A Basic Ranger Kit should be rugged. Function is far more important than appearance if you intend to be out in the wilds for any length of time, and wimpy fabrics will be torn to shreds in no time. So let’s talk about fabrics.
Thankfully, historically appropriate fabrics tend to be quite durable. The people who wore them required durability of their garments, so it is in our best interests to seek out the materials that are accurate and appropriate for the period, because we know that they will work. Starting out with the right materials can and will mean the difference between making it once and having to do it over and over again.
For purposes of Rangering, I’ve found that Wool, Linen, and Canvas are the ideal materials for any clothing project, not counting leather. They will hold up to abuse, can handle weather, and can keep you warm.
Wool is my favorite for clothing, as it is thick and durable, and keeps you very warm, while being fairly water resistant. Canvas is my favorite for cloaks and other weather-repellent coverings because it is naturally water resistant, but not as heavy as wool. A cloak that is too heavy can become uncomfortable very quickly, as it will pull more on your neck than a lighter one. Linen I prefer to use mostly during the summer months, as wool is far too warm for hiking about in, and linen breathes nicely. You can easily use it to make undergarments, however, as well as for lightweight tunics and pants to wear under wool layers to prevent the rough wool from causing itching.
Now that we’ve discussed materials, let’s talk about style. Rangers should, above all, wear relatively simple clothing. They were from a line of Kings, as Tolkien wrote, but their raiment was definitely simple. They were tall men of noble bearing, but that doesn’t mean they walked around in luxurious robes and the like. Let your personality show the man or woman of Royal lineage; let your clothing show simplicity, functionality, and comfort.
A basic tunic can be made very easily and inexpensively, and will last you years. In addition, a tunic can be used by various cultures throughout middle earth by layering different pieces of clothing and equipment over it, so every Middle Earth Re-enactor should start out with a good tunic. I have a linen one for summer use and a dark green, heavy wool tunic that I wear over it which can handle winter weather, including snow. David, pictured throughout this article, is pictured wearing a light linen tunic.
Pants are a simple affair. Straight-legged drawstring pants can be easily and cheaply made, and, like tunics, can be used within a variety of cultures. I wear heavy wool pants most of the year because they are thick and durable, but I am working on a heavy canvas pair for summertime. David’ pants are of a medium weight canvas, and are comfortable and breathable, but still heavy enough to be durable.
Cloaks are one of the most defining pieces of a Ranger’s kit. Tolkien absolutely LOVED cloaks; he writes about their use by all of the free peoples of middle earth, and with good reason! They are extremely useful. They have hoods, which are useful for weather as well as camouflaging the face, yet they can easily be stretched out as a shelter/tent, or used as a blanket on chilly nights. Cloaks come in a wide variety of shapes and styles, so we will only talk about two: the half-circle, and the rectangle.
The half-circle cloak is what most people are used to seeing hanging off of people’s backs. They drape very nicely over the shoulders, and flow quite prettily. I use mine as a tent on a regular basis. Rectangle cloaks are simpler, being a rectangle with a hood attached. They are also lighter, as they use less fabric, but this size difference makes them harder to use as a tent or for other large applications. However, they are really easy to bundle up your whole body in, in from shoulders on down, while a half-circle will only wrap around part of you due to its shape. The decision is up to you. I prefer to experiment back and forth with both. David’s, seen below, is of heavy weight wool, is dark green for concealment, and is of a rectangular design.
Boots are the most critical part of a good Ranger kit. If you don’t have proper, comfortable footwear, you will be miserable. Your boots should most definitely be made of leather, as no other appropriate material is as durable or authentic. Leather is simply the only choice. That being said, a well-fitted pair of well-made leather boots may end up being the most comfortable shoes you own. Tolkien described Aragorn’s boots as being “…high boots of subtle leather.” They should be soft enough to flex as your feet move, yet firm/stiff enough to offer protection to your feet should they get banged around in the wilderness. Thankfully, leather is just the material to make those requirements happen.
Unfortunately, Boots are not incredibly easy to make. If you must buy, shop carefully for boots, as there are a LARGE number of boots on the market that are intended exclusively for Renaissance Faire use. These will set you up to be miserable, not to mention missing a large chunk of money.
If you can make your boots, all the better!
Lastly, to top off our basic Ranger kit, a good leather belt is necessary. First, it prevents your tunic from getting in the way throughout the day and during any potential battles, and it will also give you a great place to hang all kinds of stuff. Someday, when you get a sword, you’re going to want a belt to hang it on, and every good Ranger should have a pouch on his or her belt to carry various things.
Once you have the basics put together, you can happily go out into the wilds as a full-fledged Ranger and begin practicing your skills. That being said, this basic kit is designed with one thing in mind: improvement! Experiment with color combinations that help you blend in with the terrain in your area. Experiment with other pieces of clothing or armor that fit into Tolkien’s descriptions of Rangers, and layer them over or under these essential basics to help give some additional life to your persona. Add a pair of leather bracers on your arms for protection and for archery. Perhaps you’d like to add a leather vest, jerkin, jacket, or chain maille shirt. Want to shoot a bow? Make a quiver!
Now that you’ve got the basics put together, your job as a Ranger is to interpret Tolkien’s writings to find out what sort of gear would be appropriate, get in it, and then get out into the world. More articles are on the way to expand on these basics, including camp tools, weapons, cookware, and sleeping arrangements, so be sure to check back! In the meantime, be creative, and always look back to the books!