In the first part of our series (Some Questions to Ponder-C. Fischer), we gave a hypothetical sample of a woodsman, and his kit. Let us review the list again, ask a few questions, and discuss alternative options for the items.
Just because our example is a man, please remember that all of this applies to women and children as well. Parents, please work to get your children trained to be responsible and effective at the earliest age possible! And girls, listen up. You need to Be Prepared, too!
Boots– Leather hunting boots–usually, these are very durable, with a low heel, waterproof, lightly insulated. They are probably about 8-inch height, which is enough to give good ankle support, and to keep dirt, rocks, and vegetation out. They are amply sized, with wide toes.
Socks are vital, because they provide padding from impact, reducing fatigue to the foot, help in ventilation, and can be changed and washed frequently. As the foot swells, it may be necessary to remove a thin layer, but most likely, it will be necessary to add a thin pair to avoid slopping on long trips. Wool provides the best padding, the best insulation, and the best breathability.
On long trips, and with heavier loads, and on long, steep descents, blisters are a real hazard. The key is to stop immediately when the first discomfort is sensed, and remedy the problem. Pull up your socks, add socks if necessary, put on dry socks, put moleskin or duct tape on the hot spot, wash your feet in cold water.
Primitive alternatives–sandals crafted from vegetable materials, or rawhide or tire rubber with something softer for the strings; moccasins. (Moccasins can act as leather socks inside of sandals. Fur-lined moccasins provide good insulation.)
Pants and Shirt– these provide an even layer over the extremities, equal with the torso. The shirt can be unbuttoned to allow better cooling of the trunk. Perfect health depends on perfect circulation, and even in hot weather, chilling the skin of the extremities will cause congestion of blood in the head and torso. It can take a couple weeks to get over the adrenaline-stress reaction, if you are accustomed to wearing short sleeves or bare legs, before you become comfortable with long sleeves and legs in the heat.
Covering the arms and legs is excellent protection from cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and sun. Wool keeps the pores of the skin open, allowing efficient perspiration.
Wool meters water vapor very effectively, preventing overheating and dehydration. It repels rain, and sheds water from wet vegetation. It is warm when wet. Wool gives a wider temperature-range of comfort than most other fibers. In warm weather, a thin wool, such as gabardine, is perfectly comfortable. In cooler weather, flannel and heavier brushed fabrics are good, but preferably in layers.
Closer to civilization, our woodsman probably wears denim or canvas “duck” pants, made from cotton, for daily work, because of its durability. Canvas duck is quite water-repellent, although it is not warm when wet. Denim is OK for mild weather, but is not a first choice away from home. Cotton is comfortable in hot weather, especially if water is added. But the swamp-cooler evaporative effect keeps working in the cold, too. And I am not aware of any place on earth that does not dip down to a life-threatening 50 degrees Fahrenheit at times.
Silk is also good. Its thermal qualities parallel wool. If natural fibers are not obtainable, synthetics such as polyester, polypropylene, and brushed nylon are good for the wet/cold situations; but usually not for protection from heat.
Primitive options– bark, grass, fur, leather, or spin and weave or knit vegetable fibers (such as stinging nettles, flax, milkweed, dogbane, etc.).
Walking Stick– “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” Study these items in Scripture. You’ll learn many useful lessons. The walking stick is a tool of many uses. The habit of keeping it in hand when walking is an excellent one to develop. It is also good discipline to always pick up your stick again after setting it down! We cannot work with a stick in our hands at all times, so it WILL get set down, and can be easily lost. Fortunately, nature can supply replacements.
One of most crucial benefits of the staff, is for protection. Whether from plants, snakes, dogs, or knife-wielding maniacs, it can be outstandingly effective. It provides a psychological deterrent, a shield, a club, a lever, and most importantly, it is already in your hand. It should be strong enough that you will not break it.
Hat– Broad-brimmed. Wool felt is an excellent choice here, for the same reasons as in other clothing applications. The broad brim prevents sunburn, shades the eyes, and acts as an umbrella to keep water from running down the neck. Some felt hats have earflaps that can be tucked up inside when not needed, and this improves their usefulness in cool weather. Cotton “booney hats” also work well in moderate and hot weather. Again, dip in water for evaporative cooling.
