1. Minimum Equipment

Sleeping Bags
Cook Kits
[Miscellaneous Equipment]




The first thing anybody does when planning a camping trip is to make a list, and probably that is as good a way as any to start a book. This is a list of the essential equipment for two knapsackers for two weeks. It is, as it were, succinct and to the point; there is nothing in it that can conveniently be done without. It will provide a sort of base from which to work, an irreducible minimum to which we can add as we go along. Once in a while one encounters those strange legendary creatures who live on rice and fish, sleep in their clothes and a piece of canvas, and who are content with a fishing line, a few flies, a jackknife, a coffee can, and some matches. They would despise such a conglomeration of stuff, but fortunately they have passed far beyond the reach of camping manuals. Others, who in the past have emerged from sporting goods stores staggering under a “complete equipment” suggested by some salesman’s fertile brain, will be struck with horror.

Clothing for each person:

waterproofed boots
two pairs of heavy wool boot socks
waist overalls
two blue chambray shirts
suspenders or belt
slipover sweater
three bandana handkerchiefs
broadbrimmed hat
long wool underwear (for pajamas)
extra leather shoe laces
light broadcloth trunks

Optional clothing for each person:

basketball shoes
swim suits
dark glasses
mosquito veil
another sweater
cotton work socks
felt and cork insoles
light wool or silk gauze undershirt

Miscellaneous equipment:

jackknife (Boy Scout type)
“pocket” axe or machete or corn knife
can opener
small triangle file
sewing kit:
     linen thread
     darning wool
     safety pins
     “bachelor buttons” wrapped in a piece of denim for patching
toilet kit:
     razor and blades
     tooth powder
     nail file
first aid kit:
     1 oz. iodine (half-strength Lugol’s solution)
     roll of 3-inch bandage
     roll of 2-inch adhesive tape
     safety pins, wrapped in a square yard of sterile muslin and then in oiled silk
     cascara pills
     4 oz. cod liver oil
metal mirror
flashlight, extra bulbs and batteries
writing kit:
     post cards
fishing tackle:
USGS maps
25 feet of cord
oiled silk and cloth bags for grub
boot grease
3 plumbers candles
waterproof match box
tobacco in oiled silk pouch
compass watch
laundry soap
sleeping bags
cook kit:
     three nesting pots
     frying pan
     aluminum pans for dishes
     forks and spoons

There are two ways of being miserable in the mountains. First, you can go with too little equipment, shiver under inadequate bedding with a fire going all night, eat with your fingers out of the cooking pots, cower under a tree or walk all day soaked with rain, and come home in rags. On the other hand, you can let your imagination run riot in a large outfitting store, weight yourself down with all manner of contraptions and unnecessary clothing, most of which you will probably lose or discard, carry a tent which is too large to pitch on uneven ground and tips over or blows down in the night, sleep beneath twenty pounds of blankets and quilts, and stagger along the trail overladen and gasping. Quite a few ingenious souls manage to combine both methods. Either is guaranteed to bring you home exhausted and ten or more pounds underweight.

Even the most carefully selected equipment is not foolproof. Camping, like most human activities, requires a certain amount of system and order to be successful. Most experienced campers tend, if anything, to be a little too cranky and set in their ways. However, used with average intelligence, the gear in this list should bring you safely over a good many miles of trail.



The pack is the best thing to start with; nothing is more important, at least nothing, unless it be poor footwear, can cause more trouble than a bad one. The best pack on the market is the Norwegian rucksack. It is light, waterproof, provided with ample pockets, made of excellent materials, and engineered like a suspension bridge. It has one fault. Compared with most other types, it is very expensive, ranging in price from $15 to $25. By ordering directly from the maker in Norway, it can be obtained considerably cheaper.

The principal of suspension in this pack is ingenious and merits some description. The sack is mounted on a very light frame of tubular metal, called a meis (pronounced mice), which consists of a horizontal bow across the bottom and a vertical, hairpin-like bow up the back, which holds the sack free of the body. Between the extreme points of the bottom bow, runs a band of webbing shorter than the bow itself, like a loose bowstring. This band rests on the top of the hip bones and supports most of the weight at a point and in a way in which the body can cope with it most efficiently. The shoulder straps are attached to the top of the vertical bow by a roller, which acts as a sort of differential joint and distributes the weight of the pack as the shoulders shift. The top opening of the pack is secured by a drawstring and covered with a flap which straps down. This draws the whole sack into a roughly conical form, again distributing the weight with maximum efficiency. If one hikes with the pack exposed to wind-driven rain, a little cape of waterproofed Egyptian cotton should be sewed to the top to cover the entire pack. (However, in the equipment we are discussing, the cape of the poncho takes care of that.)

The largest, and therefore the best models for long hikes are equipped with laced, extensible sides which increase the carrying capacity of the pack by about one half. They are known as Three-in-One and Two-in-One. The Two-in-One, paradoxically, is the more expensive and is probably preferable. In ordering one of these packs, one should be sure to send the makers his height, weight, waist measure, and the distance from the first vertebra of the neck to the top bones of the hip. Like most old-timers, I long resisted the lure of this knapsack. In fact, when my wife first suggested we buy a couple, I told her to read Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. I am afraid I was badly mistaken. You are not likely to get more value for your money in any other piece of equipment; you will probably take more trips than one and the pack will be a long time wearing out, and every time you put it on you will realize again how comfortable it is and be glad you spent the money.

Second to the Norwegian type, a good, but a distant second is the “packboard” carried in Alaska and the Northwest. There are several differing styles on the market, most of them good, but it is cheaper to make one at home out of the Maine-type knapsack. The principle is somewhat similar to the Norwegian sack, but lacks the engineering finesse of the latter. The sack is mounted on a frame of wood, usually hickory, a ladderlike structure with three or more vertical, curved rungs. The sack rests against the outside curve of these rungs; and canvas, either in one piece or in two or three wide bands (which must be very carefully placed or they will chafe), is stretched from the upright bars across the inside curve. The shoulder straps are usually attached close together at the top to the uppermost “rung,” they are commonly riveted fast, but there is no reason why they should not be swung on a little roller like the Norwegian pack. At the bottom they are hooked into rings which are fast to the lower ends of the two upright bars. Often the pack is tacked or riveted fast to the frame; this is not a very good arrangement as it is likely to rip loose. The best scheme is to lash the pack fast with leather thongs (boot laces) run through metal eyes (grommets) or rings on the inner margins of the sack.

