Way Out North: A Boreal Forest Foray

by Paul Kirtley

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Northern_Forest_Foray_2Recently a couple of the Frontier Bushcraft team and I took the opportunity to get away for a short foray in the northern wilderness.

We only had a week to spare in between teaching and guiding commitments.

Our destination area has no hiking trails and we were likely to see few people.

The idea was to explore by foot, taking some food and camping equipment with us as well as investigate the resources available to us.

We travelled to northern Sweden and stayed with friends on our arrival. After a full day of travel and a meal of elk meat, we slept very well.

The next morning we headed out and were taken up the lake by motor boat and dropped off on the shore at our chosen starting point.

It was raining hard.

Equipment

This type of environment requires tough and protective gear. The fact we were hiking required it to be as light as possible. This is always a difficult balance to strike. Overall our kit (and food) needed to be a comfortable weight so it wasn’t a burden and we could be as mobile as we wanted to be. Yet our shelters and clothing needed to keep us warm and dry. My personal outfit included items of clothing and equipment that are familiar, well-used and trusted as well as some newer items I am currently testing.

We had expected poor weather and packed accordingly. It was the end of September and we were headed well inside the arctic circle. Cold, wet and breezy with the possibility of snow. This is properly into hypothermia territory. In low-lying areas it was also going to be very wet underfoot, even if it wasn’t raining, so we’d have to be careful with our footwear management and foot care.

So it was on our first day that we walked all day in the rain, crossing wet ground, circumventing dangerous bogs and hopping streams. When we stopped for lunch, we quickly pitched a tarp for shelter.

In the evening we set up camp in some woodland near to a small lake. Our camp set-up was simple. Two of us had chosen tarps, the other a tent. The additional tarp I carried was to create a covered group area for cooking, eating and other communal activities.

Given the rain, we were very glad of having this tarp. It had already proved valuable at our lunch. The rain abated in the evening but we were still glad of the warm space it facilitated.

The group tarp was set so that we could have a small fire underneath for cooking, drying clothes and keeping warm.

Hilleberg tarp set up in the boreal forest

A tarp and a fire providing a compact communal space for cooking, eating and drying. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Despite the potential for cold and wet on this trip, I still wanted to sleep under a tarp, so that I could make the most of being in this incredible environment. Tents are always a few degrees warmer and you are more protected from wind and environmental moisture than under a tarp. BUT there is something special about a the feeling of being in a bivvy under a tarp, breathing fresh air and feeling the breeze on your face. As mentioned above, I chose kit that would be warm and protective yet overall kept to a reasonable weight; this extended to my sleeping kit. This environment contains a lot of water and at this time of year, it has the potential to be pretty cold at night. So it was particularly important to get the sleeping kit right (and still be able to carry it!)…

As people are always interested in the kit I use, here are the details of the sleeping kit I selected for this trip: a lightweight silicone-nylon ‘Scout’ tarp from MEC in Canada, a 4-season RAB down bag (model has been superseded) with Pertex Endurance outer and a Mountain Range bivi bag (no longer produced). Overall, it’s a robust, warm and weather-proof combo, the weight of which is not onerous.

Paul Kirtley's sleeping kit

My home for the night. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

To Explore

The idea behind this trip was to explore.

If this seems a little vague then it was meant to be. There was no pre-determined route; no trails to walk; we had no pre-specified distance to cover each day; no particular peaks to scale; nothing to tick off.

Just explore. Have a look around. See what we could see.

That’s exactly what we did for five days.

One of the first things I came across when heading out from our first camp was bear scat. It was full of berries and pretty sloppy looking.

I backtracked and found the bear’s trail coming through long grass on the edge of a small lake.

Bear scat, poo or droppings

Bear scat. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Bear poo full of berries

The bear droppings were full of berries. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Taking On A Natural Rhythm

As adults, we become very goal oriented. We have to have goals. Things to do.

This trip was different. The goal was amorphous, if there was a goal at all.

It felt a little weird at first. But then nature’s rhythm started to kick in.

And we just went with it. Wandering.

Whatever it was, we slowed down. We looked. We took notice of the little things.

We soaked up the environment. We stopped to watch treecreepers, Siberian jays and ravens.

Boreal forest

Slow down and there is much to see in the forest. Photo: Paul Kirtley

We had maps and compasses. We had a clear idea of areas on the map we’d like to have a look at. But if we didn’t get there, it didn’t actually matter. If we found something interesting on the way, we’d stop and experience it, rather than feeling pressured to move on.

We found elk tracks in puddles. We found many incredible wood ant nests.

Elk track in puddle

Elk track in the soft mud at the bottom of a puddle. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wood ant nest

Wood ants nest. Photo: Paul Kirtley

It’s worth repeating we weren’t on any marked trail. There aren’t any in this area. We were wandering cross country and keeping track of where we were using the map.

This felt more like the forest explorations I made as a young boy.

When I was five years old, my family moved to North Wales and we lived there until I was 10. Behind our house was a mature Forestry Commission forest and I used to walk there with my family. Later when I was a bit older, I used to roam around all day with my friends. Through gradual exploration, eventually I came to know the woods like the back of my hand. I knew individual rocks, ditches, streams, footpaths, even trees. I still attribute my ability to quickly make good mental maps and stay oriented to those formative years. I never once used a map or compass there.

