Young Knights of the Empire

by Sir Robert Baden-Powell


Any fellow who means to be a backwoodsman, whether it is for pleasure or for work, should first of all get some practice at it at home.

For eight years of my life I hardly ever slept in a house and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But to enjoy it you must know how to make yourself comfortable in camp.

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The first thing to consider is what kind of substitute for a house you are going to have to protect you from bad weather. This depends a good deal on what kind of country you are in. In a forest you can, of course, get plenty of timber out of which to build huts, but it is not much use being able to build a log-hut and then to find yourself in the open desert of the Sahara.

The best all-round kind of camp-house is, of course, a tent. I had what is called a "Cabul" tent--a small square erection, seven feet long by seven feet wide, which can be opened or closed at either end, and has a double roof. I lived in this through the winter in Afghanistan, through snow and blizzard, in the greatest comfort. At one end I built a brick fireplace and chimney; and I built a low wall, two feet high, round the outside; this kept out all draughts and prevented snow from melting into the tent. And I lived there as cosily and comfortably as in a house.

In that same tent I afterwards lived in the blazing heat of the plains of India. Instead of the fireplace at the end to keep it hot, I had a great mat of Khuskhu's fibre stretched on a frame and kept always wet to keep it cool; the hot wind blowing through this was at once cooled, and kept the tent delightfully cold and fresh inside, and the double roof prevented the sun from baking it. And I had a punkah, or swinging fan, slung from the ridge-pole, and worked by a native from outside.

It was a sturdy little tent, too, and no gale could ever manage to blow it down. So you see it did equally well for every kind of climate and weather.

Another form of tent which I used in Mafeking and South Africa, and still use for sleeping out in, in England, is one which you would hardly call a tent. It is really a slungcot, with a movable canvas roof to it. It is called the "Ashanti Hammock."

[Illustration: A BIVOUAC SHELTER.]

It packs up quite small, and is put up in a few minutes. Requires no pegs. Keeps you off the wet ground. And when the gale comes and all the tents in camp blow down, you lie there swinging gently in the breeze, the envy of all the rest. It also forms an excellent stretcher if you are ill and have to be carried; and if you die it also makes a very satisfactory coffin, being laced over you as you lie in it. Very complete, isn't it?

[Illustration: THE ASHANTI HAMMOCK.]

There are tents of every sort and kind to be got, from a single-man tent up to a hospital tent for thirty beds. And there are also many kinds of camps there is a "standing" camp, where you remain in the same spot for weeks at a time, or a "tramping" camp, where you move on every day to a new place, and "boating" camp, where also you move but can carry your tent in your boat. But it is rather necessary to know which kind of camp you are making before you can tell which kind of tent you need.

As I have said in _Scouting for Boys_: "For a standing camp 'bell' tents are useful, or huts can be made. Bell tents can be hired in almost any town for a few shillings per week, or you can buy a second-hand one in good condition for about 2 Pounds.

"You could probably let it out on hire to other patrols when not using it yourself, and so get back your money on it. A bell tent, just holds a patrol nicely.

"Scouts' 'patrol' tents also do very well for camp, but you need a second set of staves or poles for rigging them if you want to leave the camp standing while you are out scouting.

"You can make your own tents during the winter months--and this, perhaps; is the best way of all, as it comes cheapest in the end. And if, while you are about it, you make one or two extra ones, you may be able to sell them at a good profit."

A "lean-to" tent is used by many backwoodsmen. It can be made with the Scouts' patrol tent on the same principle as the lean-to shelter described in _Scouting for Boys_.

If pitched with its back to the wind, with a good fire in front, it can be made a most luxurious bedroom on cold night. The roof catches all the warmth and glow of the fire, and you lie there warm in your blankets, yet breathing the fresh air of the forest or veldt and gazing at the stars. There is nothing better on earth.

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We will begin with the simplest and cheapest. Here is a one-man "tramp" tent, which is used by a certain class of gipsy in Scotland.


You want six hazel sticks, all exactly alike, about 3 ft. 6 in. long, just sufficiently pliant to bend over near the top, but not so thin as to be wobbly.

Each should be sharpened at the butt, and marked with a nick ten inches from the point to show how far to drive it into the ground. The points should be slightly charred in the fire to harden them.

Then you want a sheet of light canvas, or waterproofed linen, to form your tent, six feet square, with eyelets or loops along the sides.


