3. Equipment for Larger Parties, Pack Trips, and Fixed Camps

Knapsack parties of more than two persons, particularly if out for less than two weeks, can afford to carry a few extra gadgets and a larger variety of food distributed among the packs. Couples traveling on foot with one burro will make better progress the closer they stick to the minimum lists of equipment and food; the less the little beast has to carry, the faster he goes, and he doesn’t go very fast at the best. A burro will carry between 75 and 100 pounds, a horse not more than 150 pounds, a mule up to 175 pounds. These are top weights for rough mountain trails and should never be exceeded. Horses and mules are much faster than the average burro, but they require better feed, must be kept shod, and are more likely to stray during the night. Equestrian parties, with a packer and cook and unlimited funds for the rental of stock, can carry most anything, short of a piano, that fancy suggests. However, unless you get a great deal of pleasure out of paying for the privilege of exercising someone else’s stock, it is wise to confine yourself to essentials. The more gear you carry, the more time you will have to spend taking care of it, and the more your camp will look like a rummage sale of second-hand sporting goods. Spot packing, that is, having a packer bring in your outfit to a fixed camp, is becoming very popular, especially with those who go to the mountains primarily to rest and fish, or just fish, or just rest. Such a party should be equipped with knapsacks, or should retain a burro for use on side trips.

The following lists are cumulative additions to the basic supplies described in the preceding chapters; each large outfit should include all the supplies of the preceding ones. Packers have only harsh words for them, but no matter how well mounted the party, there should be at least one knapsack to every two or three persons. Clothing and personal gear can be stowed in them and packed on the animal while traveling, and they are useful on side trips and in emergencies.


friction tape
more candles
more rope
spool of light copper wire
more leather laces
two awning pulleys
larger cook kit
dish towel
scouring cake
snake kit
toilet paper


air mattresses, small pillows
folding reflector oven
pancake turner
cooking spoon
claw hammer
butcher knife
larger first aid kit
chlorinated lime
repair kit for fishing tackle
creels, waders, nets, etc.
repair kit for harness
shoe repair kit and last
dunnage bags
pocket roll for personal gear
additional toilet articles
aluminum cocktail shaker with strainer (for dried milk)


US cavalry or pommel slicker
light cotton or silk drawers
windproof jacket
high-heeled boots
chaps in mesquite or chaparral


small crosscut saw
Dutch oven
knock-down stove
folding cooler or meat safe
hanging shelves
pressure cooker
large cook kit
enameled dishes
wash basin
dish pan
steel table knives
larger harness kit
folding chairs
large tent or tents


field glasses
geologist’s pick
mineral kit
flower press and mounts
filters, etc.
flash bulbs
butterfly net
entomology kit
climbing rope
ice axe
musical instruments
guns, hunting knife, bullets, shells
fly-tying outfit
water colors, brushes, paper
paper, pencils, and whisky for novelists

I suppose this could go on indefinitely. I remember a packer’s enthusiastic description of a party of millionaires. “Boy, they were swell, there was a case of whiskey and an iron bed to every man.” Up in the Cascades, I once ran into the party of a famous lady novelist who has quite a reputation for going native. There were four tourists in the outfit, four packers, a “guide,” a cook, two helpers, twelve saddle horses, four extra horses, and fifteen or more pack animals, besides a lost burro who had joined the party en route. They were out for ten days. If you can afford it, it may be a lot of fun to imitate Genghis Khan, but it is hardly “roughing it.”

SHOVEL AND AXE. All parties with one or more pack animals are required by law to carry an axe, a shovel, and a pail. Where weight is the principal consideration, these can be reduced to minimum legal size. The mail-order houses and most large auto supply stores carry such sets. The axe has a 1¼- or 1½-pound head and a 26-inch handle, the shovel measures about 36 inches over all and has a blade 8 by 10 inches and a D grip on the handle. If the shovel has a long drop-forged shank and a solid hickory handle, it is good enough. The axe, however, is seldom made of good steel and should be viewed with suspicion. It will do when everything must be carried by one burro; otherwise it pays to get the best you can afford.
        The axe head should weigh at least 3 pounds and the handle should be 36 inches long, straight grained, free from knots, and in perfect line with the head. Single-bit axes are best, the poll is useful as a hammer and mallet. A double-bladed axe is dangerous, particularly if someone stumbles over it when it is stuck in the chopping log. The blade should be hollowed at the sides and have a gently sloping bevel. On a new axe, the bevel is usually too abrupt , have it ground down by someone who knows how. Never use an axe as a wedge, chop wood with it which lies flat on the ground or drive it into the earth. In cold weather the blade should be warmed between the hands before using or it will chip. Both axe and shovel should have sheaths of leather or heavy canvas. An axe to every four and a shovel to every six people is a good ratio.

