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Ch. 5: Camp Outfit

In many sections of the country you will need a tent, even when traveling afoot. Formerly a man had to make a choice between canvas, which is heavy but fairly waterproof, and drill, which is light but flimsy. A seven by seven duck tent weighs fully twenty-five pounds when dry, and a great many more when wet. It will shed rain as long as you do not hit against it. A touch on the inside, however, will often start a trickle at the point of contact. Altogether it is unsatisfactory, and one does not wonder than many men prefer to knock together bark shelters.

Nowadays, however, another and better material is to be had. It is the stuff balloons are made of, and is called balloon silk. I believe, for shelter purposes, it undergoes a further waterproofing process, but of this I am not certain. A tent of the size mentioned, instead of weighing twenty-five pounds, pulls the scales down at about eight. Furthermore, it does not absorb moisture, and is no heavier when wet than when dry. One can touch the inside all he wishes without rendering it pervious. The material is tough and enduring.

Bed in the bush with stars to see.

"A" Tent Pitched as Shelter.

I have one which I have used hard for five years, not only as a tent, but as a canoe lining, a sod cloth, a tarpaulin, and a pack canvas. To-day it is as serviceable as ever, and excepting for inevitable soiling, two small patches represents its entire wear and tear.

"A" Tent Pitched Between Two Trees.

Abercrombie & Fitch, who make this tent, will try to persuade you, if you demand protection against mosquitoes, to let them sew on a sod-cloth of bobbinet and a loose long curtain of the same material to cover the entrance. Do not allow it. The rig is all right as long as there are plenty of flies. But suppose you want to use the tent in a flyless land? There still blocks your way that confounded curtain of bobbinet, fitting tightly enough so that you have almost to crawl when you enter, and so arranged that it is impossible to hang it up out of the way. The tent itself is all right, but its fly rigging is all wrong.

I have found that a second tent built of cheesecloth, and without any opening whatever, is the best scheme. Tapes are sewn along its ridge. These you tie to the ridge pole or rope of the tent—on the inside of course. The cheesecloth structure thus hangs straight down. When not in use it is thrust to one side or the other. If flies get thick, you simply go inside and spread it out. It should be made somewhat larger in the wall than the tent so that you can weight its lower edge with fishing rods, rifles, boots, sticks, or rocks. Nothing can touch you.

"A" Tent Pitched on Treeless Ground.

The proper shape for a tent is a matter of some discussion. Undoubtedly the lean-to is the ideal shelter so far as warmth goes. You build your fire in front, the slanting wall reflects the heat down and you sleep warm even in winter weather. In practice, however, the lean-to is not always an undiluted joy. Flies can get in for one thing, and a heavy rainstorm can suck around the corner for another. In these circumstances four walls are highly desirable.

Method of Tightening Rope.

On the other hand a cold snap makes a wall tent into a cold storage vault. Tent stoves are little devils. They are either red hot or stone cold, and even when doing their best, there is always a northwest corner that declines to be thawed out. A man feels the need of a camp fire, properly constructed.

For three seasons I have come gradually to thinking that an A or wedge tent is about the proper thing. In event of that rainstorm or those flies its advantages are obvious. When a cold snap comes along, you simply pull up the stakes along one side, tie the loops of that wall to the same stakes that hold down the other wall—and there is your lean-to all ready for the fire.

When you get your tent made, have them insert grommets in each peak. Through these you will run a light line. By tying each end of the line to a tree or sapling, staking out the four corners of your tent, and then tightening the line by wedging under it (and outside the tent, of course) a forked pole, your tent is up in a jiffy. Where you cannot find two trees handily placed, poles crossed make good supports front and rear. The line passes over them and to a stake in the ground. These are quick pitches for a brief stop. By such methods an A tent is erected as quickly as a "pyramid," a miner's, or any of the others. In permanent camp, you will cut poles and do a shipshape job.

Tarpaulin, Open and Folded.

Often, however, you will not need to burden yourself with even as light a tent as I have described. This is especially true on horseback trips in the mountains. There you will carry a tarpaulin. This is a strip of canvas or pantasote 6 x 16 or 17 feet. During the daytime it is folded and used to protect the top packs from dust, wet, and abrasion. At night you spread it, make your bed on one half of it, and fold the other half over the outside. This arrangement will fend quite a shower. In case of continued or heavy rain, you stretch a pack rope between two trees or crossed poles, and suspend the tarp over it tent wise, tying down the corners by means of lead ropes. Two tarps make a commodious tent. If you happen to be alone, a saddle blanket will supplement the tarp to give some sort of protection to your feet, and, provided it is stretched tightly, will shed quite a downpour.

The tarp, as I have said, should measure 6 x 16. If of canvas, do not get it too heavy, as then it will be stiff and hard to handle. About 10-ounce duck is the proper thing. After you have bought it, lay it out on the floor folded once, as it will be when you have made your bed in it. To the lower half and on both edges, as it lies there, sew a half dozen snap hooks. To the upper canvas, but about six inches in from the edge, sew corresponding rings for the snap hooks. Thus on a cold night you can bundle yourself in without leaving cracks along the edges to admit the chilly air.

