Advice on Kit
Advice on what kit to use
Now shalt I abide in the wild-wood,
And make me a lair therein;
I am here in the midst of my foemen,
And from them I mayest glory win.
It is up to each participant to decide what kit they need for Hunters Guild Events and there will be variations depending on the season.
1. Clothing Survival in the wilderness of Britain is harder than it at first seems. If you are in the Arctic you can be sure it will be cold, deserts are usually hot and dry, jungle hot and wet, Britain is often cold and wet except when it warm and wet, hot and dry and so on. You cannot carry enough kit to account for every condition so it is important to get a good weather forecast before your expedition; in this, you are luckier than our ancestors were. The two main problems are keeping warm and dry.
Keeping warm is not too difficult but you must build up your clothing in layers, this will trap air between the layers and your body heat will warm it up to keep you warm. If you start to sweat you should remove layers, if you inner clothing becomes damp you will be uncomfortable and will become cold. Once the exercise that caused you to sweat ends put your outer layers back on as soon as possible to retain the heat.
Keeping dry is harder with the materials available during the Viking age. It is unlikely that many people can afford sealskin clothing so the next best thing is oiled leather. A cloak and separate hood of oiled leather will work, or you could try a cloak and hood made from tightly woven unwashed wool, the lanolin in the wool will repel the water.
Boots a size larger than normally worn will allow the wearing of three or more pairs of socks; if your feet are cold you will feel miserable even if the rest of you is warm. Wear at least two layers on your legs, puttees will add a third and help your feet too. At least three tunics and a cloak for the upper body and don’t forget a warm hat that you can sleep in. When trying out the clothing at home you may well feel over dressed, try standing in the cold for half an hour and if still warm you are doing well.
2. Equipment The camp kit that you take must be light enough to carry, try and keep them to less than fifty pounds. Building a fire is essential if you want to keep warm and eat hot food, therefore you will need the means to light a fire. There are several ways of lighting a fire but the preferred method for a Viking was a flint and steel. You will need something to catch the sparks; the simplest thing to use is char-cloth as you can make this yourself. If you can take a small amount of tinder to get the fire going, you cannot always rely on finding the right stuff at your campsite; remember to restock before you move to the next campsite.
If you are going to cook, you may need a small pot to hang over the fire but you do not want to be carrying any more than that, if part of a group then a single shared pot is better. Another way to avoid carrying more than necessary is to use your helmet as a cooking pot!
Shelter can be made from what you find but if you can, and especially if it’s raining, take a canvass sheet big enough to sleep under. It will be easier to make a shelter with the canvass if you fit loops to each corner and to the centre of each side. Poles for the shelter should be available locally and it could be setup between two trees, if poles are not available then you can use an axe, spear or shield in their place.
The way you set up your shelter will depend on the environment, materials available and weather conditions. If using only the equipment you can carry then a ridge shelter is the most structurally sound, it is also to be preferred if it is raining. You can combine using your equipment with a single tree, it is not always possible to find a campsite that has two perfectly spaced trees with a clear space between them. Using a shield at one end also adds to the protection you get when it is raining and keeps more warmth inside with you. If the rain is accompanied by an inconvenient amount of wind, try to set up the shelter with the shield into the wind, if your shelter is side on to the wind it is more likely to be blown away.
Lean-to shelters have a number of advantages if it’s not raining and there is no significant wind to worry about. In cold weather you can set your fire right by the open side of the shelter and benefit from the fires heat, in extreme cold you should set a long fire the length of the shelters open side, in effect making a wall of heat. If the enemy threatens your camp, a lean-to shelter enables you can roll out and grab your weapons to fight off your attackers.
Bedding can also be improvised locally but it will depend on the time of year and location as to what is available and is serious survivalist mode, you will have a close acquaintance with the local bug life! If you can take a thick cloak to sleep under, two if you can manage it. What will keep you awake at night is not the hard ground but the cold that seeps up from it, insulating yourself from the ground will make a big difference to the quality of your night’s sleep. Top of the range insulation is a couple of reindeer skins; sheepskins work well too and are usually a little cheaper.
3. Food and drink We tend to like different food today to that enjoyed by our ancestors, there are however plenty of ingredients that they had that we can combine to suit our tastes. The only real question is whether to use fresh or preserved food. If your expedition is short then fresh food is healthier, for a longer period you could start with fresh then continue with preserved food. Hunting is an option in some areas but you will need the appropriate permission and licences, as you are not allowed to hunt with bows or spears and trapping is severely restricted that leaves fishing! Better, take enough food!
