Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Woods Roaming Gear

I find toting a backpack cumbersome and uncomfortable. Besides, in a region where people speak of “melting summers” and “warm winters” and a “cold spell” is as transient as a teenage heartthrob, the idea of restricting air-flow to your back becomes imprudent. Within minutes your shirt, from neck bone to coccyx, deteriorates into a drenched sponge and not long afterward a serious heat rash sprouts wherever the backpack pressed against your skin. Imagine putting a heavy wool coat on in 110 degree heat and going for a five mile hike. In the semi-desert Brushlands a backpack—nylon or canvas—amounts to too many inches of hardcore insulation.  So experienced walkers and hikers learn to make adjustments or suffer the consequences. Most Old Timers carry canteens instead of hydro-packs and just about everything else gets slung over the shoulders too in order to allow breezes to bathe the body. Perhaps old habits are hard to break but when I look at century old photos of those who roamed the thorn forests and gravely ridges they were doing pretty much the same thing.

My basic woods roaming gear is contained in two sections carried either loosely or cross-wise over my shoulders. Hanging from one shoulder I carry my cutting tools and a canteen and hanging from the other shoulder a small musket bag. Without question the most important item a Brushlands woods roamer can pack is water. You carry water and then you carry more water. Trek a few miles west and you hit desert and you’ll trade every extra ounce of unnecessary gear for a few mouthfuls of water. Next comes a hat; a wide brimmed hat. From that point on it’s all luxury. You can survive without a knife by chipping rocks into blades, scrapers and hand axes but you’ll not last long without water. And without something to shade your head you’ll burn and blister and die of heat stroke. I’m always amazed at the number of people who ask to go hiking with me and yet never seem to carry water. Most of them consider themselves experienced woods people—biologists, naturalist, hunters—but they seldom bring water. And guess what: I never offer them any of mine. But I’m always watching them and if I see they’re in trouble I’ll give them a drink and pray they’ve learned a lesson.

Here’s a picture taken this past weekend. I’m carrying my musket bag. It’s light and doesn’t burden my shoulder. You can’t see the cutting tools I’m carrying over the other shoulder but those pictures are provided below. I’m not carrying my main canteen in this photo but it was nearby.

This is what I carry in my musket bag: Water bottle; flashlight with extra batteries and bulb; 20 feet of parachute cord; two five-foot rolls of braided nylon rope; butane lighter; alcohol disinfectant and bandana. Below are two plastic bags. One carries toilet paper and the other a micro-fiber rag to clean my glasses and binocular lenses. On top from left to right is a Marttiini 571 carbon steel knife with a rawhide sheath I made from a dog chew; ferrocerium fire-starting rod set in a small deer antler tine and a small leather sheath connected to the rod; an old Schrade carbon blade mini-pocket knife with sheath. I use it to shave nopal (prickly pear) spines off young pads (called: nopalitos) to cook on a spit or with eggs, tomatoes and chile petin back at camp.

Most of the time I carry this set of cutting tools wrapped together with duct tape and a couple of rubber bands. The two middle sheaths are made of canvas and the two outer sheaths were made from a discarded nylon strap.

I carry the two folding knives in my pocket; the trapper in my right pocket and the SAK in my left pocket where I also carry a spare bandana. The cutting tools consist of two hybrid style crooked knives I made. Refer to my YouTube video on crooked and hook knives at The small saw was part of a larger pruning saw blade I purchased and cut into two parts thus making two smaller pruning saws. I hafted both saws to a couple of pieces of chaparro prieto wood and now have two convenient saws for the price of one blade. Of course, my saws are not the “In Thing” amongst Bushcrafters who relish purchasing all the mainstream gadgets (you know what I’m talking about) but I’m frugal (cheap?) and I’ve only got about five dollars in each of my little homemade saws which makes sense to me. The machete is a Tramontina made in Brazil. As machetes go the Tramontina is okay. It’s not the end-all or the ultimate but it serves the purpose. I’ve used machetes for over 50 years and was given my first machete at the age of eight…and then put to work clearing brush around a cabin on a ranch in southern Tamaulipas, Mexico where my dad ranched. Machetes tend to be cheaply made and are more-or-less disposable. They are the quintessential all-around cutting tool from just north of the Rio Grande to southern Argentina and every country from Mexico on south has at least one factory that make machetes. I use mine (I own quite a few) to strip thorns off branches and clear prickly pear out of my way if I can’t go around a clump. The idea is to circumvent obstacles and not spend all your time whacking away and wearing yourself out.

My two-quart canteen and my 8x30 Zeiss binoculars that are marked made in West Germany. That gives you an idea how old they are. I bought three pairs of Zeiss binoculars back in 1980. Two were 8x30 models and one was an 8x56GB model. They were considerably less expensive then than they are now. I gave one pair of 8x30 binoculars to my oldest son and have kept the other two which are as bright and clear as they were when I bought them. Maybe I’m not so cheap after all. But once you start using top of the line binoculars you can never go back to anything but the best!

The above items are strictly for day hikes where I’m in easy reach of food and a vehicle. On extended forays I bring a few additional items. The above gear doesn’t weigh much with the exception of the water which decreases in weight as consumed. I’ll post what I take on longer forays in the days to come.                            

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