– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Category Archives: philosophical pondering

The Focal Length Analogy

A friend of mine wished that on the autumn hike of our wilderness guide course we would have walked less to be better able to really learn about the nature surrounding us. Instead I hoped that we would have covered a longer distance to get a good overview of the wilderness area. What we did was somewhere in-between these two: We didn’t really cross huge wilderness areas but neither did we focus on chosen places. I’d say that we hiked in somewhat typical and traditional manner. This is just to highlight the obvious: You can hike and travel in many different styles. It came to my mind that the hiking styles are somewhat comparable to focal lengths of lenses used for photography.

In photography the focal length of a lens affects the field of view and depth of field. Lenses differ also in other properties but let’s leave that aside for a while. Regarding focal lengths lenses are often divided into four groups: ultra wide angles, wide angles, normal lenses and telephoto lenses. In addition there is a bunch of specialized lenses like fish-eye lenses with huge but distorted field of view and macro lenses that can focus really close and produce pictures of the near-microscopic details.

The normal lens produces a field of view that somewhat corresponds the view you would see with naked eye thus it’s called “normal”. The field of view might not be especially unique but you can play with the other properties like the depth of field to take distinct pictures. The main reason why I have a normal lens is that even quality normal lenses can be very cheap. I think that normal lenses and “normal hiking” are quite comparable: They are “normal” and secure options and can produce quality outcome with decent price tag and effort. But to create something really unique with a normal lens, or on a normal hike, requires an original idea, skills and maybe a very special object.

Wide-angle lenses enable a very wide field of view and also good depth of field because of short focal length: You can capture the essence of a large area without much blur but you do miss the details. In my opinion that is an acceptable trade-off. And with ultra wide angles this gets high-lightened even more. The wide-angles are usually more expensive than normal lenses and to capture more than a flat horizon line wide-angle photography requires an extra thought before pressing the shutter button. I think the same applies for hiking long distances: It takes more time and money, requires more planning and skills but when properly carried out it can produce stunning results.

A telephoto lens enables a clear view of targets that are really far away. A telephoto lens with relatively short focal length is very useful for many uses but the huge bird-scoping lenses are highly specialized tools  best suited for certain limited activities. Long focal lengths can also produce very thin depth of view with only the target being clear. This can be very useful but also problematic in some cases. I’d say telephoto lenses are comparable to doing longer hikes not necessarily for the journey itself but for some specific distant target like a mountain top or a geographical pole.

Then there are the special lenses like macro-lenses and fish-eyes. These enable seeing the world in a untypical way. The use of these lenses is somewhat limited but with them you can do things otherwise impossible. You can capture details too small for naked eye or you can see the world from a perspective that would be impossible without the special tools. The macro photography is like the hiking my friend would have wished to do: To see more by traveling less. To spent long time at one place to really get familiar with it: the plants, the animals, the surroundings. And I’d say the fish-eye lenses, tilt-shift lenses and similar specialized tools are like very unique and special wilderness travels: Combining means of travel, going to weird places and seeing things from an unusual perspective to create something completely new.

If you really think about it, it seems that about any style of wilderness travel can be compared to use of certain lens in photography or at least compared to certain style of photography.

As normal is “normal” by definition the most interesting perspectives are often found at the ends of the spectrum of focal lengths. The wide-angle shots can show stunning landscapes and with long telephoto lenses you can reach out far for interesting objects. It’s the same with hiking. For me the most interesting journeys and trips, be it done by myself or by others, are the big ones covering long distances or reaching distant targets or maybe finding a completely new perspective on something. But most of our trips happen on the area around the “normal” just like I take most of my photos with a quality zoom reaching from 24mm to 105mm. It’s a safe and easy area to operate with. And of course great shots can be taken with all focal lengths as in the end it is more about the imagination, idea and skills than about the kit. And that is something worth keeping in mind.

What’s your favourite piece of optic – or preferred style of travel?

Or is there any point for comparisons like this in the first place?


Wanted: Lost motivation

// Warning: This post contains pointless whining and is written while being frustrated. Reading at own risk. 😉 //

Once again it has been quiet here for some time. This is partly because of the Wilderness Guide school keeping me busy: I just spent a week hiking in Muotkatunturit wilderness area in Lapland with the class. But partially the silence is because of the lack of motivation.

Rock Ptarmigans in Muotkatunturit wilderness area.

