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Essential Bushcraft Gear and Hiking Gadgets: 15 Must-Haves According to BBC Bushcraft Expert and Survival Instructor Ray Mears

Written by

Alex Gillard

Since 2015 I have been a freelance writer and wildlife photographer, working out of some of the planet’s most spectacular wildlife and nature travel destinations–from the Amazon to Raja Ampat–diving, snorkelling, fieldherping, birding and photographing my way around the world.

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First off, if you don’t know who Ray Mears is, go to YouTube and immediately check him out.

He’s an absolute gem of a British outdoorsman and survival expert–think Les Stroud (AKA Survivor Man) but more educational and less self-imposed hardship–that has had several fantastic series on the BBC over the last couple of decades, all of which are on YouTube and all of which I rewatch at least once a year. 

Even if you don’t end up wanting or needing anything in this bushcraft gear guide, at least I will have introduced you to Ray Mears. 

He’s a very friendly, very accessible, very understated and very British outdoorsman with a charming, plummy English accent and a wealth of survival and bushcraft knowledge from all over the world.

I’ve learned so much from watching this guy and applied a significant amount of what he teaches on my own. 

Why investing in bushcraft gear (and skills) is both practical and rewarding

Even if you already venture into the wild with tents, food, a quality first aid kit, protection, and the rest of the outdoors necessities, knowing some basic bushcraft skills is not only rewarding, but they could save your life.

If you are just here for Ray Mears content and aren’t interested in learning about any of the gear on this list, I’ve put together a selection of my favourite Ray Mears YouTube Series at the end and included a bunch of videos:

Bushcraft Gear Item #1: A Good Bushcraft Axe – The Grandforest Bruks 19-Inch Small Forest Axe

Ray Mears Recommends the Grandforest Bruks 19-Inch Small Forest Axe:

Grandforest Bruks 19-Inch Small Forest Axe

Anyone who ventures into the bush for days at a time pretty much anywhere in the world knows that a good bushcraft axe just might be the most important gear you bring.

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An axe enables you to cut wood for fuel (allowing you to collect and make food), for heating and keeping prowling nocturnal predators away, and, if you’re in a survival situation, wood for building a structure that protects you from the elements. 

Without a decent bushcraft axe or hatchet in your bushcraft gear kit, you might as well be heading out into the wilderness naked. Ray recommends the Grandforest Bruks 19-inch Small Forest Axe as a bushcraft axe, calling it the “number one axe choice for bushcraft.”

#2: Paracord – Amazon Basics 550 Type III Paracord

paracord with a camping tent hanging in the background in the middle of a north american deciduous forest

Paracord (short for parachute cord) is another one of those essential pieces of bushcraft gear that you should just have lying about.

It is a lightweight nylon rope (made up of several strands of high-strength individual nylon threads) originally used to suspend parachutes and is now one of the general-purpose utility cords of choice among all outdoor enthusiasts and extreme sportsmen and women. It was even used by astronauts on a space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble. 

I’ve used paracord to string up hammocks, tie-down luggage and gear in the back of trucks, and even to fish (stripping the cord down to its individual nylon strands with a knife) just to see how it works in a pinch (fantastically, FYI). 

Ray Mears considers paracord to be another piece of essential bushcraft gear because of how lightweight and durable it is. Paracord is classed into different types with different minimum strengths:

Type I: 43kgsType IA: 45kgType II: 180kg
Type III: 250kgType IV: 340kgType IIA: 102kg

Along with simply having paracord as part of your hiking/bushcraft gear, you also need to be able to use it, which means knowing how to tie some of the essential knots.

#3: A Compass – Silva Expedition S

Silva Expedition S compass with large mountain peaks in the background

Being able to read a compass is something of a lost art, but a compass is for sure one of those indispensable bushcraft tools and one of the hiking gadgets that everyone should know how to use. 

I learned to use a compass as a cub scout in the 1990s, and since then I’ve always brought one with me anywhere I’ve gone in the world.

Luckily I’ve never been so lost I needed to rely on one, but I feel better venturing into the wilderness with a compass as part of my bushcraft gear. Here’s a video from outdoor gear experts REI on using a compass.

#4, 5 and 6: Cooking Equipment For Camping –  Stainless Steel Billy Pot, TOAKS 375 Titanium Cup and Caudblor Portable Camping Stove

If you’re spending time outdoors, whether camping, on a through hike, or guiding, planning around food and meals is a big part of it, and there are a few pieces of kitchen bushcraft gear that are essential.

