How To Pack For Wildcrafting
When wildcrafting or harvesting wild edibles, packing the right equipment without over packing is essential. Bringing the right equipment will save you a lot of hassle and help you collect all that you need. Now, I have had a few lessons from 'old timers' on what, where and when to collect, yet I tend to diverge with their advice on equipment portion. The traditional collection method I have seen, is to simply toss everything into a wicker, rattan or bamboo pack and sort it out later. This is a great way to hold a lot of greens, nuts and mushrooms, but not an optimum way to keep greens from wilting, crushing mushrooms and it to creates a whole lot more work for yourself later when you have to sort out your harvest.
In my experience there are better ways to collect than simply throwing everything into one bag, and there are ways to keep your harvest fresh for when you get back rather than having a pile of wilted greens
What to Pack
The basics for wildcrafting equipment are pretty simple but make sure you pack according to what you are after. It makes no sense to bring a trowel if you are out to get morels likewise, digging for burdock roots by hand is not a pleasant experience:
- Pack your guides, trees, edible plants, mushrooms for what ever you are out for. Unless of course you have a very specific species in mind.
- A good pair of gloves, always useful, especially with nettles
- Shears, its better to snip then to rip
- A pocket knife, always comes in handy
- A small shovel / garden trowel to dig at roots
- If you are out in the deep woods a GPS or a compass is probably a good idea.
I try to go light when I am out, the more equipment you have the less space you have for what you collect. They more you want to collect, the more space you need which means you need a bigger pack, thus we transition into the next section....
First, your pack should be appropriate size to what your purpose is. If you are just going out for a quick walk around the back yard a backpack is not necessary and you can probably just carry a few cloth bags. A hike through the woods might require a day pack, while taking a morning or afternoon to do some more serious collecting may warrant taking a full pack.
The style of pack I prefer is one without a zipper.If you must get with a zipper make sure it is reliable and under warranty. The less you have to worry about zippers failing the easier it will be to have a pack for a long time. Cheap packs will eventually fail as you will be constantly in and out of them to remove and replace containers ID books, and rearrange contents. This is the reason that many old timers rely on wicker packs with a simple lid and just toss everything together. Zippers fail and plastic clips will break but a lid will be pretty reliable unless one loses it. A pack with a drawstring style opening is also a good choice but such styles can be hard to find in smaller versions.
I also reccomend getting something that is washable and has a re-inforced bottom. You will be stting the pack down a lot and the bottom will take some abuse. The first time you forget a few boletes at the bottom of your pack you will be glad that it is washable too. My prefered store for collection packs is an army surplus store or an army navy store. They usualy have resonably priced, simple and reliable equipment that is built to last a long time.
Containers and Bags
An important part of wildcrafting is packing the appropriate containers. Plastic bags, while easy to come by do not breathe, and rip easily if collecting heavy or spiny plants or nuts. They also blow away, do not decompose and are not washable / reusable if they get dirty.I recommend getting washable cloth and mesh bags. This type of bag is perfect collecting anythign from mushrooms to roots, as it will notlead to sweating and 'mushification' in a humid plastic environment. It also is the a choice for for roots, and nuts, and andy woody plants since they will not rip or poke through a cloth bag.
I use pillowcases often, smaller sized ones since they are lightweight, washable and durable. I also re-use mesh produce bags from oranges, onions and potates as they seem to hold up well. When collecting mushrooms I often carry them in a mesh bag so that the spores will spread as I walk, relieving some of the guilt if I take a big harvest.
Plastic containers are appropriate when going nutting, or berry picking or for greens. If you use a plastic container make sure it has a secure lockable lid and can be stored in your pack without it flopping or rolling around. Containers of the same size that can be stored within eachother are a mush. When picking greens or seed pods, or buds a plastic container with a damp paper towel or two will keep your greens freash and un-wilted (also use a damp towel if puttinh greens in a cloth bag).
Do not try to pack for everything, its easier and more enjoyable to simply gather the basics and get outside. If you happen to stumble over a rare find of berries, not having a plastic container doesn't mean you leave them, it just means you improvise. Try not to forget basics that you might want, insect repellents, water ect. Also make sure your guides are appropriate for the field. I find the smaller guides, specific to a region, rather than the country are lighter, have better photos and often have more detail. Carrying around a fifteen pound herb bible isn't the best idea.
Remember to harvest responsibly and not to eat anything you are unsure of. Above all, relax and have fun!