It seems that I need something big to keep me motivated and excited. I need to have something big on the drawing board that challenges me: How should it be done? Can I put it all together? Can I pull it through? That’s the part that really makes me tingle. And when I’m motivated and excited I also want to share it with other people (That would be you, dear readers) but when there is nothing special going on or coming up and everything goes as planned, I feel that there is not much to write about.

I need more of this stuff! (Picture from Spitsbergen in April 2011.)

Though, of course there would be things to write about!

I just spent a week hiking in really nice and wild area in Lapland but for some reason it doesn’t feel special enough to inspire me to write a trip report. I’ve done quite a lot of one-week hikes in Lapland. There would be also few posts and trip reports still waiting to be finished but that’s not too exciting either. There is the Wilderness Guide school going on but it feels now as business-as-usual for me and thus isn’t too inspiring. And things like going for a walk near home, enjoying the sun and picking a bucket of cranberries from a surprising place doesn’t feel like worth a blog post either… I could also write gear reviews as there is big punch of gear I’ve been using for a long time and have been very satisfied. And some gear that I haven’t used because of the gear either failing or not working as I would have wished. But I have sort of an issue with gear reviews as I feel that they encourage unnecessary consumption… but maybe I should?

Picking wild berries, mushrooms, etc. is a typical weekend activity for me. Nice way to enjoy the nature nearby.

The lack of motivation might also be because of some resent setbacks related to the inspiring stuff I wished to do. I wrote earlier about some speed hiking plans and if things would have gone the way I planned, I would have just finished a 135km trail in three days. But, I unfortunately my mates had to cancel the trip and I’m not too much into solo trips so this is postponed to next spring. The second big thing I had planned was actually lot bigger. In school we have a voluntary internship period in December but instead of working in some company I was planning to do a big skiing trip: Four weeks of skiing in Lapland without seeing the sun! But unfortunately I didn’t find anyone to accompany me on that trip so it is also postponed to distant future…

If things would have gone as planned, this would have been as much Sun as I would have seen during December. (Picture from lake Inari in January 2011.)

Luckily there is also some inspiring stuff coming up… Within two weeks we will have the school’s 24 hour challenge and if everything goes well, I’ll then cover the longest distance I’ve ever covered under my own power within 24 hours. And because of the big, cold and dark skiing trip being cancelled I decided to do some internship stuff instead and I think I will be learning a lot of new things while at it.

This fellows might teach me a thing or two...

There is also some sort of a ski expedition on the drawing board but I’ll have to see how it goes. If I find the company, have the money and can arrange the time, I will definitely let you know!

Blueberry leaves in Muotkatunturit wilderness area last week.

But, the main idea of this post was not only to whine about the lack of motivation but to help me find the lost motivation. So. I wish you would write a comment on this post and tell:

A) How do you keep yourself motivated? (I know there is bunch of great and talented bloggers occasionally visiting here, so this is especially for you!)

B) What kind of content would you like to see on this blog? Trip reports? Gear reviews? More pointless whining?

Spruce tip syrup – and dreams on living of the land

I spent most of the last Sunday wandering in the woods gathering the new soft annual shoots of spruce. These can be eaten as such, used to make tea or to make syrup. In this post I’ll explain my motives for making syrup instead of buying it and also share the recipe with you. If you live in Finland or on the same latitude you still got at least a week or so to enjoy the fresh spruce tips. Give them a try!

Spruce tip tea with honey.

Dreams on living of the land

I haven’t written much about my background or motives in my blog but in addition to recreational outdoor sports I’m also interested in bushcrafty things and the basic skills of living of the land. I don’t see this as a hobby and I don’t feel like it needs a special name like “bushcraft” or similar. For me it’s about the skills and ways of living that our ancestors have utilized not-so-long-ago here in the forests of the North. Ways, that from my perspective seem quite sustainable, simple and satisfying. And for me it’s also about combining them to the best parts of modern way of life to seek out something satisfying.

As a kid I spent quite a lot of time with my grandmother gathering berries and mushrooms and at least equal amount of time fishing and hunting with my father. I think that the foundations of my close relationship with nature come all the way from my childhood experiences. There was a period in my life when I wasn’t too interested in these things (even though I still enjoyed outdoors in other ways). But for a some time now my interest in these lifestyle things has been growing again.