You need a good stainless steel billy pot for boiling and steaming things, a stainless steel or titanium cup for serving and boiling liquids, and a junior camping stove for cooking on.

Ray recommends the 12cm stainless steel billy can by Zebra

Ray recommends the BCB NATO Cup, but it’s hard to find online, so I suggest the TOAKS 375 Titanium Cup: 

TOAKS 375 Titanium cup and a forest stream in the background

Ray recommends the Littlbug Junior Camping Stove which, again, is hard to find online right now so as an alternative, the Caudblor Portable Camping Stove: 

Here’s a video of Ray Mears teaching you how to make a simple pot hanger while in the bush: 

#7: Fire Lighting Tool – Bushcraft Survival Ferro Rod Fire Starter Kit & Backpacking Multitool

Ray recommends his own Ray Mears brand Fire Stick but since it appears to only be available through his website and I don’t know what it’s like to have it shipped outside of the UK, here is a very similar alternative: the Bushcraft Survival Ferro Rod Fire Starter Kit & Backpacking Multitool: 

Bushcraft Survival Ferro Rod Fire Starter Kit & Backpacking Multitool with a flame in the background

Here are Ray’s thoughts on the fire stick: 

The humble Fire Stick is, without a doubt, one of the most fundamental and reliable pieces of Bushcraft equipment available. The Fire Stick (or ferrocerium rod, as it is also known) is favoured in Bushcraft and survival situations due to the fact that it can be used even when wet, and can be gripped easily when your hands are cold. When used properly, the Fire Stick will produce a shower of sparks which will light your tinder of choice with ease

Anyone who has tried manually lighting fires knows that it’s an art form and one learned over time. You don’t just watch Les Stroud or Ray Mears make a hand-drill and start a friction fire on TV and then wander into the woods and magically replicate the technique yourself. 

It takes practice and a lot of trial and error to get it right–and here’s the important caveat–for MOST manual methods. The fire stick, on the other hand, is such a great piece of bushcraft kit and a highly recommended hiking gadget because of how easy it is for the inexperienced to use it

Here’s Ray making and lighting a fire from scratch with a fire stick.

#8: Bushcraft Knife – Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Bushcraft Knife

Ray Recommends the Mrakniv Companion Fixed Blade Bushcraft Knife:

Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Bushcraft Knife

A bushcraft knife, in addition to a good bushcraft axe, is the second piece of foundational bushcraft kit.

Like your bushcraft axe, your knife is what makes living (whether by choice or by circumstance) in the wilderness possible. 

It’s how you prepare food, fashion, shelter and implements to defend oneself, and what, according to Ray Mears, “makes life possible” in the wilderness. Here is Ray explaining the necessity of a good bushcraft knife and why it’s such a fundamental piece of bushcraft kit.

#9: Rucksack – Mil-tec 25L Outdoor Bag

Ray recommends his own brand Leafcutter Rucksack, but it’s out of stock on his website, so as an alternative, I recommend the Mil-tec 25L Outdoor Bag

This one is pretty straightforward, so I’m not going to dwell on it too much. If you are backpacking or doing overnight or multi-day hikes in the wilderness, you need somewhere to store and organize your hiking gadgets, and a good outdoor rucksack is ideal for that. 

Bushcraft Kit #10: Bushcraft Folding Saw and Replacement Blade – Bahco 7.5” 396-LAP Laplander Folding Saw

Bahco 7.5” 396-LAP Laplander Folding Saw with kindling in the background

A bushcraft folding saw is another piece of bushcraft kit that makes life in the wilderness possible. It’s used for processing firewood, clearing brush, making tools and building shelters. A good folding saw packs up small and will reliably cut through wood without having to worry about it falling apart.

Here’s Ray demonstrating how he uses a bushcraft folding saw in the woods.

Bushcraft Kit #11: Sleeping Bag – Hyke & Byke Eolus Goose Down 0 F 4-Season Hiking & Backpacking Sleeping Bag

Ray Mears recommends the Woodlore Golden Eagle Bag, but I don’t know how easy it is to ship outside of the UK, so I’ve chosen something comparable that is maybe more available internationally: The Hyke & Byke Eolus Goose Down 0 F 4-Season Hiking & Backpacking Sleeping Bag

Hyke & Byke Eolus Goose Down 0 F 4-Season Hiking & Backpacking Sleeping Bag with a tent in a snowy forest at night in the background

Cold weather backpacking and camping definitely requires a well-insulated sleeping bag, but so does hammock camping pretty much anywhere. Check out this guide I just wrote on the best hammock with mosquito net where I go into why you need to keep warm even when hammock camping in the tropics. 

