The “Ten Essentials” of the Wilderness Scout

Portrait of Daniel Boone by Chester Harding 1820. (PD-Art, PD-US 1923)

The wilderness scouts and explorers in the America’s during the 1700’s and 1800’s were a different breed of camper.  The lived from their wits.  They traveled in nature for many months at a time exploring and learning the land – carrying little food or gear and living from the land.  If they had formed the notion of “ten essentials”, then it probably looked quite different than the modern day version.

In the book Daniel Boone – Wilderness Scout, Stewart White wrote, Daniel Boone and a few other men embarked on a journey to “visit the new land.”  Their clothing was primarily buckskin shirts and leggings, their footwear was moccasins.   “They wore leather belts, with the buckles in the rear both to avoid glitter and catching in the brush.  The tomahawk was slung on the right side of the belt.  The bullet or ‘shot’ pouch was swung on a strap over the left shoulder and hung on the right side, the powder horn immediately above it.  The knife was in the belt on the left side.  Each man also carried a small pack containing extras, chiefly powder and lead.  They had little in the way of bedding, no extra clothes, no shelters, almost no food, none of the things we take when we are ‘roughing it’ severely.  The wilderness was to be their home, and from the wilderness they must take all they needed.”  White pp. 51 & 52.

The ten essentials list of these woodsman may have looked something like this:

  1. Knife Craft (Knife handling skills including safety, use and maintenance of a knife.)
  2. Axe Craft (Axe handling skills including safety, use and maintenance of an axe.)
  3. Fire Craft (Fire skills including safety use and maintenance of a fire.)
  4. Bind Craft (Binding skills including making cordage or rope, use and maintenance of cordage or rope, and the use of other materials such as roots and vines for bindings.)
  5. Shelter Craft (Shelter construction skills made from materials found in nature whether used alone or in conjunction with other items that may have been carried.)
  6. Camp Craft (Skills in organizing camp and constructing items for use at camp to make camp comfortable and convenient – and in Boone’s case well hidden.)
  7. Trail Craft (Land travel skills  including navigation, trail safety and trail marking and in Boone’s case for disguising a trail.)
  8. Water Craft (Water travel skills for traveling on waterways, including making water craft, reading the water and swimming.)
  9. Plant Craft (Knowledge of plants and skills for using the plants for food, medicine and utility items.)
  10. Animal Craft ( Knowledge of animals and skills of tracking, stalking, hunting and trapping as well as skills for using the animal for food and utility items.)

Daniel Boone… “was a master of wood craft, able to find his way hundreds of miles through unbroken forest, able to maintain himself alone not merely for a day or a week but for a year or more with or without other resources than his rifle, his tomahawk and his knife; and this in the face of the most wily foes.”  White p. 2.

There is no doubt that they carried a possibles bag with items that they decided were useful to have when traveling in nature.  Their “ten essentials” though were more essential knowledge and skills than essential items.

The modern ten essentials as published by The Mountaineers in 2003, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills,  has a wise list of things to take with you on excursions into nature.

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

It is worth considering whether you could live happily in nature if for some reason you lost or broke an item or it malfunctioned.   Could you read the land to navigate your way?  Could you make fire and shelter?  Could you take care of medical needs?  True skills in nature comes from knowing  what nature provides and how to use it responsibly.  This was the skill of the early scouts and explorers.  These are the skills that we should all strive for in our outdoor pursuits.  And then put in your possibles bag the items that you feel are useful to have conveniently at hand based on your knowledge and skills.

Consider also whether the modern “ten essentials” might be lacking things that Daniel Boone considered essential.

White, Stewart Edward, Daniel Boone Wilderness Scout, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922.

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