The advantages of this arrangement are obvious. The packsack, and therefore anything in it, is held free of the back. Canned goods, mineral specimens, all sorts of angular and hard objects, can be carried with no fear of bruises, the air space between the rungs of the frame permits plenty of ventilation, and the weight rests vertically on the shoulders and hips. Theoretically it should be possible to adjust the tension of the canvas strips and possibly even give a form-fitting curve to the upright bars, thus relieving the strain on the shoulders and supporting the weight in the same way as the Norwegian pack. I have never seen such a “chassis,” but experimentation along these lines might be very fruitful. As it is, an undue amount of weight tends to be taken by the shoulders. This depends a great deal on the fit of the pack and the shape of the packer, however it is a definite disadvantage in most cases. Those who can use a headstrap or “tumpline” will find it a great help. The ends of the tumpline should be hooked to rings midway on the packsack, not to the frame or it will buck, and should buckle into the hooks in such a way that they can be adjusted. This combination makes a very comfortable and efficient pack; probably greater weights can be carried than with the Norwegian harness. It is ideal for unusually long or bulky objects, and many tons of mining tools, stovepipes, and similar things have been transported in this way over great distances. For the ordinary camper, who is not interested in outfitting a mine but is interested in seeing as much of the country as possible, the tumpline is an inconvenience. The head is not free to turn, the vision is slightly obstructed by the straps, and the head, neck, and trunk must be kept bent slightly forward and in line.

Those who have never seen a tumpline are usually shocked at the first sight, and it does look a little like some medieval instrument of torture. Nothing looks heavier than a big bulky pack with a headstrap. This appearance is misleading. It is not hard to get used to, and it is far less tiring than a constant pull on the shoulders. Canadian guides use it almost exclusively, usually without shoulder straps, and carry loads of two hundred pounds or more over long portages. Every pack, with the exception of the Norwegian, should be equipped with one, if only for occasional use to rest the shoulders.

If the difference between the packboard and the Norwegian pack is considerable, an even greater one separates the packboard from all knapsacks and rucksacks which rest directly on the back. There are innumerable models on the market, but the only thoroughly satisfactory one is the Maine type. This is a large, rectangular sack with adjustable shoulder straps of broad webbing, attached close together at the top and hooked into rings about four-fifths of the way down and spaced wide enough apart to clear the waist. The opening is covered by ears from the sides which are tied together with laces; another pair of laces tie in the opposite direction, and the whole is covered by a waterproof flap which hooks into the lower outside corners. These details are very important and if any are missing, the pack is that much less efficient.

Any knapsack with the shoulder straps spaced wide apart at the top, or attached to the lower corners, or without the ears covering the opening, or with a flap which only covers the upper half, or without a pair of laces or straps to tie the front and back of the opening together, should be avoided. The seams should be well sewn, in fact it is not a bad idea to go over them with harness thread before using the pack, and they should have sufficient extra material so they will not rip out. The center straps or laces from the front to the back of the opening should be reinforced. This is the one weak point of even the best Maine packs. Since the rear strap is made fast to the same point as the shoulder straps (on the other side of the cloth) when the pack is tied up a heavy strain is placed on it, and unless it is reinforced, or better, replaced with a much heavier strap, it is constantly tearing loose, This doesn’t sound very important, but it is. The flap should be waterproof, and the hooks which secure it should be attached near the edge of the ends of adjustable straps. There are a number of models on the market which fasten the flap by means of straps, attached to the middle of the under side, and fastening about four inches below the opening. This leaves an extra piece of material to catch dirt and branches, a sort of flounce which might be very handsome on a petticoat, but which is anything but neat on a knapsack. Also, the opening is not adequately covered, utensils and bits of clothing peek out, get covered with dust, soaked with rain, or lost.

A tumpline should be attached to the same point as the shoulder straps, or to the sides of the pack about four inches from the top. It is best to get the largest model (usually about 18 x 18 x 6 inches, with a flap 18 x 18 inches), this size fits much better, and although it is possible to put little in a big pack, a small one cannot be stretched. The sack my be improved by the addition of an extensible throat, closed with a drawstring, of waterproof cloth.

These three styles are, in my opinion, by far the best for use under our conditions. English, German, and Swiss rucksacks, much like the Norwegian type, but without the chassis, are popular with older members of the mountaineering clubs. They certainly cannot be compared with either the Norwegian or the “packboard,” and it is doubtful if they are as good as the Maine knapsack. They are imported and usually quite expensive.

The salvaged US Army packs sold in Army and Navy stores were designed to carry a very specific collection of accoutrements, and must be secured in place and counterbalanced by the full cartridge belt. It is questionable if they were very well designed even for that purpose; they are worthless for any other.

Never, under any circumstances, try to carry your duffle in a blanket roll slung over one shoulder. This is probably the most uncomfortable way to carry anything, except possibly in the teeth or suspended from the neck by a noose.

A pretty good imitation of a Norwegian pack can be made at home by those given to handicraft. It is heavier than the regular one, but it is a great deal cheaper. The necessary materials are: an old Vienna chair; a good leather belt, two or more inches wide, or a 2-inch piece of latigo about 32 inches long; two bands of heavy canvas, 24 inches long and 3 inches wide, either with a selvage on both edges or bound with tape; three 1-inch harness D rings; two 15-inch pieces of 8 or 10 gauge fairly stiff wire; a spool of light copper wire; two spools of friction tape; two 2½-inch light furniture bolts; four pairs of rawhide boot laces; and a large Maine knapsack.

Unscrew the inside bow on the back of the chair, inspecting it carefully to be sure it isn’t cracked. Cut out the largest section of the ring which supports the legs. (This should be at least eleven inches from tip to tip, not along the curve but across the cord.) We now have the frame of the chassis. Have someone hold the vertical bow with the top against the lowest vertebra of your neck and mark the bottom line of your hips. This is about nineteen inches on a 6-foot man. Often this is the exact dimension of the bow as it comes from the chair, which is very convenient as it saves boring new holes and possibly cracking the wood. Place the ends of the upright bow against the center of the horizontal one and mark the places for your bolts. Both bows should have their inside curves toward the back of the bearer. Shape the ends of the upright bow so they will fit snugly, bore the holes and bolt fast. Saw off the extra lengths of bolt with a hacksaw. Lash the joint tightly with copper wire.