In the woods you will want furthermore a rubber blanket. This is unnecessary when the tarpaulin is used. Buy a good poncho. Poor quality sticks badly should it chance to become overheated by the sun.

A six or seven pound blanket of the best quality is heavy enough. The gray army blanket, to be purchased sometimes at the military stores, is good, as is also the "three-point" blanket issued by the Hudson's Bay Company. The cost is from $6 to $8. One is enough. You will find that another suit of underwear is as warm as an extra blanket, and much easier to carry. Sleeping bags I do not care for. They cannot be drawn closely to the body, and the resulting air space is difficult to warm up. A blanket you can hug close to you, thus retaining all the animal heat. Beside which a sleeping bag is heavier and more of a bother to keep well aired. If you like the thing occasionally, a few horse blanket pins will make one of your blanket.

It is the purpose of this book to deal with equipments rather than with methods. There are a great many very competent treatises telling you how to build your fire, pitch your tent, and all the rest of it. I have never seen described the woodsmen's method of using a blanket, however. Lie flat on your back. Spread the blanket over you. Now raise your legs rigid from the hip, the blanket of course draping over them. In two swift motions tuck first one edge under your legs from right to left, then the second edge under from left to right, and over the first edge. Lower your legs, wrap up your shoulders, and go to sleep. If you roll over, one edge will unwind but the other will tighten.

In the forest your rubber and woolen blankets will comprise your bed. You will soften it with pine needles or balsam. On a horseback trip, however, it is desirable to carry also an ordinary comforter, or quilt, or "sogun." You use it under you. Folded once, so as to afford two thicknesses, it goes far toward softening granite country. By way of a gentle hint, if you will spread your saddle blankets beneath your tarp, they will help a lot, and you will get none of the horsey aroma.

Collapsible Canvas Bucket and Wash Basin.

A pillow can be made out of a little bag of muslin or cotton or denim. In it you stuff an extra shirt, or your sweater, or some such matter. A very small "goose hair" pillow may be thrust between the folds of your blanket when you have a pack horse. It will not be large enough all by itself, but with a sweater or a pair of trousers beneath it will be soft and easy to a tired head. Have its cover of brown denim.

On a pack trip a pail is a necessity which is not recognized in the forest, where you can dip your cup or kettle direct into the stream. Most packers carry a galvanized affair, which they turn upside down on top of the pack. There it rattles and bangs against every overhead obstruction on the trail, and ends by being battered to leakiness. A bucket made of heavy brown duck, with a wire hoop hemmed in by way of rim, and a light rope for handle carries just as much water, holds it as well, and has the great advantage of collapsing flat.

A wash basin built on the same principle is often a veritable godsend, and a man can even carry a similar contrivance big enough for a washtub without adding appreciably to the bulk or weight of his animal's pack. Crushed flat all three take up in thickness about the space of one layer of blanket, and the weight of the lot is just a pound and a half.

Folding Lantern.

The Stonebridge folding candle lantern is the best I know of. It folds quite flat, has four mica windows, and is easily put together. The measurements, folded, are only 6 x 4 inches by 1-2 inch thick, and its weight but 13 ounces. The manufacturers make the same lantern in aluminum, but I found it too easily bent to stand the rough handling incidental to a horse trip. The steel lantern costs one dollar.[3]

If you carry an axe at all, do not try to compromise on a light one. I never use such an implement in the woods. A light hatchet is every bit as good for the purpose of firewood, and better when it is a question of tent poles or pegs. Read Nessmuk's Woodcraft on this subject. The Marble Safety Axe is the best, both because of the excellent steel used in its manufacture, and because of the ease of its transportation. I generally carry mine in my hip pocket. Get the metal handle and heaviest weight. I have traveled a considerable part of the Canadian forests with no other implement of the sort.

On a horseback trip in the mountains, however, this will not suffice. Often and often you will be called on to clear trail, to cut timber for trail construction or to make a footing over some ultra-tempestuous streamlet. You might peck away until further orders with your little hatchet without much luck. Then you need an axe—not a "half axe," nor a "three-quarter axe"—but a full five-pound weapon with an edge you could shave with. And you should know how to use it. "Chewing a log in two" is a slow and unsatisfactory business.

To keep this edge you will carry a file and a water whetstone. Use your hatchet as much as possible, take care of how and what you chop, and do not wait until the axe gets really dull before having recourse to your file and stone. It is a long distance to a grindstone. Wes Thompson expressed the situation well. He watched the Kid's efforts for a moment in silence.

"Kid," said he sorrowfully at last, "you'll have to make your choice. Either you do all the chopping or none of it."

Needle, thread, a waxed end, and a piece of buckskin for strings and patches completes the ordinary camp outfit. Your repair kit needs additions when applied to mountain trips, but that question will come up under another heading.


Minimum for comfort:
Silk tent (sometimes)
Rubber blanket
Pillow case of denim
Pocket axe
File and whetstone
Needle and thread
Waxed end
Piece of buckskin

Maximum comfort:
Small Pillow
Canvas bucket
Canvas wash basin
Canvas wash tub
Candle lantern and candles
Pocket axe
5 pound axe
File and whetstone
Needle and thread
Waxed end
Piece of buckskin.

Footnote [3]: One is now made of brass to fold automatically, at a slightly higher price.

Stewart Edward White

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