How to care for ladies in the wilderness

Have you ever wondered if it is practicable for women to be in the great outdoors? If so, how long should their gowns be? And should they have a stove? All these questions and more are answered by John M. Gould in his classic work “How to Camp Out”, first published in 1877 (

I’ll let his immortal words speak for themselves.

From Pages 93 and 94, “Ladies as Pedestrians”:

“I have once or twice alluded to ladies walking and camping. It is thoroughly practicable for them to do so. They must have a wagon, and do none of the heavy work; their gowns must not reach quite to the ground, and all of their clothing must be loose and easy. Of course there must be gentlemen in the party; and it may save annoyance to have at least one of the ladies well-nigh “middle-aged.” Ladies must be cared for more tenderly than men. If they are not well, the wagon should go back for them at the end of the day’s march; shelter-tents are not to be recommended for them, nor are two blankets sufficient bedclothing. They ought not to be compelled to go any definite distance, but after having made their day’s walk let the tents be pitched. Rainy weather is particularly unpleasant to ladies in tents; deserted houses, schoolhouses, saw-mills, or barns should be sought for them when a storm is brewing.”

And a few select passages from Pages 94 and 95, “Ladies and Children in Camp”:

“In a permanent camp, however, ladies, and children as well, can make themselves thoroughly at home.They ought not to ‘rough it’ so much as young men expect to: consequently they should be better protected from the wet and cold.”

“Almost all women will find it trying to their backs to be kept all day in an A-tent. If you have no other kind, you should build some sort of a wall, and pitch the tent on top of it.”

“It has already been advised that women should have a stove; in general, they ought not to depart so far from home ways as men do.”

There you have it gentlemen. The next time you call upon your damsel to depart her sitting room to frolic amongst the creepy-crawlies of the untamed wilderness, you shall be well versed in how to properly care for her frailties.

All joking aside, it’s very interesting to read this type of thing from yesteryear and to see how attitudes have changed. When I read this to my wife, she thought it was funny…but she did approve of the parts about not doing heavy work, being cared for tenderly, having warm sleeping equipment and not being “compelled to go any definite distance” while on the march. 😉

EDIT: To clarify, my wife is not a helpless, frail whiner. She was half-joking about approving of some of the things and is certainly capable of carrying a load, starting a fire and doing plenty of other tasks like this.

Some odds and ends from the weekend

While shopping with the family in a department store on Saturday, I spotted a bunch of kids’ toboggans near the bikes. One of them looked like it would be perfect for hauling my gear on the winter snow. I’ll add some straps or cordage for holding items down in the toboggan, as well as a some kind of tow-rope rig. Not bad for 9.95 Euros.

Back in October, I lost my wedding ring on a logging trail when I pulled off my glove quickly because I thought there was a deer ked crawling on my neck. I didn’t realize that my ring was gone until later on down the trail. After searching for 2 hours, I realized I probably wasn’t going to find it, so I gave up, hoping to try again later with a metal detector. Well, I managed to borrow one and went back to the forest this weekend. After a 1.5-hour search, I finally found it. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, because the land is so rugged. I honestly don’t know how I found it!

Following this, I went to my campsite to split some spruce rounds for winter camping firewood. It was pretty easy with the Council Tool Jersey axe I bought about a year ago. The next time I go back, I’ll cut some more rounds from the big downed spruce with the bow saw and split them as well.

Finland is in a weird state of limbo between fall and winter right now. It has only gotten marginally colder over the past 2 months. Last year, the first snow came on October 15th. This year, we didn’t have any snow until just last week, and it was gone in 2 days. It has been cold enough for some water to freeze:

Soon after dropping below freezing, it warms up again. This has been happening over and over again, and the willows don’t know what the heck is going on. Some have sprouted buds and even some leaves have developed, which subsequently die back.

Here are some of the latest round of sprouting buds:

Hopefully winter will get here soon and end the wet, muddy mess. I’m itching to get back on my snowshoes and try out my new gear toboggan.

