Cook kit revamp and Swedish mess kit testing

Like many outdoors enthusiasts, I experience the “accumulate, shed, accumulate, shed” cycle when it comes to gear. You buy, make, fix up or receive as a gift a nifty item and then add it to your regular gear loadout. Then it happens again…and again. Before you know it, your pack has grown heavy and bulky and it’s once again time to scrutinize your gear choices and get back to basics. After realizing that I was deep into an accumulation phase last autumn, I started working to reduce, lighten and de-bulk-ify my pack. I’ve now gotten to a point where I’m very happy with my reduced (thought not minimalist) kit, and I will be covering it in its entirety in an upcoming post. In today’s post, though, I’ll focus on the category of my kit which has experienced the most dramatic, and almost complete, change: my cook kit.

As of last autumn, my cook kit contained:

  • Basic cook pot
  • Kettle
  • Non-stick frying pan
  • Spatula
  • Spoon
  • Buddy burner and accessories
  • Folding fire grill
  • Kuksa cup
  • Scrub brush
  • Dish soap
  • Sausage roaster
  • Ikea hobo stove
  • Alcohol stove
  • Consumables (olive oil, honey, salt/pepper)

It’s a pretty versatile kit. It’s also a heavy and bulky one. On occasion I used all the different items, but not frequently enough to justify taking it all with me on every trip. After finally coming to my senses, I decided to pare down my every-trip cook kit to a reasonable minimum based on the foods I cook and how I cook them (crazy idea, I know…). The remaining items were either put into the “infrequent or special use” category or cut out entirely.

My new basic cook kit:

Spoon, mess kit pot, mess kit lid/pan, kuksa cup, honey, olive oil, salt/pepper, scrub pad

Conveniently, it all fits inside the pot and lid:

Lots of changes! You’ll notice that I haven’t listed any stoves at all. This is because I use fire for cooking nearly 100% of the time. I have used my various stoves over the years, but in most cases, it wasn’t necessary. I used them just to use them! You’ll also notice that I included the Swedish mess kit I purchased a few weeks back (more on that later).

Infrequent- or special-use items:

Grill, frying pan, spatula, IKEA hobo stove, alcohol stove, alcohol

Items from this kit will come along if the situation requires it, e.g. if I won’t be able to make a fire for some reason (hot and dry conditions in the summer, for example), if I’ll be cooking for a group etc.

I mentioned above that I shed some items entirely. This included a dedicated water kettle (the mess kit lid now handles this), dish soap (I always end up using ashes or sand instead) and the buddy burner and its accessories (just didn’t need it).

Regular readers will know that I bought a Swedish mess kit pot and lid a few weeks ago to try out. I picked this up because I thought it would have a few advantages over the set I was using. First off, the lid can be used as, well, a lid for the pot, allowing for faster boil times and cooking (my other pot doesn’t have a lid). The lid itself can also be used as a second smaller pot or frying pan. The lid and pot lock together pretty solidly, protecting the contents I can stow inside. The overall package is also a more convenient shape and size for stowage in my pack. Now, these are great reasons to make the change, but I wasn’t about to replace my tried-and-tested pot, kettle and frying pan with this mess kit without testing it in the field beforehand. My recent trip to the old farm woods provided the opportunity to do just that.

One of the most basic functions of any cook kit is boiling water, so that’s what I did first. In preparation for making instant oatmeal for breakfast, I threw some water in the pot and hung it over the fire. The water boiled in no time. No surprises there.

When lunchtime rolled around, I used the lid/pan to fry up a nice big chicken breast which I had prepared at home.

I stuck a piece of wood through the D-rings, which made for a nice long handle. After heating up some olive oil, I placed the chicken breast in the pan, flipped it over to make sure both sides were coated with oil and then held it over the fire, flipping it over after a few minutes to do the other side as well.

Test number two was a resounding success! The chicken fried up nicely and did not stick to the pan at all.

In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for Weekend Woodsman fried chicken:

  • Mix some breadcrumbs with some salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and a little chili powder on a large plate.
  • Whisk an egg and some milk in a bowl.
  • Dip tenderized chicken (or other meat) in the milk and egg mixture, lift out and let drip off.
  • Thoroughly coat the chicken with the breadcrumb/seasoning mixture.
  • Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan (to medium-high if cooking on a stove) and fry the chicken, flipping it over after the bottom has turned golden brown.

