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Fur mukluks have always been the Eskimo's cold-weather footgear. Phillips' foam, covered with canvas to permit the escape of moisture, works on the same principle. But the Eskimos he noticed in Barrow added a moccasin-type sole of sealskin to combat the moisture of sea ice. Phillips made a similar adaptation on his own mukluks by replacing the canvas soles with rubber bottoms cut from an old pair of galoshes.
This, like dozens of other small but significant innovations, has all been incorporated into Phillips' present cold-weather wardrobe.
All the rest of his clothing is made of sheets of foam: one for each leg, a double thickness cut like a three-cornered diaper for the seat, another flat piece rolled into a tube for the torso and two for the arms. Each slab of foam is simply wrapped around the body and held in place by the outer clothing. Of necessity, the latter must be baggy enough to allow ample room for the foam, but it need be no heavier than a thin pair of flannel sweat pants and a flannel shirt. For extreme conditions, Phillips adds an outer parka.
His headgear is a piece of foam glued into an open-top crown with earflaps or, for sub-zero weather, a head-tunnel which is merely a foam bag with a funnel-like opening kept in shape by a wire coat hanger. The finished product looks much like the Eskimo's hood and ruff.
Mittens, like sleeping bags, are merely foam envelopes. The fancy ones have separate thumbs, but a thumb is not necessary. "They're clumsy," Phillips admits, "but after awhile you get a certain amount of feeling through the foam which makes it possible to do most jobs."
Although Phillips and his scouts still make everything they take and wear into the wilderness, for the first time this year some of these items are also being manufactured commercially. In Santa Fe the fledgling Ocat� Company, headed by a young camping specialist named Steve Perin and backed by L. J. Reynolds, once the major stockholder at Eberline, has taken Phillips' ideas, refined them and is now producing foam clothing and sleeping bags in bright colors and at very appealing prices.
Officially Phillips has no role in Ocat�. Although 90% of the company's production is based entirely upon his ideas and innovations, it has never occurred to him to ask for compensation. This total disinterest in self-aggrandizement is as characteristic of Phillips as is his almost compulsive desire to propagate his wilderness gospel. If Ocat� can help, that is all the compensation he wants.
"Each year dozens of people are lost in this country's wildernesses," he says. "And each year, many of them are never found. Every life lost could be saved with common sense and some basic wilderness knowledge."
But even more basic and fundamental than this, Phillips is teaching that the best way to convert boys into self-confident young men is to give them a chance to prove themselves. A boy who can leave civilization without food, bedding or special equipment and shelter and feed himself in the wilderness with no weapon but his wits is likely to consider himself a man. For Phillips, that is reward enough.