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Totally Un-UL, Un Hi-tech list:
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Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Totally Un-UL, Un Hi-tech list: on 06/08/2011 22:49:46 MDT Print View

I've been playing with the idea of starting to do "themed" trips, sticking to gear from the past. First up, I'm looking to create a basic 3 season gearlist based upon non-synthetic, traditional gear; something akin to what my grandfather would've likely used prior to WWII. I'd like to start getting out on some local overnighters with this gear...some of it I already own. It's a little hard to define the rules for this exercise, so please chime in with ideas there as well. This is all for fun so a little fudging here or there is fine.

I'm assuming a few things in building this list:
1. Two nights in typical 3 season SoCal mountain weather (though I wouldn't be at over 6'000 feet for this) Highs 80s, lows mid 30s/low 40s, chance of rain.
2. Use of minimal/low impact bushcraft skills (no gathering/cutting live stuff): carving tent pegs, gathering material for bedding insulation, cooking on a fire, using downed wood for shelter poles, etc...
3. Avoiding all plastics, electronics, synthetic fabrics and insulation, titanium, contemporary materials in general. I'm setting my technology sights on roughly the 1930s. I don't have a real clear picture on exactly what materials were in place at the time (i.e., what were typical waterproofing treatments of the time...waxed canvas? Rubberized canvas? etc.).
4. Trying to stick to a cost effective plan. I.E., I'm not going to start sewing silk quilts with 850 fill down or buy up a bunch of new merino clothing.
5. Willing to fudge a few things: I.E. surplus wool blankets are often 20-30% synthetic, but good enough for this exercise. I recently found a really nice German rucksack, all canvas and leather, though it had updated plastic buckles.

Here are some basics I've been thinking...please fill in the gaps, offer suggestions.


Rucksack (Surplus…hard to find without plastic buckles these days, but many options exist)

Canvas Shelter half or small tarp (shelter half lighter than a 6'x9' tarp, can be pitched in simple lean-to style with closed ends)

Wool blanket (hard to find surplus with 100% wool…best I’ve seen yet is 70% wool. Chose this because it's cheap, relatively light and I'm I'm familiar with a few different wrapping/layering styles to create a mummy bag from a wool blanket)

Aluminum pot/lid with bail (Stanco grease pot w/wooden knob should do)
Steel spork (I have an old one)

Knife/ sheath (I'll be taking a Mora bushcraft model with leather sheath).
Water treatment…Iodine or simply boiling? (when did Iodine come into use?)
Aluminum/steel canteen (x2)
Matches/tinder in WP case
Storm candles x2 (or candle lantern?)
Steel whistle
Basic first aid kit (what would this include...basically gauze and wraps? Where can I get morphine ? :)

Clothing Carried:
Wool sweater
??? Raingear ??? What should be done for waterproofing pack, bedroll, etc? I know rubberized/waxed canvas ponchos have been around a long time, but they're probably heavy as hell and are redundant if not being used as a shelter.
Wool socks (spare)
Wool beanie
Wool gloves
T shirt (spare)....

Thoughts/ideas appreciated.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Totally Un-UL, Un Hi-tech list: on 06/08/2011 23:41:57 MDT Print View

First off...a historical reenactment forum is probably better suited for this post but I'll play along anyway.

You forgot heavy leather boots.

Raingear: yep going to be a heavy rubber/wax canvas poncho most likely. Not sure why you're complaining about it though. It's your idea to emulate the old ways, and guess what they were heavy and redundant. Deal with it! =)

Don't forget a large heavy wooden stick to act as a rifle (I'll let you double it as a trekking pole). Shovel (gotta dig those trenches).

This may help:

David A
(DavidAdair) - M

Locale: West Dakota
Re: Maybe more UL and hi-tech than we recognize on 06/09/2011 06:04:49 MDT Print View

First of all, this is a worthy and entertaining exercise. However, I don't necessarily agree that people 100 years ago didn't know how to travel light, and, in many respects their gear may have been more "hi-tech" than we tend to appreciate today. One of the problems with replicating that gear is that many of the materials and supplies are no longer in common use.

