Popular Science Monthly/Volume 75/September 1909/Collecting and Camping Afoot

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



EVERY naturalist wishes to spend a part of his time in the field, observing, taking notes and making collections. It often happens that such field work can be done best by camping. Methods employed by field naturalists while camping vary according to the character of the country and according to the objects to be attained.

It is the purpose here to give a few hints concerning traveling on foot, and carrying a light camp outfit on the back as a pack. These hints are based upon considerable experience with this method of camping in various parts of the United States, and are given with the hope that others may find them an aid in planning similar trips. This kind of camping can be of service only when the necessary collecting outfit and specimens collected are comparatively light in weight and when the area of the region to be covered is considerable. In my own work I can use this method because I am collecting only grasses which are easily prepared, and because I wish to cover in a single season a wide area, usually several states. I wish to travel quickly by railroad or other regular transportation, from one locality to another, often two or three hundred miles apart, spending one to five days in each place. It does not pay to outfit with wagon or pack animals for so short a time and one is not sufficiently mobile when stopping at hotels. With a light outfit one can start into the field as soon as he arrives at a station, thus saving much time. If more than five days is required for a given excursion, I am in the habit of taking a pack animal to carry my outfit, as I can not conveniently carry in a pack provisions for more than that number of days.

In calculating the details of an outfit one must first determine the weight he is able or willing to carry. If the weight carried is too great the mobility is too much reduced. Yet enough in the way of food, clothing and bedding must be carried to prevent too much risk to the health from short rations and exposure. The problem before us is to adjust the factors so that the result may represent a maximum efficiency. I endeavor to keep the total weight of my outfit within fifty pounds and we may assume in general that a man should limit his pack to a third of his own weight. With this weight I count on walking fifteen to twenty miles a day over ordinary roads or trails that do not include over two thousand feet of total climbing. In climbing one can count on one thousand feet an hour, without a pack if the trail is steep. With a fifty-pound pack the time is about doubled. If one finds it necessary to carry more than the weight indicated, the distance traveled is correspondingly reduced. From the total weight one must subtract the weight of the collecting outfit. My own outfit consists of a wood slat press with straps, twenty-five light-weight driers, one hundred sheets of inner papers, a few ounces of cardboard slips for fastening over the bends in specimens, and my plant digger. The total weight is not over five pounds. The weight of the specimens gathered is not likely to be, on a single trip, more than five pounds, which increase in weight is, however, offset by the decrease in weight of supplies. We have then forty-five pounds for the remainder of the pack.

The outfit may be considered conveniently under the following heads: clothing, bedding, cooking utensils, provisions, miscellaneous. The exact selection depends upon the length of the trip, the character of the country, climate, accessibility of supply stations and many other conditions which can not here be foreseen. It is clear that in the high Sierras more bedding is necessary than in Florida, that more provisions must be carried in a wilderness than in a settled country, and that rain or mosquitoes must be provided against where these occur. Therefore in discussing the requisites for an outfit I shall not make a definite selection, but shall offer suggestions as to such selection based upon my own experience.

In my own work I travel from place to place with the usual baggage allowance of one hundred and fifty pounds aside from my hand baggage. In this baggage I carry such articles as I am likely to need at hotels where I may stop, and also a selection of camp equipment, and extra driers and other collecting supplies. Sometimes I go first to a hotel, where I leave my baggage while I make an excursion of a few days on foot. Sometimes I travel in camp clothes and pack, in which case I can leave my baggage at the depot and go at once into the country.

Concerning clothes for camping, I can say little except that it is very necessary that the foot covering, whatever its other qualities, should be well fitted and well "broken in," for it is absolutely essential in a walking trip that the feet should be kept in good condition. As to other articles, I prefer heavy socks, wide-brimmed cowboy hat, and, in the mountains, woolen underwear. I usually go without a coat, but carry a sweater. The extra clothes may be reduced to an extra suit of underwear, an extra pair of socks, two large handkerchiefs and a pair of moccasins. The latter I use chiefly at night.

