The overland expeditions to the Pacific Northwest travelled the river systems of North America in canoes and flat-bottomed boats. When the paddlers reached the end of the rivers and streams, they portaged, trekking overland carrying their vessels and supplies on their backs until they reached the next suitable river. They could not sleep aboard their small craft, so much of their energy was spent making camp at various points along the expeditionary route.
The main tasks included gathering wood, preparing a fire, and erecting shelter. Tents and lean-tos were adequate temporary shelters while en route and during the autumn and summer months. When the weather fronts of western North America ushered in cold and stormy winters filled with torrential rains and snow, it was necessary to set up better protection against the elements. The Lewis and Clark expedition built a winter fort on the Pacific Coast at Fort Clatsop. Wooden palisades enclosed a small group of buildings warmed by smoking fires that eventually inspired the construction of chimneys.
Because all food and supplies needed to be carried, expedition members continually acquired fresh food along the route. Expeditions gathered plants and berries, and spent time fishing and hunting for elk, deer, seals, and waterfowl such as duck for fresh meat. Their indigenous guides and the peoples they met along their route also provided them with food exchanged in trade, including fish, roots, game, and berries.
When not hunting and keeping the fire burning, the explorers were engaged in observing and noting their environment and in making repairs to their clothing and equipment. Everything they wore, their footwear, tents, weapons, baggage, and tools had to be patched, cleaned, mended, and maintained to keep the expedition safe and comfortable on its long journey.