Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hike at the Finnish eastern border, summer 2011

Our "big" hike this summer was done a week before midsummer. The location we chose was somewhat a compromise between the flatlands where we live and the fjells of Lapland - the eastern border between Finland and Russia. There is a marked hiking path spanning 160 kilometers, called the "Eastern border trail", or "Itärajan reitti" in Finnish. They have a website in Finnish, found here. We hiked a small section of this trail, doing only small distances.

Our priorities for this hike were more on skills and techniques, as we wanted to have some practice for our upcoming hiking skills contest. Thus we had a few goals:

  • All campfires were to be done with a firesteel only
  • Finding/creating tinder from the woods
  • Practice the "figure 4"-trap
  • Learn to make a fire with a firebow/drill
  • Test all new gear to get comfortable with it
  • Gather some edibles from the forest & try to catch fish
  • Use ranger beads to approximate walked distances

As a shelter I only had a 2x3 meter light tarp (the noisy cheap stuff from hardware stores, 5 euros worth) and Adu had his Halti Cavity tent. Basically we could have camped almost anywhere along the trail (based on the Finnish law of everyman's rights), but since you need the landowner's permission to make a fire we decided to camp beside the marked and maintained firepits and wooden shelters ("laavu"). This came with the cost of some of the wilderness feeling, but with the comforts of a cooking fire, dry firewood, benches and easy shelter.

The weather conditions were typical Finnish midsummer - some rain, some sunshine. More of the rain this time, though. The temperatures were somewhere between 16 and 22 degrees centigrade in daytime and around 10 degrees centigrade at night.

Our first walk was just a few kilometers to get away from the car. We drove the entire day (~9 hrs) to get to the location, and left the car about an hour before midnight. A short walk later we got to our first campsite. It was dry, we put up our shelters, had a late supper and stayed up most of the night sitting around the campfire, enjoying the fine weather, lake view and a little brandy.

A view on the lake. The orange glow on the right is the campsite.

The "laavu" shelter.

Our sleeping shelters.
On day two we struck camp after breakfast, and it soon started to rain. This soon became the wettest and most miserable day on the whole hike. As the trail proceeded through several swamps and dense forest, we were soon wet from head to toe, even with rain gear on. The backpacks stayed mostly dry, though, and we had made extra care that the sleeping bags and extra clothing were packed waterproof. Eventually we came to our next campsite, another wooden "laavu". This one was located on the western shore of a long lake. The wind gushed strongly from the east, blowing straight inside the shelter. It rained constantly, and we decided to stay the night inside the laavu. We arranged my tarp as a wind shelter on the doorway of the laavu - this improved the shelter quite a bit.  My self-made wood burning stove did not function as I had hoped (although it performed nicely when I tested it), and we ended up cooking almost all of our food on the campfire instead. We spent most of the day and night just sitting inside the laavu, drinking tea, waiting for the rain to stop.

A dish best served hot. Pasta with some soy grits and spices.
The third day dawned wet and cold. We packed our backpacks inside the shelter and walked on. When nearing our next campsite, the rain stopped and the sun started to peek among the clouds. We decided to stop on another shelter to dry off our gear before continuing to the actual campsite. Some hot food, fire and drying clothes quickly got our spirits up.

A lake we passed by. Rain, rain, rain.

A typical swamp. We crossed lots of these, walking on wooden boards, "pitkospuut".

Drying off by the campfire.
We continued to the actual campsite by a river. The weather improved, we got lots of sunshine and we had a good chance to get our gear dry. We slept in our own shelters again, as the hard wooden planks suck when all you have is a foam pad!

I tried to make fire with a fire drill. Unsuccesful, I only got smoke. I used birch as the drill and pine as the board. We think my bow was too taut, since it was very hard to get it working properly.

The river.
The next day we hiked on. It was dry and warm, and we walked pretty fast. The terrain was mostly dense woods and swamps, but an occasional river and hill made the hike more interesting. We arrived at our next camping spot with perfect timing. Two minutes after we got our packs off, there was a torrential downpour that lasted for a few minutes. The rain soon turned into a drizzle that lasted a few hours. We had some good food, and drank a lot of tea. We also tested some natural drinks, pine-needle tea and spruce shoots tea (the light green year-growths of a spruce tree). These were delicious, and we'll be making more of these on our future hikes. Harming the trees without landowner's permission is illegal however, so it's hard work to find a freshly fallen branch to use for these. Lucky for us, there was much wind and thus a lot of fallen branches.

