How to get started in Bushcraft. From Townie to Outdoorsman . . . with Zed Outdoors
Welcome to the 17th episode of the Hardest Kit on the Planet Podcast brought to you by Heinnie Haynes. In this podcast we try to extract as much knowledge and ideas as possible from some of the hardest people and companies on the planet. Our aim for the podcast is to continually provide you with some great knowledge and information from a wide range of people and companies who are actually out there doing the business.
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The Show Notes
This week we chat to a guy called Zed, he is the guy behind the Zed Outdoors Bushcraft Channel (check it out). This is a guy who started off as a townie living in the middle of London and now has a Bushcraft channel on YouTube with over 25,000 subscribers.
In this episode we talk all things bushcraft. We look at how he got started in bushcraft, and how you can get started. We also look at the impact Social Media and the media has on bush crafting. We also delve into the gear and kit required for bushcraft, and the steps you can take to make sure that you actually have the right tools for the job.
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Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Zed, and I was born and raised in London. My background was actually as a social worker for about 10 years. I left there to set up my own therapy practice. Did that for about 2 years then unfortunately lost that business in the recession. While running this business I learnt a bit about marketing so ended up going into that a little bit. I now do that from home. Since then I’ve really got into the bushcraft and outdoors space. When I started about two and a half years ago I started to document my journey primarily on YouTube. It’s just grown a fair bit from there, and that takes me to now.
What made you suddenly change from business to bushcraft? And why should others?
I found everyone has a different reason for getting into bushcraft. For me personally I have always had an appreciation for the outdoors, but I was a proper London townie, and until about two and a half years ago I probably couldn’t identify one tree. That’s how bad it was. So about 2 and a half years ago I spoke to one of my business friends who was American, and he started talking to me about Prepping, now I had heard the term, but associated it with crackpots sitting in basements with tin foil on their heads. But, then I thought, well he’s actually quite a clever guy, why has he got into it? So we then got into a conversation about it. Now I know a little about finances and stuff with my industry and I follow the news which unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you’ll know there have been some harsh financial times since 2008. His view was not that he was prepping for a doomsday, but instead as an insurance policy. Just to be a little prepared.
Now, I’m quite open to new ideas so decided to look into it. I just started Youtubing it. The first ones I saw were of these big American guys showing off all of their guns, me being in the UK meant that that didn’t really appeal to me. Then I starred looking further at more grounded preppers who were talking about food preparedness, fuel. Electricity and the like. I then came across guys talking more about skills and natural things like fire starting and shelter building, that sort of stuff just resonated with me. I didn’t know this stuff as bushcraft though, the only correlation I had with the term was Ray Mears. From those videos then I started looking into bushcraft, and that’s where everything took off. I can remember realising how big the topic was from primitive skills, shelters, hiking, rock climbing and just a whole bunch of stuff. That stuff just resonated with me.
For the next few months then I was just a spectator watching videos. After a while I just realised I needed to go out there and just do stuff. So in 2014 I signed up for one of my local bushcraft 7-day bushcraft courses. I thought I’d then document it to show what I’ve done. It was literally like being thrown in at the deep-end, from being a complete townie to spending 7 days in the woods. It was really challenging but I absolutely loved it.
How do you think people like Ray Mears impacts upon people getting into Bushcraft?
I think it is a factor in that. I’ve met loads of people who have been doing all this outdoors stuff since they were pretty much able to walk, they just never called it bushcraft, to them it was just life. It was only in the 1980’s with people like Ray Mears did the term bushcraft become popular. A lot of people had just been doing it without the term. Fast forward to now and you see a huge amount of survival type programmes from stuff with Bear Grylls and the Island to the Born Survivors stuff, this list just goes on. I seem to have found that’s been a great way of introducing people to the outdoors. It’s something that helps peak people curiosity and makes them want to try it. I then started to wonder why so many people from the urban scene really enjoyed this stuff. My theory was than in most western cities there is an awful lot of digital tech, and a big focus on materialism. But, at a core we do resonate with the simplicity of things. People love being detached from this stuff, and doing something practical with their hands. Even things as simple as carving a tent peg. It’s so simple. I mean even look at things like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. As we speak the new season of GOT has kicked off, and a part of the attraction to programmes like that I think is the simplicity of it all. There aren’t any fancy gimmicks like laser beams and all that. It’s like the tradition, your word is your bond, with basic tools, camaraderie and tings like that. I know I’m going a little deep here but that’s how I feel. I love the simplicity and rawness of it all. Going back into bushcraft now like GOT, it’s a form of escapism, getting away from day-to-day life. There is just something so basic and primeval about going into an un-managed woodland and just setting up a tarp and a small fire. It’s also a small sense of adventure. It’s not a designated campsite where you have a set pitch and strict rules to obide by. You can just put on a backpack and go off the beaten path. Most peoples lives are so structured and managed. They just want to get away from that. It’s a really energising feeling.