Even though living of the land in the Christopher McCandless style would be cool, I don’t think it would make a sustained way of living – at least not for me. Instead, I dream about changing part of the modern “work to earn money to buy food” cycle in the more traditional “work to get your own food” way of living. I believe that in this way I could keep up a decent standard of living with less work in the office and being able to spent more time in the nature. And the process of living of the land is also very satisfying: it’s a “hands on work” closely related to nature and also directly connected to your own well-being. And I happen to like it!

As I said, I spent Sunday mostly in the forest gathering spruce tips. The weather was great and even a typical forest of Southern Finland can be interesting if you slow down your pace and stop to wonder the little things along the way. For example while I was gathering the tips from one small spruce it sounded like it was raining. But clearly it wasn’t raining as the sun was shining, the skies were bright blue and I didn’t feel any drops hitting me. After some time I noticed huge amounts of ants skittering on the ground on top of dead dry leafs. The tiny ants made a sound similar to rain drops hitting leafs around you! And there I stood listening the little creatures making a sound reaching my ears a few meter away. If that isn’t wonderful then what is?

Maybe some day I can spend most of my days in the nature and wonder all the things little and small – and still make an even more satisfying living.

About spruce tips

The good stuff!

Spruce tips are the soft new annual shoots of spruce trees. Compared to the tips of the older branches they are lighter in color, softer and usually more dense. The spruce tips can be eaten as such, boiled, used to make syrup or tea. Apparently there is quite lot of vitamin C in them but I guess that the extended boiling of the syrup making process will destroy most or all of that. Apparently spruce tips are not good for people with kidney problems, so enjoy them at your own risk. The syrup is very good with ice cream or pancakes or similar, it can be used to season tea or sauces for game meat and with some good balsamic vinegar it would probably make a great salad dressing. Next spring I might try making syrup from birch sap and spruce tips so I wouldn’t need to add any (commercially produced and bought) sugar. That would be cool…

Spruce tip syrup recipe

For spruce tip syrup you will need:

– fresh spruce tips
– water
– sugar
– and if you want, lemon or vanilla to spice it up

1) Start by gathering new soft spruce tips, preferably one to seven centimeters long.  You need about three times as much spruce tips in volume as you want to have syrup (so three liters of spruce tips makes about one liter of syrup). I gathered about six liters of tips and got a bit under two liters of syrup.

2) Rinse the spruce tips with cold water.

3) Place the spruce tips into a big cooking pot, add enough cold water to barely cover the tips (notice that they float, so don’t add too much water) and let them soak overnight.

Spruce tips after soaking.

4) After soaking the tips, put the pot on a stove (or on cooking fire) and let it boil gently for about two hours. It’s good to use slightly over sized steel pot with thick bottom.

Spruce tips after about two hours cooking.

5) Filter the tips away and spare the liquid. I used a colander for first round of filtering and then removed the last small particles with colander lined with cotton veil. (Ultra light life style tip: the same veil makes also a good towel. Way better and cheaper than the microfiber ones sold in sports stores.) I guess you could eat the left-over spruce tip mush but I threw it away.

5) Add sugar to the filtered liquid. The right amount is about 0,5kg per one liter of liquid. If you would use less sugar and boiled it down for longer time, you could probably make smaller amount of syrup but with more intense taste.

6) Put the sugared liquid back on the stove (or fire) and let it boil down so it turns into thick syrup. Don’t use a lid as you are supposed to get rid of some of the water. There will probably be some greenish froth on top while cooking. Peel it away. The original recipe recommended cooking the syrup for two hours and that’s what I did. It seems to about as thick as maple syrup and I can still get the stuff out of bottle. More cooking will result to thicker syrup but if you boil it too much you will have later problems to get it out of the jars…

The syrup after about two hours of cooking.

7) Pour the hot syrup into clean and treated glass bottles (for thinner stuff) or glass jars (for thicker stuff). It is good idea to place the bottles and jars into hot oven to kill all the germs before pouring the syrup in them. I put my bottles in an oven with 150 Celsius for 30 minutes. Fill the vessels to the brim with hot syrup and close immediately. I kept the syrup on simmer while doing this: pouring boiling syrup into 150 Celsius glass bottles and sealing them immediately when the boiling stopped. This way there should be no change for bacteria to get into the bottles. A pair of leather gloves comes handy at this stage.

Heat treating the bottles in 150 Celsius oven before bottling the syrup.

Hot syrup still boiling in the heat-treated jar. I waited for the boiling to stop, filled the vessels to the brim and sealed immediately.

