Bushcraft and LNT: Keeping Things In Perspective

Bushcraft and LNT: Keeping Things In Perspective

pristine wilderness of forests and lake
When it comes to visiting wilderness, is bushcraft at odds with leave-no-trace principles? Photo: Paul Kirtley

IIn my #AskPaulKirtley shows, a wide variety of questions are posed. Some of these questions are of interest to a good number of viewers and listeners, while others are more niche. Some questions, combined with my answers, really resonate with the audience. In episode 32, I was asked a question about bushcraft being at odds with leave-no-trace (LNT) principles. My answer to this question of bushcraft and LNT seems to have struck a chord and I’ve had suggestions to put this section of the show out as a separate video. So, I have (see the video below).

The original question was as follows:

“Hello Paul, I always enjoy your work and value your opinions. I am from the U.S. but hope to travel to England one day and participate in one of your courses. I’d like your opinion on a statement that was posted on an Internet forum. “Bushcraft and LNT (leave no trace) is at cross-purposes.” Leave no trace is an outdoor philosophy whereby, one minimizes his or her impact on the natural world while travelling or camping in the back country. On the other hand, Bushcraft uses skills such as fire lighting and shelter building where the emphasis is on the use of materials from the natural world to practice and refine those skills. By its very nature, Bushcraft alters the natural world in some small, or not so small way. To be fair, the original statement about LNT and Bushcraft being at cross-purposes was posted on a forum discussing the Appalachian Triail which sees intensive use by millions of hikers every season. In that context, I totally agree that all hikers should practice LNT principles. If not, the Appalachian Trail corridor would quickly become denuded of any vegetation and cluttered with the litter of modern society. But what about areas of less intensive use? Does the gathering of deadwood for a campfire or the building of a shelter from natural materials really matter in the long run? What is the responsible thing to do given these two opposing goals? I would very much like to hear your opinion.

My reply to this question of Bushcraft vs LNT is in the following video…

You can also watch my video Bushcraft vs LNT on YouTube.

Bushcraft and LNT – What Do You Think?

Let me and others know your thoughts about bushcraft, LNT and related considerations in the comments below. I read every one and reply personally…

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog

How to Leave No Trace of Your Campfire

Way Out North: A Boreal Forest Foray

PK Podcast 008: Chris Townsend, Backpacking Legend

23 thoughts on “Bushcraft and LNT: Keeping Things In Perspective

  1. Ear here!! I have been a follower of your work for some time and has been very inspirational and informative. This video and your response to the question echo my thoughts on using resources first hand from nature, not just as a past time or “hobby” but as a way of life. Best Regards.

      1. Well said , I agree with all you have said and have tried to teach that to others for over 40 years.
        And do beware of the “Zealots” they have made my weekend bad more than a few times !

  2. This is spot on. The problem with so many discussions/debates/arguments is that they miss the bigger picture. I sometimes wonder if certain groups deliberately engineer such trivial things in order that this happens, that no one looks too closely at the giant issues we need to address, because it’s simply easier to talk of those that are smaller – as we feel we can have more impact this way.

    I agree with all you say here, and I think that talking of bushcraft as a study of nature (it is) is crucial – it is so easy to remove ourselves from nature if we learn things in isolation, in a bubble. And, the more we know, the more we see the connections, that bigger picture – and it doesn’t take long for the student to know when to move camp, or stop collecting a certain plant, for example. I haven’t been back to some of my favourite wild camping sites for some years, simply to ensure regeneration of resources, without my added pressure.

    As an ex-archaeologist, I also think that looking at bushcraft like this is crucial to remembering where we have come from – otherwise it is all too easy to be sucked into the mire of commercialisation and ooh-shiny! Which, again, means a far greater footprint upon the planet than our own personal feet could ever achieve.

    Great stuff Paul, always a delight to read your words and watch your videos. It’s good to know there are people out there fighting the good (and right) fight. I am hopeful for our species – and I think bushcraft (and, therefore, nature) can help us realise what is important in this world.

    Take care,


  3. Hi Paul

    You have made some very good points regarding minerals and resources. It’s like the wind farms- the only good nature gets from those is when they have been planted in the sea, where artificial reefs take hold.

    I’ve never lit fires when wild camping only because 1. I don’t want to draw attention to myself and 2. It’s not my wood to burn. Otherwise I don’t have a problem with it when it’s used correctly as you say.