Pack– You may question why I recommend the frameless Duluth Pack, in our day of high-tech internal- and external-frame packs for backpacking. Good question! If you study the history of the long-hunters, and other American woodsmen, you will find that many of them used a rather small “daypack-like” knapsack, and then rolled some things up in their bed-roll, and tied it to the lower shoulder-strap attachment points of the knapsack.
When hiking down groomed trails, or across vast grass-lands or treeless deserts, framed packs increase comfort by keeping the load high and thin, close to the back. However, if your are bush-whacking, a pack that sticks up to head-level will catch on a lot of things as you navigate the brush. It is better to lower the load a bit, and keep snags to a minimum.
Another benefit of keeping the center of gravity lower, is that in rough terrain, one is less likely to lose his balance.
Hip belts–those of us who are accustomed to wearing a load-out of tools on our pants belts on a daily basis, find it unnerving to have to remove all our tools, and put them “somewhere,” when we shoulder a pack. Also, while being able to rest one’s shoulders has definite advantages, the Lord has definite counsel about weights suspended from the hips. Yes, I wear suspenders to hold up my belt-full–heavy-duty, non-stretchy suspenders. If I shrug my shoulders, my pants bounce along with the load.
A pack-frame is good for hauling heavy, awkward loads, but for most things, my opinion is that a frameless pack is better. My 8,000-cubic-inch pack weighs just under 3 pounds empty, which is lighter than many internal-frame packs that hold less than half as much.
Primitive substitute–roll your stuff up in a tarp, blanket, animal skin, or carry it in a basket. A “tumpline” over your head and/or across your upper chest/shoulder area attaches it to you.
Folding Knife– This could be just about anything, but a Stockman-pattern slip-joint has served countless men well. The Victorinox- and Wenger-brand Swiss Army Knives are excellent. Locking-blade knives that open with one hand, and can be clipped on the pocket or waistband, are faster to access, and a bit more robust. The important thing about knives is, KEEP THEM SHARP! A sharp rock may be better than a dull knife.
While fixed-blade knives will usually out-perform folding knives in both price and function, the folder has a distinct advantage of convenience, concealability, and often, legality. While a large cutting tool is very necessary for primitive living, a small blade is needed just as much. There are hundreds of little jobs that are much faster and easier to do with a small blade, than with a large one, and having a good pocket knife will help you accomplish much more in life. The pocket knife will probably be present on many occasions when the big blade is unavailable.
Primitive substitute–sharp rock, broken glass, bone shard. Especially a stone axe.
Firestarters– notice that he carries 3 firestarting systems. At LEAST one of these needs to be in his pants pockets, in case he loses his backpack. It is very easy to lose a backpack when you first pick a campsite and walk away from the pack. Or, it may fall over a cliff, or you might go for a hike without it. Or, you might leave it at home when you go somewhere. If you don’t have your other gear, you NEED your firestarter! The butane lighter might cost a dollar, but it could save your life–if not in an emergency, it will save many minutes as you pass along, because it is so quick and convenient to pull out and use. Never be without it. Buy plenty of extras, and store them in cool, dry places, out of the sunlight.
The “metal match,” aka “ferro rod,” “ferrocerium rod,” “misch metal,” etc. is a black metal rod. Scrape it with any hard, sharp object–an old file, a knife blade, broken glass, sharp rock, etc.–and it produces a shower of 5,000-degree sparks. This is the space-age version of “flint and steel,” and it is the most compact, dependable, long-term solution to your firestarting needs.
Along with your metal match, always carry dry tinder. I’d recommend starting with cotton balls, and add a glob of Vaseline (or other grease) the size of a pea, to each cotton ball. Rub it in thoroughly. Store it in a waterproof container. One cotton ball can produce about 20 fires, if you use it carefully. Dry thistle down is a natural cotton-ball substitute. Fine dry grass, shredded cedar bark, pitch-wood scrapings, and magnesium metal, are other good tinders that can be ignited efficiently with the metal match.
