The Forest by Stewart Edward White
II. The Science of Going Light.
"Now the Four-Way lodge is opened--now the smokes of Council rise-- Pleasant smokes ere yet 'twixt trail and trail they choose."
You can no more be told how to go light than you can be told how to hit a ball with a bat. It is something that must be lived through, and all advice on the subject has just about the value of an answer to a bashful young man who begged from one of our woman's periodicals help in overcoming the diffidence felt on entering a crowded room. The reply read: "Cultivate an easy, graceful manner." In like case I might hypothecate, "To go light, discard all but the really necessary articles."
The sticking-point, were you to press me close, would be the definition of the word "necessary," for the terms of such definition would have to be those solely and simply of a man's experience. Comforts, even most desirable comforts, are not necessities. A dozen times a day trifling emergencies will seem precisely to call for some little handy contrivance that would be just the thing, were it in the pack rather than at home. A disgorger does the business better than a pocket-knife; a pair of oilskin trousers turns the wet better than does kersey; a camp-stove will burn merrily in a rain lively enough to drown an open fire. Yet neither disgorger, nor oilskins, nor camp-stove can be considered in the light of necessities, for the simple reason that the conditions of their use occur too infrequently to compensate for the pains of their carriage. Or, to put it the other way, a few moments' work with a knife, wet knees occasionally, or an infrequent soggy meal are not too great a price to pay for unburdened shoulders.
Nor on the other hand must you conclude that because a thing is a mere luxury in town, it is nothing but that in the woods. Most woodsmen own some little ridiculous item of outfit without which they could not be happy. And when a man cannot be happy lacking a thing, that thing becomes a necessity. I knew one who never stirred without borated talcum powder; another who must have his mouth-organ; a third who was miserable without a small bottle of salad dressing; I confess to a pair of light buckskin gloves. Each man must decide for himself--remembering always the endurance limit of human shoulders.
A necessity is that which, by your own experience, you have found you cannot do without. As a bit of practical advice, however, the following system of elimination may be recommended. When you return from a trip, turn your duffel bag upside down on the floor. Of the contents make three piles--three piles conscientiously selected in the light of what has happened rather than what ought to have happened, or what might have happened. It is difficult to do this. Preconceived notions, habits of civilization, theory for future, imagination, all stand in the eye of your honesty. Pile number one should comprise those articles you have used every day; pile number two, those you have used occasionally; pile number three, those you have not used at all. If you are resolute and singleminded, you will at once discard the latter two.
Throughout the following winter you will be attacked by misgivings. To be sure, you wore the mosquito hat but once or twice, and the fourth pair of socks not at all; but then the mosquitoes might be thicker next time, and a series of rainy days and cold nights might make it desirable to have a dry pair of socks to put on at night. The past has been x, but the future might be y. One by one the discarded creep back into the list. And by the opening of next season you have made toward perfection by only the little space of a mackintosh coat and a ten-gauge gun.
But in the years to come you learn better and better the simple woods lesson of substitution or doing without. You find that discomfort is as soon forgotten as pain; that almost anything can be endured if it is but for the time being; that absolute physical comfort is worth but a very small price in avoirdupois. Your pack shrinks.
In fact, it really never ceases shrinking. Only last summer taught me the uselessness of an extra pair of trousers. It rains in the woods; streams are to be waded; the wetness of leaves is greater than the wetness of many rivers. Logically, naturally, inevitably, such conditions point to change of garments when camp is made. We always change our clothes when we get wet in the city. So for years I carried those extra nether garments--and continued in the natural exposure to sun and wind and camp-fire to dry off before change time, or to hang the damp clothes from the ridge-pole for resumption in the morning. And then one day the web of that particular convention broke. We change wet trousers in the town; we do not in the woods. The extras were relegated to pile number three, and my pack, already apparently down to a minimum, lost a few pounds more.
You will want a hat, a good hat to turn rain, with a medium brim. If you are wise, you will get it too small for your head, and rip out the lining. The felt will cling tenaciously to your hair, so that you will find the snatches of the brush and the wind generally unavailing.
By way of undergarments wear woollen. Buy winter weights even for midsummer. In travelling with a pack a man is going to sweat in streams, no matter what he puts on or takes off, and the thick garment will be found no more oppressive than the thin. And then in the cool of the woods or of the evening he avoids a chill. And he can plunge into the coldest water with impunity, sure that ten minutes of the air will dry him fairly well. Until you have shivered in clammy cotton, you cannot realize the importance of this point. Ten minutes of cotton underwear in cold water will chill. On the other hand, suitably clothed in wool, I have waded the ice water of north country streams when the thermometer was so low I could see my breath in the air, without other discomfort than a cold ring around my legs to mark the surface of the water, and a slight numbness in my feet when I emerged. Therefore, even in hot weather, wear heavy wool. It is the most comfortable. Undoubtedly you will come to believe this only by experience.
