All posts by smithlloyd

So why did the Foresters guild actually succeed?

As ideas for an SCA special interest group go, the SCA Foresters Guild sure does not work on paper. Yeah so guys, I got this idea for a group… we are going to sleep outside in all weather with minimal gear and without proper tents, and without the aid of modern camping equipment. It will take hours to cook anything like we are used to eating and the amount of wood we need to cut and split every year will be enormous. Oh and we will typically dress like peasants and you will never be able to get an award of recognition for any of our activities… So who’s with me? Well we did have a lot of support from key people and a bit of luck along the way.

Many special interest groups come and go in the SCA. I have been around long enough to see some of them rise and fall and have figured out many of the reasons why. That said, a bit of luck always helps in setting up a group. It is worth noting that if you wish to create a special interest group within the SCA, be that a household or a guild, there are a few do’s and don’ts that are worth remembering.

I have seen houses that were based on popular songs, I have seen houses that were based on TV shows, and movies in popular culture. I have also seen houses that were cults of personality based around the ego of a single individual. I have seen houses that were based on an activity, or a selection of activities, and houses based on a specific culture or time period. Many of these groups no longer exist for one reason or another. Houses are very easy to create so there are lots of them. Because there are lots of them, most fail. Guilds are a little harder to create. There are rules to be obeyed and hoops to jump though. For this reason there are far fewer of them but they still run the risk of being irrelevant or fading into obscurity. That said, guilds have a little better chance to succeed than houses as they cannot be the work of a single person.

The Foresters will some day probably fade into memory as well since all things are temporary. That said, it is succeeding wildly in its infancy where many other groups have faded slowly, burnt out quickly, or self destructed. As mentioned above, creating a new group based on a popular song will be successful so long as the song remains popular. Once it fades into memory, good luck recruiting more new members. The same is true for fads and trends. At one time Scottish persona were all the rage. You still see a few, but “Braveheart” (one of the worst costumed movies in history) is now 20 years old and the ubiquitous Scottish special interest groups have faded to a normal background level. Right now Persian garb is extremely popular complete with people painting themselves in “brown face”. I suspect this has a limited life span as it is only a matter of time until someone asks the question; “If medieval African garb suddenly became popular, would we paint our faces an even darker brown? or is that just racist?” I don’t have an answer, but I would put creating a special interest group where you paint your skin to match another ethnic group firmly in the “don’t” category. Wearing blue woad paint or geisha make up is probably still OK for now. Woad paint wearers of the East still may not make the most successful special interest group though.

So what are the do’s and don’ts? Well all I can offer is my opinion so it will not be 100% accurate or complete but I can tell you what I have learned from watching things over a couple decades.

