For reasons that are too complicated to explain right now, I'm currently living on the edges of a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age set of civilisations, and I need to make a long overland journey. The world is currently in a pangaea-esque supercontinent; Civilisation, such as there is and what there is of it, is concentrated into clumps here and there, often around rivers, mines, lakes, etc.

Starting from a Western European type culture, I need to travel from the west coast to the east, a journey of around four thousand miles or so, with one adult, two children, and a dog. I'll be 'village hopping', hiking or boating from one patch of civilisation to the next, and I'll need to cross various physical barriers like forests, low mountains, probably the odd desert or two...

What should I pack for my journey? Assume that I'm carrying a few valuables for trade so I can resupply at villages every few weeks, so I don't need to carry food for the whole trip all at once. What tools and weapons would I have with me? What medical supplies would I have access to? How much could the children carry? And perhaps the most important question, how would I make fire? I don't have flint and steel, because steel hasn't been invented; would I use a fire bow, or carry an ember with me?

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    $\begingroup$ Is this an alternate-history question? The Bronze/Early-Iron Age began when the world was most definitely not a super-continent. $\endgroup$
    – A. Forty
    Nov 14, 2016 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ how old are the children? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 14, 2016 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ You might be able to get some ideas from known dangers of travel during the middle ages. $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2016 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ Packing a cow could be a good idea: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cow_and_I_(film) $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Nov 15, 2016 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling It's somewhere in between but I think OP's question is allowed because it's about physical elements required to make it work, not specifically a plot element $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Nov 15, 2016 at 12:48

7 Answers 7


For starters, look at the historical precedent: Ötzi. Weapons, tools, some food.

One survival memnonic is Cutting, Combustion, Cover, Containers, Cordage.

  • Probably several knives and an axe for your use. The knives may be stone rather than bronze for cost reasons, and also so that you don't have to show valuable gear in view of strangers. Perhaps a bow or a sling for hunting, depends on how the various societies react to armed strangers. A sling would be easier to hide.
  • For firemaking, take both options if you can. An ember in a clay pot, to save you time as you make camp, and firemaking tools in case it goes out. The question would be if you can carry the pot safely.
  • Tanned leather cloaks and perhaps even a shelter cover.
  • Packing frames with baskets and clay or leather containers.
  • Twine and leather cords to keep it all together, and for repairs.
  • For trade, bronze tools. A couple pounds of axe blades should be worth enough to pay for the food, if you can get a decent exchange rate. Perhaps amber and furs.

Regarding what the children can carry, depends on their age and health, and how much speed you expect them to make. 10 or 20 percent of their body weight?

Are those 4,000 miles the direct line or the effective distance? I would not count on more than 10 miles per day, so you might have to build winter quarters several times on the journey. Do it early enough to forage and hunt if there are no villages with enough surplus to feed you.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 Great list of necessities! ...and you are much better at staying in the O.P.'s desired developmental age than I am. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2016 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ That's a really excellent list, and I'll be using it right away! The mnemonic in particular will be very, very useful. 4,000 miles is the direct distance, and I'm expecting we will need to winter at least once on the journey. However, I'm also expecting to use river transport at least a few times, which should increase the distance we can travel in a day, and as we travel north the weather will become milder, hopefully reducing the necessity of winter quarters for later parts of the journey. $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Nov 14, 2016 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ clay emberpots would have been small and hung from a rope sling. as for the bow and arrows, unslung the bow is not considered a weapon and all societies would have hunters so people carrying unslung bows would be normal. Plus it feeds you along the way and you can trade hides and smoked or fresh meat in towns. Otzi the iceman had a stone knife, copper axe, and bow with arrows in his backpack. the knife and axe would be essential both were used for far to many things not to travel with, the axe would have been used every day to cut firewood. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 14, 2016 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark a six and eight year old probably couldn't manage even 1/4 although an older child might. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 15, 2016 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark, there was also the rule in the 19th century that a soldier could carry 10% of body weight, do a full day's march, and arrive fit for battle. Any more and either the march or the battle would suffer. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Nov 15, 2016 at 6:56

Consider this an addendum to @om's excellent answer. Your family should carry all of the necessities which that answer identified. These are just a few luxuries to make the journey safer and more comfortable.

If your "Western European" type culture has developed musical instruments, being able to "perform for your supper" can reduce the amount of food which you either need to carry or forage for. Talent with such instruments might also get you past the outer gate of the more xenophobic walled villages.