When the rain ceased, we tried our hands on some trap-making, practicing for our upcoming hiking skills contest. It did not take long for both of us to make a working "figure 4" trap, but then again, we only used light firewood as a load. It would probably be much harder with an actual heavy load, such as a stone or a log.

I also fished a bit, caught several small perches (perca fluviatilis) and used their eyes as bait. I soon caught a "bigger" one, that we cooked on a stick by the campfire and ate. At least we got a taste of fish, though not enough to fill a stomach. I also cooked a large "penny bun" mushroom (boletus pinophilus) I found. Delicious!

My figure 4 trap.

Adu's figure 4 trap.


Food. :)

The lake at night.

The next day we took off for the last camping spot. I walked a few kilometers barefoot, just for the hell of it, but as expected, my feet soon got tender and the going got slow. So, on with the running shoes. The trail went on some dirt roads, which killed both the wilderness-feeling and our feet. At least the weather was good. This hike was short, and we were soon at our last campsite.

This site did not have any shelter, and as the weather was looking to get worse, we pinned my tarp as a cooking shelter between some trees next to the firepit. The rain did not come despite some thunder, but we decided to keep our tarp-shelter anyway. I decided to sleep under a spruce tree, using a space-blanket as a groundcloth and my actual groundcloth as rain shelter. Worked like a charm, even when it rained a bit during the night. You could have walked right by the spruce and not spot my sleeping spot. Stealth camping! :)

Tarp as a rain shelter.

My stealth camping spot. Nice and dry, all night long.

Adu's last tent spot.

The last morning was wet, as it had rained at night. We had a hasty breakfast and headed to the parking spot where my car was waiting for us. A fun hike, though not much distance covered. :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Briefly about Gore-tex shoes...

On our last hike, I had the chance to compare my Gore-tex shoes to my friends trail running shoes. During heavy rain having Gore-tex meant about 30 minutes worth of dry(ish) feet, after which the shoes were completely soaked. But, without the heavy rain while hiking through wetlands where the trail running shoes were soaked within minutes, Gore-tex did keep my feet relatively dry for hours.

Gore-tex seemed to be a bit more time consuming to dry, but a long evening beside a camp fire did dry them up nicely.

So in a nutshell; if it rains enough, your feet will be wet, Gore-tex or no. But, in the most typical case, where the ground is wet but it's not raining heavily, Gore-tex can keep your feet dry for hours.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Making a tarp - "Erätoveri"

A few years back I decided to make my first actual tarp, and after some research ended up using the design of Finnish boyscouts' tarp, the Erätoveri. The tarp is square, measured 3x3 meters and has grommets in the corners plus three grommets in between on every side. Also, some grommets are also inserted in the center, but only on the inside. This was meant to help using a tensioned line while pitching, but I've actually never needed them.

For the fabric I used the only decent fabric available locally at that point, and that is "Autex". Autex is nylon with polyrethane coating with aluminized backside, weighting around 80g/m2. Not ripstop, but very waterproof and definitely not breathable. It cost me 5.95 euros per meter, 1.5 meters wide, so I needed 6 meters. This cost me about 36 euros.

First thing to do was to cut the six meter piece of cloth to two pieces, 1.5x3 meters each. Then I sew the pieces together with a flat-felled seam, creating a 3x3 meter square.

Then I measured and marked the locations for the grommets, and cut some reinforcement pieces. I used fabric pieces salvaged from an old broken-down backpack. I used pins and tape to hold the reinforcement pieces in place, and sew them on the fabric.

Next step was to sew the sides. I used only one pass with the sewing machine, with the fabric edge folded twice on itself to prevent fraying. Then I cut small cross-shaped slits into the fabrics and inserted the grommets.
Reinforcement and the grommet.

