May 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm #1236214
Has anyone experimented with natural fabrics such as waterproofed hemp canvas for making your own backpack, tarp tent, or wool for a ground pad, etc.?
Backpacking is all about communion for me and sometimes I find that the tactile experience of interacting with all of this petroleum based material is distracting.
I realize that using natural fibers will add some weight but I would be willing to add a couple pounds.May 9, 2009 at 2:22 pm #1500224
@jcarter1Locale: Pacific Northwest
Hmm, you specify two different limits; your title says organic, but then you say do don't like the petroleum products. Since this isn't food we're talking about, I think you should clarify what you mean by organic, since petroleum IS organic. And the silicon is organic, in so much as rocks are organic. Do you mean renewable? Do you mean non-dyed/unbleached? Or do you mean pre-industrial (i.e. no bright-orange plastic-looking fabrics)? An elephant skin tent with ivory poles is organic, but I don't think that's what you want. A down bag with silk fabric is organic, but will you tolerate bright synthetic dyes? East Asian cultures have for thousands of years dyed their silk clothing bright colors, which can look very similar to some of the petroleum products. So are you looking for Western Pioneer organic (muted colors, local fabrics), or can you still wear bright red so long as it is 'organic'? Further, some would argue using petroleum-based synthetic insulation is more humane than using goose down. Finally, are you looking for comercially available organic? That's harder to find, as it will always be more expensive, or are you willing to make/hunt down your own fabrics?
I'm sorry to play devil's advocate here, I'm just pointing out that your topic non-specific, and there are a vast number of local 'natural' products that vary widely amongst many cultures. It was the synthetic products that unified the global fabric world. Tell us what your philosopy is, and we can help you narrow down on the materials.
I'm only being mean like this because I have thought about going non-synthetic for years, and haven't been able to find suitable substitutes, particularly in the lightweight waterproof category.May 9, 2009 at 2:37 pm #1500227
It seems I couldn't resist resorting to a catchy sounding cliche.
Thanks for keeping me honest.
My question is this: Is it possible to create an ultralight gear list using natural fibers for the fabric based items: tent, backpack, clothes, sleeping bag and pad. Or are these materials just too heavy and low tech for such a purpose? It seems that wool and waterproofed hemp are two potential materials.
I'm not against using petroleum based materials for water bottles, flashlight etc.May 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm #1500230
@jcarter1Locale: Pacific Northwest
Thanks; I just didn't know if you were looking at this from a purely engineering question (i.e. get BPL to research and manufacture quality natural fiber materials), or if you were looking for a 'go back to the earth' kind of experience. And even I'll admit; I'd love to hike around with one of those Elven wool cloaks used in Lord of the Rings, carrying an ash bow and bone knife. =)
Now this could be an interesting discussion; I'll be curious to see what others suggest. I wonder if you can create sil-hemp. That would be waterproof and use natural fibers. If not, most natural fibers would have to be oiled, and then you are adding significant weight and you're still not fully waterproof. Certainly it wouldn't be very breathable. Your insulating jacket would probably be the toughest to get lightweight and reasonably affordable.
Seems the backpack and shirt would be the easiest, since many natural fibers would work for packs, and smartwool/cotton are the obvious shirt choices. I've seen instructions for woven backpacks using palm fronds or various tall grasses.
Pants would be trickier, but I would think hemp or cotton would be fine. A wool kilt would be a better performer, as I imagine hemp dries out slowly like cotton, but wool pants would be too hot.May 9, 2009 at 2:59 pm #1500231
My thoughts so far have been in the direction of using a tarp tent that doubles as a rain poncho using 12 oz hemp. I found a waterproofing solution at http://www.trek7.com/what-is-the-best-way-to/waterproof-fabric Has anyone used this stuff?May 9, 2009 at 3:10 pm #1500236
Hey, maybe there's something to that "Elven cloak" idea. It could double as a ground cloth and would be very useful as camouflage when hunting orcs.May 9, 2009 at 4:28 pm #1500247
@vickrhinesLocale: Central Texas
Yes. I have made a nice pack of all cotton marine duck, but it weighs 2 pounds. Balloon cotton would probably get it under 1 pound, but I have not been able to find it. The hemp canvas I have found is upholstery grade and not suitable for packs. My favorite bicycle panniers are also marine duck and allow me to pack my down sleeping bag without any other protection even in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Marine duck is very water resistant. My first down quilt/comforter used a balloon cotton shell. But it weighed about 3 pounds. Perhaps higher quality down could have make it lighter.