My final test for the day would be baking. I brought my regular bannock mix with me and made the dough as usual. Beforehand, I sprinkled some of the dry mixture on the bottom of the mess kit pot to keep the bread from sticking to it. The raw dough was then placed in the pot and hung over the fire. It was flipped occasionally to ensure even baking. This shape of container isn’t ideal for baking, but it gets the job done.

All this testing isn’t exhaustive, of course, but it was convincing enough to me. I’ll continue using the Swedish mess kit as part of my regular kit and see how things go!

In case you’re interested to know, here’s how I cleaned the mess kit after cooking. To clean the pot after making the oatmeal, I simply used snow to scrub the inside.

To clean the lid/pan, I wiped out as much oil as I could using snow and then added some ashes from the fire and a little snow. Then I used some spruce sprigs to scrub it clean. Worked nicely!

As always, let me know what you think!

Building a permanent bushcraft camp – Part 1

Something that I’ve wanted to do for the past few years is to build a permanent bushcraft camp. For one reason or another, be it due to other plans or a lack of time, I never got around to it. The general idea was to create a long-lasting permanent camp, including a shelter, fire pit area, cooking facilities, storage/firewood area, crafting area and more using a minimum of tools and modern materials and getting most of what I need from the forest around me. Last weekend, I headed out to the country property I’ve been visiting so I could finally get started with the project. As it progresses, I hope not only to create a “woods home away from home”, but also to improve my skills and knowledge in the process!

First off, a picture of the site I picked for the camp. Nothing special, just a little opening surrounded mostly by spruces.

The most labor- and material-intensive structure at my new camp would be the shelter. I did a lot of thinking about just what kind of structure I wanted to build and ultimately decided on something that combines elements of several shelter types I’ve seen. Over the course of this series of posts, you’ll see what I came up with, but I won’t be divulging all my plans now. ;) For my shelter, I was going to need a good number of strong straight poles, so I was in luck that the forest nearby was in desperate need of thinning. It was so clogged with young spruce trees (some of which had already died due to a lack of sunlight) that it was difficult to walk through.

Now, as most of you know, I purchased a Swedish military surplus axe recently for work just like this, among other things. It was in such great condition that I didn’t have to do much more than scrub off the surface rust and marks from the handle. I spent about 1 minute with a sharpening stone getting it into shape and also impregnated the leather sheath with wax. Some before and after pics:

I was very eager to try this axe out in the woods. Of course, I brought my regular axe with me as well, because you never know how well a tool is going to perform (or fail) until you use it. As you can see, it was wet that day.

I decided to look for three solid poles on the thicker side to serve as a base tripod for my shelter, so I searched the area and felled them with my axe. I made sure to pick out trees which were being crowded out by or competing with other trees for sunlight. After just a few chops, I could detect a tiny bit of movement in the head. I decided to continue using the axe cautiously to see how things went. After being sunken in wet snow repeatedly, the handle absorbed some water and the head tightened right up. It didn’t budge in the slightest after that. I’ll be sure to soak it in linseed oil to rectify this situation properly. Here are the tripod poles I cut:

I don’t know what this particular type of lashing is called, but I have used it several times. First, you wrap the cord tightly around your poles four or five times and tie it off. Then, you tightly wrap the cord around itself between the poles several times and tie it off each time here as well. This gives you a solid tripod.

Following this, I spent several hours using the axe to fell and limb more spruce saplings and cut them to size. I was happy to find that the axe was not fatiguing to use one-handed for long periods of time, despite its overall weight of 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs). It bit deeply into the wood, was accurate and retained a sharp edge. It took very little for me to become accustomed to using the axe, as I’ve been using a 3/4 axe regularly for several years now. The main difference is the greater weight of the new axe, which I didn’t notice most of the time.