I’m not belittling technology. It’s just the way of the world and one we are moving further towards. I’m just talking about getting away from being surrounded by it 24/7. It’s just so easy to lose that sensory perception when your surrounded by it so much. It’s only when you suddenly go and send time outside and go back to basics that you realise how much your spirits are lifted. I’m not talking negatively about technology at all as it definitely has it’s place. You are now able to connect with different people from all over the world and local people who are into bushcraft that you may not have otherwise met. I’ve connected with so many people from here in the UK and abroad that I wouldn’t have otherwise met if it wasn’t for social media. Like I made a friend who lived like 5 minutes away and we both had no idea the other person existed, if it wasn’t for social media we probably wouldn’t have met.
Social media has a massive part to play in building communities and helping you connect with others who are interested in the same things.
How have things developed then since you started your YouTube channel?
I started it literally at the beginning of 2014. For the 4-5 months before that I was just watching channels. There weren’t as many channels out there as there are now, but there are were still a good number. From that I just started chatting with bushcrafter’s and people who were more into the crafts such as knife making, blacksmithing and tings like that. I felt guilty just watching others channels, so just decided to put up a few of my own videos to give something back, and people soon started interacting which made me actually feel part of the community. But, my confidence wasn’t really there so I stopped after a few videos. That’s when one of the established guys out there ‘Funky Prepper’ messaged me with a really long message (which for me was really cool because he was such a well known guy). He basically just encouraged me and helped me just go with it. It took a while to get the first few hundred then it just started snowballing. Since then it has impacts me in a number of ways. Firstly, I just started off being very honest about my skill level. I found that people really resonated with them. The second thing was just connecting with people. I love connecting with people and started just connecting with people in the space and build relationships with them. That’s when things really picked up for my channel. I could share my own learning and learning’s from these skilled people. YouTube has allowed me to connect with some really talented people whether they are on the internet or not!
Now, from this I met up with a group of friends that are very active greenwood workers based in the UK. I ended up doing a spoon carving video with them. It really wasn’t a very popular thing to do in the space at the time. I ended up doing a number of videos with other people on the subject that just ended up being really popular. The funny thing is thought most of the people who have watched those videos have never thought about spoon carving, but because I made a video about people have seen it. I nearly didn’t; make the video actually, as I wasn’t sure people would really be into it. Then I remembered though that my channel is about my learning though, so I did in the end make those videos.
I’ve got a naturally inquisitive mind, and I’m not afraid to ask questions. I don’t care if I look stupid, and I think this has really helped grow my channel. This honesty is what people enjoy. Going back to the spoon carving, I had loads of messages from people saying they were going to give spoon carving a go, but weren’t sure whether they’d enjoy it. But then they messaged me after like WOW, and saying they are now hooked.
People then said to me, why don’t you just take a spoon. But, that’s not the point. They are looking at things from a really one dimensional perspective. It’s not about the spoon. To carve a spoon you’ve got to get wood, so you’ve got to learn about woods, and their properties, you then have to learn how to work with that wood and what tools you need such as axes. En need to think about brands, styles shapes, then you have to think about maintenance and sharpening. There are so many things to learn. My thoughts were then if I can make a spoon out of just an axe and a knife, what else can I make?
I am just continuing to learn skills and share my journey online, and this is what I hope people resonate with. I see so many people are just getting bushcraft and wild camping for the first time. It’s still just blowing me away the amount of people getting into bushcraft and the outdoors. I’m seeing a lot of people coming from exactly the place I have come from.
I actually filmed my first wild camp so a lot of people go and watch that and see the mistakes I made and the kit I took. But, generally it is really hard to film in the outdoors, you are constantly battling against the elements. Especially here in the UK where you just get so much rain. Trying to record a video is some of those weathers is pretty challenging.