Similarly, drawing/painting supplies and the artistic talent to use them can be traded for warm accommodations and food for the winter. Complimentary portraits of the tribal chief and each of his children could be traded for safe passage across his territory.

Serving a purpose helps you avoid being seen as a threat.

Information is going to be your most useful possession. More valuable than the tools for creating fire is the knowledge of how to create such tools. Imagine the journeyman trader who can take dry wood and raw iron and some of that worthless flint rock, and create a magical spark making tool. She would be welcome everywhere.

  • $\begingroup$ I really should've thought of this myself, given that the storyline for one of the party members revolves heavily around music - that's a fantastic addition, thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Nov 14, 2016 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ I'd add dried herbs and spices to the list, both for personal use and for trading. Small weight and high utility. It's quite possible that after a few hundred miles, what was a common herb becomes an exotic and valuable one. (Trade for basic foodstuffs and common herbs/spices in your new locality). $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Nov 15, 2016 at 13:47

A lot of what you should pack with you is based on what you know about your environment. It is not a matter of what technology you have available, but what is your level of awareness about disease, chemistry, human psychology etc. I am assuming a modern understanding of the environment, with iron age technology.

Medical Supplies

  • Snakebite treatment kit. Includes herbs and potions.
  • Small tweezers for pulling out thorns, spikes etc and a sharp scalpel for cleaning festering wounds.
  • Bandages for wrapping on wounds.

Each person ought to carry their own medical kit. It would easily fit in a medium sized buckskin pouch, that can be hung from the waist.


The weapons would be used both for hunting and for defense against hostiles.

  • 4 knives. Adults carry large knives (cutlasses), one made of obsidian, for skinning game and other bronze for chopping dry twigs for fire. Children carry one small knife (the size of kitchen knives we use these days). Both made of stone, primarily for defending against hostiles.

  • Two bows. One large, as primary long range weapon against hostiles and for hunting large game animals. Smaller bow for hunting smaller game (squirrels, hares and snakes). Bows are carried by the adults while quivers/arrows are carried by the children, considering the children are aged 8 or above.

  • Two blowpipes. 4 feet each. For hunting birds. Blowpipes would be hung by the children's back while their darts would be carried in the quivers with arrows.

  • A pouch of poison for applying on arrow and dart tips. The pouch would be carried by one of the adults.

Food Supply

While it is understood that you cannot carry all the food for your journey with you and that with your weapons you can easily hunt game ranging from deer to birds, you would want to make sure you don't starve in case you are unable to hunt anything for a few days.

Every time you are in a region with easy game (lots of ducks/turkeys/squirrels/hares/deer), you would want to hunt as many as you can carry, and smoke or sun-dry their meat for future consumption. While you might get lucky and bring down a bear with a well placed poison arrow shot to the neck or eye, I would strongly advise against it. There would be much greater chances of you getting killed in the effort instead, and you would not be able to carry all the meat with you, either.

Your dog is going to be a major help for you in tracking large animals you have successfully hit, and in retrieving birds you managed to shoot.

In places of shallow water, you would want to hunt small fish or water fowl. You would also want to forage for berries and edible roots and tubers when you find them. Seasonal fruits such as wild avocados, pineapples and apples would also be a big help.

In case you are able to exchange some valuable item (whichever you might be carrying for trade sake) for food, I would suggest getting corn or molasses in return. Molasses is essentially sugar and can be used in hard times. Corn is great for drying up and roasting in small quantities on nights when you don't find any game.

Considering that you have mentioned deserts in your journey, I would strongly advise carrying your water with you for desert parts. That would mean thoroughly washing a deer or goat's bladder, tightly tying up one end of it, filling it with water and then tying up the other end. Everyone would need to carry one such bladder with them for desert walks. Remember, you would also need to carry water for your dog, too.

Clothing And Shelter

4000 miles is not a small distance and on foot, with children, you would hardly be making more than 10 miles each day. This would mean no less than 400 days for the whole journey. And then there would be rain and snow, too. Of course you are going to need warm clothing and some supplies for building a shelter.

Your regular buckskin/wolfskin coats and loin clothes will do for most of the time. But in winter you are going to need something thicker and warmer. That is going to be either a full (head to ankles) length of a wolfskin coat, made from skins of two or more wolves. Another option would be bearskin coats. These would be warmer and heavier and would also provide protection during snow. However, as mentioned above, bears would be next to impossible to hunt with your 2-people team even with poison tipped arrows. This means you would have to get them from some village, in return of some valuables such as wild game or metallic objects (such as axe-blades).

