Camping & Woodcraft by Horace Kephart: a weekly product review

In This, That, and The Other by Jesse Mathewson

Horace Kephart was an amazing individual who assisted by George Masa a brilliant photographer they tramped the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains. It these individuals who did the most work in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mr. Kephart is best known for having written two of my favorite books, Our Southern Highlanders and the focus of this review, Camping & Woodcraft or The Book of Camping & Woodcraft as it is also known. For legal purposes, this is a book I have owned for many years and purchased of my own accord.

A few weeks back I reviewed a compilation titled, The Lost Ways, at the time I had read it and reviewed it I did not realize that many of the compiled articles and pieces within the book were taken piecemeal and in some cases without any adjustment whatsoever from The Book of Camping & Woodcraft as well as several other sources I personally own and love such as the 12 book Foxfire series.

While I am still supportive of The Lost Ways book, I do need to mention this, as someone on a limited income I realize that adding many of these items can be cost prohibitive. I hope to help you see the benefit of this and other books to be reviewed so that you can make well-informed decisions.

When you have a lower income than some it is imperative to take advantage of deals and options that allow you to benefit the greatest for the least amount of monetary spending. The Book of Camping & Woodcraft is such a book.

While the medical sections of the book are not completely out of date, there are definitely areas that have moved ahead of what was and what we know now. Outside of these areas which only take up a chapter, the book is literally full of some of the best camping, woodcraft, outdoors information ever penned and many modern “survival/ bushcraft/ wilderness/ camping/ primal”gurus have read this book and others like it at some point.

Mr. Kephart takes you through Outfitting your individual or group expedition all the way through dealing with accidents when they occur. In between, he goes into great detail on how to make real buckskin, tan leather and use wild greens and other items found all around us for eating, clothing and shelter.

While many of the items he speaks about are no longer in legal use due to any number of reasons, from modern drug laws through bans on use of various woods and or permitting required the essence of the book is such that you can easily utilize modern equivalents to fill the gaps. Some items of interest are his insistence on getting a solid, comfortable nights sleep.

For this purpose, he suggests the following, paraphrased, “while a good wool blanket is sufficient cover to keep you alive, a cot or bedroll will always be better. Understanding that exposure kills more soldiers than bullets (at the time this was the case).” He then proceeds to go into great detail outlining why sleeping raised above the ground or with sufficient layers of insulation between you and the ground will not only allow for better sleep but also better spirits!

His suggestion regarding the use of a sleeping bag you can open all the way up and air out daily prior to sleep (something that makes a large difference in comfort) added into his description of several mattresses, which I revised personally and have purchased 4” thick Memory Foam full-size bedrolls, are just some of the many areas he deftly describes making it impossible to not be comfortable.

As we head deeper into this fascinating book we discover his desire to use gold coin versus banknotes and his advocacy of a well-stocked medical kit. Now his list of medicines are completely outdated, though his insistence on including a good surgery kit is admirable and agreed upon by myself. Forceps both artery and tooth.

Surgeons needles, suture thread as well as several other additions are important. I carry a large medical kit with several full regimens of 6 different antibiotics both cillins and other. Additionally, I carry wound wash, and topical antiseptics as well as pain medication from Asprin through ibuprofen. He suggests using chloroform on those nasty critters in the South, chiggers or redbugs. There are modern alternatives that work well also.

Next, he suggests a small but complete repair kit for your firearms. I myself have adapted this to mean a spare bolt carrier group and an AR15 small parts kit with a small set of appropriate tools. I also carry a Glock 19 emergency parts kit and spare springs and followers for magazines.

These parts take another pound of weight and barely any space but can mean the difference between life and death should you have an issue. Some of my friends also carry a spare gas tube, this I do not carry with me though I have them at home, the reason being it is impossible to properly change one out without a vice and tools that you will not have with you!

Now while his rifle was not an AR15 the premise is the same regardless your firearm of choice, have a set of parts that are both easy to replace and are most likely to fail with you as well as the where with all to do the work should you need to.

All of this information is in the first 35 pages, the last 200+ pages are filled with diagrams, explanations and step by step instructions that you can adjust and add too based on modern equivalents to his suggested approaches. Chapter 16 begins with some sage advice regarding weight and living off the land.

He states that weight and keeping it down is everything when it comes to long trips where you may be subsisting off the land in part or fully. He makes the brilliant point that soldiers meals (modern equivalents) are often not good for the active individual living off the land except as an addition to your diet. I agree with this and make a point of introducing my children to new edibles each and every time we are out.

Over the last few chapters, his advice and well-mapped approach shows you how to use everything around you as a potential tool and what each and every plant, bark type and animal can be used for while living with the land. While his scope is limited to the Smoky Mountains, the approach can be easily modeled for the Rocky’s as well as any location you reside in.

This is why I believe so strongly in understanding what lives around you and how to use it if needed. He truly enjoys the use of well-made pemmican and even extols the value of dog meat as being quite healthy overall if necessary.

The last chapters are regarding accidents and how to set bones, suture wounds and address issues. These chapters I would not take at face value or would ensure the information is medically appropriate for modern times. After all, we do have many advances that were not in use at the time of original publication. This being said, there is much good to be had especially in these chapters!

My personal opinion is that this is a must-have book for the self-motivated individuals library. It can be had on Amazon for as little as $2 via kindle or my preferred method in paperback for $9. I am linking it here for you all and again I can highly recommend it. I currently have two copies and am going to buy another so that my children each have their own! Five stars and two thumbs up for this amazing book. Remember, while some of the information is dated, apply it using modern equipment and you will easily have a solid setup and approach!

Free the mind and the body will follow