Back to Sweden, then. Wandering around these woods brought back the childhood feeling of roaming, not with a destination in mind but with the aim of seeing what was there. It felt very free.

We stopped for lunch in a beautiful spot. The sun was out and we appreciated the warmth after the previous day’s deluge.

Two guys sitting in the woods

Appreciating the Sun’s rays over lunch. Photo: Paul Kirtley

While we were sitting there, we noticed an eagle had landed on a treetop not far away. This was quite an incredible sight. It was clearly checking us out. After a little while, it flew off, taking a broad arc around us in a somewhat circumspect way but still checking us out. It’s wingspan was large, larger than that of the ravens we had seen earlier.

As we finished our lunch, the temperature dropped. Shortly after the sky darkened. I knew were were in for a treat. Shortly after there came hail and sleet.

Berries. Lots of Berries.

As the bear scat suggested, there were lots of berries around.

Everywhere we went there were various different types of berries in varying proportions.

Bilberries (also known as Blaeberries) were most numerous in this area. Some were past their best but we still managed to find a good number worth sampling. There were also plenty of Cowberries (known locally as Lingon) as well as Crowberries.

Bilberries blaeberries

Bilberries. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Handful of bilberries

There were still plenty worth sampling. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Cowberries lingon

Cowberries or Lingon. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Crowberries

Crowberries. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A Room With A View

We headed down towards and area where, as we could see from the map, had a river flowing out from a lake. We thought we could find a good area to camp.

Sure enough we did. Not right next to the river as we expected, however, (it was too rocky) but on a ledge halfway up the escarpment.

Tent in the northern forest

Camping on a ledge with the river below: Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The forest here was more dense. This combined with having a steep slope behind us meant we felt less exposed to the elements. It was also a good choice from a temperature perspective, being neither at the local low point nor the local high spot.

This theory behind the choice proved valid. As the light faded, it was noticeably colder down near the river (some of this would be dampness but nevertheless the air temperature was definitely lower). As an experiment one night, I bivvied higher up, on the flat ground at the top of the slope. There was still plenty of tree cover but my tarp and some of the ground vegetation frosted over, while my buddies’ camp on the ledge below was frost free.

We had to drop down a steep slope to get our water. This was no hardship, though, as the river was beautifully wild in its character. We knew it wasn’t true but we felt as though we were the only people who had ever set eyes on this place, it was so pristine.

Man walking towards river with billy cans

Approaching the river to collect water. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

River running through boreal forest in Sweden

Pristine northern forest river. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Tarp in the woods

Heading back up the slope from the river to our camp. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Campfire

As before, a modest fire under our tarp removed moisture from our clothes, kept us warm, boiled our water and helped us cook. Photo: Paul Kirtley

We liked the area local to our camp. There were various aspects to examine and the riverside habitat was richer than the rolling hillside forests we had been roving for the past two days. There was a greater diversity of plant life and there was the river bank and lake shore to explore. So we stayed for a couple of nights (which is how I could experiment with sleeping in different spots).

Stone Bramble, Rubus saxatilis.

Amongst the interesting plants I found down by the river was the Stone Bramble, Rubus saxatilis. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Horse's hoof fungus

Horse’s hoof fungus, Fomes fomentarius, on fallen birch. Photo: Paul Kirtley

After a while in continuous forest, when all you can see are the trees up to 50 metres in front, you start to feel quite myopic. Upstream, where the river flowed out of the lake, we looked up the lake and had the first larger scale view of the landscape we’d had in several days.

Swedish lake

It was refreshing to look up the lake and be able to see into the distance. Photo: Paul Kirtley

We explored the shore of the lake a little. On ground with a much a gentler gradient than the escarpment down river, the woods were more open and the mix was different. Here there was more Scots pine, with some of the trees being large. Trees grow slowly here and these were old.

Scots pine in northern Sweden

Scots pine. Trees take a long time to grow this size in the northern forest. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Land Of The Elk

There were lots of elk trails in this area too, with a particularly well-developed network on the plateau at the top of the escarpment.

Away from the main trails, deeper into the woods there was also plenty of elk tracks and sign. Good clear prints in the soft ground were quite common, as were droppings. We also found trees which had been barked.

Elk droppings with TK4 knife for scale

Elk droppings. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Tree with bark stripped by elk

Barked tree. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Big Landscape

While we hadn’t had any particular objectives in mind, one of our local friends had recommended we visit a particular lake if it fitted with our journey. It was nestled in a hollow below the flanks of one of the nearby mountains. We were told it was very scenic.

At 700 metres (2,300ft) above sea level, the small lake was about 250 metres (820 ft) higher in elevation than the large lake we had visited upstream from our campsite.

We studied the map and worked out a route to reach the small lake.

After a good night’s sleep, we broke camp and headed cross-country (it’s all cross country here) towards the recommended lake, on the shores of which we planned to camp for the night.

