Camping Guide: Back to Basics

From Waxed Canvas to Breathable Woolens, How to Camp Like Teddy Roosevelt

Step away from the titanium spork.

By Dan Engler May 22, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

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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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