This section is from the book "Camping And Woodcraft", by Horace Kephart. Also available from Amazon: Camping and Woodcraft.
"By St. Nicholas i have a sudden passion for the wild wood-We should be free as air in the wild wood What say you ? Shall we go ? Your hands, your tjanrtsi *
In some of our large cities there are professional outfitters to whom one can go and say: " So many of us wish to spend such a month in such a region, hunting and fishing: equip us." The dealer will name a price; you pay it, and leave the rest to him. When the time comes he will have the outfit ready and packed. It will include everything needed foi the trip, well selected and of the best materials. When your party reaches the jumping-off place it will be met by professional guides and packers, who will take you to the best hunting grounds and fishing waters, and will do all the hard work of paddling, packing over portages, making camp, chopping wood, cooking, and cleaning up, besides showing you where the game and fish are " using," and how to get them. In this way a party of city men who know nothing of woodcraft can spend a season in the woods very comfortably, though getting little practical knowledge of the wilderness. This is touring, not campaigning. It is expensive; but it may be worth the price to such as can afford it, and who like that sort of thing.
But, aside from the expense of this kind of Camping, it seems to me that whoever takes to the woods and waters for recreation should learn how to shift for himself in an emergency. He may employ guides and a cook all that; but the day of disaster may come, the outfit may be destroyed, or the city man may find himself some day alone, lost in the forest, and compelled to meet the forces of Nature in a struggle for his life. Then it may go hard with him indeed if he be not only master of himself, but of that woodcraft which holds the key to Nature's storehouse. A camper should know for himself how to outfit, how to select and make a camp, how to wield an axe and make proper fires, how to cook, wash, mend, how to travel without losing his course, or what to do when he has lost it; how to trail, hunt, shoot, fish, dress game, manage boat or canoe, and how to extemporize such makeshifts as may be needed in wilderness faring. And he should know these things as he does the way to his mouth. Then is he truly a woodsman, sure to do promptly the right thing at the right time, whatever befalls. Such a man has an honest pride in his own resourcefulness, a sense of reserve force, a doughty self-reliance that is good to feel. His is the confidence of the lone sailorman, who whistles as he puts his tiny bark out to sea.
And there are many of us who, through some mis-cue of the Fates, are not rich enough to give carte blanche orders over the counter. We would like silk tents, air mattresses, fiber packing cases, and all that sort of thing; but we would soon " go broke " if we started in at that rate. I am saying nothing about guns, rods, reels, and such-like, because they are the things that every well conducted sportsman goes broke on, anyway, as a matter of course. I am speaking only of such purchases as might be thought extravagant. And it is conceivable that some folks might call it extravagant to pay thirty-five dollars for a thing to sleep in when you lie out of doors on the ground from choice, or thirty dollars for pots and pans to cook with when you are " playing hobo," as the unregenerate call our sylvan sport. To practise shrewd economies in such things helps out if you are caught slipping in through the back gate with a brand-new gun, when everybody knows that you already possess more guns than you can find legitimate use for.
If one begins, as he should, six months in advance, to plan and prepare for his next summer or fall vacation, he can, by gradual and surreptitious hoarding, get together a commendable Camping equipment, and nobody will notice the outlay. The best way is to make many of the things yourself. This gives your pastime an air of thrift, and propitiates the Lares and Penates by keeping you home o' nights. And there is a world of solid comfort in having everything fixed just to suit you. The only way to have it so is to do the work yourself. One can wear ready-made clothing, he can exist in ready-furnished rooms, but a ready-made Camping outfit is a delusion and a snare. It is sure to be loaded with gim-cracks that you have no use for, and to lack something that you will be miserable without.
It is great fun, in the long winter evenings, to sort over your beloved duffel, to make and fit up the little boxes and hold-alls in which everything has its proper place, to contrive new wrinkles that nobody but yourself has the gigantic brain to conceive, to concoct mysterious dopes that fill the house with unsanctimonious smells, to fish around for materials, \n odd corners where you have no business, and, generally, to set the female members of the household buzzing around in curiosity, disapproval, and sundry other states of mind.