Take the two extra rectangular rings (if rings can be rectangular) off the knapsack. They are just above the shoulder straps and were designed for a tumpline attachment. Lash them vertically to the ends of the horizontal bow with copper wire. They serve to keep the belt in place and prevent it from curling. Lash the D rings to the vertical bow, one at the top, crosswise to the wood (best make a little groove for it first), one on each side, parallel to the wood, at the extreme outer edge of the curve. Bend pieces of 10-gauge wire tightly around the ends of the horizontal bow and around the vertical one about four inches below the D rings. Lash them fast with copper wire. They act as braces and keep the lower bow from rolling on the upper one under a heavy weight. The frame of the chassis is completed. Bind it all over with friction tape and then lash the joint of the bows with wet rawhide. You should now be able to lay it down and stand on it with impunity.

Wet the belt or latigo and strap it tight, through the rectangular rings, across the cord of the lower bow, and buckled in the back. At first it will be too taut, but after a little use it will loosen up until it sags to within about an inch of the bow. Have a shoemaker stamp four metal eyes in each end of each band of canvas. Wet them and tack them fast to the upper curve of the vertical bow, about three inches apart and with the eyes free toward the back of the frame (the side towards the pack, not towards you), pull them tightly over the “bowstring” part of the belt and under the belt, but around the frame on the other side. Wet the laces and lace them tightly. Do not tack the bands to the lower bow.

Take the shoulder straps off the pack, but leave the rectangular rings attached to them. Put the inside edge of the rings about one and one-half inches on either side of the top D ring and tie them together with a rope or heavy thong, running freely through the ring. Tie a rope or thong to the other end of each rectangular ring on the shoulder straps, run it freely through the outer D ring, and fasten it to the lower rectangular ring at the end of the horizontal bow. This is not so good as the little wheel on the Norwegian pack, but it does give a certain amount of “float” to the shoulder straps. If you live in a port, a little pulley, on a ring just large enough to go around the wood, can be found at a chandler’s, or a small awning pulley is good enough. Hook the lower ends of the shoulder straps to the lower rectangular rings. All that remains is to lash the pack to the harness. There are a variety of ways of doing this, depending on the size and nature of the load. A little experimentation will soon discover the best method in each case. Don’t lash to the wire braces.

This pack is better designed than the packboard and is lighter than most harness type packs. It is sturdier than the Norwegian model, and will take a terrific amount of punishment. Otherwise it does not compare with it. The fact that the pack must be lashed on each time is not altogether a disadvantage. The harness can be used for carrying wood and all sorts of things. The pack and harness of the Norwegian pack cannot be detached. Vienna chairs can be bought second-hand for a dollar or so, and less if they lack a leg or are otherwise damaged; the belt or latigo should cost about a dollar, and the rest of the materials even less, excepting, of course, the pack, which sells for from $3 to $5.

The Norwegians also sell a heavy duty meis, without the rucksack, originally developed to carry oxygen tanks on the Everest expeditions. They are now known amongst mountaineers as “Everest carriers.” For extremely heavy loads or for transporting a miscellany of irregular and bulky objects, they are ideal. Few US dealers carry them, but they can be ordered from the makers.

A very efficient and light meis can be made from 3/16″ or 1/4″ duraluminum rods. The frame should be bent into shape at home, temporarily wired in place, and taken to a shop to be welded. For ordinary use it is superior to the wooden frame described above, because it is much lighter; however, it is not as sturdy, and will not carry very heavy loads without warping out of shape. The packbag and straps can be taken from a Maine-type knapsack, or from an alpine rucksack, or the bag can be made at home and the straps bought from an outfitter. Be sure the band across the hips is of sufficient width and of flexible leather or webbing. The illustration [not included in the MS] is self-explanatory. Use hardwood boards as forms to bend the angles in the duraluminum, and take great care to shape the back bow evenly. If necessary, cut a form from wood.



There is a widely held theory that tents are unnecessary in the Sierras. This is part of the vast mythology of the California climate. It is possible to get along without one, but it is a lot nicer to have one. Nothing is more depressing than a soaking camp. A tent should be light, waterproof, scuffproof, flexible, and easy to pitch on all sorts of ground, and to all sorts of supports, and as small as possible, but big enough to sit up in.

There is considerable difference of opinion as to whether a tent should be sewn in such a form that it can only be used as a tent or whether it should also lend itself to use as a ground cloth and pack cover. One of the best small tents of the first type was described by Bestor Robinson in the Sierra Club Bulletin for 1937. Probably the best of the second type is that described first by Edward Cave in The Boy Scout’s Hike Book and called by him the “tarpaulin tent.” I prefer the second type myself, but the Robinson tent, a variety of the kind used by explorers in the Polar regions and in the Himalayas, has many advantages, not least of which is that it provides shelter in even the worst snowstorms.

The front of the Robinson tent is a triangle measuring 5 feet 6 inches on the bottom and 4 feet 6 inches on each side. This triangle is provided with a door, closed with two zippers, measuring 3 feet 6 inches vertically down from the top and 2 feet 2 inches horizontally from the center to the left side. (Your left, facing the tent.) At the top is a reinforced hole, a grommet through two extra thicknesses of canvas for the ridge rope. Each side measures 4 feet 6 inches at the front, 6 feet 10 inches along the bottom, and 2 feet 8 inches at the rear. The top edge of the side is cut in a curve with a 6-inch sag and sewn to the other side with a lap seam. The rear is a triangle 2 feet 8 inches along the upper edges and 3 feet 6 inches along the bottom. At the top is a 1-foot vertical slit closed by a zipper and another grommet. The floor measures 5 feet 6 inches in front, 3 feet 6 inches in back, and is 6 feet 10 inches long. There are loops for pegs at the four corners and in the center of each side. If the sides are cut with the 6-inch curve, an additional piece should be sewn inside the tent, running from the bottom of the curve down in a continuous line to the rear, about a foot and a half from the ground; this serves as a trough to catch rain and snow. This tent can be pitched between two trees, or to one tree and a pole, or between poles either lashed as scissors or stuck vertically in the ground. A rope running inside the peak of the tent from pole to pole serves as a ridge line. If the tent is pitched to poles, it should be fastened tight to them at the proper height, and then guyed out and fixed to a peg. Robinson recommends 3/16-inch rope. He also suggests that the rope be attached to the pegs by bands of rubber 1 inch wide. This is an excellent idea. The tent is always taut, and it gives if stumbled against. The floor of the Robinson tent is not waterproofed.

