Author Topic: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16  (Read 14583 times)

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Offline Wood Trekker

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Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« on: January 20, 2016, 06:16:23 AM »
"The man who goes afoot, prepared to camp anywhere and in any weather, is the most independent fellow on earth. He can follow his bent, obey the whim of the hour, do what he pleases whenever he pleases, without deference to anybody, or care for any beast of burden or obedience to the course of any current. He is footloose and free. Where neither horse nor boat can go, he can go, seeing country that no other kind of traveler ever sees."  Horace Kephart, 1918

Lately I have been messing around with a style of backpacking I have been calling Classical Backpacking. It focuses on the same type period as Steve Watts and Dave Wescott?s concept of Classic Camping, 1880s through 1930s, but is deals with the backpacking aspect rather than the camping: http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2016/01/classic-backpacking-concept-and-theory.html

As the new year rolled around, I figured I would give it a try and put the gear and skills I have been researching to some actual use. 

The weather was ideal for the task. From the sources I?ve been reading, there seems to be a consensus that a person in the woods, relying on a single 5lb blanket and without relying on a fire all night long to keep warm, can do so down to about 40F (4C) and with discomfort can go down to 32F (0C). For temperatures below that, one would have to rely on a fire that can be kept burning all night long, or would need different insulation like fur robes. Since the temperature for the weekend was set to be fairly warm, at about 32F (0C) during the day, and down to 20F (-7C) at night, I figured it would be a good test for the gear and techniques I was about to use. Any colder than that, and I would have had to bring out a larger axe and rely on a fire to make it through the night; any warmer, and it wouldn?t be much of a test.

I picked an area of the forest that I expected to have good resources, and set out. When doing Classic Backpacking, it is much more important to select your terrain carefully, as you are much more dependent on the resources that you can find, so you must plan accordingly.



I followed a river into the woods, or at least I tried to stay close to it. You always hear the advice of following a river out when in a survival situation, but the terrain along rivers is often some of the most difficult you will encounter.

Along the way I tried to gather resources when I saw them. Some birch bark and pine pitch make good fire starter. They also make a big mess when you try to carry them.





There are two very significant constraints on someone doing Classic Backpacking these days when compared to the people in the late 19th and early 20th century who did the same. One of them is the willingness to drink untreated water. While I do not want to discuss gear specifics in this post, most sources specify carrying only a single canteen for water. That indicates two things. The first is that those travelers were much more careful in sticking close to water sources. The second is that they were willing to drink untreated water.



When it comes to water, that presents a serious issue if one wants to do things in an authentic way without getting sick. I would have to purify my water, something I can?t do on the move. That means I had to wait until my canteen was empty, fill it up with unpurified water, and then bring it to camp so I can boil it. Here I was also lucky to have some snow around, which I could melt for water once I got into camp.

I walked as deep into the woods as time allowed. Ordinarily I would wait until it was fairly late before stopping to set up camp, an act which takes me about ten minutes. Since when doing Classic Backpacking I would have to set up a much more complex camp, I stopped several hours earlier and got to work.



I brought only a small hatchet. I figured it would be sufficient for setting up camp and gathering a small amount of firewood so that I could cook, and have some left over in case I needed it during the night.



When setting up the bedding area, I encountered the other significant disadvantage faced by someone doing Classic Backpacking when compared to people in the past: the ability to collect natural resources. It is simply not considered responsible these days to start felling trees in the way that it was done in the late 19th and early 20th century. While Nessmuk describes bringing down one tree six inches in diameter for fire wood and another for bedding and shelter material, that is not a sustainable practice.

The result is that we have to be more careful in the way we use our firewood and bedding materials. In this case, instead of me collecting a large number of pine boughs, I collected just enough to create a soft top layer of bedding. Underneath a constructed a stick bed, comprised of lined up sticks, covered by finer willow branches. That way I can create sufficient dead air space and separation from the ground without excessive use of living plant material.



For insulation, in addition to my blanket, I brought a sweater, a scarf, a pair of gloves, and an extra pair of socks. Unfortunately, I was tired and distracted, and forgot to change my socks before going to bed, and wrapped myself up in the blanket while wearing my damp socks. I woke up around 9 pm with my feet freezing. I had to get up, put on my other socks, get the fire going again, warm up, and then get back into bed.