After the first round of trees had been processed, the shelter started to take shape:

I realized that the entire shelter project was going to take longer than I thought, and knowing it would get dark soon, I called it quits in order to look for firewood for cooking and heating that evening. I found a dead standing pine on a rocky hill nearby and felled it with the axe in no time. It had a base diameter of about 11 cm (4.25 inches), so nothing huge. I bucked it into three logs and carried them all back to my camp, where I cut them to length and split a few of them to get a fire going.

For kindling, I split some some of the smaller pieces of wood and made some feather sticks with the Marttiini Kaamosjätkä knife I modified years ago and showed here recently. I found that I enjoyed using a smaller knife like this for a change. :)

By the end of the first day, I had made good headway on the shelter, procured myself some firewood and made myself a spruce-bough bed from all the limbs I had cut off the poles. The camp was starting to take shape.

Before I called it a day, I threw my new tarp on the pole frame, tied it down in a few places, and then put my sleeping bag and bivy on top of the bough bed. I didn’t even bother to get out my self-inflating sleeping pad, which I ended up not needing, as the spruce boughs provided plenty of insulation.

As the sun began to set and bathe the trees around me in a beautiful golden glow, I felt I had received some kind of reward for the day’s work, but it was only the first one. After nightfall, the clear sky provided a beautiful view of a bright moon and countless twinkling stars. The moon lit up the snowy forest so brightly that I didn’t need a headlamp or flashlight to see. I arose bright and early in the morning, looking forward to breakfast. First, though, I’d have to put together a rig to hang my pot from. I cut three suitable spruce poles to length and tied them together in a similar fashion to the shelter tripod, except that I only wrapped the cord around all three one time.

From the hinge, I hung a length of cord to hold a notched stick, which would in turn hold my cooking pot. Doing it this way keeps the cord from getting too close to the fire.

Although I had not done as much as I had hoped that weekend, I was pleased with what I had accomplished. The shelter was coming along nicely, and the cooking area was shaping up, too. Here’s the current status of my permanent bushcraft camp:

Before I went home, I stopped by the old farm house to take another look at the old knives I had found there, as I wanted to see if any of them were worth restoring. I was in luck! The vintage KJ Eriksson Mora knife, although a bit worn and rusty, was still very solid.

The following day, I spent my lunch break getting the knife into usable shape. Rather than completely refurbishing the knife and making it look like new, I decided to go a different route and let the vintage-ness of the knife come through. I scrubbed the blade and bolster with a plastic scouring pad and lemon juice to get the rust off and create a nice patina. Next, I scrubbed and then scraped the handle to remove as much of the red paint as possible. Finally, I slowly ran the handle over a candle flame several times to darken the wood and then soaked some wax into it to waterproof it. I’m pretty happy with the results and am planning on making a simple belt sheath for it after I procure some leather. By the way,  I think this is the only Mora knife I’ve personally seen that has a leather washer between the handle and bolster. It’s a nice touch!

Hope you enjoyed this first look at my permanent camp!

Recent outdoor gear purchases – February 2014

Needing (and wanting) some new gear, I splurged a little and treated myself to a few items from a local consignment shop and the Varusteleka outdoors/military surplus shop. FYI, this blog post was not solicited in any way, and I paid for all the gear you see here.

One needed item was a factory-new 2.2 x 3 m (7.5′ x 10′) Mil-Tec tarp (€40/$55) from Varusteleka. Having come to prefer a tarp for shelter after experimenting with a cheap one for 4 – 5 months, but noticing that it was starting to wear out, I decided to buy a better quality one that would last a lot longer. At 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs), this polyester tarp is not exactly lightweight, but it does seem to be very durable, and that’s what I’m after. Since getting the tarp, I have made a few modifications to it. They’ll be covered in another post.

The other needed item was a sternum strap for a backpack (€3.75/$5), also from Varusteleka. I love my Swedish army LK-70 pack, but it lacks a sternum strap of its own. The new strap will help bring the shoulder straps closer together, making it more comfortable to wear.

The third item, once again from Varusteleka, was admittedly more in the “want” column than the “need” column. Having been thoroughly convinced of the superiority (in my opinion) of the boy’s axe or 3/4 axe for bushcraft and camping, I decided to pick up a “backup axe” (that is, backup to my vintage Gränsfors Bruks. I always like to have a spare backup knife, axe and saw at the ready at home).

