Modern children are better at programming Sky+ than whittling wood, and unless your kids are in the Scouts, they’d probably struggle to build their own camp, make their own fire, or tie their own Bosun’s knot.But you can change all that with a weekend or week-long bushcraft/survival camp.
On the back of the success of Ray Mears and the rise of the green and organic movements, bushcraft camps are flourishing. Those in the UK tend to be gentle, getting-back-to-nature adventures, but there are also more rigorous, character-building survival courses. Or, if your child shows Bear Grylls tendencies, think about sending them on an wilderness survival camp in the USA – when you’ve studied how to handle Grizzly Bears or stalk like a Navajo, learning how to make a fire out of damp bracken will seem like child’s-play.
UK BUSHCRAFT CAMPS
Ray Mears Family Bushcraft Course, East Sussex
This two-night course may not allow you to meet the man himself, but it is run on his principles and as a family you will learn a variety of skills designed to get you out of the city and enjoying the countryside together: fire-making, shelter-building and plant and tree lore. Children must be over 8; under-17s must be accompanied by an adult.
Natural Pathways Wilderness Family Camp, Kent
Natural Pathways’ series of enterprising wilderness courses for all ages includes a three-day camp where the whole family gets trained in fire-making, shelter-building, knife skills and plant and tree identification. You’re also shown how to make rope using some of the prickly plants of the woodland and even how to make your own utensils. There’s also a ‘mini survival adventure’ for younger kids and a variety of ‘touching the earth’ days specialising in wildlife or fire-making.
One of the UK’s leading environmental education centres, set in beautiful countryside, offers a wide variety of camps and courses, including the Extraordinary School for Boys for ages 8–12 who like messing about with sticks and mud, and the Wicked Weekend for Girls, with two days of wild girly fun for ages 6+ including potion-making, foraging and singing round the bonfire. There’s also Family Bushcraft, the Hunting Party for teenage boys, and the Dart River Safari.
These bespoke family bushcraft camps come complete with a story-teller and willow-shelter building, plus accommodation in a wood-fire hostel, a tipi or a yurt, or for the truly serious, a hammock or a survival tarp in the woods. You can even get a specialist wild food chef to help you prepare your meals.
Field Studies Council’s Family Wildlife & Discovery, Various Locations
This established environmental education charity offers diverse courses for families. Adventurous Activities in Wild Wales offers you the chance to explore the mountains of Snowdonia with kids 8+, while Family Adventures in the Lake District teaches orienteering, shelter-building, ghyll scrambling and edible plant foraging to ages 9-15, as well as an enormous range of other courses exploring the natural world. All adventures are led by professional tutors and scientists.
UK SURVIVAL SCHOOLS
Trueways Survival School’s Young Survivalist, Various Locations
This two-day course evolved out of a course for Scouts but has been extended and improved to offer survival skills for all the family. You do need a certain level of skills, such as shelter-building and fire-making; techniques you’ll add are navigation, chopping specific wood for your fire, and water-filtering. It’s for ages 7+; guardians go for free.
Cambrian Survival’s Family Weekend, Wales
Including ex-SAS instructors amongst their staff, Cambrian Survival teaches serious adult survival techniques but also brings this expertise to family weekends, when ages 5+ are equipped with basic survival skills in a hands-on and fun manner, including navigation, fire-lighting and bush-cooking. The best bit is lying out looking at the stars as a family, around the fire the kids have just built.
Survival Outdoors’ Family Survival Course, Scotland
This is a good one to go on with friends, as you can book in small groups of 6. The emphasis is on team-building and family bonding but the skills you learn may one day save your own or someone else’s life. You’re instructed how to choose and prepare equipment, trap and snare food (no animals are hurt or killed, however), distress-signalling, health and medicine, and much more. For ages 10+, the course lasts 3 days.
Survival Safety School’s Family Adventure Courses, Scotland
These courses prepare kids for the time when they will go off camping or hiking with friends, with the emphasis on surviving in the wild – what to do in an emergency and techniques such as water filtration and distress signals. But plenty of time is factored in for younger guests to do their own thing or have one-on-one tuition with an instructor.
Outward Bound for Teenagers, Various Locations
The UK’s largest and most famous environmental education trust is a registered charity offering bursary-assisted courses (up to 50% off). Teenagers can choose between a variety of serious adventure courses or the classic three-week Adventure Course in the Lake District, where they learn to team-build while camping, paddling and exploring.
US SURVIVAL CAMPS FOR TEENS
Lifesong Wilderness Adventure’s Teen Summer Adventure Camp, Northern California
On this week-long course in beautiful but rugged mountains, kids aged 14 and 15 are taught to fend for themselves, collecting food, hiking for water and building fires. The emphasis is on team-building and empowerment, conservation ecology and wildlife management.
Trackers Bay’s Teen Leadership Training Programme, Northern California
This four-week course is for teens 13–17 who are fairly experienced at fending for themselves in the wild and want to take it one step further; successful participants earn the title of guild apprentice and are given First Aid and CPR training. They choose between the Ranger Guild, the Wilder (Hunter-Gatherer) Guild, the Mariner Guild, or the Artisan for the first week, then spend three weeks working with younger children and imparting the knowledge they’ve just learnt.
Wilderness Awareness School’s Wolf Tracking Teen Adventure, Idaho
This one-week advanced course for teens with some experience of wilderness survival takes place in wild back-country, with professional trackers taking kids out in small groups looking for wolves. The aim is to help children learn from and respect wild animals while exploring the mountains and forests of this spectacular part of the States. Children must be 13-18 and physically fit (a doctor’s note is required).
- An evening with Ray Mears (totalbushcraft.wordpress.com)
- Bushcraftage – Shelter (naturallore.wordpress.com)
- Bushcraftage – Food (naturallore.wordpress.com)
- Bushcrafting the Wild Wood (twacorbiesbushcraft.wordpress.com)
- Bushcraft with Wild woods n’ Willow – October. (chagfordhub.typepad.com)
- Ten Steps to Fire Lighting Without Failure (simonaemily.wordpress.com)