Our route took us through some beautiful forest, sometimes dark and dense, other times with views into more open – usually boggy – areas. All of this section was very wet underfoot. At times, we clung onto trees to keep balance, stepping from tussock to tussock. Even though it had stopped raining, the week of rainfall that had extended into the first day of our trip was still running out of the hills and collecting in the already sodden low-lying areas.

boreal forest view out to boggy ground

A beautiful route. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

As we began to climb, the ground underfoot became much more firm. Sphagnum moss gave way to bilberries and cowberries again. We also started to get glimpses of the wider terrain. By lunchtime we’d found a spot with a good view over the surrounding land. This is big country and from our hillside lunch spot perched on a granite boulder you could start to appreciate the extent of the forest we had been within for the entirety for our journey to this point.

boreal forest landscape view from elevation

View from our lunch stop: Forest as far as the eye can see. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

After lunch, as we climbed higher the nature of the forest changed again. All the trees were smaller but the birches in particular were stunted. The thinner forest cover allowed views to the hills beyond, the tops of which rose above the treeline.

Stunted birches in exposed position

Stunted birches and views to the hills. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

When we reached the local high point, we could look over the dwarf trees, back down to the rolling, forested landscape we’d explored in the previous couple of days.

boreal forest landscape view

Beyond the dwarf trees in the foreground was the rolling, forested landscape we’d climbed from. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

From this local high point, we had to drop again and cross a broad saddle-shaped piece of land to gain an attack point on our lake. Interestingly, though, it had started to snow and visibility was dropping. Some simple map and compass work made sure we were heading out on the correct bearing.

Man using map and compass

As it started to snow, a little map and compass work kept us straight. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

We weaved our way amongst the gnarled hilltop trees and dropped down into the saddle beyond. Just as quickly as it had started to snow, it stopped and the sun came out. But looking at the clouds in the distance, we knew we were in for more snow before too long.

northern Swedish landscape near treeline

Before too long, we had sunshine and blue sky again. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Snow-bearing couds in the distance over a sun-bathed landscape

Looking back at the clouds, we know we had more weather heading our way. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

We weren’t far from the little lake now. We approached the stream flowing from the small lake and crossed it.

Just here was a mountain ash tree, which had turned the most eye-catching of reds. It was the only one here in amongst all the spruce and birch.

Red rowan mountain ash in Swedish mountains

A single mountain ash amongst the spruce and birch. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Rowan leaves turned red against blue sky

Stunning autumnal colours. Photo: Paul Kirtley

First Taste Of Winter

By now, it was late afternoon. The sky had cleared following the earlier snow flurries and the temperature was dropping. It was going to be a cold night. The Sun was casting long shadows, which harboured little patches of snow that had fallen earlier. Up here, winter seemed just around the corner.

Snow on moss.

Snow persisted in the shadows. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

As the temperature dropped further, you could feel the effect of being 250m (820 feet) higher than our previous camp. We were more open to the sky too. Our friends hadn’t exaggerated, though. The small lake was a very scenic spot.

Small boreal lake

The scenic small lake in late afternoon sunlight. Photo: Paul Kirtley

We found a spot to camp, where we could create what had become our usual central communal tarp area with satellite personal camps. We gathered a bit of firewood and established a small fire, putting on some water to heat for a hot drink. We then had a wander along the shore of the lake. Out of the trees, the breeze coming off the lake was quite biting and I certainly felt it on my hands when I held my camera. As the light became too low for photography and the lure of a warm mug in my hands increased, I headed back to camp.

Boreal forest bushcraft camping

Our camp in the trees. Photo: Paul Kirtley

As usual, we ate well and enjoyed the warmth of the fire. We also went through the daily ritual of removing as much moisture from boot insoles and socks as possible. We sat and chatted longer than normal, not just because it was the last night in the forest but because the cold blackness away from the fire did not seem inviting. Out in the open there was a hardening frost.

The next day I awoke to a strange sensation on my face. In my half asleep state it felt like pins-and-needles. I then realised what it was. Gentle flurries of snow were blowing under my tarp. It was still pretty much dark, so I pulled the flap of my bivvy bag over my face and went back to sleep. When I awoke a couple of hours later, there was quite a dusting.

Snow under tarp and beyond

The view from my bivvy in the morning. Photo: Paul Kirtey

Two men sitting under a tarp with a fire surrounded by snow

Boreal breakfast club. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

During breakfast we were again glad of the tarp and the fire, creating a warm space in which to prepare for the day, including finalising packing. The fire was extinguished, turf replaced and all traces of our presence minimised. Taking down the tarp was pretty much the last thing we did before leaving.

A Little More Distance

This was our last day. We needed to get back from our camp to our friend’s cabin by nightfall. In between was the mountain on the slopes of which we had camped, followed by a hike through the forest on the far side. It was a fair distance to cover and it would take us most of the day to walk. For the last couple of kilometers we would need to pick up one of the few trails in the area, leading us through some dangerous swamps. First though, we had to get over the mountain.

Men walking up a snowy hillside with some trees

Heading uphill out of the woods. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

I’m a UK Mountain Leader and I’ve done a lot of walking in the Scottish Highlands. The terrain up here on the hill in Sweden really felt a lot like some of the places I’ve been in Scotland, only with trees extended further up the slopes. It made me think about what the Scottish Highlands might have looked like in the past.