Plant your sticks firmly in the ground, in two rows, two feet apart from each other. Bend the tops inwards to form an archway. Over these arches spread your canvas to form a kind of tunnel tent, and peg down the loops to the ground.

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This is, perhaps, an equally simple tent. The roof, or "fly," can be 6 ft. by 6 ft. Two poles, 3 ft. 6 in., should be planted firmly-at least six inches in the ground.

A stout ridge-rope should be stretched tightly between them, and tied at the top of each, and then securely fixed to a tent peg well driven into the ground in front of each end of the tent.

[Illustration: "BIVOUAC" TENT.]

The edges of the "fly" all round should have large metal eyelets, by which the sides of the tent can be pegged to the ground, and flaps can be laced on at the ends to give protection against wind and rain, etc.

Instead of using pegs at the sides, it is equally good to lace the edge along a stout log, or to a rope stretched tight, or a pole, and well anchored in the ground.

Then you have the "patrol" tent of canvas, as described in _Scouting for Boys_, which is carried in pieces, which lace together, and, with the staves of the patrol as supports, form the tent for six or eight boys. These are very easy to make in a couple of evenings.

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The "Cabul" tent, mentioned previously, was the kind that we used in the war in Afghanistan.

Cabul is the chief town of that country.

These tents are equally comfortable in snow and rain, or in the baking heat of the plains of India.


It has an extra roof to keep out the sun or heavy rain. A tent like this, with two roofs, is called a "double-fly" tent. It is, of course, heavier and more expensive than a "single-fly," but it is also more comfortable.

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The horizontal "ridge-pole," 5 ft. 9 in. long, has an iron eyelet at each end The outer fly rests on this. The loops of the inner fly also hang from it to hold up the inner roof.

[Illustration: INNER "FLY" OF "CABUL" TENT]

[Illustration: OUTER "FLY" OF "CABUL" TENT]

[Illustration: CABUL TENT-POLES.]

The upright poles are six feet high; each of these is fitted with an iron cap and spike at the top to fit the eyelets of the ridge-pole. Each is also fitted with a circular wooden disc at one foot from the top; this supports the inner fly, the upper part of each pole having been passed through the hole at either end of the inner fly-roof.

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Before starting to make your tent, you should, in the first place, have a good look at ready-made tents, and see exactly how they are made-especially at the edges.


You should always make a model of the tent you propose to construct, first with paper, to scale, so as to get the proper dimensions, and then with linen, with string and poles complete, to see how to cut it out in the right sizes. Afterwards, you can proceed to make the real, article.

This, again, is best done by cutting it out in newspapers pasted together and spread out on the floor. These paper cuttings then serve as "patterns," on which you can cut your canvas without wasting any of it.

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The kind of stuff to use for tent making depends a good deal on how much you can afford for material, and what work you want the tent for.

Thus, if you want a very light tent for carrying on your back or bicycle, and have plenty of money, a silk tent at 4s. a yard is very nice; but probably you would like one of cheaper material, and fairly light and strong.

Lawn, made of Egyptian cotton, calico sheeting, or brown calico makes a very satisfactory tent at an outlay of 10s. or so for the whole thing complete.

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After having purchased your stuff, and cut it out according to the paper pattern, pin it, or tack it, all together, and see how it fits.

Then stitch the seams together, using cotton, not thick thread.

[Illustration: STEEP SIDES TOO WIDE.]

Seams should be double-stitched-that is, the edges of the two pieces of canvas should overlap, and each be stitched to the other piece. At all points where a strain is likely to come on the canvas-namely, at the corners and at places where eyelets for ropes have to come, it is best to have a strengthening patch of canvas sewn over the other canvas.

Then wide, stout tape should be sewn along the edge of the canvas wherever there is to be any strain on it, such as eyelet holes for ropes, or hooks and eyes, or strings for closing the ends of the tent, etc.

Often in woods you can find two trees standing, say, eight feet apart. If you have a six-foot tent, you can use these for tent poles by tying ("lashing" is the word used by sailors and Scouts) each end of the ridge of the tent to a tree.

This can be more easily done if your ridge is strengthened with a tape sewn inside it, and made into a loop at each end. It is always as well to make these loops on your tents, as they come in useful in other ways.