High quality outdoor gear was made with natural fibers until fairly recently. During the 1960s the North Face made cotton (so-called 'balloon silk', actually cotton) mountaineering tents, and others continued this through the 1970s. As noted above, cotton packs (if made of adequate fabric) can be very weatherproof and have the additional virtue of breathing so they don't get clammy and sticky inside. The first waterproof/breathable rain gear were the British "ventile" jackets made of cotton woven so tightly that it would fray where it was folded tightly – as along French seams. The cotton would swell when wet, sealing the pores. They were not as good as modern W/B garments, only adequate, and they were heavy – about 2 pounds. Oiled cotton outerwear is about the same.
There are many natural fibers that could work for near-UL gear: long-staple cotton, hemp, silk, etc. – but there does not seem to be a market for suitable fabrics. In any case, the weight of natural fabrics is high and the strength is low compared to modern synthetics.May 9, 2009 at 4:41 pm #1500253
Take a look at Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart.
Royce Tent: half pyramid, 7'9" high x7.5'x7.5', 4 lbs made from 'lightly waterproofed Lonsdale Cambric'[a cotton fabric, but no idea what it is].
Kephart also mentions a light weight kit:
Silk tent, down sleeping bag, cook kit, 7 lbs.
He has recipes for waterproofing wool, canvas, etc, and many ideas for light weight backpacking circa 1920.
What people used back then was silk for ultralight tents, cotton for light weight and cotton canvas for heavy.
Lightweight wool pants, shirts, and long johns are available, but sometimes hard to find. Merino wool base layers are fine.
Silk is available as light as 0.5 oz per square yard, lighter than silnylon.
For 5 season outerwear and tents, Ventile cotton is the hot fabric (5th season = arctic/antarctic winter). It's just really expensive. There's someplace in
Why hemp fabrics?? Does it have advantages over cotton or silk. Cotton has the advantage that fine woven cotton the threads expand and make it more watertight so you can make a good steep sided tent/tarp if you can find the right fabric.
Long staple Egyptian cotton is great stuff but hard to find.
http://www.tentsmiths.com/egyptian-cotton-tents.htmlMay 9, 2009 at 4:48 pm #1500256
That's good stuff. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
I assumed that hemp was stronger than cotton and more UV resistant based on website research. Not true?May 10, 2009 at 3:31 am #1500337
@maynard76Locale: New England
Ive been considering a fossil fuel free, or low impact lightweight gear list for a long time.
Ive slowly fazed out synthetic fiber clothing where it makes sense- after all wool is so much nicer than the slick clammy synthetics on my skin.
Some things to consider:
– wool, and when appropriate silk and cotton clothing.
– down with silk shell for insulation (already mentioned)
– silk can be used to make hammocks.
– look at traditional pack baskets as well -don't know what a light weight one would weigh?
– Ive heard the army has a silicone treated cotton thats water resistent.
– bamboo or wooden spoon
– use fire to cook with, alcohol is not so bad either.
These are pretty easy to do, though a pack may weigh more than the SUL ones I like my packs to be more durable anyway and I'm willing to carry a heavier pack as long its still in the lightweight range.
Here are the limiting factors:
-Waterproof resistant and waterproof breathable shells and
Light weight and packable waterproof shelter materials.
synthetics are excellent for their water resistance and waterproofness. I don't know of a good non synthetic fabric for a tarp or a waterproof/breathable material that is light enough to be a reasonable substitute. Also many of these things are very expensive. For instance I know of a good place that can teach me to make a pack basket from scratch- like "cut down the ash tree and pound it out" scratch, but it will cost too much for me now. Experimenting with silks and lightweight silicon/Egyptian cotton for tarp material is also too expensive.
Would love to hear anyone with more ideas and experience with lightweight natural fabrics.May 10, 2009 at 7:35 am #1500350
LL Bean sells pack baskets. I got one for my ex-wife and I'd guess it weighs 2,3,4 lb. Heavier than light packs but lighter than big heavy packs.
http://www.llbean.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?categoryId=40202&storeId=1&catalogId=1&langId=-1&from=SR&feat=srMay 10, 2009 at 7:50 am #1500353
"Experimenting with silks and lightweight silicon/Egyptian cotton for tarp material is also too expensive."
