A late-winter snowshoe hike and overnight stay

In a few weeks’ time, most of the snow will be gone here in Eastern Finland, leaving only patches in the forests and the remnants of big plowed piles around town. This being the case, I wanted to get out to the forest for one last snowshoe hike and snow camp before spring really hits. The daytime temperatures are above freezing now, so there is noticeably less snow in some places. Nighttime temps still drop to around -5*C/23*F or so.

I started hiking toward my regular campsite and came across a fallen tree which had been nibbled on by bunnies for much-needed late-winter sustenance.

There’s still plenty of snow on the logging road I follow.

At one point I found a set of tracks unknown to me. The four prints look kind of like a butterfly and this pattern is repeated just like this, one after another. EDIT: Thanks to Matt AKA SKwoodsman for pointing out that they could be red squirrel tracks!

The sun tried to peak through for a while, but didn’t come out fully until the next morning. It snowed continuously most of the time.

The saplings around my kota are already snow-free.

I decided to camp in a different location instead of using the kota again, so I only dumped my gear there temporarily.

I thought it would be cool to camp near the small pond at the edge of the property last visited with the Woodswife, so I hiked in that direction, snapping this shot along the way.

By the way, the Swiss military surplus gaiters worked really well. Here they are almost up to my knees. These things look brand new and are solidly made.

I soon reached the pond where I would be camping.

There were two nice level and open spots nearby, and I chose this one after making sure there were no “widowmakers” overhead (i.e. dead branches or trees which could break and fall).

I tamped down the snow in the area with my snowshoes (or is it an alien “snow-circle”?….). Not a bad place to camp at all.

After preparing the site, I snowshoed back to my kota to get my gear. On the way, I saw some usnea lichen. I decided to eat some raw (if you decide to do this, you are doing so at your own risk). The first piece was a lighter shade of green and softer. It had no taste at all. Then I ate a larger piece, which tasted like somewhat bitter raw green vegetables. It’s not something I would want to eat every day, but it was definitely edible. The little bit I ate did not bother my stomach at all.

Back at my kota, I noticed some fine and fluffy material on one of the kota poles. I believe this material is part of the inner bark of the spruce tree. I tried to light it with my new flint and steel from Ilkka Seikku, knowing that this type of material probably wouldn’t light (especially since the air was somewhat humid). It was fun to try anyway!

After transporting my backpack and shoulder bag to my new campsite, I set up the “Franken-tent” I made last autumn. To make this tent, I snapped two of the very rugged German army ponchos together to serve as the side walls. I then measured and cut two triangular end pieces from some tent material I had, reinforced the edges and added snaps to both the ponchos and the end walls. This allows the end pieces to be unsnapped on either the right or left side on both ends or be removed entirely on one or both ends. The only permanent modification to the ponchos was the snaps I added, so they are still fully functional as two separate ponchos. The ground sheet, poles, guy lines and stakes are from another tent not currently in use.

I threw my bags into my new home, unrolled my lamb fleece and rested for a minute or two.

After a short while, I hiked to the back property line, which abuts a property which had been recently cleared of trees. In the summer, this field is full of pinkish-purple fireweed, but in the winter it looks quite different.

On the way back to camp, I saw a small birch sapling which I thought would be perfect for making an improvised ski/snowshoe pole, the current project-of-the-month at Bushcraft Finland. I quickly cut it down with my custom BushProwler from Ilkka Seikku and dragged it to my campsite.

I stripped most of the bark off (except for the handle).

Then I sharpened the tip and cut two notches into the stick about 14 cm/5 inches from the tip and fitted rigid pieces of wood into the notches. After this, I put two more rigid pieces under the pieces in the notches (forming a tic-tac-toe grid) and then tied them all in place with thin birch branches from the sapling. This was followed by weaving the basket with more birch branches.

It will stay upright in hard snow.

Excuse my “workshop”, it’s kind of messy. ;)

I used only my knife and one birch sapling to make this pole. I was surprised, because it ended up working pretty well! ;)

Just as I was done making the pole, I heard a low grumbling noise very close nearby. My stomach dropped and I froze still. Did I wake up a hungry brown bear a little early from his winter slumber?! I slowly scanned the area, making no fast moves. I heard the growl again and froze in place. This time I was able to pinpoint where the noise was coming from. I slowly looked down and realized it was coming from my stomach. It was time for dinner! :D I dined on a popular Finnish camp standard, pea soup. This was a great opportunity to try out my buddy burner stove in the field (and on top of the snow, for that matter) (see buddy burner Part 1, Part 2).

