A hatchet is not a tool normally considered to be essential if you are an ultralight backpacker. Rather, it's more a tool used for "woodcraft" or "bushcraft", i.e., the practice of using naturally-occurring resources to supplement a fairly minimal kit of equipment. Bushcraft enthusiasts may therefore practice the arts of hunting, fishing, and trapping for food and skins, and the use of saws, knives, axes, and hatchets for making shelters and other functional structures, and of course, for firebuilding.
Ultralight backpacking, on the other hand, seems to come from the opposite direction, based on being firmly rooted in the principles of minimum-impact camping. At the extreme end of the spectrum, the "leave-no-trace" zealot will reject the use of virtually all natural resources in lieu of equipment, supplies, and food carried entirely in her backpack.
Ultralight backpacking meets bushcraft from opposite ends of the spectrum. Bushcrafters are always looking to lighten up, so they may enjoy the fruits of high tech materials, simple designs, and other elements of ultralight philosophy to minimize the amount of weight they do carry into the backcountry. At the same time, some ultralight backpackers are realizing some entertainment value in learning and practicing bushcraft skills such as shelter and firebuilding.
My own journey practicing woodcraft was incubated during my youth tenure as a Boy Scout. I was fascinated by ropemaking, knots and lashings, pioneering projects, sharp tools, and of course, fire.
Of course, my camping skills gravitated away from woodcraft as my backcountry skills evolved. Manila rope was replaced with paracord, pine boughs were replaced with Evazote, and wood fire was replaced with a gas stove. However, after moving away from the hardcore LNT culture of the Pacific Northwest to the "leave-less-trace-but-be-practical-and-enjoy-yourself" culture of Montana, I relearned some bushcraft arts such as hunting and eating game on the trail, taking advantage of natural forest structures for camp location and shelter, and firebuilding for warmth and cooking.
- Role of the Hatchet
- Mini-Hatchet Comparison
- The Gränsfors-Bruks Mini Hatchet
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