A Review of Two Books by Warren H. “cap” Miller ~ Camp Craft and Camping out

Warren “Cap” Miller’s Camping Out and Camp Craft are some of the best “how-to” books on Camping.

Camp Craft: Modern Practice and Equipment (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915) and Camping Out(Geo. H. Doran Company, NY, 1917-1918) are two of my favorite “how-to” camping books, written by Warren Hastings “Cap” Miller (1876-1960).  Miller is best known today for being the founding editor of Field and Stream magazine during the early years of the 20th Century.   Though neither Camp Craft or Camping Out are still in print, they can be found on eBay.  Note however, that prices for good copies have risen dramatically over the past couple of years.  (Here’s a heads-up for David Wescott and Steve Watts – please include some of Miller’s photos and illustrations in at least one of the seven volumes of your upcoming Wescott and Watts Classic Camping Field Guides book series.)  If you can’t find one or both of the books, they are also available in pdf format here:

Camp Craft: http://www.archive.org/details/campcraftmodernp00millrich

Camping Out: http://www.archive.org/details/campingout00mill

It is an interesting fact that the outdoor writers of the woodcraft period were a small, close knit bunch and these two books illustrate that. The introduction to Camp Craftwas written by Ernest Thompson Seton.  The book also prominently featured a photograph of Dan Beard awarding a first prize to the Miller designed Forester tent, a very popular lightweight two-person shelter of the day.  Outfitter David T. Abercrombie, of Abercrombie & Fitch fame, was a regular camping companion of Millers.  At the time, Abercrombie was the largest distributor and manufacturer of the finest camping equipment available, beginning in 1892 until his death in 1931.  Because of their association, many photos in Camp Craft feature Abercrombie (he is in the photo with Dan Beard, on the far right).  Camping Out casually describes an outing made with Edward “Eddie” Breck, an enthusiastic camper who authored his own woodcraft book (The Way of the Woods, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, NY and London, 1908).

In Camp Craft, Miller stated that he’d camped on average, four times a year for the previous 27 years. However, Miller’s trips were often much longer than campers of today, averaging six weeks!.  Miller had a degree in mechanical engineering and was an inveterate tinkerer who was generally dissatisfied with much of the camping equipment of his day.  Being in the field in all seasons, temperatures and conditions, Miller had ample opportunity to design and test equipment of his own design.  With his background in engineering, Miller had the know-how to turn his progressive ideas of camping equipment into reality.  Though he was limited to the technology of the day, Miller did not adopt the gear he used simply out of tradition.  He designed, crafted, sewed, and experimented with tents, packs, sleeping bags and other gear that were quite advanced compared to what was then available.  One of his tent designs, inspired by an Inuit shelter he’d seen (his “Esquimaux” tent), was a winter tent created from joining a small “A” tent to one side of a 6’x6’ ft. square tepee.  It would sleep five adults and could be outfitted with a 2 1/4 lb., 28 gauge steel stove for cold weather use.  The Esquimaux tent weighed just six pounds!  In the summer, the small “A” tent could be detached and used separately.  Such a tent would be considered a remarkable shelter today.  Another example, while  most woodcraft writers of the day mentioned only Hudson Bay  point blankets as camp bedding, Miler included an entire chapter to “Eliminating the Blanket” in Camp Craft.  He hated the bulk of blankets and favored a sleeping bag/pack contraption he designed in order to dramatically reduce bulk.  Miller is a product of his time and of course his books reflect that (though his belief that women could and should go camping was more progressive than some), yet, his focus on improvising, creating or otherwise improving equipment makes both books seem more modern than many of those written by his peers.

Both books are written in a very personal style as if Cap was having a conversation with you at dinner or around the campfire.  He tells you stories of past trips with fast friends, of canoeing and camping in places you’d like to go, and all the while providing great detail about every item of equipment or technique he thinks important.   His books were also lavishly illustrated with many photographs and illustrations.  All in all, I think Cap Miller’s books are among the best ever written on woodcraft and traditional camping.  Do yourself a favor and read Camp Craft and Camping Out.

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4 Responses to “A Review of Two Books by Warren H. “cap” Miller ~ Camp Craft and Camping out”

  1. David Wescott Says:

    I posted this somewhere else last week, but I don’t know if it got to you, so here it is again.
    Ok, my old friend – even though we have never met – we seem to have been on the same path for quite some time. Steve Watts whom I have partnered up with is another of the clan. Would you please drop me a line so we can communicate? I think it would be good for us to chat. Thanks, David Wescott

    PS – Thanks for the title of the father of today’s traditional camping movement, but that’s hardly the case. There are many people who could be credited with that contribution.

  2. Brent Payne Says:

    Wherever you posted this comment, I never saw it. Thanks for trying again. I have been consumed with reading about, and learning/practicing traditional camping skills for the past eight to ten years. When I was a youngster I read Ellsworth Jaeger, ET Seton, Dan Beard and Cal Rutstrum and though I loved what they had to say, by the time I was an adult, I considered their methods novel but outdated. Camping in the Old Style changed my outlook. It was your book that crystalized everything for me. So did the Conover’s Winter Wilderness Companion. The Training Skills you provide in Camping in the Old Style have served as the learning objectives for my personal journey.

  3. David Wescott Says:

    By the way, your post stimulated me to make contact with Warren Miller Jr. He had called me right after Camping In The Old Style came out in 2000 and we chatted for a while, but I never followed up. I decided to add to what you posted here by doing a short bio of Miller (I’ve never seen one anywhere else), adding some photos from his books and some Warren Jr. sent me, along with a bibliographic list (at least as complete as we could get it together), and post it at http://campandtrailblog.blogspot.com/. I’ll have it up in the next day or two. Let me know what you think.

  4. Brent Payne Says:

    David,

    I can’t wait to read the Warren Miller bio. You were fortunate to have that connection to him – one degree of separation!

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