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Ch. 3: Personal Equipment

In discussion of the details of equipment, I shall first of all take up in turn each and every item you could possibly need, whether you intend to travel by horse, by canoe, or on your own two feet. Of course you will not carry all of these things on any one trip. What is permissible for horse traveling would be absurd for a walking trip; and some things—such as a waterproof duffle bag—which you would need on a foot tramp, would be useless where you have kyacks and a tarpaulin to protect your belongings. Therefore I shall first enumerate all articles of all three classes of equipment; and then in a final summary segregate them into their proper categories.

Long experience by men practically concerned seems to prove that a rather heavy felt hat is the best for all around use. Even in hot sun it seems to be the most satisfactory, as, with proper ventilation, it turns the sun's rays better even than light straw. Witness the Arizona cowboy on his desert ranges. You will want a good hat, the best in material that money can buy. A cheap article sags in the brim, tears in the crown, and wets through like blotting paper the first time it rains. I have found the Stetson, of the five to seven dollar grade, the most satisfactory. If it is intended for woods travel where you are likely to encounter much brush, get it of medium brim. In those circumstances I find it handy to buy a size smaller than usual, and then to rip out the sweat band. The friction of the felt directly against the forehead and the hair will hold it on in spite of pretty sharp tugs by thorns and wind. In the mountains or on the plains, you can indulge in a wider and stiffer brim. Two buckskin thongs sewn on either side and to tie under the "back hair" will hold it on, even against a head wind. A test will show you how this can be. A leather band and buckle—or miniature cinch and latigos—gives added security. I generally cut ample holes for ventilation. In case of too many mosquitoes I stuff my handkerchief in the crown.

About your neck you will want to wear a silk kerchief. This is to keep out dust, and to prevent your neck from becoming reddened and chapped. It, too, should be of the best quality. The poorer grades go to pieces soon, and their colors are not fast. Get it big enough. At night you will make a cap of it to sleep in; and if ever you happen to be caught without extra clothes where it is very cold, you will find that the kerchief tied around your middle, and next the skin, will help surprisingly.

A coat is useless absolutely. A sweater is better as far as warmth goes; a waistcoat beats it for pockets. You will not wear it during the day; it wads up too much to be of much use at night. Even your trousers rolled up make a better temporary pillow. Leave it home; and you will neither regret it nor miss it.

For warmth, as I have said, you will have your sweater. In this case, too, I would impress the desirability of purchasing the best you can buy. And let it be a heavy one, of gray or a neutral brown.

But to my mind the best extra garment is a good ample buckskin shirt. It is less bulky than the sweater, of less weight, and much warmer, especially in a wind, while for getting through brush noiselessly it cannot be improved upon. I do not know where you can buy one; but in any case get it ample in length and breadth, and without the fringe. The latter used to possess some significance beside ornamentation, for in case of need the wilderness hunter could cut from it thongs and strings as he needed them. Nowadays a man in a fringed buckskin shirt is generally a fake built to deceive tourists. On the other hand a plain woodsmanlike garment, worn loose and belted at the waist, looks always at once comfortable and appropriate. Be sure that the skins of which it is made are smoke tanned. The smoke tanned article will dry soft, while the ordinary skin is hardening to almost the consistency of rawhide. Good buckskins are difficult to get hold of—and it will take five to make you a good shirt—but for this use they last practically forever.

Of course such a garment is distinctly an extra or outside garment. You would find it too warm for ordinary wear. The outer shirt of your daily habit is best made of rather a light weight of gray flannel. Most new campers indulge in a very thick navy blue shirt, mainly, I believe, because it contrasts picturesquely with a bandana around the neck. Such a shirt almost always crocks, is sure to fade, shows dirt, and is altogether too hot. A lighter weight furnishes all the protection you need to your underclothes and turns sun quite as well. Gray is a neutral color, and seems less often than any other to shame you to the wash soap. A great many wear an ordinary cotton work shirt, relying for warmth on the underclothes. There is no great objection to this, except that flannel is better should you get rained on.