If you’ve been following bushcraft blogs and forums for a while, you may be familiar with the Swedish military surplus axes which have been available for the past few years. Most of these axes are painted green from top to bottom, but I managed to get one that wasn’t painted like this (thanks for listening to my request, Varusteleka!). I found that the axe is significantly heavier than my current boy’s axe, which isn’t surprising, considering that the head is a full 350 g (0.75 lbs) heavier (quick specs on the new axe – head weight: 1.2 kg (2.75 lbs), overall weight: 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs), overall length: 68 cm (27 in)). Although this axe and my old Gränsfors are almost exactly the same length, the head weight is right in the middle between my Gränsfors and my honkin’ Council Tool Jersey Classic. Just by the weight and feel of this axe, I can tell it will outperform the vintage Gränsfors, so after trying it out, I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes my new favorite. Aside from some surface rust and marks on the handle (which I have since removed), the axe is in great shape, with no hints whatsoever of cracks in the handle or any dings in the blade edge. Needless to say, I’m very happy about getting a classic Hults Bruks axe in such good shape for only €15/$20! By the way, it came with the standard olive green leather sheath all the others are supplied with. If anyone out there has an idea of when this axe could have been made, please let me know! I know that it’s pre-1988 because there are no Hultafors markings, but I don’t know anything other than that.

Last, but not least (well, it is the least in terms of cost), is a Swedish army mess kit (€2.50/$3.50). I picked this item up from a local consignment shop in town. Normally, the Swedish mess kit is comprised of a pot, a lid for the pot which doubles as a smaller pot or frying pan, an alcohol stove, a windscreen and a fuel bottle. The set I bought was missing the burner, windscreen and fuel bottle, but that’s fine with me, because I don’t need those items anyway. Over the years, I had seen this kit many times online, in use by friends and in shops, but I never bought one. Seeing the advantages in this set over my current pot and kettle, I figured I’d buy it and see if it met my needs better. The one thing I’m not crazy about is the fact that it’s aluminum, but I don’t cook with my camping cook set on a daily basis, so I don’t think there’s any need for concern.

You can expect to see more of this gear in the near future as I test it and put it through its paces. Stay tuned!

Kampin’ in a kota

Hey dudes and dudettes! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here at The Weekend Woodsman, but it’s not because of a lack of interest. First we had the holidays, then I got swamped with work and then soon after that the Woodsboy got the chicken pox and our whole family came down with a nasty drawn-out flu (possibly swine flu) right after that. The unseasonably warm winter we’ve been experiencing is another reason why I haven’t been getting out much. While some of you were (and are again) experiencing a polar vortex, we’ve had more of a “tropical vortex” up here in Finland. So far this winter, we’ve only had about 3 weeks of real winter temperatures (and of course it had to be during the time when I was busy/sick). As I write this in mid-February, the temperature is about 1°C/34°F. During a normal winter, it would not be unusual at all to be seeing temperatures around -40°C/-40°F right now. Anyhoo, the warm temperatures, coupled with being busy, sick and occupied with a few other things had not been very conducive to doing anything outdoors-related.

For most of the winter, though, mi amigo Alejandro from Spain and I had been looking forward to a winter campout, but because of the reasons mentioned above, it just wasn’t happening. When the second weekend of February rolled around, everything fell into place and we were able to get out for a “winter” (and I use that term loosely) overnighter.  After a little planning the week prior, I picked Alex up on Saturday morning and then drove out to my mother-in-law’s country property. We took the car as far as we could without getting stuck in the snow and then hiked to our destination. Here’s a back road along the way:

Because of the melt/thaw/melt/thaw cycles we’ve experienced this winter, there was a lot more standing water/ice than years past.

Moose tracks along the way:

Once we reached the site, we started getting our shelter materials together. I had slept in a kota (tipi-like shelter) a few years ago and figured it would be a good experience for Alex. This kind of shelter is a lot different from a typical camping tent, as it allows you to have a full campfire inside. The poles and tarp for the shelter were located nearby where I had left them. We first set up a tripod upon which we’d lean the remaining shelter poles.

