I’ve got a continually growing library of all things survival and preparedness, and one of the things I have noticed about books regarding these subjects is that they nearly all relate in some fashion to a way of life that no longer exists as it once did. More specifically, they relate to the old time camping experience. There are some people today who like to go camping the primitive way, as some call the sport, but far too often people just bring home with them when they go camping. I recall on one camping trip at a state park many years ago that a Cub Scout group was camping in the park on their annual campout session. While walking down to the facilities one morning I walked by the site the scouts were using and the scoutmaster had them all circled around a portable TV, watching cartoons.
On another occasion we had the opportunity to go tenting in a shorefront campground and got to pitch the tent just a few yards from the surf on a rise. It was a great spot except for the whirring of the blenders and the beeping of the microwaves. Not to mention the sitcoms on the TVs until well after dark. And there I was, enjoying the vacation with the most hi tech pieces of equipment I could bring myself to pack. That was a Coleman lantern and a three way flashlight radio. So much for roughing it, and that was years ago. Imagine today with all of the portable conveniences available for your camping pleasure.
Personally, while I am getting older and have come to enjoy some of the convenience tools, I still prefer to go camping in a tent and do my cooking over the fire. And I especially don’t want to be in the presence of a TV, microwave or any other gadget that makes noise that we really don’t need. That’s why I enjoy reading some of the older camping books. These almost biographical accounts of camping in the early 20th century and before really share some great tips for surviving in the wilds. And these tips and treasures can be used today in the same fashion, and sometimes can be adapted to use today’s equipment as well.
So, today I present to you Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart. Originally published in 1917 as a two volume work, the copy I have today is a single book of nearly 900 pages
of camp lore and wisdom from the time when electricity was something few had, or even wanted. This copy was republished in 1988 with an introduction by Jim Casada, and I have the 8th printing from 2008. Casada’s introduction is of a biographical nature regarding Kephart’s life, which I found to be an interesting one. It’s a shame that Kephart had to die so tragically. Yes, you’ll have to buy the book to learn the story.
Casada keeps to the two volume premise of the original work in his facsimile edition, so the original concept remains intact, fortunately. All of the wonderful tips and stories Kephart wrote are just as he penned them nearly a century ago. Volume 1, Camping, consists of 23 chapters devoted mostly to the fine art of camping, and setting up fixed camps. Chapters range from Vacation Time to Cooks Miscellany and everything in between. As far as the interest to survivalism and preparedness needs, there are chapters dealing with setting up camps and making furniture from raw material, woodland pests, camp fires and dressing fish and game for cooking. And speaking of cooking, there are several chapters that address that need specifically. While not all of the information in this book is applicable today, much of it is, as we can take the skills described in this book and apply them to our own preparedness and survival needs. Some things never change, and roughing it in the woods is just one of those things. Whether you find yourself out in the wilds by chance or choice, a lot of the knowledge in these two volumes can help make your stay much more pleasant.
The second volume contained in this book, Woodcraft, also contains 23 chapters ranging from Woodcraft to Accidents and Emergencies. Probably the more pertinent material is going to be the chapters on what we call cruising, or navigating the woods. Kephart describes the rudiments of map reading and making, stellar and solar navigation, compass reading and the like with surprising clarity for the day it was written.
Also discussed are axemanship and the tools of the wood, including building a basic log cabin or other structure from founds and made materials in the woods. Also included are chapters on bark utensils, ropes and twine, knots and hitches, tanning hides and other subjects.
I picked this copy up at a local chain bookstore for only $14.95, and it was worth the money, and then some. Even if you never go a roughing in the woods, the knowledge of how things used to be makes it a good read. Chock full of illustrations, the instructions and recipes are easy to follow, and I am planning on trying some of them out this coming camping season. I’ll let you know how things work out next fall when I revisit the book in a follow up review.