Once the winter season is over, you can trade your bearskins back to some other village in return of supplies you need, so that you don't have to carry unnecessary warm clothing during summer time.

Sometimes you might need to stay in one place for a week or so. That would occur when there is a heavy rain lasting more than a day, resulting in boggy places and seasonal streams everywhere. You might also have to stop travelling in case one of your family members gets sick/injured and is unable to travel. In such times you would need to build a small hut or tent for your family. This would include chopping down wooden sticks and building a small hut with clay and sticks. It would take a day to raise such a hut if all of you work on it.


This is going to be the hardest of all. Since you don't know how to make fire from flints. You would have to carry a lit torch with you all the time. Amazingly enough, buying fire from a village might cost you valuables, even if it is burning in every hut. I would certainly advise carrying your fire with you.

In places where you find oil wells, make sure to dip your torch in it, as it would burn longer with the crude oil applied on it.

  • $\begingroup$ actually they did have flint fire starters, they used them with iron pyrite instead of steel. but carrying embers and coals would have been much much more common, with the flint be ing reserved for emergencies. Bow drills would have served the same purpose as flint and pyrite. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 14, 2016 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ To weapons add at least one axe, everyone carried an axe you needed to make tools and shelter, to prepare a fire and for self defense. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 14, 2016 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ @John: These people wouldn't need to make any permanent heavy tools as that would hinder their speed. I have tried to keep the package as light as possible, without omitting any particularly important object. For cutting twigs, a metallic cutlass would be used. Keeping an axe/tomahawk with every individual would increase the burden and cut down travel distance covered daily. They can also forge spears and lances from their knives by tying up the knives to wooden shafts (which they can cut with the metal cutlass). $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2016 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ "buying fire from a village might cost you valuables, even if it is burning in every hut" - what is this assumption based upon? Are there stories from those times which hint to it? $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Nov 15, 2016 at 7:12
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    $\begingroup$ @YoustayIgo There's also a thing called hospitality, which was a major element of cultural expectations in many societies. That said, I expect in this world the sharing of fire to be a deeply symbolic act, offered as a token of friendship and carrying with it certain social and religious expectations. $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Nov 15, 2016 at 13:03

You also might want to look at what nomadic cultures do since that is probably closer to what a family traveling would be like. They might want a pack animal, and would definitely need to be able to hunt, they will never be able to carry enough goods to buy everything along the way. you will probably see travel as move for several days find a nice spot resupply and fatten up for a week or so then start traveling again. They will probably spend very little time in cities or towns as that costs money or requires connections. Now if any of them have special skills as entertainers or craftsmen they might be able to make money along the way more easily and would gravitate to populations centers more often. Many if not most skilled craftsmen were nomadic during the bronze age, few communities could support their services permanently. In which case you see travel from community to community spending several days/weeks at each community providing their service before moving on.


Fire Production

Bronze age technologies for fire can include:

  • Friction: Hand drill and bow drill
  • Percussion: Flint or quartz onto stone containing iron, such as pyrite or marcasite
  • Lens: Made of glass or ice. If ice is used, a lens mould would be extremely useful to have
  • Fire piston: Here is a video detailing how to make one

Food Supplies

In addition to the other answers, the Nation Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) has researched food supplies extensively. Here are some of their recommendations:

Dietary Needs Depend on Degree of Activity

  • Average Wilderness Activities (Backpacking, Kayaking)
    1.5 - 2 lbs of food per day
    2,500 - 3,000 calories per day

  • Strenuous Wilderness Activites (Hiking & Camping in Snow)
    2 - 2.25 lbs food per day
    3,000 - 3,700 calories per day

  • Very Strenuous Activities (Extreme Mountaineering)
    2.25 - 2.5 lbs food per day
    3,700 - 4,500 calories per day

Food Type Percentages

NOLS also recommend the following percentages of types of food:

  • 18% dinner foods
  • 16% breakfast foods
  • 21% trail foods
  • 13% cheese
  • 14% milk, eggs, margarine, cocoa
  • 7% flour and baking
  • 7% sugar and fruit drinks
  • 4% soups, bases, deserts

(Source: The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide by Mark Harvey (1999))

The ramifications of this is your group will need to resupply more often when involved in physically demanding activity like climbing, because they can only carry so much weight, but will be eating more pounds of food per day. But, with light activity such as plains hiking, they can go for longer between resupplying.