Before long, my soup was hot and I extinguished the stove. What’s nice is that the bottom of the stove didn’t get hot enough to cause it to sink into the snow, so I didn’t even need any kind of platform for the stove. The following morning I also tried using this stove with sticks, and it worked really well (and luckily burned off the paint/coating, leaving a uniform dark gray metal underneath). It put out enough heat to cook nicely, but the flames were not so big as to be uncontrollable. When cooking with wood, I put the can on a platform of green sticks to keep it off the snow, because the bottom of the can does get hot when used this way. Unfortunately, my camera was not cooperating in the morning, so I don’t have any shots of the stove burning wood.

Shortly after eating, it started to get dark, so I lit up my jar lantern and hung it on a small sapling.

I was feeling pretty tuckered out from the day’s activities, so I moved the lantern inside and got in a little light reading.

Before settling down to read, I had set up my bedroll, which was comprised of a bivy bag, a thin foam mat, the lamb fleece and two sleeping bags. I slept very comfortably with this setup. Overnight the temperature had dropped to -6*C/21*F, but I was toasty warm.

The following morning was sunny and beautiful, but as my camera batteries were shot, I couldn’t get any pics. I slowly woke up after sleeping about 9 hours, emerged from the tent and used my hobo stove with sticks to melt the water in my pot that had frozen overnight. I didn’t have a lot of time to stick around, so I packed up camp and headed back to the car.

This was one of the nicest solo outings I’ve had in a while. In a way it will be “sad” to see winter go, but spring is in the air, and I’m already looking forward to collecting birch sap and harvesting birch bark in just a few weeks!

A jar lantern and some other small projects

Continuing with the theme of “making something useful from household items (or junk)”, I decided to make something that I’ve been needing/wanting for a while. It is a very simple jar lantern for lighting up a small tent, helping create a little atmosphere around camp etc.

All you need is an empty jar, some wire and a candle. This project is so easy I don’t really think I need to explain how to do it. The pictures show how this “marvel of engineering” works. ;)

I retained the lid so I could keep the candle from coming out while underway.

This little guy throws off a good amount of light and is both lightweight and easily replaceable.

Another project in progress is my effort to make the pack straps of my Swedish military surplus rucksack more comfortable. I cut out pieces from a thin foam sleeping pad and attached two on each strap, one on the front and one on the back. I sewed the front and back pads to each other and then attached the pads to the leather strap (the “dotted line” running down each pad). The final step will be to cover the foam pads with canvas or some other material to make them more rugged (though I used this pack at the Bushcraft Finland meetup and didn’t have any problems with the pads as they are).

The last item is a “soot brush” for the buddy burner stove. Actually, this is something that will come in handy when cooking with a wood fire as well (which is what I usually do). After cooking, I’ll use this cut-down, stiff-bristled paintbrush to remove soot from the bottom of pots and pans. I tried it out after using the buddy burner, and it works really well. I’m not afraid of a little dirt or anything, but soot can be a real pain in the butt, as it makes anything it comes into contact with filthy.

These small projects aren’t anything amazing or groundbreaking, but they do make a difference in the field.

Bushcraft Finland winter meetup 2012

As some of you may know, the first Bushcraft Finland winter meetup was held last weekend. I drove over 4 hours to get there, and I wasn’t even there for 24 hours altogether, but it was still very much worth it. I got to see “old” friends, meet some online personalities face to face for the first time and meet a new guy as well. I received some very nice gifts and also traded for some gear. It was a good opportunity to talk about gear and skills, see some real Finnish bushcraft in action and, of course, drool over knives and axes. ;)

I arrived to the general area of the meetup, but since I didn’t have detailed directions with me, missed a turn and had to turn around. Then after finding the right place and parking the car, I started hiking in the wrong direction! I guess I misunderstood Perkunas’ instructions. After realizing that I was going the wrong way, I quickly turned around and headed back to the car. When I got there, I wanted to call Perkunas to confirm that I was now going the right way. That’s when I realized I had dropped my phone…somewhere. So I had to hike back the wrong way again to look for my phone! Luckily, I didn’t have to go far, and I picked it up (it had literally almost landed in horse manure when it fell out of my pocket, so I considered myself “lucky” at this point). As I got on the right trail and headed toward the meetup, I was hoping to heck that it was going to be worth it. Of course, I knew it would be.