PAIL. A stout 10-quart galvanized bucket, with lapped seams, that can be put on the fire, is best. Tin pails dent easily and melt at the seams. Canvas pails cannot be put on the fire, collapse without warning, and acquire an offensive odor. Large parties will require several pails for dishwashing, laundry, drinking water, etc. Small outfits can get along with one if it is kept very clean. Stockmen’s supply houses sell a harness for tying the pail to the top of a pack.

GRILL. It is possible to cook on a narrow rock fireplace without a grill, but it is a tedious process and requires a lot of care. Even knapsackers should carry a wire grill if possible. A grill the size of a Maine-type knapsack, carried inside the pack, but against the surface, will give rigidity and balance to the load. An envelope of canvas or blue denim should house the grill if it is to be carried in the pack, or it will cover everything with soot. The wire should be fairly heavy, with a heavier frame and midrib, or the grill will sag on the fire. An oblong aluminum tray, if sufficiently heavy, may be used instead; it keeps the pots free from soot, but it dents easily and the dents make little air pockets under the pots which retard cooking. Broken auto spring blades may be used as fire irons.

FRICTION TAPE. Friction tape is cheaper than waterproof adhesive for binding and mending. It should be stuck to both sides of the hole or tear in tents, canvas, and sleeping bag covers, and then sewed down with a small needle and light thread. The needle holes can be closed by rubbing some of the gum back into them. Friction tapes are not as uniform as they might look. The cheap grades are made of poor cloth that tears and frays easily, and the adhesive substance has little stickum to it.

FILE. To keep the axe sharp you will need a 6-inch mill-cut file and a round or oval axe stone of carborundum. Don’t try to sharpen a saw if you don’t know how.

PLIERS. A good pair of side-cutting pliers will find all sorts of uses.

NAILS. Carry a small assortment of nails, tacks, and fencing staples, but don’t drive them into living trees. You will probably find plenty already driven in wherever you camp. Mirrors, etc., should be tied to trees with string.

SCALE. Successful animal packing depends on a perfectly balanced load. Your packer should supply you with a 75-pound spring scale with a hook at one end and a ring at the other. Insist on it if you rent stock, include it if you furnish your own equipment.

PULLEYS. Bears cannot be hunted in the Sierra Nevada and they are a menace to an unwatched camp. In Yosemite, where the administration does not strictly enforce the rules against feeding them [no longer true], they must be constantly guarded against. In Sequoia, tourists caught feeding them are arrested, and marauding bears are shot with a load of rock salt or, if incurable, killed. Other regions in California, particularly Zumwalt Meadows and the Middle Fork of the Kings, are bad bear country. Glacier and Yellowstone Parks are very bad; since they have been made a park, the Tetons are getting worse yearly. Nothing can do more damage than an inquisitive bear, and the two pulleys, which should fit a pack rope and have hooks at each end, are to haul food or a cache out of their reach.

COOK KITS. Three or even four people can get along with the knapsack cook kit previously described if extra dishes, cups, and cutlery are added. Parties of four or more will find the ones sold for auto camping satisfactory. Standard four-party sets include: 1 8-cup coffee pot, 1 2½-quart pot, 1 4½-quart pot, 1 7-quart pot, 1 frying pan, 4 dishes, 4 cups, salt and pepper shakers, all of aluminum, four sets of eating utensils, usually of nickeled ware. The pots should all have flat covers with rings rather than knobs, and bales [i.e., semicircle wire handles] with flat ears or clamp and socket handles. The whole kit is housed in the largest pot, which is covered with the frying pan. Six-party sets usually only add dishes and utensils. The cups should be replaced with enamel and the utensils with silver plate. Parties of six should have an extra sheet-iron skillet with folding handle of the proper size to fit on the bottom. The kit should have a canvas or denim case and be packed in the galvanized bucket, where it will be protected from dents.

SNAKE KIT. Rattlesnakes are seldom found above 7000 feet; unless you plan to stay above that elevation, a snakebite kit should always be carried. One is described in the chapter on first aid.

TOILET PAPER. Many leaves and herbs are poisonous or irritating, take along a roll of toilet paper on all but three-week knapsack trips. In the latter case you may either carry an extra few ounces or take a chance.

DISH TOWELS. Sixteen-inch linen toweling costs from 15 to 20 cents a yard. Dish towels become incurably dirty in camp, so it is wise to carry two yards for a long trip.