Matches– “keep your matches dry.” Good strike-anywhere matches can be hard to find, but “Strike On Box” matches, and book matches, are good. I like the Strike Anywhere matches made by UCO, but it is good to keep the strike panels from the box with your matches anyway. For learning how to build and use fire, the butane lighter is a fine tool to get started with. Then, progress to matches and the metal match. However, we should all make it a priority to learn more primitive methods of firestarting. Personally, I would recommend old-fashioned flint and steel and “char,” and the pump-drill set, as the most effective and sustainable methods for long-term primitive living.
One last note on shirt-pocket contents–the pitchwood and lichen are part of the fire kit. However, the lichen is also kept handy for visits to the “cat-hole.” It is a good toilet-paper substitute. And it is easier to carry it, than to suddenly find it, when nature calls!
Here, let me inject a suggestion for every man, woman, and competent child, that will do as much as anything to help you stay alive when the unexpected happens: Always wear a firestarter and a knife on your person. Seven days a week, anytime you are out of bed. (With exceptions for legal restrictions.) If your clothes don’t have pockets, or you don’t like having these items in your pockets, make a little pouch to hold the knife and lighter, and hang it around your neck on a string. This is more secure than a purse or other bag (although it is good to put an extra set in those places).
“Keep a pocket Bible with you as you work, and improve every opportunity to commit to memory its precious promises.” Review and Herald, April 27, 1905 par. 13. Hopefully, you can see well enough to read fine print. If not, a little Fresnel-type credit-card-size lens should be added. (It can start a fire, too!) Also, find the smallest print you can read comfortably, and get a Bible of that size for each backpack and vehicle. In addition to never being without, you might find an opportunity to give the “extra” to someone who needs it. (Replace promptly.)
The Hatchet– “But it’s so heavy!” Yes, it is. Do I usually carry one? No. But there are a few reasons why it is listed here. 1. It is durable. 2. Chops logs efficiently. 3. Splits and drives wedges. 4. Is widely available at low cost. 5. Is not usually perceived as a threat, when carried in a backpack with other woods-related items. 6. Is highly useful for obtaining dry wood in wet conditions. “Sharp, expertly ground.” Yes, there is a difference.
An axe can be sharp, but too wedgy to cut efficiently. Please go on YouTube, and watch the video, An Axe to Grind, by the U.S. Forest Service. A printed manual is also available for free download. Once an axe is properly ground, it is much easier to keep sharp, and it will cut efficiently. And yes, inexpensive hatchets from the hardware store can get the job done. (I have encountered a few, with hollow steel handles, that were too soft.)
Handle length–I personally like a 16- or 18-inch handle. Many jobs require a one-hand hold near the axe-head, and handles of over 20 inches are a bit hard to control for fine work. And it is for this reason that I don’t recommend Estwing hatchets, and others that have too thin of blade-handle juncture. Wood or fiberglass are usually OK, and can be replaced with primitive materials.
Sheath– for carrying in or on a pack, this is a necessity! If the sheath has a shoulder strap, you can carry it within easy reach, as many frontiersmen did.
Safety– if you are not accustomed to using hand tools, such as hammers and axes– beware. It might be better to start with a full-size axe until you learn the feel of chopping, and can keep the tool from biting you.
What do I carry? Usually, a fairly stout, 5-inch-plus sheath knife on my belt, and a folding saw in my pack. Or, a 12-inch Kukri, strapped to the thigh, or in the backpack. More expensive than a hatchet, but more versatile.
If you are in a grassland, jungle, or desert setting, a machete or other long blade is usually preferable to a hatchet. Think of jobs such as cutting through a blackberry thicket, or gathering grass for thatch and sleeping mats. Or lopping open large cacti to obtain water. With the right technique, machetes do quite well at chopping logs. The Cold Steel Kukri Machete is inexpensive (around $25), comes with a functional sheath, and is short enough to carry in or on a backpack. But a 26-inch, wide- and thin-bladed machete will outcut it by a fair margin, while still weighing no more than a hatchet of the size discussed here.
