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Considered one of the fathers of modern, light canoeing and hiking, Nessmuk was a man of an extremely modest exterior. With a height of 1.6 meters and a weight of less than 50 kg, light equipment seemed to be a natural choice.

George Nessmuk Sears
George Nessmuk Sears, fot. wikipedia, Domena Publiczna

George Washington Sears was born on December 2, 1821, the first child of the Sears family, from South Oxford, Massachusetts. During his childhood he was friends with a Nipmuc Native American named Nessmuk. He had borrowed his pseudonym from him in the future. Nessmuk taught George many useful hunting, fishing and camping skills. This friendship also made him deeply fascinated by Native American culture. He devoured books on the subject, but also developed his interest in life and adventure in the forest.

Gainful employment

The Sears family was rather poor, which was the norm in the 19th century United States. With nine younger siblings, George started working at the age of eight. First at a sawmill, then on Cape Cod as a fisherman. At 16, he signed up for a three-year whaling expedition in the South Pacific. Later, he did other things too: he searched for silver in Colorado, edited a newspaper in Missouri, was a cowboy in Texas, and most of all, he camped and hunted.

After returning home in 1848, he moved with his family to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. There he started working as a shoemaker. In 1857 he got married and had three children. After the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Bucktails Pennsylvania regiment. However, he did not manage to take part in any battle – he was dismissed from service due to a broken foot.

It is ruled by adventure and disease

In 1866 he traveled to Wisconsin, and later to Brazil, to the Amazon. He unsuccessfully tried to convince investors of his rubber industry improvement program.

At the age of 59, his problems with tuberculosis worsened. So he decided to take advantage of the vaunted climate of the Adirondack lakes and forests that had been heavily promoted by the pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, William Henry Harrison Murray. However, since Sears was already quite frail and weak at the time, he convinced boatbuilder J. Henry Rushton of Canton, New York, to build him an ultra-light canoe. The Sairy Gamp – as Nessmuk called his boat – was 2.7 meters long and weighed only 4.8 kilograms. In the years that followed, Sears made several very long journeys on the Adirondack lakes.

With journalistic experience from Spirit of the Times, Atlantic and Tioga Country Agitator magazines, in the 1880s, he started working with Forest and Stream – a magazine founded in New York by Charles Hallock in 1873. There he wrote about the charms of Adirondack, about kayaking, and camping in the woods. He also shared his thoughts, many of which were – as we would say today – ecological. He used the pseudonym “Nessmuk”, as if paying tribute to his childhood friend.

The art of forest camping

In 1884 he wrote the book “Woodcraft & Camping”, which immediately became a bestseller (in Poland published in 2017 by the Old Wonderful World as “The Art of Forest Camp”), and three years later a collection of his poems entitled “Runes forest”.

George W. Sears died on May 1, 1890. He is remembered as the father of ultra-light camping (although by today’s standards, his equipment was obviously quite heavy), and his unusual boat went to the Smithsonian Institution, and is now on loan to the Adirondack Museum. It is worth noting that Nessmuk had a huge impact on many contemporary experts in outdoor, bushcraft and survival. Dave Canterbury dedicated to him a series of films “In the shadow of Nessmuk” (in the shadow of Nessmuk) about ultra-light camping.

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