The Do’s

  • Rotate leadership. Do not burn yourself out on the thing you like so much. Also allow others a chance to lead the group. New people have new ideas and that will keep your group fresh and valid. Leaders should change every year or two.
  • Appoint or elect officers. At the bare minimum every group needs a financial person and a secretary. If your group does not need officers it is still a good idea to have them anyway. A council will always make wiser decisions than an autocrat.
  • Create a valid SCA interest/activity group. There are lots of interesting things in the medieval period that are expressly forbidden by the SCA. Hunting and jousting are good examples. It is pretty hard to create a group where your main activity is outlawed by the SCA rules. While medieval people enjoyed bear baiting and cat burning, these are things best not recreated.
  • Make the group accessible to all. One thing that will make a successful group is diversity. Maybe not everyone can excel to the top but everyone should be able to belong and feel like they are an equal member with equal say. The popular girls that will not let you sit with them at lunch are not a group that can last any length of time. When they run out of people to torment they turn on one another.
  • Lead from the front. The best motto for being a leader of a group that I can think of is; “No one has to work harder than me”. If you are leading a group then you need to get in there and roll up your sleeves and not turn up your nose. If you have expectations of others to do the heavy lifting while you rest on your laurels, then those that do the work will only stay around so long as they think they are getting something out of it. When they realize it is a one way street, the group falls apart.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t rely on close friends. While it is tempting to create a friend group where you and your closest friends can hang out and “be the thing”, this is a bit of a disaster waiting to happen. It gets worse if money is involved. Inevitably people will follow the leader out of friendship and burn themselves out working for the group. Resentment occurs when someone is not pulling their weight or is taking too much. Ultimately it is easier to work with casual acquaintances. The best advice is to work within your group with people you only know casually instead of directly with long time friends. This stops a lot of conflict before it begins.
  • Do not be hierarchical. As Medieval as it is to be a hierarchy, a group where the top members are fixed is nothing more than a cult of personality designed to flatter the ego of a single person. This will create animosity and resentment and even if successful for a time it only remains valid so long as the leader is constantly validated or interested. Once the leader loses interest, the group collapses. Some structured groups that center on a figure do work however, but then only so long as the figure is active in the SCA.
  • Don’t create a group that annoys others. While you may be thinking that just what the SCA needs is a 15th century bagpipers guild, or the Screeching Satanic Choir of the Chattering Nuns of the Order of St. Beyrl; that is not really the sort of group that the SCA really needs. Inevitably it will be you and your group banging on your drums while everyone around you suffers from your A&S. Your ‘naalbinding cat costumes’ group while niche specific will have less enemies. If your group can practice its interest without bothering the rest of the populous at events, then it will have a much easier time being supported. If not, well there is a lot to be said for private gatherings.
  • Don’t get hung up on credit. The best way to make a group fall apart is to do things specifically to make yourself look good. If you have such a need to look good, you have to ask yourself if you really are all that good? Confidence does not require validation, that is for the cults of personality.  If your group shares success and failure then everyone gets to share in any positive things that occur. When something is for “the group”, everyone should get to have their piece of cake regardless of who bakes it or payed for it. A group should not service one person or a few people. If you cannot commit to this, generally there will be animosity in the group as it leans towards being elitist.
  • Don’t award yourself titles. If you create a group it can be tempting to call yourself The Bandit King or the Supermaster Lord Stonecutter. If there are ranks or titles to be earned within your group, the leadership, even in the beginning should prove to the members that they are qualified. Nothing will foster resentment any faster than the groups creators setting higher standards for the members, than they originally set for themselves. Guilds generally use apprentice, journeyman, and master as well as officer titles so it is a little easier if there is clear criteria for advancement.
  • Don’t be the Autocrat. Just because you are appointed or elected leader of a group does not mean you can be a dictator. You are held above the members of the group briefly, but by the members themselves. Should you lose their support you will fall and likely bring the group with you. If you like to give marching orders and get off on power, leadership is probably not for you. Those that would lead must first serve but you should never take pleasure in the servitude of others, or see to it that new members have a miserable initiation.

Getting it right?

The Foresters guild adhered to these do’s and don’ts and also had a bit of luck on the way as well. The fact that there is a resurgence in traditional outdoor skills within the last decade has created an environment where many people are drawn to the group. The fact there is a traditional love of outdoor skills in geographic areas within the Kingdom such as Maine has greatly contributed to our success. We created a group where anyone that wanted to could join, and anyone that wanted to come to a camping event could easily attain the first rank. The skills required at the higher levels are not too extreme and every single member is capable of rising as far as they wish in their own time. There are set goals and members can work towards them or ignore them. This has been very attractive for most people.


Skills are very important in any special interest group. Brian demonstrates how to make fire the Medieval way.

In my opinion one of the reasons why we are successful is that we have created a family. We are the lost children who wanted to “live the dream” in a different way. We were attracted to the medieval travelers, soldiers and workmen more so than the societal upper crust, professional jousting tournament athletes, and the ladies locked in towers. In our SCA, we dreamed of Sherwood forest, and what it took to recreate that instead of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. This dream is far less rigid and far more egalitarian. Robin Hood always listened to Little John in the real stories and was not a noble man at all. Our Forester Family insists on these ideals and we are brought close together after braving adversity together.

First and foremost Foresters are family and friends in all of their activities


The Forester’s Hunting Horn

In the middle ages during the time of the forest laws and the foresters that enforced them, all officials carried a hunting horn. It was both the signal horn and equivalent of a medieval cell phone and a symbol and badge of office. So important was the carrying of the hunting horn that everyone from the king himself to the lowest huntsman and underforester might have one. For the Foresters especially it took on a new meaning as a badge of office and a symbol of authority.

The Foresters horn was important enough that it was made into badges that could be worn. Both secular forester badges and religious pilgrim badges dedicated to the St. Hubert existed. These would be worn by people that venerated the Saint as well as forest officials.