Meat and fish can be dried in an oven and it’s easy to make oatmeal biscuits. Butter goes well with the biscuits. You can take oatmeal to make porridge or break up your oatmeal biscuits and boil them in water to make porridge; this option gives you more choices. Today we assume that all water is safe to drink but that has only been true(ish) for the last century or so, most water is unsafe to drink so you either have to carry enough of find some way of purifying it. If you are sticking to the technology available to a Viking, find the cleanest water you can, strain it through a cloth and then boil it, keep it boiling for ten minutes at least before using it. To do this you will require a decent fire so make sure you have plenty of wood before you start. Boiled water is not to everyone’s taste, if you plan to drink it hot you might want to take some herbs to infuse it. If you let it cool to refill your water bottle give it a good shake for a couple of minutes, this air eaters the water and makes it taste better. If you prefer your drink to have some flavour you can take beer or ale, it should be low alcohol, of a similar strength to a 3.5pc beer with 50pc water or lemonade (shandy). The aim here is not to get drunk but to use the alcohol to keep the drink bug free.
4. Weapons and armour Only take the weapons you need, for example if you have a hand axe, and you will need one if you plan to chop wood, you do not need to take a sword. The minimum probably should be a seax, hand axe, spear and shield, if there is to be combat as part of your expedition you must have combat gloves and helmet too. You can save some weight by using your helmet as a cooking pot but take care not to put it on when it’s filled with hot porridge! Combat gloves can also replace any gloves or mittens you might need in cold weather. You may want to use a sword but you will still need an axe for woodcutting. A long axe or a bow may replace the spear and if you are an archer may choose not to take the shield though I think it is an essential item.
Armour is best only worn if you are part of a warband and I recommend that three warriors can carry the food and camp equipment for four while one wears the heavy armour. What you should do is get together and decide as a team which items you need to take, you don’t all need a cooking pot for example. Set aside your basic weapons set that you would take regardless and then weigh the food, camp equipment and armour. Try to divide it up as evenly as possible, you may find that the armoured warrior can carry some of the camp equipment, just less than the others.
5. How to carry your equipment Some items can be carried in small to medium sized bags with a shoulder strap; water bottles can also have shoulder straps. With bulkier items such as bedding and tentage require a bit more thought and is subject to some personal preference. The tent canvas can be used to roll some of the items into a tube that you sling over your shoulder. Skins and cloaks can be rolled together and tied up with rope and ageing thrown over a shoulder. If you are prepared to carry a little extra weight you can make a wooden frame pack whatever doesn’t go into your bag into the tent canvas and tie it all to the frame, a couple of ropes tied to the frame gives you a back pack.
However, you carry the bulk of your equipment you will need a bag for those items you will need regularly during the day, lunch for instance. For the same reason a slung water bottle is better than other methods of carrying water. The equipment you spent Wendy minutes packing into a shoulder roll or backpack is the stuff you only need at the end of the days march so think carefully about how you pack. Before your first expedition pack your kit and walk around with it for at least ten minutes, check that it feels comfortable. Unpack it all and think if it’s packed in the most convenient way, repack and repeat as many times as it takes to get the carrying arrangement comfortable and the kit arranged in the most convenient way for you. If you get the chance, repeat the exercise again at night. Packing your kit the same way each time and unpacking it and laying it out for use in the same order is a very good idea, it will enable you to find the item you need in the dark and reduce the chance of you loosing stuff. You will find that you can set up and dismantle your camp quicker if you do things the same way every time. Always repack any item of kit you are not using, this will help you keep track of where things are, reduces the chance of losing things and speed up packing when you decide to leave, you may need to leave in a hurry.
6. Organizing your camp It is important to be organised in camp, if you are not using a piece of equipment pack it away so that you save time when getting ready to move camp, you may be in a hurry! Organise your camp in such a way that you can lay your hands on your kit and weapons easily in the dark. Lie down where your plan to sleep and place your weapons where you can put you hand straight on them. An untidy camp will cause all sorts of trouble, you may not be able to find what you need in the dark, you may stumble over a carelessly placed helmet, you may lose your cloak pin or fire steel.
A warband must organise their camp both to make it safe to move around at night and to make defence easy. Try always to place warriors in the same place each time you set up so that you can always find your comrade in the dark, if you are waking a fellow warrior to take his turn on guard you must make sure it is the right one! Each warrior is responsible for their own kit and they must make sure that it is not an obstacle to their comrades.