Waltzing Matilda with a swag, Part 6 – Water

A swaggie walking his circuit out west knew where the water was, and he also knew that when water was more than a day’s walk he’d have to carry his own supply. Usually a swagman would carry a flax water bag. This would not only allow him to carry 3 or 4 litres relatively easily, but the slightly porous nature of the bag meant the water was always cool. In fact, the hotter the day, the cooler the water. Other methods of carrying water were, in a 5 pint billycan with the lid tied on, or in a canteen or glass bottle on a shoulder strap.

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Water carriage options I use. In this picture you’ll see a homemade six pint water bag, a 950ml enamel water bottle, a 1200ml MkVI water bottle in a Pattern 03 leather carrier, and the quartpot filled for hand carry.

I don’t use a billycan to carry my water, since when I do carry one, it’s usually used to carry fresh food rather than water. A billycan packed with shredded stringybark lets you carry a half a dozen fresh chook’s eggs safely, even if the billy is tied off to your swag strap and the swag thrown around and sat upon. I use a water bag and I use canteens for water carriage on traditional trips.

My waterbag is six Imperial pints (approx 3.5 litres) and it is an army issue vehicle waterbag made in 1941. I have also made an exact replica of this bag using lighter weight canvas and it works perfectly well. The army water bag originally had a porcelain spout. This was a hygienic measure since many people would share the same water bag. I stupidly knocked my bag onto concrete and broke the spout not long after I acquired it, so I made my own spout out of a section of seasoned black wattle and bored a hole through it to accept a water bottle cork. It hasn’t let me down.

To prepare a flax water bag for use it’s necessary to first soak it for up to two days before hand to swell the fibres. I soak these in hot water since that not only swells the fibres, but it shrinks the bag a little as well. Both of these things make it hold water better.

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Flax water bag soaking for 24 hours before use. The soaking swells the fibres of the bag, making it hold water better, while still allowing seepage through the flax canvas.

The water bag is hand-carried. A pair of leather straps through the grommet-holes in the bag allow you to push a stick through the straps, which provides a perfect handhold.

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Stick used as a handle. Picture stolen from my other site – League of Bushmen

Canteens are also useful. Sometimes I will carry three canteens instead of a water bag. I tend to carry canteens in three main ways – on the belt, in the nosebag or on a shoulder strap. I have a pre-WWI US M1910 canteen which I carry in a belt pouch. It has a nesting cup which is almost identical to a modern Australian Army cups, canteen but it’s made of aluminium. I also have several Australian WWI/WWII enamel water bottles. The most oft-used of these is one set up for Light Horse use in a leather shoulder carrier. The design of the carrier makes it very easy to drink while on the go. It’s almost as easy as sipping from a modern-day Camelbak or similar hydration bladder.

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WWII enamel water bottle I actually found off the side of the track during a bushwalk a couple of years back. This one has since been restored with a wool cover and a new cork. Great water bottles, but being enameled steel, they are a lot heavier than the plastic or even aluminium equivalents.

Water purification is a topic which is important. Once you delve into the source material like I have, you read the old swaggies talking about drinking creek water with animal remains in it, stagnant, algae-packed ponds or even muddy puddles. That’s how it was usually done back in the day, but coming from an outdoor industry background, I prefer to treat my water. Getting a bad case of the “hurls and squirts” two days after you’ve drunk dodgy water isn’t my idea of fun, particularly if you’re halfway through a month-long swaggin’ it expedition. There were ways to purify water available to the swagmen of yesteryear and like today, they could be classified into three main types – filtering, boiling and chemical treatment.

Filtering was usually done with multiple layers of cotton such as a neckerchief or a knotted shirtsleeve.

Milbank filter bag in action #ausbushcraft #bushcraft

Milbank filter bag in action.

To filter I use a millbank filter bag, which is a 1940s-era invention. It is a canvas bag which is first soaked and then filled with water. When the water level reaches the marked line you place your quartpot under it and start collecting the filtered water. It’s only useful for removing mud and particulate matter. You still need to otherwise treat the water before drinking. The millbank filter can be made more effective by placing a couple of handfuls of fine sand inside.

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Quartpot on the boil. Canteens are ready to fill.

