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!

Advertisements

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.

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!

First hiking and bushcraft trip to the cabin woods

On Sunday afternoon, I drove out to the property with the old cabin we’ve been working on restoring. Instead of doing work on the building, though, I wanted to explore the area around it. Fortunately (for me), we got our first snow of the season the day before, so I was able to enjoy a little early taste of winter. Also fortunately for me, the weather played along nicely!

I parked the car near the cabin, took some pictures of the fields and woods on the property and then explored the woods adjacent to the property.

There’s a small cliff at the back edge of the property and a stream at the bottom.

I spotted these (probably fox) tracks nearby.

Frozen moose dumplings:

Bunny tracks:

Being that it’s moose-hunting season, I wore my blaze orange vest for safety’s sake. At this time of year, I usually wear either an orange hat or vest like this in potential hunting areas (though I make a conscious effort to NOT disturb hunters’ hunts with my doings).

After hiking around with my pack for about 2 hours, I returned to the property and picked out a nice level and open spot to set up a tarp shelter (more on this shelter type in an upcoming post). For a ground cloth, I used a heavy-duty garbage bag, and on top of that I put my pack and a small foam pad. The woods nearby provided a dead standing pine sapling, which I chopped up into firewood.

As a side note on the shelter, I added a loop at the middle of the long side of the tarp because there were no grommets there. As you can see, I reinforced the tarp in that area with black repair tape and stitching.

The temperature at the site was about -1ºC (30ºF) at the time, and by the evening had dropped to -3ºC (26.5ºF).

Not having my grill with me, but needing some way to keep my pot over the fire, I found a small sapling and made a stick with a fork on one end and a point on the other.

Then I cut down a larger and heavier sapling, stripped off its branches, carved a notch near the end (for the pot bail) and laid it on the forked stick stuck in the ground. The weight of the far end of the sapling meant that I didn’t need to do anything else to keep the “pot end” up.

Now that my cooking rig was ready, I needed to gather some tinder and split some of the pine for the fire. I found a birch tree nearby with some great bark peeling off it. It was like paper and had a nice feel to it.

Dinner for the evening was pasta in cheese sauce, which is a nice way to say “mac n’ cheese” ;)…

…and bannock, aka stickbread. After I added water to the dry mix, I put the dough ball down for a minute or two to do something and then found that it had already started to harden because of the below-freezing temperature outside!

It took longer than normal, but I managed to squeeze the dough into a strip and wrap it around a stick to bake near the fire.

As it started to get dark, I ate the bannock and drank some water and then packed up most of my gear. Here’s one last shot of the tarp tent at dusk. Normally, I put the fire a little closer to the shelter if I’m going to use it for warmth on an overnight stay.

Finally, I’d like to talk a little bit about “bushcraft gear”, specifically the price of said gear. Almost every item you see in this post was either a discount store item, military surplus item, consignment shop fixer-upper or recycled. The only exception is my BushProwler knife, which was hand made to my specifications (though cheaper Mora-type knives etc. would certainly also suffice). Here’s a little rundown:

  • Shelter: 2 Euro ($2.60 USD) tarp from hardware store, pole and pegs from old tent
  • Pack: 25 Euro ($32.50 USD, cheaper in the US) Swedish LK-35 military surplus
  • Axe: 10 Euro ($13 USD) from consignment shop, rehafted and fixed up by me
  • Pot: 5 Euro ($6.50 USD) from discount store
  • Spoon: Taken from a cutlery set from my cub scout days
  • Kuksa cup: 4 Euro ($5.20 USD) from consignment shop (boiled before use)
  • 1 liter aluminum water bottle: 1 Euro ($1.30 USD) from consignment shop
  • Sitting pad: 1 Euro ($1.30 USD) from discount store
  • Garbage bag ground cloth: A few cents
  • Matches: A few cents a box, housed in a birch bark container I made
  • Knife: Let’s say I used a Mora instead: 10 Euros ($13 USD)
  • TOTAL: 58 Euro ($75 USD)

My suggestion when looking for gear is to shop around, see what you can make using things you have at home, trade with other people, recycle things other people are planning on throwing away etc. Outdoor gear does NOT necessarily have to be expensive!

A first look at the Swedish LK-70 rucksack

Although I really enjoy owning and using outdoor gear, I try not to amass too much of it. I’m definitely not a minimalist, but for whatever reason I just can’t stand having too much stuff, and that includes outdoor gear! Having said this, if I do recognize a legitimate gap in my arsenal of woodsman’s toys, I won’t hesitate to fill it with a rugged, dependable, multi-functional item of value.

I don’t get a chance to take longer trips that often, but it is something I’m trying to do at least once a year. This being the case, I decided it was time to purchase a backpack with a larger capacity for longer trips during any season and for extended periods of time. Having recently been impressed by the build quality and overall design of the Swedish LK-35 army rucksack, I decided to purchase its big brother, the LK-70, from Finland’s best-known military surplus and outdoor store, Varusteleka.

