(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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Cabin restoration project – Quick update (the outer roof is on)

Progress on the cabin has been going at a snail’s pace because the contractor has been tied up with larger projects, but I wanted to give you a mini-update on what has been going on. The “vesikatto” (or “water roof”, i.e. the outer roof) has been built on the cabin shell. There is still a gap between the roof and the walls, which will be filled when the roof insulation and interior paneling are installed.

Now that the roof is on, it’s really starting to look a lot more like a “real” cabin/house. Not too shabby!

(blurry “naked” shot from a friend’s phone:)

The next step should be to put in the windows, door and subfloor, as well as to remove the wall that’s currently dividing the cabin into two rooms.

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.

Quick winter-weather gear tip: Lip balm

Here in the north country, winter is the driest time of the year. As the temperature drops, so too does the amount of moisture in the air. Cold, dry and windy air tends to draw moisture from the body, which is why it’s especially important to drink lots of water in these kinds of conditions, but there are also other things you can do to counteract this effect. One of them is to use lip balm…on your skin!

Obviously, lip balm was intended to be used on chapped lips, but I’ve found that it also works very well to moisturize dry, rough skin, especially in certain spots on my hands. I simply apply it to small affected areas and rub it in a little. The moisturizing effect lasts for a long time, and it helps to prevent skin from becoming so dry that it cracks, especially on my knuckles and between my fingers. Why not just use moisturizing cream, you ask? Well, lip balm is already part of my kit, and it serves the purpose just fine!

But that’s not all! Besides being good for keeping your skin in good shape, lip balm also has other uses in the field. How about making dry, cracked leather items supple again? They are made of skin, after all. Wax- and petroleum-based lip balms are flammable, making them a potential fire-lighting aid in tough conditions. These ingredients could also make them good for things like small waterproofing tasks, metal joint lubrication etc.

Anybody have any other uses for lip balm? 🙂

Field testing the Skrama bush knife

A few posts ago, I gave you my initial impressions of the Skrama knife from Varusteleka. Cutting tomatoes and paper is all well and good, but it’s not a useful indicator of what an outdoorsman’s blade can do, so I drove out to the country the first weekend of December to do some real winter woods testing of the Skrama.

The temperature was about -3°C/26.5°F that Sunday. Not exactly a frigid North Pole winter day, but below freezing nonetheless. The scenery around the property invited me to photograph it, so I’ll show you some of my surroundings first.

Once I had found a good spot to do the testing, I put down my pack and took out…unleashed, if you will…the Skrama. 😉 I decided to test its chopping abilities first and located a live hardwood sapling and dead pine sapling for the tests. The live hardwood sapling fell after six easy blows. The dead pine sapling took a few more swings, on account of its being seasoned and hard. I liked how the blade cut deep without using excessive force. I found that I naturally choked all the way down on the handle for this heavier chopping and preferred to chop with the middle of the blade. At no point while chopping was there any uncomfortable vibrating of the handle which can occur with some large knives.

After chopping down the saplings, I dragged them to an open spot on a small hill to continue my testing there. I wanted to turn the pine into firewood, so I sectioned it into manageable pieces with the bush knife. Three or four chops around the circumference and a swift kick were all that was needed to break off each piece. The thinner pieces broke off without a kick.

The next step in my firewood prep was splitting, but instead of using just another section of the pine to split with, I thought I’d use the Skrama to make a baton out of part of the hardwood sapling. After chopping off a section, I choked up on the handle to just below the blade and used light, controlled blows to carve out a handle. The great balance of the knife made it easy to be very accurate while doing this light chopping.

Then I whittled the handle down a bit further to smooth it out. The Skrama is obviously not a carving knife, but it’ll do the trick for “camp implement” carving.

Now that my baton was ready, I could commence splitting. I was very pleased with how readily the blade went through the wood, and the knotty section at the bottom barely slowed it down. I liked that I didn’t have to be afraid to beat on the knife while batoning, something you have to be careful about with less-robust knives.

The final step in one-stick fire prep (for me), is to make shavings/feather sticks, so that’s what I did. As you can see, the Skrama got the job done well enough. Again, fine work is not something I’d want to do all day with this knife, but to be honest it’s not really built for that anyway. It’s good to know that it can do it, though!

Out of curiosity, I experimented with this blade as a drawknife of sorts for removing bark from the hardwood sapling. It excelled at the task.

Being a large-bladed knife with a long handle, the Skrama is just begging to be used for slash cutting/machete work, at least in my mind. I dispatched a few hardwood seedlings in the area with one easy swipe each. I know which tool I’ll be using next year to clear the willow seedlings and saplings from the fields on the other part of the property!

My final test of the day was going to be some finer carving using the tip of the blade. I came up with an idea for a cooking rig and started working on it when a photo blogger’s nightmare came true: My camera died. Not just the battery, but the camera itself. When I turned it on, the telescopic lens would not come out. Well, that was that for picture taking. I made an “arrow nock” in the end of a large forked stick, and the tip of the Skrama pretty easily handled the finer work for this end notch.

Before putting the knife away for the day, I quickly checked to see how the edge had held up. It was still surprisingly sharp, though I might touch it up a bit if I want to cut any more tomatoes with it. 😀 I think this shows that Varusteleka/Laurin Metalli did a very good job with the heat treat and sharpening of the knife.

Conclusion

The Skrama is a great chopper of both seasoned and green wood, splits and slash-cuts impressively and can do finer work as well, though I’d probably want to pair it with a much smaller knife if I have a lot of smaller work to be done. The handle does allow for a variety of different grips and holds, which aids in the knife’s versatility. One thing I was surprised about while using the knife was that there was little need to “get to know” the knife, in other words, to work with it for a while to figure out how to use it best. This shows the thought and effort that went into its design. Because of the Skrama’s solid construction and materials, I was not afraid to use it roughly, toss it in the snow etc., and there was no danger of it slipping out of my hand thanks to the handle’s material and texture. By the way, this knife is full tang (the metal ring on the bottom of the handle is an extension of the tang).

In my opinion, the Skrama lives up to its claims as being a rugged, multipurpose wilderness blade, and then some. I would not hesitate to recommend this knife to someone looking for a solid tool for a variety of uses and situations.

While collecting info on the Skrama, I went back to Varusteleka’s website and saw that the leather sheath they designed and make for the knife is now available and that the knife itself is currently on sale for €55.25 ($75 USD) until this coming Sunday, December 15th.

A long-burning nighttime campfire for cold weather

Lonnie (aka phreshayr) over at the YouTube channel Far North Bushcraft and Survival recently put out a great video showing how to make a very long-lasting nighttime campfire, which can be especially beneficial in cold weather. The fire he builds is known as a “rakovalkea” (gap fire) in Finland, and it is also known in the other Nordic countries. I really like Lonnie’s down-to-earth, no-BS style of making videos. He’s really knowledgeable about Alaskan bushcraft, and it shows in his videos. I plan on making one of these fires this coming winter, so stay tuned for that.

Hope you enjoy it!

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!