All went well until about 1 am when I woke up because I was cold. I had a little bit of fire wood left, but starting the fire up again would have been a waste. See, contrary to popular belief, cotton/canvas tarps are not flame resistant unless they have been chemically treated. Mine hasn?t been because I didn?t want to use modern chemicals, and the methods listed in the primary sources, using sugar of lead (lead acetate) just didn?t seem like a good idea. The result is that you can?t have the fire too close to the tarp. I had my fire set up about three feet from my bedding, which was safe for the tarp, but would mean I would have to get up and move closer in order to get any decent heat from my small fire. It just wasn?t worth it. I spent the night waking up on and off due to the cold. In the morning I used the remainder of my wood to warm up.



The first night under my belt, I packed up and got moving again.



For the second night I also stopped early. My plan for night number two was a bit different. It seemed to me that the time I spent the previous day setting up my tarp was time I could have used in better ways. There was no chance of rain, so I didn?t really need the tarp. A tarp does virtually nothing when it comes to reflecting heat from a fire, and an open set up like mine does little to trap warm air. I figured my time would be better spent gathering more firewood and then building the fire closer to my bedding.

That's exactly what I did for night two, using my tarp as ground cover on top of my bedding to keep moisture away.



I melted snow for water, cooked some basic food, and wrapped myself up for the night.



I hope you appreciate the above picture. I only have a 30 second timer on my camera. That right there is the Olympics of blanket wrapping.

I didn?t make the socks mistake again, but still woke up during the night from the cold. Having the fire close by made it easy to restart and warm up on several occasions, letting it die down in between. That way the wood lasted me through the night.

Some of you are probably wondering why I didn?t build a long fire like you see in retro-style pictures. The reason is that I find long fires to be incredibly wasteful of firewood, a precious resource that requires time and energy to gather, and are usually unnecessary. A smaller fire, close to you, at about torso level will keep you plenty warm. I would only consider a long fire if I needed a very large fire for some reason without making it very deep.

Anyway, the night wasn?t as bad as the first. I packed up, and headed out.

Considering that I was trying to push my gear and the corresponding skills, I think the trip was a success. I was right a the boundaries of what my gear would allow me to do. I would say that the estimates for a comfortable night with a single 5lb blanket, assuming proper bedding, of about 40F (4C) sound right. I was able to push it lower with a few tricks I have picked up over the years, but it wasn?t comfortable. If the temperatures were any lower, I would need to bring out a proper axe and depend on keeping a fire going all night long for warmth. That?s not a fun way to spend the night, but the choices are limited. 

I?ll do some separate posts on gear. I tried to keep the items as authentic as possible, but they weren?t in all respects. My boots were my regular boots, my knife is not period correct, my water bottle has a threaded plastic cap, etc. But, I?ll get into all that in later posts. 

Offline OutdoorEnvy

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2016, 06:39:28 AM »
That's a pretty neat trip idea Ross.  This gives one a lot to think about in terms of making the best use of this kind of gear.  It is the gear most "romanticized" about in bushcraft these days.  Now that you've documented this trip well and the weather/temps it had it would be interesting in a similar weather trip to try it out with a natural shelter that would help retain the heat from a small fire.  But that has it's downside as well.  More time to make it and plus you're back to possibly needing to down more live trees, and as you noted, that's not what it once was.  So again back to the resources game.  The one thing I do like about natural shelters is you don't have to carry them on your back though!  Anyways.  I enjoyed your report and look forward to the next one. 
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Offline vallehombre

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2016, 07:08:40 AM »
Great post and pics, Thank you.

Have you tried bedding down on a small number of coals from the fire? Don't know about your country but it works well in the desert when really cold and requires a relatively small amount of coals.

Offline Wilderbeast

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2016, 07:32:45 AM »
Been reading your blog on this subject.  I must say that I applaud your efforts to put your butt on the line and do it instead of the usual bloviating we get on the internet based on what we read others did.

Bravo.
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Offline Draco

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2016, 08:06:47 AM »
Nice job.  It seems you hit the nail on the head when it comes to cold weather and period gear.  You just can't cut down a dozen trees so you can have a huge bonfire all weekend that warms everything in a 30 foot radius. 

I have seen very few if anyone do what you did.  Watching videos it seems most of the guys who go out with wool blankets do so on nights it is in the 40s or higher.

Offline Quenchcrack

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2016, 08:13:47 AM »
An excellent report!  I think you had a handicap in that some of the practices from 100 years ago that made this type of backpacking possible are simply not responsible today.  I have spent a few cold nights outside and there is nothing worse than trying to sleep while shivering.  I applaud your initiative.  Just use care to keep yourself safe.  If they had access to waterproof down 100 years ago, they would have used it!
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2016, 08:26:46 AM »
I have been following this on your blog as well.  I am most interested in the clothing aspect of vintage camping and look forward to what you encounter with the various equipment you will use.

