In a few weeks I’ll be participating in an event with a rather odd name – “Bushcraft Challenge – Hootchie & Swag Low-Tech Overnight Bushwalk”.
Unlike most recreational hiking trips, this one has rules covering the types of equipment used.
No backpacks. For this one you’ll need to either improvise a comfy pack or else go for a swag/bedroll configuration with a shoulder strap, tuckerbag and a shoulder satchel. If you have army-style web gear (belt, harness, bumpack, 2 water bottles, 2 basic pouches, etc.) that’s also acceptable.
No tents, Goretex bivy bags or camping hammocks. Small tarps, hootchies or even lightweight canvas swags are all good. In a pinch a 2-3m long length of black builder’s plastic from the hardware store will do. You will also need to bring some cord.
No sleeping mats. Try sleeping on the ground without that Thermarest or yoga mat.
Your Bedding. Sure, take a sleeping bag if you feel like it, or you could be more traditional and use a wool blanket or two. Make sure that your setup insulates you from the ground.
No gas cookers. Esbit stoves and alcohol stoves are OK, but simply cooking on the campfire is best.
No elaborate cook sets. A billy can up to 2.5lt capacity and an enamel or metal mug are ideal and all you really need. If you want to bring a knife, fork and spoon set, that’s up to you.
Food. Bring whatever you want as long as you can prepare it using the specified equipment.
Electronics. Please limit your gadgetry to: a torch, a phone and a camera. We’ll rely wholly upon traditional map and compass navigation. Relevant map sheets will be posted prior to the walk if you want to brush up on your land nav.”
It’s all light years away from modern lightweight hiking equipment, but similar concepts have been used by explorers and wilderness travellers for centuries. Distracted by high-tech design and materials, have we forgotten how to make-do in the great outdoors with just basic gear and a good supply of common-sense? The purpose of this event is to find out.
The walk itself is a decent 22km length and the trip runs for two nights, the first night requiring a camp setup in the dark late at night. Being autumn the weather will begin to get a little chilly and possibly rainy so participants will need to think about what they’re doing in terms of their bedding and site selection.
Since the trip is still more than a month away at time of writing, I’ll note down how I intend to proceed. It’ll be interesting to revisit this topic after the smoke has cleared and see what worked and what didn’t. Most of my equipment for this walk is vintage or military surplus.
I’m going the swag/bedroll route. This means that I will need a dilly (or tucker) bag to balance the load. Additionally I’ll be taking some equipment which won’t fit in the dilly bag and that I’d like to be easily accessible such as a rain poncho. In the absence of a day pack, that means a shoulder satchel. I usually wear a belt out bush upon which I mount a canteen, a pocket knife pouch and a compass pouch. Since we’re practicing land navigation, I’ll have to take compass, map, protractor and pencils. This means taking a map case.
Swag – I’m using a canvas swag rather than trying to improvise a pack. Inside the swag will be a single blue bedsheet and a khaki wool blanket. The swag will be slung traditionally using a fencing wire strap hook.
Dilly bag – I’m using a canvas British MKVII respirator case. The Dilly bag’s shoulder strap is knotted to shorten it and then tied to the shoulder strap of the swag bundle. When full, the dilly bag balances the load and helps bring the centre of gravity closer to where it should be for normal human walking.
Shoulder satchel – I’m using an Australian 37 Pattern haversack with a nice and wide US 1950s cotton canvas General Purpose strap.
Belt kit. I’ll be using a 2 inch brown leather belt with a canvas canteen pouch, a leather pocket knife pouch, and a webbing compass pouch.
Map case – I’ll be using a standard Australian WWII General Service map case with shoulder strap. The case will be tied to the lid of the haversack for convenience.
Shelter & Sleeping –
Swag – khaki canvas and leather Wolseley Valise, which was a private-purchase military officer’s bed roll popular from the 1880s until the 1950s. This is the pattern upon which many of the purpose-built Australian swags of the period were based. Indeed, the basic pattern appears in Ron Edwards’ “Bushcraft” series of books. It weighs a ton and unfortunately I don’t have a batman to carry it.