8 ) Preserve the bottles in cold place protected from sunlight. Because of high sugar content of the syrup and heat treating the syrup should last long – if you can resist consuming it immediately. Enjoy during the long and dark winter months!

My little treasure for the winter to come… Notice that the hot syrup has shrinked in volume while cooling creating a vacuum inside the vessels first filled to the brim.

Remember that gathering spruce tips is NOT EVERY MAN’S RIGHT in Finland and you need to have the land owners permission to gather them!

– – –

Small update on 28.5.2012:

The spruce tips are out again! And it’s time to make some more of the good stuff for the next winter…

I thought it would be nice to share some info about the syrup I made a year ago: I didn’t use much of it as I spent a lot of time away from home (at the Wilderness Guide School, on trips and on the practical working period in the North) so most of the syrup spent the winter in a cellar. Unfortunately the bottles didn’t seal as well as I wished and even though the caps were air tight (still vacuum inside the bottles while opening) there was some mould growing inside and I ditched the contents. The little jars worked as assumed and the syrup was still fresh and usable. So, jars is what I recommend.

As I mentioned in the original post the syrup is great with iceream of pancakes. I also tried it with vinegar and it makes great salad dressing. And great martinis with gin and topped with some soda, it turn into a cooling long drink. 😉

The search for a perfect mug

Inspired by Hendrik’s post about the quest for the one rucksack to rule them all, I thought I might share my quest for perfect gear.

It seems that I’m obsessed about the idea of finding the perfect piece of equipment of each job. It is not an easy job as there are at least three factors that should be taken into account: weight, durability and function. The latter likely including also the aesthetics and style. Unfortunately, or luckily, I have only limited financial resources to accomplish this quest so I mainly settle with desk top research and get to extensive comparative field studies only with cheap stuff, like mugs!

Some of the findings along the quest for the perfect mug.

I have used and tried likely over dozen of different mugs and cups in the search for the ultimate drinking vessel. I use my mug mainly for drinking hot drinks but also for occasional cold drink, as a bowl for eating breakfast or desserts, as a bowl for mixing some special things (like the filling for my birthday cake in Svalbard) and as a vessel if i pick berries en route. So, a good mug should shine in many things in addition of being light and durable.

My requirements for the perfect mug would be about the following:
– durable enough (for not needing to worry about it)
– big enough for occasional morning oat meal (i.e over 400ml)
– shaped like a mug (i.e. taller than it’s diameter)

As I said, I’ve tried a bunch of mugs and found few of them good and many of them lacking in some of the requirements. For example in winter a thermos bottle cap would be good in durability, in weight (I carry it any way) and it’s also slightly insulated but it’s way too small even for a proper hot drink. The cap from a food thermos is better size-wise but the shape isn’t optimal (drinks cool too quickly) and I don’t usually carry a food thermos any more. Many of the cups I’ve tried are otherwise good but too small. For example I’ve had a traditional Finnish wooden kuksa but I lost it some 7 or 8 years ago and haven’t bothered getting a new one. I’ve also tried the much buzzed Kupilka which has its advatages over wooden cup but it’s still too small. Then some of the lightest cups, like an empty yoghurt cup, are too fragile in addition to being too small. An empty 500g coffee bag makes an interesting and easily packable mug but it’s very flimsy to use. The green army surplus cup was close to perfection but shape was wrong. To give you a good idea I made a comparison chart of the mugs in the picture above. In addition the chart includes my old MYOG mug.

Assortment of mugs, bowls and pots doing what they are made for: helping to make kayakers happy after a long day of paddling.

The best cups I’ve tried this far are my old MYOG mug and its a close commercial counterpart the Sea to Summit Delta Insulmug. The first one was a light MYOG mug made of cheese cube cup. The plastic cup itself was a bit too flimsy when filled with hot water so I added an insulating sheath made of CCF pad with help of some tape. The cup had also a lid and the entire thing was waterproof as I didn’t make a sipping hole in the lid. The volume was 410ml and weight about 40 grams. It was also durable enough but for some reason the plastic seemed to absorb all the tastes and smells it encountered, resulting in very interesting experiences when using it! After the taste and smell got bad enough I ditched it…

The near perfect MYOG mug absorbing Jäger tea aromas...