Boiling is the surest way to purify water. Conventional wisdom states that rolling-boiling your water for a minute will kill most of the bugs. To be 100% sure, keep a rolling boil for 10 minutes. If you haven’t filtered the water first, there are a couple of different ways to deal with muddy water or particulate matter. The easiest is to drop a few hefty pinches of fine wood ashes into the water as it’s boiling. The ashes will settle to the bottom of the quartpot or billy, taking the mud with it. You can simply pour the clear water off the top.

Chemical treatment is probably the most convenient. Even if you can’t filter or boil the water then and there, you can make it drinkable using chemicals. The most common chemical agent carried back in the day was condy’s crystals, otherwise known as potassium permanganate. These were a multi-purpose item, so it was worth carrying a small bottle of them. The efficacy of condy’s crystals for use as a water purifying agent isn’t all that good, especially if you need your water quickly. It takes up to 24 hours for a 1g per litre solution of condy’s crystals to kill the nasties. Boiling is quicker and more effective.

One area where condy’s crystals does work well is in removing taste and smell from foul water. If you boil water from a stagnant pool, it will still taste like it’s a stagnant pool. Add three or four individual condy’s crystals to a quartpot of water and the oxidation effects of the chemical will make the water more palatable within a few minutes.

Personally, when it comes to chemical water treatment, I use a modern-day option, Aquatabs, which are Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate tablets used at the rate of one tablet to a litre of water. Contact time is 30 minutes, after which time the water is safe to drink.

 

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Make Your Own Archival Gear – Pocket Strike-a-Light Outfit

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Back in the olden days, when matches were scarce in the outlying areas, many bushmen went back to their ancestral roots and used flint and steel instead. I’m not talking about the spark-showering ferrocerium rods sold today as “firesteels”, ferrocerium wasn’t even invented until the early 20th Century. No, what I’m talking about is a lump of steel (high carbon is best) struck against a lump of rock (flint or quartz, etc.) with the resulting spark caught by some form of tinder (charred cloth or dried fungus) and then coaxed into a flame with the addition of some bullswool (such as a bundle of dry grass or shredded stringybark). That’s a crash course in the use of the traditional flint and steel. The good news is that the use of a traditional flint and steel becomes much easier with practice. Continue reading

Archival Gear: Old Vs New Camping Hammocks

1942 US Jungle Hammock on the left - weighs in at 3.5kg. 2003-ish Hennessy Hammock on the right - weighs in at approx 0.85kg. Swiss army knife for scale.

1942 US Jungle Hammock on the left – weighs in at 3.5kg. 2001-ish Hennessy Hammock on the right – weighs in at approx 0.85kg. Swiss army knife for scale.

In this post we’ll be looking at camping hammocks. Specifically, we’ll be looking at a 1942 canvas jungle hammock and an early-noughties nylon Hennessy Hammock. The Hennessy is their first true ultralightweight option, the “Ultralight Backpacker A-sym” with a silnylon canopy.

Item #1 – the WWII US Jungle Hammock

Australian soldiers using American Jungle Hammocks in the Pacific during WWII - AWM collection

Australian soldiers using American Jungle Hammocks in the Pacific during WWII – AWM collection

Developed over a period of several months in early-mid 1942, the US Jungle hammock was an ingenious piece of equipment designed for soldiers operating in the disease-ridden “green hell” of the Pacific islands. It was intended to provide shelter from rain, protection from flying disease-carrying insects, protection from crawling insects and vermin, all with the happy side effect of supplying the user with a comfortable place to sleep in all weathers.

Thousands of Jungle Hammocks were rushed to the Pacific Theatre in late 1942. Here’s what the Official History of the US Quartermaster service had to say about the jungle hammock.

“Conspicuous among the pieces of equipment shipped from San Francisco in late 1942 was the jungle hammock, which was expressly designed for soldiers entering a combat area. This hammock was optimistically expected to take the place of tent, shelter half, canvas cot, and mosquito net in regions where these essential items could not be taken either because they were too cumbersome to carry or because of unsuitable terrain. One of the chief virtues ascribed to the hammock was that it permitted men to sleep off the ground and so avoid insects and dampness. Made of a lightweight duck fabric, it had a false bottom that provided a dead air space and prevented mosquitoes from biting the occupant’s back. Attached to and over this bottom was an enclosed zipper-opening mosquito net, which in turn was fastened to a rainproof canopy stretched over sticks placed in the ground. The hammock itself was suspended between neighboring trees. This ingenious piece of equipment never fulfilled the high hopes of its originators.

