Monday, December 2, 2013

Swedish tips and tricks for the winter by David “Thump” Eriksson

Through the BCUSA-forum I came in contact with a Swede, called Thump. 
Another member there went through the trouble of putting all the tips in one list and I have permission to put that list down here.
I figured if these wintertips work here, they might pretty well do elsewhere too.
Here's the link to the original bushcraftusa-thread
He sounds like he knows what he is doing and when you read the list, it actually sounds all so obvious. But there were some new things for me in there, and I'll be using these tips soon.

Stor tack, "Thump"!

Keeping the edge:
Every evening should be a 15 minute overhaul of your tools. Generally, it is often a quick strop on my axe, knife and occasionally fish hooks etc.
Steel and leather maintenance:
In the field, if I take care of all leather made stuff, it will also take care of the tools from not rusting too.
I always have a homemade recipe of a beeswax blend that I carry in my rucksack. I will do a quick run over my leather boots, leather straps and leather sheaths. IMPORTANT! If you wax the inside of your sheaths, the wax will rub onto your tools, preventing them from any rust.
The wax will also prevent any moisture from freezing the leather. Frozen leather straps will take a severe beating every time you bend them when you unbuckle.
Drying stuff out:
Up north, it is important to know what to do when you have for example stepped through the ice with your feet, rendering them soaking wet.
If that happens, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT take off your boots to change socks and try to dry the boots using a fire (worthless, time consuming). It will only freeze your feet and your boots solid.
First of all, wear wool socks. Keep your boots on and start running/swinging your legs, everything to get your warm blood down to your feet. After a while you will start to warm up the wool socks, and then you´re safe.
When you´ve set up your camp and started your fire, put big rocks besides the fire to warm them up. When you go to bed, place the rocks ( I kick them with my boots on) somewhere safe, and put a couple of sticks on top of them. Then, put your boots on top of the sticks. At last, build a mini Tipi around the boots with spruce twigs to keep the heat inside. I promise you that the boots will be dry the next morning.
Winter safety:
In general, when out in the woods, the tempo should be slow and effective. To be effective and yet slow, you for example split the wood in halves, no 4th, 8th and so on. The fire should be bigger and burn longer, not small and fast burning/ high heat. I go by the old rule of "double the temperature": If it´s -20C, you cut the wood in 40cm pieces, -30C in 60cm (2 ft) pieces and so on.
Axe Work:
When working with your axe, the safety in winter is extremely important since everything is slippery and the snow masks all pot holes and roots that you can stumble on. In the winter you always work in the kneeling position, not facing the camp site. Why? Ice, slippery axe, facing the camp trying to split wood. Your dog eating/ wife cooking.....Need I say more?
When using the axe, the axe is always second in thought, the first being where everyone are placed when it swings.
Keeping the extremities warm and nice:
Leave your hiking staff at home in the winter. It will only "stop" your body from pumping warm blood to your fingers. Keep your arms low, and swing them when you walk.
Wear thin polypropylene inner socks, 2 wool socks and wear boots with tall shafts and thick rubber sole. Mukluks are nice, but doesn´t work here in Sweden, sadly. The sole will be ripped apart in one day in the Swedish woods. I´ve tried it.
Wear trousers with built in gaiters, wool under layer (preferably 2 sets at the same time). Use wool as much as possible.

Start already now to acclimatize yourself to the cold by not wearing too much clothes. By doing this, your immune system kicks off and start "preparing" itself for winter time. You won´t freeze as easily. But always protect your head and neck with a hat and scarf. The head and neck are man-kinds Achilles heals in cold weather.
Put Vaseline or a equivalent on every exposed part of your body to stop your skin from cracking during the dry winter time.
Keep your toe and fingernails short to prevent holes in your glove liners or socks. It is also an unnecessary part for the small blood vessels in your fingers to warm up. It literally draws the heat from the fingers.
If you are like me and heat up quickly during work, risking to start sweating. Wear polypropylene as the first layer, then wool under layer.
If your having a hard time keeping your hands warm. Try and put your whole hands in the snow for 10 seconds. This will engage your body to quickly warm them up, at the cost of pulling a lot of energy from you. But a pack of extra bacon in the rucksack will rescue the situation.

I use snowshoes when I absolutely must (powder snow mostly). But when there is an ice crust on top of the snow I want to take the snowshoes off and be able to walk a little faster on top of the crust. That is when I noticed that (at least the mukluks I used) got beaten up when I occasionally went thru the ice crust and into sharp rocks or ice underneath. My right mukluk got a severe rip all along the side from the rocks.
Also, being extremely nice to wear ( as in flexible) I was very close to sprain an ankle on roots and rocks. But they are very comfortable and warm.
They just don´t work here.
Our indigenous people here, the Sami people, wear boots that are more like regular boots (except that they are made of rein deer hide) and not something that resembles mukluks.

If you are using a tent in the winter, to have it set up quickly follow these tips:
1. Seek out the least windy place you can find (obvious)
2. Forget snow anchors or nails for securing your guy lines. These are for mountain camping and for less skilled woodsmen. Instead, you make S-shapes of the guy lines, and then step hard on them and also put some more snow and step some more. If you need to tighten the guy lines, you either do some kind of knot on the guy line (don´t know the name), or you tighten them by putting a stick between the ground and the guy line. If there is strong wind you weave the guy line in a spruce twig and bury that in the snow.
You can also (depending on the snow) put a decent sized stick on top of the guy line, and then bury that in the snow. You know have the option to tie the guy line onto trees instead of the ground. You see, there is many options to securing your tent WITHOUT having to carry any snow anchors or nails.

