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!

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The Holden tent

Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with a bunch of different camping shelters, from tipi-like kota tents to modern dome tents to a DIY convertible A-frame poncho tent to various tarp shelter configurations. My current favorite open shelter is the “Holden tent”, a very simple but ingenious tarp tent which uses a basic rectangular or square tarp (or rain poncho etc.).

Holden tent made with a cheap 2 m x 3 m (6.5′ x 9.75′) tarp

Small Holden tent made from a rain poncho

Setup is very easy. Here’s how I like to do it:

  • Place the tarp on the ground and then stake down one of the long sides* from end to end. This will be the back of the tent.
  • Find the center point of the opposite long side and raise it to the desired height using a tent pole or stick (or tie it to a tree branch above).
  • Stake down the front corners of the tent, making sure all three walls are taught. If necessary, run a guy line from the pole/stick to a stake in front of the tent (as seen in the poncho picture above).

*Alternate setup: If you want the shelter to be deeper, rather than wider, use the short sides as the front and back instead of the long sides. This will lower the height of the tent, but it provides sleeping room for more people.

I really like this shelter configuration for a lot of reasons:

  • Very quick and easy to set up and take down.
  • At a maximum, uses only five tent stakes, one guy line and one pole (pole not required if suspended from tree branch; guy line not required if you can attach pole/stick directly to tarp).
  • Even a small tarp provides enough room for sleeping and gear storage.
  • Good protection from sun, rain and snow (multi-season shelter).
  • Ideal for use with a heating fire outside.
  • Allows for good ventilation.

If you’re interested in open tarp shelters, I highly recommend this simple setup. It’s not perfect, but it has a lot going for it. For more tarp shelter configurations, check this out.

Lemmenjoki National Park, Lapland, September 2013 – Part 2

In case you missed it, Part 1 can be found here.

Pasi and I had spent Monday night at the Vaskojoki hut, which is open to wilderness travelers on a first-come, first-served basis and provides bunks with mattresses, a wood-burning stove, a table and benches and even a gas cooking stove.

The scenery around the hut wasn’t too shabby.

Following breakfast, we packed up our gear and said adieu to the Vaskojoki hut, traveling roughly along the Vasko River looking for a suitable place to cross it. The wetter land between the river and drier pine forest was often covered with scrubby birch trees.

Here’s Pasi testing a route across the river.

Our prospects didn’t look good at that location, so we headed to a higher elevation and traveled through the pine forest again. A sight often encountered throughout these forests was reindeer droppings, aka “nature’s licorice jellybeans”. They are much smaller and darker than moose droppings.

Speaking of moose, while Pasi and I stopped to take a short break, I spotted a cow moose plodding through the forest not too far away. She obviously didn’t smell or hear us, for she carried on with her business for quite a while. Unfortunately, the best picture I could get of her was this (she’s the brown blob in the center):

As we continued hiking parallel to the river, we came across this kota/lavvu frame. For those of you not familiar with this type of shelter, it is similar to the tipi used by Native American Indians. In Lapland, they are primarily used by the indigenous Saami people/Laplanders.

Our route toward a narrower and rockier section of the river where we might cross more easily took us over some very marshy ground. Good thing I was wearing rubber boots! A few scenes from along the way:

An old bird’s nest:

Parts of the forest were littered with scraggly dead pines like these.

Some of the marshy areas were full of dwarf birch, the leaves of which had either turned brown or fallen off by that point.

When we cut over and approached the river again, we looked for a suitable place to stop for a meal and thought this area would do.

While Pasi got a fire going in a fire pit used by previous hikers, I collected firewood from a dead pine nearby with my Fiskars large sliding saw.

It was a fine spot for a meal indeed. 🙂

From time to time, the clouds broke, giving us a glimpse of beautiful blue sky.

Following our meal break, we threw on our packs and headed southward away from the river and through the pine forest to a lake where we’d make camp. We saw these moose rubbings along the way. When a bull moose is regrowing antlers in the spring and summer, they’re covered in a fuzzy layer of skin called velvet which the moose rubs off once the antlers stop growing. They often use saplings like this for the purpose.