AIR MATTRESSES. Pneumatic beds are made of heavy rubberized cloth; the heavier the cloth and the thicker the coating of gum rubber, the more durable, but the heavier the bed. They are rather fragile things and should be handled with care. Enough air to hold apart the gum lining should always be left in them when deflated, they should be kept out of the sun and away from gasoline, oil, and grease, and cleaned only with cold water and a brush, and carried on the inside of the bed roll where they will be protected from sawing pack ropes. Properly constructed ready-made sleeping bags have a pocket for an air mattress. In homemade ones they should be “worn” between the lining and the bag or they will crawl away in the night. Inflate the bag with your mouth, not a pump; if too full it will be very uncomfortable. Pneumatic pillows are very uncomfortable and kapok ones only slightly less so; a down pillow about 14 by 12 inches is far better. Some old-timers carry a rectangular bag of ticking which they fill with grass and leaves for a mattress; this is liable to be bumpy and bunchy and very damp unless filled with dry straw. It is not suitable for western conditions, where long grass is common only in damp meadows and where most trees have needles.

REFLECTOR OVENS. Most outfitters sell what in California are called “Sierra ovens.” Or two can be made from a 10-gallon rectangular oil can cut diagonally in half, with a shelf of heavy wires inserted in holes in the sides and bisecting the 45-degree angle in the rear. (The shelf, not the wires, bisects the angle.) Wire feet should be added to the rear to hold the contrivance up, with the shelf horizontal. The inner surface should be kept clean and bright, to reflect the maximum of heat.

FIRST AID KIT. More bandages, one to a person, a 2-ounce package of absorbent cotton, 2 ounces of pure grain alcohol, more adhesive tape, bandage strips, surgical gauze, cotton, a soft rubber catheter (which is what doctors use for a tourniquet), a pair of tweezers, and more aspirin and laxative should be added as the party is increased. Large parties had best carry one of the smaller household first aid boxes, which come packed in a tin case and with a book of directions. All druggists sell them.

CHLORINATED LIME. There are few more powerful antiseptics and deodorants than chlorinated lime. A piece the size of an aspirin tablet will purify a pail of doubtful water in a short time, and a can should be kept at the latrine. It absorbs moisture and should be kept tightly closed.

FISHING KIT. The size of the repair kit depends entirely on how much you want to carry and how much you know about repairing tackle. Two spare tips, 6 spare guides, a card of winding silk, a pair of small scissors, tweezers, and little bottles of varnish, glue, and cement will see you through most any accident. Sporting goods stores sell such kits already assembled.

HARNESS REPAIRS. Examine your harness carefully before you start, if any of it is dry and brittle, or defective, or ill fitting, insist that your packer replace it. On a long trip take along an extra cinch strap and some split rivets (not machine rivets). Large outfits should carry an assortment of leather, an awl and thread, a punch and a hand riveter.

SHOE REPAIR KIT. A serviceable last can be made from a piece of light sheet iron, cut the shape of the sole of the foot but slightly smaller and held firm with a billet of wood. If the feet of the party vary widely in size you may have to take two lasts. Any machine shop will cut one for you. The kit should include a box of sole nails, a box of heel nails, and a pair of soles, and a pair of rubber or leather heels to every three persons.

LANTERN. Gasoline and kerosene are dangerous and messy to carry, acetylene lanterns seems to have disappeared from the market; electric lanterns which burn four flashlight cells or the larger ones which burn one or two dry cells are best. Carry extra batteries.

DUNNAGE BAG. Clothing should never be carried loose in a pack box, but packed in a waterproof dunnage bag to protect it from dust and rain. A square of denim sewed with pockets is handy for toilet articles and other personalia; it can be rolled up when traveling and hung to a tree in camp.

EQUESTRIAN CLOTHING. A poncho is fine for hiking, but poor for horseback. It doesn’t fit, pulls loose at the back, hikes up over the knees and blows in the wind and scares the horse. Get a cavalry slicker, which has a double thickness over the shoulders, a double row of buttons, and a double flap, buttons to secure it separately to each leg, straps at the wrist and neck, an extra piece in the split of the rear to cover the saddle, and which reaches almost to the ankles. They are usually cut full like a nightshirt and are neater, more comfortable and windproof if belted. The slicker should be carried on the saddle.
        After several days spent in the saddle, the insides of the legs are liable to become severely chafed if not protected from the rough overalls. Dude cow punchers wear long silk drawers. Silk is best, but light cotton will do. They should be ankle length, preshrunk, and fit well in the waist and crotch.
        Winds can become very penetrating when you have to sit upright and comparatively still in the saddle. Most punchers wear jackets of overall cloth, which can be waterproofed like a tent. Light-weight melton cloth is also good. It can be waterproofed in a solution of carbon tetrachloride and anhydrous lanolin. Leather jackets should be oiled before starting.
        High-heeled “cowboy boots” are certainly more comfortable and safer for riding, if the toes are not too pointed, but it is impossible to walk any distance in them. Wear them if it makes you feel indigenous, but take along a pair of hiking boots. Never wear “riding boots” on the trail. They are fine for parks only.
        Chaps are worn to protect the legs when chasing cows through dense brush or chaparral. You have no business going such places with a rented horse, and you are crazy if you treat your own that way. Borrow a pair for snapshots. In some forests in the Southwest, where the trails are poor and chaparral is thick and thorny, they are essential. Don’t make the mistake of belittling the outfit of the American cowpuncher, it is the most practical herdsman’s costume in the world.