    A very interesting video. ATB Phil

  4. Well said, Paul. Since it was me who submitted the original question, I suppose there is no one definitive answer. I believe it comes down to common sense for the area you are in, i.e., adhere to strict LNT principles in backcountry areas that see more intensive use and, in less used wilderness areas, especially ones that will rapidly recover, it might allow more traditional bushcraft skills to be practiced and utilized.

    Also, your point comparing local vs. global impact on the envoirnment was a good one, and one that, I believe, too many of us (particularly from the USA) forget to consider.

    Keep up he good work.
    All the best.


  5. Hi Paul,
    I remember watching this video when it was first published, I even made a short video myself about it. I believe that everything we do has an impact to some extent. Imagine if lots of people went out to the woods and gathered all the dead wood for shelters and fires. That same dead wood is all part of the eco system. It harbours fungi and insects which are all vital to this eco system and without them perhaps life would not be possible on this planet.
    There are areas of woodland close by where I live that are devoid of brush, understory and deadwood. The “Bushcrafters” have been very tidy but the ecology of the area must have suffered to some extent.
    We also are a part of this same nature but there are a lot of us.
    I don’t claim to be an expert or to understand that much about this topic but I do believe we must find a balance otherwise perhaps nature will find it for us and that option might not be so pretty.
    This island long ago would have been covered in forestry, then the ice age came and went and then the forest returned and now the humans are here, but we are everywhere and the demands we place on “Nature” have never been quite like this. Not just Bushcraft which I guess is small compared to commercial forestry etc, but we the Bushcrafters should set an example.
    Sorry for my ramblings. I know through my Youtube channel (Wiltshire Man) that I have introduced a few folk to “Bushcraft” and the outdoors and to some extent feel a little responsible for the growth in popularity of Wild camping etc.

  6. not a lot to add , you said it all paul , but i think bushcraft , LNT and wild camping should go hand in hand whatever you enjoy doing , its only respect that you try and leave the area as you found it or even cleaner

  7. Great response to an extremely important issue Paul. You illustrate Bushcraft’s position within the debate in a meaningful and realistic way. It brings to mind the podcast you did with Lisa Fenton in which you discuss how the ‘camping’ LNT ethos of distancing oneself from nature through using technology differs fundamentally from Bushcraft’s ethos of engaging with and forming a deeper understanding of nature. At the core of Bushcraft is understanding nature and seeking to understand ones place within it. This in fact is how we are likely to best protect our natural environment, not by distancing ourselves, or by trying to conquer it like survivalist might try to, but to ENGAGE with it in a meaningful way that recognises what it can provide us with.

  8. Hi Paul,first i’d like to ask you to forgive me all mistakes that i do when writting ,thats simply because i am not English,i am from Poland and i love to watch Your videos i am really thankfull that somone like You likes to share his knowledge,as for LNT and bushcraft i don’t really see a conflict ,for me it is the same,ok by having a fire You will always have impact on Your environment but You can always clean it up and leave no trace,i also think that it is not necessary for bushcrafters to always build a primitive shelter,especially if it takes destroing the environment,like cutting down branches ,i don’t think it is necessary

  9. My thoughts, for what it may be worth, (and to repeat what others have said) is that learning and studying Bushcraft gives a greater understanding of the natural world. This enables us to notice when things in it are not well and to know how much you can take without causing irreversible damage. Our ancestors, I am sure, would have been in tune with this, as their lives depended on the resources available and would know when to stop and let nature recover and replenish itself. Society today has lost touch with nature and consumes everything until it has gone….we are all guilty of this.
    Learning bushcraft has certainly made me see the wonders of nature, respect it and to see the damage that can be caused. So Paul keep up the good work!

  10. Simply brillant!

    Apparently the biggest impact of making a fire and cooking on it, will depends on what we cook 🙂 If we are cooking vegetables or meet. According to the documentary Cowspiracy the production of meet has the biggest impact of CO2 emission (more than transport or energy generation) and definitively on deforestation as forest are taken down to make space for growing cow food or straight for grazing. According to this documentary meet production is responsible of more than half of the CO2 emission in the world. Ok, I think they are exaggerating… but even then, it is responsible of a lot of CO2 and a lost of forest lost.