The bedding may be reduced to a single blanket of moderate weight or two of light weight. I also carry a waterproof poncho. This is a protection against rain, dew or damp ground at night and can be used as a cape in the daytime in case of showers. I carry in my baggage a light, so-called balloon silk A tent for use in regions where one may expect rain at night. This has a ridge rope by which it is suspended and weighs six pounds. In mountain regions where the nights are cold I depend for warmth on keeping a fire during the night, rather than on carrying extra bedding. But in my baggage I carry a waterproof sleeping bag for use on longer trips with a pack animal. Where mosquitoes abound one must be provided with a cheese-cloth tent, or at least with a head veil.

The cooking utensils may be reduced to a very few pieces, but in this aluminum age one may add a few luxuries. While one can with patience cook over a small fire between stones, this method has its disadvantages. There may be no stones; but even when these are present it is not easy to find them of the proper size and shape for the small vessels used by one person, such as a pail four inches in diameter. I therefore usually carry a "stove" or grate. This consists of three pieces of strap iron about fifteen inches long, fastened by four cross strips. This can be set across stones or small logs and is certainly a great convenience. It is strong enough to hold in the middle a quart of water. When packed it is placed in a cloth sack to prevent the soot from soiling other articles. Two or three dishes may be cooking at the same time by this means. The cooking utensils consist of a straight-sided coffee pot, a pail in which this fits, both of aluminum, all with the parts riveted, not soldered, and finally a small frying pan of iron. I have not found aluminum so satisfactory for the latter article, as foods cooked in it seem to burn more easily. A second small pail is a convenience, in fact I often use in an emergency a tin fruit can with the top melted off and a wire bail attached. Each utensil used over the fire should be packed in a light cloth bag to prevent the soot from soiling the other articles. One can not take time to remove soot after each meal. In addition might be mentioned a plate and two bowls of aluminum, a drinking cup of tin (aluminum gets too hot), knife, fork and dessert spoon. I must not fail to mention the canvas bucket. This is light and collapsible, and is very convenient to bring a supply of water from a distance. One can not always camp in the immediate vicinity of water. The best matches are the old-fashioned sulphur kind that come in blocks. These should be kept in a waterproof box. In a recent work on camping I saw mentioned a handy contrivance for blowing the fire. It consists merely of a rubber tube with a short metal tube at the end. When cooking with such a small outfit it is necessary to use a small fire, frequently replenished. The blower serves a useful purpose for bringing the fire quickly into action. I have used this article during the last season and can heartily recommend it to others. In describing my outfit I mentioned a plant digger. For this purpose I use an "intrenching tool," an implement in use in the army. This ig a broad-bladed knife of good steel which fits in a scabbard carried at the belt. It is an excellent thing with which to dig plants, but it can be used for several other purposes, the most important of which is to cut fire-wood and incidentally to make friends with vicious dogs. This tool may be obtained of Francis Bannerman, 549 Broadway, New York.