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Offline Yeoman

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2016, 09:04:35 AM »
Ross,
That was a very insightful post and, as usual, was clear, thoughtful and accurate; based on experience rather than hearsay.

I'm always intriged by your changing interests and willingness to experiment with various techniques, attitudes, periods, interests and variations on the hobby.
It shows an adaptable and curious mind.

I'm looking forward to reading the articles you've posted on your blog about your selections and reviews of your gear.

"Learning: a continuation of the failure process"

Offline Dano

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2016, 02:26:09 PM »
Awesome trip report Ross, very cool!!  I really applaud you for trusting in the blanket so much, I'm not sure I would or could anymore.  I've seen a few videos on how to properly wrap yourself in a wool blanket, and it really seems to lock in your body heat...I imagine the quality and expense of a blanket that good is not cheap by any means.   
 
Also your willingness to NOT cut any more wood/trees than absolutely necessary speaks a lot to your integrity.  I'm really impressed and look forward to your other posts on this style camping and how far you go with it.  Great job Sir!!

P.S. I must admit to being guilty of forgetting to change into dry socks almost every time out as well LOL

Offline Wood Trekker

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2016, 02:54:39 PM »
Thanks a lot guys. I really appreciate it.

My blanket is one I've had around the house for over a decade. I think I bought it at a department store when. I was used to using wool blankets around the house from back in Bulgaria. I can't imagine I spent much on it back then. It weighs 5lb 8.9oz. In the picture below you can see it next to an Italian Army surplus blanket, which weights 4lb 8.7oz. It's a pound heavier, but it's much more loosely woven, so it provides much better insulation.



Even so, sleeping in a blanket is not fun in anything even close to cold weather.

I haven't tried using coals under my bedding for heat. I've heard of the technique, but I've never used it.

Offline wolfy

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2016, 03:40:15 PM »
If you do, just remember to put enough dirt down! :lol:

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Offline upthecreek

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2016, 04:44:30 PM »
Ross, I'm waiting on the report from when you put the coals under you bed.  :fire1: We'll need some pictures and a detailed explanation of the out come on that one too. Great post. We all appreciate it.

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Offline diogenes

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2016, 04:56:23 PM »
Been following this on your blog. Really interesting stuff. It's kind of coincided with my own readings.

I agree with Quenchcrack. I think that men like Kephart would be using modern equipment/materials if they were around today. Just look at the equipment described in his "Trips Afoot" chapter in Camping and Woodcraft. I do plan on doing some wool blanket camping once it warms up, but until then I'll be sleeping in my 5* down bag! I'm too chicken try it in the winter. :P

Thanks for doing this. I look forward to more of your findings. :thumbsup:
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Offline woodsorrel

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2016, 07:10:23 PM »
Ross, I enjoyed reading that very much.  What do you estimate your pack weight was for the trip?

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Offline lgm

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2016, 08:08:21 PM »
Nice post and some great pictures.
so were you happy with your gear?
What a great day to be outside.

Offline Wood Trekker

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #15 on: January 21, 2016, 05:47:45 AM »
My pack weight was exactly 21lb 1.7oz. Most of the gear works great. I'm still going to keep making modifications in other to use items that are more period correct as they become available to me. The only big problem with respect to gear is the sleep system. A single blanket is not all that warm, even a thick one like mine. As a result you have to spend a lot of time gathering firewood and ground insulation each day. I'm not sure how that would be done if there is snow storm or other bad weather.

Offline Yeoman

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2016, 06:08:41 AM »
I've been thinking about blankets and sleeping bags lately.
I doubt I'll ever trade in the efficiency of a winter rated sleeping bag for a blanket but I'd been wondering how to make blankets work better.
A few days ago, I saw a Mors Kochansky video on Karamat's Youtube channel (sorry I can't link it from work).
In it, Mr. Harleton demonstrates the common blanket roll and also the standard sleeping wrap with a blanket.
The interesting point was Mr. Kochanski's observation that you can increase the pile of a wool blanket by raising the nap with a wire brush.
I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with this process?
I have an old CF wool blanket that's similar to Ross' Italian one: heavy and tightly woven but flat. I'm going to experiment with it and see if I can fluff it up.
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Offline Wood Trekker

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2016, 11:15:12 AM »
I would be interested to see the results. I thought of trying something of the sort. The theory is sound; I don't know how easy it would be to do though.

