Wilderness Day: A Classic Film With A Timeless Message

 

A Portrayal Of Classic Canoe Camping

Wilderness Day is a classic canoe camping documentary from 1954 filmed in the Quetico Superior wilderness area, in northern Minnesota.

The film harks back to another age yet contains timeless messages about respect for nature and the value of being proficient in wilderness skills.

Set over the course of a day journeying through an area of wilderness now often referred to simply as the Boundary Waters, it touches on many areas of canoe journeying and camping which are still as relevant today.

In particular, with more people than ever seeking out wilderness areas in which to spend their leisure time, the conservation and leave-no-trace messages are even more important now than they were 60 years ago when this film was made.

For the enthusiast of classic northern bush skills in the woodcraft and camping tradition, there is much to enjoy here; Baker tents, open fires, canvas and leather portage packs, unfussy yet deft axe skills and a whole host of other little gems.

There are also a few 60-year old “modern” campcraft items such as a reflector oven and metal-framed folding bucksaw.

Here are men with time-tested skills and equipment who are comfortable, relaxed and at home in the wilderness.

It’s a classic movie and a model for all of us who love to travel in wild places.

If you enjoyed this video and/or would like to see more of this type of content on the Frontier Bushcraft blog, please let us know in the comments below.

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Paul Kirtley is owner and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog as well as for various publications including Bushcraft & Survival Skills Magazine.

43 Responses

  1. Janet Hopewell

    Hi Paul,
    What an amazing video, it warms my heart seeing the old campfire cooking and living off the fruits of the forest. The shots of the wildlife were brilliant. Please show more videos like this. It is good to teach the old ways as young people are losing out on so much valuable knowledge.

    If you enjoyed this video you will enjoy the book Cache Lake Country by John J. Rowlands . The ink drawings are magical.

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Janet,

      So nice to hear from you – it’s been a while!

      I’m glad you enjoyed this and you’re right – there are many messages in this film which would do well to be more widely shared.

      I will endeavour to share more treats such as this.

      As for Cache Lake Country – yes, good recommendation! I agree it’s very nice.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  2. Jake Pyett

    Awesome video Paul :), It’s really cool to see the type of gear the guys were carrying back then, like the old style rucksacks with leather straps. I was pretty surprised at how light they were traveling as well, i guess it goes to show how important experience is than just the gear itself.

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hey Jake,

      It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed the video. It is interesting to see the durability of the kit they were carrying. Yes, some of it is heavier than modern lightweight kit but they selected their items carefully, didn’t carry too much equipment and everything they did have is built to last. Much modern equipment is fine for a weekend trip or a week out but would you trust it for a 4-6 week long journey?

      You are right, though, as ultimately it’s experience which determines how well chosen your equipment is and how well it is used while you are out on a journey.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  3. Andrew Saddington

    Hi Paul,
    What an amazing film really enjoyed that thank you for showing it to us , a lot of messages in there for us,Not much changes over the years does it?
    Anyway cheers for that and remember a clean camper is a happy camper 🙂

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Andrew,

      Yes, it’s always worth bearing that in mind 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed this and other messages in the film. Nothing much changes. Same respect for nature is needed now as it was then.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  4. Mark H

    Hi Paul,
    Great footage with some superb ‘messages’. Pretty much another day for you on the French River or Bloodvein. A timeless pastime.
    Thank you for making the film available .
    Best
    Mark

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Mark, yes it’s very similar terrain to the French River. The underlying terrain is the same igneous rock of the Laurentian plateau that makes up what is known as the Canadian Shield.

      I love the simplicity and inherent durability of their outfit.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  5. Craig

    Hey Paul

    Hi from New Zealand (not a holiday, but glad to be in a beautiful country!)

    Thanks for finding and posting this great vid. Have forwarded your link to friends.

    As always, KIS is the winner – am getting better. My trip pack was just one bag at under 30kg for a month (compared to the 2 bags over 35kg when I did your elementary course, and fell over like a turtle, rofl). Similarly, kit checklists are invaluable – have adapted mine based on your fab lists and the “10 C’s” (Dave Canterbury).

    Interesting technique regards the use of matches (breaking them in 2 to ensure no fire risk).

    The film says a groundcloth (groundsheet) is essential – what is your take on this?

    My Rhodie equivalent of mocassins are “veldskoens” (bush shoes) – fab.

    Have you ever used a “Baker” tent?

    Only thing I would perhaps disagree with the film is picking up a wild animal (the baby coyote)??

    Thanks again for a fab find – am trying to get my elderly dad to watch :))

  6. Liam Gadd

    That was pretty cool Paul, thanks for sharing that. Well worth watching. Even for a 23 year old!
    Seems a bit historic compared to what I’ve grown up with 😉 but I did get sucked into it quite quickly.

    And of course some very important messages there, Conservation, conservation, conservation. Sadly I doubt though this message was followed by everyone in the last 60 years. I bet these places aren’t quite as pretty now as they were then.

  7. Grant

    Paul, that was a great big. Thanks a lot for the privilege of watching it – your right, nothing changes. Regards

    Grant

  8. Tom Whitehouse

    Dear Paul
    Great video those guys look well in sync with each other.
    I like the way they move as if they have all the time in the world.
    More of the same please
    regards
    Tom

    • Paul Kirtley

      Thanks for the feedback Tom. I’ll share more of the same as I find it. Unfortunately films of this calibre and sympathy with the environment are rare.