We reached the small lake, which was linked to the river by a stream, and set up camp before it got dark. We followed the usual drill of setting up our shelters and a stone fire ring and then collecting firewood. Pasi’s shelter on the right is a “pena-laavu” from the Savotta company, and my shelter on the left is two German army surplus ponchos snapped together in a brew shelter configuration. I wasn’t able to set up my shelter perfectly because of the trees nearby, but it worked well enough.

The water we got from the lake was crystal clear and delicious. Just dip your cup in and drink. 🙂

In all, we had hiked about 9 km/5.5 miles on Tuesday, and I was eager to hit the sack as soon as night came. Pasi arose earlier than I for some morning capercaillie hunting with his laika Pyry. I awoke to Pasi shouting at Pyry some distance away in an effort to stop him from chasing a moose, which can lead to a long sit-and-wait or retrieve-your-dog-from-deep-in-the-wilderness scenario. Pyry complied and I fell back to sleep. A bit later I woke up again and started up the fire after collecting more wood. While fiddling around, I heard a nearby shotgun blast from the otherwise silent forest, and Pasi returned with the second capercaillie of the trip, another male, which was older and more substantial. He related his brief encounter with a bear that morning as well as his intention to return to the area for a bear hunt in the future.

After Pasi had finished unburdening the fowl of its internals, we sat down to cook a meal over the fire. He had remarked that the temperature dropped below freezing overnight, at which time I remembered noticing this at some point during the night. Not long after, we got a little confirmation from mother nature in the form of a 5- to 10-minute period of wet snowfall…quickly followed by sunshine.

Out of curiosity, I took out my thermometer to take a reading. Just as the weather report had forecast, it was 4°C/40°F. As a side note, I used the Swiss sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner on this trip and never felt cold.

We then packed up and headed down to the river again to search for a good spot to cross. We cut ourselves some poles from the nearby woods, and Pasi skillfully led the way across.

With my luck being what it is, I’m sure you can guess what happened when I traversed the cold river, stepping from one slick rock to another. 🙂 Yes, yours truly fell in, filling my boots with water and getting wet almost up to my waist and wetting the front of my jacket and my gloves as well. Fortunately, the water wasn’t deep there. I picked myself up, wrought myself out and continued across the river. After quickly changing socks (my pants dried surprisingly quickly, so I left them on) and dumping the water out of my knife sheath, we continued hiking on the other side of the river toward our pick-up point, but not before I slipped on a boulder at the edge of the river, landing on my kuksa (the one I got from the Woodsbabe’s grandparents last Christmas). I had attached it to the shoulder strap of my pack with a carabiner for easy access, but never expected it to serve as an emergency cushioning device. Let’s just say I’m happy I landed on this cup with one of my cheeks and not straight onto the boulder with my tailbone… While it was unfortunate that this gift was rendered unusable, I’m sure the Woodsbabe’s grandparents would be happier knowing it broke while on a wilderness trip in Lapland as opposed to sitting on a shelf collecting dust!

The rest of our time in the forest was uneventful. We traversed some more marshy land near the river and eventually reached the pick-up point, where Pasi’s girlfriend was waiting for us. That evening, the three of us drove out to their cabin further to the north. Pasi intended to paint the new shed he put up there, and I offered to help. It ended up raining all Wednesday night and Thursday morning, so we scrapped the idea, instead returning to their home. That afternoon, they cooked my favorite Finnish dish, “käristys”, with moose meat (reindeer is often used as well). To make käristys, partially frozen meat is cut into thin slices and then slow-cooked with onions in butter over low heat. It’s then usually served with mashed potatoes and cowberries/lingonberries. Pasi used a leuku he made to slice the moose meat. The meal was delicious.

A while after eating, we three drove to the Siida Saami Museum in the village of Inari, which had very interesting exhibits covering Saami history, culture, handicrafts and technology, including an open-air section which I’ll cover next time. The museum also had plenty to show and tell about the geology, fauna and flora of the region.