The hunting horn is also found on grave slabs such as the Foresters grave in St. James church, Papplewick , Nottinghamshire. The grave slab contains a bow and arrow, both tools of the forester as well as a hunting horn on a baldric.


According to author Barbara Hanawalt in her book; “Of good and ill repute: Gender and social control in Medieval England” the hunting horn was also a powerful symbol of manhood with sexual connotations. When poachers were able to get the upper hand on foresters and tie them up they would often take away their hunting horns or symbol of office symbolically removing their power. For this reason it was likely that a hunting horn was a prized and well guarded possession of any forester.

There were many specialized calls used with the hunting horn and most of them come down to us from the great hunting manuscripts. Horn calls used by foresters are not known and were probably regional with some variety.


We also know that the hunting horn was occasionally pressed into service as a weapon although its effectiveness would be limited. Here a horn wielding man fights a falconer whose symbol of office is the white bag at his belt. We are not sure what the fight is about but one only need visit a modern bar district at closing time to witness similar displays of pointless male violence to see that little has changed in 700 years as to why people fight.


The hunting horn was for foresters, similar to the radio and badge of a modern police officer today. Not something that a person ever wants to lose and in spite of their rather simple purpose, they are a powerful symbol, both of status and authority and in some cases masculinity. It is hoped that all SCA Foresters take care of their hunting horns, display them when on duty, and never leave them unattended for the poachers and outlaws to steal.

DIY Cold Weather Medieval Clothing

For those interested in cool to cold weather SCA clothing on the cheap, a good way to get it done is with surplus $7 – $25 wool blankets from the second hand or surplus store.

Step one is draw the pattern. If you double your blanket so the full length is up and down; for the average person it will be wide enough to be perfect for the sleeve length and chest width, you should also have minimal drafting. I measure the cuffs at 6 inches down from the fold for viking, larger for later period. At the shoulder I measure down 12 inches and come in sharply to simulate an armpit gore 3 inches wide.
The Chest measurement again works out for normal sized people when using a surplus blanket. Once you trace out both sleeves you can use your tape to see if the chest is too big or too small. If it is too big you can redraw the sleeves closer to center take off the extra at the cuffs, if it is too small you can expand it outwards and add some scrap to the sleeve cuff to lengthen it after the fact. If you plan ahead you can find center and work out from there just writing measurement numbers on scrap paper then transferring them to fabric. Depends on your skills and style.
The bottom hem is the length of the blanket (knee length on most people, dress length for the very short) plus some flair at the sides. I usually pick a point and come out from the body at 30-45 degrees. Then I use a piece of string on my chalk and protractor myself a curve that bisects the bottom hem and gore line. Once drawn, cut everything out. Remember to draw everything a bit bigger for seam allowance (1/2 to a full inch) and a loose garment is a warm garment.

For extreme historical accuracy you can cut all the pieces out of the blanket and resew them to impress the seam flippers but why? It is to keep you warm… If you want to be warm, listen to Lloyd, if you want a laurel get advice from one.

IMG_5739Step two is to sew your edges. Since you will sew your garment inside out make sure any blanket logos are on the proper side where it will not be seen when you are done. The CN logo is not period so keep it hidden. Sew it on the outside wear it on the inside.


Step three is to draw the neck line. I usually go 6-8 inches wide depending on how snug I want it. If you wear a hood over the garment snow will not go down your neck so if you think wool is itchy, go a bit bigger. I come down an inch at the back of the neck and 3-4 at the front depending on what I am going for. Vikings thought low neck lines on men were effeminate so higher round necks on the early period stuff there boys. At this point you decide if it is a key hole neckline tunic or an open coat. I cut a slit 5-7 inches down for a tunic and all the way for a coat or cotte.


Step four is to line and reinforce the neckline with a softer fabric like a linen or cotton.  In fact is is best to line the whole shirt. This can be a royal pain in the ass and doing it right is a class onto itself. I take a piece of fabric about 6 inches wide and sew it to the outside of the garment and fold it into the inside so the seam is invisible, and then fold it under a few times to make a thick neck protector. Really this protects the tunic or jacket from sweat and grime and is less itchy. I only sew it at the top of the neck line as sewing the bottom is asking for trouble.
The same method is used to reinforce the bottom of your key hole or your buttons and button holes. Use a softer piece of tight weave cotton or linen and sew it to the outside face then flip it in. You can also use one big piece for a keyhole neck line but I just use scraps. If there are no buttons or button holes then it does not need to be several layers thick and one thin layer will do. Doing this part or lining a garment is a small book onto itself so if you get there and need help, let me know or find someone else that is in the know. Basically to line a whole shirt or coat you are creating a second garment from the lining material and sewing both together inside to inside. There are some tricks to it but there you go.


