“There’s more than one way to skin a cat, my father used to say; it bothered me, I didn’t see why they would want to skin a cat even one way.” (Margaret Atwood)

bowlineA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Stuart Goring who is a bushcraft expedition leader and was passing through KL on his way to Borneo.  It’s always interesting to meet other people who share an interest in the outdoors and there’s always something to learn as long as you keep an open mind.

I’m always curious to see how others approach camping in the jungle – be it the kit they carry or the techniques they use – and everyone has their own way of doing things (unless they’re a Ray Mears clone).  However, if you scan the bushcraft forums you will often find people getting quite upset because someone has suggested a different way of doing things that isn’t the ‘approved and accepted’ Ray-way.

I’m not knocking Ray Mears (or any of the other bushcraft ‘gurus’) – there’s plenty to learn from them – rather, that there is more than one way to skin a cat and just because someone else uses a method that is different from the one you were taught, doesn’t mean it is necessarily inferior.

Let me give you an example, the parangs here in Malaysia come with a rat tail tang – when I first discovered this I was vaguely annoyed (“Why didn’t they make a more robust full tang for the parang handle?”) and a number of people have written to me sharing the same frustration.  But that, if you like, is the real question – the parang makers here have been making parangs for decades – I doubt that they’re stupid or unaware of the fact that they could make a full tang for the parang, and the incremental cost would be negligible… so, really, why don’t they?

Is it because you get less ‘shock’ coming up through the handle with a rat tail parang?  Is it because the weighting is better?  Maybe it’s because a rat tail parang is so easy to rehandle?  Or is it simply because the rat tail tang has proved sufficient and no-one felt the need to produce anything more robust?  I don’t know the answer, but I suspect there’s a valid reason.

So rather than dismiss an approach as ‘wrong’ because it is different, it is better to try and understand why that different approach has evolved and see if you can learn anything from it.

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Which, in a roundabout fashion, brings us to knots and bends and hitches.  There is a selection of knots that I use very often and, over time, the way I tie them has changed – either to a faster method or to one that is easier to tie.  When Stuart was visiting, he showed me a different way to tie the Evenk hitches (the anchor hitch I use for one end of the tarp line).  It is a method that allows the hitch to be tied one handed and, for me at least, is a better way to tie it as, unlike the Evenk in freezing Siberia, I am not faced with the problem of trying to tie this hitch without removing my gloves.

 

Some of the methods I use come from the Mors Kochanski and, if you haven’t read any of his books, then I can strongly recommend them.  Mors published a pamphlet called “Top seven knots and the use of the windlass” which is a fantastic reference and extremely good value at around $2 – even better, you can buy it on Kindle and get it straight away…here’s the link “Top seven knots”; it’s short, but worth every penny.

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