Saturday, 11 January 2014

What To Carry and Reasons Not To.

What to Carry and Reasons Not To.
Time and time again throughout history we read about a common person who neglected to carry one piece of equipment or another and how they managed to survive without it. In most cases this survival was touch and go. The ones that did not survive were not able to tell their tale. All the reading and research I have done over the years has lead me to several conclusions, one of those is that the average common woodsrunner was not a very smart person. So maybe we should not be trying to emulate the average woodsrunner, perhaps we would be better off learning from our own experiences and just be ourselves.

Now I know I have mentioned this incident before, but the reason I use it is because it is so typical and yet surprising at the same time. I am referring to the time when Gist and Washington were travelling together in winter with only one blunt hatchet between them. With this blunt hatchet they cut enough timber to make a raft so they could cross the Allegheny River. By all accounts they got the job done, but can you imagine how hard the work would have been? This incident poses several questions for me, one, why was this hatchet blunt? The easy answer to this question is surely that gist was not carrying a whet stone. So then I ask myself why he was not carrying a whet stone. The answer to this one has to be because he did not want to carry the extra weight. Can we assume that he intended to use a creek stone for sharpening? Maybe so, but he didn't did he! So his work was made all that much more difficult.
Washington's Crossing (Allegheny River)

Frankly it does not really matter what the reasons are for not carrying a particular item, it is up to us to review each item and make up our own minds as to what is needed and what is not. If not carrying something means that you intend to make it when you need it, then consider this; making an item will cost you time, and once you have gone to the time and trouble to make this item, be it a bone needle or a bone awl, or a whet stone etc, are you likely to discard this item after making it? If your answer is no, then you may just as well equip yourself with this item in the first place and save yourself the time and trouble of making one.

Some packs are going to be heavier than you would have liked, but you have to compromise between maximum self-reliance, and minimum weight. Think about your trekking scenario, you may only be trekking to the bottom of your back yard, but how far would you really be travelling if this trek were real? How long are you likely to be away? Have you taken into consideration that things may not go as planned and you could be away for a lot longer?

To me, my equipment is very basic. I have lived an 18th century lifestyle for over 20 years, & used this same type of equipment for over 30 years. Yes I have questioned the 20 LBS of weight in and tied onto my knapsack many times, but each time I have reviewed my knapsack contents critically, I end up putting it all back in again. Probably the heaviest piece of equipment in my knapsack is my brass trade kettle. Now obviously I know that I can make do without this item, I can roast meat, and I could use my tin cup to boil water, but making stews would not amount to much, I could not boil much water to replenish my canteen, I could not catch as much rain water in my cup as I can in the kettle. So the kettle stays in my pack.

The heaviest item on my knapsack is probably my blanket roll, but there is only one blanket, and in winter I consider this a necessity. Think realistically. There will be nights when it is not safe to make a fire, how will this affect you? You will have to rely on what you carry to keep you warm, if not warm then at least alive! You will have to be content with eating foods that do not require cooking; you will be drinking water and not tea. If you have to leave camp quickly in the night, will your gear allow you to do that without leaving items behind? Leaving items behind is a sure way to let people know you have been there. This is the problem with carrying your gear in a blanket roll instead of a bag. In order to use the blanket, you have to take out all your gear. For a similar reason I no longer roll my blanket up in my oilcloth, because if it rains on the trail, I would have to untie my blanket roll from my pack and all the time getting wet. As it is, I simply grab the oilcloth & throw it over me and my equipment and sit it out. Or I can make a quick shelter.

I hope this short article will give you something to think about, we are all individuals, and therefore have our own needs and ideas of what should be carried and what should not. Experience is a great teacher, so get out there and test yourself and your equipment and set yourself a realistic scenario whether you are in your back yard or out in the woods for an overnighter. Think about how it would really be like.


Gorges Smythe said...

Good article.

Anonymous said...

I like this thinking. I wonder about this all the time and I often feel that I err on one side or the other. I have gone through spell of carrying absolutely everything and other times I think I need almost nothing (knife, fire kit, string, and water bottle).
It would be very interesting to look at a lot of "woodsrunners" both modern and historical and see what we all carry. Maybe I'll try to post something like this myself.

Keith H. Burgess said...

Thank you Paleotool. The fact is, most of, if not all that I carry is for comfort & ease of living. I could go out in the woods stark naked & still survive, but it is not fun & it is a lot of hard work. Some original woodsrunners no doubt did not carry much with them figuring they could make do if anything went wrong. Some of these may not have survived, some may have done.
The fact is that when putting gear together like this we are still hampered to some extent with our 21st century way of thinking. I have been doing this for a long time now, & try desperately to put myself in an 18th century way of thinking. We do the best we can with what we have.
Take care out there.
Regards, Keith.

rich said...

Good article, thanks. Been awhile since I overnighted with only what I carried, but I appreciate your style. The photo of the hatchet and two knives was good because these look like useful items. My stuff is modern, but I like my small assembled-at-home Norwegian steel knife. Good to use something you made and like.