I’ve also done a fair amount of Scottish mountain walking in winter conditions. The hill we were headed up in Sweden was big and round, with virtually no crags. While I’m always respectful of winter conditions, I was happy that the terrain was straightforward. The summit is a little over 755 metres (2,480 feet), so we didn’t have much of a climb from our camp. Care would have to be taken on the descent, however, which was much further than our short climb and the map indicated it would be rocky in places. This combined with wet snow would mean we’d have to take care with our footing.

three men in the snow at the top of a mountain in Sweden

At the substantial summit cairn. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Man descending snowy mountain in Sweden

Taking care on the descent. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Men walking into the trees in snowy conditions in Sweden

Dropping into the treeline. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Elk track in the snow, Sweden

Fresh elk track in the snow. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Swampy area highlighted by surrounding snowy ground

It was easier to see the impassable/dangerous swampy areas as they became highlighted by the contrasting snow on the drier ground. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Walking a snowy trail in Sweden

Even so, we were glad of the trail which took us the last couple of kilometers to our friend’s cabin. Photo: Paul Kirtley

We made good time and arrived back at our friend’s place 2.5 hours before nightfall. After a glorious sauna, we reflected over dinner and a couple of drinks. It had been a superb week. It had been varied, both in terrain and conditions. Yet, we’d remained well inside our comfort zone and enjoyed it all. While in many respects it felt like a holiday, we’d also been out for 5 days in conditions which would cause inexperienced or ill-prepared groups some trouble.

Paul Kirtley and colleagues on a hiking trip in the northern forest of Sweden

The author and colleagues. Comfortable in the environment.

If you did find yourself in difficulty here, getting help would not be easy. Nor would you want to wait for passers by to help you. We did not see another soul from when we were dropped by boat until we walked up to the cabin 5 days later. Even though mobile phone reception is generally much better in this part of Sweden than in many rural areas in the UK, we had two days mid-week when there was no signal. Personally I was glad of this but I monitored the reception out of professional interest.

Heading out into wild places is a fantastic experience. Personally, this trip allowed me to re-charge my batteries after a busy 6 months of teaching wilderness skills courses before heading to Scotland to work with Ray Goodwin on a River Spey canoe trip.

If you are inspired by our journey in the northern wilderness, before you do something similar make sure you are fit, well prepared and, in particular, that you can navigate well. If you do all of this, you’ll have a great time, just as we did. Wild places are not to be feared, they are not places to be escaped at break-neck speed, they are to be embraced and enjoyed.

Let me know in the comments your favourite place, area or type of terrain to hike; or let us know what’s on your bucket list – where would you like to go? What kind of trip would you like to make?

Related Articles On Paul Kirtley’s Blog

Hypothermia And How To Avoid It

Winter Magic: Return To The Northern Forest

Surviving A Winter’s Night In The Northern Forest: How To Build An Arctic Lean-To

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth

Dear Paul. thankyou for this wonderful post. Beautiful words and pictures, I could almost have been there myself. Awesome!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Elizabeth, you are most welcome. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed it – this means a lot to me.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Andrew

Thanks Paul, I enjoyed that. More of the same please. 🙂

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Andrew,

It’s good to hear from you. It’s been a while…

I’m glad you enjoyed this one and I do plan to write up a few more trips like this one.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Johan

Just to clarifying something, elk is a deer mostly common in Northern Amerika and often refererred to as wapiti deer. Moose the king of the forest (Swedish Älg) is what you have seen and eaten. Elk do not exist in Sweden. A very common mistake often made in translation because of the similiraties in name but two different animals. Nice article and the north is beatiful in the autumn and best of all mozzie free. If you like scottish mountains you should visit the fjells.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hej Johan!

Thanks for your comment but I know the difference between Alces alces and Cervus canadensis.

You are correct in your assertion that in North America Cervus canadensis is commonly referred to as “elk”, while the name wapiti is derived from the native name for the animal waapiti. The North American name for Alces alces, “moose” is also thought to be derived from native names for the animal, probably from the Algonquian languages.

Contrary to your assertion that Elk do not exist in Sweden, the common name for Alces alces in English (i.e. not American English) is “elk”, or more formally “Eurasian elk”. You need only open a field guide to European mammals written in English to know this.

The name is elg in Danish/Norwegian, elch in German and, as you write, älg in Swedish. The common etymology between all of these words, including elk in English, should be fairly obvious to anyone reading them, as they are all spelt and pronounced in a similar way. Further, the Latin name alces is also related to all of these words.

The mistake is not mine, then, but that of European explorers who, on arrival in North America mistakenly called Cervus canadensis, “elk”.

Next you are going to be telling me that reindeer don’t exist in Sweden, you only have caribou… 😉

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Johan

I used to use Elk a lot before, but it can be a bit sensitive especially among hunters, something they have felt the need to clarify many times 🙂
Saying that caribou and reindeer are the same can in some circuits be like mentioning the war to a german 😉

Reply

Paul Kirtley

🙂 Yes, sometimes hunters like to have their own language…

Reply

Doc

An inspiring trip report with superb photographs. Having done similar trips I think this account gives a great feel of what it is like ‘out there’.

I hope it will encourage others to have a crack at something like this (subject to your very sensible advice about being prepared) because the rewards hugely outweigh the financial cost and occasional physical discomfort.