UPDATE: Well, I asked for it. Here’s the view out the window the next morning:

A few Finnish must-read blogs

First off, I’d like to thank those of you who have been reading and commenting at my new blog. I’m averaging about 70 hits per day, so either a bunch of people think The Weekend Woodsman is worth a visit now and then or 3 or 4 of you have way too much time on your hands. 😉 Thanks for visiting!

Today’s post will cover a few of the blogs I read on a regular basis, specifically the ones run right here in Finland. Don’t worry, you don’t have to speak Finnish to understand them, as they’re mostly in English (with some Finnish and even Japanese thrown in). The gentlemen running these blogs are very talented and knowledgeable about a lot of different things, including bushcraft, camping, forging/knifemaking, hunting, fishing, cooking, backpacking, history, culture and a long list of other things. If you’re not already acquainted with them, I highly recommend checking them out!

(In alphabetical order)

Bush n’ Blade is run by “OZme”, a Japanese guy living in Finland. He is a fine craftsman and does most of his work with simple hand tools, like me. I think OZme has dabbled in more areas than most people I know, from wine making to canoe paddle making. He’s also into camping (including winter camping), wild edibles and exploring what the Finnish wilderness has to offer. He’s a very accomplished knife maker as well.

Hiking in Finland is run by Hendrik Morkel, a German guy living in Finland. He focuses on lightweight and ultralight backpacking, but also incorporates some Finnish-style bushcrafty things as well, which I think is great. He’s a certified wilderness guide in Finland and takes great photos as well.

Perkele’s Blog is probably familiar to you, but I have to mention it anyway. I think “Perkunas” can fix or make just about anything, including a tasty meal, and do a damn good job at it. He’s not afraid to share his opinions, which are often well-though-out and insightful. He has loads of experience in the Finnish wilderness, including hunting, fishing, camping, bushcrafting, hiking etc. and has probably personally seen every tree and rock in the country. He’s a wealth of information, a fine blacksmith and an all-around good guy. (He’s also a certified wilderness guide, by the way.)

Scandic Woodsman is a promising new blog by a guy who has a lot of interests. “Finnman” is currently heavily into hunting with bows and firearms, but also fishes, hikes, camps, travels, takes great pictures and knows his sharps. Finnman is big into self-reliance and mini-homesteading, which I’m interested in as well. Keep an eye on his blog. I think he has a lot more great stuff to come!

Here are two non-blog websites which are definitely worth checking out:

Bushcraft Finland is a Finnish-centric forum covering a variety of outdoor topics. It includes an international section in English, which is at least as active as the Finnish section.

Varusteleka is a supplier of military surplus and new gear and clothing. Certainly the biggest and best in Finland. I’ve bought backpacks, clothes, snowshoes, sleeping bags, ponchos and more from them and have only good things to say.

My take on the “camp knife”

For some people, a “camp knife” is a small Swiss Army Knife. For others, it’s a heavy kukri with a 15” blade. For yet others, it’s a Ka-Bar fighter. Obviously, the type of tasks a person will be doing in the outdoors will (or at least should) determine the type of knife or knives they carry. Having tried out a range of knife types and sizes (everything from a sub-3” puukko to a 14” machete) since I started getting back into camping, bushcraft etc. around 2007, with the goal of actively trying to find my ideal camp knife, this is what I have settled on so far:

This is the Outdoor Knife 145 from Finnish knife maker Lapin Puukko. It has a 5.75”/14.5 cm blade with a convexed Scandi edge. The reason I like this type of knife over other knives for general use is that it is very versatile, without trying to be “one knife for everything”. I have used this type of knife to make shavings for kindling, split small logs for kindling, fell and buck 3”-thick dead saplings and remove their limbs, slash-cut saplings and branches of more than 0.5”/1.25 cm thick, slash-cut weeds and brush, carve sausage-roasting sticks, carve forks, carve a pot hanger, strip bark off sticks, make a walking stick, make a digging stick, pry off pieces of fatwood from a stump, harvest birch bark for projects, rough up birch bark for taking a spark, open food packages, cut cordage, slice tomatoes, bacon, potatoes, carrots and onions (edit: make a snowshoeing pole, make a primitive fishing rig etc.)…you get the idea. If I choke up on the handle, the balance is fantastic and I can do finer work pretty easily. Choking down gives me almost 9″/23 cm of reach from my hand to the tip of the blade. The fact that it can easily handle all the above tasks and more makes it my idea of a “camp knife”. Any work that is either too fine or too demanding for this knife is handled by my SAK and axe.

