How to Improve the Quality of an 1800s Lifestyle
Copyright © January 15, 2010 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
Using a Few Simple Items From the 2000s
Revised January 18, 2010 and May 10, 2010.
All Rights Reserved.
Our ancestors survived the 1800s without running water, or indoor toilets, or central heating, or air conditioning, or electricity. Although it is possible nowadays to survive in a similar primitive fashion, life for most of us would be far more enjoyable if we were to use a few of the modern conveniences of the 20th and 21st centuries. The purpose of this article is to discuss those items and explain how they could significantly improve an 1800s lifestyle.
Hats, Caps, and Ski Masks
If you have ever seen a photograph taken of a group of people who were outdoors during the late 1800s you may have noticed that almost everyone in the picture was wearing some type of hat. These individuals were not wearing a hat simply because it was fashionable at that time. They were wearing hats because a hat was considered a necessary article of clothing.
Before there were heated and air-conditioned buildings, and heated and air-conditioned vehicles to rapidly transport people between those buildings, people in the 1800s spent a higher percentage of their time outdoors. The purpose of the hat or bonnet was to help keep their heads warm and to protect their face, ears, and the backs of their necks from sunburn (even on a winter day). If you have ever had a serious sunburn on your nose, or the back of your neck, or the top of your ears then you know from personal experience how truly painful this can be. Therefore, to protect themselves from this type of injury people in the 1800s used simple common sense (sometimes called horse sense) and they wore a hat or a bonnet.
Today there are all types of head coverings available. Let's look at three of those options: a baseball cap, a hat with a full brim, and a ski mask.
Baseball Cap: One of the most popular head coverings in the United States is the baseball cap. I do not wish to offend anyone who dearly loves these types of hats but a baseball cap only protects the top of your head and your eyes from the sun and in most cases it will not protect your nose or the tops of your ears or the back of your neck. If you are bald, or if you have very little hair remaining on top of your head, then a baseball cap will help to protect your head from sunburn and hide the fact that you don't have very much hair on your head. But a baseball cap is not the best choice for a long-term hard times tragedy event.
Hat with a Full Brim: A hat with a full brim is recommended for a long-term hard times event for the following reasons:
Therefore when selecting a hat you should look for a hat that is made from some type of waterproof material and it should have a medium or wide brim that extends all the way around the hat. When you put the hat on your head and you look in the mirror you will probably see that the front brim is higher than the rear brim and therefore it will help to direct rainwater off the back of the hat.
- It will help to protect a bald head or a head with very little hair from sunburn.
- It will help to keep any type of head warm.
- The full brim goes all the way around the hat. Therefore the brim will protect your nose, your ears, and the back of your neck from sunburn, even on a bright sunny freezing cold winter day.
- If it starts to rain the full brim will catch the rain and direct it away from your head so the rain falls off the rear brim of your hat behind you onto the ground.
The hat should feel comfortable on your head and it should not feel too tight or too loose. If it is too tight then you will be able to feel it pressing against your forehead. If it is too loose then it will fall off your head when you bow at the waist. The hat should be a little loose on your head but not so loose that it will be constantly falling off.
Ski Mask: A full face ski mask is also a very useful item to have in cold weather. It will help to keep your entire head warm, including your ears, nose, chin, and part of your neck. On a cold windy day there is nothing that can compare to the comfort of a ski mask to keep your nose and ears from becoming frost bitten.
Depending on the thickness of your ski mask it might be possible to wear your ski mask under your full brim hat if your hat was purchased to be comfortable and your hat does not fit too tightly on your head.
If the wind is not blowing then the bottom half of a ski mask can be lifted up above your eyes and used to cover the top half of your head. This will provide a double layer of warmth for your forehead and ears.