I'm not sure how you can adapt all that to a bronze age diet, but that's at least what modern nutritionists recommend.

Food Availability

Depending on where your party is will greatly effect what types of foods can be scavenged along the way. I personally spent 1 month in the NOLS Wind River Wilderness course in Wyoming. I had been studying edible plants (including mushrooms) for years ahead of time as a hobby, so I was looking forward to putting my foraging skills to good use while camping.

I was amazed at just how inhospitable the Wyoming wilderness is in terms of edible plants. I think in the entire 1 month of hiking, we managed to make 1 very meager salad when we found a patch of edible leafy plants, and also 1 batch of cooked puffball mushrooms. That proved to me the stark reality of trying to feed myself by foraging plants--if you are not in a naturally fecund area, you will very likely not be able to get enough calories per day to survive. Nuts, berries and other edibles with significant calories and nutrition are very, very rare in most areas. So, hunting animals would have to be the only real scavenging method for feeding your group in a temperate land like North America.

I also did a research paper on pioneer living in early America and was amazed to learn that trappers who ventured into wilderness areas would take all parts of the animal (except fur, teeth, bones, etc.) and cook them all together in a pot and eat all of it! I previously had never thought of eating all the organs, but apparently they did. I suppose if you are hungry enough, every bit of food becomes attractive.

Pack Animals

Given the average distances between modern towns, geographies and general lack of food availability in the wild, mules or other pack animals that could graze for their own food could provide your group with an essential means of carrying enough food and shelter items to make a successful, long journey practical.

The Long Walk

All that being said, you might be interested in reading The Long Walk, the memoir by former Polish prisoner of war Sławomir Rawicz who escaped from a Soviet Gulag and walked 4,000 miles to freedom in World War II. The movie The Way Back is based on this book, and is available on Netflix.

I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but since it is a real life account of a journey quite like the one you're describing, you might find some useful unexpected ideas there.

  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard of the fire piston before. Thanks. :) $\endgroup$
    – user31389
    Nov 15, 2016 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't either until last night when I started researching fire making in the bronze age. Here is a video by The King of Random demonstrating how effective it is. I am pretty surprised, to be honest! You can even find professionally made ones for sale. $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2016 at 15:22

Supplementary answer: poultry and hawks

Poultry are a very good way of converting stuff that you can't eat into stuff that you can (eggs, chickenmeat). If you have a beast of burden they are fairly easy to transport from camp-site to camp-site in small cages or even just with wings bound and dangled by their legs. Live meat keeps a lot better than dead meat. Obviously the terrain has to be fertile enough for hens to forage from if you want to keep them indefinitely.

Here on Earth it's not known how long ago the domesticated Burmese jungle fowl (or hen) was traded across Asia all the way to Europe. At the dawn of written history, hens were onmipresent. It didn't take long for them to be everywhere in the Americas as well, once we introduced them.

A trained hawk is a huge asset in arid terrain that cannot support hens, if your culture has invented falconry. It can hunt desert or grassland creatures that you probably couldn't hunt yourself.


I would say you are in a bit of a pickle. Your team is way too small.

In that age most men carried weapons at all times, for a reason. There was no police, and there would be no revenge for killing a stranger (if you were local, your family would revenge you)

Pack around the idea of travelling discreetly. No fire unless you have. Hide valuables (except a few so that any would-be robbers are satisfied). Only stop in larger cities where you are less likely to get killed. Try to travel with a large caravan as servants (and then you might not need to bring much). Arm the kids.

  • $\begingroup$ @werrf Statistically speaking, I agree. The odds are way in favor of not surviving this journey. However, if you posit your story is the miracle of one group that does make it, then it becomes possible/plausible. $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2016 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ I would add "your team is way too small and weak" $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2016 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm. Marco Polo made it to China and back in the 13th / 14th centuries, with a small team. Anyway, this is set elsewhere, so perhaps the natives are friendlier. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Nov 15, 2016 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ Also note Bronze Age does not mean completely uncivilized. There were some very significant cultures and empires during the bronze age. If the culture regards unprovoked violence as a pathway to hell, and/or the ruler deals favorably with traders and harshly with robbers (as did the Mongol empire Marco Polo travelled through) then this story can work. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Nov 15, 2016 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ I'm afraid this doesn't even try to address the question. The question wasn't "Is it easy to travel long distances in the bronze age"; the question was "what equipment would people pack to travel long distances?" $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Nov 15, 2016 at 16:44

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