I did not use any kind of sealant on the middle seam. There is an ongoing debate on this, and it all boils down to the materials that are used. If one uses all-synthetic braid when sewing, the seam is supposedly stronger and lasts longer, but needs to be sealed with a seam sealant or tape. However, if one uses 100% cotton braid like I did, the cotton absorbs some water and swells, sealing the holes in the fabric all by itself. The downside is the supposed decomposing of the cotton thread. However, after three years of use, the seams are still fine, and no fraying is visible. No leaks have been detected either.

The entire costs of the tarp came down to about 45 euros, including the fabric, braid and grommets. The finished tarp weights around 800g.

Pitched with five stakes and a small piece of cord.
Pitched wit five stakes, a walking stick and one cord.
Three stakes and a walking stick, low-tetra design.

Pitching in a -10 C weather in February.
Actual use as a two-person winter shelter. Worked nicely.

Making a Puukko Sheath

This is just one way to make a puukko sheath, the way I was taught to make 'em. There are other methods also. I dont consider myself  qualified to make a proper tutorial, so if you are intrested in making such sheath, I highly recommend finding a good tutorial or better yet, a teacher.

1. Stuff needed: piece of leather, a wooden liner (made with the puukko in question), an awl, the puukko itself, glue, a couple of sturdy needles, thick thread (this one is waxed thread). Also needed were pliers (LM), leather wax, a sharp knife and a rivet.

2. Unfortunately I didnt have a camera while I made the liner, but its a pretty simple task: I just took a piece of pine wood, attached it to a vise, and carved away. A belt sander helped shape the outside. This liner is for right handed sheath.

3. I wrapped the puukko in plastic, taped it lightly, fit it in the liner, and measured and soaked the leather. The leather needs to go at least over the thickest part of the handle, but I like to make a more deep carry sheath. There are a lot of different views on how wet the leather should be. IMHO it's not that important, as long as it's wet enough to shape well 'round the puukko.

4. I measured and cut the thread (app. 5 x the lenght of the sheath) and put needles on both ends. Then I just started stiching. Heres the beginning: started from the top, went down a few stiches, back up making a "D" -shape, and then back down again through the same stiches. Here's where the LM came in handy; pulling the needle through was a little difficult. Since the leather was really thick, I decided to tie a knot on every stich like shown here.

5. Finally, at the end. While stiching, one needs to make sure the leather is tight, and I mean tight. A good rule of thumb is; if your right hand thumb isnt hurting at half way, your doing it wrong. Once I reached the end, I stiched back up a few stiches, and tied a double knot like shown in the previous pic. I then cut the remaining thread off.

I put some glue inside the seam, and cut off the extra leather with a knife (if you ever decide to make a sheath like this, this is where you need to be extra carefull. At this point its real easy to slip your knife and ruin the sheath. Or your fingers. Or both.

6. While the sheath was still wet, I made some decorations. I used a stainless steel high tech leather decorating device (aka. a "spoon")

After this I let the sheath dry overnight with the puukko in it (this is why the puukko is wrapped in plastic: otherwise it would rust).

After the sheath was dried up, I could have dyed it, but I decided just to wax it (I kinda like it more that way, since it shows patina better)

7. The belt loop is made from the same piece of leather. I drilled a hole to the "D" shaped circle (a SAK Farmer awl is great for this), and added an odd 8 shape ring to it (found these from our local hardware store. For example a D shaped ring would have worked just as fine). I attached the leather strap to the ring with a rivet.

8. And here it is. Not the prettiest sheath out there, but does the trick.

Miscellanious debris

Past projects and adventures in pictorial format.

Adu: My girlfriend's sister asked me to make a puukko for her. Her favourite color is purple, so I dyed the sheat accordingly

Adu: The easiest wood-burning stove ever: an Ikea utensils stand filled with twigs, a couple of metallic tent sticks, and a US Army cup.

Adu: Things found in the woods, part 1: A sight not so uncommon in the western parts of Finland. These rock-piles are called Pirunpelto, i.e. "devil's fields". According to current knowledge, they are ancient sea shores, dating back app. 6000 years.

Adu: Things found in the woods, part 2: A rare pine... pines. 

Adu: Landscapes from typical Finnish "rahka", i.e. swamp