The true point of comfort is, however, your underwear. It should be of wool. I know that a great deal has been printed against it, and a great many hygienic principles are invoked to prove that linen, cotton, or silk are better. But experience with all of them merely leads back to the starting point. If one were certain never to sweat freely, and never to get wet, the theories might hold. But once let linen or cotton or silk undergarments get thoroughly moistened, the first chilly little wind is your undoing. You will shiver and shake before the hottest fire, and nothing short of a complete change and a rub-down will do you any good.

Now, of course in the wilderness you expect to undergo extremes of temperature, and occasionally to pass unprotected through a rainstorm or a stream. Then you will discover that wool dries quickly; that even when damp it soon warms comfortably to the body. I have waded all day in early spring freshet water with no positive discomfort except for the cold ring around my legs which marked the surface of the water.

And if you are wise, you will wear full long-sleeved woolen undershirts even on a summer trip. If it is a real trip, you are going to sweat anyway, no matter how you strip down to the work. And sooner or later the sun will dip behind a cloud or a hill; or a cool breezelet will wander to you resting on the slope; or the inevitable chill of evening will come out from the thickets to greet you—and you will be very glad of your woolen underwear.

A great many people go to the opposite extreme. They seem to think that because they are to live in the open air, they will probably freeze. As a consequence of this delusion, they purchase underclothes an inch thick. This is foolishness, not only because such a weight is unnecessary and unhealthful, but also—even if it were merely a question of warmth—because one suit of thick garments is not nearly so warm as two suits of thin. Whenever the weather turns very cold on you, just put on the extra undershirt over the one you are wearing, and you will be surprised to discover how much warmth two gauze tissues—with the minute air space between them—can give. Therefore, though you must not fail to get full length woolen underclothes, you need not buy them of great weight. The thinnest Jaeger is about right.

Two undershirts and three pairs of drawers are all you ever will need on the most elaborate trip. You perhaps cannot believe that until you have gotten away from the idea that laundry must be done all at once. In the woods it is much handier to do it a little at a time. Soap your outershirt at night; rinse it in the morning; dry it on top of your pack during the first two hours. In the meantime wear your sweater; or, if it is warm enough, appear in your undershirt. When you change your underclothes—which should be one garment at a time—do the same thing. Thus always you will be possessed of a clean outfit without the necessity of carrying a lot of extras.

The matter of trousers is an important one; for unless you are possessed of abundant means of transportation, those you have on will be all you will take. I used to include an extra pair, but got over it. Even when trout fishing I found that by the time I had finished standing around the fire cooking, or yarning, I might have to change the underdrawers, but the trousers themselves had dried well enough. And patches are not too difficult a maneuver.

The almost universal wear in the West is the copper-riveted blue canvas overall. They are very good in that they wear well. Otherwise they are stiff and noisy in the brush. Kersey is excellent where much wading is to be done or much rainy weather encountered—in fact it is the favorite "driving" trousers with rivermen—but like all woven woolen materials it "picks out" in bad brush. Corduroy I would not have as a gift. It is very noisy, and each raindrop that hits it spreads at once to the size of a silver dollar. I verily believe an able pair of corduroys can, when feeling good, soak up ten pounds of water. Good moleskin dries well, and until it begins to give out is soft and tough. But it is like the one-hoss shay: when it starts to go, it does the job up completely in a few days. The difficulty is to guess when that moment is due to arrive. Anything but the best quality is worthless. Khaki has lately come into popularity. It wears remarkably well, dries quickly, and is excellent in all but one particular: it shows every spot of dirt. A pair of khakis three days along on the trail look as though they had been out a year. The new green khaki is a little better. Buckskin is all right until you get it wet, then you have—temporarily—enough material to make three pairs and one for the boy.