The best material for a tent is a sailcloth made of long staple Egyptian cotton. This fabric is usually sold as “balloon silk.” It should weigh less than five ounces to the square yard. For waterproofing Robinson recommends a product of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. called Duprene. This is not generally obtainable, but can be had by writing to the company at Fairfield, Conn. He explains that water from snowy boots, from vapor that has accumulated on the inside walls during cold nights, from cooking if a primus stove is used inside, etc., accumulates in a puddle in the middle of a sewed-in waterproofed floor and is very difficult to get out. I should imagine that it would be necessary to take the tent down and turn it wrongside out, and that wouldn’t be very much fun in a storm. He recommends very light weight, high count percale. This can be replaced as it wears out. The inside edges of the tent walls may have a narrow double flap sewn to them to which a waterproofed floor may be buttoned or snapped, but only a sewed-in floor will keep the tent from blowing away in a severe blizzard.

The ideal tent for knapsacking and small pack parties should be possessed of a number of specific virtues. It should be light, easily pitched, of such a shape that it can be used for a ground cloth, pack cover, or sleeping bag cover, or wrapped neatly around a cache. It should be possible to pitch it in a wide variety of ways, one of which should be a narrow pyramidal or semi-pyramidal tent suspended from one overhead point. It should be adjustable to uneven ground and should require a minimum of pegs and no guys. Edward Cave’s tarpaulin tent meets all these conditions; you can buy it from some outfitters, and it is made as follows:

Sew the widest obtainable strips of 5-ounce or less Egyptian cotton sailcloth into a rectangle 12 by 7½ feet. A heavier weight cloth should be used if the tent is to do duty as a cover for an animal pack. Two and one-half feet in from each corner on one of the 12-foot sides make a mark. This leaves 7 feet in the center. Mark the 7½-foot sides 4 feet from the same corners. Mark the center of the opposite 12-foot side. Tape all the edges of the tarpaulin and sew tape from the center to the points on the sides and across the corners from the 4-foot to the 2½-foot points. Sew 4-inch squares of canvas to both sides of all these points and 6-inch squares to both sides of the center one. Have galvanized or aluminum grommets stapled through these patches. Patches and grommets should also be put at the corners of the tarpaulin, at 2½ feet from the corners on the second 12-inch side, and in the center of the opposite one. Put 6-inch loops of sash cord through each grommet. The back of the tent is formed by the 7-foot length, the corners are tucked under to the diagonals, which measure 4 feet 9 inches and form the ends, the front measures 3 feet 6 inches on each side of the door and rises 6 feet vertically to the center loop, which may be lashed to a pole, hung from a limb, or even tied to a tree which leans slightly toward the tent. The door may be equipped with a 6-inch flap and ties of tape, and a double flap with buttonholes or snaps for a ground cloth may be sewed around the inside edges. Light harness thread of linen should be used and 1-inch, medium heavy bias tape.

This is the classic tarpaulin as described by Cave and those who have followed him. My own tent differs in several particulars. In the first place, it is made of 36″ material, and might well be made of less, the seams give strength. The seams run across the short way, are flat, and “shingled” at the sides, i.e., the open edge of the seam is down on both sides to avoid possible leakage when the tarp is pitched as an A tent. There are no tapes; the selvage edges are unhemmed, the cut edges hemmed. There are no grommets or ropes for the pegs; tapes made by folding the balloon cloth four times into strips ½″ wide are sewn fast to the reinforcing triangles with harness thread. The center loop on the 12-foot side is twice the length of the others, 4″ and 8″ respectively. The tarp is waterproofed with sugar of lead and alum, the count is 110 by 110, and the whole thing weighs slightly less than 4 pounds. It is perfectly waterproof and has withstood three days of steady rain.

The more waterproofed a tent is, the less scuffproof it is and the more likely the fibers are to crack if creased, particularly in cold weather. There are a number of waterproofings on the market made by the manufacturers of lacquers and synthetic resins; with the exception of Duprene, which Robinson has used for some time, most of them have not been thoroughly tested.

After the tent is made up, it may be pitched in a sunny place and painted with two coats of paraffin dissolved in mineral spirits (house painters’ thinner). Shave the paraffin into the thinner and stand the pot in a larger vessel of hot water. Mineral spirits are much less explosive than gasoline or benzine, which should never be used. Linseed oil, four parts; turpentine, four parts; and copal varnish (obtainable from artists’ supply houses) one or one-half part; may be used instead of paraffin and thinner. This gives a tougher and more waterproof fabric at first, but it injures the fibers, and the tent cracks, wears out rapidly, tears easily when old, and is more liable to rot.

The cloth may be treated before making up by soaking in one of several chemical mixtures. There are two, of which the first is the more effective.

1. Dissolve 4 pounds of sugar of lead and 4 pounds of alum in 10 to 15 gallons of distilled water (rain water will do), allow the precipitate to settle, drain off, immerse the cloth, soak over night. Do not wring out, but hang up to drip dry, or better still, spread on the lawn. After it has dried, wash out any of the precipitate which may remain. Two solutions may be made, one of sugar of lead, one of alum, and the tent soaked first in the alum and then in the sugar of lead. Sugar of lead is very poisonous, the hands should be kept away from it as much as possible and should be free from cuts and bruises. Scrub them thoroughly afterwards and clean the fingernails with a bit of wet cotton on an orange stick.

2. Dissolve ½ pound of sal soda and 4 ounces of sulphate of zinc in 10 gallons of distilled or rain water. When these chemicals have dissolved, add ½ ounce of tartaric acid. Soak the material for twenty-four hours and allow to drip dry. This mixture is caustic and poisonous and should be handled with caution.

Either mixture will preserve the material from rot and make it slightly fireproof.


There is little doubt that a sleeping bag of one sort or another is the best bedding for camp. Old-timers, however, still disdain them. The typical packer in the mountains usually travels with a heap of cheap blankets and cotton quilts which may weigh up to forty pounds or more. Such a system may be alright for those who have an unlimited supply of pack animals, though I should think that forty pounds of covers pressing down on one would produce some extraordinary nightmares.