Remaining poles in place:

Then the real battle started. In order to put the 6 m x 8 m tarp on the frame, we had to get it unstuck from the ground, and itself. After smashing lots of ice and carefully peeling the tarp from the forest floor, we managed to get it set up on the frame. It may not qualify as a dictionary-definition kota, but precise historical accuracy is not what we were aiming for. ;)

Now that our house was up, we could make it a home. Alex cut a bunch of spruce branches to use as bedding material and laid them out on the left side of the kota (and yes, that is a small spruce tree inside our shelter).

I set up my stuff on the right-hand side. For this trip, I used the Swedish SK-70 rucksack because its large capacity makes carrying extra winter gear easier.

Next on the agenda was making a fire for heating and cooking, as we were both getting hungry. We spent time gathering up and preparing materials for our fire and tried to get it started, but to no avail. Try as we might, we just couldn’t get a self-sustaining fire going, and ended up burning up all our fire prep. The reason? I had forgotten an important lesson from several years earlier. In order to have a fire burn properly in a shelter like this, there has to be sufficient intake of air from around the bottom and outlet of air and smoke at the top. There simply wasn’t enough open space at the bottom, and the hole at the top was too small as well. I kicked myself for letting this happen, because it was something that I had already experienced (and solved) before. Anyway, here’s hoping I remember for the next time around. ;) We took the tarp off the poles and then hiked away from the campsite to get some dry birch wood and bark which had been laid up in a different location. After returning to the campsite and refitting the shelter cover for better air flow, we got a nice hot fire started. It was pretty much smooth sailing for the rest of the evening.

The temperature overnight probably didn’t even drop below freezing, and I distinctly remember rain or freezing rain pitter-pattering on the shelter during the night. In the morning, we got to work preparing a fire for our breakfast. Alex used my Skrama knife to split some birch wood into kindling, and I used my BushProwler. Then we both made a mess of shavings.

We shuffled around the remnants from the previous night’s fire in the fire pit and then set up our fire lay.

Breakfast for both of us would be oatmeal/porridge. I brought instant stuff, while Alex went traditional. He started by melting some snow in his pot.

By the time his snow was melted, I was almost ready to eat. :)

Having used up all my water during breakfast, I went to collect some more. The method I used was to squeeze snow into long pellets and then slip them into my metal water bottle. After I fit in as many as I could, I’d put it near the fire until the snow melted.

A few shots of our temporary abode:

A while later we made ourselves some lunch, let our fire die down and then started to pack up. We took the tarp off the shelter and placed it nearby after folding it up. We left the poles standing for next time. Come spring, I’ll cut that tarp to size so it fits perfectly on the frame, which will also prevent the ventilation issues we experienced. Speaking of spring, the way things are going, it’ll be here before we know it. I’m really hoping that we somehow get a nice cold spell for a while before the usual start of spring so I can get out there and do some more winter bushcrafting! We’ll see what happens. I’ll leave you with a picture of the dim winter sun as Alex and I hiked back to the car.

¿Qué te gusta el bushcraft?

With temperatures dipping down to -10*C (14*F), but occasionally still rising a little above freezing, and with several centimeters/inches of snow already on the ground here in eastern Finland, we are on the cusp of real winter beginning. Soon the temperature will no longer peek above the freezing point until sometime in March, and the snow will have accumulated to well over a meter (over 3 feet) by that time. Before I switch to full-on winter mode, though, I wanted to write one more blog post about some doings of this past fall.

Almost a month ago, I headed out to the country property I’ve been visiting for the last pre-winter overnighter of the year. This time, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by a new friend who I met this past summer. Alex is originally from Spain, but lives not too far away from us and moved here about the same time we did. He’s very interested in learning about bushcraft and woodsmanship, and I am happy to share the little I know with him. He dropped by the weekend before Halloween to show me some bushcraft and camping gear he had been accumulating over the past few months, and we started planning an autumn overnight trip which would take place 2 weeks later.