In choosing the food for such a trip as described one is limited.by: the available supply and is governed by one's tastes and by the necessity of reducing the total weight to a minimum. It is essential that the? ration be fairly well balanced. The following is given only as a suggestion, as tastes and conditions are so variable. It is also to be remembered that the supplies must be obtained from ordinary sources as found' in the region visited. A few kinds of food, such as erbswurst and dried egg, I may provide at the beginning of the trip, as these can not be purchased at village grocery stores. For drinking I carry cocoa, as coffee is more bulky and tea I do not care for. If cold water of good quality can be obtained I drink the cocoa only at breakfast. To the cocoa I often add a little arrowroot. To avoid lumps the sugar may be mixed with the dry cocoa before the hot water is added. Milk I carry in condensed form. Dried milk is not so satisfactory, as it does not mix well for cooking, but it has the advantage of light weight. Since a can of condensed milk will last one or two days, according to size, it is necessary to protect an opened can or there will be a fine mess in one's baggage. I keep the can in a closed tin can just large enough to hold it. The milk can is opened by driving two small wire nails in the top at opposite sides. When not in use the nails remain in as stoppers. The foods may be classified into carbohydrates, fats, nitrogenous foods, fruits and condiments. Of the first may be mentioned sugar, which with me is an important article of diet, as I eat half a pound a day. The starchy foods present considerable variety. Bread heads the list, but not infrequently one is unable to obtain this at a supply station. Furthermore, on a walking trip one can scarcely count on carrying bread sufficient for more than two days. Flour is likely to be the staple. I have found self-rising pancake flour the most convenient, as this comes in small packages all ready for use. One can carry but a few pounds of flour and it is difficult to obtain so small a quantity of the ordinary sort at a store. Other starchy foods that I often use are grape nuts, cream of wheat (or similar breakfast food) and rice. This last, however, I do not much relish, though it is improved by cooking with raisins or dried fruit. When possible I add potatoes and onions, but both are bulky and can be carried only in small quantity. The fats are supplied usually by bacon. Butter can be carried only in the mountains where the climate is cool, otherwise it turns to oil. The nitrogen may be supplied by canned meats, which are heavy; by canned beans, which are also heavy; by dry beans, which take too long to cook to suit me, or by dried egg. I depend largely upon this last. It comes in convenient-sized cans and has proved very satisfactory. One can make omelette or scrambled eggs, or it can be mixed with the flour for cakes. I use the last method frequently, putting into the flour the equivalent of two eggs. Fruit is an essential in camping. I prefer dried cherries, but if these can not be obtained, I use prunes, dried peaches, apples or whatever is available. A package of raisins is a good thing to have. Of the condiments I carry only salt, as I do not care for pepper, vinegar and so on, which are inconvenient and superfluous articles for a pack. There are various kinds of concentrated soup packages on the market only one of which I have found worth carrying. That is erbswurst, sold by Abercrombie & Fitch Co., of New York. It is put up in pound, half-pound and quarter-pound packages and consists of a meal ground from peas, vegetables and meat, seasoned, ready for use by adding water. It is a balanced ration easy to prepare and very concentrated. On a forced march one could subsist upon this alone.

The miscellaneous portion of the outfit includes a few toilet articles, a pocket dissecting outfit, together with bandages, carbolated vaseline, etc., for patching myself in case of accident, needle, thread, twine, safety-pins and similar small articles. For packing these and the food not contained in the original cases I use small cloth bags. The sugar, dried fruit, rice or even the flour or cream of wheat, is transferred to a cloth sack, as paper sack or pasteboard boxes will not withstand close packing.

The greater part of the outfit is carried in a pack upon the back. If the bulk is small an ordinary soldier's knapsack is satisfactory. When it is necessary to carry more the outfit may be placed in two waterproof duffle bags and these carried in a strap pack. The most satisfactory pack that I have tried is the Merriam pack by which a portion of the weight is supported at the hips.

In a trip of three to five days from a station, the outfit consists, then, of the Merriam pack in which is placed every thing except the poncho and blanket which are folded in a roll on the outside, the plant digger carried at the belt and the plant press carried in the hand. I carry in addition a haversack for overflow articles. I try to start with two loaves of bread, which being too bulky for the pack I place in the haversack. In this I carry also my note book and drinking cup.

Having decided upon a route for a short trip, which should be arranged if possible so that no portion is traveled over twice, I carry my pack to a favorable locality for collecting and unload. After exhausting the collecting I move on to another place. Occasional plants are dug up without removing the pack but this is somewhat of a strain and should not be done regularly. One is obliged to rest every two or three miles, and by selecting the proper localities, these halts can be used for collecting. The pack can be removed by unfastening a single clasp. If long side trips are to be made, such as climbing a mountain, the outfit can be cached until the return.

