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Good, but a lot is far from 'essential'
on 2 August 2010
There are a few books available on bushcraft/woodcraft, and yet, surprisingly very few seem to be designed for use in the field. 'Essential Bushcraft' is therefore a welcome addition to the outdoor pursuits cannon: a slimmed down, information and illustration-packed volume with a tough paperback cover to shove into the backpack. All good so far.
However, anyone who intends to take the book with them on their next trek, as I intend to, will have a few burning questions. Firstly, why produce a field guide that is so big? I have a couple of 'Collins Gem' books that I carry with me, each measuring 8cm x 11.5cm x 1.5cm, and they fit snuggly into a pocket. 'Essential Bushcraft', meanwhile, measures a thoroughly unhelpful 20cm x 14cm x 1.5cm. This would be fine if it contained a great deal more information than a typical Collins Gem, but it doesn't. In fact, the publisher has happily used up as much space as it can: the opening title of every chapter has a full, two-page spread, as does the vacuous preface by Ewan Macgregor. Removing these empty pages alone would save roughly 20 pages.
For my purposes, by far the most useful subject matter in the book concerns bushcraft in the UK: building simple shelters; making fire; building a raft; and pointers on wild food. This is all dealt with well, if a little too sketchily when food is concerned (wild food is not something you want to take chances with). However, the book tries to encompass bushcraft the world-over, from the Hadza to the Australian Aborigines. But most of this is utterly surplus to requirements for those intending to travel light in the UK. And If I ever am in a position where I need to know how to collect Wild Sisal in Africa or Witchetty grubs in the Australian bush, I don't expect that I'll be relying on just a Ray Mear's book.
The book certainly seems to be at odds with Bushcraft principles, basically taking what you need. It would have been far more worthwhile to strip the book down to skills needed in the UK, while leaving the skills needed in the tropics for a coffee table book. Besides making the book more portable it would have allowed more room for expanding on plant identification. So, not a bad book by any means, but not the 'essential' field guide that it claimed to be.