Australian WWII lightweight jungle groundsheet – A new old stock 1945-dated item which I intend to use as a groundsheet for this trip. Rolled in the swag
Olive drab US Poncho – Raincoat and tarp shelter if required. Rolled and carried under the lid of the shoulder satchel for quick access.
A blue cotton single bed sheet – A nod to tradition since I don’t have the blue wool blanket which gives the swag its nickname, “Bluey”. Carried in the swag.
Wool blanket – I’m using an early 1980s 100% pure wool South Korean army surplus cot blanket. The South Koreans do cold weather and sleeping gear particularly well. Folded and pinned with blanket pins into a sleeping bag configuration. Carried in the swag
Olive drab British Arctic Sleeping Bag Liner – This is a mummy-shaped and relatively lightweight olive cotton bag. Rather than use it for its intended purpose, I’ll be using it as the basis of a “palliasse” mattress. The idea is to pack the liner with bracken, dry grass or dead leaves from a fallen tree. This serves to insulate the sleeper from the cold, hard ground. Carried empty and rolled in the swag.
Vietnam-era Australian insect net – This is entirely optional and will depend on the weather. If it’s warm then I’ll take it because the bugs will be out in force. If it’s not, I won’t. The net will interface with a poncho tarp and includes a skirt which is tucked under the groundsheet, making the ensemble insect-proof. Rolled in the swag
Water, Cooking & Eating –
Much of this is carried in the dilly bag to help balance the weight of the swag.
WWI American Canteen – carries just under a litre of water. Carried in pouch on belt.
Billy can – 1930s vintage, made by Willow in Australia. Can heat just over a litre of water. The lid is used as an impromptu frying pan for bacon. Carried in the dilly bag and used as a food storage container
Australian Canteen Cup – perhaps one of the most useful items of camping gear I own. Nests with the canteen above. Although perfect as a boiling vessel, I’ll be using it in lieu of the traditional enamel mug or pannikin as both a bowl and as a drinking cup. Carried in pouch on belt.
Spoon – Carried in dilly bag.
British MkVII enamel water bottle – carried in the haversack, this allows the carriage of an extra litre of water for campsite use.
2x Match safes – Cylindrical US issue Olive Drab plastic match safes with waterproof matches and striker pads. Carried in the dilly bag and in the haversack.
Cooker – campfire
Navigation, Tools and Miscellaneous –
WWII General Service map case – Carries map, service protractor and pencils. Carried attached to lid of haversack
MkIII Marching Compass with lanyard – Vintage prismatic compass. Carried in compass pouch on belt.
Map of area – The current mapsheet for the area includes a full-colour aerial photo ortho map on the reverse. Folded and sealed in a large ziplockbag and inserted into the map case.
Protractor – British WWII ivorine service protractor. Carried in map case
Pencil – Midori brass bullet pencil. Carried in shirt pocket.
Notebook – Field Notes “Expedition” waterproof notebook. Carried in shirt pocket.
10m cord – for pitching the tarp. Carried in haversack.
6 x light tent pegs – for pitching the tarp. Carried in haversack.
Maglite XL50 flashlight – LED, rugged, very bright. Carried in shirt pocket.
Swiss Army 1920s-vintage Petromax folding candle lantern – with 2 candles, canvas case and matches. Carried in haversack.
Pocket knife – I’ll take a basic locking jack knife. Carried in pouch on belt.
Clasp Knife – Australian early WWII-issue Whittingslowe clasp knife with blade, marlin spike, can opener and slot-head screw driver. This will be used for food prep and to open food tins – carried in the dilly bag.
Small toiletries roll – carried in the haversack.
First aid kit – carried in the haversack
Mobile phone and spare battery – Will be used mostly as a camera and carried in the haversack when not in use
For this trip I’m sticking with what I know – that means a combination of poly/cotton cargo pants and a quick-drying nylon shirt. I’ll be wearing my modern Keens waterproof hiking boots. I’ll have a windproof smock and fleece pullover rolled in the swag and will be wearing a wide-brim khaki fur felt hat.