A sleeping bag should weigh, depending on the material, from four to six pounds. The best material is feathers, and the best feathers you can afford, real eider if possible, otherwise white goose down (usually sold as “eider”). No woolen blanket, even the famous Canadian ones popular with campers, can compare with down. One doesn’t live all year in camp, and down quilts and bags are expensive. The best plan for those of limited means is to make a bag of a regular bed quilt, protected in such a way that it can be cleaned and used at home after the trip is over.

A very serviceable bag can be made by covering a large goose-down quilt on both sides with cotton flannel or pongee sheets and quilting them fast. This is then folded in three across the width and sewn fast at one end. One should be sure to fold the ends to overlap and not accordion wise. This forms a snug bag with two thicknesses above and one below or vice versa. Under most conditions the latter arrangement is the best. The weight of the body keeps the open edges from coming apart and yet there is sufficient play to take care of those who thrash about in their sleep. This latter habit is readily acquired when sleeping on hard or stony ground.

A waterproof removable covering should be made for the bag, either of Egyptian cotton or oiled silk. I have used an oiled silk shower curtain, folded in three like the quilt and sewn along the bottom. Oiled silk is much less scuffproof than cotton and necessitates a ground cloth.

This bag has a number of virtues. It is cheap. It can be dismantled and used at home. It can be taken apart, turned wrongside out and aired. It is easy to keep clean. When the outer covering of the bag is sewn fast, moisture from the body accumulates during the night on the inside surface of the covering, where it cannot be reached by the sun and air. The bag may stay damp for days, particularly if one is traveling continuously and cannot sun it for a long time each day. Soon it acquires a musty, obnoxious odor peculiar to dirty sleeping bags. This difficulty is done away with by the demountable bag, and is a very cogent recommendation.

Down bags, covered with light-weight silk but without a waterproof cover, can be found in the larger outfitters. They can be covered with a special waterproof bag, or the poncho, if properly made, can be buttoned around them. They are a good second choice. Down bags, sewed fast to a waterproof cover and opening at the side and bottom with a zipper, are definitely in the third rank, because of the difficulty of adequate airing. Very good wool bags come next, and last, kapok, which should be avoided as heavy and cold.

A lamb’s-wool quilt can be used in the same way as the down one, and is quite good enough for summer camping in moderate altitudes. In the article in the Sierra Club Bulletin cited before, Mr. Robinson gives a drawing and directions for making a bag like a mummy case, shaped to the body and covering the head. This is close to perfection for winter camping, but for summer use is a little too much of a good thing.


This is a disheartening subject. I am afraid there isn’t such a thing as a good two-person cook kit on the market. Those sold for automobile campers are much too large: the smallest are designed for four people, and for four people of Gargantuan appetites. Besides this, most of them contain a miscellany of salt shakers, aluminum cups, table knives, aluminum bowls, and other stuff, which are best done without when all the weight must be carried by a pair of human backs or one pack animal. My own kit consists of one heavy aluminum pot 8 inches wide and 5½ inches high; one aluminum pot of lighter weight, 6 by 4½ inches; one aluminum pot 5 by 3½ inches; a sheet iron frying pan, with a folding handle, which fits over the bottom of the largest pot; two aluminum plates which fit over the top; and two enamel cups with hooked handles which nest inside the smallest pot. The forks and spoons (dessert size) should be of silver plate. The pots should be straight cylinders with flat bottoms, with bails that don’t spring loose, and flat, tight-fitting lids with a little hole for steam under the handle of the lid. (Foods cooks much easier when covered, particularly at high altitudes. If weight is important, omit the lids and use the plates for covers.) To cook food on a campfire without burning, an aluminum frying pan must be extremely thick; the sheet iron variety is lighter and serves to protect the outer pot from dents. Aluminum cups are a fiendish invention, guaranteed to burn the mouth at least once a day. The best cup is made of white enamelware and provided with a hooked handle rather than with one closed at the bottom. This permits the cups to be nested, or they can be carried on the belt and removed without undressing. Eating utensils of silver plate are more pleasant to use than aluminum or tin ones.

There is no such kit as this on the market, but by assiduous shopping around in a large city one can be assembled. If they can’t be found elsewhere, the pots can be obtained by writing to the larger aluminum companies. The two larger ones are often listed as lunch pails. The smallest serves, among other things, as a coffeepot. The kit should also contain a scouring sponge of stainless steel or copper. Of course the exact measurements are unimportant, the ones given are simply the commonest.

The standard Boy Scout type of cook kit, manufactured by many makers and sold by all outfitters, may be very nice for a very small boy on a very strict diet, but it needs supplementing with at least one 2-quart pot for a grown man. It consists of a small aluminum pan, something like a small cake tin, a one-quart cylindrical pot with a bail and lid, an aluminum cup, and an aluminum frying pan with a handle which folds over the inverted pan and secures the whole. There is a knife, fork, and spoon of aluminum or tin. The cup should be replaced with an enamel one and the eating utensils with silver plate. The handle of the frying pan has a bad habit of soldering itself fast in a hot fire and coming loose only when persuaded by a pair of pliers. This kit has one nice feature. The little pan can be inverted over the frying pan and strapped fast by the handle. This makes a miniature Dutch oven, in which, after considerable experimentation and with the exercise of considerable care, a respectable batch of biscuits can be baked. Food should be packed in the extra 2-quart aluminum pot and sacks of flour and rice, or clothing, around it to keep it from denting. It is a good idea to make a denim bag for it to keep it from dirtying the pack.

Canteens and canvas waterbags are made for the desert, they are a useless encumbrance in mountains where there is plenty of running water. [Since mountain water is no longer reliably safe, this statement is no longer true.] In the Basin and Range country, and in places like the Tonto Rim and the White Mountains, they are very necessary.


A good poncho is one of the most useful pieces of camping equipment. It is better than a raincoat because it protects the pack. It serves as a ground cloth, a fly near the fire for cooking in bad weather, an overcoat for cold, wintry nights. Two of them buttoned together can be pitched as a makeshift tent. If properly made (Army style), it can be buttoned up as a cover for the sleeping bag or lashed to poles and used as a stretcher.