Habotai silk isn't expensive, $2.30/yard 36" width. 5 mm (mm=momme, not millimeters) weighs around 0.5 oz I think. I think Bill Fornshell has used habotai silk, but not for a tent (quilt lining??). I don't know what silk used to be used for tents.
http://www.silkconnection.com/products/fabric/silk/habotai/May 10, 2009 at 7:54 am #1500355
Piper S.BPL Member
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Basket weaving isn't that hard, although it takes practice to get a good shape. You could make a pack basket from cattails or tule much easier than from wood and it might be lighter than wood, too.May 10, 2009 at 8:20 am #1500358
Miguel ArboledaBPL Member
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Back in 2006 a number of us discussed some ideas for natural ultralight gear. Take a look HereMay 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm #1500383
Bill FornshellBPL Member
@bfornshellLocale: Southern Texas
Don't rule out paper, but not your normal everyday paper.
the Japanese have made paper from a lot of different fibers for several hundreds of years. They even made garments out of it. Some of it is very strong. You can even spin paper into yarn and weave it into yards of material. That yardage can then be made into many different things.
I spent 30 days in Japan several years ago on a Fiber Arts Program. One of the things I learned how to do was spin paper into yarn. When I got home I did a few weavings using the paper I turned into yarn. ( I also was able to get in a little hiking in the mountains north of Kyoto, Japan)
Using the right fiber based paper and putting a coat or two of starch on it you can get it sort of water proof. I am not sure how it would take to folding it up to pack everyday but I would think it would roll up without hurting it.
There have been many things used over the ages to water proof things. We also have a lot of different modern day things to waterproof fiber if you wanted to use one of them.May 12, 2009 at 7:21 am #1500740
@finallymeLocale: Utah desertMay 12, 2009 at 8:45 am #1500773
Reading the revenlore site reminds me that natural fibers take longer to dry and mold and mildew find them edible. So always dry your gear and air out thoroughly when you get home and as best you can on the trail.
That Kochanski winch is really clever.
http://www.ravenlore.co.uk/html/kochanski_winch.htmlOct 23, 2011 at 2:15 pm #1794056
Sorry its long i hope i can catch your eye
Rope and Chords
Mosquito Net (4 corner bed cover)
Yoga Mat (organic rubber)
Spring Roll Ceramic/Carbon Water Filter Bag –
Weatherproof your tarp naturally
Set it out in the rain, and let it soak, the fibers will expand and become waterproof once dry. i also had the idea to wax it lightly with beeswax, like a surfboard, and set it in the sun, or soak it in warm water to let the wax spread through (haven't tried it).
Elven Cloak with no sewing: look at the youtube link
Get a Wool Blanket that can cover your body, Two Rocks, and some String:
Wrap your body in the blanket with an open torso and excess over your shoulders, Put one rock on either side of your neck/shouder-blade on the underside of your blanket, now tie the string around both rocks from the outside of the blanket, so the blanket is fastened to the rocks, and it should rest on your shoulders like a cloak. If you have excess on your shoulders you can pull a hood over your head
Set up the Tarp
Set it up like the tarp on a hennessy hammock and sleep on your Yoga mat wrapped in wool and surrounded by mosquito net. Catch water off your tarp at both sloped corners and pour it into the Ceramic Filter Bag.
To learn how to organically clean and remove mildew from all these organic camping items go here:
http://www.essene.com/B%27nai-Amen/purity.htmOct 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm #1794094
Mark FowlerBPL Member
In most instances synthetics offer fantastic benefits over natural fibres but we often forget that they really only replaced natural fibres in the last 30 – 40 years.
In Australia we had quite lightweight single skin tents made of cotton japara well into the 1980's. They were of simple A or walled design, with floor (PU nylon) and screens as options. They suffered the standard problem of leaking if they were touched but weighed around 2kg for a 2 person tent. There were 3 cotton fabrics used. The lightest of the fabrics was "Golden Tan" which, along with the standard green, was proofed with a parrafin wax mixture while the most stormworthy (Stormtite) was proofed with a very light pu coating.
The secret in the performance of these fabrics was not just the very tight weave but the high level of twist in the yarn. It was finding a weaving mill which could produce the twist became increasingly hard as the British cotton weaving industry disintegrated and the older looms disappeared.
Similarly we had "japara" rain jackets (around 700 grams) which were cotton proofed with an oil which would dry out – the name terbine comes to mind. Sleeping bag shells were also cotton.