Offline wolfy

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #18 on: January 21, 2016, 12:02:44 PM »
'Teaseling' or raising the nap on a virgin wool blanket would be much more successful, than an attempt at the same type of process on a reprocessed wool blanket, due to the length of the fibers.  The broken fibers in a reprocessed wool product lose their resiliency, natural lanolin or wool-fat and a good deal of their length during the reclamation or reprocessing.  That is one of the the reasons (the other, being durabiliy) the wool in 'army' blankets is flatter, itchy, more dense and has less insulating value per pound than does a virgin wool blanket.  I doubt that it would improve a reprocessed wool blanket, but it might be worth a try. :shrug:


Auto-correct got me again! >:(
« Last Edit: January 21, 2016, 12:18:52 PM by wolfy »
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Offline NewEnglandBushcraft

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2016, 12:26:43 PM »
I realise there are some folks out there who love the idea of classic camping, and I applaud them for having more guts than I to rely on a wool blanket or two. I spent one night in the low 50s freezing my butt off with a wool blanket and being very uncomfortable with a lumpy-bumpy "bed" of leaves stuffed into a large trash bag. I had no fire, then again the fire marshal and DEEP wardens don't look to kindly on open fires burning all night unless you're on your own property or someone else's land with their permission, unless it is truly a life-or-death situation. Nevertheless, that experience taught me that comfort is far more important than "roughing it".

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Offline Wood Trekker

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #20 on: January 21, 2016, 02:35:53 PM »
I think we romanticize this stuff a lot without actually doing it. The result is that a lot of b.s. gets generated online. That's why I wanted to start doing it, so I can see what it actually was like.

In my opinion, most general backpacking modern gear has a decent late 19th or early 20th century equivalent, except for the sleep system. Blankets are just far inferior as insulation when compared to modern options. Not to mention the extended amount of time required to set up camp each day because of the required bedding materials. 

Offline wsdstan

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #21 on: January 21, 2016, 04:12:22 PM »
Insulation value is created by dead air space.  Even a fluffed up pure wool blanket isn't going to offer much insulation value.  In 1927 Townsend Whelen in his book "Wilderness Hunting and Wildcraft" wrote that blankets were almost obsolete for camp bedding in cool or cold climates.  He outlined his current best sleeping bag that was a quilted wool between two flannel "sheets" and covered with a lightweight "cravenetted" cover.  (cravenette is to make a textile water resistant) It weighed 9 pounds and was good to a minus 15 F if you were out of the wind such as in a tent.  He added that if you go further north a fur robe is necessary.  He said the best robe was Caribou skin with the fur on and the other side covered with a canvas lining.  Other furs made good sleeping robes as well.  Robes were too warm to use much South of the far north though. 

It would seem that a nine pound sleeping bag would be quite a burden to carry but maybe not if your young enough.   :shrug:

The weights that Whelen talks about are in excess of normal backpack weights today but in his day most hunting expeditions were using pack horses so the weight of the sleeping system wasn't critical.
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Offline upthecreek

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #22 on: January 21, 2016, 06:08:23 PM »
Is this where I say I love my MSS when it's real cold? It's heavy and warm. I've slept in it at 18 degrees and stayed comfy. Never slept in all three parts. Me and a blanket in the cold probably wouldn't get along too well.

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Offline Yeoman

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2016, 06:18:21 PM »
Ross,
Out of curiosity, what were Arctic and Antarctic explorers, and mountaineers using for bedding during that time period? I realize they used sledges, sleds, and porters, but thought there might have been adaptable systems available.
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Offline Draco

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #24 on: January 21, 2016, 07:06:26 PM »
Ross,
Out of curiosity, what were Arctic and Antarctic explorers, and mountaineers using for bedding during that time period? I realize they used sledges, sleds, and porters, but thought there might have been adaptable systems available.

That is a good question.  Normally you see the Native Americans used heavy furs.  Otzi did not have as much on him as you would think for the conditions.  If I recall Lewis and Clark mentioned that the Indians were shirtless and sweating where his men were freezing so I guess to some extent it is what you are used to as well. 

Offline wolfy

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #25 on: January 21, 2016, 07:09:54 PM »
Wsdstan is currently doing research into this very thing.......he'll probably give us some information, too. :thumbsup:
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #26 on: January 21, 2016, 09:10:40 PM »
My reading about the Arctic and Antarctic expeditions in the late 19th and early 20th century' s has been more focused on clothing than sleeping gear. 