If it is extremely cold at night then you may wish to wear a ski mask to bed and sleep with it covering your head, ears, nose, chin, and neck to keep your head and face warm so you can get a decent night's rest. Your eyes, mouth, and nostrils would be uncovered so you could breathe and so you could see when you woke up. In the 1800s many people wore a head covering at night and it was called a "night cap." A night cap had material on each side of the cap that was used to tie the cap under your chin to keep it from working its way off your head during the night. A ski mask does not require these side ties because a ski mask covers your entire head, including your chin, and therefore it will not gradually slip off your head when you turn from side to side during the night, unless you are an extremely restless sleeper.
Therefore it would probably be a good idea to have two ski masks: one to wear during the freezing cold winter days and a clean one to wear to bed at night.
Finally, if you are trying to remain undetected in a rural or wilderness environment, then a hat or ski mask will help to cover your head and make it more difficult to see your human facial features at a distance.
Note: Another option for staying warm at night would be to sleep inside a hooded sweatshirt. Place the hood over your head and pull the drawstrings so it fits loosely against your head. If it is really cold where you are sleeping, then wear a ski mask under your hooded sweatshirt.
There are a wide variety of different types of gloves that are designed for a multitude of different purposes. However, for the purpose of this article the only types of gloves that will be discussed will be for warmth, or for work, or for both.
Warm Gloves: During a cold weather hard times event you will probably discover that you will need to wear warm gloves both indoors and outdoors to keep your hands warm. If the temperature drops really low at night then you will probably discover that you will want to sleep with your warm gloves on your hands. Therefore a comfortable pair of flexible warm gloves is a basic necessity that everyone in your family will need. Wool gloves are usually preferred but good wool gloves are normally more difficult to find and they are more expensive than cotton gloves or gloves made from synthetic fibers. (Note: My personal experience has been that a good pair of leather driving gloves perform exceptionally well for keeping my hands warm when I am just sitting around the house, and while sleeping during really cold weather.)
Leather Work Gloves: If you will be using your hands to do hard physical labor then you will probably discover that a good pair of comfortable flexible leather work gloves will protect your hands from a variety of injuries and from becoming calloused and blistered. This is of critical importance during a long-term hard times event because if you can't use your hands then your chances of survival significantly decrease.
Campfire Cooking Gloves with Long Wrists: If you are cooking over a wood burning fire (fireplace or campfire) then a pair of loose fitting leather gloves with long wrists will be extremely useful when you move pots and pans to and from the fire area, and when you stir the food inside the pots near the fire. Campfire cooking gloves should be a little loose so you can quickly shake them off your hands if they accidentally become too hot. Your cooking gloves should only be used for cooking and they should not be used for anything else in order to keep them as sanitary as possible and to help avoid transferring something unpleasant into your food.
The life expectancies of the above gloves are as follows:
Finally, I suggest that you try the gloves on before you purchase them. The gloves should feel very comfortable on your hands and they should not be too tight or too loose. During a long-term hard times tragedy event you will be using your gloves a lot and comfort is a very important issue in this type of situation.
- Warm Gloves: Gloves that are only worn for warmth will easily last at least five years (or a lot longer if they are good quality gloves).
- Leather Work Gloves: Gloves that are used for hard physical labor several days each week will usually only last three or four months before you wear holes in them or they start to fall apart. Therefore, if you anticipate having to do hard physical labor (gardening or cutting firewood) during a long-term hard times event then you should have several pairs of good leather work gloves for each "worker" in your household.
- Campfire Cooking Gloves with Long Wrists: Gloves that are only used when cooking over the coals of a wood burning fire will normally last at least three years. However, do not lay your cooking gloves down too close to the fire when you are not using them or the heat will significantly shorten their useful life.
During a long-term hard times tragedy event the one clothing item that will almost always wear out the fastest and which is also the most important to your long-term survival will be your socks.
Walking may become critical to your survival during a long-term hard times event and without a good pair of socks between your feet and your boots then walking will become either extremely uncomfortable or impossible.
Most people think socks last a long time because they don't have to replace their socks very often. But these people usually buy their socks in packages of between three to ten pair of socks per package. And most people usually have between six to twelve pair of socks in their sock drawer. Therefore, each pair of socks is usually only worn one day each week. And if you only buy new socks once every six months then you think that all socks will last about six months. This is true during normal times but each pair of socks was only used one day each week during those six months so each pair of socks has a life expectancy of about 20 to 30 days of continuous wear. And the reason one pair of socks will last about 25 days is because we don't walk very much during normal times.
