WARMTH & ILLUMINATION Part Two
Everyone should have tinder in their possession during a trek. Tinder is the foundation of your fire. Your sparks sets the tinder afire with careful handling and that then ignites kindling. There are several types of tinder, and more than one type can be used; carry multiple types of tinder if possible, and use them as needed. Good tinder lasts for at least one to two minutes and still works even when damp.
Linen fabric that has been burnt until it is very brittle an flammable. It is created in a method of controlling the air and keeping the combustion level controlled. It remains controversial, since some say that fabric during the period was too valuable to waste for charcloth.
Shavings & Fuel Cubes
Modern woodworking methods produces plenty of sawdust but few shavings. Sawdust or flammable fibers can be mixed with wax to form fuel cubes. However, these are of doubtful accuracy.
Rather, use planers or drawknives to produce wood shavings. These were often used and can be found in some tinder boxes from the period. Whether you add any wax to help flammability is up to you. The wood should be one that easily combusts.
Atlas Obscura notes that “Archeological evidence reveals that at least 7,000 years ago, humans were using several types of dried tree fungus for their fire-starting properties.” In fact, Ötzi the Iceman carried a fungus known as “touchwood” or “punk” as part of his belongings five thousand years ago.
Several types of fungus are classified as tinder fungus, including “horse’s hoof” fungus or fomes fomentarius. They grow in forested regions around the world and are tough and inedible. While there are many ways to prepare the fungus for maximum smolder, the quickest way is to slice away the outer layer of the fungus. Once lit, the slice should smolder for long enough to catch the larger kindling.
From the early medieval period until the invention of the lucifer, a treated fungus product called amadou was widely used to speed the ignition.
Tow is the fiber of flax, hemp or nettle before it is spun into thread. Cotton works well also but is definitely not period.
Wool is a flame retardant and will not work for fire-starting purposes.
Candle or Wax-Soaked Shavings or Wood
This was mentioned before. Wax is recommended because of the smell of store tallow. A separate candle set on fire at the base of the kindle is also very effective.
Do Not Use Paper
Paper also provides a useful and practical tinder, but since paper was not yet introduced into Europe, so do not employ it.
There are both articles and videos readily available that go into greater depth on the details of any process. Some might work better for you than others, so you should try several methods before decided on which is best for you.
Whatever way you decide to bring, practice first. Be adept at it before venturing into the wilds! However, causing a spark is only the start. You need some kind of tinder to catch any sparks.
WARMTH & ILLUMINATION Part One
Methods to Create Fire
Matches (lucifers) and lighters are obviously not period. Sulfur-soaked cord—known as matches—were from a later time and used with gunpowder.
There are several acceptable period ways for starting fires:
Flint & Steel
The best shaped steel for producing the fire is what is called a strike-a-light. Flint and steel is a primitive fire-making technique dating back into the Iron Age when steel was first available. It is an easy and effective way to start fires in a wilderness environment. But speed is important since the beginning flame may be fragile and fleeting.
A wide variety of strike-a-lights existed at the time, and many did not change much for centuries afterwards. You do not want to use a knife or another tool for the steel unless necessary, since you use the flint to shear off a piece of the steel to produce the spark.
The flint or pyrite must be large enough to hold in you hand, and it should be knapped to a point that is used against the steel. It should be reknapped whenever the necessary point gets too blunt. It is recommended that the steel striker be struck against the sharp edge of the flint. This creates sparks, and these sparks ignite the tinder. The tinder is joined with a larger tinder bundle which is blown—gently—into flame.
While flint and steel can create a fire without necessarily being dry—the tinder must be dry, of course—creating fire through friction requires that the wood being used is dry.
A fireboard is a piece of flat, dry, brittle wood has a depression that will accept the end of the drill, a straight piece of wood with a point that fits into the depression on the fireboard. The drill will then be spun back and forth either by bow or between your hands. When the point of friction is warm enough to smolder, tinder is added to catch fire.
The use of magnifying glasses to start fires is purely hypothetical. However, the Norse and others had magnifying lenses—glass and crystal—of various types and ability.
These lenses were used as jewelry and possibly magnification since that had long been done. However, wearing such a jewel on your chest during a bright day will surely cause warmth, and the Norse would have certainly noticed this and exploited that ability.
The method of fire by use of a magnifying lens should be familiar with any child who has used a magnifying glass too burn ants or who has watched “Ball of Fire.” The light focused by the lens must be carefully focused and aimed.
Maintaining a Spark
Fires were usually kept going once started, and this is true even if the fire was not stationary. Long-burning fires—actually smoldering sparks—were sometimes placed in a repository—often a shell—that did not extinguish the spark nor burst into fire. This obviously requires a lot of experimentation and practice, and it is altogether easier to start each fire anew in whatever manner is most advantageous!
Shorter canes are infrequently found, but walking staves are not. The staves should be simple and probably weighted at the end. Calling them trekking poles, Christine Bore notes that “On those uphill climbs, trekking poles help take some of the weight off your hips and legs by utilizing your arm strength.
On the downhill, they help ease the pressure on your knees. And on those stream crossings, these puppies have saved me more times than I can count by helping me balance.”