Step five is buttons and button holes if you are making a cotte or jacket. You know what.. my advice is just don’t do it. I hate them and refuse to talk about them. There are plenty of people that will help you with this part if you are doing 14th century but I will not do it unless there is beer or ice cream involved.


The Finished Coat (Cotte) complete with patches on the holes. The sleeve openings are large enough to accommodate under garments and mittens.


Now it must be said, this is the quick and dirty stay warm version. This is not the pattern you want to use to impress your friends at royal court. It is based on some 14th century working class garb, and the viking style variant  shirt I mentioned with the key hole neckline would be a bit different too but less so.

In my experience your regular garb if light weight wool will be good down to temperatures of 10C 50F, and less if you are working. At the point you start to feel uncomfortable you can add on a blanket weight layer in the form of a tunic, cotte or cloak. With this you should be fine to freezing or less, and -10C or 14F if you are working hard. Another layer of blanket weight wool will let you sit comfortably at very low temperatures. A double thick hood will add even more cold protection.
While working at -30C -22F I am quite comfortable with a linen undershirt, a normal weight wool shirt, with a blanket weight tunic and double thick hood. In fact mittens and a hat make it too warm. Were I to be sitting still, the hat and mittens are welcome additions as well as well as a third layer in the form of a heavy weight or double thick wool cloak.

So; good luck and stay warm. The SCA is not just 2 months outside and 10 months of rented halls. With a bit of wool and even mediocre tailor skills, you can extend your outdoor comfort several more months of the year and maybe even look pretty good in the process. Not bad for a $7 surplus blanket.

The incomplete history of the Foresters up until now

I remember almost 20 years ago at my first war camp in Ruantallan, back in the Baron Andrew and Baroness Leanne days. I showed up with my fire irons and a bunch of raw meat. It was my first SCA camping event and I was gutted to find out that SCA campers did not actually camp medieval. I believe there was a Prince or Princess or something there, so there was a canvas tent (which was for some reason a big deal then) but there were a lot of Coleman stoves, and when I asked where I could cook my meat on the fire I was told I couldn’t. I got looked at like I had two heads when I set up my great grandmothers dutch oven and irons at my camp with no fire. I never did cook my food, but I decided that “The Dream” needed some help to match with my visions of the SCA, it is just no one listened to 20 something year old kids back then and I was politely told to bugger off. So I did for a while… and went to an event or two a year but avoided camping events where I and my vision were not welcome.

The Foresters were first thought up in a gas well yard in North Western Alberta in 2012. I was working for a fire fighting company in British Columbia at the time and while there was lots of money, there was not much to do but think about fun someday, but not now… I was on one of those rotating schedules which guaranteed that I was never going to see an SCA event again, and the closest shire was several hours south in Grande Prairie.

I eventually decided to come home and try my luck here on the east coast again. This may or may not have been the responsible thing to do financially but at least I could go to SCA events pretty much every month. The Foresters came into existence in May and June of 2013 with myself and Jason​ being the first members. Jason at his first event asked; “What is it that we (the SCA) actually do? is it just sitting around and drinking rum?” I gave him the Foresters Guild pitch and he was in.  Matthew​ also showed interest and later became a member when his schedule permitted. Jason spends a great deal of his time with SCA children and is always looking for the next new thing to try.


Jason embodies the independent spirit of the Foresters

 In 2013 I built the substructure of what the group would be, and wrote a letter temporary that outlined what we did. I asked several people to help, seeing skills and interests in them that I did not possess and our first real meet up was at Summers End 2013. There for the first time my dutch ovens were used at an SCA event. This was progress as far as I could see.
It was at this event that  Maria​ came up to me and asked; ” What is this Foresters thing and how do I become a member?”  I already quite liked her after our almost fist fight some months before but I asked; “Why do you want to be a member?”
“Because I am sick of doing (deleted expletive) dishes for the (deleted expletive) other group” was her reply.
Maria came to work with us and has likely engaged in more work and hardship with us than she ever would have otherwise, but she has since grown to a leadership role with us. I like to think that was positive.


