This man sleeps alone in the snow-covered woods with only a handmade hut for shelter
Somewhere in the past two decades even the most minimalist camping has become glamping by comparison to eras past. Throngs of would-be adventurers, stocked to the brim, set out for camping trips with all the creature comforts of home to make their wilderness experiences more mild than wild. But courtesy of Instagram and a push toward sustainable living and adventuring, those who’ve long pined for the frontier-type experience of literally living off and from the land finally have a quality and entertaining source of reference. And few are living the self-reliant adventure lifestyle better than Sascha Boone - an arts teacher by weekday, and bushcraft enthusiast by weekend.
While his Instagram handle may read @poordevil, a more apt title would be crafty devil - the Santa Cruz dweller uses little more than his bare hands and basic wood-cutting tools to build, and survive in, outdoor shelters deep in the mountain wilderness. No tents. No lighters. No luxuries. Just a backpack stocked with a mini saw, hatchet, rod flint, knife, sleeping bag, pot, meat and a little whiskey.
Oh yeah, did we mention he prefers to do all of the above in the freezing snow?
THE RED BULLETIN: Sascha, you prefer camping without a tent, and in the winter no less?
SASCHA BOONE: I do prefer camping in the winter. The days are shorter but winter’s more of a challenge. There aren’t any bugs, nobody else is out there, you can see all the animal tracks and better understand what’s going on in the forest. There’s a deep stillness in winter. It’s so peaceful. Certainly, the risks are heightened - you can get in serious trouble out there if you screw up, and that in itself is appealing in a brutal way I suppose [laughs]. Starving or dying of thirst aren’t really the issues so much as exposure and hypothermia - the top wilderness killer.
You’re a self-described wilderness geek …
I grew up in California backpacking, camping, hiking and practicing what we now call “bushcraft.” I got my first Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival when I was 9, went to a survival/backpacking camp when I was 12 and 13, spent a week alone in the mountains with a knife and a blanket when I was 16 (I pretty much starved the whole time), attended a survival course at Tom Brown’s school when I turned 18 and took a bowmaking course several years ago. I was also obsessed with Native Americans, “mountain men” and the Western fur trade era of the early 19th century when I was a kid. I attended reenactments called “rendezvous,” where my fellow history nerds and I would wear buckskins, shoot black powder firearms, start fires without matches, tell tall tales and otherwise practice frontier skills.
And you’ve taken bushcraft to the next level as an adult …
I’m no expert. There are plenty of other men and women who’ve taken bushcraft to inspiring, artistic levels. Mostly I just goof around in the mountains and chase adventures. But I think most people who spend time alone outdoors soon understand that the natural world can be purifying and invigorating, transcendent and all those other spot-on clichés. Modern society isn’t without its perils, of course, but we have so many comforts compared to humans who lived in earlier eras. For me, bushcraft is about stripping that stuff away, settling into a slower rhythm, simplifying life for a little while - shelter, warmth, water, food.
Tell us about building your own shelters.
That lean-to [on my Insta page] I built over two or three days, including the raised bed. The idea with a lean-to in winter is to build a long fire that radiates heat back toward the camper. Thing is, you’ve got to orient the shelter according to the direction of the wind. Those lean-tos can get smoky! They’ve got to be situated so the wind blows between your fire and the shelter in a parallel direction.
What do you use to build them?
My lean-to has a layer of birch and hemlock bark underneath the leaf thatching, so it’s quite watertight. When building those shelters, I used an ax and folding saw and collected dead standing wood or downed wood that’s not yet decomposing. But I’ve made quickie shelters without any tools. I don’t cut or otherwise damage live trees. I’ll return to the lean-to and A-frame (took two days to build) to spruce them up every so often and make repairs. They’re no works of art nor feats of engineering, but they’re semi-permanent structures, I’d say [laughs].
Self-reliance in a world of technology dependence seems to be the main attraction.
Self-reliance and solitude are big agents for empowerment - also for humility. I think for a few, the impulse springs from a masculine, quasi-macho place. They find the man vs. wilderness, pioneer-lumberjack aesthetic appealing. Some come to it for the history and romance associated with frontier archetypes. Others just want to experience nature in a more interactive way than that which camping and backpacking typically offer. Maybe folks have grown weary of the artifice and sterile convenience of modern life and wish to test themselves, and hopefully pick up a few thrills and a nugget or two of wisdom along the way.
So, what do you take when setting up camp in the snow on some far off mountain?
I try to travel light. Some winter campers pull sleds, but my area is too rugged for that. I don’t take a shovel but instead use my snowshoes to move snow. I take a small ax and folding saw for processing firewood and chopping ice. A knife. A sleeping bag. I either carry a goretex bivy sack that slips over the sleeping bag, or a thin wool poncho that doubles as a blanket. And plenty of fire-lighting backups - a ferrocerium rod, matches and tinder-like cotton balls or dryer lint dipped in Vaseline or rolled-up newspaper soaked in paraffin. The tinder is a backup. I try not to use it, but I take it for peace of mind. Then my trusty little pot, and a metal canteen that I can boil water in as well.
What about food?
Learning about edible and medicinal plants is a lifelong quest. In winter, in my woods, wild edibles are harder to come by, although strong teas are readily foraged. I’ve recently gotten really into fly-fishing - nothing beats fresh-caught trout (but the season closes in the fall). One of the advantages of venturing outside in below-freezing temps is that food doesn’t spoil, and you can bring perishables like bacon, steaks, sausage, eggs, cheese and butter. I throw some venison jerky that a hunter friend gives me in a shirt pocket. Coffee and whiskey go with me, of course, as I’m not a complete barbarian [laughs]. Both those beverages taste glorious when sipped beside a warm campfire.
It seems these traditional methods of camping are starting to come to the fore again.
Yeah, I think there’s been a movement to get away from the leave-no-trace style of camping and embrace elements of an older philosophy, where you’re not just visiting the natural world but once again utilizing it to an extent - like all the other organisms around you. Fragile ecosystems require appropriate sensitivity and vigilance, of course. A true 21st century woodsman - or sportsman or hiker - not only has a wide-angle understanding of what a given environment can and cannot sustain, but he/she has ethics, and acts more the custodian than the settler. With those prerequisites, bushcraft can be liberating, enlightening and a lot of fun.