Image linked from Varusteleka

As you may have surmised, this is a 70-Liter (4,270 cu in) pack. It has an external frame very similar to that of the LK-35, differing mainly in the area of size. While there is a newer nylon version of this pack, I purchased the more traditional canvas and leather version. You know, it’s just how I roll. 😉

A few specs:

  • Pack material: canvas with rubberized bottom, frame side and top flap, leather straps, metal buckles, nylon pouch extensions
  • Pack capacity: 70 liters (at least; possibly more considering the pouch extensions)
  • Pack design: 1) very large rubberized top flap with two pockets for flat or small items, 2) large main compartment with pouch extension and drawstring closure, 3) two long side pouches with pouch extension, drawstring closure and top flap, 4) one rear pouch with pouch extension, drawstring closure and top flap, 5) space for skis, an axe etc. between the long side pouches and main pouch with leather straps to secure these items in place, 6) external attachment points for bedroll, sleeping pad etc.
  • Frame material: external tube-steel frame
  • Weight: 3.5 kg/7.7 lbs.

Image linked from Varusteleka

Out of the box, this pack had a pretty strong mold smell (not uncommon with military-surplus items), so I aired it out outside for a while and then washed it with soap and water and hung it up to dry. This took care of the majority of the odor.

Then I loaded it up with a bunch of gear, exercise weights and other stuff totaling 21.5 kg/47.5 lbs to do a little weight test (by the way, it’s usually advisable to try packs on at the store with weight in them before you buy them, but I had a good feeling this one would work out thanks to my experience with the smaller version). This is more weight than I’d take in most cases, so I thought it’d be a good test weight. After adjusting the straps and pack position a bit, the LK-70 proved to be quite comfortable. The external frame kept the pack sack off my back, which allows for excellent airflow. I quickly climbed on and off a few chairs to get an initial feel for how the pack carries, and it didn’t seem to wobble or shift at all.

Having paid only 55 Euros/$71.50 for this pack and considering that it’s decades old, I didn’t expect it to be in perfect condition. Again, this goes with the territory of military-surplus gear. There was a small cut through the leather part of the waist belt, so I took a few minutes to sew it up. It shouldn’t be a problem at all. Also, the pack will need to be waterproofed with either wax or a modern waterproofing agent and the leather straps should be oiled before I take it out into the field. Other than this and the rectified mold odor, there really isn’t anything to complain about, especially considering the price. Given the basic nature of the design, some comfort modifications may be in order in the future. We’ll see.

I don’t want to jinx myself by saying too much, but plans for an extended outing in a northerly direction are in the works and I’ll be bringing this pack if it stands up to preliminary field testing. 🙂

“35 L, K”-model Swedish army rucksack (and a little bonus)

In my last post, I showed a few pictures of a pack I picked up before our recent move from Helsinki.

It’s a “35 L, K”-model Swedish army rucksack, and I got it for about 25 Euros at a discount tool/home store.

A few specs (courtesy of Webbingbabel):

  • Pack material: polyamide
  • Pack capacity: 35 liters (40.5 liters with the top flap at its uppermost position)
  • Frame material: steel tube
  • Weight: 2.3 kg/5 lbs (according to my bathroom scale)

Anyone who’s familiar with the M39 Swedish army rucksack (and who isn’t, really?) will notice right away that the “35 L, K” is a more modern pack, both in materials and design. It’s more comfortable (thanks to two webbing straps which keep the frame off your back, padded shoulder straps etc.), more versatile in use (thanks to the external frame design and attachment straps) and just all around better. You can really see the amount of progress that occurred in pack design between these two packs. Incidentally, there is also a 70-liter version of this pack, called the “70 L, K”, amazingly enough. 😉 It uses the same frame and shoulder straps, but a larger-volume pack is attached to it.

Using the pack a few times has confirmed its superiority over the M39, at least in my mind. It’s much more comfortable, can hold much more gear (plenty of attachment straps all the way around) and is more water-repellent. Although there is a clever and convenient way to attach one’s axe to this pack (one of the horizontal straps can be seen on the lower part of the pack), my 3/4 axe is a bit too long to make use of this, so I just slip it into one of the loops at the top of the pack and it stays put just fine. Another nice feature is the ability to adjust the top attachment point of the shoulder straps to make them closer together or further apart to fit your body better. The shoulder straps themselves are also very easy to adjust thanks to clever tabs on the straps. One of my favorite things about this pack is that I can cinch down the attachment and closure straps if the pack load is small and use it as a day pack, or loosen the straps, fill the pack to the brim, attach my sleeping bag, sleeping pad and tent to the outside and have a fully capable pack for multi-day trips without stretching the limits of what the pack can and should do.

When I bought mine, there was a bunch of surface rust on some parts of the frame, so I sanded it off and will repaint those spots sometime soon. This kind of thing comes with the territory of military surplus gear. Other than the rust, the pack is in great shape and seems rugged enough to stand up to quite a bit of hard use. To make it even more comfortable to wear, I added a waist belt scavenged from another rucksack. This really helps take some of the load off the shoulders (I’ll probably add some padding to this belt later on).

I will continue to try out this pack for day trips and overnighters over the coming weeks and months to really put it through it’s paces, but I think it’s a winner!

And now for something completely different: a few shots of the Woodsbabe’s grandparents’ farm from last weekend. What a difference two weeks make, eh? Not only has spring sprung, but we’ve almost hit full-on summer! Hope the weather has been this nice where you are, too. 🙂

Sauna, gazebo and stream:

And finally, no trip to the farm is complete without a tractor ride for the Woodsboy. 🙂