Maria embodies the Forester philosophy of perseverance

2013 ended with six members. A pretty good start for a new would be guild where the members did not produce pretty works of art made from silk but instead smelled like beer, bacon, and sweat, were covered in soot and burns and suffered from blisters and callouses.

2014 saw the expansion of the group to fourteen members and we began to go on hikes and canoe trips outside of the SCA. This and an expanded roll in the SCA saw us called into court on a number of occasions and even encouraged us to undertake the spit roasting of the great whirly bird. A massive twenty plus pound turkey. We also did some volunteer work that year, doing some site maintenance and firewood collection for one of the event sites.

I was contacted by Chris, an old friend from many years previous whom had been involved in the SCA when he was younger and he was wishing to get back into the fold now that there was an outdoor group that allowed him to make use of his interests and skills. Chris is a modern day homesteader who brings a great deal to the foresters with his knowledge and skills and of course his great sense of humour and infectious laugh. The foresters was a safe place in the SCA away from the trappings of court where he could excel and contribute and does so at an incredible level. His skill with an axe is only eclipsed by his generosity and gentle nature.


Chris embodies the work ethic of the Foresters

 The winter of 2014-2015 was harsh and filled with adversity but still we pushed forward towards our goal of becoming an official SCA guild. There was still snow on the ground at our first camping event of the year and it was at this event that we were joined by Amy. A mother of three, Amy knows a thing or two about work, but she is also technically skilled and helps a lot behind the scenes. Amy also bridges the divide between SCA camping and an interest in real primitive camping. This interest makes her very enthusiastic about the Foresters and what it is we are trying to accomplish. She is a tireless defender of our goals and a leader in her area for the group and the SCA at large.


Amy with her banner embodies the Enthusiasm for the Foresters

 As 2015 pushed forward we were informed that we were going to receive our Royal Charter. This meant that we needed to create one and get ready for the day when the King and Queen of the East would arrive to present it to us. A new applicant to the group. Cindy offered to draw up the charter for us. A daunting task that would frighten away all but the heartiest of scribes. While she enjoyed camping, her skills were more suited to using a pen than an axe and so we put her to work none the less. Cindy made oak gall ink and scribed our charter on goat skin parchment and was present as our chronicler when the charter was received from the royals.


Cindy embodies the bravery one expects in a Forester

 At the time we received our charter our guild could count twenty one members with others whom had not yet applied but had verbally expressed an interest. One of the positive aspects was the number of young people whom were interested and those without a background in wilderness camping and survival whom simply wanted to learn. In 2015 the SCA was no longer a place where people that wanted to cook on an open fire or sleep under the stars were told politely to bugger off. I think this is progress.


The Foresters march into Royal court to petition for a Royal Charter


King Omega holds aloft the Wardens Horn before presenting it to the Newly Chartered Royal Foresters

 As the East Kingdom Royal Foresters Guild continues to grow into the future, it is with high hopes that we look to happy trails. When it rains we will be wet, when it snows we will be cold, and we will enjoy the sun while it is out. All of the members, active and inactive, past, present, and future are members of a brotherhood and sisterhood where we seek to encourage and support one another through successes and failures and in so doing we hope to inspire others to chart their course and follow it to whatever conclusion they wish to see. Without the members we would just be a couple of guys around a fire in the woods. It is really the SCA that has allowed us to showcase our talents and to make use of them in ways that benefit the whole society. I think that is pretty positive too.

SCA Activities and New Brunswick’s Fish and Wildlife Act

By Aotrou (Lord) Conogan mab Rioc, the Breton

Mka Peter Gillet

In the SCA, we engage in many fun activities such as target archery, combat archery, and siege. In the summer of 2014, I was approached by a conservation officer (officer) from the Province of New Brunswick (NB) while I was practicing target archery. While I was very prepared for questions about Federal law regarding weapons, I was not expecting his first question: are all of the bows stored here, or did people bring them with them? This question, and the resulting conversation, led me to extensive research into the laws which apply, and how someone could go about following them. My hope is to help SCA members, whether they live within or travel through NB, to make informed decisions.