Sounds like I’m pretty happy with the knife I have, no? In almost every respect, I am. It has occurred to me, though, that the very thin stick/rat-tail tang of this design does place limits on how I can use it. Now I’m not one to abuse tools, but I don’t baby them either. I want to be able to trust my knife when applying more force to it (batoning, prying etc.), and the stick tang limits this (the knife has not shown any signs of failure so far, but I don’t want to push it and end up with a broken knife or injury). To remedy this situation, and the only issue I see with this knife, I have commissioned bladesmith Ilkka Seikku to make a new camp knife for me. I have given him the specifications I have in mind, and he has already started working on the blade. Soon I should have my new camp knife, and you can be sure I’ll tell you guys about it here, so stay tuned. UPDATE: I have received my new camp knife from Ilkka. You can read an overview about it here and see some pics in use here.

Just so you can get an idea of what Ilkka is capable of, here is a leuku he made for me this past summer:

This would be many people’s idea of a camp knife, as it has a 0.2″/5 mm thick blade which is 9″/23 cm in length. I mainly use it for wood processing in the summer and in Lapland and also for clearing.

Camp cooking – Finnish sausage and potato hash

One of my favorite Finnish/Scandinavian foods is called “pyttipannu” (“pyttipanna” in Swedish and Norwegian). It’s a high-calorie, stomach-filling food, which makes it perfect for the bush. Pyttipannu was originally scraped together from leftovers, but is now commonly made from fresh ingredients. This dish is very easy to make in the bush, requiring little or no refrigeration depending on the ingredients you use.

Pyttipannu (approximation: PUT-TEE-pon-noo) consists of potatoes, onions, sausage and eggs. Of course there are variations, but these are the most common ingredients, and the ones I use. The ingredients are as follows (I’m not going to give exact amounts as you can decide this for yourself):

– Several potatoes

– Several onions (about 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the potatoes you’re using) (I used red onions this time)

– Meat (sausage is commonly used, but you can also use spam if refrigeration is an issue. As for the amount, 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the potatoes is a good rule of thumb here as well.)

– Eggs (say, one or two for each onion)

– Salt and pepper

– Cooking oil

First clean and boil the potatoes (when you can easily stick a fork or sliver of wood in them, they’re done). Some people peel the taters first, but I don’t. Then cut the potatoes and meat up into similar-sized cubes. Peel and dice or slice the onions and then sauté them in a little oil. Add the potatoes and sausages, stirring from time to time until the potatoes are browned to your liking. Add some salt and pepper to taste. To complete the dish, either scramble the eggs in a separate pan and then mix with the main pan, or just dump the whisked raw eggs into the pan with the rest of the food, stirring often. Once the eggs are thoroughly cooked, the pyttipannu is ready to eat!

This is the recipe I use. Sometimes the eggs are cooked and eaten separately. Give it a try, experiment a bit, and figure out how you like it best!

Note: I didn’t use eggs when I made the pyttipannu in the pictures above. It still tastes great without them.

How to do dishes in the bush

Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few tricks for cleaning up dirty cookware in the bush. If you don’t have a scrub brush and dish soap with you, but you do have some water, an axe and a fire, you’re not out of luck.

Improvised brush from spruce sprigs: If you need a quick scrub brush, grab a few spruce (or similar) sprigs and tie them together. This isn’t the most comfortable method, but it does effectively scrub gunk off your pots and pans.