… and bought a Sea to Summit Delta Insulmug as a replacement. It’s quite similar to my MYOG mug. It consists of three-part: 68 gram cup with volume of 480ml, insulating sleeve weighting about 31 gram and lid with sipping hole weighting about 18 gram. 116 gram all together so it is a bit on the heavy side but otherwise it’s perfect. It has also internal volume markings (something that would have been easy to do also in the MYOG mug). On warm summer trips I usually leave the lid ans insulating sleeve home and take only the cup. So in addition to full filling about all my requirements it’s also modular. The only problem is that the insulation sleeve seems to shrink in use.

But as I told before, I’m plagued with eternal quest for even better gear and the cup is already waiting for field tests. That one is GSI Cascadian mug. It will be mainly for summer use as the handle would interfere with an insulating sleeve.

I’d also like to test a proper titanium mug, maybe a monstrous size like 750ml version as it could double as a cooking pot on solo trips and would be about as light as my Sea to Summit mug with all the parts. Or maybe I should change my attitude and settle with the stuff that works and spend the time and energy into doing something useful instead?

So, what is your mug of choise?

The meaning of gear?

As the halfway ready trip report about Lake Inari vanished to cyberspace, I will instead take part to the current hot topic: the meaning and role of the gear. As everything in the blog, these are my personal opinions.

Hendrik started the current round of conversation with his post Who is the lightest of them all?. This conversation raises regularly on forums where lightweight/UL and more traditional backpackers meet and it can even turn into a loud debate. But now the discussion is raised among light/UL backpackers themselves and there it turns out to be pretty interesting. See for example Dave’s response: (re)Defining Lightweight Backpacking. These two posts have gathered great comments from readers and are definitely worth the reading, if you are interested in the topic.


Clothing for a five day skiing trip in Lapland in January.


For most of the time I seem to be almost obsessed by gear. But my relationship to it is somewhat complex and luckily my life is not all about the gear.

I spend a lot of time tuning my gear, making speculative gear lists, surfing the net in search for new and interesting gear, reading gear reviews and learning smart ways how other people get the most out of their gear (or manage with minimal amount of gear). For me this serves at least two purposes.

First of all: I like long trips, at least a weekend long or preferably a week long ones or longer but because of studies and work I don’t have time to do these trips as often as I’d wish. The gear freakiness is a way to extrapolate my outdoor hobbies into home and office (Don’t tell them…) and offers short escapes from the mundane reality. Planning a trip, writing trip reports and editing photos serve also the same purpose and in a way they become hobbies inside a hobby.

For me the “gear hobby” is about thriving for perfection while trying to get the optimal outcome for a (too) wide variety of situations. This means compromises, and when making compromises there are endless possibilities for variation. But luckily I don’t get endlessly stuck to a certain project. It seems that I keep on adjusting and refining certain gear to the point that I am either happy with the performance or I get plain bored with the constant refining and settle with what I have.

Second, I believe that being aware of all the nice gear and the ways to use it can also offer a better nature experience. Not necessarily but possibly. And at least the long awaited trip is less likely to be ruined by gear. But gear can also ruin the nature experience if one concentrates solely to the gear and forgets the beauty of the nature. This can be caused by wrong gear that doesn’t work properly (Waterproofs not being waterproof while on a one week trip in the fells.), having not enough gear (Try forgetting a shell jacket when going climbing…) or having too much gear (That’s why I’m lightening up: to see the butterfly.)

But the gearcentricity can also be caused by one’s mind alone. This is something that backpackers on the lighter side are often accused. But I think that the judgment is highly distorted when based on blogs, forums and other forms of virtual communication. When sitting in front of a computer one is not able to enjoy the nature and gear becomes an easy topic. It is hard to write about the deep emotions experienced while out there. But this doesn’t mean that the gram shaving backpacker would not see and appreciate the beauty of the natures and experiences it can offer.

When I am out there on a trip, I don’t spend too much time thinking about my gear. Of course I make occasional remarks on it, especially if I have new gear with me or something doesn’t work as planned. But for me the optimal situation with gear would be that I wouldn’t even need to think of it when hiking. The gear would just be there, work as planned, enabling whatever I’d like to do and not slowing me down. I think that one can, and likely will, occasionally manage something close to this state. And that is a higher degree of freedom.

I am on my way to that state, or at least trying, but luckily the journey itself is as nice one as the destination.

So, eventually for me gear is on the other hand another hobby and on the other hand only means to an end.

What does it mean to you?