A strip of canvas is often stitched on to the foot of the tent, as shown in the picture, either to hold it down with pegs or stones, or to be turned inwards underneath your ground sheet to prevent draughts coming in under the wall.

A tent should not be made wider than its height, because the roof will not be steep enough to run the rain off quickly, and so will let it through more easily.

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The poles should not be made of any weak wood liable to split or break, but of tough elm, hickory, ash, or bamboo.

For small tents of about five feet high they need be only one to one-and-a-half inches thick.

For heavy tents of over ten feet long and over six feet high, they have to be at least two inches thick. Bamboos are generally tougher than wood, so need not be quite so stout.

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Tent pegs may be easily made of wood, but should be of a tough kind that does not split easily. They are generally made in the shape shown below, about ten inches long.

You can also get them of iron, but these, though they do not break, do not hold quite so well in the ground, and are heavy to carry. Aluminium ones are lighter, expensive, and inclined to bend.

Then you can use stones or logs instead of pegs, and what I like best of all is half a dozen canvas bags filled with earth or stones and buried in the ground as anchors. These can be used equally well in sandy, muddy, or stony ground, where ordinary pegs would never hold.

These bags are easily made during your winter evenings, and can be used for carrying your kit from camp to camp. They also make useful buckets and washing basins. They should be made of stout duck or canvas.

The top edge of this canvas should be folded over and stitched in order to give strength.

The handles are made of half-inch rope, passed through brass eyelets, let into the canvas below the stitching? the ends of the rope being knotted inside.

In cutting out you must allow an extra inch for turning in at the edges and joining to the other pieces.

Supposing that you have not the time or means for getting tents and that you are going into camp where there are plenty of trees, and you have got the right to use them, then some of the following tips may be of use to you.

[Illustration: CORRECT TENT PEGS.]

[Illustration: A HANDY BAG.]

A bivouac shelter, as described in _Scouting for Boys_, is the simplest and best form of hut, and is easily made in an hour. Two upright stakes are driven firmly into the ground, with a ridge pole placed in position along the tops. Against this a number of poles should be made to lean from the windward aide, with cross-bars to support the branches, reeds, sods, or twigs, or whatever is to form your roofing material.

For a single man this shelter can be made quite small, _i.e._, about 3 ft. high in front, and 3 ft. wide and 6 ft. long.

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You build your fire about 4 ft. in front of this, and lie in it alongside your fire.

If the "shack" is for more than one man, you build it 5 ft. or 6 ft. high in front, and 5 ft. deep, so that several fellows can lie alongside each other, feet to the fire.

When you start to thatch your framework, begin at the bottom and lay your roofing material on in layers, one above the other in the way that slates are put on a roof. In this way you may make it watertight.

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For thatching you can use thick spruce branches, or grass, reeds, sods, slabs of wood or bark (called "shingles"), or small twigs of heather closely woven in.

It is generally advisable to lay a few branches and stout poles over the thatch when finished in order to keep it on if a gale springs up.

[Illustration: FRAMEWORK.]

If you want to build a complete hut, you can make a lean-to from each side on the same ridge-pole; but the single lean-to, with its fire in front of it, is quite good enough for most people.

Another way to build a shelter hut is to lean a ridge-pole or backbone from the ground into the fork of a small tree about 5 ft. above the ground, the butt of the pole being about 4 ft. to windward of the tree. Then put up a few side poles leaning against this, and roof over in the same way as for a lean-to. Build your fire just in front of this, and you will have a very safe and cosy little house.

[Illustration: THATCHING.]

In country where there are no trees to make poles with, like parts of South Africa, where there is only a lot of small thorn bush and long grass, you can make "scherms," or loose thorn bushes piled in a heap and made into a small horse-shoe, arched over, back to wind, and covered or roughly thatched with grass.

These, with a fire in front, make very good shelter against cold wind or against sun, and, if covered with a canvas waggon-sail or tarpaulin, make a good enough protection against rain and against very hot sun. A "scherm" can be made with heather or gorse--only look out for its catching fire!

[Illustration: A SHELTER HUT.]

Remember that to make a tent or hut cool in hot sun put on more roof--put blankets over the top of your tent, and bank up the sides near the ground. But if you want to make your tent or hut warm, take care to thicken the walls at the foot to prevent draughts coming in along the floor.

Also never forget that your floor is on raised ground, not in a hollow that will become a pool in wet weather.

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