Camping/Hiking before plastic

waxed canvas too, rubber was first used for waterproofing in the 1820’s and after the invention of vulcanization but was sticky and brittle when cold. Beeswax and animal fats have been used for most of recorded history and in fact coating ones feet with whale oil was a way to prevent trench foot during WWI.

Note that camping trips were not short during the fad era in the late 1800’s and in fact camping for a month was actually the norm.

Beans, oats, “hard tack”, dried beef etc…for food and most of it all rolled up into a blanket roll with a “India rubber cloth” for ground cover was common. Remember that refrigeration wasn’t common until after WWII at home so people knew how to cook with ingredients that would survive without plastics to seal them.

As an example look at this picture of Teddy Roosevelt

Tall leather boots would be mostly water proof, and could be renewed with rendered fat from cooking if needed. Wool pants and shirts stay warm when wet and waxed or oiled canvas jackets also work well. In fact I ride a motorcycle in the rain with a waxed canvas jacket (or maybe a chrome tanned leather which can be waterproof unlike todays fashion leather) without much problem or in a leather jacket that is made with traditionally tanned leather which is water resistant. And if your hat is made with beaver pelt it works well in the rain. This may seem crazy in a day where fancy hats are mostly rabbit and will fall apart in the rain. There is a reason for the trapping trade was huge and it wasn’t just for fashion.

I am in my mid 40s and started camping before gore tex and other breathable fabrics were available and had no issue with leather shoes, wool and other older fabrics and in fact they were often superior to the plastic options. The convenience, lack of maintenance and cost are the huge advantages of modern plastics. Also remember that weight wasn’t as much of a problem before the days of the automobile because people were more likely to have a horse or a donkey to cary the load.

Don’t get me wrong, when I am bicycling, skiing etc… I would gladly take modern materials and especially the very new versions like c-change. But I grew up camping and backpacking with gear that wasn’t too different from 1900 and I think I would miss modern lighting more than modern fabrics. And if it is going to be wet I will always take wool clothing and leather boots because I will be warmer and dryer in most cases.

I wish I could still justify buying mountaineering leather double boots like my old G1s that finally cracked, after 20 years and three soles. They now cost around $500 and I don’t typically have time for the significant breaking in period. But with wool socks and silk liners they are far more durable and waterproof than any fragile high tech membrane and they still breath a little bit.

Canvas. Oiled canvas, parrafin wax. Very heavy, and will tend to mold or mildew if not dried thoroughly. But, once setup there is nothing that compares to a good canvas wall tent and dry warmth of a woodstove. Modern nylon won’t “breathe” as well, and propane heaters produce its own moisture making everything clammy.

Wool. Lots of wool articles. Well heeled adventurers in the past sprang for very tightly woven windbreakers made of long staple Egyptian cotton. Goose down articles were fairly rare and/or prohibitively expensive. Synthetics have several advantages over down articles, but weight and compressibility are not among them. I use both types of sleeping bags depending, but in extreme cold a goose down sleeping bag excels.

In extreme cold nothing beats a hotel room with a fireplace and room service. :smiley:

That’s mainly what I was thinking of- the stuff that would be ruined or useless if wet. I’ll add anything made out of paper like maps, guidebooks, or in the case of GIs, letters from home.

Yes they were, actually. There are summer camps in the US that go back more than 100 years; the school my paternal foreparents attended for several centuries used “let’s go for a walk (to a mountaintop several hours’ worth of walking away)” as a way to make the boys good and tired since at least the 19th century. Knowing the Jesuits, I suspect they may have done it for the first time on the year the school opened.

Boy Scouts of America founded 1910. My dad went camping in the 1930’s. I went camping in the 1960’s. The Appalachian Trail was completed in 1937, started 1921. The Pacific Crest Trail started 1935, mostly done 1968.

Waxed hats, jackets, and pants are still widely available from outfitters; they are very effective.

A rubberized canvas poncho kept the backpack dry through the Vietnam era.

Backpackers used to commonly carry 60 to 80 pound packs; these days it is more common to carry less than 40 pounds and ultralight backpackers often shoot for under 20 pounds with some hardcore gram counters doing long hikes with packs under 10 pounds. Modern materials are a good thing.

In Bernard Cornwell’s semi-historical novels about riflemen in the Peninsular war, he recounts that his characters acquired French backpacks which were made of leather and vastly superior to those issued by the English.

There were two parts to the poncho: the plastic, waterproof outer and the soft, warm liner, which most of us used as a lightweight blanket.

In the rainy PNW, I wear an oilskin hat rather than screw around with an umbrella or a hood; oilskin just being impregnated cotton, of course. There are products that the consumer can use to re-oil an oilskin when it starts to let water through.

