Primitive and modern outdoor skills

Smithsonian visit: "Eskimo" gear


Recently Angie and I were visiting her parent's for Thanksgiving. They live near DC, so we took a day-trip up to the Smithsonians and went to the National Museum of the American Indian.

I really enjoyed the main exhibit about the Inca road. I knew a lot about the Inca, but very little about the cultures in that area after the fall of the Incan Empire.

Anyway, I wanted to share some photos of took of some far north American Indian equipment. Unfortunately, I forget exactly which tribes these specific pieces are from, as the museum had it all mixed together. I apologize for the title of my post... I think at least one of these is Yupik, but I'm not certain, and I don't want to label things incorrectly.


This is a parka made out of duck skin. If you look carefully you'll see the feathers are on the outside. This just blew my mind. Duck skin is thin, so it would be very lightweight. The down is all there to keep you warm, with the layer of original feathers over it to keep you dry as well. Water would just roll off this coat. I'd never even heard of using duck-skin like this before. I wish I knew how it was constructed, if anyone can tell me a *probable* construction based on experience with waterfowl skin I'd be very very interested. I've also no idea how pliable or packable it would be, but it really makes me want to try it.


This is a parka made from seal gut. It had never occurred to me to use gut for jacket, but it makes good waterskins so why not? Again, I've no idea of the construction details, in this case it's not obvious whether the gut had been treated in some way or not. Maybe smoked? I don't know. It just looked incredibly lightweight and practical. I'd expect it to be similar in both weight and durability to modern ultralight raincoats.


These are socks made from grass. This is less mind-bending than the earlier pieces if you're familiar with using straw to keep your boots warm or with say redwood bark being used for clothing. I'd never seen plant material socks though, so still thought this was really cool.


As you can guess by the photo these are definitely not from the frozen north. As it says in the display these are Incan sandals. I just really liked the construction and the soles made from plant fiber. They look like they'd actually wear fairly well. I thought I'd throw it in, just 'cause it's interesting.

There is of course a sober note to a museum of this sort as well. They had a large exhibit on the history of the U.S. treaties with American Indian tribes and a rather sad history it is (to put it mildly).

For me, seeing these pieces made me realize just how fixated on certain ways of doing things I'd gotten. They also had a fishskin jacket, which I'm more familiar with as an idea, but is still pretty interesting. I really got inspired again to keep experimenting and learning, there are so many ways to do things, and so many materials you can use, it's just amazing. I'm really excited to keep pushing on what I can do with more traditional types of gear.