Bushcraft Kit #12: Sleeping Mat – Therm-A-Rest ProLite Sleeping Mattress

Ray Mears recommends the Therm-A-Rest ProLite Sleeping Mattress:

Therm-A-Rest ProLite Sleeping Mattress and a tent in a rocky forest clearing at sunrise in the background

A sleeping mattress is a nice piece of bushcraft gear to have with you for both planned and unplanned overnight trips. Not only is it insulation for hammock and tent camping, but it makes getting a good night’s sleep, especially if you’re over the age of 35, much easier. 

Bushcraft Gear #13: Good Quality Flashlight or Headlamp – Petzl TACTIKKA Plus RGB Headtorch 

Petzl definitely makes great headlamps, but I prefer something with more than 350 lumens (that’s not really all that bright).

I would probably up the ante and go for something like the Petzl Duo S 1100 Lumens Headlamp or, if you want to stray from Petzl, other well-respected headlamp manufacturers include Fenix and Olight, both of which I’ve used.

If you are interested in substituting or adding a flashlight to your bushcraft gear list as well (a spare light is always important), you can check out my guide to the best hiking flashlight here if you like.

I use my flashlight and headlamps mainly for searching for wildlife and guiding wildlife tours at night, and my top pick for a good all-around hiking/bushcraft flashlight is the Streamlight Protac HL5-X Series 3500 lumen flashlight:

#14: Waterbottle – MAXAM 32 Ounce Canteen W/Cup and Cover

Ray Mears recommends the Osprey NATO water bottle, which has been standard NATO issue gear for years. It is hard to find on the big online retailers, however, so it might be hard to ship internationally. As an alternative very similar kind of metal water canteen, you might consider the MAXAM 32 Ounce Canteen W/Cup and Cover

MAXAM 32 Ounce Canteen W/Cup and Cover with a fast flowing mountain stream in the background

A good metal water bottle is definitely a worthy bit of bushcraft gear because you want something that you can boil water in (to purify) and serve boiling liquids in if need be. 

#15: Water Purification – Katadyn Micropur MP1 Purification Tablets 

They are the only tablets that are effective against not only bacteria, giardia and Cryptosporidium in all water conditions, but also viruses.

The biggest advantage of choosing water purification tablets on your bushcraft gear list over a water bottle with a built-in filter or something like the life straw is that the two latter don’t filter out viruses which, while not that common in North American backwaters, are definitely an issue in the tropics. 

The Katadyn tabs are also safer than both iodine and chlorine tablets. One tablet will disinfect one litre of water in about 30 mins. 

Here’s a video demonstrating how to use these tablets.

Ray Mears Bushcraft Skills Series

My three favourite Ray Mears BBC series are “Extreme Survival,” “Bushcraft,” and “World of Survival.” All three are a combination of practical tips for and rundowns of survival situations and bushcraft tips in different environments around the world and include: 

  • Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival in the Tropics
  • Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival in Cold Weather 
  • Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival in Deserts
  • Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival At Sea 
  • Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival on Tropical Islands 

Each episode features Ray in survival and bushcraft scenarios, some of which are inspired by real-life events and stories, and the shows weave narrative and history into each episode.

In the “World of Survival” series, Ray covers survival from the perspective of indigenous peoples living in some of the world’s most remote and harshest environments and documents the ways they have used for millennia to live and thrive in these places. 

You can watch quite a few of the episodes on YouTube, but the video quality is not the greatest. I’ve included quite a few of them below. 

If you want to see them in much better resolution, you can find a lot of his series on Amazon, but here’s what’s available on YouTube:

Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival in the Tropics 

Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival in Cold Weather 

Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival in Deserts

Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival At Sea 

Ray Mears Bushcraft and Survival on Tropical Islands 

Why You Should Invest in Good Quality Bushcraft Gear and Hiking Gadgets

The bottom line is that these are things that could ultimately save your life and the lives of others if you were to get into a situation in which you had to rely on them.

I’m not a survivalist or a prepper–although I respect people who put time and effort into learning how to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves– I think bushcraft skills are useful whether you’re a casual hiker who likes to hit local trails with your dog on the weekend or a serious through-hiker and outdoorsman (or woman) who travels to remote areas to experience pristine nature. 

To spend time in nature safely, especially for extended periods, there are certain essential tools and hiking gadgets that are worthwhile investments–from a good bushcraft knife to water purification tablets and everything else that pros like Ray Mears put on their lists.

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