The advice of those with law degrees was beyond my means, so these interpretations and conclusions were arrived at after conversations with an officer and a manager at NB Natural Resources.

The officer was very helpful in making us aware that provincial laws restrict the movement of firearms, which by the Act’s definition includes bows and crossbows. The NB Fish and Wildlife Act (S.N.B. 1980, c. F-14.1) (the Act), in fact, defines a firearm as “any device from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes a rifle, shotgun, pellet gun, air gun, pistol, revolver, spring gun, crossbow or bow”. The important point about this definition is that it is intentionally very broad, and it leaves its application to the discretion of the enforcing officers. If you have something which sends something else away from it, the officer can use this definition and call it a “firearm”. The definition does not specify limits of size, lethality, velocity, or even form (solid, liquid, or gas) of the “missile”.

In combination with this broad definition, the Act also defines a “resort of wildlife” to mean “any waters or lands, including highways or roads, that are frequented by wildlife”. That essentially means to get from one place to another within or through New Brunswick one must travel through a “resort of wildlife”.

It was explained to me by the manager at NB Natural Resources that these broad definitions are needed to make sure poachers have no loopholes or defences of argument should officers find them in the wilderness with weapons. Those who are not actually poaching may, unfortunately, also be found guilty. In fact, practically everyone living in or travelling through NB could be found guilty of offences under this Act almost every day. That topic is outside the limits of this article.

While other provinces within Tir Mara (P.E.I. and Nova Scotia in particular) have similar restrictions on the transport and use of crossbows and bows, I did not find them to have such an inclusive definition of what is considered a “firearm”.

All of this being said, to whom does it apply in the SCA? If you practice target archery, then it most certainly applies to you. Similarly, it applies to combat archery equipment. I even asked, for sake completeness, if it would apply to large siege engines. It does. While almost all thrown weapons are not covered (because there is no “device” from which they are discharged), it would cover atlatls if you are experimenting with those. Essentially, look at your kit. If you have a device which shoots, launches, or otherwise discharges something else from it, it might be considered a “firearm” by a conservation officer. Transporting “firearms” on a “weekly day of rest” (defined as Sunday) or at night is considered an “absolute liability offence”. That pretty much means if they catch you doing it, you are guilty even if you have no intention of breaking any laws. I’m not a lawyer, but I can look up definitions.

I brought my concerns about this to a manager at NB Natural Resources, Mr. Rick Nash. Mr. Nash was very helpful and understanding of our desire to participate in these fun outdoor activities. He pointed out that there are ways to keep from breaking the law while still travelling and participating in our activities. The least restrictive way is to contact one of their offices and request a permit to transport. Since these are obtained from a police force (conservation officers), they are not available through Service NB. You have to get them from NB Natural Resources. These permits are good for a finite number of days after they are issued. They may not cover a person for the length of their stay, so multiple permits may need to be issued. Unfortunately, Mr. Nash is no longer listed as an employee of NB Natural Resources.

I contacted the office in Fredericton, and they initially said I had to get the permit in person. After I told them it would be a hardship for me, they said they could fax the permit to me. This would be the only practical way someone from outside of NB could obtain such a permit. In fact, most people from NB would find it a hardship to take the time and money to travel to one of their offices during business hours.

In terms of permission to transport “firearms”, there are parts of the Act which allow members of clubs registered with NB to travel directly from their homes to their ranges and back again without travel permits. This also applies to shoots organized by those clubs. It might be worthwhile for SCA members with NB to form registered clubs so ranges could be established and “organized shoots” could be held at SCA events. This would require volunteers and many more steps, which may be a good topic for another article.

Whether one organizes a club with memberships or uses official permits to transport, there are several other steps which are important. When transporting your “firearm”, you must put it in a case which is properly fastened, completely wrap the “firearm” within a blanket which is securely tied around it, or put the “firearm” in the locked luggage compartment of a vehicle.

If you are not a member of a club nor have a permit to transport, then you are relying entirely upon the discretion of the officer should you be stopped.   I would strongly recommend SCA members to find and read the Acts of their own jurisdictions as well as the Act of NB.

URL for the online copy of the NB Fish and Wildlife Act:

DIY Medieval Forester Pack Frame

First off it should be noted that medieval people did not really have back packs as we know them. Most of the people being tied to the land and a lord, they did not travel on the weekends to see the sights.

