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Woodcraft and Camping

Woodcraft and Camping

by George W. Sears Nessmuk

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One of America's most famous woodsmen and nature experts provides classic instructions for roughing it. His advice covers camping, hiking, building a fire, cooking out, shelters, tools and equipment, hunting and fishing, canoeing, and more. "Useful, specific information and suggestions on all aspects of woodcraft." — Moor and Mountain.


One of America's most famous woodsmen and nature experts provides classic instructions for roughing it. His advice covers camping, hiking, building a fire, cooking out, shelters, tools and equipment, hunting and fishing, canoeing, and more. "Useful, specific information and suggestions on all aspects of woodcraft." — Moor and Mountain.

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Dover Publications
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Woodcraft and Camping

By Nessmuk

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1963 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-31695-6



IT DOES not need that Herbert Spencer should cross the ocean to tell us that we are an overworked nation; that our hair turns gray ten years earlier than the Englishman's; or, "that we have had somewhat too much of the gospel of work," and, "it is time to preach the gospel of relaxation." It is all true. But we work harder, accomplish more in a given time, and last quite as long as slower races. As to the gray hair—perhaps gray hair is better than none; and it is a fact that the average Briton becomes bald as early as the American turns gray. There is, however, a sad significance in his words when he says: "In every circle I have met men who had themselves suffered from nervous collapse due to stress of business, or named friends who had either killed themselves by overwork, or had been permanently incapacitated, or had wasted long periods in endeavors to recover health." Too true. And it is the constant strain, without let-up or relaxation, that, in nine cases out of ten, snaps the cord and ends in what the doctors call "nervous prostration"—something akin to paralysis—from which the sufferer seldom wholly recovers.

Mr. Spencer quotes that quaint old chronicler, Froissart, as saying, "The English take their pleasures sadly, after their fashion"; and thinks if he lived now, he would say of Americans, "they take their pleasures hurriedly, after their fashion." Perhaps.

It is an age of hurry and worry. Anything slower than steam is apt to "get left." Fortunes are quickly made and freely spent. Nearly all busy, hard-worked Americans have an intuitive sense of the need that exists for at least one period of rest and relaxation during each year, and all—or nearly all—are willing to pay liberally, too liberally in fact, for anything that conduces to rest, recreation and sport. I am sorry to say that we mostly get swindled. As an average, the summer outer who goes to forest, lake or stream for health and sport, gets about ten cents' worth for a dollar of outlay. A majority will admit—to themselves at least—that after a month's vacation, they return to work with an inward consciousness of being somewhat disappointed—and beaten. We are free with our money when we have it. We are known throughout the civilized world for our lavishness in paying for our pleasures; but it humiliates us to know we have been beaten, and this is what the most of us know at the end of a summer vacation. To the man of millions it makes little difference. He is able to pay liberally for boats, buckboards and "body service," if he chooses to spend a summer in the North Woods. He has no need to study the questions of lightness and economy in a forest and stream outing. Let his guides take care of him; and unto them and the landlords he will give freely of his substance.

I do not write for him, and can do him little good. But there are hundreds of thousands of practical, useful men, many of them far from being rich; mechanics, artists, writers, merchants, clerks, business men—workers, so to speak—who sorely need and well deserve a season of rest and relaxation at least once a year. To these, and for these, I write.

Perhaps more than fifty years of devotion to "woodcraft" may enable me to give a few useful hints and suggestions to those whose dreams, during the close season of work, are of camp-life by flood, field and forest.

I have found that nearly all who have a real love of nature and out-of-door camp-life, spend a good deal of time and talk in planning future trips, or discussing the trips and pleasures gone by, but still dear to memory.

When the mountain streams are frozen and the Nor'land winds are out;

when the winter winds are drifting the bitter sleet and snow; when winter rains are making out-of-door life unendurable; when season, weather and law combine to make it "close time" for beast, bird and man, it is well that a few congenial spirits should, at some favorite try sting place, gather around the glowing stove and exchange yarns, opinions and experiences. Perhaps no two will exactly agree on the best ground for an outing, on the flies, rods, reels, guns, etc., or half a dozen other points that may be discussed. But one thing all admit. Each and every one has gone to his chosen ground with too much impedimenta, too much duffle; and nearly all have used boats at least twice as heavy as they need to have been. The temptation to buy this or that bit of indispensable camp-kit has been too strong, and we have gone to the blessed woods, handicapped with a load fit for a pack-mule. This is not how to do it.

Go light; the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest material for health, comfort and enjoyment.

Of course, if you intend to have a permanent camp, and can reach it by boat or wagon, lightness is not so important, though even in that case it is well to guard against taking a lot of stuff that is likely to prove of more weight than worth-only to leave it behind when you come out.

