Sometimes camping is the main goal of the journey and the paddling a means to an end. A day of sea kayaking, canoeing or river paddling may lead to up an overnight camp.

Here are five useful skills and tips (with video) on how to make your camp a little more enjoyable and environmentally sustainable with a little bushcraft and a low trace mentality.

Note that although we’re using an axe here a knife can be used for all of these tasks as well. Thanks to bushcraft and paddling coach Matt Skuse for demonstrating on most of these videos.

1. Tent and tarp pegs

Easy to make using fresh ‘green’ wood. Pick a straight section of a branch that’s between thumb and wrist thickness. Hardwoods like birch, oak and ash last a long time in the ground and are good if you plan on reusing your pegs. Softwoods are easier to work and are a good temporary option. Remove the bark and let them dry if you are going to reuse them.

The most robust point for green wood in soil is a three sided pyramid, as shown on the video. The cross cut is a key technique used for many purposes in bushcraft. Here we are using it as a hook to prevent the guy line to slip off the top of you peg. It’s fast, effective and elegant and works on both hard and softwood.

2. Low-trace fire

How to avoid affecting the ground so that no trace is left behind when you’re done with your campfire? You can build the fire up and insulate the ground with material found nearby. Or you can dig down and cover the fireplace afterwards. The topsoil will survive the fire and you end up with a very low impact fireplace afterwards (often impossible to spot).

What about the knife you ask, is digging good for your knife? Probably not. It will dull the blade and you will have to sharpen it afterwards. Will it permanently damage your knife? Probably not if you stay in the top soil layer. In any case, your bushcraft knife is a tool, not family heirloom silverware.

To avoid fire damage, the ground should be moist, sandy and without roots. The big risk here is smouldering fire which can flare up hours after you have left. Choosing the right spot and ground is key. Always soak the ground in and around the fireplace with water afterwards. 

3. Tarp setups

There are an infinite number of tarp configurations – a truly versatile piece of camping kit. Use it as a shelter from the elements and create a space for you and your camping buddies. In the video we demonstrate a few setups and suggest you use a bungy as a guy line on your tarp.

4. Collecting firewood and building a fire

Collect dry material to start your fire. Organise this material from small to large and have it ready before you light the fire. Tinder is the smallest material like birch bark or dry grass. Kindling is slightly larger dry material like twigs, bark and wood shavings. Next you want to add your finger sized twigs or split wood. Once this is burning you can add firewood of about the thickness of your wrist. Having organised all this material from smallest to largest increases your chance of a successful fire. Always have a way to extinguish the fire with plenty of water at hand too. Here’s a video of collecting material and building a fire:

5. Pot hanger

After your tarp is up and you have lit a safe low-trace fire, it is time to cook up a brew for tea or coffee. We demonstrate one way of making a pot hanger in this video – use green wood for this one. Then sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.