What figure looms larger in the prepper imagination that the rugged mountain man? Let’s examine the contents of their packs and saddle bags for our own purposes and to inspire all of us to get back to basics. In the romanticized image, the mountain man is the ultimate minimalist, with nothing but his rifle and tomahawk, but this isn’t entirely correct, as mountain men would have had quite a bit more in their kit, especially at the base camps they operated from. We’ll find that their kits remains relevant today, even with technological advances.
The Mountain Man’s EveryDay Carry
Rifle and pistol – What could be more iconic than the mountain man grasping his Hawken muzzzleloading rifle? Of course the rifle was the mountain man’s most treasured possession, as it fed him, defended him, and earned him money. In addition to his rifle and a pistol, he would have carried lead, a cast for bullets, powder, and other necessities for shooting. Romance aside, this is one part of the mountain man’s kit that isn’t directly relevant to the modern mountain man. While a .30-06 with black plastic furniture will never be as beautiful as a Hawken with walnut furniture and brass hardware, I’d prefer the former for getting meat.
Tomahawk – I just picked up a tomahawk very similar to what a mountain man might have used. I can tell it will be accompanying me on hunts in the future. Not only is it a great tool for making a fire or cutting poles for a shelter, the head is friction mounted on the tapered haft, so it can be slipped off and used as a sort of ulu for skinning, or easily re-hung on a field expedient handle if the haft breaks. The mountain man might have had extra trade tomahawks provided by the company to use for barter with Indians for furs. Of course, this item doubled as a weapon.
Flint and steel – This would have been used for fire making. Today we have cheap matches and lighters, but I still believe the flint and steel is an important back up. Matches can get wet, and are disposable. Lighters don’t always function well in the cold, and also run out of fuel eventually. But a flint and steel can be used for a long time in many weather conditions.
Tobacco and pipe – This would have provided a simple pleasure to men living rough, and also used as a barter good. I can’t say anyone should use tobacco, but it would be a heck of a trade item if one feels it is ethical to sell it.
Comb – For basic grooming and keeping lice out. The modern mountain man should carry a toothbrush as well, or he can use a stick of hardwood as a toothpick.
Traps and Trapping Supplies – These were the tools of the mountain man’s trade, the reason they were in the mountains in the first place. I think some snare wire and other appropriate supplies for trap construction should be part of any bug out bag. Manufactured traps should also be kept among your equipment, although not necessarily carried.
Knives – A mountain man would have carried several knives. He would have had a larger knife for crude work and as a weapon, such as a bowie style knife, with smaller knifes that would have to be kept very sharp for skinning and cutting meat, as well as scraping hides. I’d recommend following this strategy as well; using one knife for everything is less than ideal. A stone would also be carried for sharpening edges.
Possibles Bag – A leather shoulder bag to hold everything.
Back At Camp
Those are the basic things that no mountain man would have stepped out of camp without having in his possession, but back in camp he would have a larger array of items.
Horses, mules and tack – Everything needed to care for and use stock OR boats and canoes. Snowshoes were also a must for travelling in deep winter snow.
Wool blankets or furs for sleeping under – Yes, it’s true that there are tricks for surviving the night without insulation, but surviving the night isn’t the same as sleeping comfortably. Mountain men had wool blankets, and although I think modern sleeping bags are handy, you just can’t beat the durability and versatility of a wool blanket. Keep some around, because they aren’t easily compromised by a rip or some wayward sparks from a fire.
Cookware – Cast iron dutch ovens, skillets, and pots, such as accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition. These are not something you want to carry on your back very far, however cast iron is an indispensable part of the prepper kit, and get extras for barter. The advantage of cast iron is that it can be used for cooking over coals, and baking as well. Other, lighter materials don’t stand up to the heat as well, and they also can have heat retention problems.
Pails, cups, spoons – Utensils and cups would have made one feel like he still had a tiny connection to civilization. Pails would have been convenient for carrying and storing water. I see the value of metal cups and spoons for longer durations, as again, they aren’t easily melted as plastics might be.
Salt – Used for flavoring meat, preserving skins, and salt licks for hunting. Mountain men would have had plenty, and you should too. Pack away lots of this item!
Needles and thread – needles would be a very important item for men who were repairing or making their own clothes. They would have had some store bought thread but also would have used sinews. Needles make another great trade item.
Mirrors, beads, trinkets, alcohol and other trade items – I suspect that for us items that are more necessities might outrank geegaws as trade items, but the lesson is the same. Have things people want so you can trade.
Food-the original mountain men would mountain men would have been hunting most of their dinner. But I wouldn’t recommend this; they were exploring a virgin wilderness teaming with game. Even in remote areas you may have difficulty finding enough meat nowadays. I highly recommend you check out this link about the Yukon Gold Rush for a list of what one year’s supplies for a man looks like.
Footwear – Mountain men generally wore moccasins but had heavier boots for rougher terrain. Modern preppers can follow this example; if you have a good pair of boots or shoes, I’d recommend saving them as much as possible and wearing improvised or cheaper shoes.
Clothing -There was a mixture of manufactured cloth clothes and skins/furs. The cloth clothes would have come in handy during the hotter months, with skins and furs better for cooler weather. The key here was durability. Thick wool clothes from Europeans military surplus can be had cheaply, and I’d highly recommend having a suit of it for each family member around. It isn’t always the most comfortable but it keeps you warm when wet, and is very tough..
Coffee – Another simple pleasure while living rough. There is rightful criticism of glamour prepping out there; you don’t need a generator to run the flat screen while the zombies rage outside, but like the mountain man, I do believe every prepper should have at least a few preps that are just for pleasure. Books, tea, coffee, candies, and the like can be small indulgences that would feel like incredible luxuries when TSHTF. [Quick side note about books: make sure your pleasure reading for survival will improve your mood, not dampen it. I read a funny true story about an Alaskan miner stuck in his cabin for the winter with little but pancakes to eat, and no books to read but a 5 star recipe book.]
Cards and dice – For passing time and gambling. The advantage of these over board games is that they are quite compact.
Tent – Mountain men used tents and sometimes indian style dwellings, such as teepees. The tents they used would have been constructed of heavy canvas material.
Ropes, axes, shovels – For camp work
Some of this gear is heavy, and you’d need pack animals or vehicles to carry it very far. What about light, modern alternatives? With the newest technology, available at considerable expense, we could get all of the equivalents of this stuff into a pack as light as 35 lbs. That’s great, and I own my share of light weight gear myself, such as synthetic clothing, lightweight pots, and a sleeping bag that weighs just over two pounds. The difference between the old gear and the new is that while lightweight modern equipment is suitable for fast trips of 2-3 weeks where we have the option of returning to civilization if something breaks, much of it would be worthless if there was the smallest accident. What I like about the “mountain man” kit is how durable and how friendly all of it is to being repaired in the field. It can live with you indefinitely.
The other valuable lesson from examining the mountain man’s kit is seeing the barest bones of survival equipment. These are the things you need to survive, assuming you have a food stockpile. There are many more items that would make life vastly more comfortable and convenient, and items that are excellent force multipliers, but this kit shows the basics. Take this as a chance to review your equipment. Is it tough enough to live in the woods with you for a year? Is it fire resistant? Likely to be torn easily? Will it be easily fixed with a little bit of whittling or stitching?
The most important thing in the mountain man’s kit, besides his skills, was the land itself. It provided him with wood for fuel, camps, and repairs, animals that gave meat, clothes, and cash, and plenty of water. Know what resources are realistically available to you in your local area.
Thanks for reading, Pilgrim.