CROSSCUT SAW. There are two kinds of crosscut saws, those used to cut across boards and those used for logs. It is the second kind that you want. The best saws have a tapered gauge, in the 3½- or 4-foot size (the easiest to pack), usually 16 gauge at the teeth, 17 at the point, and 18 at the handle. A saw with four perforated lance teeth to one raker cuts faster and more smoothly. (A one-man saw should have a little supplementary handle.) It is used to saw kindling lengths from logs, which are then split with the axe. Keep it off the ground and out of knots, and don’t let it get too hot. Learn how to use it and be sure it is set properly and sharp before starting. Only a very large party needs a saw.

DUTCH OVEN. Biscuits, fish, beans, and a lot of other things can be baked in a Dutch oven. The best type for camp use is low, almost cylindrical in shape, has little legs, and a flat lid which fits over the edge of the pot. Lids which fit inside the lip of the pot allow ashes to get into the food, round-topped lids won’t hold coals. You should make a wire pot hook with a 3-foot handle to manipulate the oven.

FOLDING STOVE. A portable stove is far from a necessity, but hired camp cooks like them, and they do simplify things for a very large party. Most packers will provide them, or they can be purchased from the large outfitters. The stove should be well braced and fold compactly, the lids should have handles, the door should fit well and have a draft, the pipe should be in 2-foot telescopic sections and be provided with a damper.

PRESSURE COOKER. Better than a Dutch oven, and the only thing that will cook beans satisfactorily above 5000 feet, is a pressure cooker. Above 11,000 feet it is impossible to cook even rice and macaroni thoroughly. Therefore the pressure cooker is ideal for high mountain travel if it can be carried. The pressure keeps the taste from spreading from one food to another and an entire meal may be cooked at once. They come in three or four sizes, select the one best suited to your party. Have the safety valve set down for high altitudes, or the thing will explode.

COOLER. Venison, fresh meat, bacon, ham, butter, etc., may be kept in a collapsible box, with sides of screening, and shelves and top and bottom of light boards. This cooler should be kept covered with damp burlap or canvas, and hung on a single heavy wire, in the shade, and out of the reach of bears. Be sure that it hangs free of trees and branches, or rats, mice, and other pests will get at it.

Shelves may be hung on four wires, two at each end.

The most popular tent with auto campers is the marquee or umbrella. This is not an ideal tent for the mountains, but there are thousands of them on the market and intense competition has resulted in good workmanship in the more expensive models. The larger ones will sleep four people. Get the kind that can be pitched on a single pole cut from a sapling. The ones with four folding poles in the corners are better for auto camping, but if the rather complicated frame breaks, it is very difficult to pitch the tent with makeshift poles. Large outfitters sell telescoping steel poles. If you can bend them on your knee they are no good. They attract lightning and are therefore undesirable at high altitudes.

People with hobbies, bird study, botany, mountaineering, mineralogy, etc., have ideas of their own about what they want to take. However, even they might welcome a few suggestions. Field glasses are easier to focus and therefore better than binoculars for bird study and hunting, for star gazing they should have as wide an object lens as possible, their power is of much less importance. [Rock collectors may be disappointed by the Sierras, which are almost entirely of granite. There are good metamorphic rocks around Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, and near Mineral King in Sequoia. Although every “scene” in the Sierras has been exhaustively snapshot, wild life and botanical photography has not been common. Night pictures of animals are easy to take, or rather have the animal take, and such a collection from this region would be unusual.] [The passage within brackets is crossed out in the MS.] It is necessary to secure permission from the administration before botanical or entomological specimens may be collected in the National Parks. Unless you wish to turn your specimens over to the Park, you are not likely to get this permission. The National Forests are the best place for collectors. Leave good musical instruments at home, violins, violas, guitars, mandolins, etc., are sure to crack, and brasses will get nicked or dented. Flutes, recorders, harmonicas, and the so-called automatic harps are about the only things that can be carried safely. Oil paints are a nuisance to pack, but if you have to have them I suppose you will carry them. Horse furniture is described in the chapter on horses and packing.


Chapter 3 of Kenneth Rexroth’s Camping in the Western Mountains (unpublished manuscript, ca. 1939). Copyright 2003. Reproduced by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.