As to clothing for the woods, a good deal of nonsense has been written about "strong, coarse woolen clothes." You do not want coarse woolen clothes. Fine woolen cassimere of medium thickness for coat, vest and pantaloons, with no cotton lining. Color, slate gray or dead-leaf (either is good). Two soft, thick woolen shirts; two pairs of fine, but substantial, woolen drawers; two pairs of strong woolen socks or stockings; these are what you need, and all you need in the way of clothing for the woods, excepting hat and boots, or gaiters. Boots are best—providing you do not let yourself be inveigled into wearing a pair of long-legged heavy boots with thick soles, as has been often advised by writers who knew no better. Heavy, long-legged boots are a weary, tiresome incumbrance on a hard tramp through rough woods. Even moccasins are better. Gaiters, all sorts of high shoes, in fact, are too bothersome about fastening and unfastening. Light boots are best. Not thin, unserviceable affairs, but light as to actual weight. The following hints will give an idea for the best footgear for the woods; let them be single soled, single backs and single fronts, except light, short foot-linings. Back of solid "country kip"; fronts of substantial French calf; heel one inch high, with steel nails; countered outside; straps narrow, of fine French calf put on "astraddle," and set down to the top of the back. The out-sole stout, Spanish oak, and pegged rather than sewed, although either is good. They will weigh considerably less than half as much as the clumsy, costly boots usually recommended for the woods; and the added comfort must be tested to be understood.

The hat should be fine, soft felt with moderately low crown and wide brim; color to match the clothing.

The proper covering for head and feet is no slight affair, and will be found worth some attention. Be careful that the boots are not too tight, or the hat too loose. The above rig will give the tourist one shirt, one pair of drawers and a pair of socks to carry as extra clothing. A soft, warm blanket-bag, open at the ends, and just long enough to cover the sleeper, with an oblong square of waterproofed cotton cloth 6x8 feet, will give warmth and shelter by night and will weigh together five or six pounds. This, with the extra clothing, will make about eight pounds of dry goods to pack over carries, which is enough. Probably, also, it will be found little enough for comfort.

During a canoe cruise across the Northern Wilderness in the late summer, I met many parties at different points in the woods, and the amount of unnecessary duffle with which they encumbered themselves was simply appalling. Why a shrewd business man, who goes through with a guide and makes a forest hotel his camping ground nearly every night, should handicap himself with a five-peck pack basket full of gray woolen and gum blankets, extra clothing, pots, pans, and kettles, with a 9-pound 10-bore, and two rods—yes, and an extra pair of heavy boots hanging astride of the gun—well, it is one of the things I shall never understand. My own load, including canoe, extra clothing, blanket-bag, two days' rations, pocket-axe, rod and knapsack, never exceeded 26 pounds; and I went prepared to camp out any and every night.

People who contemplate an outing in the woods are pretty apt to commence preparations a long way ahead, and to pick up many trifling articles that suggest themselves as useful and handy in camp; all well enough in their way, but making at least a too heavy load. It is better to commence by studying to ascertain just how light one can go through without especial discomfort. A good plan is to think over the trip during leisure hours, and make out a list of indispensable articles, securing them beforehand, and have them stowed in handy fashion, so that nothing needful may be missing just when and where it cannot be procured. The list will be longer than one would think, but need not be cumbersome or heavy. As I am usually credited with making a cruise or a long woods tramp with exceptionally light duffle, I will give a list of the articles I take along—going on foot over carries or through the woods.



THE clothing, blanket-bag and shelter-cloth are all that need be described in that line. The next articles that I look after are knapsack (or pack basket), rod with reel, lines, flies, hooks, and all my fishing gear, pocket-axe, knives and tinware. Firstly, the knapsack; as you are apt to carry it a great many miles, it is well to have it right, and easy-fitting at the start. Don't be induced to carry a pack basket. I am aware that it is in high favor all through the Northern Wilderness, and is also much used in other localities where guides and sportsmen most do congregate. But I do not like it. I admit that it will carry a loaf of bread, with tea, sugar, etc., without jamming; that bottles, crockery, and other fragile duffle is safer from breakage than in an oil-cloth knapsack. But it is by no means waterproof in a rain or a splashing head sea, is more than twice as heavy—always growing heavier as it gets wetter—and I had rather have bread, tea, sugar, etc., a little jammed than water-soaked. Also, it may be remarked that man is a vertebrate animal and ought to respect his backbone. The loaded pack basket on a heavy carry never fails to get in on the most vulnerable knob of the human vertebrae. The knapsack sits easy, and does not chafe. The one shown in the engraving is of good form; and the original— which I have carried for years—is satisfactory in every respect. It holds over half a bushel, carries blanket-bag, shelter tent, hatchet, ditty-bag, tinware, fishing tackle, clothes and two days' rations. It weighs, empty, just twelve ounces.