There is a lot of information on clothing but very little (so far) on sleeping gear.  Scott's ill fated Antarctic expedition used reindeer fur sleeping bags.  Complaints available indicate that if used when the occupant was wet the bag would freeze and become both stiff and heavy.  They were warm when the occupant was dry but once wet it was difficult to dry them out.  There is no mention of blankets or other materials used in these bags.  They did, of course, stay in tents and were carrying Primus stoves which they used to melt ice and snow for water.  These could have provided a slightly warmer environment.  Other expedition reports generally available do not go into the specific material used in their sleeping gear.  I think if one can find the equipment lists somewhere a lot of information would be there.

I have not found any specific information readily showing up regarding the bedding materials used by Shackleton or Amundson in their Antarctic explorations.  I know that Amundson used clothing similar to that worn by the Inuit natives in the Arctic (sealskin pants and costs and fur boots) so I would think he may have used their sleeping robes as well. 

Early Arctic exploration articles and reports on the internet have not revealed much information on what kind of bedding was employed but I suspect a variety of expeditions learned what didn't work from the earlier efforts and adjusted their gear accordingly. 

Peary's expedition to the North Pole in 1909 has lots of photos that show the men wearing Inuit clothing and several Inuits were on the expedition.  Again I think their fur robes were possibly used by the others.  Peary learned a lot about surviving in the Arctic on his various trips there and surely took advantage of the information the Inuit would have shared. 

The conditions in the polar regions are so severe that I suspect the British, Norwegian, and American groups used what the Inuit in the Arctic used.
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #27 on: January 21, 2016, 09:23:33 PM »
One thing I did think about a bit is the old cowboy bedroll.  Those were used in a variety of conditions in the late 1800's.  The British Army used a form of bedroll until fairly recently.  Here is a comment about them from a company that makes them:

In the British Army the valise bedroll format was barely changed right up to the early 1970s. A retired British Army Major fondly recalled to us how the canvas ?valise? bedrolls were used in cold war Germany ? strapped to the outside of a tank or Land Rover, and unrolled on the ground whenever the manoeuvres dictated a few hours sleep. He reported they were very effective in the cold and snow of Northern Germany.  These bedrolls were used from about the mid 19th century.  Perhaps there is some merit in them although once again there is the weight issue.
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #28 on: January 21, 2016, 09:57:07 PM »
On the last page of this list of supplies, taken by the Shackleton expedition to the Antarctic, includes reindeer skin sleeping bags.....

https://www.nzaht.org/content/library/Extract_from_CR_Conservation_Plan_List_of_Supplies1.pdf

In my Shackleton book, it indicates that these bags weighed around 10# at first, but after daily use in the tents and condensing breath, they weighed in excess of 30#!

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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #29 on: January 21, 2016, 10:18:53 PM »
I am amazed at the stuff you find.  I searched for an equipment and gear list on these expeditions and would only find small notes from time to time. 

It would appear that all the expeditions used some of the Inuit gear.  I did read that Shackleton stayed with traditional British clothing in his attempt and it cost the men dearly.  Frostbite was severe. 
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #30 on: January 21, 2016, 11:25:57 PM »
Yeah, that's quite a list alright......on the page preceding the last one I noticed there is also another listing for Jaeger camel-hair blankets and sleeping bags w/toggles.  I also noted that they included a poster advertising women's corsets.......which must have been quite a comfort on those long winter nights! :drool:
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Offline Wood Trekker

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #31 on: January 22, 2016, 06:38:33 AM »
Ross,
Out of curiosity, what were Arctic and Antarctic explorers, and mountaineers using for bedding during that time period? I realize they used sledges, sleds, and porters, but thought there might have been adaptable systems available.

They used primarily furs. Nansen, Amundsen, Scott, ets, used fur sleeping bags.

"The sleeping-bag is, of course, a most important article of equipment for all Arctic expeditions. In our case, the nature of the material of which the bag should be made needed our best consideration, as it was necessary that it should be at the same time light and sufficiently warm. On previous expeditions sometimes wool and sometimes skins have been used. Wool, of course, lets the perspiration through much more readily, and there is not so much condensation of moisture inside as in the case of skin ; but, on the other hand, wool has the disadvantage of being very heavy in comparison with the amount of warmth which it affords. For a time I thought of trying woollen bags, but I came to the conclusion that they would not be warm enough, and I now think that if we had taken them we should have scarcely reached the west coast of Greenland alive. After several experiments I determined to use reindeer-skin, as the best material which I could procure in the circumstances. Reindeer-skin is, in comparison with its weight, the warmest of all similar materials known to me, and the skin of the calf, in its winter-coat especially, combines the qualities of warmth and lightness in quite an unusual degree." Fridtjof Nansen, The First Crossing of Greenland, 1890 p.29-30

The Woods Arctic Sleeping Robe was also around during that time. It was a cotton shell, lined with wool and duck down. It could be closed into a sleeping bag. I think it was used by Amundsen on his northern passage expedition, and on several others. It weighs about 16lb.