The trekker is not going to war, so hopefully he will not be dressing to go to war. Maille and a helmet are heavy, and there are some weapons which will hinder rather than help you on the trek. Some weapons are designed primarily for war—for killing people—and not merely for defense. Some weapons are for war, while others may be used for war but are primarily meant to be utility tools.
The sword—both the single-sided scramsax and the double-sided broadsword—was not only primarily a weapon of war but would be rather awkward on treks.
The spear could be used in various incarnations as, for example, a boar spear, and it could be used as a staff and was certainly not as clumsy and single purposed as a sword.
The axe was famously a heavy-duty weapon, but smaller, lighter, more easily transportable axes and hatchets were used primarily for cutting and shaping wood although if needed, it could be a weapon of self-defense.
Bows were of different strengths, but they were used for many purposes. The arrowheads determined the real purpose of the archery.
On the other hand, there are certain weapons—tools if you prefer—that are essential, both for hunting and for working in the wilderness.
Bows and arrows could be used for hunting and were fairly easy to transport.
Axes and hatchets were extremely useful for practical purposes.
The seax or knif could be used as a weapon of last result but was primarily used for practical, small tasks. It cuts cord, slices food, could prepare kindling and do many other practical tasks. Everyone of the time had at least one seax; even the thralls had a—presumably small—utility seax because it was so useful.
Some kind of whetstone should be brought. Like a utility seax, it is essential!
Beneath it All
There is precious little that we know about what was worn as underwear in period. If any was worn as all. As long as the underwear is not seen and does not affect the silhouette, wear what is needed unless you are trying to duplicate what might have been experienced at the time. If the weather is cool or cold, feel free to wear thermal underwear and woolen socks.
COMMON ARTICLES OF CLOTHING Part Three
Much of the clothing of the time was unisex. Clothing that was worn mainly by one gender or the other is marked below with (m) or (f). Descriptions are taken from entries in Regia Anglorum’s Basic Clothing Guide.
Shoes come down to us in various styles, and the York Archaeological Trust created a timeline that showed the various types in York. They were secured in various ways and were of different heights, though during this period they were not known to be higher than the just above the ankles.
They were all made of leather—goat leather was popular—and were turn-soled shoes. Welted, hard-soled shoes were not seen until the sixteenth century. Marc Carlson describes turn-soled shoes as “The shoe is made inside-out (with the flesh side outward) by sewing the lower edge of the upper to the edge of a single sole using an Edge-Flesh stitch. The shoe is then turned the right way round so that the grain side of the leather is on the outside of the shoe and the sole seam is now inside.”
Shoes of the time seem to have all been made from the same thickness of leather, but some shoes—especially by modern shoemakers—have soles of a heavier weight to increase its endurance and durability. It is worth noting that the soles are smooth (and not gridded or hobbed) and, therefore, quite slippery, though there is some suggestion that shoes of the time placed pitch on the soles to increase the amount of traction.
It is more appropriate to say that leather is water resistant rather than water proof. Leather has a tendency to absorb liquid, so that it will not be waterproof unless it is totally coated. A Norwegian reenacting group, Hands on History, makes turnshoes water resistant with liver oil, tallow, tar and bee’s wax cod. They note that liver oil is greatest ingredient.
Unless you are trying to mimic the discomfort of the period, putting in cushioned innersole that are unseen is generally not forbidden. Just as bringing necessary medicine is essential, so is making these very important compromises, and it is one of the compromises that is necessary.
Belts & Pouches
For our purposes, the difference between belts and sashes is that the belt—whether leather, card-woven or fabric—has a buckle and other furniture, such as strap ends, slides and plaques (obviously, the higher status you were, the more decorated the belt could be), though the belts you bring trekking should probably be rather simple and inexpensive. Belts and sashes were, for the most part thin and, from the buckles that are extant, no more than half an inch or three quarters of the inch in thickness. We allow belts to be an inch in thickness. The sashes might have been card-woven, fabric or merely cord or rope.
Tails of the belt should not be hanging down; this was a later fashion. A look at illustrations of belted tunics during the period and the popularity of belt slides also indicates that the ends of the belts were placed into the slide and not hung down from the buckle. Sashes were knotted, but lengthy tails might well be doubted.
Buckles, strap ends and slides were made of horn, bone or metal. Belts are not seen in illustrations, being obscured by rucked-up tunics or gowns.
Some illustrations suggest that the sash may have been wrapped around twice with a twist in it. Regia Anglorum notes that “It is interesting to note that strap ends but no buckles have been found in Viking women s graves, suggesting that waist ties rather than belts were worn.” Tools and personal ornaments are sometimes shown hanging from women’s sashes and tortoise brooches, but we cannot be sure how widespread this practice was.
Rather than going through a list of available types of pouches or purses, going through what might be contained in them and especially going through where and how they can be displayed—something covered exhaustively elsewhere, and we wrote an entire book on the subject—let us just make a statement. It is best to have a scrip that hangs from the neck. It is useful and can contain many useful things. These pouches may be fabric (hemp or flax linen) or leather. Pouches are seen in illustrations of the time, but Bible book bags of the time are extant and show how the pouches actually were made.
The other type of pouch you might want is a small drawstring pouch, but this is just cosmetic It is a great place to put in coins and slash silver, souvenirs and other inconsequential things. The drawstring pouch should be kept under your tunic for no other reason than to keep it safe.