The best trousers I know of is a combination of the latter two materials. I bought a pair of the ordinary khaki army riding breeches, and had a tailor cover them completely—fore, aft, and sideways—with some good smoke-tanned buckskin I happened to have. It took a skin and a half. These I have worn now for three seasons, in all kinds of country, in all kinds of weather, and they are to-day as good as when I constructed them. In still hunting they are noiseless; horseback they do not chafe; in cold weather they are warm, and the hot sun they turn. The khaki holds the stretch of buckskin when wet—as they have been for a week at a time. Up to date the smoke tan has dried them soft. Altogether they are the most satisfactory garment of this kind I have experimented with.

There remains the equally important subject of footwear.

Get heavy woolen lumberman's socks, and wear them in and out of season. They are not one whit hotter on the feet than the thinnest you can buy, for the impervious leather of the shoe is really what keeps in the animal heat—the sock has little to do with it. You will find the soft thick wool an excellent cushion for a long tramp; and with proper care to avoid wrinkles, you will never become tender-footed nor chafed. At first it seems ridiculous to draw on such thick and apparently hot socks when the sun peeping over the rim of the desert promises you a scorching day. Nothing but actual experience will convince you; but I am sure that if you will give the matter a fair test, you will come inevitably to my conclusion.

If a man were limited to a choice between moccasins and shoes, it would be very difficult to decide wisely which he should take. Each has its manifest advantages over the other, and neither can entirely take the place of the other.

The ideal footwear should give security, be easy on the feet, wear well, and give absolute protection. These qualities I have named approximately in the order of their importance.

Security of footing depends on the nature of the ground over which you are traveling. Hobnails only will hold you on a slope covered with pine needles, for instance; both leather and buckskin there become as slippery as glass. In case of smooth rocks, however, your hobnails are positively dangerous, as they slide from under you with all the vicious force and suddenness of unaccustomed skates. Clean leather is much better, and buckskin is the best of all. Often in hunting deer along the ledges of the deep box cañons I, with my moccasins, have walked confidently up slants of smooth rock on which my hobnailed companion was actually forced to his hands and knees. Undoubtedly also a man carrying a pack through mixed forest is surer of his footing and less liable to turned ankles in moccasins than in boots. My experience has been that with the single exception mentioned, I have felt securer in the buckskin.

As for ease to the feet, that is of course a matter of opinion. Undoubtedly at first the moccasin novice is literally a tenderfoot. But after astonishingly few days of practice a man no longer notices the lack of a sole. I have always worn moccasins more or less in the woods, and now can walk over pebbles or knife-edge stones without the slightest discomfort. In fact the absence of rolling and slipping in that sort of shifting footing turns the scale quite the other way.

"Mountain on mountain towering high, And a valley in between"

The matter of wear is not so important. It would seem at first glance that the one thin layer of buckskin would wear out before the several thick layers of a shoe's sole. Such is not always the case. A good deal depends on the sort of ground you cover. If you wet moccasins, and then walk down hill with them over granite shale, you can get holes to order. Boots wear rapidly in the same circumstances. On the other hand I have on at this moment a pair of mooseskin moccasins purchased three years ago at a Hudson's Bay Company's post, which have seen two summers' off and on service in the Sierras. Barring extraordinary conditions, I should say that each in its proper use, a pair of boots and a pair of moccasins would last about the same length of time. The moccasin, however, has this advantage: it can be readily patched, and even a half dozen extra pairs take up little room in the pack.

Absolute protection must remain a tentative term. No footwear I have succeeded in discovering gives absolute protection. Where there is much work to be done in the water, I think boots are the warmest and most comfortable, though no leather is perfectly waterproof. Moccasins then become slimpsy, stretched, and loathsome. So likewise moccasins are not much good in damp snow, though in dry snow they are unexcelled.

In my own practice I wear boots on a horseback trip, and carry moccasins in my pack for general walking. In the woods I pack four pair of moccasins. In a canoe, moccasins of course.