To be sure, even though a man rigs up his own outfit, he never gets it quite to suit him. Every season sees the downfall of some cherished scheme, the failure of some fond contrivance. Every winter sees you again fussing over your kit, altering this, substituting that, and flogging your wits with the same old problem of huw to save weight and bulk without sacrifice of utility. All thoroughbred campers do this as regularly as the birds come back in spring, and their kind has been doing it since the world began. It is good for us. If some misguided genius should invent a Camping equipment that nobody could find fault with, half our pleasure in life would be swept away.
This is not saying that outfitters' catalogues should be ignored. Get them, by all means, and study them with care. Do this at home, comparing one catalogue with another, that you may know just what you want and what you don't want, before you go out to make purchases. Then you will not be such easy prey to the plausible clerk, and your selection will bear the stamp of your individuality.
The joys and sorrows of camp life, and the proportion of each to the other, depend very much upon how one chooses his companions granting that he has any choice in the matter at all. It may be noticed that old-timers are apt to be a bit distant when a novice betrays any eagerness to share in their pilgrimages. There is no churlishness in this: rather it is commendable caution. Not every good fellow in town makes a pleasant comrade in the woods. So it is that experienced campers are chary of admitting new members to their lodges. To be one of them you must be of the right stuff, ready to endure trial and privation without a murmur, and what is harder for most men to put up with petty inconveniences without grumbling.
For there is a seamy side to camp life, as to everything else. Even in the best of camps things do happen sometimes that are enough to make a saint swear silently through his teeth. But no one is fit for such life who cannot turn ordinary ill-luck into a joke, and bear downright calamity like a gentleman.
Yet there are other qualities in a good camp-mate that are rarer than fortitude and endurance. Chief of these is a love of Nature for her own sake not the " put on " kind that expresses itself in gushy sentimentalism, but that pure, intense, though ordinarily mute affection which finds pleasure in her companionship and needs none other. As Olive Shreiner says: " It is not he who praises Nature, but he who lies continually on her breast and is satisfied, who is actually united to her." Donald G. Mitchell once remarked that nobody should go to the country with the expectation of deriving much pleasure from it, as country, who has not a keen eye for the things of the country, for scenery, or for trees, or flowers, or some kind of culture; to which a New York editor replied that " Of this not one city man in a thousand has a particle in his composition." No doubt a gross exaggeration; but the proportion of city men who do thoroughly enjoy the hardy sports and adventures of the wilderness is certainly much larger than those who could be entertained on a farm; yet the elect of these, the ones who can find plenty to interest them in the woods when fishing and hunting fail, are not to be found on every street corner.
If your party be made up of men inexperienced in the wroods, hire a guide, and, if there be more than three of you, take along a cook as well. Treat your guide as one of yourselves. A good one deserves such consideration; a poor one is not worth having at all. But if you cannot afford this expense, then leave the real wilderness out of account for the present ; go to some pleasant woodland, within hail of civilization, and start an experimental camp, spending a good part of your time in learning how to wield an axe, how to build proper fires, how to cook good meals out-of-doors, and so forth. Be sure to get the privilege beforehand of cutting what wood you will need. It is worth paying some wood-geld that you may learn how to fell and hew. Here, with fair fishing and some small game hunting, you can have a jolly good time, and will be fitted for something more ambitious the next season.
In any case, be sure to get together a company of good-hearted, manly fellows, who will take things as they come, do their fair share of the camp chores, and agree to have no arguments before breakfast. There are plenty of such men, steel-true and blade-straight. Then will your trip be a lasting pleasure, to be lived over time and again in after years. There are no friendships like those that are made under canvas and in the open field.
In the following pages I treat the matter of outfitting in detail, not that elaborate outfits are usually desirable for they are not but because in town there is so much to pick and choose from. There are many patterns of this, that, and the other article of equipment, some good for one kind of Camping, come for another. I try to explain their " points," 'hat the reader may choose intelligently according to his needs.