That said; there were people that went on pilgrimage and walked hundreds of miles to visit holy sites and cathedrals, but they carried very little, relying on charity to get by. The average pilgrim likely only carried a bowl, spoon, water costral and a few odds and sods in his scrip, or bag. Wealthier people may have had saddle bags and pack horses and of course there were wagons, but medieval people did not carry the kind of gear that modern hikers and campers carry.

The main reason for this is of course that camping is a great way to get knocked on the head, robbed by an outlaw or killed. Also it was illegal through much of the middle ages to be “at large without patronage”. A fancy way of saying that if you were not staying at the inn, the church, or a local barn, you were likely going to be tossed in a dungeon until you explained yourself and paid some lord compensation for camping on his land. Of course this is one of the reasons why there were inns every day’s walk across Europe in the later middle ages. Also being superstitious; to most medieval people, werewolves and demons were real threats, and at one time Europe still had some predators capable of hunting humans. Most however have been hunted to extinction since then.

Camping and hiking then is mostly a modern pass time, that became popular at the end of the 19th century. Still however, there were lots of people traveling the roads in the middle ages both legally as merchants and free craftsmen and illegally as outlaws. They had a number of methods to carry their gear, tools, or products, should they be poor enough not to own a pack animal or wagon.

The most common backpack device is the pack basket. This was primarily used by workmen, market gardeners who may have had some surplus to sell, and the common man that needed to move a lot of volume without a draft animal. Pack baskets were used well into the 20th century on canoe expeditions and can be made very robust.


 The Pilgrims bag is shown in many illustrations. It can hold a fair amount of stuff; a bit of food, some eating utensils, and a few small items but they fill up really fast. You may be able to stuff a blanket in a big one but they are more for the person on the go who has accommodations for the night.


The scrip or sausage bag was a good way to carry a few more items than a pilgrim bag. They could be made as large as needed and had a single strap similar to a shoulder bag. Leather versions could be waterproofed to an extent to protect dried food goods if needed.


The Martebo sack is another simple way of carrying a good amount of gear in reasonable comfort but it is not to be over loaded or off balanced. One side needs to weigh about the same as the other like saddle bags for a horse.  At best you could but some extra under clothing and some travel food in one. You are not going to carry your merchant goods in it. Still it is a great little day bag.


The most common way of  taking a lot of stuff in the medieval era was to bundle it up in a tarp or blanket. A traveling merchant that could not quite afford that horse yet may have to do this. Wool was also processed into bales and was cumbersome. For the man who had to carry bales of product or gear, a pack frame would go a long way to making his life less hellish.


 While it is perfectly feasible to carry a bundle short distances by roping it you your body, this is not realistic over long distances. Medieval people did what needed to be done of course but we in the modern world are used to a better life and not dieing from preventable illness and injuries, so there are better options. Bundled gear tied to a pack frame shifts less and does not give you rope burn.


 So if you do not want to make a wheel barrow or a hand cart but still need to take some of those modern items of comfort with you on your medieval hike or across the field at the local SCA event, a pack frame may be for you. They have been around since the neolithic era and even Otzi the Iceman had one. There are a few different kinds but the easiest one for a medieval traveler or merchant to construct is basically three sticks tied together.


The pack frame I built is not based on anything or even a pattern. Other than items I had in my scrap bin, it is just 3 sticks tied together. I spent some time carving an ash wood lumbar support with an axe and knife as I wanted that area to be reasonably comfortable, but the uprights are just cherry wood sticks. The frame is lashed together with goat rawhide I had from another project. A medieval maker would likely use rope or home made cordage from plant fiber.


The top attachment for the straps is just a circle of leather cut from the outside of a disk, It is fitted over the top and pulled through the uprights above itself. The straps are sewn to this. A leather thong is attached near the back rest at the bottom. A hole is cut into one end of the thong and the free end passed through the frame and then the hole to form a slip knot of sorts.


The thong just passes through a piece of leather sewn on the straps. A knot can be tied in the thong to adjust the straps. The thong can also be used for a rudimentary hip belt if tied around the waist. The straps themselves are folded canvas from an old canvas tarp that got destroyed and recycled. While medieval man was willing to deal with rope burns and pinched nerves, I am not, and so nice wide straps take some of the pressure away from the load and distribute it over a larger area.