However, during a hard times event it would not be unusual for a person to walk two or three times further every day than during normal times. This means a good pair of socks would only last between 10 to 15 days under heavy use, if you were to use the same pair of socks every day. No one would do this if they could put on clean socks each day. But the life expectancy of each pair of socks would still be significantly less than anything a person was accustomed to during normal times.
Therefore, when you think about the shortened life expectancy of a good pair of socks, and how important socks are to your long term survival, you will probably realize that your current emergency inventory of socks is totally inadequate.
During really cold winter weather you may need to wear two or three pair of socks to keep your feet warm.
The easiest way to extend the useful life of your socks is to keep your toenails trimmed short. During hard times you should seriously consider trimming your toenails once every week. Each time you trim your toenails you should take the time to file each toenail very smooth so it does not have any rough places that can catch and tear a hole in your socks.
You should also learn the proper way to repair your socks. The proper way is called "darning." Instructions for darning socks can be downloaded from the following web sites:
Long Underwear (Thermal Underwear)
During cold weather each member of your family should wear long underwear, or thermal underwear, under their regular clothing. This includes wearing a long sleeve upper garment and a long leg lower garment below your normal clothing. The extra layer of clothing will help you to stay warmer and you will lose less of your normal body heat to the surrounding cold air.
There are a lot of different types of long underwear available. You should purchase the best quality you can afford. However, even an inexpensive pair of long underwear is better than no long underwear.
If you can't find any long underwear then you should consider wearing a pair of ladies pantyhose under your jeans, even if you are a male. They make ladies pantyhose in Queen sizes and in Plus sizes that will usually fit an adult male. If you buy black pantyhose then it will not look like you are wearing pantyhose if a temporary small space briefly appears between your jeans and your socks. Read the back of the package to determine the recommended waist, weight, and length of the pantyhose before you make your investment. If you can't find any long underwear you should also consider wearing a long sleeve undershirt below your normal shirt. If you can't find a long sleeve undershirt then try wearing two t-shirts with short sleeves under your normal shirt. Your primary objective is to keep your chest and abdominal area warm because that is where the majority of your vital organs are located and performing their normal functions.
Layers of Clothing
You will stay warmer wearing several thin layers of clothing instead of wearing one or two thick layers of clothing.
If you are wearing several thin layers of clothing and it gradually gets colder then you can add another layer of clothing to get warmer. If you gradually get too warm then you can remove a layer of clothing to cool off. But if you are only wearing one or two really heavy layers of clothing then you can't easily add or subtract layers without getting much too warm or much too cool. Therefore, several thin layers of clothing are better than one or two thick layers of clothing. You should keep this in mind when you are purchasing your clothing. There is nothing wrong with having a good thick pair of pants and a good thick shirt but you should also have some thinner items that you can wear below those thick items to better control your body temperature and keep yourself more comfortable.
During the warm summer weather it is nice to have some type of insect repellant that you can spray or rub on your skin to keep the insects away. But during a serious long-term hard times tragedy event most of us will quickly run out of insect repellant and we will need an alternate solution to the insect problem.
If you are going to remain indoors most of the time during the really warm summer weather then short sleeve shirts and short pants are a good choice. But if you will need to be outdoors for a reasonable portion of the day and there are flying insects, gnats, and mosquitoes that are looking for someone to feed on, then you would be providing an easy meal for these insects if a lot of your skin is exposed. However, if you were wearing a very lightweight thin loose-fitting long-sleeve summer shirt, and lightweight thin loose-fitting long summer pants, then you would have less skin area exposed and this could significantly reduce the number of insect bites you receive. If the garments are loose-fitting then they will be sliding around a little bit on your body and this will make it more challenging for an insect to bite through the garment and get to you.