All the best,
Doc

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Doc,

Thanks for your feedback on the article and very well said: “the rewards hugely outweigh the financial cost and occasional physical discomfort”.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Julian Cresswell

Paul,

Once again a great article thank you very much. I’m heading to Finland in February with a Finnish group of Scout leaders / ex-army guys. I’ve done few independent winter camps in the UK, but not wanting to be totally reliant on them and wanting to get the most of out the experience are there any books you’d recommend?

Thanks again for the article and thanks in advance.

Julian

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Julian,

Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated.

Regarding your planned February trip:

First, have a look at the following winter camping content on this blog:

http://paulkirtley.co.uk/Topics/winter-expeditions/winter-camping/

Second, get a hold of Lars Fält’s winter volume:

Uteliv på vintern

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Julian Cresswell

Thank you, I must admit I’ve read your blog and do so whenever I’m taking a well earned break (AKA skiving) from work 😉

Thanks

Julian

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Glad to hear it Julian. I’ll have to write some more articles then 😉

Lars’s book is well worth hunting down. Even though you might not understand all the words, you will get the gist and the illustrations are fantastic and hold much information in themselves.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Julian Cresswell

Thanks I will do.

Reply

Liam Gadd

WOW! Beautiful! Thank you for sharing this experience.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Liam, good to hear from you mate. Keep working on your skills and you’ll have no trouble making a trip like this.

Reply

Kirkland Baptie

Hi Paul,

A fantastic article, many thanks for a share in the adventure. That looks like a lot of fun there. Looking forward to finding out how your new kit fared.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Kirkland,

It’s good to hear from you, as always.

I’m happy you enjoyed my article. Thanks for your comment.

There are a few kit reviews in the pipeline…

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Steve

Hi Paul,

Iv gotta say that is a fantastic blog you have written there pal!!

Its one of my ambitons to go to the Boreal forrest, and you captured it beautifully!!

I went to Estonia in March this year and that was my first taste of overseas winter camping, I wont link my trip report here lol, but it has given me the bug now for proper winter camping!!

Keep up the great work, I must get on one of your courses!!

All the best
Steve

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the image of the boreal that my article conveyed.

I’d be interested to read your trip report if you want to reply with a link.

Winter camping is fantastic and I would encourage anyone who enjoys being outdoors to try it. The experience can be a revelation.

It would be great to see you on one of our courses. Get in touch in advance to make sure I’m the one running it, if you’d like to meet in person.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

David Tucker

Hi Paul

Another excellent article please keep them coming love to read about your adventures
Dave Tucker

PS can you describe crowberries taste like ?

Reply

Chris

Fantastic, thanks Paul.
May I ask, footwear wise, what you wore?
Your Lundhags?

Best.

Chris.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Chris,

It’s good to hear from you.

Yes, I wore Lundhags Professional High boots, which I’ve been testing out since last winter. I was somewhat disappointed with them in this context. More on this in a separate review.

My companions wore Lowa Combat Boots with Gore-Tex linings.

These Lowas are also my ‘standard’ all-round boot, except for arid or arctic conditions. They are well made, easy to maintain, they keep your feet dry, they’re comfortable for hiking, and the sole is more grippy on rock than many hiking boots I’ve used. I love my Lowas but wanted to test the Lundhags in their native environment, as it were.

As I say, I was disappointed with the performance of the Lundhags in some respects. The Lowas, on the other hand, served my companions very well in this context.

Hope this helps.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Dave,

Nice to hear from you my friend. Thanks for your kind words about my article.

Crowberries are pretty bland actually, quite disappointing in a way. They are watery, sometimes have a little sweetness but also typically a bitter aftertaste.

In terms of looking for them in the UK – I know you are a keen hillwalker, so it’s worth making the distinction between crowberry, Empetrum nigrum, and mountain crowberry, Empetrum hermaphroditum. Mountain crowberry is sweeter and more palatable. It’s also common and widespread in the Scottish mountains…

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Jackie

Inspiring. An overused word but true in this case. Many Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Many thanks Jackie 🙂

Reply

Leo Donkersley

Superb article, Paul. I love your blog and the balance of detail between nature, bush/campcraft, kit, health and safety makes it a really useful read.

I’m an Englishman living in northern Sweden and feel blessed to have such beauty outside my front door. The boreal forest is a magical environment in all seasons – but autumn is especially nice without the mosquitoes!

I’d second your endorsement of Lars Fält’s books. The two on summer and winter (”Uteliv på sommaren”/Uteliv på vintern”) are well worth buying.

Keep doing what you do! 🙂

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Leo,

Thanks for your comment – I appreciate the feedback on the content and balance of my blog content. It’s much appreciated and I’m lad it works for you.

You are indeed a lucky man to have beautiful northern forest on your doorstep 🙂 But I’m also glad you fully appreciate it too…

Keep in touch.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Stephane Lachaud

Hi Paul!

Thanks a lot for this beautiful article! I enjoyed each word…
I hike also with this kind of spirit: “goal-less”, trying to live “on the field, by the field”, summer and winter, as often as possible, in north Finland around the Inarijärvi area, and also in the area of the natural park of Abisko, north Sweden…
each time, i re-discover something new, an other face, about this wonderful territory, the Sàpmi, and also its inhabitants…
It is a perfect universe for practicing bushcraft activities, in a pure respect of this fragile environment…
Between wondering, and performing fundamental and simple acts in the middle of this nature: fishing, picking berries, enjoying a coffee around the camp fire, observing fauna… Here can be found an essential “back to the basics”….