Light though it was, it still was too bulky to be carried easily. Most important of all, it proved impractical in operational zones. The Sixth Army reported that front-line troops did “not like to sleep above ground because of possible aerial bombing” and hostile infiltration, and “soldiers behind the line” wanted “to keep out of the way of
shrapnel.” In combat areas, the Sixth Army pointed out, it was “essential that troops sleep in fox-holes, dugouts,” or slit trenches.

Despite such reports, which flowed in from all parts of the Pacific, the OQMG continued to improve the hammock, simplifying its zipper opening and reducing its weight by increased use of nylon. More than 700,000 hammocks were manufactured in 1944, and 600,000 were scheduled for 1945 procurement. These articles, though not widely utilized by the combat troops for whom they had been developed, nevertheless proved valuable in other ways. Rear areas, recurrently afflicted by severe shortages of tentage and cots, found hammocks satisfactory substitutes. During the wet season, when rain fell incessantly for hours, flooding bivouac areas and preventing tents from being pitched, jungle hammocks kept the troops “high and dry during the sleeping hours.” Some men in rear areas, Lt. Col. D. B. Dill, OQMG observer, noted, consistently preferred them for the better protection they gave against crawling and flying insects and slept in them as often as they could. When constantly employed, jungle hammocks had one conspicuous disadvantage—speedy deterioration, which limited their life, according to Dill, to about forty-five days.”

After WWII, hundreds of thousands of surplus jungle hammocks appeared at army disposal auctions and in surplus stores, particularly in the US and Australia – two of the main wartime users of the jungle hammock. Extremely popular with hikers, bushwalkers and scouts throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s the jungle hammock soldiered on for decades. Although not quite extinct in 2013, the reputation of the original jungle hammock has suffered due to the proliferation of poorly-designed Chinese copies sold as a “GI Jungle Hammock”. Make no mistake, these knock-offs are pure crap – I say this from personal experience. They are too short, they are too narrow and the rain canopy isn’t big enough to provide protection from anything other than morning dew.  They might be OK for kids to use in the backyard, but they are not suitable for adult use in the wilderness. The original jungle hammock was.

Jungle Hammock available as army surplus from Lenn's in Sydney in late 1948 for the princely sum of 37/6

Jungle Hammock available as army surplus from Lenn’s in Sydney in late 1948 for the princely sum of 37/6. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s pre-decimal inflation calculator, that 3 pounds, 7 shillings and 6 pence would be worth A$185 today. That’s a fair chunk of change for 1948 and goes to show just how popular these hammocks were.

When I was kid in the late 80s and early 90s I inherited my uncle’s original WWII jungle hammock which he had used in the scouts throughout the 60s and 70s. He swore by it and after using it in scouts myself it forever converted me to sleeping in the air while out bush. Sadly that original hammock has been lost over the years, but in 2013 I became the proud owner of not only one, but TWO original WWII jungle hammocks. One is an absolutely brand new 1944 second pattern hammock which is going into storage until such a time as I can have a pattern made from it, while the other is one of the originals – a 1942 first pattern which is a little rough around the edges, but remains serviceable.

Denis, the nice old bloke from whom I purchased the one seen below, bought it as a kid in 1953 as brand new army surplus. He had to save up for months to pay the 7 quid the disposals store was asking. He and his mates used them for many years for camping and bushwalking and it had been in storage for a couple of decades before I bought it off him. The hammock had a 3-inch tear in the rain canopy and a few small rips in the cotton mosquito netting. These I fixed with waterproof cloth “sniper” tape, which is a completely reversible fix that won’t harm the originality of the hammock in any way, while ensuring the hammock stays serviceable.

Here’s a walkaround of the 1st pattern WW2 jungle hammock in pictures.

Prior to hanging the jungle hammock. Since it was dry weather, it's laid out on the ground prior to slinging it.

Prior to hanging the jungle hammock. Since it was dry weather, it’s laid out on the ground prior to slinging. Note how it’s folded in order to protect the relatively fragile waterproof canopy.

The hammock is slung loosely using two lengths of thick manilla rope. The suspension is original to the hammock and still works perfectly.

