based purely on aesthetics. There was no working knowledge (read understanding) of nature needed. All one had to know is that if nature was altered, it was wrong.”

Another good excerpt:

“Instead, we should learn about nature as a participant. By doing to so in a respectful manner with the proper guidance, you will find a conservation ethic allowing you to tread lightly across the landscape the way it was intended by our Creator.”

Tripod cooking.
A pot of water comes to boil over an open fire using resources from the immediate area. Certainly not LNT.

In my personal opinion, I think the author is touching on something big here. While LNT does do a good job protecting our environment, it has degraded the body of knowledge we had. Most folks no longer look to nature as a place as a place they were created to live, but rather a place where they can go visit from time to time. Also, when most people do head into our wild places, they do so with a pickup load of gear from their favorite sporting goods store, or with a giant camper with electrical hookups. While I can’t/won’t demean people wanting to get out and experience nature in those ways, personally I’ve found much more satisfaction heading out with less.

The best part of this article is the balance it provides. Many times in life the sweet spot is where balance can be found. Noble rightly argues for the use of LNT practices in certain areas. Here is an excerpt:

“Don’t get me wrong, in high traffic and sensitive areas I am a huge fan of treading lightly, even using a stove. Personally, I use a supercat stove I make from used diced chili cans with denatured alcohol for fuel, when and where it makes sense.”

The reality is that in a world of 7 billion people, and 323 million in America, we can’t all go building lean-tos at our favorite destination. If that were the case, we would soon not have much nature left in those areas. On the other hand, if people do not practice living hands-on in the world, the working knowledge our cultures have gained about “survival” is threatened to be lost as well. Everything in moderation.

Finally, it seems worth excerpting one more quote from the article:

“We are NOT visitors here on Earth. This is our home and the home of our ancestors.”

How true. It seems this fact is being lost and more people are seeing themselves apart from nature, rather than our home. If you take the time to read the Softtracks About section, you should be able to grasp our thoughts on the subject. Practicing skills of self-reliance may not be the norm these days, but can truly reveal some great insights if you are willing to put the work in.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this great article concerning its harmful side effects in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article about building a primitive shelter.

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Why to Craft a Do-It-Yourself Primitive Arrow Quiver

Primitive bow quiver.

There are lots of reasons to start making your own archery gear. Making a primitive quiver is a great place to start.

Primitive bow quiver.
Making your very own primitive bow quiver is a great project to undertake.

Primitive means first, not worst. I first heard this statement as I was just getting my feet wet with primitive skills. As I’ve learned more and more, this statement has become more and more clear. Our ancestors were every bit as intelligent as us modern day folks. They just had a different education. Where we learn reading, writing, and rithmatic, they learned plants, animals, reading the weather, and the ways of the natural world. With that being the case, people all across the globe developed creative and unique ways to solving the problems they faced everyday. Some of the developments they made are still ideal solutions to the same problems.

As history unfolded near the end of the Stone Age, some societies developed agriculture and dealt with all the challenges that came along with settling down in one place. Farmers and pastoralists faced problems such as how to erect adequate structures, deal with human waste accumulation, and eventually issues like city planning. Not only that but they accumulated knowledge about animal husbandry and successful farming practices.

Other groups of people continued to live by hunting and gathering. They continued to use the natural bounty surrounding them. Although greatly different from agriculturalists, these nomadic hunters also faced challenges. Nomads faced challenges related to travel and frequent movement. One area where nomadic groups of primitive people excelled was understanding how to travel light. They developed practical methods of transporting their gear, comfortably and functionally, across distances. One item they developed to fit this lifestyle was a functional bow and arrow combination quiver.

To a lesser degree we as hunters still have to meet the same basic demands as those nomadic travelers. While on the hunt we still likely want to travel light, comfortable, and our gear needs to be functional. Today we are fortunate to have many businesses competing to provide us with exceptional hunting gear. Sometimes though, the best answers are some of the most ancient. That’s why I set out to replicate a primitive bow and arrow quiver based on the design of nomadic people who moved for a living.

