Words of wisdom from 1877


Historic photo from the Library of Congress

I’ve mentioned before that older books may be outdated in terms of gear. But these older books still have information and advice that is timeless. And are invariably something that the amateur historian in me finds interesting

Advice that is useful as long as people are tramping, sauntering, meandering and exploring the outdoors.

How to Camp Out by John Mead Gould is one of those books.

Written by a United States Civil War veteran in 1877, this short and easy to read gem has a lot of advice that is applicable to the modern era. It is, quite possibly, the oldest book published in the United States on recreational camping and hiking. It was published about a decade before the well-known classic of Woodcraft and Camping by George W. Sears. 

As I was reading this book, I was amazed how much of the advice is still applicable today.

Sure, the advice on specific gear is outdated. And the thoughts on women and children in the backcountry sound a bit (?!) archaic to a 21st century reader.

But much of the advice still applies.

Consider these popular topics that come up…

  • Thinking of hiking the Appalachian Trail on a shoestring?

“Estimate the expenses of your trip, and take more money than your estimate.

  • Upset that your gear is getting trashed, scuffed up and does not look like something out of an REI catalog?

“Take nothing nice into camp, expecting to keep it so: it is almost impossible to keep things out of the dirt, dew, rain, dust, or sweat, and from being broken or bruised.”

  • Or perhaps your are worried your gear is not the most fashionable? 

“Wear what you please if it be comfortable and durable: do not mind what people say. When you are camping you have a right to be independent.”

  • And when people are about to take off on a multi-week hike without so much as even a day hike prior…I think of this practical advice:

“If you are going on a walking-party, one of the best things you can do is to “train” a week or more before starting, by taking long walks in the open air.”

  • Then there is some advice for any extended travel…

…leave your business in such shape that it will not call you back; and do not carry off keys, &c., which others must have; nor neglect to see the dentist about the tooth that  aches when you most want it to keep quiet.”

Do not be in a hurry to spend money on new inventions. Every year there is put upon the market some patent knapsack, folding stove, cooking-utensil, or camp trunk and cot combined; and there are always for sale patent knives, forks, and spoons all in one, drinking-cups, folding portfolios, and marvels of tools. Let them all alone”

“Be independent, but not impudent. See all you can, and make the most of your time; “time is money;” and, when you grow older, you may find it even more difficult to command time than money.”

How to Camp Out  is a quick read. And a free book to download in various formats. Well worth reading if you enjoy history or the outdoors and perhaps combining both interests as I do.

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8 years ago

Apparently the entitlement complex is nothing new… Do not be saucy to the farmers, nor treat them as “country greenhorns.” There is not a class of people in the country of more importance to you in your travels; and you are in honor bound to be respectful to them. Avoid stealing their apples, or disturbing any thing; and when you wish to camp near a house, or on cultivated land, obtain permission from the owner, and do not make any unreasonable request, such as asking to camp in a man’s front-yard, or to make a fire in dry grass or… Read more »

Lon Marshalk
Lon Marshalk
8 years ago

This reminded me of a couple of great recent older books I read by William O Douglas. “My Wilderness: The Pacific Northwest” and his other book “Of Men and Mountains”. Both can be found on amazon. The joy he expresses in his books for the wild untouched vastness of the great forests and the high snow capped peaks kept me fascinated and wanting to go explore. A lot of his writing is surrounded by animals, nature and botany but the descriptions of the places he visited back in his time makes for great reading.

8 years ago

I read this a few years ago and really enjoyed it as well. A bit of a break from “hyperlight fanaticism”.:)