Bidding my gracious hosts farewell on Friday morning, I retraced my 12-hour train and bus route of almost a week earlier and returned safe and sound (and a little sore) at home. Despite the issues of this year’s trip, I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the north (for which I will definitely be better prepared). As per usual, I’ll use this experience to make future trips more successful and enjoyable!

I want to say thanks to Pasi for being a great wilderness companion, showing me around “his neck of the woods” and for being patient and flexible. He really added a great dimension to the trip. I’d be happy to join him for another in the future (in better condition, of course ;))!

New gear for 2013 Lapland trip

In just under two weeks, I’ll be riding the rails up to northern Finnish Lapland, where I will meet up with blacksmith and wilderness guide Pasi Hurttila for a one-week bushcrafting, backpacking, fishing and hunting trip to Lemmenjoki National Park. If you are a fan of Lars Monsen, you might remember that he visited Lemmenjoki in one of his “Nordkalotten” show episodes. Being 2,860 km² (1,100 mi²) in size makes it the largest national park in Finland and one of the largest in Europe. To the northwest of the park lies Øvre Anárjohka National Park in Norway.

Over the past few weeks, I have been spending a little time here and there preparing for the upcoming trip. I’ve been filling a few small gaps in my gear list to make sure the trip will be a successful and dry one (the weather can be sunny, rainy, snowy or all of the above at this time of year…) so I thought I’d show you the new items I’ve picked up for the trip. When I return, I’ll write a separate post with a full list of all the gear I brought with me.

New items for upcoming trip to Lemmenjoki National Park.

Starting from the top and moving clockwise:

  • Swedish army LK-70 rucksack previewed here. This 70-liter pack has more than enough room for the gear I’ll be bringing. It’s an old pack, but it’s comfortable and rugged.
  • Although the Swedish army boots I’ve been using for a few years were serving me well, I had to retire them due to an unintentional incident involving the Woodsboy which rendered them unusable (more on that another time…). I bought a pair of Alpina Vento MID hiking boots and so far have spent about 2.5 hours breaking them in. They’re starting to soften up now, and I will continue working on them over the next two weeks so they’re ready for the trip.
  • Even though I’m going to waterproof the canvas pack ahead of the trip, I went ahead and bought a Tatonka rain cover for it. It’s very compact and lightweight and will come in handy if we get caught in any downpours.
  • The “white and green rectangle” is a topographic map of Lemmenjoki Park which Pasi was nice enough to send me. We spent some time this evening going over the places we’d like to visit and our general off-trail route through the park, as well as other aspects of the trip. Pasi seems like a really nice and knowledgeable guy!
  • Next up is an Ortlieb map case for said map.
  • It was time to buy a new compass (the old one had a large bubble in the fluid-filled chamber), so I picked up the Brunton model O.S.S. 30B compass. It seems like a solid compass and a quality piece of gear.
  • The orange roll is a self-inflating sleeping pad made by the Finnish company Retki. The foam pads I had been using for the past few years have seen much better days, and it was time to replace them.
  • After years of rolling my Swiss army sleeping bag up in my bivy bag and taking up too much room in/on my pack with it, I finally bought a dry sack from Sea to Summit to keep it in. It’s much more compact and protected from the elements now.
  • Last, but not least, in the center of the picture, is NIKWAX Cotton Proof canvas waterproofing agent. I’ll use this to treat the LK-70 pack, as well as my cotton pants.

Well, that’s about it. These items should complement my existing gear nicely and provide me with extra comfort, security and protection from the elements. With these purchases, I should now be all set for my upcoming trip!

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. 🙂

Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum

In the past, I have brought your attention to a number of forums, blogs and YouTube channels focusing on outdoorsmanship, primarily in Finland, but also elsewhere in the boreal region. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fine forum started by Ron from The Trying Woodsman Blog. He wanted to create a place where folks could discuss woodsmanship, bushcraft, primitive and traditional skills and anything else having to do with outdoor life in the north.

This primarily English-language forum is small, but growing (it has been experiencing a surge in activity lately). So far, there are members from Finland, Sweden, Norway, the northern US, throughout the British Isles, Germany and a host of other countries. As far as I know, this is the only north-centric forum of its type out there!