Primitive substitute: stone axe, bone axe. Sorry, it is a pitiful substitute, but it does work. No matter what you carry, you MUST master the basics of sharpening, or your tool will be a step above worthless. Ecclesiastes 10:10.
If you choose to depend on a saw as a main cutting tool, always keep a straight-edged chopping tool with it, to help get it out of a pinch. One of the easiest ways to damage your saw, or be forced to abandon it, is to get it pinched. You can use your knife or axe to make and drive wooden wedges to relieve the pressure on the saw, freeing it. And in a fully primitive setting, sharpening a saw is not a simple matter! But, they are sure nice….
Sharpener– This wasn’t on the list. After all, our woodsman was planning to be home soon, and he checked his tools for sharpness before leaving home. However, it wasn’t entirely forgotten. Personally, I always carry a small diamond sharpener as a matter of convenience, but if we don’t have it in our kit, we can use stones. Any flat, smooth rock has potential. Some work better than others. The river is a good place to look. Concrete can sometimes be used. Sandstone is an old favorite. Some common items that can work, include diamond fingernail files, sandpaper, and the bottom of a clay pot or ceramic cup.
Can– The reasons for using a tin can for a kettle, are (1) light weight, and (2) inexpensive. But for long-term primitive living, it would be wise to invest in a stainless steel “billy can.” It would be heavier and smaller, but would last much longer than the rusting can. Also, the bottom seam in the tin can is hard to clean.
Primitive subsitutes–clay pots, wooden containers, birchbark containers, discarded items such as glass bottles and metal cans.
Bottle– Often, when hiking, there is no reason to carry more than a pint or quart of water. But in camp, having a large bottle and a large kettle is just a start, for water-holding capacity. Keep in mind that, for security reasons, the camp needs to be away from the sound of running water, and away from the edge of large bodies of water. A clear plastic bottle offers the advantage of solar purification. A stainless steel water bottle can be used for boiling, without danger of melting the container.
Primitive substitute–waterproofed bag or basket, clay or wooden container, etc.
Fur Hat– could be wool, or down, but something that can be worn at night while sleeping. Fur is excellent for stopping wind, as well as insulating.
Tarp– This could be an aluminized space blanket, or a US GI rain poncho, but a $3 poly tarp is effective for short-term use (a few months). Obviously, brown or camouflage is preferable to blue, which shines worse than white. In most cases, a tarp is all the tent that is needed, if it is pitched properly. And it can be used in many configurations, to deal with varying circumstances. Unlike a tent, it does not retain water, and the air can circulate freely to carry away condensation. The warmth of the fire can shine in, and a person is able to see out, and get out quickly, if necessary, without zippers making noise.
Cordage– Useful for countless things, but specifically needed for pitching the tarp tent.
Tent stakes–make from branches. Carry if desired, or make new ones on site.
Primitive substitute–plant fiber twisted into cord, roots, vines, strips of animal skin, sinew,…
Ground Sheet– this needs to be at least 3 x 7 feet for an adult. It helps keep the sleeping bag clean, and prevents punctures. In a coniferous forest, there is often sticky pitch on the ground.
Foam Torso Pad– This item is made from 1/2-inch thick closed-cell foam. It is long enough to reach from the top of the head to a little below the buttocks, where most of the conductive heat-loss occurs. You can get used to a hard bed, you can soften and shape it–but this bit of insulation can mean the difference between cold and comfort.
Primitive substitute– grass mat, layer of fir twigs, or other dry, soft plant material. (Wet weather?) Hot rocks buried under bed, hot coal bed, smoke channel under bed, etc.
Small Flashlight– I weighed my Pelican 2350 for the example. It uses a single AA battery, and gives 100 lumens. Other similar lights would be a Maglite Solitare, or a Surefire Titan. These are tactical-grade lights, bright enough for security purposes at night, as well as finding things in a backpack, or reading a map.
