Rustic American-Style Camping – Survivopedia

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Camp Like the Great American Woodsmen of our Time!

The Old Ways

The writings of Horace Kephart, Daniel Beard, and George W. Sears “Nessmuk” had the most significant influence on me over the years, and I consider them some of the greatest forefathers of rustic camping. This style of camp living includes various fire-lays, crafting cooking implements, rigging up open-face shelters, using open fires for warmth and cooking, and using minimal yet effective tools like the ax and knife is all regarded as woodcraft. Horace Kephart put it best in his masterful book Camping and Woodcraft:

long fire

“Woodcraft may be defined as the art of finding one’s way in the wilderness and getting along well by utilizing Nature’s storehouse.”

       The woodcraft way is not defined by a list of hard and fast rules but more by a set of woods-worthy principles towards our choice of gear and techniques. 

Kephart also wrote:

       “An old campaigner is known by the simplicity and fitness of his equipment. He carries few ‘fixings’, but every article has been well tested, and it is the best that his purse can afford. He has learned by hard experience how steep are the mountain trails and how tangled the undergrowth and downwood in the primitive forest. He has learned too how to fashion on the spot many substitutes for ‘boughten’ things that we consider necessary at home…Ideal outfitting is to have what we want, when we want it, and not be bothered with anything else.”

VIDEO: How Land Nav Training Can Sharpen Your Body and Mind

The 4 W’s 

Selecting a place to camp is a woodsman’s skill. When an established camp or car camp is visited, all the thinking has been done for us. When setting out on an outdoors trip off the beaten path, there must be more consideration on our part as to what we are looking for in a camp.

Water– It has been said by an old woodsman that all man needs to survive in the wilderness is water and tools. It is quite a big statement as it doesn’t encompass the number of skills needed to wield tools, select qualities of wood, understand weather, make proper fires, cook over coals, and what to do with water to make it suitable for us to drink safely. However, it is true. Water is the most crucial element in wilderness living for obvious reasons. Being relatively close to a creek, river, stream, or brook is a must in a woodsman’s camp. 

Wood– In a rustic “Indian Camp” (as called by Nessmuk), all cooking over coals or fire requires wood, so it is important to choose a campsite with a ready supply of wood that doesn’t require traveling too far to procure. One must also consider the type of wood, but often we are at the mercy of our surroundings and must make do with whatever materials are available—that is true woodcraft! 

Wind– I would say that the wind is the hardest to consider when selecting a campsite out of all the four W’s. Generally, wind travels up the canyon in the day and down the canyon at night. This is great information if you are camping in a canyon, but the rest of the terrain leaves much more up to Mother Nature than we think. Obviously, if we are sleeping in front of an open fire, we want to set our camp up with the fire parallel to the wind to avoid the smoke’s eddying effect. 

Widowmakers: Most campers are content with finding a campsite that meets at least three of the four W’s, but neglecting this one can be a matter of life and death. A widowmaker is any dead tree or large branch that has the potential of falling on our camp via wind or decomposition. So—look up! 


Shelter Craft

Two very popular styles of shelters in the 1800s and early 1900s are still used today. The lean-to and A-frame shelters, often taught as survival shelters, were used as regular camp shelters along with canvas tarps and tents. The construction of these time-proven fixtures is simple; however, they can take hours. 

A frame 3

       The lean-to is made with a ridgepole no thinner than your wrist and no thicker than your bicep. It must be lashed to a tree or fixed into a natural crotch of another tree, no higher than your shoulder. Lay a course of broomstick-wrist-thick poles at a 45-degree angle as close together as possible, making sure to have enough length to hang over the ridgepole. Add thinner sticks to fill the cracks and have them be parallel and perpendicular to create catch points for debris. Add debris until no light shines through from the forest ground or boughs from conifers; hemlocks work best. 

      An A-frame shelter uses a ridgepole, about 12-feet long and just as stout as the lean-to. It is propped at an angle with one end on the ground, and the other lashed or placed in a tree crotch. Add thumb-broomstick-thick sticks as ribbing to mimic the ribs of a dinosaur skeleton. Repeat the process with thinner sticks and add debris. Leaves, pine needles, and boughs are the best choice; it all depends on your terrain. Cover until no light can be seen. 

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