Photo from “The Book of Camping and Woodcraft: A Guidebook for Those Who Travel in the Wilderness” by Horace Kephart, 1906 p.46

Many a night camping has been spent tossing and turning. And that’s when you don’t pitch your tent over a prairie dog hole – but that’s a story for another time. I was surprised to find that there were air mattresses available in the early 1900s.

campers blow bed

The better option, it seems, and one where you don’t have to tote an air mattress around is the browse or bough bed. This excerpt comes from “The Way of the Woods: A Manual for Sportsmen in Northeastern United States and Canada” by Edward Breck, 1908.

Preparing the beds is a task too often left until dusk, especially when blankets are used and some kind of mattress must be improvised.

The popular one is the browse bed, and its aromatic elasticity has inspired a whole poetic literature of its own. Now the truth about browse beds is that, if well made, they are good, nay, more, they are delicious. But a carelessly made one is hard and humpy, and most are of this description, for the reason that the right kind is not made in a few minutes but in thirty at least.

The best material is the balsam fir, on account of its delicious and wholesome odour and the resiliency of its boughs. Hemlock and spruce come next in the order of fitness. Fell and drag a couple of thick young trees to camp and lop off the fans, the more the better.

It is immaterial whether you begin to lay the bed at foot or head, but for the sake of convenience the head is the better, as then you back gradually out of camp. You therefore lay a thick row of fans at the back of the tent, butts towards the door and convex side up. Stick them in almost perpendicularly and bend them over; the idea is to get springiness. Lay the next row six inches below the first, i.e., thrusting in the butts that distance from those of the first layer. Proceed on this plan until the whole ground is covered with a thick, smooth, springy mattress, paying particular attention to the rows that will come under the hips.

Over this bed spread the tarpaulin or rubber blanket or ponchos, and lay the blankets or sleeping-bags over all. The trouble with many browse beds is that the evergreen fans are merely strewn over the earth and not thrust into it; they therefore flatten out hard at once.

The best browse bed will harden in two or three nights and must then be remade, some of the fans being renewed. If one cares to take particular trouble a layer of thick moss may be put down under the fans to add softness. In semi-civilised districts meadow-hay stacks may be borrowed from with advantage.

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