For example, try purchasing an Egyptian cotton tent waterproofed with lead acetate- they were light, waterproof (mostly) and breathable. They used things like wool over-shirts waterproofed with anhydrous lanolin- warm, waterproof and breathable. Epic may be better but really how much better? The list goes on.

Still, it can be done and probably at no great penalty it terms of weight or functionality.

You would probably enjoy reading Horace Kephart's book titled "Camping and Woodcraft" originally published 1917 and any or all of the reprints of Calvin Rutstrum's books.

PS The Polar Pure iodine crystal water treatment is a modern commercial adaption of a vintage approach.

Keep us posted, we are looking forward to a trip report. (Please keep in mind you would have to be replicating a much earlier era to justify any pEnis gourd photo.)

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Totally Un-UL, Un Hi-tech list: on 06/09/2011 08:43:18 MDT Print View

Sounds kinda cool. I think you have to decide, as David alluded to, whether you're going to try and do traditional 1930s backpacking, or lightweight 1930s backpacking. Both existed. If lightweight, you shouldn't rely on what the military used to use, as the military will always use heavier, more durable, and more cost effective equipment.

And are you only interested in what 1930s Americans would backpack in. If not, kilts should be in play (not being cheeky here). Talk about a multifunctional piece of equipment.


Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
1930 on 06/09/2011 08:48:57 MDT Print View

I have two one-person military canvas tents shaped in half-pyramid fashion with the metal snaps on the edge so that you can snap two together to create a full roomy shelter. not sure the vintage on these. They work well with a staff in the center as the support. I used it once in the rain to see how it works and what i notice is that although not waterproof at all, the water still runs directly to ground so you just have to avoid touching the walls. BTW, dont forget, theres no reason you have to carry a shelter. That's probably the 1930s version of ultralight, just do without!

I also have some artisanal homemade tequila which has been made in Mexico since at least that long ago. You know, just in case you want to add a 1930's Bandido spin to it!! Haha!

Jeremy Malin
(jrmalin) - F

Locale: New England
1860's ultralight on 06/09/2011 10:13:42 MDT Print View

After 4 years of backpacking during HS with 50+ pounds, I took a history class my freshman year of college in which we studied/reenacted the life of an average person during the Civil War. We spent a lot of time at state and national parks doing demonstrations (since we were pretty much the only reenacting group in the country that was close to the actual average age of soldiers during the CW). We also reenacted a few forced marches with very minimal equipment. We did not carry tents. We carried a wool blanket (Woolrich made them then and now, with some nylon) and our extra clothes (don't forget that silk and wool are great materials) rolled up in a rubber blanket or poncho (much like the poncho tarps we like today, just considerably heavier). A lighter, but less waterproof option, is painted oilcloth. Everything else was carried in a haversack (basically a small canvas messenger bag), since most soldiers were not issued packs. Cooking was obviously done over a fire, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone intrepid was using some sort of a hobo stove, but I have no evidence to back that up. The Imusa mugs many of us have a very similar to the tin mugs used in the 1860's. If you leave out the rifle (10+ lbs), and accoutrements (another 10+ lbs), I would guess that we were traveling with under 20 lbs. When it was cold (numerous nights below freezing, lowest being 18° F), we definitely needed the help of a fire to stay warm, but you can certainly sleep comfortably with this setup down to 40° with some extra heat from a fire. Historically, the other source of heat when it was cold was spooning (we'll stay away from that discussion). I could continue with many more details, but the point is, ultralight is definitely not a new concept. We may be better at it in some ways, but in other ways, most of us could probably learn a whole lot from our ancestors (who would all be in agreement with Mike Clelland and nix the TP).

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Nessmuk on 06/09/2011 10:38:16 MDT Print View

Check out George Sears stuff too.

