The wisdom and simplicity of old-style camping could never be replaced by any modern materials and technology whatsoever. In today's tents you sweat like crazy and pretend that the minimal weight it offers was worth the sacrifice of comfort. Canvas on the other hand breaths, is waterproof, and frankly, it lasts. In the book, Camping in the Old Style by David Westcott, nothing could be said any better than what Westcott said, "Old-school wisdom and tech is a man's true means to joyful outdoor living and adventure."
I have always been inspired in seeing others, like myself, who enjoy the art of creating things with their bare hands. Who let their imagination loose to both design and create something amazing. Some time ago, I came across a YouTube video by Simon, also known as “Simon, A Bloke in the Woods,” who had designed and made his own Baker Campfire Tent. I loved what he had done and was inspired to contact him in hopes to interview him regarding what he had accomplished as well as his own personal journey and I was glad I did. After some time and several emails later, Simon had kindly shared with me his story, passion and journey into bushcraft and the outdoors.
Simon, who hails from the United Kingdom, started his YouTube channel back in 2013 sharing his love of the outdoors as well as projects he has made and since has acquired more than 34,000 subscribers. Simon is very knowledgeable yet unassuming as he talks with you and more than willing to share what he knows. Below is my interview on Simon about his journey and how he made his Baker Campfire Tent.
Simon what got you inspired to make the Baker Campfire Tent?
“I remember seeing an old picture of a Baker Tent in use during the 1800s - a lonely figure warming himself in front of the campfire under the porch - it evoked a feeling of longing to be there in the picture. I love that old-world style! More recently, I have been hugely inspired by the legendary Bill Mason who used the Baker Tent on his expeditions into the wilderness.”
Did you consult or use any plans in making your own tent pattern?
“I didn’t use any plans. I did what most people do and researched images on the internet, to get an idea of proportions, but then made my plans to suit what I wanted in the tent - high enough to sit under, wide enough to sleep in, deep enough to accommodate me and my dog Maggie.”
What specific design features did you want your Baker Tent to have?
“I wanted to have sides that I could roll away when not needed, but fix in place, simply. I wanted a solid canvas door (flying, biting insects are not such an issue where I live as they are in other parts of the world.) A removable groundsheet to save weight and for ease of assembly! Poles that come apart for transportation. An old-style, nostalgic feel. A dark, muted color for blending in with the environment.”
What was your main goal in using the tent? Was it for long-term, four-season use?
“Not so much for long-term use, but it would be ideal. Certainly for four-season use on canoe and car camping trips. Winter warmth from the fire, but also suitable for summer use - I still need to add some ventilation panels.”
How much time did it take for you to completely construct the tent?
“All-in-all about 40 hours, including ‘thinking’ time - I had to plan the sequence of sewing carefully to avoid problems when feeding the canvas through my sewing machine.”
Were the materials hard to find or any items difficult to hunt down when you began the processes?
“The canvas, zips, velcro, thread and grommets were easy enough to find online. I had the most difficulty sourcing the groundsheet fabric - which I eventually found in an army surplus store. The brass ferrules came from an upcycled curtain pole - I didn’t want to pay the ludicrously high price for new brass tubing. If I had been less picky, I’m sure I could have gotten all the materials online.”
What would you have done differently if you could go back and redo anything?
“I would have added mesh ventilation panels before sewing the tent together - it’s much easier to work on smaller panels than feeding the whole lump of canvas through the throat of a sewing machine.”
How portable is this tent? Are you able to carry it in your pack or do you have to arrange other means to transport it?
“The tent is bulky and heavy - not suited to carrying for any distance - it would fill most backpacks, so I’d only use it for canoe trips, car camping or pulling in a paulk.”
What materials did you use?
“I used a heavy 14 oz treated canvas, in hindsight, I could/should have used a lighter gauge! Heavy duty YKK zips. A thermal tent panel groundsheet (from a Gulf War era military mess/barrack tent). Pine poles with brass ferrules. 550 paracord guylines.”
Did you find you had more ideas you wished you had added after making the tent?
“Aside from the vents, perhaps a detachable fly-screen for when using in areas where bugs are an issue. A removable front panel, to completely enclose the porch area - I’d then need to use a stove with a stove jack through one of the panels.”
What kind of sewing machine did you use and what would you advise others to use if they desire to replicate this project themselves?
“I used an old 1970s Jone’s domestic sewing machine. Although it coped fine with the multiple layers of canvas, it was difficult to feed the fabric through the small throat of the machine. The bobbin also only allowed for about 25 yards of thread on the spool at a time (using the heavy thread I chose) I would advise anyone taking on a project like this to use a big industrial machine if they have access to one - a walking foot would also help lots!”
Did you use anything to waterproof the tent?
“The canvas I bought was already treated, although canvas is already waterproof by its very nature - it gets wet, the cotton fibers swell, closing up the gaps and stopping water from getting through (as long as you don’t touch it!!) the needle holes should also close up as it wets out.”
Do you feel there are any design flaws you have come accross, such as fabric stress or airflow issues, now that you have made it and used it?
“The canvas has shrunk slightly since I made it - causing stress on the pole sleeves (and resulting in some pulling of the stitching) I had to shorten the horizontal pole by nearly 1” to accommodate this. Ventilation I can see will be a problem in the rain - the canvas is very breathable when dry, but get it wet and the fibers swell, closing up all those air gaps. I will need to add ventilation panels.”
Are you planning on making your plans available to the public? If so, how would people access them?
“I have some hand-drawn plans on my Facebook page: Simon, A Bloke in the Woods.”
How do you feel bushcraft and wilderness survival has impacted your personal life?
“Bushcraft and wilderness living skills has affected my life hugely - I spend much of my spare time out in the woods or on the river exploring, camping, cooking and practicing bushcraft skills. Add to that, making videos of my journey of discovery and the ‘dirt time’ spills into evenings during the week when I edit and produce the videos. Making outdoor gear is another passion. Yeah, it’s all a big part of my life - I’m pretty much obsessed!!”
How did you get into bushcraft and who or what has inspired you in your journey?
“My interest in all things outdoors started early on in my life and has never gone away. I was in the Boy Scouts from the age of about 8 and also spend several weekends each year walking, exploring and camping on Dartmoor, one of our national parks here in the UK. I spent a lot of time as a youngster climbing and mountain walking in the mountains of North Wales, the Lake District, France and Norway, taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme up to Gold level. As I’ve got older my interests in outdoor pursuits and bushcraft have broadened and I have spent my time learning and experiencing all I can! I have gained inspiration from many people over the years. From teachers at school who introduced me to the great outdoors, through to people I’ve met along the way and of course experts in their respective fields such as Ray Mears, John Lord, Ray Goodwin, Lars Fält, Lofty Wiseman, Mors Kochansky, etc, and also the great explorers of times gone by and modern day alike.”
People like Simon help remind us that some of the greatest moments of our life is when we venture to make something with our hands rather than buy it. For when we do so, that is when we take part in the journey of our ancestors who lived before us and appreciate the journey altogether.
It is indeed a great and amazing experience when one is willing to pass down the things they have ventured and done. For when they share with others, you are able take from that moment valuable tools of knowledge from their mistakes, their triumphs, even gaining insight you may not have pondered before, as well as hearing their voice of concerns in the things they have encountered. A man doesn't go out in the woods to escape the bond of others, but rather, it is in the moment he sits before the fire that he builds some of the most closest bonds in sharing his journey with others. It’s in that moment a new spark is kindled and a new flame is set ablaze in the heart of another who came to sit and warm his hands by the flickering flames.
Avi Ben Shalom: