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Period Trekking

Period trekking - a phrase coined by Mark A. Baker - is most often used to describe the act of a person going into the woods on a camping-like adventure using only items that would have been available to their specific time period. The ubiquitous writer has graced the pages of Muzzleloader magazine for more than a decade, describing the successes and challenges of his specific time spent out in the woods, recreating the American longhunter of the pre-and post-Revolutionary period. His writings are a gold mine for someone getting started in the hobby.

Also referred to as "historical trekking" or "scouts" by longhunters and "pack-ins" by those emulating the Western Fur Trade, all of these events encompass more or less the same general guidelines - both spoken and unspoken:

  • Hiking a medium to long distance, usually followed by overnight camping
  • Gear limitations, whether set by the constraints of a certain time period or by the organizing party
  • Exceptions to the above: usually in the form of safety devices (water filters, first aid kits), prescription drugs, or sometimes even toiletpaper

Often described as the primitive equivilent of backpacking, a period trekking event can include other specifc scenarios like land navigation to a given campsite, two different teams moving towards a location for a mock ambush, or following the original trail of a trapping or hunting party or another historical event. Muzzleloader magazine described one such event a few years ago where the party recreated a surveying party of the 18th century.

What to bring

The items one would bring on a period trek are as diverse as the different groups that take part in these events. The below is a general list of what you might bring out on a trek:

  • Blanket roll
  • Tarp or oil cloth
  • Rifle or smoothbore, shooting pouch and horn
  • Belt knife
  • Tomahawk or hatchet
  • Fire-making kit, candle and tinder
  • Canteen and water purification elements
  • Food
  • Boiler or folding skillet and eating utensils
  • Period compass
  • Primitive fishing kit
  • Fishing and hunting licenses (if appropriate, in period container)
The above is not meant as an all-inclusive list, but rather as a guideline for a few items that might be brought out on a trek. All of this is in addition to your primitive clothing and shoes. Often times moccasins are worn on these trips - which can be quite a new experience if you are not used to wearing moccasins outside of your camp or rendezvous.

Period trekking is not limited to buckskinning or longhunter groups, either. Many other reenacting groups such as Civil War or Revolutionary War have groups that are more dedicated to time spent on campaign. These groups, sometimes referred to as progressive, spend time on the trail emulating the time that soldiers spend out on campaign.

Like any other new activity, the best way to learn more and get involved in period trekking is to find a friend or group of like-minded individuals who are interested or already involved in the hobby. For your first few treks, the time is spent getting used to this new style of camping. You may be used to using a foam mattress or air mattress and it's not a bad idea to have some "modern" gear available. For example, bring the foam mattress with you, but don't use it unless you have to. This helps gets you train for more primitive events while minimize negative experiences along the way. Before long, you won't need the foam mattress or sleeping bag.

Get involved with other groups that share your interest and let them dig through your gear. They can offer good advice on what to bring and what not to bring. Some folks who have "been there, done that" know from experience what is worthwhile to bring and what is not worth the weight.

Trekking is process. You'll start off with a lot of gear and weight and as time goes on and your experience grows, you'll find you can get along fine with a lot less gear.

A Word on Water

The water of today is not the water of yesterday. It may be tempting to try and go out on a trek or scout without adequete water or purification devices, but this is a sure way to have a bad time at best and possible health risks at worse. There is a lot of bacteria and viruses in today's water that we are not used to drinking. This is why we get sick when we travel to some other countries and drink their water. There is also contamination from farm animals, fertilizers, and heavy metals and chemicals from industrial areas. Very, very few water sources on earth are not contaminated. There is nothing wrong in bringing water purification tablets or filters on your trek - just make sure they are kept in period containers.

Never, never drink directly from an unknown water source. Be safe - always boil, filter, or treat your water before drinking.

Other Resources

Eastern Woodland Trekkers (EWT) - http://www.geocities.com/easternwoodlandtrekkers/EWT.html
Cohalition of Historical Trekkers (COHT) - http://www.coht.org/
Mark A. Baker's A Pilgrim's Journey - http://www.muzzleloadermag.com/PilgrimsJourney/pilgrimII_info.htm
On The Trail Magazine - http://www.ottmagazine.com/
HistoricalTrekking.com - http://www.historicaltrekking.com/