Thanks a lot again for this sharing, and keep on having this great state of mind as you have!

Stephane

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Paul Kirtley

Bonjour Stephane,

Thanks a lot for your lovely comment. I too enjoyed every one of your words.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Sean Fagan

Hi Paul,

Really nice, compelling article. I really enjoyed the wandering aspect of your journey – the sense of not knowing what is around the corner (so to speak). Also, enjoyed the way you took the time to observe aspects of nature that tweaked your curiosity. Some of my best outdoor experiences were the result of wandering and letting nature guide me. Of course I had a map & compass, and a very good idea where I was! No point in ambling around and getting myself spectacularly lost – I might have become a permanent child of nature : ) or wild mushroom feed!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Sean,

It’s good to hear from you and it’s always good to hear about your experiences too.

I agree – it’s generally good to be able to come back and tell the tale! 😉

Cheers,

Paul

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Ol smokey

Thanks for a very descriptive story of your adventure, and also very clear photographs
To illustrate it. Great pity that I am now of an age that I can ‘t take you up on the invite
to try and repeat something similar, I appreciated your referral to when you were very young
And learned to navigate and appreciate nature at a young age, I was similar and it
stays with you for life. Keep up the good work.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Ol Smokey,

Thanks for your kind words. I’ll keep on keeping on as long as I can.

I hope I also don’t lose the wonderment.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Chas

As always… You never fail to deliver!!!

Nice trip log, nice photos… Enjoyed everything…

Keep up the good work…

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Chas, your feedback is greatly appreciated. Putting together a blog like this takes some time and I’m always relieved when people connect with my work. For me that makes it very worthwhile.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Autumn

Dear Paul – thank you for sharing this exceptional post – deeply inspiring. Boreal, boreal, boreal….

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Autumn, it’s my great pleasure. You’ere very welcome.

Boreal indeed! 🙂

Warm regards,

Paul

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Giles

Impressive write up, and beautiful area. I’m very jealous!

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Giles. I’m glad it brightened up your day even if it’s made you a little envious! 🙂

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Mike

Fantastic trip, Paul. Thank you for sharing your adventure. It seems very liberating to be able to roam away from the rules and restrictions associated with parks and government lands. Curious about your kit, did you pack the usual load out from your blog post/video, or specialized gear and ruck? I realize it’s the substance of the awesome outing and not the kit, but was just wondering. Again, thank you for taking the time to share.
Mike

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the above.

The kit was different to my standard kit. But it wasn’t a million miles away either.

I’ve effectively explained the differences in sleeping kit in the article above.

The tarp I often use for camping – the Hilleberg XP 10 – was the one we used for a group tarp, so I still had this too.

Instead of a Swandri shirt, I had a lighter fleece (Polartec 100) top as well as a Primaloft-filled jacket. I added warm, waterproof gloves.

I elected to wear waterproof trousers the whole time so upgraded from my usual army-surplus (which occasionally get put on over a pair of Fjallraven trousers) to Norrona Recon trousers, which are excellent. These I wear just as a normal pair of trousers.

I added a metal vacuum flask and reduced weight elsewhere by subsituting a lighter-weight combo for the Zebra billy and Crusader mug. More on this latter point in a future article…

I didn’t take an axe and I didn’t take a water purifying device.

I took a Surefire Saint headtorch, which has become my new mainstay torch for wilderness trips as it is bombproof, super-bright yet with a continuously adjustible beam as well as a cleverly flexible battery case. It will also take lithium batteries (unlike most Petzls, for example), which are lighter than alkali and perform better in the cold.

The above adjustments were made primarily due to the expected weather conditions, terrain and hours of daylight available, followed by considerations of keeping the overall weight in check.

The final change I made was that of the rucksack. I didn’t take my faithful Sabre 45 plus side pockets because, frankly, it has seen better days, particularly the Arktis pockets, which are no longer available. I’m trying to keep this combo going as long as possible and use it regularly in the UK. I didn’t think they were up to the rigors of several bouts of airport baggage handling without the possibility of terminal damage to the side pockets and losing kit. So, I pulled my Berghaus Vulcan out the cupboard and took that instead (with no side pockets). It’s a solid pack and one I find very comfortable. I’ve used it extensively for winter trips, including ski touring in Norway.

These were the major differences.

I hope this helps.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Smilyan

Hi Paul,

I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now, but haven’t commented much.

However, this experience that you’ve had and described, really fell on my heart.

I have been planning to go to Norway for the past few months now, making sure i have good equipment and thinking what I want to do there. My main objective will most likely be to visit some of the fjords and spend time photographing, but survival/bushcraft skills will be essential to stay there comfortably as you have said yourself.

Can you please share with me some of the places that you consider to be your favorite in Norway?

Thank you for sharing your experience and giving us a lot of other useful information!

Regards,
Smilyan

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Dave Smith

Awesome time out in the wilderness Paul, great Blog post good read.

