Venerable bushcraft instructor Mors Kochanski is one of the most experienced outdoor skills instructors in North America. His specialty is northern forests, the boreal, all seasons. Kochanski bridged primitive and historical methods and skills (actual skills, not just descriptions of skills) into the 21st Century and commingles these treasures with limited modern technologies and social media.
Very few outdoor skills instructors have achieved Kochanski’s broad fluency in wilderness living and survival skills. Fewer still have achieved his fluency in instructional methods for the transfer of skills to novices. Kochanski has mastered instructor-craft. Kochanski’s book Bushcraft Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival, Originally published as Northern Bushcraft (Lone Pine Publishing 1983) is a Top Ten Reference for serious outdoors enthusiasts.
Mors Kochanski’s concise prose and many detailed illustrations pack his bushcraft classic with useful information and repeatable skills. His traditional methods are resource intensive, centered on the basics, on ingenuity, on efficient manual capabilities applied to the botanical abundance of the boreal forest. Kochanski embodies his informal tagline,
“The more you know, the less you carry.”
Kochanski’s pragmatic methods and instruction are not encumbered by aggressive commercial slant or mystical pretense. Standing across a display of well worn equipment, a demo, or across the campfire at a training venue, Kochanski waxes on about particular skills, hands busy in rapid-fire how-to demonstrations. He offers no self-indulgent invocations of “sacred” notions or unfounded claims of exclusive First Peoples connections. Kochanski transfers tested, selected knowledge and skills, not mystical mumbo-jumbo.
True training happens only when trainee–instructor interactions are supported in the field and trainee hands and feet move through guided motions, coached for success. Nevertheless, independent study using multi-media resources is prerequisite for best success, and combined with repetition through long experience, self-training leads to skills. Let’s face it, for better or worse, many outdoors enthusiasts are self-trained. Kochanski’s numerous online videos offer generous insights and demonstrations. A growing suite of inexpensive illustrated booklets and DVD’s for sale detail additional knowledge and skills. Kochanski represents skills and trainings, not newfangled products.
“Mother nature is a terrible instructress. She’ll give the exam first and the lesson afterwards, if you’re still alive to appreciate it.” Mors Kochanski
Kochanski’s most important contribution to the growing popularity of traditional outdoor skills is best described as instructor-craft. His practiced hands speed through tasks with fluent motions earned through immense repetition. Nevertheless, sensitive to the needs of learners, he pauses to discuss and repeat essential elements of skills and to offer anthropometric measures to adapt skills to each follower (arm pit to first knuckle, hand span, four finger width, and so on).
Mors Kochanski has trained thousands in outdoor skills. His decades-long survival skills instructional collaboration with Tom Roycroft, Kochanski’s self-declared “guru,” distilled and developed boreal survival technologies using simple efficient methods and local materials-based equipment. Their tried and true methods have, no doubt, kept errant military and civilian pilots and many others alive and well during survival scenarios and will continue to do so into the future.
The measure of skill as a trainer is that students leave trainings with enthusiasm and internalized skills which help them share their training with others. The measure of skill as an outdoor how-to writer is repeatable skills delivered through print and illustrations. Kochanski has been successful in both measures. Kochanski’s influence has propagated in this way throughout much of the traditional outdoor skills community. This is the Kochanski Effect.
The Kochanski Effect
Mors Kochanski’s influence has reached deep into traditional outdoor skills lexicon and praxis. The traditional boreal term “bushcraft” popularized in the Lower 48 mainly by Kochanski has supplanted the traditional Lower 48 term, “woodcraft” in common usage to describe collective skills used for manual wilderness living (Nevertheless, I prefer the term “woodcraft”). He greatly influenced the social media resurgence of woodcraft skills, bushcraft. Hands-on learners flock to increasing numbers of blogs, websites, video accounts, and specialty retailers online seeking media and products supporting bushcraft skills. The influence of social media in the current popularity of bushcraft cannot be overestimated: Resource intensive bushcraft methods are flourishing through social media, today, just as The Boy Scouts of America, the largest outdoor training organization ever, having carried the evolving woodcraft banner for a century, has near fully transitioned away from traditional woodcraft methods to more sustainable outdoor methods emphasizing Leave No Trace skills (a transition I fully support and directly supported).
Kochanski’s most obvious influence, wearing a bushcraft knife on a neck lanyard, has led to widespread proliferation of the method and to the development of specialty knives designed for lanyard carry. The bushcraft style knife, inspired by the Mora knife, is an icon of modern bushcraft. A bushcraft knife worn around the neck is a badge of a self-styled bushcrafter.
The fire-friendly boreal forest is the biome of choice for easy bushcraft-style fire-making. Tree species there render flame and yield to cutting tools in functional ways that are uncommon elsewhere. Thanks to entomological invasions and cyclic infestations, spruce, pine, and other trees provide ample dead wood. Both standing deadwood and downwood are abundant in afflicted regions.
Kochanski resurrected the praxis of really big fires for survival applications. The “King of Fires,” fanned by Kochanski, flared like a phoenix from the ashes of long abandoned Adirondacks lodge and wilderness camp traditions. Kochanski dispassionately recognized the role of thermal mass in sustaining survival warmth through long bitter cold boreal nights. His King of Fires requires “hug-sized” trees stacked to form a re-emitting wall of thermal mass feeding a body-length fire placed just a half pace or so from a raised tree bough insulated bed. The King of Fires is a training fire, an effective survival emergency fire, not a recreation fire, please.
The use of anthropometry, body segment measures, is not new in skills training, but Kochanski has raised its use beyond science to the training arts in the outdoors.
In my opinion, Kochanski’s most important contribution to wilderness survival technology is his original application of hot house technology for survival shelter construction. The Kochanski Super Shelter combines a clear plastic painter’s drop sheet with a Mylar blanket, etc. to reflect and capture solar and combustion heat inside a rudimentary stick shelter.
“Don’t go to the moon without a space suit.” Mors Kochanski
I’ve not seen them, but Kochanski’s made DVD’s and pamplets, too–a cottage industry in bushcraft training available online and in person at trainings he continues to offer into his 70’s.
I have never met Mors Kochanski. Nevertheless, I recognize his unique knowledge and training skills because I’ve spent decades in the outdoors and a career employing training technologies in various work environments. I recommend this book and Kochanski’s other informational materials based on evident skills and knowledge demonstrated in Kochanski’s prolific online videos, his Grand Syllabus, and his classic, Bushcraft Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival.
Outdoor Readiness advocates sustainable methods and minimal impacts in all outdoor recreation endeavors, from backpacking to bushcraft, from bird-watching to hunting. Bushcraft popularity will continue to grow, I think. Bushcraft fills an atavistic capabilities gap in modern grid-dependent living systems. It’s meaty stuff. I love it–since childhood. Nevertheless, professional land managers, from local metroparks to vast federal wilderness areas are confronted with managing risks and impacts inherent in poorly executed bushcrafting activities. Contrarian responses by some bushcraft broadcasters are counter productive. Even bushcrafters can control recreational impacts. If not, proliferating regulations will crush legal bushcrafting and traditional camping methods.
Tom Bain, Outdoor Readiness