The hammock is slung loosely using two lengths of thick manilla rope. The suspension is original to the hammock and still works perfectly.

Hammock slung and unfolded, giving us our first glimpse of the rain canopy and insect netting. At this point, it's important to tie off the canopy to the hammock's main suspension rings. If one were to tie off the canopy to the trees, they'd rip the insect netting out as soon as they lay down in the hammock.

Hammock slung and unfolded, giving us our first glimpse of the rain canopy and insect netting. At this point, it’s important to tie off the canopy to the hammock’s main suspension rings. If one were to tie off the canopy to the trees, they’d rip the insect netting out as soon as they lay down in the hammock.

The instruction tag (missing with this example) states that locally cut sticks should be used to spread out the ends of the canopy. I used some deadfall sticks and tied them off to the corner loops of the canopy.

The instruction tag (missing with this example) states that locally cut sticks should be used to spread out the ends of the canopy. I used some deadfall sticks and tied them off to the corner loops of the canopy. The hammock is now slung correctly and ready for use.

In fine weather you can tie the canopy up to give better visibility. I've done that here in order to show the zippered entrance to the hammock.

In fine weather you can tie the canopy up to give better visibility and a nice breeze. I’ve done that here in order to show the zippered entrance to the hammock.

The original factory spec tag is still intact (along with the original repair kit). According to the tag this hammock was made on the 30th of October 1942, which makes it 71 years old at time of writing.

The original factory spec tag is still intact (along with the original repair kit). According to the tag this hammock was made on the 30th of October 1942, which makes it just over 71 years old at time of writing.

The view from inside the hammock. Once you're inside, the hammock is a fair bit wider than it looks from this image.

The view from inside the hammock. Once you’re inside, the hammock is a fair bit wider than it looks from this image.

Sniper tape repairs to the 71 year old cotton insect netting. I found this to be a relatively unobtrusive fix.

Sniper tape repairs to the 71 year old cotton insect netting. I found this to be a relatively unobtrusive fix.

To pack up the jungle hammock, you remove the spreader sticks from the canopy and untie one end. Fold the canopy up and start rolling while the other end is connected to the tree. This gives a nice tight roll and means you don't have to lay the hammock in the dirt/mud when you're packing it up.

To pack up the jungle hammock, you remove the spreader sticks from the canopy and untie one end. Fold the canopy up and start rolling while the other end is connected to the tree. This gives a nice tight roll and means you don’t have to lay the hammock in the dirt/mud when you’re packing it up. A surprisingly difficult photo to take.

To tie up my jungle hammock, I use an army surplus 60s-era sleeping bag carrier. This is a mess of straps that are perfect not only for the jungle hammock, but also for my canvas swag (bed roll).

To tie up my jungle hammock, I use an army surplus 60s-era cotton webbing sleeping bag carrier. This is a mess of straps that are perfect not only for the jungle hammock, but also for my canvas swag (bed roll).

Jungle hammock packed up. 3.5kg of 71-year old awesomeness.

Jungle hammock packed up. 3.5 kilograms of 71-year old awesomeness.

Item #2 – the Hennessy Hammock Ultralight Backpacker Asym (now sold as the “Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic”)

Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic - image courtesy of the internet.

Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic – image courtesy of the internet.

So what’s a modern ultra-lightweight camping hammock got to do with a blog which is devoted to vintage gear and “old ways”? When Tom Hennessy designed the Hennessy Hammock it was based in part on his experiences with the WWII jungle hammock above. That makes the Hennessy Hammock an important evolutionary step forwards from the old school canvas jungle hammock. Besides, I’ve used mine for years and love it, and that’s enough.

On the Hennessy Hammock website, Tom Hennessy, designer and inventor of the Hennessy Hammock tells his story – and it all started with an army surplus WWII Jungle Hammock. Here’s an excerpt:

At the age of 16, I would make 200 mile, weekend bicycle trips out of Washington D.C. into the Appalachian Mountains. I carried a minimum of food & water, a light sleeping bag and a WWII surplus U.S. Army jungle hammock. I loved this old thing because it rolled up so small and weighed so little and had no poles or stakes, perfect for moving light and fast.

Later at university, I loaned my hammock to a “friend” who never returned it. As the years passed, I continued to miss that little piece of gear and finally decided to duplicate my old army hammock from memory during my winter vacation.