Great photo’s as well, if you dont mind me asking what camera do you use for all your outing’s?.
Its a great experience to be just under tarp for sure. I may have choosen the exrta weight of a Tent for the colder weather 😉 … but i understand to experience Nature as close as a person can.

Again, great post Paul.
Cheers,
Dave.

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Paul Kirtley

Hey Dave, good to hear from you my friend. I’m pleased you enjoyed this one as I’m sure you can relate to that big forest feeling.

Fair point regarding the tent. My friend who took the tent had a somewhat easier time in the evenings in his little cocoon!

These days one-man tents are not a heavy-weight option either – they can weigh in at around 1kg, while a tarp will weigh at least 500g and a bivvy bag at least the same, if a not more.

I’ve not averse to either. I just did a 3-day hike through the hills in Scotland and took a tent. No trees there though….

Take care,

Paul

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Paul Kirtley

PS – Before I hit “post”, I forgot to mention that on this trip I used my Leica D-LUX 5 Compact Camera. It’s a superb camera for travel.

Cheers,

Paul

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Roy

HELLO Paul

How are you mate?

Very inspiring and very impressive. It’s a beautiful location for bushcraft and you left it as you found it, turf replaced, traces of your presence minimised, thats mint.

Keep the Faith

HEDGEY

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Paul Kirtley

Ah-ha, return of the Hedgemeister! Long time, no speak…

I’m well thanks. Getting some writing done after a very busy summer, which is a nice way to cap it off and preserve the memories.

Glad you enjoyed this. Hope all is going well with you?

Cheers,

Paul

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Craig

Hey Paul,
Loved the read and pics of scenery and camps. As always, I learn something everytime. The stuff my dreams are made of! If I had a zilienth of what you know, can do and have experience of, I wud be a very happy chappy. Liked the communal tarp. Have thought about doing that but have been too fearful of burning the tarp / setting it alight from sparks – whats the key? Thanks for a great article. Keep well and safe. Highest regards

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Craig,

Aw come on, you know more than you give yourself credit for Craig 😉 I was replying to some comments on my personal first aid kit article yesterday and earlier today. You might like to add your view too, particularly about haemostatic agents…

As for the fire-under-the-tarp scenario not ending in melting plastic raining down all over you, well the key is keep the fire in check. The critical time when you need to take particular care is when you light the fire. If you do a proper job with your small sticks this will send up quite a flame (and sparks), so maybe you have to rein things in a little at the early stage, adding fuel a little more gradually. You can usually get away with this anyway as, unlike being out in the open, you are never going to have to be counteracting the dampening effect of rain, since you are under a tarp. Then you just need to make sure that the larger fuel you burn is not too spitty. I’ve never had a problem with burning holes in the tarp but I can understand it’s a concern.

You/others reading this might also like to take a look at the article: The Value Of A Tarp In Your Day Pack.

Anyway Craig, glad you enjoyed this article. Keep working on your skills. Onwards and upwards!!

Warm regards,

Paul

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Ian Shankland

Hi Paul,

what a great article. I was fascinated that you opted to just enjoy the time without the deadlines and objectives I associate with the courses I’ve attended. Quite rightly a student goes on a course to learn and your objective as a teacher is to impart a set number of skills in a specified time. Not being the fastest learner or the most fit at my age, I always found the courses fulfilling but a bit stressful with the assessments at the end. But the whole point of it is so that you can go out and do just what you did; enjoy the experience of being in a wild place and putting your knowledge and skills to use. If you only ever attend courses and don’t have time to go out and practise you can forget this. Thanks for the reminder and for sharing your experience of the Boreal forest so vividly and informatively,

Ian.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Ian,

It’s nice to hear from you. That’s an interesting observation you make regarding pace.

As you highlight, I’ve always been keen to provide the best value possible on courses by delivering a lot of content in addition to expecting students to push themselves when necessary, without completely overwhelming them. In addition to the benefit of acquiring a considerable quantity of new skills and knowledge in a relatively short space of time, it also develops the mental capacity to “just crack on” and get things done in the outdoors – something you need to set up shelter, find firewood, get a fire going, etc., when setting up camp at the end of full day in the rain and tired, hungry and ready for a sit down. But once you’ve turned that switch on a few times in training, you can access it while out on journeys too. Hence, the journey that would otherwise be an ordeal comes within an expanded comfort zone. If you have the confidence which comes from having applied your skills under a little pressure, the real-world application is all much easier.

But you are right, bushcraft is not all about doing courses. That’s why over at Frontier Bushcraft, our emphasis is very much on wilderness bushcraft and making journeys.

In turn, making journeys makes your bushcraft much more efficient and plausible in its application to different situations.

Thanks for your comment; I’ve very glad I was able to transport you a little to the boreal forest.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Steve

Hi Paul,

Here is a link to my trip report – http://www.bushcraftuk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=106162&highlight=estonia

Its on the forum BCUK, hope thats ok.

Thanks
Steve

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Nathan

Hey Paul, that was a great little adventure to read about, loved it!

I have the luck of recently moving to Sweden from the UK. I’ve had a couple of forays into the massive forests but have been worried about making a campfire since the ground, everywhere, is either covered in moss and/or seems to be peaty soil. It looks very much like at your lunchtime camp at the beginning of the article. Do you have any tips on safely making fire in such areas? I imagine the locals wouldn’t appreciate me burning down their beautiful forests!