Alfred Jacob Miller painting.
Primitive arrow quivers are featured in paintings by Alfred Jacob Miller.

The design I started with is based off concepts found in Douglas Spotted Eagles’ book Making Indian Bows and Arrows…The Old Way. I also came across the same design in a book titled Little Chief’s Gatherings, which contains pages of photos from the Smithsonian’s archives of Lakota artifacts. Finally, this type of quiver is seen often in the paintings of Alfred Jacob Miller. Historically, most sources indicate this style of quiver was widely used in the past.

Although the overall design is based off a tried and tested version, I wanted to make a few customizations. First off, the bow I shoot (a Bear Montana) is much longer than the bows used by the Lakota on the plains. Mine would have to be much longer than older versions. Not only that, but I want to carry the longbow at a different angle than a short bow could have been carried.

The extra length did create a problem when my bow was not in the quiver however. I had too much excessive buckskin dangling around me. To solve the problem, I created a small fastener on the back of the quiver. Now I can tri-fold the bow quiver up when not in use, and it folds down smaller than my actual arrow quiver. This keeps it tucked neatly out of the way when not in use.

Primitive bow and arrow quiver
My bow quiver is based on a historical design, but suited to my individual liking.

The second major change I made was putting two willow limbs above my bow quiver. From what I can see, most of these bow quivers only attached limbs above their arrow quivers, and the bow quiver hung free. I not only wanted the bow quiver to be supported, but I also wanted to be able to hang my blanket off the quiver. This would allow me to travel with camp on my back without adding a backpack and other gear. If I needed to use a backpack, I wouldn’t be able to use the bow quiver.  Being able to accommodate the blanket was a must, and the two limbs accommodate that need. In the end I was able to create a bow and arrow quiver, that not only is beautiful, but functional for my needs as well.

Spending time on these kinds of projects has a few great benefits. First off, at the end of the day I have a custom made bow quiver that should last me for years to come. It is designed by me, so any future changes or repairs can be easily accomplished. Secondly, in regards to repair, the quiver is made from all-natural materials. I shouldn’t ever be caught in a situation where it cannot be fixed in the field. As long as a few sticks are present, I can make a bit of cordage, and have a simple sewing kit, I shouldn’t ever be stranded with busted equipment in the field. Lastly, after spending the time to create this project from start to finish, I have exercised a body of old knowledge that has been around for millennia.

Although I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject of primeval knowledge, I do claim these projects open a new understanding on the subject. I always knew people made quivers from animal skins. That’s the “book larnin” everyone knows. After several years practicing these sorts of skills, I now have a much deeper appreciation for their knowledge, skills, and perspective on the world. It truly does open up a window into another world.

If you choose to invest the time in building your own primitive bow quiver, you may be surprised how much you learn. Not only will you explore history, but you’ll get a chance to see how ingenious our ancestors really were. Along the way you’ll have to problem solve and figure out what you want. You’ll get a custom made quiver to your very own liking, and also open up a world that we seldom get to experience in the modern age. You may also develop a new recognition of truth in the phrase, “Primitive means first, not worst.”

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Why To Start a Bow Drill Fire

Making a coal

Learning to build a bow drill fire can be a difficult endeavor. In the end however, you will be a much richer person for the effort.

Bow drill fire
Some may wonder “why” when it comes to primitive fire making. Well, here’s my take.

Frustration was beginning to build. Things weren’t going right, and my patience had evaporated. A tweak here, an adjustment needed there, and then an unsuccessful attempt. I needed a fire for today’s project; a primitive atlatl dart, and it wasn’t going well. When you build a primitive dart, you ought to build a fire by primitive means. That was the plan at least. The main problem was my bow drill set had been given away to an aspiring bow drill student of mine. My new bow was apparently still in the break-in period.

Soon though, I began to find the sweet spot. After a bit of experience with the bow drill, you can really feel when the wood starts burning good. Once the wood was rolling smooth, willow on cottonwood, I could start to smell the smoke rising. The old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” doesn’t necessarily apply to a bow drill fire. Smoke is just the beginning. Once you get smoke, you still have the bulk of the work ahead of you.