      Best,

      Paul

  9. Bob

    So Enjoyable to watch on a winters day, brings back pleasant memories and rekindles the urge to go again in the future.

    Wondering if their are modern videos for viewing, next best would reading about the same, my favourite is “The Tent Dwellers” by Albert Bigelowe Payne, superb early 1900’s camping and fishing trip to Nova Scotia wilderness by two american docotors.

    Thanks for posting the video.

    Sincerely
    Bob

  10. bill Jackson

    Nice video. Of course, in many areas of today’s reduced wilderness, old-timey practices like campfires and bough beds have become destructive, and are replaced by backpack stoves and sleeping pads. Where fires are OK, a nephew showed me a great technique: arrange the reflector rocks in a keyhole pattern, build the fire in the round part and put your grate over the “slot”. That way, as the fire burns you can push coals into the slot. It gives controlled heat and easy access to your cooking.

    • Paul Kirtley

      Yes, the film indicated even at the time it was made, bough beds were being frowned upon. Understandably though, to make a comfortable bed requires a significant about of cutting. Even moderately well travelled areas cannot sustain that sort of pressure, particularly if it is being done every night.

      Good tip re the fire Bill. Thanks for sharing.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  11. bill Jackson

    By the way, regarding the heavier equipment of those days: The new high tech fabrics are great, except that they’re very susceptible to sparks. No fun to have your $200 rain pants ruined at the start of a trip. On a canoe trip in an area where fires can be responsibly used, I much prefer to use clothing that’s less easily destroyed.
    High tech clothing is best with backpack stoves. Traditional fabrics work with traditional cooking.
    At least, that’s been my costly experience!

    • Paul Kirtley

      Yup, agreed Bill. Cotton, canvas and Ventile still have their place. As does wool.

      As well as the stove issue, I also find that clothing gets more abrasion in the woods than in the mountains.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  12. Jim

    Thanks for the great video Paul! Eventhough produced in the 1950’s the message on safety and
    minimum impact remain timeless. Today, American wildernesses are in danger of being loved
    to death, thus making conservation education important. I always wondered what the northern
    Minnesota lakes primitive area looked like. There are far more visitors there now than in the 50’s.

  13. Ron Duncan

    Dear Paul

    Nice reminder and as stated still applicable today. It would be good if an updated one was filmed bringing into consideration the present day health and safety issues, and of course conservation of the wild places.

    Best Regards

    Ron Duncan

  14. Buck

    Thanks Paul.
    Please show as many as you can find. These are great videos (films) that reflect what bushcraft really is, a resurgence of old, tried and true techniques from our ancestors. I have a modern Kevlar Prospector canoe, and love this type of canoe for its tumblehome and rocker that allows it to fit so well for tripping such as this.
    The nuggets you mentioned are many; the walk about on unmarked shores to explore and see wild things not visible from a canoe; never leave a fire unattended, and drown it out fully after use; fishing should be a part of the journey, but not the exclusive reason; have a time-tested checklist to organise your trip.
    By the way, those Walleye fillets were done perfectly, a great lesson in filleting fish!
    Lastly, I would not recommend petting, picking up, or otherwise pursuing a wild wolf puppy, or bear cub. This can provoke the mother to attack and it can cause the beast to become too familiar with humans, hence causing it’s own downfall as a nuisance animal, and it’s just best to observe them at a distance with a good camera.
    Fantastic and magical!

    Thank you, Paul
    Regards,
    Buck

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Buck,

      Thanks for your comments and observations about the film. I’m glad it resonated with you so much.

      I completely agree with you about not interfering with wildlife – for your sake and theirs.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  15. Giles

    Nice one – just watched it with coffee & cake on my sofa, gotta get out more…

    Here’s a Russian perspective, from memory ( I haven’t seen it for a while) the main character was helicoptered in as part of a 1970’s Soviet initiative to populate the wilderness, the promised supplies & training never materialised & most of his fellow volunteers didn’t survive the winter…

    (If I’m thinking of a different film. that was a different film)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Levr0ORZF-Q

  16. Don Kenitzer

    Good day Paul just wanted to say thank you for sharing this. So much good information pack in 27 minutes, I’ve been wanting to get a canoe so many safety tips. This made my day I kept looking for a Kephart knife during the showing LOL. Living in Colorado it gives me a heavy hart at times to see so much trash in the mountains, I pick up what I can my worst fear is forest fires and finding a woodland critter that is dead because someone has little respect for trash that becomes a trap. The old films have a sweet throw back to when people to people had more respect for the land. I’m sorry for ranting but this was such a good nugget you shared. Many thanks.

    • Paul Kirtley

      Understood Don. And I agree these throwbacks are great to a somehow more innocent age, where there was less baggage about the type of gear you should have. These guys are almost dressed in casual clothes for example.

      It’s important to focus on the right things…

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  17. Cheryl Carr

    Loved it! I am going to forward your email to my grandson’s Scout Master.
    Would definitely like to see more videos.
    Thank you so much!
    Cheryl

  18. Tom Morvan-Toone

    Hi Paul,

    What a gem.

    It is a great shame that the same disregard for the wilderness, and our local wild places here, still exists today. I see it nearly everyday in my local woods. If we treated their property and gardens in the same way, they would soon complain.

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