When I reached the camp, I proudly announced that I had arrived and was ready to start teaching the course on navigation and that everyone should get out their compasses. :) The other guys had already done all the work to set up camp (including setting up the traditional Finnish loue shelter (last shelter picture) that I would have the pleasure of sleeping in Saturday night). I felt bad that I wasn’t there to help with this work, but I was happy I made it and could join the group.

Some members had carved out snow caves.

The meetup was held inside and outside of a cabin-like shelter with a fireplace in the center. There were benches around the perimeter, a few tables, an axe for splitting and the other standard Finnish shelter accoutrements.

I plopped down a pile of bushcraft-related books on one of the tables, and Perkunas took a liking to one of them right away, “Bushcraft” by Mors Kochanski. I told him he was welcome to borrow it, and it turns out he will be borrowing it permanently, as I ended up giving it to him in a trade. :)

I was starving by this point, so I grilled a sausage and heated up a Finnish meat pie called a “liha piirakka” and some tea over the fire in the shelter. That hit the spot!

Two traditional Finnish firelays were built in the camping area, a “raappanan tuli” (original version of the Finnish candle with some important differences to the one commonly seen today and mistakenly called “Swedish candle”) and a “rakovalkea” (or gap fire, a form of long log fire). For an explanation of how these fires are built, check out Perkunas’ meetup report at Perkele’s Blog.

At about the same time, forum member rautasarvi, also known as Ilkka Seikku, gave out firesteels as gifts. I’m not talking about modern ferrocerium rod “firesteels” here, I mean actual forged steel “flint and steel” type flint strikers like the type used to make fire for hundreds of years in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere. I thought this was fantastic, because I had never tried using a flint and steel before and could now take one home with me. Thanks again to you, Ilkka. I can’t wait to make some charcloth and gather other tinder for use with this set. You can be sure I’ll tell you guys about it soon. By the way, I’ve decided to add the flint and steel to the tinder bag in my shoulder bag because they are fun to use and don’t make a difference in terms of space and weight.

After the day’s activities, we gathered around the fire to shoot the breeze. By this point, I was already feeling drowsy because of the long drive and “accidental” hike, plus the general doings of the day. I crashed on my bedroll in the loue and listened to the conversation and crackling fire. Overnight the temperature had dropped to between -5*C (23*F) and -10*C (14*F), but for the most part I was warm in my bedroll and many pairs of socks.

The next day, we had breakfast and slowly started to clean up and break camp. At the same time, those who had items to trade or sell laid them out on the table and commenced trading. As I mentioned before, I traded my “Bushcraft” book to Perkunas, and in exchange he gave me a Swiss M32 canteen and cup, a package of emergency rations, a Silva compass and a belt pouch he made many years ago. I’ve already replaced the canteen and small pot in my shoulder bag with this setup, which leaves a lot more room than before, though the canteen is smaller (I found that I often don’t drink all the water in my other canteen on a day trip anyway). The Silva compass has replaced the cheap-o backup compass in my belt pouch, and the rations will be saved until needed. The belt pouch is already out of my hands. It is now the property of my three-year-old, who informed me that it is his electric razor. Kids grow up so fast these days. ;)

Finnman gave me a pair of Swiss military surplus gaiters which he had bought for me previously. They will come in extremely handy in the woods. In return, I gave him a very special blade made in a far-off land. ;)

When it was time to go, we donned our packs, snowshoes, skis, gear sleds etc. and headed back to the cars. We were lucky enough to have beautiful sunny weather that Sunday morning. We chatted a bit at the parking area and already started planting the seeds for our next meetup, which I’m really looking forward to.

Thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable meetup, fellows!