The weather that weekend ended up being very wet and cool. It rained on and off, and our camp looked like a mud pit by the end of the trip. I was seriously wondering if the crappy conditions would turn Alex off to the idea of camping and bushcraft outside of summertime, but this wasn’t the case at all. Anyway, we drove out to the property and went straight to the campsite I’d been visiting somewhat regularly lately. Alex got to work right away collecting poles for his lean-to using an old Finnish hatchet he rehafted and restored last summer.

Then he made a few pegs with his puukko knife.

We secured the back of the lean-to to the ground with some pegs and then set up the front of the shelter by guying out the poles to pegs using a bowline knot and trucker’s hitch. A good basic shelter for a man and his gear.

Next up was fire prep. I felled a dead pine sapling, and Alex chopped it up into firewood.

I showed him a good place nearby for collecting birch bark. It was really wet, but I knew the oils it contains would still burn.

We also collected some dead lower spruce branches and brought them back to the camp site, where we used my Fiskars saw to break down some more of the pine and got to work splitting some of it up as well. I was using my BushProwler to baton some of the wood (you can see how soft and muddy the ground was by how the bolt stayed upright after just a few hits).

Here’s a shot I took of our camp before it got dark. Once again, I’m using the Holden tent.

It was a challenge getting the birch bark to light, but we managed to get it going and slowly built up our fire. We burned some of the pine and always kept our supply near the fire to help it dry out. Rather than getting all our wood from the forest, we cheated a little and took some from the barn. I guess this really makes it “backyard bushcraft”. ;)

Anyway, as you can see it was getting dark, and we were both hankering for some grub, so Alex made some hearty soup in a pot next to the fire and I made bannock in my pot suspended over the fire on a stick. A good way to prevent the bannock from sticking is to put a little dry flour on the bottom of the pot before putting in the dough.

A nice bonus of having a camping partner in the autumn and winter is the conversation. It gets dark pretty early in the north, and unless you have some kind of work you can do in low light, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands after the sun goes down!

Before we hit the hay, I threw the rest of the wood on the fire, which burned for quite a while. Some of our firewood came from logs which used to be part of an old building, and you can see the notching on one piece in the picture below. We both noticed that it looked like a number 1.

The following morning, we arose and once again got to work splitting firewood. We were lucky for most of the morning, in that it rained only a little here and there (wouldn’t you know that the real rain would come 20 minutes before we had to break camp, soaking everything we had with us).

To make fire starting a little easier that morning, we used a piece of waxed-impregnated twine Alex had brought with him. It burned long and hot and helped to get the birch bark going.

Alex decided to try his hand at bannock for breakfast, so he mixed his dough in a plastic bag and put it into his pot. I cut up a package of bacon and started frying it in my pot over the fire.

Having gone through his water supply, Alex fetched some from the creek not far away.

When my bacon was ready, I threw in four eggs and put the pot back over the fire for a little while. Alex’s bannock wasn’t baking the way he had hoped, so he took it out of the pot and put the dough on a stick near the fire to rectify the situation.

After we ate, it started drizzling and then raining, so we quickly packed up our wet, muddy gear and hit the road. I was very happy to have Alex along on this trip and am looking forward to his first winter trip, which will probably be in a few weeks!

Initial impressions of the Skrama bush knife

Earlier this autumn, I brought your attention to a new knife designed by Varusteleka, a Finnish outdoor/military surplus supplier. The Skrama, which is made in Finland and available only from Varusteleka, is designed to be an all-around wilderness blade for campers, bushcrafters, woodsmen etc. After reading my short blog post, the company offered to send me a free sample of the knife in exchange for a review here at the blog. I accepted their offer and told them that I’d give the knife a good shakedown and a fair and honest review.

The Skrama came with a rugged plastic blade guard, but the company is also working on a leather sheath available separately.

Considering the interesting handle shape of this knife, I was curious to see how it felt in different grips. It felt very natural and comfortable however I held it. Incidentally, I think hard, non-sticky rubber was a good choice for the handle material. I also think the long handle will contribute to this knife’s versatility in use.

While I was trying out different grips, I noticed that the balance point lies right where the handle starts. This makes it easier to do finer cutting tasks, despite the large overall size of the knife.