His book wood craft is quick good reading.

A 10 lb wood canoe!

Pitch for mosquitoes and sunscreen.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: 1860's ultralight on 06/09/2011 10:48:03 MDT Print View

Thanks for the feedback so far.

I should be clear, I'm NOT trying to be some sort of military reenacter out there, simply trying to recreate a level of older outdoor technology. I only cite surplus military gear because it's so readily available.

I would also like to remain as light as possible.

I'd love to see the shelter halves you have Adan.

One issue I'm having is that if you're going pre-nylon for waterproof goods (which I understand came into use in the US military in roughly 1943), we're talking either plain canvas (which is OK for shelter, but questionable for raingear), oil cloth (which is difficult to come by unless I make it), or rubberized/coated canvas (which again is hard to come by). Any ideas for sourcing a ~waterproof poncho/shelter combo? Maybe I could look into my own oilcloth...which I hear is highly flammable to make yourself.

Keep the ideas rolling, I appreciate it.

I'm going out for an overnight this should be mellow so I'm considering making a maiden voyage with a wool blanket (with gear rolled in it as a pack), and other simple pre-synth gear.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
analog photography gear on 06/09/2011 11:18:30 MDT Print View

For sure pack an old school analog camera to document if you do a trip report, a Holga would probably be your lightest and simplest option, or maybe some pre-sensitized print out paper for sun prints...just a thought. I like your ideas here Craig.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: 1860's ultralight on 06/09/2011 11:36:45 MDT Print View

Have you seen this:

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
1962 ski mountaineering list on 06/09/2011 12:25:27 MDT Print View

Perhaps you can gleen something from this.

Sierra Club Manual of Ski Mountaineering Checklist of Equipment

Equipment to Wear


· Underwear

· Shirt

· Socks

· Ski Pants

· Belt

· Hat or Cap

· Ski Boots

· Parka

· Mittens

· Bandanna

· Dark Glasses

· Gaiters

· Matches

· Pocket Knife

· Skis

· Bindings

· Ski Poles

· Watch


· Knapsack

· Notebook and Pencil

· Handkerchief

Equipment To Carry

· Rucksack or Pack Frame, 56-76 oz

· Emergency Kit, 18 oz

· Adhesive Tape, 4 oz

· Outer Mits, 3 oz

· Headband, 1 oz

· Blizzard Visor, 1 oz

· Sweaters or Down Jacket With Hood, 18-26 oz

· Waxes, 6 oz

· Foam Insulation or Air Mattress , 26 oz

· Sleeping Bag, 32 - 80 oz

· Compass, Small, 2 oz

· Sunburn Protection, 1 oz

· Oversocks, 5 oz

· Cup, 3 oz

· Map

· Bandana, 1 oz

· Skins, 20 oz

· Toothbrush, Soap, and Comb, 2 oz

· Flashlight, 2 oz

· Undersocks, 3 oz

· Avalanche Cord

· Extra Matches, 1 oz

Total, 14 lbs.


· Extra Glasses, 1 oz

· Case for Above, 2 oz

· Balaklava Helmet, 5 oz

· Innersoles, 4 oz

· Emergency Food, 12 oz

· Camera and Film, 30 oz

· Windpants, 14 oz

Community Equipment for Three or Four

· Tent, 64 oz

· Repair Kit, 18 oz

· Headlight, 22 oz

· One Stove, Funnel, and Container, 34 oz

· Two Nesting Pots, 16 oz

· Five Spoons, 4 oz

· Extra Glasses, case, 3 oz

· Food and Containers (per man day), 40 oz

· Fuel and Containers (per man day), 16 oz

· Toilet Tissue

· Matches

· Two Flasks, 8 oz


· 200 feet 5/16” rope, 100 oz

· Hand Axe, Sheath, 29 oz

· Emergency Food, 32 oz

· Snow Shovel, 8 oz

· Extra Laces, 1 oz

· Can Opener, 1 oz

· Ace Bandage, 2 oz

· Boot Wax, 8 oz

· Extra Battery Cells, 10 oz

· Stove Parts, 1 oz

· Milk Whip, 4 oz

· Playing Cards, 3 oz

· Aneroid Barometer, 3 oz

· Thermometer, 3 oz

· Wire Saw

· First Aid Extras, 16 oz

· Putty Knife, 2 oz

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Totally Un-UL, Un Hi-tech list: on 06/09/2011 12:44:29 MDT Print View

