In January 2018 I stayed two nights in what I call the “portable cabin”, my canvas tent. Night one was with my girlfriend Heather and our two pups Bear and Saku, while the second night was just me and Saku. This episode follows us on that evening, as I bring you along for the ride and show how I manage my camp. Traditionally known as a Labrador Camp in our province, the canvas hot tent comes equipped with a wood-stove and as the name indicates, a canvas covering with tie out points.
These tents would travel on the trap line with trappers not only in the Big Land (Labrador) but all over the world, serving as a checkpoint lodge to erect in between their tilts (small log cabins scattered along the trap line).
The tilts, which on average were built with 10ft x 12ft dimensions, or even smaller, were a more permanent dwelling on their trap line which was several hundred kilometres long or longer.
Durability of Canvas
Canvas, being amazingly strong, held up well to Labrador’s harsh and varying weather conditions. Withstanding wind, heat, cold, and repelling snow and rain, it was a valuable shelter material.
Not being light weight, they are made to last. Wayne Learning, my trapper buddy when I lived in Cartwright, Labrador teaching, had a functioning canvas camp from his father that was 60 years old.
The camp itself is supported by sticks you cut and not thick tent poles, like more modern versions of the canvas shelter. This is the old school way to do it and how I wanted it. You will need five trees with a diameter of 4-6 inches each. Four for the two bipods and a fifth for your main ridge pole. Make sure they are not rotted unless you want the camp collapsing on you during dinner.
If there is an abundance of snow, the first step is to pack it down hard with your snowshoes. This makes a firm, level and more draft free base. Often trappers would erect their camps on the thick lake ice if wind and weather conditions were favourable. The reason being, that the ice beneath had much less draft than the snow in the woods. There it could be 10 feet deep and never compacted enough no matter how long they tramped it with their snow shoes, resulting in a more unwanted cool air rising from below. I have never tried it but vow to one day.
Once the ground is prepped, erect your logs like an A-Frame, lash them together with cord, and string up your camp accordingly. It helps to have near by trees as the tie-downs but if you don’t, tying to tent pegs, large rocks, or sticks driven deep into the snow will suffice.
Next, for flooring, you have numerous options since it does not come with one itself. Once weighting down the four wall side flaps with logs or snow (this is hard to explain so check out the video), you can then lie on the snow, use a tarp, sleeping pads, a piece of plywood or again go traditional and the most satisfying way, with a beautifully aromatic bed of Spruce or Fir boughs.
If using boughs there is a special way to knit them into the ground beneath (image below). This is done by driving all the stems into the snow, pointing in the same direction. You want the underside of the bough facing up. This keeps the bend in the bough facing towards you and gives a natural spring to your newly formed mattress. The general rule of thumb is 4-6 inches of boughs for a well insulated and comfortable bed. Some still use a sleeping pad on the boughs but I tend to lie right on them, wrap a blanket around me and keep the fire going throughout the night. If you choose to let the flames die out you may want to bring along the pad and a winter rated sleeping bag.
Please keep in mind the rules of harvesting boughs in your area. Some places do not allow it for conservation reasons. To minimize the environmental impact, you can stash the boughs once you take down the camp and reuse them the next time around. That’s if the span of time between outings is not a full season. If too much time elapses they will obviously dry out and be useless.
Another thing to add is that you do not need to go at the boughs with your axe or a saw when collecting. Simply snap them with your fingers at the point where it gets thin with needles. This way you are removing less of the tree and there is not as much sign of you being there.
With most of the work done, the only things left to do is putting the stove together, gathering your wood, putting on the kettle and getting acquainted with your five-star woods home.
Check out my video for more insight on the setup. Thanks for watching. Please share if you enjoy life in the outdoors!
PS. The canvas camp can also be used without snow, but it is not the same experience as staying in one during a cold, crisp winter’s night. The conditions they were made for. But feel free to give it a go anytime. Many use them during fall hunts and swear by their comfort for a prolonged stay in the bush.