(Belated) overnight trip report – March 21st/22nd

Toward the end of March, I spent a weekend exploring the old farm woods and the surrounding area, finally locating all the boundary markers of the property and discovering some other interesting features of the “neighborhood” as well. At that time, there was still a good bit of snow on the ground, most of which has since melted, and the temperatures were a lot lower, too, with about -5ºC/+23ºF during the day and -12ºC/+10ºF at night.

Before choosing a new campsite and setting up camp, I wandered around looking for the back property markers, taking some pictures as I went along.

I found a nice, reasonably flat spot at a far corner of the property and set up the MIL-TEC tarp in my beloved Holden tent configuration. So far, I’ve been very pleased with this tarp, which I bought a little over a year ago.

Once my camp was set up, I located some potential firewood nearby. Besides a few smaller dead pine saplings, I found a nice larger dead pine which had partially fallen over some time ago. Getting a hung-up tree like this unstuck can be very dangerous, so I’m not going to give instructions on that there. All I will say is that it’s a good idea to read up on the subject and have an experienced tree feller go out into the field with you to show you how to do it. In general, though, the idea is to first cut the tree at the base and then carefully move up the trunk, cutting section by section, until it can be freed from the other tree.

I cut the trunk into campfire-sized pieces and also collected the dry branches from the top of the tree.

To ignite the dry branches, I would need something finer and easily flammable, so I went back to an area where I had remembered seeing lots of birch bark on the ground. This bark had been stripped off some trees when the loggers came through to thin out the forest last year.

After splitting up some of the sections of the pine tree I had dislodged and sectioned, I laid down some lower-quality, partially rotten pieces of wood in the spot I had chosen for the campfire. On this I placed a piece of birch bark, which I scraped with my BushProwler knife from Ilkka Seikku to create a fine pile of paper-thin shavings to ignite with my ferrocerium rod. I then added progressively bigger pieces of wood until the fire was ready for me to start heating up some food.

Once I had eaten and relaxed a bit, I decided to spend the evening exploring the area some more.

Plenty of animal sign:

Curiosity led me to climb some of the higher hills in the area, which rewarded me with a really nice view. First, looking down at my campsite:

This was followed by a short hike down to the lake, where I plan to do some fishing this season.

After hiking around, I sat by the fire for a long while, ate some dinner and watched the stars appear one-by-one as the sky darkened to night. I slipped into my nested sleeping bags in my poncho bivy and continued watching the sky through the doorway of my tent until I drifted off. After a good night’s rest, I arose in the morning, shook off the sleep and started the morning fire. Once again, I dined on Finnish rice pies (riisipiirakka) and a meat pie (lihapiirakka). I also boiled up some water for instant coffee in my Swedish mess kit lid.

Wanting to take advantage of being in the neighborhood, I packed up camp and hiked back to the cabin site, where I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the future homestead.

Hope you enjoyed this quick overnight trip report. Stay tuned for more!

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The Woodsboy’s first knife

A little over a year ago, when the Woodsboy turned 5, I bought him his first knife. While this may seem too young an age to some people, I think this is largely a 1st-world viewpoint. From evidence I have seen, children in rural areas of developing countries and tribal societies around the world are accustomed to using knives at even younger ages. It’s true that this is largely out of necessity, as they don’t live in a world full of pre-packaged, store-bought items, but the simple fact is that they would not be allowed to handle knives like this if they were not capable of it. So under constant supervision, with safety always in mind and with a clear set of ground rules (e.g. always cutting away from himself, always returning his knife to its sheath when not in use, only cutting things Daddy lets him cut, letting Daddy keep the knife in a safe place when we’re not practicing with it etc.), I have begun teaching the Woodsboy how to use his first knife.

The knife in question is the Condor Junior from Marttiini:

Image linked from http://www.marttiini.fi

I bought this knife from a local sporting goods store for around 25 Euros ($27.50). A few specs:

  • 8 cm (3.2″) Scandi-ground blade
  • Rounded tip for safety
  • Finger guard
  • Grippy rubber handle
  • Rugged leather sheath

So far over the past year or so we have used the knife together about half a dozen times, and our use has been centered around safe handling, as well as getting to know how the blade works and how to cut effectively. Most of what we do is cutting sticks, whittling and cutting string. As he gets older and progresses, we’ll work on wood carving and other things like that. I’m happy to say that the Woodsboy has never come close to hurting himself with the knife and am proud to see that he handles it in a safe way (praise for good behavior goes a long way!). If you are looking for a starter knife for a child, I highly recommend the Marttiini Condor Junior or a similar knife with the same level of quality and safety features. The Condor Junior is a solid, well-made knife which should serve my son well for years (BTW, the tip can be ground pointy later on when he is mature enough and can begin carving with the tip).

I will leave you with a picture from last weekend showing the Woodsboy practicing his feather-stick/shaving making skills. Needless to say, we were both very proud of his pile of shavings (which by the end was more than enough to get a campfire going). 🙂

DISCLAIMER: Utmost care is necessary when allowing children to use bladed tools. They should NOT be left unattended. You alone as a parent/guardian are responsible for deciding whether or not your own child is old/mature enough to handle bladed tools and for teaching and supervising them.

My DIY canvas pouch for pocket carry

For the past 5+ years, I have regularly worn a pouch on my belt for convenient access to small, frequently used items (and emergency items) while in the woods. While convenience is great, a more important benefit of belt pouches is that they allow you to keep some critical gear items separate from your backpack so that, should your pack be separated from you, you still have a few basic essential capabilities. Without exaggeration, this can mean the difference between life and death in the most extreme cases.

As great as belt pouches are, though, they are not without their drawbacks. Besides getting in the way of backpack hip belts and other things that go around your waist, some belt pouches can get caught on branches etc. while passing through thick brush and sometimes even be opened up unintentionally in the process. They can also get in the way of long shirts and jackets (or create a large bulge if worn underneath).

Wanting to retain the benefits of a belt pouch, but not be bothered with the drawbacks, I decided to try out pocket carry instead. Whatever season it is, and whatever I happen to be wearing, I always have large pockets which can be snapped closed to hold a small pouch full of important items. Although pocket carry may be slightly less convenient, I’d be happy to give up a small amount of convenience in exchange for being more “aerodynamic”. 😉

I put together this small canvas pouch on a lazy afternoon around Christmas:

I have already used this pouch once and found that it works great. There seems to be very little disadvantage to having the items in my pocket, as opposed to on my belt. I’ll continue to carry this way in the future and see how it goes. Oh, and if you’re wondering what’s in the pouch, you’ll have to wait for my overall gear update. 🙂

As a little bonus, here are some recent pictures I took at the old farm. The Woodsboy and I went out with some friends of ours after Christmas. Hope you enjoy!

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!

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.

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!