 With the gear tied on, in this case a canvas tarp to keep the rain off, a modern self inflating sleeping pad in a canvas bag and a wool blanket, the frame weighs 17 pounds. Not to heavy at all but way more than anything a medieval pilgrim would carry.

 This type of construct would likely be limited to hunters, poachers and foresters who needed to go out into the forest and possibly carry back a quartered red deer for the kitchen, or to the lower income merchant who traveled without a horse or hand cart. For use in the SCA, be that on a hike or at an event, crossing a large field with gear, the lightness and versatility of a home made pack frame is hard to beat. You will not see the knights in shining armour using them, they have squires for that, but for the Forester it is just the rig to carry your gear in some comfort and plausible period style.

DIY Medieval bucksaw

Well at medieval events over here in eastern Canada I seem to be the firewood guy. Most medieval reenactors over here fall into some pretty tight categories. The geek and intellectual sort who use keyboards for a living and are not so great at manual labour. The army guys who just like to fight and hit one another, and are too sore and injured for manual labour, and the artisan types who say things like; “Damnit Jim, I’m a lute maker not a lumberjack…” who just refuse to do manual labour unless it is for lute making. Then there is me and my Forester friends who for some reason like that sort of thing…

So at far too many of these medieval reenactment events I get tasked with doing the firewood and I end up taking out my Silkie Big Boy saw complete with blaze orange handle and cutting up the firewood in a non-medieval way. Well at least with a non-medieval tool; it is not like I used a chainsaw or anything.

 I decided I needed a medieval saw that was more appropriate and so started the research. Come to find out they have been around for ever and according to the manuscripts they look pretty much like a tensioned buck saw. Well that is a pretty easy build so I may as well make an adventure of it. I wanted my saw to look like the medieval equivalent of the saw owned by the guy that found a used blade abandoned after the black death and not the exquisite wood working tool owned by that master lute maker that will not help me do fire wood.

Agnolo_Gaddi_2-man-frame-sa ConsulterElementNumMedieval frame saws from period illustrations

  I was not interested in making a blade for scratch. Medieval saw blades had the common or “M” tooth pattern so are easy to make with a triangular file, but it would cost way more and take vast amounts of time to make one. I just picked up a 24 inch buck saw blade made by Stanley Tools. It was $6Cdn and will work far better on firewood and will never be used for lute making.

So let the adventure begin and lets try to do what medieval guys would do and it does not involve a trip to the Home Depot. I went to the woods to look for a dead standing white ash tree.

Found some interesting things on my way into the hardwood stand

I found my dead standing Ash tree. It was tucked in behind a living ash tree that was considerably larger.

Hunter is pretty happy to be out on an adventure although less interested in doing any work.

Some days it would be nice to have a pack horse but on the positive side I can hike the few miles out and get rid of some winter fat. The 4-5 logs do not weigh much anyway and the extras will become tool handles. There may be a longbow in one of them at some point though.

So cut down to manageable lengths, the axe work begins.

All the free hand axe work is done by eye and low spots for curves are left until last when a flat surface sort of emerges from the wood.

After a bit of time, the wood begins to look like something approaching a piece of kiln dried store bough timber. A thickness plainer at this point would be a real bonus but I do not have one.

Bar clamped to the rail on the back deck I cleaned up the roughed out wood with a draw knife and then made some finer cuts and curves with a farrier’s knife. I quite like them for debarking and using them as a scraper.

I cheated and used a power drill to pilot the holes for my joints (my auger is too big and is for making barns) and carved them out with a small carving set. They need to be loose or the tension will wreak havoc upon them. I also neglected to take photos of the process as it is tedious and not very enjoyable to me.

However after it was all carved out and the blade pinned in, I used a piece of sisal rope and back braided loops onto each end. The two loops go over one end and this gives two pieces of rope to slide the twirly stick through.

It is not the prettiest buck saw in the world. This guarantees it will not be stolen by medieval lute makers. But it has lots of extra height in the handles to allow for solid tensioning and the whole build cost $6Cdn and got me out for a walk. Now I can cut up the firewood at the medieval camp out without looking out of place. I sure wish I could find a manuscript with a blaze orange Silkie saw in it though…