How did Voyagers/HBC Outfitters do it?

Grassland

Well-known member
How did the classic Voyagers, Hudson's Bay company Outfitters, cowboys, gold miners etc all manage this lifestyle with the technology of their era?

Specifically I refer to the wool blanket.

For a natural fiber, wool seems to check the boxes. Durable, moisture resistant, flame resistant (compared to synthetics) and doesn't stink to high heaven after a few uses.
Other than being heavy, it sure seems ideal for the adventurer of 150+ years ago.
I finally got on the wool blanket bandwagon this spring when the Canadian made blankets we ordered in November finally showed up.
The hottest summer in 30 years came along and we only recently used them.
In our Escape 19 trailer at 5-8° C outdoor, the indoor temp went to about 13-14° C and I wasn't toasty under our queen size wool blanket. It wasn't doubled up or anything and I was wearing socks pants and a shirt.
Then this weekend while hunting I gave my personal blanket a whirl. 10° C overnight temps and on a 2" thermarest type ground pad, with the blanket folded in such a way I had two layers above me, AND adding a thin fleece blanket to the mix, I was not at all comfortable, but was able to sleep some and wasn't shivering. I was in a ground tent and there was no wind or rain.

Did everyone just spend the night shivering and not sleeping back then? Wool isn't lightweight, so it's not like the average cowboy had two or three of these, and when carrying a wood canoe I doubt Voyagers were rolling around with several.
 

PlacidWaters

Adventurer
Our notion of what is "tolerable" in the area of comfort has changed an awful lot even in the last 50 years. In the 1970s a 2" foam mattress was acceptable. Then came air mattresses. Then insulated air mattresses. Then thick, insulated, lightweight air mattresses. Today I wouldn't sleep on anything but the latter, because it's available and the price is reasonable for the comfort. Add a cot and you have a great night of sleep.

Same with sleeping bags. 1970s: heavy, bulky flannel that wasn't all that warm. Today: nothing but light, warm down will do.

How did they do it in the old days? They had a different expectation of comfort and of ease of life in general. They did hard physical labor to make a living. None of the things we take for granted today---food, clothing, shelter, heat in the winter, transportation, etc.---came easy.
 

Buddha.

Finally in expo white.
My only experience with wool blankets was in army basic training in unheated barracks 50-60degrees. The blankets seemed sized for a 5’3” guy but I think they had shrunk over decades of use.
The cold is what I remember most of basic training.
 

1000arms

Well-known member
You might enjoy reading Tall Trees, Tough Men (Vivid, Anecdotal History of Logging and Log-Driving in New England).

The following quote, "The New England loggers and river drivers were a unique breed of men. Working with their axes and peaveys through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, they contributed mightily to the development of the United States. The daily life of the loggers was hard ― working in deep icy water fourteen hours a day, sleeping in wet blankets, eating coarse food, and constantly risking their lives. Their pay was very low, yet they were proud to call themselves loggers. When they came out of the woods after the spring drives, they ebulliently spent their pay carousing in the staid New England towns. Robert E. Pike, who as a youth worked in the woods and on the rivers, writes affectionately and knowingly, with humorous anecdotes, of every detail of lumbering. He describes the daily life of the logging camps, giving a picture of the different specialist jobs: the camp boss, the choppers, the sawyers and filers, the scaler, the teamsters, the river men, the railroaders, and the lumber kings. His descriptions bring the reader vividly into the woods, smelling the tangy, newly cut timber, hearing the boom of the falling trees. "The author's lively prose matches the temper of his subject. . . . This is basic history, geography, psychology, economics, and folklore all rolled into one top-quality volume." ― R. S. Monahan, New York Times Book Review Illustrated with many rare photographs"

is from:

 

NatersXJ6

Explorer
They had in general terms, much higher metabolism and generated more body heat. They were also much tougher than we are today. They had also been much colder, and knew how bad it could get. They carried hundreds of pounds of furs and supplies, often making multiple trips to portage. When it is your way of life, not a hobby, you just deal.
 
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slowtwitch

Adventurer
Those dudes were made of iron.. ditto the naive Americans.

I think natural selection had a lot to do with it. The gimps simply weren't out there. You lived or you didn't.

There's a great book, My Canyonlands by Kent Frost.. he grew up in the canyon country and spent a lot of nights out in the winter as a young kid with minimal to no gear just sleeping on the ground.
 

Todd n Natalie

OverCamper
How did the classic Voyagers, Hudson's Bay company Outfitters, cowboys, gold miners etc all manage this lifestyle with the technology of their era?

Specifically I refer to the wool blanket.

For a natural fiber, wool seems to check the boxes. Durable, moisture resistant, flame resistant (compared to synthetics) and doesn't stink to high heaven after a few uses.
Other than being heavy, it sure seems ideal for the adventurer of 150+ years ago.
I finally got on the wool blanket bandwagon this spring when the Canadian made blankets we ordered in November finally showed up.
The hottest summer in 30 years came along and we only recently used them.
In our Escape 19 trailer at 5-8° C outdoor, the indoor temp went to about 13-14° C and I wasn't toasty under our queen size wool blanket. It wasn't doubled up or anything and I was wearing socks pants and a shirt.
Then this weekend while hunting I gave my personal blanket a whirl. 10° C overnight temps and on a 2" thermarest type ground pad, with the blanket folded in such a way I had two layers above me, AND adding a thin fleece blanket to the mix, I was not at all comfortable, but was able to sleep some and wasn't shivering. I was in a ground tent and there was no wind or rain.

Did everyone just spend the night shivering and not sleeping back then? Wool isn't lightweight, so it's not like the average cowboy had two or three of these, and when carrying a wood canoe I doubt Voyagers were rolling around with several.
I understand the point of you are making. Just curious, doesn't your trailer have a furnace? We stay toasty warm in ours with just our furnace and comforter.