If you are trying to remain undetected in a rural or wilderness environment during the warm summer weather then wearing a thin long sleeve shirt and a thin pair of long pants will help to better conceal your human features and skin.
When I lived in Florida I noticed that the Sporting Goods Stores sold a special type of clothing for hunters that was designed for their hot, humid environment. The clothing had an outer layer of close weave mesh that you could see through and an inner layer of thick weave mesh. The inner mesh pattern was about 1/4 inch square but the mesh material was about 1/8 inch thick. This allowed your skin to breath and it kept the outer close weave mesh far enough off your skin that a mosquito could not feed on you. I tried to find this type of clothing in the Sporting Goods Stores in Georgia and in Alabama but none of them had any idea of what I was talking about. Therefore you may or may not be able to find a store in your area that sells this type of special summer clothing. However, this type of clothing is available from the company that makes it by clicking on the following link. I do not earn a commission or fee of any kind if you click on the link or if you purchase something from the company. The link is being provided solely for your convenience.
Shoes and Boots
I have already discussed Shoes and Boots in detail in one of my other articles and I will not repeat that information here.
If you have not yet read that article then you may click on the link below to read my comments about Shoes and Boots:
Realistic Self-Sufficiency: The Do's and the Don'ts.
The only additional comment that I would add to the discussion at the above link is that you should probably avoid any type of shoes or boots that have "air cushion inserts or soles." I have owned several pair of these "air" shoes in the past and most of them worked fine until they eventually wore out and had to be replaced. But I have had the occasional "air" shoe gradually develop a tiny invisible "leak" and the shoe would squeak whenever I would start walking. You don't need "squeaking" shoes or boots to draw attention to yourself if you are trying to blend in and not be noticed.
Color of Clothing and Boots
During a long-term hard times tragedy event your best chance for survival is to blend in and not attract any unnecessary attention to yourself.
If you are planning to live in the wilderness and never enter a small rural town then camouflage clothing may be a reasonable option for you. The problem with camouflage clothing is that very, very few people inside a rural town wear that type of clothing on a regular basis so you will stand out from everyone else and you will be noticed by anyone who sees you.
On the other hand, if you are wearing solid color dark faded clothing then you will blend it. During a long-term hard times tragedy event there will probably not be too many people wearing new clothes so your best chance of blending in would be to wear something without any type of distinctive pattern or any type of bright color.
In order to strategically choose the best colors for your particular situation you should first very carefully look at your environment and determine which colors are predominate during the different seasons of the year.
I suggest that all your clothing be purchased in dark colors, including your underwear and t-shirts. The quickest and easiest way to attract attention almost anywhere, including a rural town and the wilderness, is to have a temporary small space appear between your shirt and your jeans and a flash of "white" or some other bright color become visible.
- White: If your area is covered in snow for several months each year then you will need some white clothing to blend in during your normal winter weather. But if your area only has snow on the ground for a few days each year, then white clothing would probably be a very poor choice. If your area has snow on the ground for several days each month during the winter and you need to blend into a wilderness area, then you should consider purchasing a white rain poncho with a white hood that you can wear over your normal dark color clothing.
- Brown: If your area is surrounded by trees and those trees lose their leaves every fall, then brown would be a good choice because the ground probably contains a thick layer of decaying leaves that are different shades of brown. Brown also does not "catch the eye" inside a populated area.
- Black: In my opinion black clothing, black socks, and black footwear would be a good choice for a long-term hard times tragedy event if you do not know exactly where you might eventually be spending most of your time. Each time you wash the black clothing the black color will fade a little bit but it will still be black. At night you will be almost invisible inside a rural town or in the middle of the wilderness. You will also not stand out or attract any attention during the daytime in either one of these two environments. As the black color gradually fades it looks almost like dark navy blue which is a common color inside a populated area. In a wilderness area there are lots and lots of shadows from the trees during the daytime and therefore one more dark object will not attract any special attention.