    As we don’t see it, we assume it does not happens…

  11. Hi Paul,
    I was on your bushcraft course last April and enjoyed this week. I have watched with interest your video on bushcraft and LNT and fully agree with your view when you say we should have a larger view on our impact on the planet when carrying a lot of man made gear. For sure we tend to forget quite easily what are the consequences of us having a lot of equipment when it is produced far away from our home in some “exotic” countries. But we should not!
    Now when it comes to highly frequented places it does not mean that we should not be careful of our local impact at all.
    in the end I think we should try to rely on a minimum of carefully chosen equipment and a maximum of skills plus be careful about leaving as little traces as possible where we camp.
    Best Regards from France

  12. Paul:

    Excellent — you are spot on…. For instance: it is easy to view that you are having limited impact in the wilderness when using a petrochemical-fueled stove instead of building a fire. But most people don’t think of the environmental impact of the mining, refining, transportation, and other costs that got this particular stove into your hands. Further, I see people traveling in the outdoors in the “technological bubble” that you mention. Here in the Adirondack mountains of New York, USA, we see tremendous numbers of hikers and outdoor users without a shred of navigation or other survival skills. In the last few years, we have seen multiple fatalities each year in the mountains. Usually, it’s simple stuff or stupid decisions that kill them! All back-country users should develop some basic woodcraft or bushcraft skills. Granted that in heavily used areas, wood fires are inappropriate (or illegal). However, in a survival situation, the skill to build a fire under adverse conditions, may save one’s life. I’ve seen people trying to navigate using the GPS in their smart phones, not realizing that cellular service is spotty in the mountains. A decent compass and a paper map and an understanding how to use both of these items will keep someone from getting lost. And the compass doesn’t use batteries! Technology isn’t always the answer. Folks need to develop good outdoor skills and understand their impact in the world; both in the wilds and in the city. Again, thanks for these videos. Pete (licensed NYS guide)

  13. I really like what Ray Mears says in his TV programme ‘The Four Seasons’: ‘It may seem that we are using resources, but in doing so we come to value them and cherish them’ (something like that).

    Thanks Paul for a brilliant video.


  14. Well done, Paul.!
    Bushcrafters and environmentalists do not have to be at odds with one another. It is all a question of what is appropriate, and when, and where.
    The late Paul Eddington (actor) once said that he would like his epitaph to be “He did very little harm”. It would be no bad thing for us all to follow that philosophy.

  15. Hello Paul, I’m back here!

    Well said, I agree with you , LNT is about degree!
    Also, as we all leave a some trace, I strongly believe that there are good trace and bad trace, and a real bushcrafter falls in the second. For example how I can teach my boy and my girl to see difference from burning propriety of different kinds of wood without burn some wood? How we can improve our ability to do bow drill fire with no pick up some wood? I believe that if I get something from nature I have to do back for nature; also collecting wood from a tree should be done in a pruning manner and now the impact to nature gonna be very small…..
    We all leave some trace, but we need to leave some good trace to learn more and more about nature in order to respect it.

    Thank you very much for a brilliant video.
    Very best regards


  16. I’ve always thought people are not wise to point their fingers at others regarding environmental responsibility. They open themselves up to scrutiny and will be rapidly pulled down from their high horse.

    From the person who feels great about taking their recycling to the recycling centre … in their car, to someone like Prince Charles who lectures on the subject … arriving at his venues via plane, helicopter or in a huge car with a fleet of security cars. Before he goes and visits his mum in her house with 20 miles of heating pipework, or goes back to one of his many similar homes.

  17. I live in Canada, where many former jobs included prospecting, trapping, surveying and earlier, travelling by canoe to trade furs. All these trades traveled the glorious Canadian forests from the 1600’s on through to the 1970’s, and the only traces they left were regular fire rings deposited in very beautiful and convenient locations that provide awe at the scenic beauty of the area. These were a testament to the love of the wilderness and respect these old timers had for centuries. No one made ugly scars, and many of these travel ways are recognized today as “Canadian heritage Waterways”. The fire rings are still there and usable, hundreds of years later, as are the rock cairns that show the portage trails. It’s about the usage, and not about the mis-usage. Bushcrafting re-creates the traditional skills of these old timers, including those of the native Indians (what white man calls Aboriginals). As a Metis, I am proud of my heritage, of my ancestors who used the wilderness as a way of life. Anyone with a degree of decency can do likewise, make responsible fires, camp responsibly, and use the wilderness with respect and not trash it. Forbidding the use of traditional methods only condemns the early natives, the explorers, the surveyors and voyageurs who lived before us, which is wrong.
    Some people need to get out more and enjoy nature in its fullness rather than constrict it and bottle it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.