E.H. Kreps describes a rabbit fur blanket made by weaving strips of rabbit fur. He says it weighs between 8 and 10lb, and is good for cold weather. According to him it was widely used in the north.

If you have pack horses or sleds, the problem is not as bad. You can then carry furs, which would do the job. The big problem was when you wanted to carry everything on foot.

When attempting to climb Everest in 1924, Mallory and Irvine used down sleeping bags. I haven't seen any pictures of them, so I'm not sure how modern of a design they were.

Offline upthecreek

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #32 on: January 22, 2016, 09:07:13 AM »
Wolfy that is a really good article. I haven't read it all yet but will be interesting on this snowy day. I couldn't imagine planning a journey such as that. Especially 100 years ago. You couldn't find such bravery just any where.

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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #33 on: January 22, 2016, 09:43:49 AM »
Yeah, that's quite a list alright......on the page preceding the last one I noticed there is also another listing for Jaeger camel-hair blankets and sleeping bags w/toggles.  I also noted that they included a poster advertising women's corsets.......which must have been quite a comfort on those long winter nights! :drool:

I saw the camel hair blankets and sleeping bags as well.  Perhaps those were used by ships crew and members not going on the journey to reach the pole. 
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Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #34 on: January 22, 2016, 10:08:15 AM »
Thanks for the trip report! It is nice to get a more pragmatic view of the gear. :thumbsup:

Offline Carson

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #35 on: January 22, 2016, 11:17:05 AM »
I think we romanticize this stuff a lot without actually doing it. The result is that a lot of b.s. gets generated online. That's why I wanted to start doing it, so I can see what it actually was like.

Tons of b.s. slung around online. You really have to take it all with more than a grain of salt and learn to laugh a lot.

Congrats on actually trying it. I had no choice growing up. They were definitely not going to get me a store bought sleeping bag so wool blankets held together with blanket pins and a canvass cover was what I used backpacking and camping for 6 formative years, learning how to sleep by a fire in cold weathers and use reflectors and various constructions. Once I was gifted a brand new down bag I never slept in a wool blanket ever again. But the cowboy/mountain man things does look romantic on film and that transfers to popular imagination...
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Offline Yeoman

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #36 on: January 22, 2016, 12:14:39 PM »
Carson,
In reading the quotes about gear in Ross's blog, I get the suspicion that slinging fertilizer about the outdoors is nothing new. Most of the authors that Ross quotes use virtually the same wishing in some of their discussions. Occasionally they might disagree on a point and then offer up an equally suspect variation. I have no doubt that these guys got out and were experienced, however none were original.


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Offline zammer

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #37 on: January 22, 2016, 12:27:57 PM »
The first time I saw wool blankets being talked about was D.C on y.t, this was something old ( but new to the y.t world ) and it took off because it was cheaper, more flame-resistant, helped retain heat when wet and it had that nostalgic throwback that everybody seemed to like. While I really like wool blankets and now have a pretty decent little collection, I would never rely on one in the conditions Ross was in, there are just better options.

As we have seen in this post, camping/backpacking in this old school way just does not fit into the modern way of looking at things... eg not being prepared to drink untreated water/boiled... not wanting to cut down trees for a large enough fire to keep warm etc.

The old schoolers did not put restrictions on themselves with respects to living in the bush, they did whatever was necessary... that mentailty does not carry over into todays world.

I was a little surprised Ross tried this method as I was pretty sure he was died in the wool pro high tech gear, but it was interesting to see his take and its always informative  when he goes on an outting, thanks for sharing with us.
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Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #38 on: January 22, 2016, 01:07:33 PM »
I think the modern gear thing sort of works itself out. If sleeping bags, Gore-Tex, Thinsulate, Primaloft, titanium, carbon fiber, spectra, dyneema, and others weren't an improvement over the technology they seek to replace, nobody would use them.