- Dark Navy Blue: Dark navy blue is a good compromise color if you anticipate spending about half of your time in a populated area and about half your time in a wilderness area. People will generally not notice you if you are wearing navy blue. The dark navy blue color is very close to black so you will disappear at night and blend in reasonably well in the wilderness. On the other hand, medium blue does not blend in well except inside a populated area as blue jeans. The major problem with blue jeans is that they are very noticeable in the wilderness from a long distance away.
- Gray: Medium gray or dark charcoal gray is also a good choice because it does not "catch the eye" like bright colors. Your objective should be to blend in and not be noticed and this is easier to do inside a town or in the wilderness if you are wearing medium gray or dark gray clothing. The trunks of many trees are different shades of gray so you would blend in "naturally" if you were in an area with trees. On the other hand, light gray coloring does not blend in well and therefore light gray should probably be avoided.
You will need to make your own decision about what colors you think would be best suited for whatever situation you think you will encounter during a long-term tragedy event.
Always wear some type of safety glasses everywhere.
Wear safety glasses even when you are just relaxing and doing nothing. Your eyes deserve to be protected all the time. Losing one eye during a hard times event will seriously impair your productivity and your chances for long term survival. Losing both eyes would mean that you would become a permanent burden on the rest of your family.
Therefore please visit a hardware store or a WalMart and buy two or three pair of good quality clear safety glasses. Of, if you have a little more money to invest, then you could purchase industrial quality safety glasses (examples below). If you now wear prescription eyeglasses, then consider investing in a pair of safety glasses made from your current prescription.
Some examples of safety glasses that can be purchased over the internet are as follows:
Body Glove 90408 V-Line+ Dual-Lens High Impact Safety Glasses, Black Frame, Clear Lens, Cost $13.05
Milwaukee 49-17-2400 MK2400 Safety Glasses Clear Hard Coat, Cost $9.95
Milwaukee 49-17-2200 MK2200 Safety Glasses Clear Anti-Fog, Cost $9.95
If you wear reading glasses then you can purchase bifocal safety glasses with a variety of different strengths in the lower part of the safety lens:
Dewalt DPG59-115C Reinforcer Rx-Bifocal 1.5 Clear Lens High Performance Protective Safety Glasses with Rubber Temples and Protective Eyeglass Sleeve, Cost $13.59
MSA Safety Works 10061646 Bifocal Safety Glasses, 2.0 Diopeter, Cost $9.20
The above links are provided for your convenience. I am not endorsing the above products nor am I earning any type of commission by providing the above links.
Firearms and Other Weapons
In the early to mid-1800s the most common firearms available were a single-shot black powder rifle and a single-shot black powder pistol.
With the invention of smokeless powder and the self-contained ammunition cartridge that contained a bullet, some gunpowder, and a primer, there was a gradual trend toward the development of new firearms that would shoot these improved projectiles. At first the designs were similar to the black powder weapons and each firearm fired one-shot. The empty brass casing would then be removed, another round inserted, and another shot could then be fired.
However, the six-shot revolver and the lever-action rifle were also developed in the mid to late 1800s to more fully utilize the advantages of the "modern" firearm cartridge. These new weapons were a significant advantage over the single-shot firearms because a person could load several cartridges at one time, and then keep firing the weapon until it was empty. This was a significant advantage during any type of military campaign.
Next came the invention of fully automatic weapons. Then governments passed new laws and semi-automatic weapons became the standard.
At the current time a law abiding individual who lives in most of the states within the United States may legally purchase semi-automatic firearms. However, these individuals are frequently advised not to buy a semi-automatic weapon but to invest in a bolt action rifle, or a lever-action rifle, or a six-shot revolver instead. There is nothing wrong with these weapons but I strongly suggest that you purchase a semi-automatic rifle and a semi-automatic pistol instead. If you wish to know the reasons why then you can read the following article on my web site:
How to Hit the Target Bull's-Eye.
Hatchets and Saws
Hatchets and saws were common household items in the 1800s and they still have many practical uses today. In my opinion, they will become indispensable during a long-term hard times tragedy event.