Since one of the tasks I use a camp knife for is food preparation, I took the Skrama to the kitchen and tried it out on a tomato. After just a few cuts, I felt I had seen enough. :)

After cutting the tomato, I “decimated” a piece of printer paper with ease.

One popular, and practical, use of a good camp knife is throwing sparks off a ferrocerium rod for fire lighting. I found the best way to do this with the Skrama was to scrape the rod with the spine of the blade near the tip, since the section of spine near the handle would not throw sparks (this is easily remedied with a file). I used the ferro rod as a pointer in the picture below to show the part of the blade I used to scrape it.

So far, I’m impressed by the very rugged construction, good balance and out-of-the-box sharpness of the Skrama. Next weekend I’ll take the knife out to the forest to do some real testing. Stay tuned!

A meal in the late-autumn forest with my woodsman-in-training

In the Finnish language, November is “Marraskuu”, which literally means “death month”. I think it’s an appropriate name for this dreary time of year. I usually like to wait the month out because of the wet, cool and dark days and then resume outdooring when the bright winter snow has come for good, but I decided this year to stop that silliness! Looking at the month from a different perspective, I realized that it has advantages all its own. The cool weather means there are no mosquitoes, black flies, midges, horse flies or deer keds like in the summer, and since it’s not full-on winter yet, I don’t need the extra clothing, snowshoes/skis, etc. Besides, if you are lucky enough to be able to spend time out with people who are important to you, the weather doesn’t really matter that much in the end.

This winter, the Woodsboy (WB) will turn 5, the age at which sons “move from the sphere of women to the sphere of men” in some traditional cultures. I can understand why they picked this age. Eager to learn and having a sharp mind like a sponge, not to mention a greater level of maturity, I feel that the Woodsboy is ready to spend more time with me doing “real” outdoor activities. Fortunately, he has shown great interest in coming along and learning all he can. Besides being a chance to spend quality time together, our trips will allow him to pick up wilderness skills and knowledge, as well as an understanding of outdoor safety and good practice, from a young age so that they will be second nature to him later in life.

The first Sunday this November, the boy and I drove out to the old farmhouse woods for a meal and to explore the property some more. The first order of business was to set up the Holden tent for him, complete with wool blanket-insulated floor, his gear-filled backpack and plenty of outside toys. :)

As you can see, he elected to wear the blaze orange baseball cap (his “safety hat” as he called it), which left me with the orange vest. Instead of looking for standing dead wood for our fire, we decided to speed up the process and get some wood from the chaotic wood shed behind the barn and carry it back to the campsite.

Before splitting the wood with my axe, I had WB stand clear of the area and explained to him the potential dangers of sharp tools, flying wood chips etc. He stayed put at a safe distance and practiced some “splitting” of his own.

Once the wood was ready, I laid down two larger fuel wood pieces and put some shavings between them. WB helped me to put small fuel wood on top in a grid fashion, and we lit up the fire.

All throughout the process, I made it very clear that the fire was potentially very dangerous and that he was never to get too close to it, put anything on it or run around nearby it. Just like with sharp tools, I want the Woodsboy to have a solid understanding of the potential dangers of fire years before he is even allowed to work with it himself.

It was high time for some grub, so I gave WB a sandwich and some water and then set up a little rig for roasting mini-sausages over the fire. I prepped a stick to hold the sausages and laid it on the forked stick from my last trip. To keep the stick level, I put the other end through a knot-hole in one of the pieces of firewood.

While we were eating, WB said his sandwich was getting cold, so I stuck it on the same rig. :)

When the temperature started to drop and he felt cold, I set him up near the fire on his little folding-chair backpack with food on one side and water on the other. He had worked up quite an appetite and ate a banana and peanuts in addition to two sausages and a sandwich. :)

I also let him “roast” his sandwich by himself a little. :)

We packed up our stuff, let the fire burn down to coals and I then poured plenty of water on the remnants of the fire and told WB about why it’s so important to make sure it’s out completely before leaving.

By the way, I used the Swedish LK-70 pack for this outing because of its large capacity. It really comes in handy for day trips when you have to lug around extra stuff!

WB’s focus, eagerness to learn and good behavior during this trip were encouraging to me, so I’m really looking forward to our next trip out!