If you would like to learn from and contribute to a growing knowledge base on woodsmanship in the north in a relaxed and open atmosphere by sharing stories, projects, ideas and experiences and make friends in the process, be sure to visit the Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum!

Another hot day in the sub-Arctic, plus a few poncho shelter setups

The plan was to spend from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon in the woods, so I packed my Swedish LK-35 rucksack with my gear load-out for summer overnight trips:

Without food and water, the pack weighs about 20 pounds/9 kg. Not ultralight, but not ultraheavy either. If I swapped out each item with a lighter equivalent, I’m sure I could cut the weight in half (though I have no need or interest to do so).

Anyway, on Saturday I ended up having such a nice time at the cabin with the family and in-laws (except the part where I accidentally fell in the lake…fully clothed…while trying to fish out one of the Woodsboy’s toys) that I decided to stay at the cabin for the rest of the day and night instead. Sometimes after a long work week, it’s nice to just relax and hang around the lake, sauna and grill with the family. 🙂

The following day, I hoisted my pack upon my shoulders and hiked 10 minutes up and down the rocky terrain to my campsite, which is located elsewhere on the 35-acre property. Once again, the black flies were horrendous, as were the horse flies (and a few mosquitoes), so I donned my net hat. Stylish, eh? By the way, that’s a black fly on my chin. 🙂

A few shots of the camp area. This spot had been cleared several years back and only now can be considered to be forest-ish again. One of the interesting things about having a spot like this as a campsite is that I get to watch the new forest grow up quickly around me over the years.

Local insect life:

Rhododendron tomentosum, aka marsh Labrador tea/northern Labrador tea in bloom:

Another flower:

Late-spring bilberry blooms:

Can you spot the lizard?:

Funky lichens:

As usual, I brought my thermometer along. I got this reading in direct sun (over 110*F):

And this one in the shade (84*F):

Yes, it can and does get pretty warm in the sub-Arctic. 🙂

After taking pictures of fauna, flora etc., it was time to get down to business. As I mentioned, I didn’t sleep in the forest the night before, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t set up a shelter or seven. For a while I’ve been meaning to show you guys a few of the poncho shelter setups I’ve learned over the years, and I thought this would be a good opportunity. The poncho is the very rugged Bundeswehr German army poncho (220 x 160 cm/7’4″ x 5’4″) which weighs about 900 g/2 pounds (I know, it’s on the heavy side as ponchos go, but it’s extremely rugged, which is more important to me than weight). I scavenged the three-section tent poles, guy lines and tent stakes from another tent. The following poncho setups use only one poncho. In the future, I’ll show setups using two ponchos snapped together.

The steep lean-to:

For more protection, you can lower one of the corners:

You can lower both corners for even greater protection:

If that’s still not enough, drop one corner to the ground (apparently I picked a spot with a lot of shrubbery, as evidenced here. :)):

The next setup is completely enclosed, but is so small that it would only be suitable for the Woodsboy, a pet or as a gear shelter (it does work well as a full-sized tent when you use a larger tarp to make it, however):

My second-favorite single-poncho shelter uses only one pole, one guy line, the poncho and five tent stakes. I can almost stretch out inside it, there is room for my gear in there and it provides good protection from the elements. I believe I once saw it referred to as a “brew shelter”:

I removed the guy line, and it still stayed up perfectly:

And saving the best (in my opinion) single-poncho shelter for last, may I present the brew shelter with one corner up off the ground on a pole. This provides good protection under the lowered side, plus better air flow and a bit more room for myself and gear under the open side. This is the configuration I would have used if I had stayed overnight.

Here’s what it looks like with my bivy bag and sleeping bag liner inside:

I have to mention that none of these ideas are mine and that this is by no means an exhaustive display of single-poncho shelters. A few years back, I set up several other configurations which might interest you as well:

Simple A-frame:

A-frame with one end snapped up:

A fully enclosed, close-to-the-ground setup:

As you can see, there’s a lot you can do with a poncho or tarp! Here’s a little tip for using tent pegs in soft/shallow/rocky soil: Using more than one tent peg, angled in different directions, will improve the anchor strength.

Hope someone finds this info useful!