The best design is that used by the US Army. These are unfortunately usually made of a heavy rubberized fabric. However, they can often be found in a much lighter slicker cloth. There is a row of buttons down one side and half way across the bottom with button holes on the opposite side and the other half of the bottom. Above the row of buttons is an extra flap, which buttons down and keeps out drafts and rain. The hole for the neck is closed with buttons when the poncho is not used as a garment, and there is a collar which should also button over the hole when not in use. This collar, by the way, always fits atrociously. There is one other defect. The button on the outer corner is the same as all the rest, and since it has to go through another thickness of cloth, is always too tight. The Army has put up with this condition since at least the Spanish-American War. Campers, a revolutionary type anyway, usually replace the button with a looser one before starting on a trip.

Even the slicker-cloth Army ponchos are heavy. The best ones sold by outfitters are much lighter and more waterproof, but they seldom have the very desirable arrangement of buttons. The best thing to do is to make a drawing of the Army type and have the buttons copied on the civilian type, or better still, make one of “balloon silk,” with zippers instead of buttons.

The Army poncho measures 72 by 56 inches and usually sells for about $2. The civilian ones come in larger and smaller sizes, in many different kinds of material and sell for from $3 to $10. By and large you get what you pay for, and it pays to spend at least $5.


On the subject of boots there are two distinct schools of thought, the 10-inchers and the 16-inchers. The 10-inch boot is cooler and does not bind the calf of the leg or cause excessive sweating. The 16-inch acts as a protection against bruises and possible rattlesnakes and is handy when fording streams less than sixteen inches deep and more than ten. (Which seems to be the prevailing depth of most small mountain creeks.) I prefer 10-inchers.

Whatever the height of the boot, the best pattern is the true pac (NOT the imitation moccasin toe), distinguished by a flexible sole, shaped to the foot and coming up an inch and a half or more on the side, where it is joined to the tongue and upper by a leakproof, lapped seam. This is a true moccasin sole and is as waterproof as leather can be made. Properly made, it is soft, flexible, and extremely comfortable. Pacs are often sold with only the moccasin sole. This wears out rapidly on stony trails and then must be sent to the manufacturer for resoling, something not always easy to do when the soles give out thirty miles from a road. The best types for mountain wear comes with a heavy outer sole of conventional pattern. The others can be equipped with outer soles before wearing, but they should be trusted only to shoemakers who understand them, or sent to the makers. These boots are expensive, but like so much other equipment, they are well worth the money.

One of the mail-order houses sells a competitive boot for about half the price, with a moccasin sole only under the toe in the high boot, and with a different seam. This is not as leakproof as the true pac, and requires greasing every few days to keep out water. However, it is a good second best. For a third choice any good oil-tanned loggers (without calks) or farmers’ boot with a plain toe will suffice. The mail-order houses carry a large selection of them.

Boots should be fitted over heavy wool boot socks and should be a half size too large, for the weight of a pack and the pounding of the trail will spread your feet. The tongues should be closed (called “full gusset”) and the seam at the rear of the ankle should be soft and flexible. This is the place where tenderfeet get tender feet. They should be greased at least once a week and always the day after a severe wetting with cod liver oil or with lanolin, which has a melting point near that of butter and is therefore easier to carry than neat’s-foot oil. After the trip they should be washed with saddle soap, oiled, and stored in a cool, dry place. The laces should be of rawhide.

Hobnails may be very fine for those who are used to them, but tenderfeet had best do without them. Hobs or caulks (pronounced “corks” in the West) under the instep are, however, a good idea for country where there is much down timber. If you wear rubber heels in the city, wear them on your boots, but be sure they are solidly attached. Explain to the shoemaker who puts them on that they are for mountaineering, and that you will come back and scalp him if they come loose. Try to find a shoemaker who has some conception of what a mountain trail is like. If you travel with a pack animal, it is advisable to carry an extra pair of rubber heels and some nails. Most packers and cattlemen and almost all rangers have a last about somewhere; in an emergency you can always use a rock on top of a stake for a last and another rock for a hammer. The best idea is to make an indelible impression on the shoemaker before you leave.

Boots should be purchased well ahead of time and broken in before starting. Choose a warm, dry day, wash them thoroughly with saddle soap, and get them soaked with water. Put them on and wear them until they are dry. Then oil them, on the feet, with cod liver oil and wear them till night. If they give you much trouble after that, they don’t fit or you have exceptionally delicate feet. Pacs and the best oil-tanned boots usually require little or no breaking in.

Wool boot stockings range in price from 50¢ to $2.50 or more. The cheaper ones are often made of shoddy, are harsh and uncomfortable, wear out quickly and have a most peculiar odor. Shoddy has a dirty appearance and is greasy and granular or very dry and crisp to the touch. The most expensive ones are wonderfully comfortable, but they shrink badly unless dried on forms (which you are hardly likely to be carrying) and soon become matted and tight. Medium-priced ones, made of preshrunk yarns, are the best for camping. Be sure they are wool.

Some experienced hikers wear white silk socks inside the wool ones and cotton work socks outside. Oil-tanned boots stain the socks badly when soaked with sweat, as they are sure to become, and the cotton socks are much easier to keep clean. I have never been able to discover why so many people wear inner silk or cotton socks, but there must be a reason.

The best garment for the legs is a pair of heavy-weight blue denim waist coveralls. They should be preshrunk, “Sanforized.” The other kind shrink terrifically, which would be alright if the amount of shrinkage could be estimated, but they have a habit of just going right on shrinking every time they are washed. This becomes rather confining after a while. Buy the best grade, they are cheap enough. The cuffs of the overalls should be tied down over the tops of the boots by leather laces, midway between the top of the boot and the ankle. This keeps out dust and even holds off water for a few seconds if you happen to step in a deep hole in a ford. It is not very handsome, but it is very convenient. The type sold to cowpunchers for riding pants have a higher waist and a better fit in the leg and are preferable if you can find them. The mail-order houses stock them. If you are very stout they will be too tight in the leg for hiking. Women’s blue jeans which button on the sides are a monstrosity, at least they are worthless on the trail.

Riding breeches may set off the figure well in a snapshot, but they bind the legs, particularly behind the knee, and are less durable than overalls. They can safely be left to movie directors, engineers, and park equestrians. No garment in the history of the world looks worse on a woman.

Blue chambray work shirts, of the best quality available, are better than any other kind. They are light, cool, fairly impervious to wind, cheap, extremely durable, and easily washed. They look well with blue overalls, too. Once your shoulders become used to the pack and your hide to the sun, you can wear a CCC shirt (no shirt at all) on the trail and have a clean dry garment for camp. This is still practically exclusively a male custom; however, I have seen women marching along the trail in brassieres or bandanas lately, and even the bashful cowpunchers are learning to put up with it.

