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Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, overlooking Yosemite National Park

With most tech, I’m an early adopter. But outdoors, I happily camp with the Luddites. I can only chuckle at the REI-outfitted “outdoors enthusiasts” who bemoan Big Oil while festooned in puffy synthetic jackets, Gore-Tex, and Velcro fastenings, looking like cosmonauts, GoPros affixed. Petroleum-based camping, I call it.

Me? I’m a man of waxed canvas, carbon steel, and strike-anywhere matches. Long before mustachioed lumbersexuals brought back Pendleton-chic, I was answering the call of the wild in breathable woolens. (Hit up Filson, Pendleton, or Goodwill.) I once sewed my own wool shirt when I couldn’t find one in the fabric weight I was after. My boots are leather, my long johns merino, and my conscience clear.

“But I just shaved eight grams off my pack with this new titanium spork!” you protest. I used to go backpacking with friends (lightest pack in the group: a wood-framed canvas rig my dad built in the ’60s) and watch them suffer the indignity of half-rehydrated freeze-dried chili mac while I ate spaghetti Bolognese cooked on the campfire.

With an inventory that includes ash-and-rawhide snowshoes and canvas tents with woodstoves, my camp would make Teddy Roosevelt or Sir Edmund Hillary feel at home (minus the Sherpas). I cut potatoes and whittle marshmallow sticks with an easy-to-sharpen Mora knife. They’re cheaper than your brother-in-law (try Next Adventure), and the carbon versions can be used to strike a flint. A nice Swedish ax (Snow Peak carries a few Gränsfors Bruk models) will set you back some, but a $20 hardware store model can do the trick; you’ll just need to spend some time sharpening it, since they’re duller than a math professor off the shelf. Cookware is a dutch oven and cast-iron skillet. When wide illumination is called for, nothing beats a Coleman liquid-fuel lantern. I own several, none newer than a 1970s vintage—estate sales are your best bet.

The one downside to real camping? My REI dividend last year was a paltry 20 cents.

Montana native Dan Engler (who’s married to this magazine’s managing editor) co-owns North Portland’s Occidental Brewing with his nephew.
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