May 12, 2014

Tips for New Civil War Reenactors: Be a Bit of a Farb

Soldiers at Neshaminy State Park 2014
I get a lot of emails from budding reenactors about to go to their first reenactment. They ask me for all sorts of advice but most of them want to know if what they have is "okay." Generally, most of them have a basic reenacting kit that will most likely soon be updated but is a decent enough starting point. We all know, authenticity is a personal journey and most will attain good enough, soon enough. This is a post to tell new reenactors what I wish someone told me: It's okay to be a little bit of a farb and here's why.

At my first event, I wanted to go super-hardcore. I thought that's what I was supposed to do as there is so much emphasis on it in the hobby. I didn't know anything about the rule of hiding non-period items so I just did without any of them, including things I really should have had with me, like a cell phone. I didn't bring a hairbrush, a toothbrush or a change of clothes. I did not know what I was in for!

Little did anyone tell me but my first event was in the mountains in the fall. I had no extra clothing to keep warm and only one blanket. I fell in a stream and had no way to dry off. I went to bed wet, cold and frozen and honestly could have gotten very sick. I was hours away from home and had no way of contacting anyone. It was very unsafe and I will always tell beginning reenactors that it's okay to start out as a bit of a farb. Safety is first. As experience grows, so will authenticity. As your kit grows, your use of non period items will dwindle. But until you reach that point. Do what you need to do to be safe.
Whenever I recieve an e-mail from a new reenactor about what to bring to their first event, I always tell them to add these items. they take up very little space and can make the difference between a horrible event and a great one. These can be very useful, even if you just keep them in the car.   

Stephanie Ann's (Farby but Important) Reenactor Survival Kit


- Sunscreen- You might not always need it, but it's good if you have it. There are even sunscreen wipes for sale that take up very little space.
- Lip Balm
- Nail Clippers- Not only are nail issues a pain at events, but these are tiny and can be used to cut thread and string.
- Trash bag- In the event of a downpour, it's good to be able to have something to throw all of your stuff in it. Also these are helpful at the end of events for trash or dirty equipment. 
- Small sewing kit (if there isn't one as part of your period kit.)
-Twine- You better believe I've found a use for twine at almost every event. From replacement canteen cork holders to tent pole lashings.
-Tissues and/or wet wipes. You'll thank me when you end up in a depleted portable toilet at 1 am.  
- Washcloth or small towel. 
- Hand Sanitizer
-Any medicines you may need.
-Bandages-Helpful for blisters. 

Everything Loose.

Emergency Items:

-Spare money
-Phone numbers, addresses in case you lose your phone or it dies.
-Spare phone battery. 
-Spare car key
-Gatorade Powder, chews or other electrolyte supplement. A recipe for a cheap one made from things in your kitchen can be found here.


-Spare change of clothing or at least undies and socks.

For ladies:

 -Feminine products- You never know who will need them. Maybe I should have put this under the general section, as these are now the newest thing in manly survival.
- Extra hairpins

For gentlemen:

-Extra canteen cork
-Extra clothing patches
-Spare gun cleaning equipment

All Packed Away
For a long time, I kept my emergency items in a decent sized poke sack but a small box can be used with good results and locked up. Also, some of these items can be kept on your person if you think it would be helpful, such as tissues or lip balm.

Any reenactors have some advice for new recruits? Also, if you know any new reenactors, please forward this post!


  1. Modern sleeping clothes. No one told me and I just didn't think about it.

  2. Stephanie,

    I think this is really good advice for civilian reenactors as to what to bring. What I would like to add is be creative and be as authentic as possible. (Authentic and Hardcore aren't always the same) For example, if you want to carry around energy drinks, put them in dark colored glass bottles so you can't see the funky Gatorade colors. And things like soda and beer wouldn't hurt the container it's in the way it would if you drank it from a tin cup. For an ice cooler, try to build or find a wood box your cooler will drop into. Example, mine slides into a grain bin with a lid. There are ways to conceal just about anything in a period appropriate container, if you are resourceful. Stroll the antique stores and look for things, even a burlap bag covering a wood crate, or an old metal bucket to flip overtop of something, is better than throwing a blanket over a plastic bin. All of my stuff I bring to events is actually kept in a very old-looking thing to carry and conceal it.

    For advice on what infantry soldiers should bring to events as their 'survival kit', see my post here:

  3. And as far as 'farbyness' goes... I think reenactors should be allowed a grace period of 6 months to a year for them to collect their gear and put their impression together, before they are labeled as a sloppy reenactor. This is not a cheap hobby, and building your kit takes time.

    Here are some modern items you definitely should have hidden somewhere in your kit:

    1. Hand sanitizer or baby wipes, so you don't feel so dirty all the time. You can clean your hands before eating, or 'freshen up' before the drive home. I know how bad it feels to sit in a car for 4 hours to go home when you haven't changed your clothes in 3 days. Conceal the plastic containers in a poke bag or a wool sock. Get the travel size ones from a drug store so they take up less space.

    2. For very muddy events, keep 2-liter soda bottles full of water in your car to rinse off your feet, legs and arms before getting in. This is a trick my aunt always used at the beach to wash the sand off.

    3. Bring a length of rope to use as a clothesline to dry your wet clothes. You'd be surprised how quickly the wind and the sun can dry your stuff.

    4. If you don't want to bring a small flashlight, bring lots of candles.

    5. Bring something to charge your cell phone. Radioshack sells battery packs that can fully recharge a mobile device. One is good but two are better. I know the old cellphones had batteries you could replace withe xtras, but new smartphones have the non-replaceable lithium batteries and I find these die a lot faster. You may think you can charge in your car at night, but what if your car is parked a mile away from your camp?

    6. Instant cold packs for hot events. Walgreens sells cold packs that aren't cold until you pop and shake them. It's worth it. Just be careful where you throw these away as they contain harmful chemicals.

    7. Discover the wonder of electrolyte tablets and powdered energy drink mixes! They don't need to be kept cold, and save lots of weight by not carrying extra bottles or cans. Dick's or other sporting goods stores sell water soluble electrolyte tablets in small containers. I love them.

  4. This strays a bit off-topic and I don't wish to gross anyone out... but on your note of Feminine products: I've found that menstrual cups are a godsend for reenacting... Like all things, they take some getting used to, but because they collect & don't absorb like disposable products, they are safer to leave in longer and hold much more... making it so that those trips to portajohns may be much less frequent if suffering from that time of the month during a reenactment. That was my two cents for today, hope I don't scare anyone too much... ~Elsie

    1. Thanks Elsie. It might be something for people to consider. I know a lot of people have problems figuring out what they will do for an entire weekend.

  5. 8. The Portajohn is NOT a trash can.


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