For reading or working, or walking in the dark, a small headlamp is good. Mine uses a single AAA battery, and lasts for about 40 hours of continuous operation, per battery. Always carry at least one, better two, extra sets of batteries. If your light uses multiple cells, you might need 6 or 8 extra batteries. This can get heavy! AA cells are usually cheaper than AAA’s, and hold more power.
Primitive substitute–candle, lamp, torch, campfire.
Miscellany– Wooden spoon– steel spoons work better, but wood is light weight, and you can make them!
Plastic bags– these are always useful, for gathering edibles and other useful things, and keeping stuff organized.
Head-net– anywhere in the world, you can encounter flies, mosquitos, and other bugs that can make life miserable. It is really hard to make a primitive substitute for a $2 bug net!
Needles and thread– for small mending jobs, sewing on buttons, etc. Dental floss is good thread, and comes in a nice container.
Food– A pound a day of dehydrated food will usually give enough nourishment to keep a person comfortable. Adjust based on your experience. Foods that do not require cooking are helpful– such as granola and dry breads. I often like to have as much dried fruit as grain. Dehydrated greens have about as many calories per pound as grain. It is nice to have raw fruit, roots, etc., but this can quickly multiply pounds per day, since most hydrated food is 70-80 percent water. Overall, grain is the most important food to carry. Pre-packaged store-bought foods are a vice of city living. Make your own healthful trail food at home! Anything we can do to replace food from home with food from the wilds, will extend our range and increase our freedom. But it does take time to gather and prepare these wild foods– often several times longer than it takes to clean garden produce.
Sleeping Bag– This item is a huge time-saver. It allows you to travel faster and lighter than if you must transport primitive sleeping accommodations such as grass mats or bearskins or sheepskins. It allows you to sleep comfortably without a fire, and without spending hours constructing enough plant-based insulation to keep warm. Primitive substitutes work, and if you don’t have to move too often, they can be satisfactory. Blankets are far bulkier and heavier than the ultra-light sleeping bag. Large furs can work, but again, they must be obtained and carried. Down is the most compact, lightest-weight insulation available. It must be kept dry, and stored uncompressed (such as hung up in the closet, fully fluffed), to preserve its loft.
Next is polyester fill. I’d recommend the Wiggy’s sleeping bags for a synthetic option, because the super-long fiber system they use seems to last forever. If you wish to make your own sleeping bags, you can get 1.1 ounce ripstop breathable downproof nylon, and either down or polyester microfiber batting, and sew your own. To obtain down, we usually buy high-quality down pillows. Look for a high fill-power rating (600 is OK, 800 is excellent). Or, if you have domestic geese, you can harvest the down yourself! You don’t need to hurt the goose. Another alternative, is the plastic tube tent. This 3-foot triangle is intended to be stuffed full of grass, leaves, etc., the foot-end closed, and after the occupant has entered, the head-end is left open wide enough to provide ventilation. However, most tube-tents on the market are made of plastic sheeting, which will not last for very many nights of use. Making it from a durable fabric would render it more viable for longer-term use, and could replace the sleeping bag, pad, and ground sheet–at the cost of labor and impact to gather the debris. (Figure a 10-foot square of fabric, hemmed, folded in half, and sewn into a tube. That is 7 yards of 60-inch-wide cloth. If you know the weight of the fabric, in ounces per square yard, multiply that by 11.2 to get a good estimate of the finished weight.)
In a war-time scenario, the sleeping bag is of special value, because it is often expedient to sleep without a fire. Many primitive techniques for avoiding the need for a sleeping bag are very fire-dependent. And in situations where FLIR thermal imaging is being used, even non-light-emitting techniques such as putting hot rocks under the bed, could be a definite problem. In winter, it is often necessary to have more than one sleeping bag. If a wool blanket is combined with two appropriate sleeping bags and a waterproof “bivy sack,” most arctic weather can be handled. Yes, the load can easily amount to 15 pounds.
That completes our discussion of the woodsman’s kit for this time. There is much more that could be said, and many other gear options to discuss. But hopefully, you have a few ideas that can help you get started quickly and frugally. Always test everything! Until next time, trust in God, keep your matches dry, and your cutters sharp.