Back and forth, smooth strokes, rolled the spindle back and forth in the hearth. Brown dust collected in the notch as my muscles began to fatigue. Soon the brown dust turned to black and I knew it was time to push the pace. Quickening my speed, I tried to increase the internal temperature in the notch to the magical point where it would weld together and create my coal. Faster and faster I pushed until smoke filled my vision, and I could no longer monitor the situation. I was hitting the point of fatigue where I could potentially slip out of the hearth and knock the whole thing to pieces. All at once I stopped the sawing motion of the bow, and closely observed the dust pile for signs of smoke.

Sure enough, wisps of smoke rose from a pile of dust collected in the notch. From two bits of wood I had created fire. This still provides a sense of wonder every time.

I would guess more people know how to make a bow drill fire than at any time in recent history. So many people are participating in what I would call a bushcraft Renaissance, that this type of skill in not so unknown these days. With just a few minutes you can learn the basics of how to start a bow drill fire. In fact, I’m sure within a short time there may be a post on this site covering the subject. In my mind though, just as important as learning how to create a bow drill fire, is understanding why to.

There are a number of reasons why learning primitive fire making can be beneficial to a person. First off, this skill is certainly not one where you get something for nothing. Unlike many aspects of life where you may achieve, or not achieve, based on a myriad of factors not related to your actual performance, primitive fire making is sort of a pass/fail class. At the end of an attempt you’ve either made a coal, or not made a coal. This kind of accomplishment, especially for young people, can be a huge confidence booster. There is no one else to blame if a coal doesn’t get created, and no one else to take credit if one does. You know where you are in the skill and if you are proficient or not. Practicing primitive fire making can help instill a self-assured confidence only real achievement can create.

Another reason why learning primitive fire making can be beneficial is the knowledge of the natural world it creates. One of the biggest obstacles to create a coal consistently is to use materials that put the odds in your favor. Since all of those materials can be found in nature, you must learn not only to differentiate between woods, but to also know their properties as well. Some woods make good spindles, while others make good hearth boards. With some practice you can soon walk through the woods and spot resources lying all around you.

Smoldering coal
Making a coal isn’t something you can fake. You either get one, or you don’t.

You’ll also need to learn about tinder, and where to find it at different times of the year in different weather circumstances. The outdoors is not a static place. It takes practice to find the resources you’ll need at all times and situations in a year. In order to learn these things, you’ll have to explore your favorite nearby woods for materials throughout the year. This promotes more learning of the natural world and getting to enjoy nature. What could be wrong with that?

Learning to make a bow drill fire has a less concrete benefit as well. By learning a skill like this you help to pass a torch of knowledge into the next future. These types of Stone Age skills are obviously not common place today. As our lives become more technologically advanced, they will naturally get pushed to the edges of our knowledge. If however they are pushed out of our body of knowledge, they will likely be lost forever. It’s likely that people would know of the process, but there is a whole different level in actually knowing the how of the process. It would be disheartening to lose such a foundational skill to the human story.

The only way skills like this can last in an ever changing, fast-paced, and technological modern world, is by putting them into action. When you apply them, you are a literal link in an unbroken chain that extends back into the first chapters of the human story. Future generations will only have the opportunity to practice and apply these skills if someone today forges those links. Learning to start a bow-drill fire, will not only bring the past to the present, but will keep this foundational human skill alive. It is actually quite an honor when you think about it.

Primitive skills may not be for everyone. In fact, I understand why some people might even raise their eyebrow when they learn I spend my time practicing such skills. It simply isn’t something common. On the other hand, for me the pros of learning such skills overwhelm the cons. They are part of the human story that has always intrigued me. Though I’ve only put them into practice over the past handful of years I can see the benefits they bring. If you are looking to make a real accomplishment, increase your knowledge of the world, and bring forth basic human knowledge, learning to make a bow drill fire might be something you’d enjoy.

Thanks for reading this article on why to build a bow drill fire. If you find aspects of the Stone Age interesting, you may find this article “Build an Atlatl and You Build a Piece of Living History” interesting.