3 Camping Tips from Ernest Hemingway

Camping has a timeless appeal.  It beckons people from all walks of life to abandon the modern comforts of home in search of the beauty and tranquility that only nature can provide.  The love of nature transcends even the largest cultural and geological boundaries that separate us.  Having some basic knowledge of how to get by in the wilderness is a requisite pillar of manliness, so it should come as no surprise to Hemingway fans that he would have some knowledge to offer.

Ernest Hemingway was an avid outdoorsman.  His passion for the great outdoors was instilled in him at a young age, when he would go on trips to the family’s cabin in northern Michigan.  It was on these trips that his father taught him how to hunt, fish, and get by in the wilderness.  His love of nature had an undeniable influence on his writing, and he knew a great deal about how to be a woodsman.  According to Hemingway, “it is all right to talk about roughing it in the woods. But the real woodsman is the man who can be really comfortable in the bush.”

In June of 1920, six years before publishing publishing his first novel, he wrote an instructional newspaper article for the Toronto Daily Star titled “Camping Out.”  

For Hemingway, camping should be both an economical and comfortable vacation:

Thousands of people will go into the bush this summer to cut the high cost of living. A man who gets his two weeks’ salary while he is on vacation should be able to put those two weeks in fishing and camping and be able to save one week’s salary clear. He ought to be able to sleep comfortably every night, to eat well every day and to return to the city rested and in good condition.

He insists the reader follows his advice so that they won’t join “the grand army of never-agains,” or men who come home defeated by the wild, destined for the life of a house cat.

The following are Hemingway’s three major tips on how to remain comfortable in the bush.

 1. Take precautions against mosquitoes and other insects:

Black flies, no-see-ums, deer flies, gnats and mosquitoes were instituted by the devil to force people to live in cities where he could get at them better. If it weren’t for them everybody would live in the bush and he would be out of work. It was a rather successful invention.

He clearly detested the winged vermin of the back country.

To counteract these pests, Hemingway suggests that campers use repellent oils.  He suggests citronella, but also mentions pennyroyal and eucalyptol.  He advises you to apply citronella on the back of your neck, your forehead and your wrists to escape the bug-bites as you try to land a trout for dinner.  He also suggests to put a little on the mosquito netting on the front of your tent at night.

2. Stay warm and you’ll sleep well:

To be really rested and get any benefit out of a vacation a man must get a good night’s sleep every night. The first requisite for this is to have plenty of cover. It is twice as cold as you expect it will be in the bush four nights out of five, and a good plan is to take just double the bedding that you think you will need. An old quilt that you can wrap up in is as warm as two blankets.

The temperature often drops quickly after sunset, and a warm, comfortable day in the wilderness can quickly turn into a miserable night of restless shivering.  This falls into the category of better safe than sorry.  By bringing extra layers and covers, you can ensure a warm, peaceful sleep each night.

3.  Make sure to eat well:

Hemingway was a great lover of food, and saw camping as no excuse to skimp on the cuisine.  In the article, which you can read in its entirety here, Hemingway provides suggestions for appetizers of pancakes and coffee, as well as pie for dessert, but his main dish consists of trout (most likely fresh caught) with bacon.  He advises to cook this dish in a pan over coals, instead of direct flame:

The beginner puts his trout and his bacon in and over a brightly burning fire; the bacon curls up and dries into a dry tasteless cinder and the trout is burned outside while it is still raw inside. He eats them and it is all right if he is only out for the day and going home to a good meal at night. But if he is going to face more trout and bacon the next morning and other equally well-cooked dishes for the remainder of two weeks he is on the pathway to nervous dyspepsia.

His method is to slowly cook the trout and bacon while making coffee and flapjacks to appease hungry campers in the meantime:

Put the bacon in and when it is about half cooked lay the trout in the hot grease, dipping them in corn meal first. Then put the bacon on top of the trout and it will baste them as it slowly cooks.

Following this method  ensures that the outside of the trout is crisp, while the inside is pink and firm.

As you can see, Papa had camping out down to a science.  He was well versed in the art of camping, and certainly knew a few tricks to make the trip go by smoothly.  His only disclaimer: by knowing how to cook you will be penalized into doing all the cooking.  Hopefully this has given you some insight into the real-life Hemingway.  By following his three tips, you can be sure to survive your time in the wild in style and comfort.

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