Looking at an 11th edition copy of Paddy Pallin's Bushwalking and Camping (first published in 1933 – one of the earliest books on lightweight walking?) he gives a base weight of 8kg which would reduce to 5-6 kg with with only a lighter sleeping bag (1.7 kg) and pack (1.6 kg) and easily go sub 5 kg. A 1970 catalogue of his gear can be found at http://bushwalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=5040
I am about to build one of the water buckets in sil nylon. It should be less than 30 grams (1 oz) with 4-5 litre capacity. The design is self supporting and pours easily.Oct 24, 2011 at 11:15 am #1794344
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
In response to one of the above post, the Army was working on silicon encapsulated cotton for a rainjacket as their Gore ECCWS system is pretty heavy for their latest layering system. Didn't see it in their Afghanistan Gen III ECWCS kit however, as they had a very light double layer Gore product with just pocket holes ("pass through" pockets*) for handwarming in the underlying fleece (pretty neat design IMO but they took it back when I retired – waiting for an enterprising clothing line to copy that design, preferably in a neutral black or gray, don't want to wear camo again .. but I digress).
There's also "performance cotton" coming out from OR (iirc) next year. Might check it out for hot weather trips next year (with a synthetic layer in the pack just in case) and see how it goes.
(ed: *found new clothing term)Oct 24, 2011 at 11:37 am #1794354
Dale WambaughBPL Member
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
Companies like Filson have made waxed/oiled cotton gear for a long time, but not UL. I'm sure that lighter options could be made– I think it is an understatement Filson doesn't use any UL principles in design and leans to durability.
My cotton Tilley hat comes to mind as well as my merino wool socks and beanie. The classic Scottish great kilt is another– nine yards of wool plaid!
We had treated cotton canvas pyramid tents when I was a Boy Scout in the 1960's. They weren't Cuben by an means, but workable. They relied on surface tension for water repellency and you didn't dare touch the sides.
I'll bet you can find good information from suppliers to reenactment and other historical groups.Jan 27, 2012 at 10:17 am #1830481
@vdealLocale: West Virginia
Just found this thread and I have to say that this has been a re-occuring idea running through my head for something like 15 years now. The Ravenlore site is fascinating. Scott – any updates, especially on the coated hemp tarp?Jan 28, 2012 at 10:24 pm #1831132
@coreyfmillerLocale: Eastern Canada
Hemp is great but it is no where near competing with synthetic fabrics.Your mattress alone would probably weight 4-8 pounds.. Were talking cowboy territory here.Jan 29, 2012 at 11:55 am #1831269
@socal-nomadLocale: North San Diego county
My family has a cotton family tent with no floor my Grandfather bought in the the late 1940's he passed it down to my Dad we used it quite a bit it stunk like hell from the chemicals the cloth was soaked in to make it water proof. Now my little brother use it once a while one problem is it weighs about 40 lbs and still stinks like chemicals.
In my town we have organic shop that sells all kinds of stuff manufacture with hemp even skateboard wheels. They also have backpacks made with reclaimed petroleum based fabrics nylons like Patagonia use. That would be lighter weight to make them earth friendly nylon for light weight tents.
Patagonia started the reclaimed fabrics made from empty plastic bottles they even use reclaimed foam blanks for surfboards they manufacture for years. I still own two Patagonia fleece pull overs made out of reclaimed plastic bottles I bought around 1995 and the fleece is still great condition. Compared to other fleece that pills and wear out over years.
TerryJan 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm #1831326
Rusty BeaverBPL Member
"Your mattress alone would probably weight 4-8 pounds".
A full length sleeping mat could be made from Tule that would be along the lines of a 1/2" closed cell foam mat in terms of comfort and warmth. Many Native Americans, and I'm sure people from many other cultures, used these.
Based on the other things I have made from Tule, I'm guessing it would weigh between 8 and 12 oz. The down side is that it would be bulky….a manageable bulk though if fastened to the outside of the pack. And, one would have to learn how to "twine" to make one….though it's an easy method to learn on ones own. Also, rather than make ones own cordage to twine with (which does take a learning curve), a person could twine with commercially available hemp string.
I have been meaning to make one of these for a long time. Even have the Tule.
To the original poster: I have yet to read all the way through this thread so this may have already been mentioned but….this is an area in which primitive skills would suit you well. For instance, there are a variety of things that can be made from Tule and Cattail leaves that would be light by any standards (here's a sample of a few things I have made from Tule & Cattail http://www.earthenexposure.com/primitivetechnology/misc.htm ). However, to go all (or mostly) handmade, from all natural materials and still be light…..one would need to adhere to a strict regimen of minimalism. It would be a challenge, fun and liberating.
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