Knapsack and Ditty-Bag

The hatchet and knives shown in the engraving will be found to fill the bill satisfactorily so far as cutlery may be required. Each is good and useful of its kind, the hatchet especially, being the best model I have ever found for a "double-barreled" pocket-axe. And just here let me digress for a little chat on the indispensable hatchet; for it is the most difficult piece of camp kit to obtain in perfection of which I have any knowledge. Before I was a dozen years old I came to realize that a light hatchet was a sine qua non in woodcraft, and I also found it a most difficult thing to get. I tried shingling hatchets, lathing hatchets, and the small hatchets to be found in country hardware stores, but none of them were satisfactory. I had quite a number made by blacksmiths who professed skill in making edge tools, and these were the worst of all, being like nothing on the earth or under it—murderous-looking, clumsy, and all too heavy, with no balance or proportion. I had hunted twelve years before I caught up with the pocket-axe I was looking for. It was made in Rochester, by a surgical instrument maker named Bushnell. It cost time and money to get it. I worked one rainy Saturday fashioning the pattern in wood. Spoiled a day going to Rochester, waited a day for the blade, paid $3.00 for it, and lost a day coming home. Boat fare $1.00, and expenses $2.00, besides three days lost time, with another rainy Sunday for making leather sheath and hickory handle.

Hatchet and Knives

My witty friends, always willing to help me out in figuring the cost of my hunting and fishing gear, made the following business-like estimate, which they placed where I would be certain to see it the first thing in the morning. Premising that of the five who assisted in that little joke, all stronger, bigger fellows than myself, four have gone "where they never see the sun," I will copy the statement as it stands today, on paper yellow with age. For I have kept it over forty years.

Then they raised a horse laugh, and the cost of that hatchet became a standing joke and a slur on my "business ability." What aggravated me most was, that the rascals were not so far out in their calculation. And was I so far wrong? That hatchet was my favorite for nearly thirty years. It has been "upset" twice by skilled workmen; and, if my friend "Bero" has not lost it, is still in service.

Would I have gone without it any year for one or two dollars? But I prefer the double blade. I want one thick, stunt edge for knots, deers' bones, etc., and a fine, keen edge for cutting clear timber.

A word as to knife, or knives. These are of prime necessity, and should be of the best, both as to shape and temper. The "bowies" and "hunting knives" usually kept on sale, are thick, clumsy affairs, with a sort of ridge along the middle of the blade, murderous-looking, but of little use; rather fitted to adorn a dime novel or the belt of "Billy the Kid," than the outfit of the hunter. The one shown in the cut is thin in the blade, and handy for skinning, cutting meat, or eating with. The strong double-bladed pocket knife is the best model I have yet found, and, in connection with the sheath knife, is all sufficient for camp use. It is not necessary to take table cutlery into the woods. A good fork may be improvised from a beech or birch stick; and the half of a fresh-water mussel shell, with a split stick by way of handle, makes an excellent spoon.

My entire outfit for cooking and eating dishes comprises five pieces of tinware. This is when stopping in a permanent camp. When cruising and tramping, I take just two pieces in the knapsack.

I get a skillful tinsmith to make one dish as follows: Six inches on bottom, 634 inches on top, side 2 inches high. The bottom is of the heaviest tin procurable, the sides of lighter tin, and seamed to be water-tight without solder. The top simply turned, without wire. The second dish to be made the same, but small enough to nest in the first, and also to fit into it when inverted as a cover. Two other dishes made from common pressed tinware, with the tops cut off and turned, also without wire. They are fitted so that they all nest, taking no more room than the largest dish alone, and each of the three smaller dishes makes a perfect cover for the next larger. The other piece is a tin camp-kettle, also of the heaviest tin, and seamed water-tight. It holds two quarts, and the other dishes nest in it perfectly, so that when packed the whole takes just as much room as the kettle alone. I should mention that the strong ears are set below the rim of the kettle, and the bale falls outside, so, as none of the dishes have any handle, there are no aggravating "stickouts" to wear and abrade. The snug affair weighs, all told, two pounds. I have met parties in the North Woods whose one frying pan weighed more—with its handle three feet long. How ever did they get through the brush with such a culinary terror?

It is only when I go into a very accessible camp that I take so much as five pieces of tinware along. I once made a ten days' tramp through an unbroken wilderness on foot, and all the dish I took was a ten-cent tin; it was enough. I believe I will tell the story of that tramp before I get through. For I saw more game in the ten days than I ever saw before or since in a season; and I am told that the whole region is now a thrifty farming country, with the deer nearly all gone. They were plenty enough thirty-nine years ago this very month.

I feel more diffidence in speaking of rods than of any other matter connected with out-door sports. The number and variety of rods and makers; the enthusiasm of trout and fly "cranks"; the fact that angling does not take precedence of all other sports with me, with the humiliating confession that I am not above bucktail spinners, worms and sinkers, minnow tails and white grubs—this and these constrain me to be brief.


Excerpted from Woodcraft and Camping by Nessmuk. Copyright © 1963 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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