If you’ve been following my doings for any length of time, you’ll know that I used to spend most of my outdoors time at my mother-in-law’s forest property before my family moved this past summer. Since our move, I’ve been bouncing around pretty wildly between different locations (Nuuksio National Park, Pukala Recreation Area, Hanko, Scandic Woodsman’s property, Florida, New Jersey, Estonia etc.). This phase is winding down now, and most of my upcoming bushcraft, hiking and camping trips will be spent in national parks and recreation areas, i.e. public wilderness, though I hope to visit Scandic’s slice of forest regularly as well. This transition from private to public means that my gear and methods are undergoing a transition of their own to reflect the fact that I cannot cut green wood or harvest (most) firewood, spruce boughs and other resources from public land. This post will show how my gear selection is evolving to suit my new situation.
The biggest difference in my experience now is the way in which I get wood for cooking and heating. Whereas I used to use my axe or hatchet to bring down dead small trees and saplings, this is both illegal and unnecessary at national parks and recreation areas. Just about every public laavu (wooden lean-to shelter) has both a fire pit and stocked wood shed. All that’s needed is to cut the wood to burnable size with a saw (usually provided) and split it with an axe (also usually provided). It can then be burned in the designated fire pit, wood-burning stove etc. You might think that this eliminates any need to bring a saw or axe at all, but I do prefer to bring my own. Sometimes, the provided tools are dull and/or not in the best of shape. I like to bring my own tools because I am familiar with them and know I can trust them. Also, if I were to always rely on the public tools, I might be surprised and disappointed should I find that someone who was there before me had misplaced them!
The fact that wood is now easily available means that I no longer need the extra power of my 3/4 axe (handle: 26″/65 cm, head: 2 lbs./0.9 kg) for chopping and heavier splitting. In my new setting, it’s “too much tool”. More appropriate now is something along the lines of the Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe (handle: 20″/50 cm, head: 1.5 lbs./0.7 kg) which I used off and on a few years ago (shown above). It’s smaller and lighter, yet it handles the splitting and carving tasks I have to do, and can be stowed inside my backpack, which is less off-putting to non-axe freaks out there in the public realm. In short, it’s sufficient for the axe work I do in public wilderness areas. Also, since the same type of wood is available all year round, the seasonal switching back and forth between a small hatchet and 3/4 axe doesn’t apply, so the LHA can be my year-round axe.
But what if I’m not near one of these shelters and I want to cook a meal or boil some water? It is legal to collect dead branches and sticks (but not dead trees) from the forest floor and use them in wood-burning stoves and the like, but this is not always a resource that can be relied on, especially in the winter. This is where my alcohol stove from OZme at Bush n’ Blade comes in. Compact and lightweight, this stove will come in very handy in those cases where using wood is not feasible or practical. Just add fuel and light it up!
In the “old days”, I used to cut off a small birch or willow branch or sapling and use it for roasting sausages over a fire. Instead, I now carry a telescoping sausage roaster given to me by my wife’s grandfather, because cutting live trees on public land is a no-no.
The most frequently used bedding material at my old campsite was spruce boughs or small bushy plants, covered with a thin foam sleeping pad or lamb fleece. Since collecting live spruce boughs (which doesn’t hurt the tree, by the way) and other plants is no longer an option, I have added a second thin sleeping pad to my bedroll, which does the trick.
The last change isn’t a result of the new circumstances, but one that just makes sense for other reasons. While my canvas rucksack serves perfectly well for trips lasting longer than one night, I will be using a more modern pack for those trips instead. While going through some things in storage, I found my “old” pack, which is actually much newer and modern than the canvas pack I regularly use. For the heck of it, I loaded my gear inside and put it on. Sure enough, it carries a full multi-day load better. As I said, the older canvas pack works just fine, but why not use the one that works a bit better and get some use out of it? Another nice benefit of the modern internal-frame pack is that it is easier to travel with, i.e. on planes etc. Its shape and configuration make it better suited as “luggage”, and since I have to carry everything I travel with in that bag (including things like my boots, a carry-on bag and other stuff which I would not normally have inside my pack while wandering the wilderness) around airports, on ferries and trains, etc., the load-bearing benefit of this pack comes into play again. For day trips and one-night camping trips, however, my canvas pack is still No. 1.
It figures that after years of trial, error and testing to figure out what equipment works best for me, I would then move to a different area and place myself in different circumstances! 😉 But seriously, these changes are not at all major, and not much to adjust to. In fact, most of these changes will result in making things easier and more convenient, which I really can’t complain about!