However, if I was to go traditional with my clothing, this is what I’d use (for a relatively dry trip in mild to cool weather) –
Repro or second hand wool 50s/60s-era British/Commonwealth battledress or second hand suit trousers. Being wool, these are warm, even when wet. Worn with button-in braces for comfort since the waist is too high for a useful belt.
Repro WWII-style brown officer’s “ammunition” boots with hobnails – it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good pair of old-style leather-soled work boots that don’t have a steel-cap and which don’t cost upwards of A$200.The repros from What Price Glory are good value in my opinion.
Current-issue white US Navy surplus canvas ceremonial leggings/gaiters (dyed black, brown or khaki) – same specs and similar construction to the WWII-issue US Army leggings, but white.
Merino Wool singlet/t-shirt or a 60s-vintage army surplus string vest
Cotton drill military or work shirt
80s-90s Aussie Army surplus Lightweight wool v-neck pullover
Second hand light wool sports jacket
Wide-brimmed fur felt hat
Harking back to the archival food post, my menu for this trip is mostly traditional. It’s not lightweight, there’s most likely too much of it and it’s probably not even that nutritious. The food is carried in the dilly bag.
1 x tin bully beef
8 x biscuits (
commercial Arnott’s Sao cracker biscuits semi-hardened by dehydrating for 6 hours STOP PRESS! I just discovered a hard biscuit which is very similar in size, taste and consistency to the old Aussie ration pack survival biscuits which themselves were similar to Aussie WWII-era Biscuits, Wholemeal – They are called Breakfast Crackers and seem to be a modern evolution of ship’s biscuits. Here’s the brand I bought – http://www.internationalgroceries.com.au/shop/fmf-breakfast-crackers-375g/ they cost around $2 a packet)
1/4 loaf black rye bread
100g Kaiserfleisch- cured, salted and smoked pork belly – sliced and used as bacon or shaved and used as flavouring in stew
100g Hard cheese
1 x tin beef goulash
50g Dried peas
50g Dried mixed vegetables – home-dehydrated diced mixed vegetables -carrot, corn, onion, green beans, cabbage
50g Potato powder
50g Powdered egg
100g Uncooked white rice
Salt, pepper and spices (mixed herbs, onion powder, garlic, curry and chilli)
Beef bullion cubes
50g of sultanas
50g of cashews
50g of dried apricots
50g beef jerky
D-Ration chocolate bar – yes I make these
What if I didn’t have all this cool vintage and surplus gear? What would I do then? Let’s see.
Swag – Easiest and cheapest is a 2-3 metre length of black builder’s plastic or even a small poly tarp. Place your sleeping bag or blankets inside and fold the plastic sheet into an envelope. Secure the sides with duct tape strips – or not. When rolled, secure the bundle with two lengths of rope or cord and add a wide shoulder strap from a gym bag or similar. In lieu of plastic you could use an army hootchie (or any commercial hiking tarp) or even an appropriately-sized canvas drop cloth from the hardware store.
Dilly bag – a calico shopping bag or an old pillow case secured at the top with string. Tie the string to your swag strap to help balance the load
Shoulder satchel / haversack – You can find cheap ones like this – http://www.wellingtonsurplus.com.au/showProduct/BAGS/HAVERSACKS/HV0001/Jungle+Force+Web+Haversack+-+Model+WH-1
Shelter & Sleeping Equipment –
Swag -the above-mentioned 2-3m length of black builder’s plastic
Sleeping – use a normal sleeping bag and/or fleece throw rugs
Groundsheet – more black builder’s plastic
Tarp – more black builder’s plastic. Add tie-off points by tying small pebbles into the corners and halfway down the short edges.
Mosquito net – a single traveller’s insect net is OK.
Mattress – gather up dry grass, bracken or leaves from a fallen tree. Overlap and arrange them into a layer about 20cm thick. Lay your groundsheet on top and presto – instant, well-insulated mattress. Scatter your “mattress” before you leave the campsite.
Cooking & Eating Equipment:
Water-bottle – Store-bought 1.5 litre water or soft drink bottle.
Billy can – empty food or coffee tin with a wire handle added
Spoon – raid your kitchen drawer
Matches – 2 packets of waterproof matches or a bic lighter.
Cooker – campfire
Everything else I’m sure you can work out.