For a lot more pictures and better trip reports, check out Perkele’s Blog, Bush n’ Blade and (report coming soon at) Scandic Woodsman.

More Scandi blogs for you

Early on in my “blogging career” (i.e. a few months ago), I mentioned a few blogs based in Finland which are definitely worth reading.

Since that time, I’ve found a few blogs I didn’t know about before and some new ones have also sprung up, so I thought I’d give you a heads-up. I’m also going to include some blogs I regularly visit which are based elsewhere in the Fenno-Scandia area (a fancy way of saying Scandinavia plus Finland ;)).

In alphabetical order:

Akiri’s Blog – Finnish bushcrafter, “knife punisher” ;)

Kermiitin Tarinat Blog – Finnish outdoor guy, hiker etc., great photography

Laplander’s Natural Lore Blog – Englishman living in northern Sweden, very knowledgeable bushcrafter, handyman etc.

Saami Blog – Fantastic pictures, videos and info about the Saami people

Tekeleitä Blog – Finnish knife maker, does it as a hobby, but makes professional-quality knives

Tor Helge’s Homepage – Norwegian outdoorsman/bushcrafter in northern Norway (website, not a blog)

The Trying Woodsman Blog – Dutchman living in Sweden, covers bushcraft, DIY projects, hiking, gear and more

I’m sure you’ll be glad you checked out these sites. If you know of any others (in English) in this area, please let me know!

The buddy burner – Part 2

In my buddy burner post, I showed how I made one of these clever little burners and then took it for a test drive. Seeing potential in the design, I decided to make a stove/pot stand to hold the burner. I wanted something that would also be able to burn other fuels, especially wood, so I opted for the classic hobo stove design. The can I used is smaller than the standard coffee can and is about the size of a large fruit can. I poked three three rows of holes close to the bottom and then made a row of larger holes at the top.

When the stove was complete, I put the burner inside and lit it up. This time, it took about half a minute for the burner to be fully lit. I lit the cardboard in three different places, which I’m sure helped to speed it up.

I filled my cook pot about half full of water (650 mL/2.75 cups) and placed it on the stove. It took about 6 minutes until the water started to boil. The air temperature was -1*C/30*F. I usually don’t pay too much attention to boil time in general, because I’m usually not in a hurry in the woods, but it is nice to know that it does work reasonably quickly.

After taking the water off, I put two tea light candles on the burner. The wax melted quickly and soaked into the stove. There was no change in the burner flame at any time.

When it came time to put the burner out, I found that I could not blow it out! This wasn’t a problem the first time I used the burner, but this time the hobo stove around it was preventing me from blowing it out. I used a wet cloth to put out the flame, but I needed to find a better solution than this. I wrapped a few newspaper pages and then three layers of aluminum foil around another can of the same size and then covered this aluminum foil with duct tape to make an “extinguisher” (the newspaper was used to help me make the extinguisher big enough so it would not be too tight on the can, and it did not become part of the extinguisher itself). I’m happy to say that this extinguisher worked perfectly (I tried it twice to make sure). All I have to do is quickly and carefully put it over the stove when I want to put out the flame and it prevents oxygen from entering the stove. What’s nice about the extinguisher is that it also functions as a cover for the whole setup during transport.

So I’ll probably be incorporating this stove into my kit and will use it, either with wax or wood, whenever it isn’t possible or practical to cook over a camp fire. Besides being highly functional and simple, what I really like about this setup is that it’s easy to make from things around the house (two cans, cardboard, wax, aluminum foil and duct tape), and therefore cheap!

Thank you for reading!

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading The Weekend Woodsman blog. I have enjoyed sharing my outings, projects and thoughts with you over the past four months. My reason for blogging is not to get tons of subscribers or blog views, but it does make me happy to see that a handful of people are visiting and, hopefully, getting something out of it.

Here are a few stats worth sharing:

  • The total site views recently passed 11,250.
  • The subscriber count is at 21.
  • The daily visit rate is about 140.
  • Visitors live in more than 50 countries.

I am surprised and delighted to see this much interest in the blog. Thank YOU for visiting! It makes me feel that what I am doing is worthwhile and keeps me motivated to continue. :)

I would love to see more of you comment on my posts to let me know what you think, make suggestions etc.!