Improvised brush from birch branch: For a much more comfortable tool capable of heavy scrubbing, cut off a birch (or similar) branch about 0.5” – 0.75” in diameter and pound the end with the poll of your axe, using a rock or piece of wood as a base. Be sure to rotate the branch from time to time as you are pounding so that you break up the wood fibers all the way around. This creates a very effective and resilient brush. I cooked bacon and eggs in the pot shown here, and there was a lot of stuck-on gunk. The branch brush made it like new! (OK, maybe not like new, but it certainly worked.)

Improvised soap: Traditionally, soap was made by mixing rendered animal fat with lye. You can do something similar on a smaller scale in the bush, by adding a few spoonfuls of ashes from your fire and a little warm or hot water to your dirty pots and pans. Most foods we cook contain some kind of fat, and there will be some left in your dirty cookware, plates etc., so adding the ashes and water in essence creates a crude form of soap. It won’t look like the dish soap (I should say, “detergent”, as it is no longer real soap) which you use at home, but it works surprisingly well.

I have to admit that I didn’t come up with these ideas myself. I picked them up while out in the bush with friends (the spruce brush from Finnman at the Scandic Woodsman and the birch brush from OZme at Bush n’ Blade). The ash soap idea is from good, ole’ Nessmuk.

Now that you know how to get your pots and pans clean, I’ll have to show you how to get them dirty by making a really tasty meal in the bush using simple ingredients.


EDIT: A few commenters have contributed some more great ideas: Scrubbing with sand can help to remove food residue from cookware, since it’s abrasive. Also, heating a pot after putting water in it can help to break up stuck-on food. I guess I should have entitled this post “How to make what you need to clean dishes in the bush”, as that’s what it was originally about. 😉 I’m happy to add additional information to make the post more complete. Thanks guys!

Lapland – July, 2011 – Part 2

You can find Part 1 of this trip report here.

On Monday morning, I bathed and broke camp. This was followed by a 7.5 km/4.7 mi hike to Rautulampi, a shelter at a beautiful lake in an area of higher elevation and fewer trees. I ate lunch and rested here. I think I’ll let the pictures of this area speak for themselves. I felt like I was in a different country, as it was very different from the Finland I knew.

Sometimes the trail disappeared in a field of rocks:

After hiking 7.5 km/4.7 mi from Rautulampi, I had reached my next destination, which had new and old reindeer corrals, a shelter and a campsite. I was lucky to get there when I did, because shortly afterward the clouds started rolling in.

I met an old Finnish gentleman there who spoke Finnish and Russian, but no English, so I had to stumble my way through with broken Finnish to communicate. I think he understood most of what I was saying, as he didn’t seem to look at me at any point as if I had said something like “I just hiked up the rubber ducky and now I’m going to stop and shave my armpits.” He told me about how he was on an extended trip and had covered about 200 km/124 mi up to that point. Kudos to him! I can only hope to be in that kind of condition when I reach his age. He went back to the closed shelter which was a little ways away and I made some bannock in a pan at a fire ring. Looking at my food supply, I realized that I was eating a lot less than I thought I would. I felt strong and healthy, so I figured it wasn’t a big deal. Shortly after eating, a thunderstorm rolled in, so I quickly set up my tent and moved in. It was getting late by this time, and I didn’t have anything else to do, so I zipped up the tent, slipped into my sleeping bag, and listened to the rain and thunder. It turned out to be very windy and rainy overnight, but I managed to stay warm and dry.

Tuesday morning was different from the other mornings, as it was cool, misty and foggy, with much more limited visibility. I hiked 4.5 km/2.8 mi to the small Kiilopää tourist area, where I cooked lunch at a fire ring and saw a big bull reindeer. There was also a Saami earthen shelter there (rented out to tourists).

The weather didn’t change much over the course of the day, and I then realized how lucky I was to have the clear, sunny skies and 28*C/83*F temperatures most days. Yeah, it was pretty warm for most of my trip to Lapland. Didn’t expect that either, did you? Anyway, I hiked 5.5 km/3.4 mi back to “old ugly gorge” and put my stuff in the cabin there. That’s when it started.

