Housekeeping in the Summer Camp

From Sunset Magazine, May 1902
Katherine A. Chandler

"Camping in California today is as primitive or as luxurious, as carefree or as arduous, as nomadic or as stationary as one chooses to make it. One family, I know, has all the comforts of an opulent home transferred to a forest plot they own, and there, for two months in summer, they rest in what they are pleased to style their camp. With the same trained service and the same choice menu that they enjoy during the ten months of city life, they only pretensions they can make to the title are the canvas tents that are substituted for permanent walls and the absence of elaborate dress.

"Another family goes to the ocean beach and rents a tent furnished for housekeeping. With as good a market as at home, the camping consists of the crowded quarters and the freedom from the regular housework that a comfortable home entails. ...

"It is with none of these that this article proposes to deal, but with the most primitive campers, or we might even call them trampers. They have some things in common with those who peregrinate in wagons, as, for instance, food supplies and wearing apparel; and they lack some of the conveniences theses may carry; but they have a freedom of range that compensates for any loss of comforts a vehicle may convey.

"Seeking to explore a region not yet under the dominion of man, the most independent way is afoot with pack horses, or better still, with burros. The latter do not require food carried for them and keep up their strength on any kind of pasturage, perversely preferring thistles to timothy. The fewer the animals, the less the care, so it is essential to study ahead the details and have as little baggage as possible. ...

"From several summers' experience, we have learned to manage the housekeeping department of the camp with as little labor and as much comfort as possible. Even after we have made written arrangements with some stock owner for pack animals at our railroad terminus, one of our party goes on a day ahead to make sure that everything is ready. Then, when the rest of the company arrives, he has the animals ready for the start. If a long railroad journey has been taken and there is a decent inn at the station, it is wise to rest a night before commencing the tramp. It is wiser still to leave here a respectable suit of clothes in which to return to civilization, when the outing is over.

[ The camp "costume" | top ]

"For the trip one wants to be as unhampered by clothes as possible. Men always seem to know what to wear; or at least, they never confess that they are uncomfortable; but all women have not learned the lesson yet.

"An active woman can get along well for a month's tramp with two short skirts and one jacket of some stout material, as corduroy or denim; bloomers and leggins of the same goods, or at least the same color; strong shoes, not too heavy, but with a thick sole containing Hungarian nails, for tramping, and a lighter pair to rest one's feet in camp; a sunbonnet and a soft canvas hat; a few darkish shirt waists of cotton crepe which will wash easily and not need ironing; some stout gloves; two changes of underwear; one flannelette nightgown, and a golf cape, or a heavy shawl. She will need hairpins galore to keep tidy and all the necessities of a workbag. Her costume will look charming at the start; but on the return, it takes all the courage of her new-gained health to face the little railroad town before she can reach the hotel, with its bath and her garb of civilization. ...

"Canvas bags are best for carrying things. They can be easily balanced on the pack animal and keep the dust out. Packing the horse in an art in itself, to get the sides evenly balanced and the load so firmly secured that it will not drag behind his tail as he ascends, no slip over his ears as he climbs down the mountain.

[ Setting up | top]

"The permanent camp must be located near both wood and water, and that, in the mountains, usually means beside a stream that has a beautiful environment.

"The culinary department is first arranged. The stove is soon put up, just two pieces of iron long enough to support between them several iron kettles. At the ends, each has jointed on a shorter piece of iron, which terminates in a sharp point. When in use, the points are driven into the ground and the irons stand steady. When traveling, the joints are folded back and the pair of irons fits into a small bag.

"For cooking, one needs at least three iron pots, two frying pans, a strong coffee pot and a good-sized tin dishpan. Other pans add to the comfort, but they can be dispensed with. For dishes, the white enamel ware are the best. A place, cup and saucer for each person is sufficient, as in camping the primitive style of serving from the cooking vessels is preserved. ... For table napkins, we hemmed some old cotton curtains and find them easily washed and quite tidy looking without ironing. Our dish towels, we consider superior to the ordinary articles which lose their whiteness without regular laundrying. Ours are made of an ecru flannelette, the easiest thing in the world to wash in the stream, and never offending with a sense of lost cleanliness. Two of these we used in lieu of a tablecloth.

"The table depends upon the environment. Boulders do very well, but with the ax and some nails the men can manufacture one out of the virgin forest, and the ensuing comfort repays the labor. Stools, for meal time, can be fashioned out of old logs or of rocks; when merely resting, one reclines on the bosom of Mother Earth who strengthens us today as did Antaes of old.

"A cool corner is chosen as a cupboard and the provisions are arranged for convenience and for security against our little brothers of the woods. On these provisions the success of the trip depends, for no one can be benefited by an outing without sustaining food. At the same time, one relishes food day after day that he could not digest in a sedentary city life. A hearty meal is made of two or three dishes, and one wonders at the waste of time over an ordinary civilized course dinner.

1902 grocery list: hard tack, chocolate, macaroni and more>

[ Peace descends | top ]

"After the food, the sleeping arrangements need most attention to secure a successful trip. Some prefer sleeping-bags; others, plain blankets and comforters which they can spread out to catch the sun's rays. The bags are made of either blankets or comforters folded in two and sewed together all around but on part of one side, which is tied together with tapes. They are covered with rubber, oilcloth, canvas or denim. If the latter is used, an extra square of tarpaulin should be taken for protection in rain. A piece of canvas for a dressing-room for the women adds a great deal of comfort with comparatively little extra weight to the baggage.

"At the permanent camp, if pine or fir trees are handy, a most delightful bed can be made of their soft aromatic boughs. If not, the earth is a warm support and not hard when one gets used to it. The bed must be laid on a level spot, for one experience on a sloping ground with its concomitant nightmare of dizzy precipices, is sufficient lesson.

"When retiring time comes, those with sleeping-bags simply creep into the center of their two, three or four folds of blankets, as the case may be, and settle down for the night, with perhaps a cape or a shawl as a pillow. The sun worshippers spread out their comforters and them draw their blankets over them, always convince that they must be the most comfortable. All face the mysterious stars, and a peace descends on the camp and permeates to the heart of each watcher. Every pulsation brings calm; and if such a thing as nerves ever existed, they are softly lulled into quiescence.

"With long tramps by day to inspiring outlooks, with nutritious food in sufficient quantity, with soft mountain water for the morning sponge, with warm bedding for the cool of night, and with ever the protecting stars to induce recuperative slumber, it is little wonder that a month's trip, or even a fortnight's outing, will reawaken in one the old enthusiasm for the beauty of life.

Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever; Do noble things, not dream them, all day long; And so make life, death, and that vast forever One grand sweet song.

― Charles Kingsley