All the older camp manuals make a great point of pure wool from head to foot, trousers, shirt, undershirt and drawers. This may do for the Appalachians, though I got along well there without such a costume, but it is definitely stuffy in the West.

Light broadcloth trunks are all the underwear you will need.

The belt should be an inch and a quarter or an inch and a half wide, and made of one piece of solid leather, not of split leather sewn together. It should be oiled like boots. If you carry much in your pockets, wear suspenders.

The sun in the high mountains is cruel, and if you don’t wear a broadbrimmed hat, you will come home with a scorched and bleeding nose. Your hair will become dry and brittle, and your head will ache every evening. The best hat is a conservative western style with about a 6-inch crown and a 4-inch brim. It should be made of fur felt and should be as expensive as you can afford. A dull sand color or a medium tan shows dirt the least, pearl gray ones become filthy, and black ones absorb too much heat. Be sure the sweatband is of leather and not composition. And get a half size too large as the hat will shrink after a good wetting. If there is a lining, take it out and have the salesman punch some holes in the side of the crown for ventilation. All hat stores have a little punch made for this purpose. Women should buy men’s hats; women’s are expensive, shrink badly, and wear poorly.

The sweater should be made of long staple wool, loosely knit, and long enough to stay tucked in the trousers. It should have long sleeves and should be dye fast. Don’t buy a cheap one; you will be sorry. Bright red is conspicuous in the hunting season.

The best sleeping garment is a suit of light weight, pure (100%) wool underwear, preferably a shirt and drawers. It should be preshrunk and the shirt should be long. Pajamas are nothing like as warm.

Most women, and some men, prefer to carry a pair of gloves, particularly if there is a lot of pulling to be done on pack ropes. The best for the purpose are cowpuncher gloves, not the fancy kind with fringed cuffs, but the light flexible “roper’s glove.” They can be obtained from dealers in stockmen’s supplies or from some of the mail-order houses. They should be oiled lightly before wearing with boot oil.

Swim suits are a necessity if you camp near people. (Most mountain lakes warm up enough for swimming by midsummer.)

Dark glasses are handy for climbing over snow or glaring granite. The best ones are the polarizing type, or celluloid ski goggles.

A pair of basketball shoes are a great convenience and should be carried whenever their weight can be accommodated. They rest the feet from heavy boots and can be worn around camp in the evening and on rest days. They are fine for all but the most ambitious rock climbing, but very dangerous on ice or snow. Felt or cork insoles will keep the rubber soles from burning the feet. Tennis shoes and sneakers give less protection and wear out rapidly.

Mosquitoes are not as bad in the Sierras as they are in most parts of the country, but early in the summer and in timberline meadows, wherever melting snow lingers, they can make themselves very obnoxious. Along the Continental Divide they are pretty bad. Since a mosquito veil weighs practically nothing, it is a good idea to carry one. It should be long enough to completely cover the hat and tuck in or tie under the collar. The material should be strong enough to withstand the twigs which are sure to brush against it along the trail, and should be black or dark blue. White cheesecloth is difficult to see through and is much too frail.

People differ greatly in ability to withstand cold. If you chill easily, best carry an extra slipover sweater or a heavy wool flannel shirt.



Spend at least a dollar for a jackknife. Get a Boy Scout type, or one with a wide and a narrow blade. The Boy Scout knife has a large blade, a curved, awl-like blade for cutting holes, a combination screwdriver and cap lifter, and a rather inefficient can opener. The knife should be about four inches long.

Parties with a pack animal or automobile are required by law to carry a shovel and axe. Knapsackers will find a straight-bladed corn knife or a short machete a fair substitute for both. Better still is the smallest Marble pocket axe with a snap guard. Be sure the blade is thick enough to chop light wood (about one-eighth inch at the back) and with a fairly soft temper. You can sharpen a nicked blade, but it is pretty hard to put a broken one back together. The machete should have a leather sheath with a copper guard along the blade. Keep it just sharp enough to slice bacon. A fine edge nicks easily and is dangerous. The best pocket axes are made of surgical steel, they are hard tempered and can be sharpened like a razor. Nothing is better, but they must be treated with more care than a watch.

The sheath should have a little pocket for a small triangle file. Woodsmen who are careful of their cutlery use a whetstone, which is much better, but slow and difficult for amateurs to use.

The best can opener is the small roll-around kind which leaves a clean edge. You will find lots of uses for tin cans.

The metal mirror, like those issued to the US Army, should have a waterproof, flannel-lined case to keep it from fogging. Mirrors of stainless steel are beginning to appear on the market; they are best.

Most campers use sash cord for all-purpose rope. It is smooth and flexible, unties easily, and wears better than any other cheap cotton-covered rope. A light lariat is good, and better still are the alpinists’ ropes sold by large outfitters. Both are expensive. The ends of the rope should be whipped with linen thread and dipped in hot paraffin. A camp always seems to be short of rope. Carry at least twenty-five feet for two people; better, if you can afford the weight, a twenty-five foot length in each pack. Learn how to tie the most important knots before starting out. Boy Scouts, at least in the pictures in their manuals, wear the rope dangling from the belt. This is a sheer nuisance, it pulls the trousers awry and its constant bouncing wears on the nerves. Keep the rope neatly rolled and near the top of the pack, where it can be reached in case of an accident. Sash cord has one serious fault, it cannot be spliced.

The best flashlights are the miner’s, hunter’s and [illegible word] lights that strap to the head, or the rectangular kind that hook on the belt. Extra batteries and bulbs should always be carried. A magnifying lens on the light can be used as a burning glass in emergencies. Most flashlights do not have them. Don’t use the batteries any more than necessary, you might need them badly before the trip is over.

Candles are luxuries, in the sense that it is possible to do without them. However, they are convenient and should be carried if their weight can be spared. If you husband it carefully, a large plumber’s candle will last a week. The dripping should be saved to start fires in rainy weather.

There is no large waterproof match box on the market. The supply of matches for the trip should be carried in the box they come in (with handkerchiefs or extra socks to keep the box full and prevent the matches from igniting by their own friction) and tied up in an oiled silk bag. The daily supply should be carried in one of the little metal match boxes with a screw top mounted on a swivel, which can be found in all outfitters. If you expect a lot of wet weather, or for winter camping, the matches may be dipped in paraffin dissolved in house painters’ thinner. Don’t use melted paraffin: you are liable to go on a longer trip than to the mountains.

