Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Equipment, Comfort and Weight. Historical Trekking and Survival.

Equipment, Comfort and Weight.
Historical Trekking and Survival.
Choosing the equipment you need to match your persona takes time and research. It has to be within your period, or earlier. Any items out of character need a good story to back up its use. Then on top of all this, you have the need to keep it as light as you can. But within these factors is the function of survival. So the items you choose for Historical Trekking, must be practicle, useful.

How much did an 18th century woodsrunner carry in the woods? Well if he was just hunting close to home, very little except possibly a belt pouch and a shot pouch. But longer journeys taking them further from home would require more equipment and probably some trail foods. Some I have no doubt carried very little, perhaps a blanket and some food in a haversack. These woodsrunners chanced to luck that nothing would befall them, and that they would be able to find plenty of game to keep them alive. Bread could be made from flour and water, mixed right in the flour bag. Meat could be skewered on a pointed stick and cooked in front of the fire.

For the woodsrunner who chose to travel light, survival was a gamble. If they should get sick, or wounded in some way, with no simple medical supplies their lives were at risk. With no kettle to boil water, no cloth strips to cover a wound. No water canteen and perhaps no water nearby. In wet and cold weather they had only their blanket to keep them reasonably dry. Making a fire would be important, and I doubt any would travel anywhere without flint, steel and tinderbox. Would they have carried fishing tackle in their belt pouch? Some would, some would not.
Whilst researching we may come across period accounts mentioning various items a particular person may have carried, Daniel Boone for instance once stated in his journal “leaving me by myself, without bread, salt or sugar”. So from this comment we can assume that Boone carried bread and or flour, and also salt and sugar. Salt I carry, sugar never. I don’t take sugar with anything, and from experience, I know that sugar carried in a wilderness pack is likely to attract ants when in camp. But obviously Boone thought sugar to be an important item, which brings us to the subject of “comfort”.
Most of what I carry in my pack can be said to be comfort items. Those of you that like me live in the woods, will have much the same skills that I have. We know that should we lose all our equipment whilst away from home, that we can survive, it just won’t be comfortable. Experience is our guide, and it may direct us to carry some items that others would not carry. Having had my gun fail me many years ago, I now carry tools and spare lock parts just in case it should ever happen again. But as I get older, I am aware of more physical limitations, old wounds come to plague me and the weight of my pack slows me down. I can use my Flintlock Fusil even if the lock should break, so I am considering removing these tools and spare parts from my pack to lighten my load.

The transition from English born country boy to New World woodsrunner has been a long one. As I gained experience, my pack became lighter in some areas, and heavier in others. Eventually I got to the stage in my elder years where I considered I had achieved the right choice of equipment, a compromise between minimum weight, and maximum self-reliance. Now though with more skills under my belt, and a body that can no longer take the punishment it used to, I am having to lighten my load even further. I will have to abandon the method of “what if” in lightening my load, or I will end up putting it all back in my pack again. I must now gamble that I will never need those items that made me feel more secure in my travels.
But comfort in my latter years is something that I will not completely abandon. I will still carry my oilcloth for use as a shelter, tea I will brew in my tin cup instead of carrying a kettle. With the brass kettle gone, plus the gun tools and spare lock parts; that may be enough. I must wait and see. But if ever I should have to move from this place with my family, then survival and security must take precedent over the perceived ability to carry a heavier load again, and I must do the best I can and carry my share.
Take care out there.


John Wooldridge said...

A good and thoughtful piece Keith, as one just starting off in re-enactment the decisions of kit and clothing can be quite a minefield and this shows that experience is hard to beat.

Keith H. Burgess said...

Thank you John.
Regards, Keith.

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