My eyes started itching, especially the right one. I tried not to rub it, but I couldn’t help myself. I also started sneezing, so obviously I was having some kind of allergic reaction. Great. The trip managed to be incident-free up to that point except for one blister at the beginning, but that was about to change. My eyeball (yes, the eyeball itself) started getting very red and swelling up, along with the eyelid. This was not good. I had never suffered from “swollen eyeball syndrome” before, so I was starting to get a bit worried and wondering how this would affect the rest of my trip. I stayed calm, took a pain killer containing an anti-histamine and made myself a cup of coffee. It was raining continuously, so it’s not like I was missing anything outside. I chillaxed in the shelter and decided to stay there overnight, rather than to go outside and set up my tent in the rain to sleep there. You could say I wasn’t quite in the mood to do that. Luckily, my eyes had returned almost to normal by the morning, except for some redness and a little swelling. You can’t imagine how happy I was about this.

Though my eyes were back in good shape that morning, the weather was not. It was 5*C/41*F, raining and very windy. I packed up my stuff and headed out. I would have rather waited to see if the rain and wind would let up, but it was the last day of my trip, and I didn’t want to have any problems catching the bus back to the airport. I hiked 7 km/4.3 mi back to the village of Saariselkä and by the time I got there, the temperature and constant rain and wind had taken their toll. I was soaked from the waist down and my hands were cold and stiff and clamped shut around the piece-of-junk plastic poncho I was trying to hold down around me (“I’ll lighten my load by bringing this lightweight, small plastic poncho with me instead of the large, 900 g/2 pound German military surplus poncho I usually use,” said The Weekend Woodsman foolishly, as he was making his gear selections in his warm, dry house a week prior). Luckily, I had a second pair of clothes in my pack, so I dried myself off, changed into the other clothes and got my stuff sorted and ready for the trip home.

Having made it back to the village with way too much extra time and a growling stomach, I ate some smoked reindeer casserole, Saami-style flat bread and a doughnut and drank coffee at a small restaurant in the village. I checked out the junk in the souvenir shops and then finally made my way to the bus stop. I took a final look at the village and the treeless hills in the distance and thought about how fast the trip went. On the other hand, I missed my family a lot and felt like I was away from them for too long. Luckily, the trip home was uneventful. When I finally got there at about 11 p.m., it seemed bizarre that that morning I had woken up with red eyes in a sleeping bag in a cabin in a rainy national forest in Lapland, but that I was going to sleep in my warm comfy bed at home. These kinds of trips really put things in perspective.

This trip to Lapland was certainly the beginning of a new chapter in my “outdoor life”. I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, what I need and don’t need, how much I eat, how much I sleep, how much I feel like hiking each day and what it’s like to do a trip like this on my own. I didn’t explore unknown territory or do anything amazing, but it was a significant step for me. I’m already itching to go on the next big trip next summer for a full 2 weeks. My “dilemma” now is deciding whether I should go back to the same park and explore a lot more of it (off the marked trails and away from the shelters) or to go to a different wilderness area altogether. Why must life’s decisions be so difficult? 😉


P.S. – In case you’re wondering, my backpack and shoulder bag together weighed 19 kg/42 lbs. That’s total weight, including food, water and all gear (including a bunch of stuff I didn’t use). The weight without food and water was 13 kg/28.5 lbs. The food I brought with me weighed 5 kg/11 lbs, and I ate 3 kg/6.5 lbs of it (well, it would have been 3 kg if I didn’t eat the fries at the hotel and the last meal in the village). So for a trip of this length, my total weight could have been 17 kg/37.5 lbs. Remember, I said in my first blog post that I am not an ultralight backpacker. I brought a 2 lb wood-burning stove, a large knife, a small metal grill and other such items with me. Personally, I don’t mind the weight. I like having the items with me.