Hatchets: A good quality stainless steel hatchet in a leather belt sheath can be easily attached to your belt and it would therefore be with you whenever you might need it. It has a flat rectangular end that can be used to drive nails or to crack hickory nuts. It can also be used in an emergency to crush/grind corn or wheat into flour. The sharp end can be used for a variety of simple chopping tasks or it can be used as a self-defense weapon similar to the American Indian tomahawk. (Note: A modern hatchet with a stainless steel head and a stainless steel handle would be a better investment than an old-fashioned hatchet with a standard steel head and a wood handle.)
Saws: There are a variety of different types of saws available but the most useful one for the average person would be a wood saw. If you don't already have a good wood saw then I recommend the Stanley Sharptooth Saw with a 15-inch blade. It can be purchased as most WalMarts and Lowes and Home Depots. It will cut wood on both the pull and push strokes and it will cut through the wood in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of effort. But that is just my opinion and you may purchase any type and name brand of saw you wish.
A good quality LED flashlight, a good quality LED lantern, a small solar battery charger, and 20 rechargeable flashlight size batteries would be extremely useful during a long-term hard times tragedy event.
An LED bulb is normally advertised to last about 100,000 hours which means you would never need to replace it.
An LED bulb only consumes a fraction of the power that a regular flashlight bulb consumes so your batteries will last somewhere between two to twenty times longer between charges.
In my opinion you should avoid the really cheap LED flashlights ($8 or less). My experience with these cheap LED flashlights has been very disappointing. Every one of my cheap LED flashlights stopped working after a few weeks for one reason or another. However, my $25 LED flashlight is still working after several years of intermittent use.
If the electricity goes out you will quickly appreciate the multitude of practical uses for an LED flashlight and an LED lantern.
Nowadays most people take fire for granted -- especially in the United States. But during a long-term hard times tragedy event you may not be able to buy matches or butane lighters. And after you have invested several hours trying to start a fire using some primitive method and you do not succeed then you would probably be willing to pay an extremely high price for some matches or a butane lighter.
The following article on my web site discusses matches and butane lighters in great depth:
The Three Most Important Wilderness Survival Items.
Directions and a Compass
Most people do not realize how truly valuable a simple compass can be. If you would like some basic information on how to navigate on dry land then please read the following article on my web site:
Compass Instructions and Alternatives.
Food Preservation Knowledge
During a serious long-term hard times tragedy event a family that knew a variety of different reliable ways to preserve food for winter consumption would have a better chance of surviving than a family that was relying exclusively on one method of food preservation.
I recommend the following book on this topic:
Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, Costenbader, 2002, $15.
The following is not medical advice nor is it a medical recommendation. If you have a medical question then please consult a licensed medical professional.
During a long-term hard times event the nutritional value of your daily meals will probably not be as high as during normal times. To help maintain your health, and to help prevent a number of vitamin deficiency health problems that were common in the 1800s, your family should have a reasonable supply of complete multivitamins. The health benefits of vitamins is usually not fully appreciated by people in the United States until they have a vitamin deficiency and a health problem develops as a result of that deficiency, such as bleeding gums and loose teeth. Therefore each member of your family should take a complete multivitamin on a regular basis, unless they have been advised not to by a medical professional.
During a hard times event if you are not sure how long it will be before you can replenish your supply of vitamins then you may need to ration your vitamins and only take one vitamin every two or three days. This is a decision you will need to make yourself.
A family that knows all the above information would have a pretty good chance of surviving whatever the future may bring.
Unfortunately, the above discussion does not include everything that a family would need to know.
To improve their chance for long-term survival a family should also read the other articles on my web site at the following link:
How to Survive Hard Times
June 13, 2012 - Added Link to Internet Company that makes and sells "Bug Tamer" summer clothing.
May 10, 2010 - Added some additional information about clothing colors.
January 18, 2010 - Added a section on vitamins.
January 15, 2010 - Created this new web page.
Click on www.grandpappy.info/indexhar.htm for more Hard Times Survival Tips.
Click on www.grandpappy.info for Robert's Home Page.
Send e-mail to RobertWayneAtkins@grandpappy.info