Rounding off the question then. All of this has changed me. It’s connected me with a lot of talented people out there from talented craftsmen to other YouTubers. I can remember going to The Bushcraft Show in 2014 just as I was starting out in the space. I can remember this guy coming up to me build like a rock, just a monster. The came up to me and was like ‘alright Zed’ then went on to say he watch me channel. This guy was actually really lovely and just got chatting about the channel and other things. I asked him what he did and he told me that he’s been in the military for about 15 years or so. You could tell this guy was pretty battle hardened and had seen some serious action, but he never really said anything about it, so you sort of new he was genuine. The point being though that I was just this little townie who is making a few videos about he journey, and I’m chatting away to this military man who has seen so many bad things in his life. I was just so humbling for me. It’s great for me to inspire others as other do for me. I follow a load of really talented guys on Instagram and YouTube and get inspiration and learn new things off them all the time.
For me it’s about being relatable. People resonate with authenticity. Like sportspeople, the ones with incredible humility you are more attracted to than the ones you are arrogant. I’m always striving to just be authentic and sincere. I’m not here to prove anything.
One thing that always surprises me is just how much there is going on, even in somewhere like London. I keep finding these little hidden gems. Really soon I’m going out on my first canoe wild camp with some friends. I spoke to one of the really good guys in the industry Paul Kirtley about this and asked for some advice. He told me about this school in central London that teaches all of this stuff. It’s in a place of the Thames called Shagwell basin. There is a big water reservoir there where this canoe club meet each week and just go canoeing. I met another woman who just does foraging walks in London, it’s incredible. By being an active member of the community it has just opened doors and introduced me to so many cool people. It helps me bring things to my audience that they may not have thought of before or heard of.
So what gear and kit should people take into the outdoors? Also what mistakes do people often make?
I’m going to start off by saying that I am a kit junkie and I love it. I honestly haven’t actually met anybody who isn’t into it. Here’s the thing though, as I said I’m an inquisitive person and binged watched an awful lot of videos when I was starting out. None of it was based on experience. So, after a couple of guys saying I use X,Y,Z. I want online and orders X, Y, Z, not really knowing all the practical applications of them. Then when I went on my first 7 day bushcraft course I was told some of the essentials I’d definitely need for the trip , it was a small list, but was the essentials. The instructor then went on to tell me that apart from the knife and the Zebra Billy Can, you can get most stuff anywhere, also you don’t need to spend a lot of money on kit. Spend the minimal amount that won’t look the best, but will get the job done. It’s not a beauty contest.
So, I got the Ex-Britsh Army Bergen. I can remember filling this monstrous 120L bag with kit for my 7 day course. I had so much kit, it was like I was moving to another country. When I was there I learnt so much more than from every YouTube video I have ever watched. From there I learnt a lot about the kit I did and didn’t use.
My advise for buying kit would be keep your kit simple. You obviously need some good essentials, but most stuff you can get anywhere. Just go out there and do some stuff. It can be a day-trip or a 7-day course it doesn’t really matter. They key is practical application. Only by doing stuff do you understand actually how much kit you need. There is a huge difference between what you think you need and what you actually need.
There is a guy called David Canterbury who is very well known in the space. He has a saying that if you are carrying too much kit, you haven’t had enough dirt time. As you start to interact with other bushcrafters you can see the kit they are using before you even go out there and buy it for yourself. I started off with a Mora knife, and I battered the living daylights out of it, and learnt so much from it. It still works too! After that I ended up befriending a guy called Sandy who runs a company called Jacklore knives. He is a very well known and respected British knife Maker. Cutting a long story short he gifted me one of his handmade knives, but that wasn’t for a year after the Mora.
As you get experience, without a shadow of a doubt you need to invest in good kit. It’s not spending it’s investing. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. If you buy a £2 tarp, you will get a £2 tarp. Experience will allow you to make much better decisions. I save my money now and buy much better quality, because I know it will work and I know it will last.
Buy from reputable outlets with will give you honest advice, get some experience under your belt. Start off keeping it simple, affordable a robust, then build from there. You will only learn from being out there and doing it.
My final advice is get on Facebook and join some groups, and get involved in some forums, you don’t need to buy anything, just get involved and go to a meet up! See things in person. There are meet ups literally everywhere.
How can people find out more about you?