Try an Egyptian cotton for a shelter over a canvas one. Egyptian is just a generic term for high thread count light cotton ( because the Egyptians where known back then for making the best). Supima is an American maker that is supposed to make high thread count cotton. You will have to buy bed sheets and sew them up the size you want. The thing to remember is that it will get wet but it should keep the rain off you.
There is also waterproof cotton called Ventile (Hilltrek/Westwinds $$!!), but I don't know how historical it is. It is possible that the weave was used back in the day but it is considered a modern invention.
Another thing to keep in mind is that in wet climates pack-baskets were preferred. They are far better in the rain as they do not soak up water and drain well. That is why they are also known as Adirondack style packs. Also you can make some thing like the Roycroft pack. Which is just a frame with straps that you can strap your stuff to.

David A
(DavidAdair) - M

Locale: West Dakota
Re: Re: 1860's ultralight on 06/09/2011 13:03:13 MDT Print View

I was googling about and noticed that Tentsmiths makes an oilskin tarp

Maybe heavier than absolutely necessary seeing as they started with 6.5oz cotton?

You could probably get away with a lighter material for the shelter but for raingear I would guess 4 oz material might be pushing it.

And here is another oilskin recipe:

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: 1930's ultralight on 06/09/2011 13:40:11 MDT Print View

The tent my parents bought for their first backpacking trip in 1941 was Egyptian cotton with a wax coating--looked and felt like the paraffin you can still buy in the grocery store to seal jam and jelly. I believe that you can still find waxed cotton if you look hard! The 3-person tent weighed about 12 lbs. including stakes and pole. Unlike canvas (which starts leaking when you touch it on the inside), it was quite waterproof. That first tent lasted until 1962 (my husband and I were using it then) when most of a tree fell on it in a windstorm (fortunately not while we were inside!).

Sleeping bags were down with a waxed cotton outer shell.

The packs were, believe it or not, internal frame (except mine which was a canvas kids' pack). I know that one of the packs was a Bergen. Made out of heavy canvas. No hip belts in those days; my parents used tump lines. I remember my parents saying that my dad carried 70 lbs. and my mom 60. They wouldn't let me (age 6) carry more than 5. I had my wraps and the mess kit.

I remember the ponchos; my mother was still using hers to cook on the summer before she died. They were quite light rubberized cloth. Not as light as silnylon, but quite similar to urethane coating.

I need to haul out and scan some of those old photos, but no time for it now.

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
light silk tent on 06/09/2011 13:53:08 MDT Print View

From somewhere (now I don't remember exactly, probably a link posted by someone on these boards?) I downloaded a pdf of Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart, originally 1917, this appears to be a scan of a 1957 reprinting from some library.

On pp. 71-72 of this edition is a discussion of silk tents of pretty good volume:

"Featherweight Tent Materials. Pedestrian and cycle campers sometimes go in for the utmost possible lightness and compactness of outfit that will serve their purposes. For tents they use the most finely woven cotton, linen, or silk, not waterproofed, but depending upon extreme closeness of texture to shed rain. The cloth may " spray " a little in the first heavy downpour, but it will not leak so long as nothing rubs it from within.

"I have a sample of very close-woven silky cotton stuff from which a Puget Sound tent-maker turns out "A" tents complete of the following weights: 3 1/2 x 7 x 4 ft. high, 2 lbs.; 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 5 ft., 2 3/4 lbs.; 7 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 7 ft., 5 lbs.