The sewing kit should contain a packet of needles, large ones for overalls and darning needles for the socks; light linen thread and linen harness thread, both taken off the spools and wrapped in small cards; at least two cards of darning wool to match the socks and two to match the sweaters; a paper of assorted safety pins; a strip cut from a paper of straight pins; a paper of snap-on metal buttons, sold at notion counters as “bachelor buttons”; sharp-pointed small scissors, more for the hangnails that grow luxuriantly in camp than for sewing; and, if a woman is to do the mending, a thimble, a tool few men ever use.

For a toilet kit, your favorite soap (hard, long-lived kinds are best); a light turkish towel cut in half for each person (two halves apiece); a toothbrush, children’s sizes are just as effective and less liable to break; a can of tooth powder, which will not smash and run riot in the pack as a tube of toothpaste is sure to do; a razor and blades, a nail file, and a comb. All but the heaviest beards can be removed without the aid of a shaving brush and shaving soap. It is a good idea to keep freshly shaven. Most campers raise a beard on the first trip, it never gets long enough to stop itching and it accumulates a surprising amount of dirt. Some old timers tell you that a beard “protects the face,” from what I am not sure.

The first aid kit should be kept small, but nothing should be sacrificed which is liable to be needed. Iodine should be carried in a one-ounce bottle of heavy dark glass with a rubber stopper and a screw top over that. Half-strength Lugol’s solution is preferable to the strong USP Tincture of Iodine. Even then it may leak and it is a good idea to keep it sealed with fresh adhesive tape. A 3-inch bandage can be cut into smaller strips for cuts and is ready for use on larger wounds. It should be kept in a sealed container and not allowed to get dirty. A square yard of sterile muslin, wrapped in a square yard of oiled silk and sealed with adhesive, should be carried for serious injuries. Carry a large 2- or 3-inch spool of adhesive tape, it has innumerable uses around camp. Prepared strips of adhesive, each with little holes for ventilation and with a pad of mercurochrome, or better, merthiolate, gauze are best for minor cuts and scratches. The larger bandages should be kept sterile for real emergencies. A dozen aspirin tablets and a small vial of cascara pills complete the kit. High altitudes and smoky fires often cause headaches and camp diets are sometimes constipating. The cod liver oil, which should be in a heavy, screw-top bottle, packed in a fiber tube, is not for internal use; there is no better burn and sunburn ointment and few better boot oils. If purchased fresh (pale yellow in color) and kept out of the sun before using, its odor can be borne. A snake-bite kit should be carried when traveling below 7000 feet. A simple one is described in the chapter on first aid.

Like everything else, fishing tackle is worth what you pay for it. Good split-bamboo fly rods should be carried in a metal tube, equipped with an extra tip, and zealously guarded from damage. I am well aware that all good fishermen have no use for the telescoping metal rod. However, heavy and inaccurate as it is, it is a lot harder to injure, and for that reason is best for knapsack trips. Never use it in storms, you may be struck by lightning. Buy the best light reel you can afford, and the best lines and leaders. Amateurs have difficulty tying flies to leaders properly; they should stick to those with the leader already attached. It has been my experience that Sierra trout bite best on flies with glitters on the body and with gray or brown hackles and white wings. I use royal coachman, parmachene belle, professor, gray hackle, yellow body, and for very dull days, white miller, usually two different flies on a line. Predominately brown and red flies seem better in the Rockies, possibly this is just my imagination. The professor is the most popular with the fish. With practice, flies are best for any type of water and can be used with a long free cast even on lakes. Many fishermen, however, prefer bait, usually salmon eggs, for early summer and for fish feeding deep in pools or during the middle of the day. Grasshoppers are excellent bait after midsummer and can be caught in the mosquito net. Small spinners are good for lake fishing. Small hooks, tens and twelves, will catch all but the biggest lake trout.

Writing materials should consist of a loose-leaf pocket notebook with a durable, semi-stiff cover; an automatic pencil, with extra leads; some penny postcards, and some stamped envelopes; all housed in a waterproofed case, homemade, of denim with an oiled silk lining.

The toilet, sewing, and first aid kits, and the fishing tackle, are less likely to be damaged and stow away more easily if packed in rigid cardboard or fiber tubes with screw tops, of the type used to ship perfumes and medicines. They can be bought at some large drugstores and at a few stationers.

The best maps are the US Geological Survey topographic quadrangles, published for the entire Sierra, most of the Cascades and Rockies, and in sheets containing several quadrangles for the National Parks. Some of them are out of date and contain minor inaccuracies, but they are good enough for any purpose a camper is likely to put them to. They are indispensable if it makes any difference to you to know where you are going. They can be purchased from the larger map and stationery stores, from engineer’s supply houses, from the USGS office in Washington, or from the administration offices in the National Parks. They are not sold by mail from the Park offices; the Forest Service and the local USGS offices do not sell them. Index maps show the names of the quadrangles, but if you order directly from Washington, tell the USGS where you are going and they will send the proper quadrangles. If you have never read a contour map it is wise to get the one covering the territory you plan to visit, study the instructions on the back and familiarize yourself with it before starting out. Most hikers spend a great deal of time studying the map, and they wear much better if glued to light muslin on the back, lacquered and covered or reinforced on the creases with cellophane. The maps should be cut apart at the folds and glued to the muslin with a slight separation between each piece. If you use it a great deal, as you probably will, a waterproof case will protect it from perspiration and can be carried in the hip pocket. This can be made at home from blue denim with an oiled silk lining.

The Forest Service gives away maps of the various National Forests. These are not contour maps and are not accurate. The topographical sheets are much to be preferred.

A package of quarter-inch rubber bands will find many uses, two 1-inch ones should be used with the Robinson tent. A 1-inch band also makes a fair tourniquet.

Never wear “old clothes” on a camping trip, you will be sorry if you do. The overalls and shirts should be new or only slightly worn and all the other clothing in good shape. Boots should be in perfect condition.


Chapter 1 of Kenneth Rexroth’s Camping in the Western Mountains (unpublished manuscript, ca. 1939). Copyright 2003. Reproduced by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.