The Germans were still using leather hide rucksacks as late as WWII, those furry ones with the cylindrical gas-mask canisters beneath and greatcoat and blanket, quarter tent which doubled as a rain cape, and half a dozen other useful items.
Lest this seem a bit much, it was well chosen stuff, and British soldiers attacked across river carrying 60+ lb in the 2nd Boer, whilst the Americans never to be outdone in making soldiers’ lives uncomfortable, charged them up with 85+ lb in the Vietnam war.

Yeah, this was my experience in my very limited experience of camping as a kid. Everything was heavy and smelled of mildew.

I think you can probably make the argument that people were generally more used to being miserable (and carrying heavy stuff) back in the day. Being warm and dry is probably a fairly recent innovation.

I can confirm that - when I went backpacking in the 1970’s my pack typically weighed around 70 pounds.

Not to be bitchy about things, but ‘Cite’?

A gallon of water is eight pounds, some hardcore gram counters doing long hikes with packs under 10 pounds.

Where are these people hiking? Even a water filter and bottle weigh something.

Places with water, generally.

Not much, though. Behold the LifeStraw…others just drink river water as-is.

You may be skeptical, but ultralight hiking is a real thing. They have competitions and everything.

Fair enough, that’s simply not possible out here; [The Four Corners). Even sleeping under bridges and moving at night; the distances are just too great.

There are some evidence of the Ancients doing just that, but it varies between amazing and flat out unbelievable.

Sure it is. I live in Santa Fe, and do a lot of my hiking in the Southwest.

To be clear on terminology, backpackers usually discuss “base weight”, meaning everything except consumables (food, water, fuel); total pack weight will then be a function simply of the length of the hike (= food & fuel), and any requirement to haul water in completely dry areas.

Outside of winter, a base weight around 10b is not difficult to achieve with modern equipment. I will be going on an 8-day hike into some remote parts of the Grand Canyon on Thursday, and my base weight will be right around 10lb, including:

2.0lb Pack
0.7lb Shelter & groundsheet - Dyneema tarp-tent; no stakes
1.5lb Sleeping bag (20deg rated) & inflatable pad
0.5lb Rain gear (may updgrade to 1.0lb heavier gear if forecast is poor)
1.5lb Other clothing
0.0lb Water purification - “Aquatabs”
0.5lb Water containers - 8 liters capacity, for a couple of dry sections
0.5lb Cooking gear (Jetboil)

Another 3lb is made up by various smaller bits of gear - compass & maps, phone, headlamps, first aid, repair kit, etc.

This is a relatively long trip, so consumables (mainly food) will be around 14lb, making a total pack weight at the beginning of around 24lb. There are a couple of dry sections where I will need to carry a lot of water, so my maximum pack weight may be near 30lb. But I expect to be hiking out with about 12lb on my back, including water.

There is nothing more comforting to me than a woobie. My current ‘comforter’ is Rob’s issue woobie [for a very short time the Navy issued him one as a change from the traditional grey wool blanket for his rack on the sub.] It even still has a really faint smell of submarine ‘air’ [hydraulic oil, amine vapor, COH2 burner leftovers and whatever makes it through the activated carbon filters. And boy, sub funk has hang time!]

The issued field jacket for the Seabees had a removable liner made from the same material. I wish I hadn’t tossed that particular uniform item, as it was comfy and versatile. But I did my usual “don’t look back” thing and got rid of everything military.

And Barbour has been making similar stuff for at least as long.

In some ways, this old-fashioned waxed cotton stuff is better than the newer, high-tech stuff.

I’m on my second Barbour coat. I replaced the first one after more than twenty years of use. I didn’t use it for camping (although I wore it on countless day hikes), but it was my go-to travel jacket on every trip I ever took (lots of pockets, and big pockets, making a backpack unnecessary), and I wore it through New York falls, winters and springs. It was pretty much indestructible.

For actual multi-day camping trips, sure, the modern stuff, with Gore-Tex and who knows what, works better. But I’ve never had a garment like that last more than five years.

The old-fashioned stuff lasts nearly forever. It is, however, pretty high-maintenance. These jackets have to be rewaxed every couple of years, and they’re smelly, and you can’t keep them in the same closet with other clothes because of the smell. They are not machine-washable – best you can do is wipe them off with a damp sponge.

The Slickrock country has a hairshirt element to it, no doubt about that. But at certain times of the year, those isolated water tanks are full of good water. There are natural springs, too. Hikers familiar with the area and in good physical condition can travel dozens of miles a day with little gear. Different strokes for different folks. The feeling of freedom and lightness is the reward, I think. People got ingrained to carrying ridiculous loads, because that’s just the way it was done, I guess. It’s been taken to silliness, I suppose, like everything else. The deal-breaker for me is the lack of decent meals. Squirrel food and oatmeal, ramen, jerky, and similar crap. But it allows folks to cover astonishing distances while other folks are slogging up some trail fiddling with tent poles and thinking “This is a vacation!!?” The old school long distance hikers would joke “It’s not the stove that bothers me, it’s that dang sack of flour banging around inside.”