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.

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22 comments on “Kampin’ in a kota

  1. wgiles says:

    It appears that you’ve had our winter and we’ve had yours. We’ve had snow on the ground since the end of last year and days on end of sub- zero (F) lows. The only thing that we’ve had in common is that everyone’s been sick. Not much getting out for us, either. Thanks for posting.

  2. hejhej!

    Good to see you’re no longer MIA!
    Yeah, winter really sucks in Scandinavia this year. Our garden is almost snowfree by now 😦

    At least you did have some fun after all that holidayworkswampsicknessbusiness (can one use that word in scrabble?) and you no longer need to stomp around alone anymore.
    am planning on gathering some poles for such a tipi too. How long are they? Looks like about 3-3,5 meters?

    take care bud.

    • Thanks, bud. Things are settling down now a bit (hopefully). I should be able to post regularly again.

      Wow, you have almost no snow!? Unheard of… Really weird. I hope next winter will be a “real” winter again.

      Yeah, it is really nice to have another person interested in bushcraft to join me on some of my trips on a regular basis. After 5 years, it was about time. 🙂

      The shelter poles could easily have been 3.5 – 4 m long. I’m really not sure, though. I’ll measure them roughly the next time I’m out there.

      Thanks for the comments, Ron!

  3. denneyknives says:

    That looks like fun and our winter here in Alaska isn’t any thing to write home about either.

  4. Corey says:

    I was actually thinking about this in church this morning – my mind drifted for a second. If you cut the tarp, is there a method to “seal” the cut edge to keep it from fraying?

    • Corey: “Dear Lord, please help me to find a way to seal the edges of a cut tarp. Amen.” 😉

      I’d probably try running a candle or lighter along the edge, but who knows. The kind of tarp we used is not the typical criss-crossed plastic tarp, though. It has a different kind of material that does not fray when cut/ripped, so I don’t think fraying will be an issue. We’ll see!

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. wgiles says:

    I was looking at the native American tipi designs to see how they differed from the kota or lavvu. There are some differences, but there’s more information on tipis than kotas. The thing that caught my attention was the smoke flaps on the tipi. There is a pole attached to each flap, so that they can be adjusted or closed from the ground. Another thing is that the tipi footprint is egg shaped, rather than circular. The cutting pattern doesn’t seem to be too difficult and could be done with a good size tarp. I would still prefer to hem the edge, to give it more strength. I’m not that good at sewing, so I doubt that I’ll try.

    • The North American tipis I’ve seen are pretty sophisticated for mobile shelters for the reasons you mentioned and more. The kota is much simpler, essentially being a cloth/skins/tarp on a cone of sticks with few extra features. Very basic in nature.

      There’s not a whole lot of tension on the tarp when it’s on the poles, but I may do something to seal off the cut edge if necessary. As mentioned in a comment reply, the material of the tarp we used is pretty high quality and does not fray when cut or ripped. If anything, it tends to stretch if stressed.

      • wgiles says:

        I noticed that the native Americans tended to travel in larger groups, while the Scandinavians tended to travel in smaller family groups, which might explain some of the differences. Life on the plains was probably quite different from life in the frozen north, so there were probably similarities and differences in a technology that was developed by two independent groups. This type of shelter is portable, but not very. For a family group that is following a herd, it makes some sense. I think that setting one up semi-permanently and refining the design is the the best approach. I won’t be building one anytime soon, but I like the thought. Our biggest problem is wind. We’ll be getting sustained winds of 15-20 MPH with gusts in excess of 30 MPH. Anything not tied down is going to blow away. I imagine that the plains dwellers had to deal with similar winds and I think that it influences the design of their shelters. I hope to hear more about your experiences with your kota.

  6. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    What a rewarding experience. Thanks for sharing your adventure with your readers.

  7. Wade says:

    Well here in Ontario Canada…. We are having a winter… The Great Lakes are pretty much frozen over….And we have a lot of snow. Most people are complaining because that is what people do…. I enjoy winter and get out in the woods as much as possible. Nice report on your overnighter.

  8. BelgianBirkebeiner says:

    great article, thanks a lot!

  9. Stéphane LACHAUD says:

    Terve, Weekend Woodsman! 🙂
    Many thanks for your great blog and its fascinating content!
    I am myself a nordic addict and spend maximum of my free time in the area of Inarijärvi and more generally fin and swedish Säpmi…
    What you describe in this article is what i had also on the edge of the Inarijärvi where i was in february of this year… since years i go there, first time i saw “liquid water” dropping from sky at these period! :
    I was working on a plot of land i own and mounting a permanent camp during 8 days “in the field”: temp (night and days together): night around -10/-5°C to one day around +3/4 °C….
    The point was not this time to manage with good “dry” and strong negative temperature but the damned moisture to fight against…. 😀
    Hoping strongly that it was just an “accident” and waiting for a coming magic winter!

    Again, thanks a lot for sharing with us. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comments and compliments! 🙂

      Yep, it sure was a pretty disappointing winter last time! I also hope we have a “real winter” this time around. Big fluctuations and damp weather sure can be miserable!

      So you own a piece of land at Inarijärvi? Sounds good! Let me know when you’re up there again. Maybe I’ll drop by. 🙂

  10. Stéphane LACHAUD says:

    It would be a pleasure to welcome you! 🙂 we will go with my partner, little daughter and a friend, at the end of next march for two weeks… 🙂
    do not hesitate to contact me by mail if you wish to visit us for a warm coffee and “makkara” around the fire… 🙂

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