Over the years, I have sold a fair number of baskets to mushroom hunters. Most have opted for one of the sizes of my gathering baskets or a standard 17” packbasket. Mushroom hunters in Maine, Pennsylvania and other points in the northeast have taken my baskets into the woods each summer.
Recently, however, after some in-depth conversations with mushroom collectors, I have made some specific modifications for this specialized pack and have gotten a great deal of positive feedback about my design changes.
The mushroom hunting pack now ends up the same size as my canoe pack but with a few tweaks. Like the canoe pack, I use the same size base as my 17″ packbasket but weave the basket somewhat fuller and shorter. While I leave the canoe pack fairly wide at the top, I do narrow the top of the mushroom basket more so the opening is smaller than the base. That way, when you bend to collect your favorite fungi, the mushrooms don’t all spill out on to the ground. You end up with a fairly large diameter basket about 14″ tall.
Also, rather than use a solid plywood base inside the basket along with the pine exterior shoes (as I do with my regular and canoe packbaskets), I just use two narrow plywood bands inside the basket which simply serve as a way of attaching the pine shoes. This keeps the bottom of the basket mostly open and leaves the spaces between the horizontal and vertical spokes for good air circulation and, since mushrooms should be put in the basket with the gills down, the open spaces in the bottom allow the mushroom spores to fall back into the soil as you move around. And, you still have the pine shoes to keep the bottom of the pack from direct contact with the ground.
Also like the canoe pack, the mushroom pack has a sturdy ash or oak handle and extra stitching in the rim. This makes the basket easy to carry by the handle for short moves while gathering and greatly improves the basket’s strength.
While the canoe pack has a strap set, it is not intended to be used for carrying the basket; the wooden handle is for that. The adjustable cinch strap allows the pack to be secured to the thwart of your canoe so it won’t tip over. By contrast, the mushroom pack has a set of regular carry straps which has proven popular as it leaves both hands free when moving from one spot to another in the mushroom woods.
Since mushroom gathering is almost always a group activity, loading the harvested mushrooms into this modified packbasket is easy. If you keep it on your back, there is no twisting and going into all kinds of contortions to try to get your own harvest into it, just have your picking partner place them into the basket. Or, if you prefer to remove the pack when you find a field of mushrooms, it’s easy to slip off, set on the ground, fill and slip back on when ready to move to a new spot.
And, since most mushroom gathering is done in dry weather, the necessity of a finish that protects the basket from moisture is lessened somewhat. A few customers have opted for no finish at all (but the reed can become brittle over time and lose its flexibility). Other customers have had me apply my standard mixture of stain and boiled linseed oil (which gives the baskets a nicer appearance and keeps them more flexible as well as moisture resistant). Still others have varnished theirs (which protects it well but does sacrifice flexibility as the basket becomes quite rigid). So, there are several options for the basket’s final finish treatment.
As I’ve found over the years as a weaver, I’m only bound by the constraints of my imagination and the specific needs of a particular basket-user. This unique, specialized use again shows the versatility and adaptability of the centuries old, basic packbasket design.