How Not to Camp

by Richard Munn|Published 07-27-2006

I have a fascination with old books. Maybe it's the musty smell, or the cloth covers and binding, but any time I'm digging through the used bookstore and find a canoeing or camping title, I can't resist bringing it home.

Part of the fascination is the history lesson we can get from these books. Ancient history in canoeing practices isn't that long ago. I have some not-to-old books that outline camping procedures which would make the hair on the back of a no-trace-camping proponent's neck stand up. It's amazing how quickly our attitudes towards camping, nature and the environment have changed in the past 50 years. The recommendations about camping equipment and practices from some of these books are a fascinating journey into our not-so-distant past.

Some examples from "Canoe Trip Camping" by Ronald H. Perry, published by J. M. Dent and Sons in 1953. Marked on the first page as "Recommended by the Canadian Camping Association"

"Everyone should have a knife of some sort. Since it is rarely necessary to defend oneself from wild animals, a small jack knife with two good blades is the best. The giant hunting knife, so popular with little boys, is a possession of doubtful value."

"Whether for cooking, warmth or good cheer, the camp fire is the heart of any campsite. Actually it should not be different from any other outdoor blaze, yet somehow there is mystery and friendship in its heat. The campfire seems to cook food more tastily than the most elaborate city stove. Even the smoke is different and is a tonic on a crisp, clear day. But an eyeful, unfortunately, is just as painful as any ordinary smoke."


The lean-to ... is the best known camp shelter, and can be either a very simple affair or one on which considerable time might be spent. First find two trees about 6 to 8 feet apart. To them attach a ridge pole approximately five feet from the ground, Cut several small poles for the roof leaving an inch or so of the branch stubs on to assist with thatching. Run these from the ridge pole to the ground equal distances apart. On top of these place four or more cross pieces and secure them to the roof poles. This will provide a solid framework on which to place such branches as may be secured, preferably balsam. Thatch them on carefully, working from the bottom up with the ends of the branches towards the ridge pole. The more layers that are added, the better protection afforded by the roof."


When setting up a tent be careful to see that ... a trench has been dug around the outside with a run off to take away possible rain water."


Or how about these items from the 1952 version of "Tenderfoot to Queen's Scout" the handbook of the Canadian General Council of the Boy Scouts Association.

"Even today, the axe is the first too concerned in the production of many things, including paper for books. For instance it cut the trees which produced the paper for this scout book!"

"Test No. 15 ... Make a camp kitchen with open fire and other necessaries and prepare therein (a) two of the following dishes: porridge, rice, pancakes. (b) a damper of half a pound of flour or a twist baked on a thick stick. (c) a stew (as an alternative for the stew, skin and cook a rabbit, or pluck and cook a bird, or clean and cook a fish)."

Hard to read the captions, but this shows a variety of items made from wood, including a cooking basket, wash basin, dish rack, wood box, picnic table and pot holder.