Offline Carson

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #39 on: January 22, 2016, 02:01:16 PM »
Carson,
In reading the quotes about gear in Ross's blog, I get the suspicion that slinging fertilizer about the outdoors is nothing new. Most of the authors that Ross quotes use virtually the same wishing in some of their discussions. Occasionally they might disagree on a point and then offer up an equally suspect variation. I have no doubt that these guys got out and were experienced, however none were original.

You are right, it is nothing new whatsoever.  I agree that there are plenty of very experienced folks along with the more theoretical variety. I won't throw out the good for the questionable. And there are those who simply like a method and make it work for themselves for any number of reasons and nothing wrong with that.

Even with the modern cutting edge gear there are those who only talk theoretically. Boiling time hence fuel usage of aluminum pots vs titanium is a good example. I found that the width of the pot has a lot more to do with the efficiency, not the material. My ever so slightly smaller diameter titanium pot brought water to the boil slightly faster than my aluminum pot did but there is a loud cult out there that will tell you that can't be. I just tell them to try it for themselves instead of reading about hearsay. Same amount of water, alcohol stove that does not have temperature control and the same size diameter pots...the material almost does not matter in practice application.
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Offline Wood Trekker

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #40 on: January 22, 2016, 02:28:56 PM »
I'm actually not at all anti-wool or anti-old school ways. I'm anti-b.s. regarding those things. Wool is a very good insulator. It is also heavy, does not stay warm when it's wet, and takes forever to dry. If someone understands the limitations, there is no problem with using the material if the conditions allow.

I grew up in eastern Europe, where all we had growing up was wool clothing, canvas, etc. I grew up with those materials. I've also camped with those materials. I know the limitations they have, so it annoys me when people spew out theoretical garbage which clearly isn't based on honest use of the tools.

I decided to do this because I have always been interested in the history, so I wanted to see what it was actually like for the woodsmen at that time. The only way I could think of was to do it.

Offline NewEnglandBushcraft

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #41 on: January 22, 2016, 04:17:54 PM »
Ross,
Out of curiosity, what were Arctic and Antarctic explorers, and mountaineers using for bedding during that time period? I realize they used sledges, sleds, and porters, but thought there might have been adaptable systems available.

That is a good question.  Normally you see the Native Americans used heavy furs.  Otzi did not have as much on him as you would think for the conditions.  If I recall Lewis and Clark mentioned that the Indians were shirtless and sweating where his men were freezing so I guess to some extent it is what you are used to as well.
And this is where we enter the realm of psychology 8). I seem to recall that feral children were observed by psychologists to have acclimated very well to the weather conditions of their local environment. Victor of Avyeron would become excited when snow began to fall, not shivering at the freezing mark, even though he was completely naked.

Our ancestors and the Natives would have acclimated well because they spent much more time outdoors and in a home that didn't have a controlled heating system that kept the inside temperature at a constant 70 F. This is also why some homeless people can withstand frigid temperatures and survive outside.
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Offline zammer

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #42 on: January 22, 2016, 04:32:19 PM »
I'm actually not at all anti-wool or anti-old school ways. I'm anti-b.s. regarding those things. Wool is a very good insulator. It is also heavy, does not stay warm when it's wet, and takes forever to dry. If someone understands the limitations, there is no problem with using the material if the conditions allow.

Didn't mean to imply you were anti wool, just believed you to be more modern material type of guy. You do make an interesting comment when you say "does not stay warm when it's wet" in reference to wool, if there is almost a universally agreed upon subject it is that wool retains warm even tho it gets wet, this belief much older than modern day internet lore,  Have you found this to not be true in your outtings? interested to hear your take....  :cheers:
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Offline Wood Trekker

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #43 on: January 22, 2016, 05:14:07 PM »
I'm actually not at all anti-wool or anti-old school ways. I'm anti-b.s. regarding those things. Wool is a very good insulator. It is also heavy, does not stay warm when it's wet, and takes forever to dry. If someone understands the limitations, there is no problem with using the material if the conditions allow.

Didn't mean to imply you were anti wool, just believed you to be more modern material type of guy. You do make an interesting comment when you say "does not stay warm when it's wet" in reference to wool, if there is almost a universally agreed upon subject it is that wool retains warm even tho it gets wet, this belief much older than modern day internet lore,  Have you found this to not be true in your outtings? interested to hear your take....  :cheers:

That was my point exactly. Wool keeping you warm when wet is a "universally agreed upon" subject among people on the internet who have read something somewhere and have completely taken it out of context and twisted it to serve their personal fashion needs.