It does have a heated matters' as well but, we haven't used it.

As far as how the voyagers stayed warm? Maybe not wool blankets at all...

Screenshot 2021-11-02 150939.png
 

Grassland

Well-known member
Our trailer does have a furnace. We were on a non power site and didn't think we would need it, as we've slept in colder weather in the tent trailer we used to have without the furnace. We turned furnace on for ten minutes before bed the next night.
My point is that at 13-14° "indoors" and 10° in a tent, I wasn't comfortable, makes me wonder how they did it back in the day.
My metabolism isn't what it used to be even 3-4 years ago mind you.
 

Todd n Natalie

OverCamper
Our trailer does have a furnace. We were on a non power site and didn't think we would need it, as we've slept in colder weather in the tent trailer we used to have without the furnace. We turned furnace on for ten minutes before bed the next night.
My point is that at 13-14° "indoors" and 10° in a tent, I wasn't comfortable, makes me wonder how they did it back in the day.
My metabolism isn't what it used to be even 3-4 years ago mind you.
I'm guessing they were just climatized. Like right now it's +5 and I'm freezing here in a sweater.

But if it ever warmed up to say -5 in February after two weeks of wind and -35, - 5 is short and t-shirt weather, haha
 

perterra

Adventurer
How did the classic Voyagers, Hudson's Bay company Outfitters, cowboys, gold miners etc all manage this lifestyle with the technology of their era?

Specifically I refer to the wool blanket.

For a natural fiber, wool seems to check the boxes. Durable, moisture resistant, flame resistant (compared to synthetics) and doesn't stink to high heaven after a few uses.
Other than being heavy, it sure seems ideal for the adventurer of 150+ years ago.
I finally got on the wool blanket bandwagon this spring when the Canadian made blankets we ordered in November finally showed up.
The hottest summer in 30 years came along and we only recently used them.
In our Escape 19 trailer at 5-8° C outdoor, the indoor temp went to about 13-14° C and I wasn't toasty under our queen size wool blanket. It wasn't doubled up or anything and I was wearing socks pants and a shirt.
Then this weekend while hunting I gave my personal blanket a whirl. 10° C overnight temps and on a 2" thermarest type ground pad, with the blanket folded in such a way I had two layers above me, AND adding a thin fleece blanket to the mix, I was not at all comfortable, but was able to sleep some and wasn't shivering. I was in a ground tent and there was no wind or rain.

Did everyone just spend the night shivering and not sleeping back then? Wool isn't lightweight, so it's not like the average cowboy had two or three of these, and when carrying a wood canoe I doubt Voyagers were rolling around with several.

How did people survive summers in places like the Terlingua or Bullhead City. They were uncomfortable, being uncomfortable is not a death sentence as some would have you believe. As an aside, I read Lewis & Clarks crew burned approx 10,000 calories a day when on the move. It makes me wonder how many calories they were taking in every day?

I suspect a different mindset was at play, i read somewhere on this forum not long ago that any kind of closed toe shoe was just too hot for desert wear. I grew up in central Texas when air conditioning was not all that common, the old guys I remember growing up, worked all day in the hot sun in jeans or khakis, long sleeved t shirts, and long sleeved shirts over them buttoned up to the neck with the sleeves rolled down, and lace up work boots. Were they tougher than folks today? Not likely, they just didnt know or expect any better.

Another thing to realize, cowboy bedrolls in cold country are pretty bulky affairs, they are not one blanket in a bed roll, there may be 3 or 4 blankets in the bed roll.
 

PlacidWaters

Adventurer
I'm reading Thoreau's In the Maine Woods right now. The camping and travel conditions he describes are abominable. Like walking a whole day through a swamp when they lost the trail. Getting eaten alive by bugs. Sleeping on cedar boughs with, yup, one wool blanket (for 3 people!), under an open tent. They hired an Indian as a guide for a long wilderness trip by canoe. The Indian brought no baggage at all---just the clothes on his back. Their food consisted of hard bread, pork, tea, and fish they caught. Does not seem fun or healthy.
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
I remember reading an article related to this topic a while back:

Climbers try to recreate Mallory's Everest attempt using gear from the 1920s.

But then when I googled it to find the article to share, I also found this one:

Climbers staging Mallory Everest bid get cold feet.

If you don't want to read through the gist of the above is two guys tried to recreate the climb using only equipment from the 20s and after removing the ladders and other climbing aids. They decided that it was too cold to do that in classic gear so they gave up and used modern gear instead. They didn't get "cold feet" as in not doing it -- they did summit Everest without the use of ladders and climbing aids -- but they did relent and use modern gear instead of the stuff Mallory would have had. So the short version is it appears our forefathers were made of tougher stuff.

Or maybe they weren't, they did die after all!
 

perterra

Adventurer
I remember reading an article related to this topic a while back:

Climbers try to recreate Mallory's Everest attempt using gear from the 1920s.

But then when I googled it to find the article to share, I also found this one:

Climbers staging Mallory Everest bid get cold feet.

If you don't want to read through the gist of the above is two guys tried to recreate the climb using only equipment from the 20s and after removing the ladders and other climbing aids. They decided that it was too cold to do that in classic gear so they gave up and used modern gear instead. They didn't get "cold feet" as in not doing it -- they did summit Everest without the use of ladders and climbing aids -- but they did relent and use modern gear instead of the stuff Mallory would have had. So the short version is it appears our forefathers were made of tougher stuff.

Or maybe they weren't, they did die after all!
If you are inclined, Into the Silence by Wade Davis is a fascinating read about Mallory and Everest. It really brings to light how tough he actually was.

 

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