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Outdoors and hiking gear and traditions have become as polarized as anything in the modern life. If ultralight is one end of a spectrum of outdoors skillset and gear, then buschraft is the opposite end. Bushcraft is the return to a more traditional set of tools, skills, shelters and carrying equipment. It replaces ultralight clothes with traditional and durable materials, gas cooking systems with open fire, ultralight shelters with heavier open shelters and (again) open fire. In a word, bushcraft is a return to the ways our fathers, fathers’ fathers and their fathers lived in the outdoors.
Finland (and our neighboring scandic countries) has a long tradition of living with the nature, and therefore a lot of traditional tools and lore for surviving in the wilderness. Some of the tools we use date back a hundred years, some of the kit and knowledge has only just recently began to come back into fashion.
I take a look at what a Finnish bushcraft kit might consist of, listing options in three categories: modern, traditional and ridiculously traditional. I have to confess that I am not fully enmeshed in the bushcraft culture, neither in general, or in the finnish tradition. Therefore this is a quick and somewhat superficial look, focusing on gear that might not be fully known outside Finland or scandic countries.
I will look at the following categories of equipment: knives, axes and saws, shelter, cooking, carrying systems, clothing and shoes. This is part one of the series, focusing on knives.
Knifes (as opposed to ultramodern multitools) are probably the most closely associated the bushcraft movement. In Finland, kids used to get their first knives well before school age. Although this is most probably no longer the case, we still have a close relation with knives.
Probably the most common knife in Finland is a not actually Finnish but the Swedish Mora. Thirty years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a household that did not have their traditional red or blue hilt construction line knife with a plastic sheath. They retail for about 7€. Morakniv is somewhat known in bushcraft circles and they have a bushcraft specific knife, the Bushcraft Blackblade, which retails for 42€.
If you are a knife aficionado, by all means, go for the buschraft knife. If you want a traditional Finnish knife, then the 7€ knife will serve you fine with a lot less to worry about when putting the knife to hard use in the woods.
Roselli Karhunkynsi (Bearclaw) UHC is a typical Finnish general / wood working knife. The compact knife is easy to carry with you and the short knife is ideal for wood working. Carving wooden utensils or a cup while starting at the fire is the iconic finnish passtime in the outdoors. The Roselli retails for 63€.
There are several famous finnish knifemakers like Roselli and Iisakki Järvenpää. Possibly the most famous is Marttiini, and the most famous knife from Marttiini is the Leuku or Lapinleuku. The Lapinleuku (Lapland’s Leuku) is traditional Reindeer herders’ knife from Lapland. It is a larger knife that is not used so much for whittling or carving, but more like a machete, for example to cut the dwarf birches that growth in the open fjells, or to chop meat and carcasses.
A more modern take on the Leuku concept is the Skrama from Varusteleka, the finnish military, bushcraft and outdoors giant. While Leuku is still recognizable as a knife, Skrama flirts with a machete type design. With a leather sheath, the Skrama retails for 107€.
Another possibility if you prefer larger blades is a billhook (or vesuri in Finnish). With a hook at the tip, it can be used to cut a way in a thicket (machete style), or to easily cut small branches and peel wood. You can find a Fiskars billhook at many summer cottages in Finland, and it would serve well in a bushcraft situation as well.
A modern version of the short blade whittling knife is the Mora Eldris, which
retails for about 25€. It’s lightweight, has a nice grip and the spine is designed to work well with a firesteel.
In this article series I want to lay out different options for bushcraft equipment. With a reverence for tradition, it’s easy to try and be traditional just for the sake of it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s also easy to go overboard.
In the category of knives, it’s actually hard to think of what would fall into the ridiculously traditional category. Knifes have been perfected for a long time, with different form factors for different purposes. I would maybe categorize (badly made) self forged knife into this category. But nowadays, it’s easy to find plenty of information and materials on knife making, so you have an excellent chance of creating a well functioning modern knife by yourself.
So maybe we need to go back to stone knifes for the ridiculously traditional category? Now that I think of it, that sounds like a topic for an article in and of itself…
Which knife to choose
You have basically knifes of three sizes. The smaller knives are easy to carry, but you may need an axe or a saw to supplement your kit. With a Skrama or a Leuku, you could probably forego carrying an axe, if you are prepared to cut and split wood with the knife. You might manage it even with the traditional Mora knife, but it will not be practical with the smaller blade whittling knifes.
So make a basic choice: if you want a light and nimble knife, prepary to carry an axe. Or go for a bigger one and maybe pass on the axe.
In practice everyone has multiple knifes, right? I mean, a normal construction mora knife is 7€. Why not have multiple?
Along with several cheap construction knifes (Mora and others), I have a Leuku and a short blade whittling knife, pictured in the article image. I mostly carry the short blade knife, if I have a knife and not a multitool. An issue I have with the finer knifes is, are they too fancy for regular use?
I have been hesitant to use the Leuku as it is a birthday gift for my 30th birthday, but a knife not in use is a wasted knife in my books. So I have decided I need to put it into use.
With equipment, it’s usually easy to go overboard. With knifes, my suggestion is: buy multiple and pack whatever feels like the right combination at the time.