Do not make the common mistake of getting tremendously heavy boots. They are clumsy to place, burdensome to carry, and stiff and unpliable to the chafing point. The average amateur woodsman seems to think a pair of elephantine brogans is the proper thing—a sort of badge of identification in the craft. If he adds big hobnails to make tracks with, he is sure of himself. A medium weight boot, of medium height, with medium heavy soles armed only with the small Hungarian hobnail is about the proper thing. Get them eight inches high; supplied with very large eyelets part way, then the heaviest hooks, finishing with two more eyelets at the top. The latter will prevent the belt-lacing you will use as shoestrings from coming unhooked.

You will see many advertisements of waterproof leather boots. No such thing is made. Some with good care will exclude water for a while, if you stay in it but a few minutes at a time, but sooner or later as the fibers become loosened the water will penetrate. In the case of the show window exhibit of the shoe standing in a pan of water, pressure of the foot and ground against the leather is lacking, which of course makes all the difference. This porosity is really desirable. A shoe wholly waterproof would retain and condense the perspiration to such an extent that the feet would be as wet at the end of the day. Such is the case with rubber boots. All you want is a leather that will permit you to splash through a marsh, a pool, or a little stream, and will not seek to emulate blotting paper in its haste to become saturated.

Of the boots I have tried, and that means a good many, I think the Putman boot and the river driver's boot, made by A. A. Cutter of Eau Claire, Wis., are made of the most durable material. The Putman boot is the more expensive; and in the case of the three pairs I know of personally, the sewing has been defective. The material, however, wears remarkably well, and remains waterproof somewhat longer than any of the others. On the other hand the Cutter shoe is built primarily for rivermen and timber cruisers of the northern forests, and is at once cheap and durable. It has a brace of sole leather about the heel which keeps the latter upright and prevents it running over. It is an easier shoe on the foot than any of the others, but does not remain waterproof quite so long as the Putman. Although, undoubtedly, many other makes are as good, you will not go astray in purchasing one of these two.

No shoe is waterproof for even a short time in wet snow. Rubber is then the only solution, usually in the shape of a shoe rubber with canvas tops. Truth to tell, melting snow is generally so very cold that you will be little troubled with interior condensation. Likewise many years' experience in grouse hunting through the thickets and swamps of Michigan drove me finally to light hip rubber boots. The time was always the autumn; the place was always more or less muddy and wet—in spots of course—and there was always the greater or lesser possibility of snow. My native town was a great grouse shooting center, and all hunters, old and young, came to the same conclusion.

But wet snow, such hunting, and of course the duck marsh, seem to me the only excuses for rubber. Trout fishing is more comfortable in woolen than in waders. The latter are clumsy and hot. I have known of two instances of drowning because the victims were weighted down by them. And I should much prefer getting wet from without than from within.

You will have your choice of three kinds of moccasin—the oil-tanned shoe pac, the deerhide, and the moosehide.

The shoe pac is about as waterproof as the average waterproof shoe, and would be the best for all purposes were it not for the fact that its very imperviosity renders it too hot. In addition continuous wear affects the oil in the tanning process to produce rather an evil odor. The shoe pacs are very useful, however, and where I carry but two pairs of moccasins, one is of the oil tan. Shoe pacs can be purchased of any sporting goods dealer.

The deerhide moccasin, in spite of its thinner texture, wears about as well as the moosehide, is less bulky to carry, but stretches more when wet and is not as easy on the feet. I use either sort as I happen to get hold of them. Genuine buckskin or moose is rather scarce. Commercial moccasins with the porcupine quills and "Souvenir of Mackinaw" on them are made by machinery out of sheepskin. They are absolutely useless, and last about long enough to get out of sight of the shop. A great majority of the moccasins sold as sportsman's supplies are likewise very bogus. My own wear I have always purchased of Hudson's Bay posts. Undoubtedly many reliable firms carry them; but I happen to know by personal experience that the Putman Boot Company of Minneapolis have the real thing.