An average day in the field, thus equipped, would be about as follows: Supposing that I have arrived in the forenoon at the terminus of a branch railway line in the mountains, I obtain such supplies as may be necessary and start at once toward what appears to be the most favorable collecting ground. At noon I eat a light lunch such as grape-nuts, usually not going to the trouble of making a fire. About five o'clock in the afternoon I begin to watch for a favorable camping spot. The requisites are good water, firewood in abundance and a comfortable location for my camp. As I carry no axe it is necessary that the firewood be in shape for use without chopping. At altitudes where the temperature sinks to 40° F., it is necessary to keep a fire all night, as the bedding carried is not sufficient to keep one comfortably warm. A level spot is selected and freed from stones, sticks and cones. It is an advantage if one can place his bed by a large rock or log and build the fire a short distance in front as the heat is then reflected and the wind is kept off. It is scarcely safe to build a fire against a large log or stump, as it may start a forest fire or it may at least be troublesome to put out the next morning. A supply of firewood should be placed near at hand and the fire replenished as needed, which is at intervals of about two hours during the night. There is no advantage in making a larger fire as one is driven farther away and gets cold just as soon when the fire dies out, and furthermore there is more danger from sparks falling on the blanket. It may be remarked that the falling temperature always wakes one up in time to replenish the fire if the nights are cold. Having gathered the firewood one prepares for supper. I do not utilize the large fire for cooking, but build a small fire near-by, under the grate previously described. The small fire can be controlled to suit the requirements. As one sits near the stove while cooking, the fire must not be too large. The supper is with me the important meal of the day. There is time to cook such articles as need prolonged boiling. At this meal I have pancakes, bacon, potatoes, onions, fruit or whatever my supplies will furnish. As the cooking utensils are limited to a frying pan, coffee pot, pail and tin can, the amount of cooking that can be carried on at one time is limited. Enough dried fruit is made into sauce to last for the breakfast and possibly the lunch following. Cream of wheat will also be cooked for the following breakfast. If potatoes are carried enough are boiled at night to give a small surplus for frying the next morning. As a matter of fact when one is alone it is necessary to limit the variety of food at any one meal, since it is not convenient to carry in a pack the surplus from a meal, especially if in liquid form.

Supper over I go to bed at once. The bed consists of the poncho and blanket doubled on the ground near the fire. I never take the trouble to collect boughs or otherwise prepare a bed, except to remove obstructions. If soft turf is present so much the better, but this does not often happen. Usually I sleep on the bare ground as bunch grass is not comfortable. As explained before I carry an extra suit of underwear and a pair of socks. At night I remove the clothes worn during the day, put on dry underwear and socks, and if the weather demands, put on the other suit of underwear over the first, and finally the sweater and moccasins, and am ready to fold myself in my blanket To do this I spread the blanket and poncho over me, roll first to one side, then to the other until the slack is taken up on each side. In this way the two edges are lapped beneath and I can roll to either side, the blanket remaining tight. For a pillow I use the bag in which I carry my clothes, filling it with leaves. I arise at dawn and retire soon after dark, for there is little to do when alone by a campfire.

As partially indicated above the breakfast consists of cocoa and cream of wheat or other breakfast food cooked the night before, and if I am hungry enough, other food left from supper. The utensils are now cleaned and packed for the day.

The plant driers are changed once or twice a day. As I usually carry only twenty-five driers, it is necessary to remove the plants and dry the driers in the sun, or if the weather is damp, before a campfire. Ordinarily in sunny weather I attend to the drying about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., most grasses being dry in twenty-four hours. In this way I can prepare about twenty-five specimens each day. But if the collecting is particularly good I can double the number by drying before the campfire at night.

With the outfit I have described one can travel safely, that is, without subjecting himself to exposure, but the work is not easy. Of course if two persons arrange to travel in company the trip would be more pleasant and a few additional comforts might be included. One advantage in traveling afoot is the mobility. Little time is lost in getting to the collecting ground and one is not confined to roads or trails as when traveling with pack animals. One can cross a mountain range or from one railroad to another. The available range with full complement of supplies is as much as one hundred miles.

The traveler should be provided with good maps and a compass. Topographic sheets of a considerable portion of the country can be purchased from the United States Geological Survey.

The above suggestions are offered for the purpose of aiding any who propose making natural history collections. I should not advise this method for those who are going for pleasure only, as it is hard work and the necessary drudgery is only balanced by the increased opportunity for collecting and observing.