Wool absolutely does not keep you warm when it is wet. Virtually all of the references that you will see in historical writings only mention wool being "good" when wet in direct comparison to a cotton alternative. None of them believed that you can wear wet wool clothing and that you would actually be warm. All they say is that you should use wool instead of cotton because it chills you less when wet THAN cotton. That is why they all carried waterproof tarps, and their wool sleeping bags had waterproof covers. 

There are numerous references of how you should take off wet clothing, about how you should carry a second wool sweater in case the first one gets wet if it rains. Kreps writes of an example where he fell in a frozen lake, and with his wet wool clothing would have died if hadn't managed to immediately build a fire.

Unfortunately, there are too many people who read Nessmuk, then try reading Kephart, but stop because it's too long, then supplement their fantasies about "woodsmanship" with internet nonsense, and then start regurgitating garbage online themselves without ever experiencing those conditions. Yes, your wool blanket coat, and wool sweater, and three other wool layers will keep you warm when wet and it's 70 degrees outside. When it's -20, you are going to die.

Wool keeping you warm when wet is a myth. The statement is absurd. Water conducts heat about a 100 times faster than dry wool or cotton. So, the more water you have in the material, the more conductive to heat it becomes. It's not a linear relationship, but it's unavoidable.

My personal experiences absolutely confirm this (at one point in my life I used to believe the same b.s. myself). I've also done some small scale testing: http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2012/03/does-wool-keep-you-warm-when-wet.html which mirrors my experiences. Adam did a larger scale version of the experiment with similar results: http://stuffadamdid.blogspot.com/2015/02/data-on-effectiveness-of-wool-and.html

I've been asking for years now, and I am yet to see any scientific testing showing that wool "keeps you warm wen wet". Wet clothing loses significant insulation. If you get wet, you have a problem.

I'm sorry I'm being so blunt, but I've been hearing this b.s. for so long, that it's gotten on my nerves. :)

Offline zammer

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #44 on: January 22, 2016, 11:28:46 PM »
I've no issue with your bluntness and I appreciate hearing your opinion, I'll take a look at your links when I get home tomorrow, thanks.
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Offline upthecreek

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #45 on: January 23, 2016, 06:59:23 AM »
In my 50+ years I've noticed that if it is cold out and I get wet, I get cold. I love my wool. I love cotton too. I'm crazy about neither when they're wet.

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Offline jontok

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #46 on: January 23, 2016, 12:41:26 PM »
Love your posts Ross!
Great to see someone who's not afraid of a little experimenting. :)
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Offline gizamo

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #47 on: January 23, 2016, 03:47:40 PM »
I think building a proper long fire would solve most of of your issues.

Offline Draco

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #48 on: January 24, 2016, 11:08:28 AM »

My personal experiences absolutely confirm this (at one point in my life I used to believe the same b.s. myself). I've also done some small scale testing: http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2012/03/does-wool-keep-you-warm-when-wet.html which mirrors my experiences. Adam did a larger scale version of the experiment with

That is very interesting and valuable info.  For a long time I have been skeptical about that.  I know when I have gotten wet it never mattered much at all what I was wearing I was going to be cold.  Funny even our SAR training teaches that wool will keep you warm when wet. 

One thing I have found is wool generally dries quicker than cotton but neither hold a candle to my high tech blended fabrics. 

Offline brad.clarkston

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Re: Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/1/16 - 1/3/16
« Reply #49 on: January 24, 2016, 12:19:18 PM »
When I did my SAR training waaaay back when they told us not to get wet.  My current WEMT classes also say that ... don't get wet in the winter --- as in don't get drenched.
I've never heard anyone with real experience say wool keeps you warm when drenched, they say it does a better job than anything else and allot better if only damp.

I rarely listen to the "internet" or car campers which is the majority of "bushcrafters".  It's easy to say things online when you take a pop-up camper, a full kitchen, and cots to sleep on.  Don't get me wrong I like to go to rendezvous's(?) like everyone else.  I try to hit the Pathfinder Gathering every other year but I don't call that camping or real bushcrafting, it's just fun.

My only comment would be that I don't tend to pitch my tarp at summer height in the winter all that cold air sucks.  I also take a couple of those cheap space blankets with me if it gets really cold.  Lots of uses for them in your shelter.

Personally I like canvas for just about anything.  I've tried cotton and linen but for pants, outer layer coats, and tarps I like heavy water resistant canvas.   I'm willing to carry the extra weight for comfort.