"Lightest of all rain-proof materials, strongest for its weight, and, of course, most expensive, is silk. It can be woven more closely than any other textile and so needs no waterproofing (oiled silk, such as surgeons use, weighs more than "balloon silk"). Genuine silk is the toughest of all fibers ; but it does not stand much friction, hence should be reinforced at all friction surfaces, and rolled up when packed away, not folded in creases. It is unsuitable for any but special tents made for pedestrians. A London maker, T. H. Holding, sells a tentlette (If I may coin a term) of Japanese silk, in wedge shape, 6 X 5 X 4 ft. 6 in. high, that weighs under I2 ounces; and it is a practical little affair of its kind. Of one of these he reports: "It has stood some of the heaviest rains, in fact records for thirty hours at a stretch, without letting in wet, and I say this of an 11 oz. silk one.""

I suppose the weights the author gives are probably just the fabric not poles to hold it up.

Edited by elmvine on 06/09/2011 13:54:30 MDT.

James Winstead

Locale: CA
WWHD on 06/09/2011 14:16:11 MDT Print View

What would Hemingway do?

Or rather WWHHD What would hemingway heros do?

I agree, it seems that bringing a shelter was not nearly as much of a given then as it is today. Although, LNT rightly prevents the recreational creation of most bushcraft shelters.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls the hero sleeps outside most of the time in his bedroll. I assume this was some sort of semi-waterproofed down sleeping bag. Probably weighed a few pounds, and I wonder if he cared about condensation ;)

Edited by James_W on 06/09/2011 14:18:25 MDT.

Chas Ho
(i_charles) - F
The old timey ways are interesting but.. on 06/09/2011 15:56:13 MDT Print View

I think I will stick to reading about them. Although, sometime good ideas can come from old or "obsolete" techniques.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
scout fire on 06/23/2011 21:31:27 MDT Print View

if you want to go really light, but not overly comfy :)- you can use a technique that dates back pre-Revolutionary war, it's called a Scout fire (probably other names as well)- basically you have an outer layer (wool blanket, oil cloth, what have you) and lean up against a tree- you start a very small fire (need to dig a small hole) talking fist sized fire, the outer garment is wrapped around you and the small fire heats your the inside of your legs (femoral arteries and your core)- a beeswax candle would work as well and less chance of burning yourself up :)

they used this technique when in enemy territory to avoid detection, but remain alive through the night :)


I've been doing some overnighters w/ nothing more than bottle holder kit, but I've also been constructing shelters- lean-to w/ a long fire, debris shelters- I've not limited myself to "old time" gear though- I pack a heatsheet and some other modern bits

"light" (there is no light canvas) canvas tarps can be had in 8 and 10 oz material- waterproofing will add additional weight, but should be able to get a small (5x8') tarp in the 3-ish # range

Woolrich sells some nice 85% blankets, Pendleton sells some 100% virgin wool ones- they're pretty darn nice, the Western Mountaineering of wool blankets :)

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: scout fire on 06/23/2011 21:39:16 MDT Print View

Mike, in the diagram, where is the tree?


David A
(DavidAdair) - M

Locale: West Dakota
Flame Resistant Tarp Ideas? on 06/23/2011 23:31:49 MDT Print View

Scout fire -Not sure I am ready to attempt spending a night tending a small fire between my legs. Enemy fire may be required to instill the appropriate motivation.

I suspect the interest in the canvas tarp is not so much about nostalgia as compatibility with open fires? I've made a few light cotton tents waterproofed (sorta) with bee's wax for that purpose. Seems like the 9' x 12' tarp came in at about 4 lbs. They occasionally developed an annoying drip though. Makes me wonder if there might be a better fabric solution.

I wonder if silicone coated cotton would get ember holes. Wonder if my wife would notice a matching pillow case is missing. Might have to give it a try.

Ideas anybody?

BTW sells their 7.5 oz canvas off the roll in case you didn't already know.