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Phil

A very interesting read. The forest looks simply wonderful.

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Ruud

Hi Paul,

Thanks for sharing this! It’s always great to read and see how others plan their holidays. Sweden is the country I like the most to practice bushcraft-skills and for hiking.

I’ve done quite a few trips like the one you and your comrades did here, and indeed, the right equipment is truly important. When hiking in these kind of areas, you always seem to stumble upon oportunities to use some of those all-important bushcraft-skills, which is the part I like the most (setting up camp, brewing a coffee, general problemsolving )

I’m kind of training or preparing myself to undertake a longer trip in the Canadian wilderness with a few friends, all basic, but with the right mindset ( safety for all)

I’m looking forward to your review of the Lundhags-boots, I bought a pair in the Lundhags-store in Sweden, half price for new boots!! I’ve tested them in wet, but rather warm conditions, I wonder how they will perform in snowy conditions.

Kind regards
Ruud

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Chris Roberts

Hi Paul
Thanks for the superb pictures and write up. It must have been an amazing experience.
Take care
Chris

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Paul Kirtley

You’re welcome Chris. Thanks for commenting.

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Mike Huster

Paul,
Thanks for the excellent article, I really enjoyed it. I can appreciate the weather and the wildlife that is all around us but we usually don’t see it.
Winter is trying to make its mark here in CO also the seasons are changing.
Take Care.
Mike

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James Harris

Hi Paul
What an amazing place, its definitely a place I’d like to go to one day. I think the wildest place I’ve been is Dartmoor, I absolutely love spending time there and can’t get over there as often as I’d like.

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RON LOWATCHIE

Paul , thanks so much for the article and great pictures , I have been out enjoying our cascade mts. elk hunting , but love seeing the places you all go , we must just all enjoy what we have in this world , what a place huh ?thanks again . take care .

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Leena

hey Paul!
great article again… the spirit of adventure and the sense of freedom and exploration. We did something similar with trying out camping in the winter our first… just a weekend on sussex farm and woodlands, and just simple baby steps…so I enjoyed your article on Uniqlo and in the comments section elsewhere on the gear, camera, equipment…have found this useful. I like you share your views, with brand, and cost….which gives rest of us an idea what to look for.
Please do include something on shoes/fo0twear…although I think somewhere along the articles there is a link…but couldnt find it.
Great article again, Thanks for sharing the tips!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Leena,

It’s nice to hear from you and I’m glad that the comments as well as articles are proving valuable to you.

I’ve made some comments elsewhere in this thread about the boots I used on this trip and some comparisons to others but I haven’t written anything specific on footwear (yet 🙂 ).

Keep on exploring!

Warm regards,

Paul

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Rody Klop

Nice detailed report. With lots of hints and tips I may say.

BTW; are you going to the BC show next year Paul ? May be we can meet up.

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Rody!

Yes, I will be at the Bushcraft Show. If you are coming over, then we should definitely arrange to meet.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Sandy

WOnderful trip. What a great experience. Well documented and photographed too.
sandy

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Sandy. Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

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Jeroen

Dear Paul,

First and foremost I want to thank you for all your blog posts. They have been invaluable to me.

I’m leaving later this month to the area under Kiruna. But one thing is not clear to me yet.

You’re in an area with European bears. Do you have to take any precautions for this? Can you prepare food in this area in your camp? And you can prepare fish near your camp? What do you do when there passes an unsuspecting bear while you sleep outdoors?

Thanks in advance for your response!

Greetings,
Jeroen

Reply

Stephen dove

Great post Paul. What a fantastic experience. A very enjoyable read
Stephen

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Paul Kirtley

Hey Stef, good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed reading about our wander in the north woods 🙂

Warm regards,

Paul

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Paul Orton

Thanks Paul for the inspiring article and I plan to give my new lightweight tarp a go soon over the October half term with my son on our next trip. Keep up the great work you are doing there and thanks again. Best wishes. Paul

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Aaron light

Amazing article with beautiful pictures. I love the north and I can’t wait to go there again. Keep going.

Aaron

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Aaron,

I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece. And good to know there is another enthusiast of the North out there too 🙂

Warm regards,

Paul

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Dave

Hi Paul, thanks for posting this.
How do you find navigating using the 1:100,000 map scales? I dont like them at all compared to our 1:25,000 maps where we can micro navigate tick features etc.
This January we are planning to go up from Karmus toward Vietas, on the stora lulevatten and there are no maps available at all it seems.

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finanzas faciles

There is certainly a lot to know about this issue.
I love all the points you made.

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Orla Jørgensen

Thanks Paul for the inspiring article and the beautiful pictures. Thanks for share all your great works 🙂 Orla from Denmark

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abc

Wow, thanks for sharing those amazing photos.

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Roman

Thank you, good description, serene and inspiring. Previously, for me the main thing in the nature of the trip were the categories and ranks in sport tourism, but the birth of a child, I revised his views, now they are in tune with this description. And of course my favorite for visitors is the Khibiny – mountains on the Kola Peninsula. I am sorry for my English. with Roman, Russian.

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