The duplicate of the army hammock took less than a day to finish. As I was cutting and sewing, I began to see ways to overcome some of the army hammock’s shortcomings. The prototype needed to be more spacious inside to eliminate any sense of claustrophobia. It needed to be wider to allow resting or sleeping on the diagonal without curving your back. The netting had to be increased to improve air circulation and the weather fly needed to be adjustable and removable to create an open and airy feeling during good weather and yet close up for protection at night or during inclement weather.

The rectangular army shape evolved into a sleek diamond shape; the cord assemblies at each end disappeared to create more interior space by attaching the hammock fabric directly to the suspending ropes….

The rest is history.

Here’s a photo walkaround of the 860 gram Ultralite Backpacker Asym Hennessy Hammock –

Please note that for the photoshoot I stupidly forgot to bring the “treehugger” traps which protect the tree from the hammock’s main suspension cords. This is particularly important when tying to smooth-barked trees such as these scribbly gums. If I had slept in the hammock overnight, the trees would have been scarred for years. Leave no trace. 

How is that even a hammock? This mess of... I don't even know what it looks like... is a Hennessy Hammock and silnylon tarp.

How is that even a hammock? This mess of… I don’t even know what it looks like… is a Hennessy Hammock and silnylon tarp.

Nope. Still doesn't look like a hammock. One of the options which comes with the Hennessy is a set of "snakeskins" which are a silnylon sleeve which protect the hammock and let it pack up REALLY small.

Nope. Still doesn’t look like a hammock. One of the options which comes with the Hennessy is a set of “snakeskins” which are a pair of silnylon sleeves which protect the hammock and let it pack up REALLY small.

It's only when we slide back the snakeskins that it begins to look like a hammock - sort of.

It’s only when we slide back the snakeskins that it begins to look like a hammock – sort of.

My leave no trace philosophy extends to pegging out the sides of the hammock. I use deadfall timber (as seen here), rocks or adjacent vegetation.

My leave no trace philosophy extends to pegging out the sides of the hammock. I use deadfall timber (as seen here), rocks or adjacent vegetation wherever possible.

The hammock slung - minus tarp. It doesn't seem like it, but this hammock has far more room inside than the old jungle hammock.

The hammock slung – minus tarp. It doesn’t seem like it, but this hammock has far more room inside than the old jungle hammock.

Pitching the stock silnylon tarp doesn't require any extra tie-outs or pegs. The nylon rings at each end clip to the prussik'd hooks on the main suspension ine...

Pitching the stock silnylon tarp doesn’t require any extra tie-outs or pegs. The nylon rings at each end clip to the prussik’d hooks on the main suspension ine…

While the sides clip to the hammock-body's tie out cords - so long as you replace said cords with elasticated shock cord and tie a loop into them. The aforementioned is a useful mod for any camping hammock.

…while the sides clip to the hammock-body’s tie out cords – so long as you replace said cords with elasticated shock cord and tie a loop into them. The aforementioned is a useful mod for any camping hammock.

The view inside the hammock. OMG the bottom's torn out! That's because it's a bottom entry design, silly. This is a velcro slit which allows easy entry and easy exit. It snaps shut with your bodyweight with zero risk of falling out in the middle of the night. Sheer genius I tell ya! As Rick from http://brushnsoapnblade.wordpress.com/ says, " you get to be 'born' every time you get out through the Velcro slot!" What can I say? it's weird but it works.

The view inside the hammock. OMG the bottom’s torn out! That’s because it’s a bottom entry design, silly. This is a velcro slit which allows easy entry and easy exit. It snaps shut with your bodyweight with zero risk of falling out in the middle of the night. Sheer genius I tell ya! As Rick from BrushnSoapnBlade  says, ” you get to be ‘born’ every time you get out through the Velcro slot!” What can I say? it’s weird but it works.

With the canopy rigged for bad weather like this, you stay perfectly dry - even in a tropical downpour.

With the canopy rigged for bad weather like this, you stay perfectly dry – even in a tropical downpour.

Hennessy Hammock complete with canopy.

Hennessy Hammock complete with canopy.

When you're done you can put it into your pocket and away you go. Seriously.

When you’re done you can put it into your pocket and away you go. Seriously- that’s the complete Hennessy Hammock in a cargo pants pocket with room to spare.