Do not carry a coat. This is another preconception of civilization, exceedingly difficult to get rid of. You will never wear it while packing. In a rain you will find that it wets through so promptly as to be of little use; or, if waterproof, the inside condensation will more than equal the rain-water. In camp you will discard it because it will impede the swing of your arms. The end of that coat will be a brief half-hour after supper, and a makeshift roll to serve as a pillow during the night. And for these a sweater is better in every way.
In fact, if you feel you must possess another outside garment, let it be an extra sweater. You can sleep in it, use it when your day garment is soaked, or even tie things in it as in a bag. It is not necessary, however.
One good shirt is enough. When you wash it, substitute the sweater until it dries. In fact, by keeping the sweater always in your waterproof bag, you possess a dry garment to change into. Two handkerchiefs are enough. One should be of silk, for neck, head, or--in case of cramps or intense cold--the stomach; the other of coloured cotton for the pocket. Both can be quickly washed, and dried en route. Three pairs of heavy wool socks will be enough--one for wear, one for night, and one for extra. A second pair of drawers supplements the sweater when a temporary day change is desirable. Heavy kersey "driver's" trousers are the best. They are cheap, dry very quickly, and are not easily "picked out" by the brush.
The best blanket is that made by the Hudson's Bay Company for its servants--a "three-point" for summer is heavy enough. The next best is our own gray army blanket. One of rubber should fold about it, and a pair of narrow buckle straps is handy to keep the bundle right and tight and waterproof. As for a tent, buy the smallest shelter you can get along with, have it made of balloon silk well waterproofed, and supplement it with a duplicate tent of light cheesecloth to suspend inside as a fly-proof defence. A seven-by-seven three-man A-tent, which would weigh between twenty and thirty pounds if made of duck, means only about eight pounds constructed of this material. And it is waterproof. I own one which I have used for three seasons. It has been employed as tarpaulin, fly, even blanket on a pinch; it has been packed through the roughest country; I have even pressed it into service as a sort of canoe lining; but it is still as good as ever. Such a tent sometimes condenses a little moisture in a cold rain, but it never "sprays" as does a duck shelter; it never leaks simply because you have accidentally touched its under-surface; and, best of all, it weighs no more after a rain than before it. This latter item is perhaps its best recommendation. The confronting with equanimity of a wet day's journey in the shower-bath brush of our northern forests requires a degree of philosophy which a gratuitous ten pounds of soaked-up water sometimes most effectually breaks down. I know of but one place where such a tent can be bought. The address will be gladly sent to any one practically interested.
As for the actual implements of the trade, they are not many, although of course the sporting goods stores are full of all sorts of "handy contrivances." A small axe--one of the pocket size will do, if you get the right shape and balance, although a light regulation axe is better; a thin-bladed sheath-knife of the best steel; a pocket-knife; a compass; a waterproof match-safe; fishing-tackle; firearms; and cooking utensils comprise the list. All others belong to permanent camps, or open-water cruises--not to "hikes" in the woods.
The items, with the exception of the last two, seem to explain themselves. During the summer months in the North Woods you will not need a rifle. Partridges, spruce hens, ptarmigan, rabbits, ducks, and geese are usually abundant enough to fill the provision list. For them, of course, a shotgun is the thing; but since such a weapon weighs many pounds, and its ammunition many more, I have come gradually to depend entirely on a pistol. The instrument is single shot, carries a six-inch barrel, is fitted with a special butt, and is built on the graceful lines of a 38-calibre Smith and Wesson revolver. Its cartridge is the 22 long-rifle, a target size, that carries as accurately as you can hold for upwards of a hundred yards. With it I have often killed a half-dozen of partridges from the same tree. The ammunition is light. Altogether it is a most satisfactory, convenient, and accurate weapon, and quite adequate to all small game. In fact, an Indian named Tawabinisay, after seeing it perform, once borrowed it to kill a moose.
"I shootum in eye," said he.
By way of cooking utensils, buy aluminium. It is expensive, but so light and so easily cleaned that it is well worth all you may have to pay. If you are alone you will not want to carry much hardware. I made a twenty-day trip once with nothing but a tin cup and a frying-pan. Dishes, pails, wash-basins, and other receptacles can always be made of birch bark and cedar withes--by one who knows how. The ideal outfit for two or three is a cup, fork, and spoon apiece, one tea-pail, two kettle-pails, and a frying-pan. The latter can be used as a bread-oven.
A few minor items, of practically no weight, suggest themselves--toilet requisites, fly-dope, needle and thread, a cathartic, pain-killer, a roll of surgeon's bandage, pipe and tobacco. But when the pack is made up, and the duffel bag tied, you find that, while fitted for every emergency but that of catastrophe, you are prepared to "go light."