Proceeding to more outer garments, a waistcoat is a handy affair. In warm weather you leave it open and hardly know you have it on; in cold weather you button it up, and it affords excellent protection. Likewise it possesses the advantage of numerous pockets. These you will have your women folk extend and deepen for you, until your compass, notebook, pipe, matches, and so forth fit nicely in them. As it is to be used as an outside garment, have the back lined. If you have shot enough deer to get around to waistcoats, nothing could be better by way of material than the ever-useful buckskin.

I am no believer in waterproof garments. Once I owned a pantasote outer coat which I used to assume whenever it rained. Ordinarily when it is warm enough to rain, it is warm enough to cause you to perspire under the exertion of walking in a pantasote coat. This I discovered. Shortly I would get wet, and would be quite unable to decide whether the rain had soaked through from the outside or I had soaked through from the inside. After that I gave the coat away to a man who had not tried it, and was happy. If I must walk in the rain I prefer to put on a sweater—the rough wool of which will turn water for some time and the texture of which allows ventilation. Then the chances are that even if I soak through I do not get a reactionary chill from becoming overheated.

In camp you will know enough to go in when it rains. When you have to sally forth you will thrust your head through the hole in the middle of your rubber blanket. When thus equipped the rubber blanket is known as a poncho, and is most useful because it can be used for two purposes.

Horseback in a rainy country is, however, a different matter. There transportation is not on your back, but another's; and sitting a horse is not violent exercise. Some people like a poncho. I have always found its lower edge cold, clumsy, and wet, much inclined to blow about, and apt to soak your knees and the seat of your saddle. The cowboy slicker cannot be improved upon. It is different in build from the ordinary oilskin. Call for a "pommel slicker," and be sure it is apparently about two sizes too large for you. Thus you will cover your legs. Should you be forced to walk, a belt around your waist will always enable you to tuck it up like a comic opera king. It is sure ludicrous to view, but that does not matter.

Apropos of protecting your legs, there remains still the question of chaparejos or chaps. Unless you are likely to be called on to ride at some speed through thorny brush, or unless you expect to ride very wet indeed, they are a useless affectation. The cowboy needs them because he does a great deal of riding of the two kinds just mentioned. Probably you will not. I have had perhaps a dozen occasions to put them on. If you must have them, get either oil-tanned or hair chaps. Either of these sheds water like a tin roof. The hair chaps will not last long in a thorny country.

You will need furthermore a pair of gloves of some sort, not for constant wear, nor merely for warmth, but to protect you in the handling of pack ropes, lead ropes, and cooking utensils. A good buckskin gauntlet is serviceable, as the cuffs keep the cold breezes from playing along your forearm to your shoulder, and exclude the dust. When you can get hold of the army gauntlet, as you sometimes can in the military stores, buy them. Lacking genuine buckskin, the lighter grades of "asbestos" yellow tan are the best. They cost about two dollars. To my notion a better rig is an ordinary pair of short gloves, supplemented by the close-fitting leather cuffs of a cowboy's outfit. The latter hold the wrist snugly, exclude absolutely chill and dirt, and in addition save wear and soiling of the shirt cuff. They do not pick up twigs, leaves, and rubbish funnel wise, as a gauntlet cuff is apt to do.

That, I think, completes your wearing apparel. Let us now take up the contents of your pockets, and your other personal belongings.


Minimum for comfort:
Felt hat
Silk kerchief
Buckskin shirt or sweater
Gray flannel shirt
2 undershirts and drawers
Trousers—buckskin over khaki
3 pairs heavy socks
3 pairs moccasins or 1 pair boots 1 pair moccasins
Gloves and leather cuffs.

Maximum for comfort:
Felt hat
Silk kerchief
Buckskin shirt and sweater
Gray flannel shirt
2 undershirts, 3 drawers-(includes one suit you wear)
4 pairs socks
1 pair boots
Gloves and leather cuffs.

Stewart Edward White

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