You know those chilly mornings that nobody likes. Getting up from a warm sleeping bag isn´t the most fun in the world.
What has happened is that you have used up all your energy thru the night and you need to refuel and reheat yourself.
As I have said before arctic conditions is all about working slow and being efficient. So instead of being summer smart and using pre-split wood the night before, you start your morning by splitting wood for the morning breakfast.
Why? Well, doing the standard jumping up and down when you have just woken up to become warm is NOT kind to your body. The muscles and tendons (right word?) needs to slowly get used to the cold. So, splitting some wood (preferably birch) is a good way of being slow and efficient. And do not get fully clothed since starting the morning with a sweat will punish you through the day. I often just have complete base layer, boots, thermal pants and gloves/hat. That is sufficient enough for -25C to -35C degrees. (Or if you don´t have a thermometer with you, it is when you take a deep breath through your nose and ice crystals forms in your throat due to the cold air).
Remember I mentioned birch as the best wood to split i the morning? The reason is that frozen birch splits VERY easily AND it does´t matter if it is dead birch or an alive and green birch. As long as it is frozen it will split easy and burn easy. And you get the bonus of easy tinder from the bark.
That is why carrying a big axe is totally unnecessary since splitting wood in the winter is actually easier than the summer (everything is frozen and chips easy). An Gränsfors Small Forest axe is plenty enough, even a hatchet but hatchets are not safe to use in slippery conditions, so avoid it is my recommendation.
Carrying a big axe is cool maybe, but totally irrelevant for splitting wood in the winter. It sets apart experienced people (as in done a couple months out in the Arctic) from people that actually LIVES in these conditions. Use that saved weight for extra insulation and food and save the big axe for what it was intended for…….felling 20"+ diameter trees.
So, back to the cozy warm sleeping bag. If everything has gone right through the night, you didm´t need that extra wool blanket you had and slept fine using only the sleeping bag/bags. I say bags because I prefer using layer on layer even in sleeping bags so I use a 3-season synthetic bag together with a summer bag. On top of that I always have a Merino wool blanket for extra safety if I need it.
Oh, by the way, skip all this heavy weight blanket is the warmest talk. It is NOT a tightly woven blanket that makes it warmer. It is the "fluffiness". A tightly woven blanket makes it more wind proof, nothing else. Merino wool blankets are fluffy and very light, so I recommend those. So please buy 2 of the cheaper lightweight blankets (that nobody wants) instead of the heavy expensive blanket as they will insulate a hell of a lot better. Leave the heavy ones for the others.
And a warm bottle in the sleeping bag is nice if you want to drink unfrozen water in the morning. But please don´t think of it as a heating source and depend on it for warmth during the night. Think like an animal, be like an animal. You are on their turf and should act like they do. And they do not sleep with a hot bottle between their legs. They still survive though……. If you are cold in the night, you have to little insulation…..that´s it!
Before you get out of the sleeping bag, take your time to stretch out. Eat something that is full of protein and fat (maybe the leftover fish you caught yesterday). And use the time to plan the day. Fortunately, we are not in the military, so we can really enjoy the morning. After about 30min you get up and split the wood, start your fire and wait for the coffee to be done. : )


  1. Hi Ron, very interesting advice on dealing with the extreme cold. An area that interests me a lot as I come from a south european country and I am clueless (now I live in the north too).

    Are you Dutch? I been to Holland, its not insane cold there so even for you it must be a new territory having to live in low temp. You seem to develop your rules by experience, which is the best way.

    In winter 2012-2013 I ''failed'' to remain warm even in the city, and now I spent some time reading and buying clothes for this upcoming winter, wanting to make thorugh it without feeling so cold when im out all day.

    I did put my boots in ice lakes and althoug water did not get it, my feet froze when i walk on ice or put my boots in iced lake waters. Now I must carry with me an extra pair of socks, wear a wool insole in the boots (tip given by a Norwegian, if that says anything), and stop submerging my feets in water like a child:)

    But then, we cannot avoid submerge when we walk on thaw ice or small stream created by melted ice on a road. In all these occasions I felt my feet and my hands very frozen.

    Water is vile, maybe running cold water is more dangerous than solid ice.

    Now im going back to read the rest of the post as I actually only read half. I notice you give advice on camping on snow. I am intending to do that in the area of either Oslo or Alta in winter now (and solo). I am not sure how to do it, so I read blogs online and see videos in youtube, trying to create some rules of reference in my head.

    Keep sharing the experience you are developing, you may be saving a life this way, cause we need to know from the people who actually do it...

    All the best

  2. hej Ann,
    yes, I am Dutch and yes it is all quite new to me, even though I visited Sweden in winter befor.
    The first thing I learned was "stay dry". If you get wet, you'll get cold. That applies even more to hands and feet. The second was "bring spares". I never go out in winter without at least a spare set of socks, gloves and sweater. And the third one is "adjust". Do not heat your house or car to 25 degrees and do not wrap yourself in all your clothes at the first sign of frost. Let your body become accustomed with a little cold.
    Thanks for responding and enjoy reading on.

  3. Great tips, Ron. Thanks for passing them along!