Survival night

Survival night = a night in the forest with nothing but a knife and some matches and the clothes on your back. 

Another part of the IWG course was learning to deal with spending an unexpected night out in the forest. Learning to find good places to locate a shelter and different techniques of how to build something decent to sleep in. 



Location is quite important, it can make a huge difference to the comfort of your night so its worth taking time to scout somewhere decent to base yourself. It's worth looking for natural shelters; big rocks or under large spruce trees. You also have to consider how wet/damp the area and make sure you don't base yourself low down somewhere that could collect water if it rained.

As it was a nice sunny day, around 24 degrees so actually very good weather for Finland in May. I didn't have to worry about keeping out of the wind/rain too much. This made it a bit easier when scouting for a location. I ended up choosing a nice open forested area; somewhere I could actually use the warming sunlight to my advantage. 


For the shelter itself I chose a fallen birch tree that was arching over quite low to the ground. Then using this my idea was to build a small cone/sleeping bag style of shape that I could shuffle into. I  made a frame from dead wood that was lying around date forest and used this as a base for mainly spruce branches to build up the roof. Filling the gaps with dry leaves and moss. 

For my bed I used more spruce branches for the base then I got long strips of birch bark and layered them on top to make a mattress. I always find that I feel the cold coming the worst from beneath me so I took time to make sure I had enough layers underneath me. 

Keeping warm 

Once the sun went down (around 10:30pm) the temperature quickly dropped. I had just my walking trousers on, with a t-shirt, my down jacket and a thin shell layer. So nothing special clothing wise - just what I would normally have on my during a normal hike. 

During the day I collected quite a bit of firewood, trying my best to find decent dead pine. But as it was only a few weeks since the snow had melted a lot of it was really damp. There wasn't much small dead standing wood, so I did collect a lot of branches hoping that they would last a while. 

My plan of action was to sleep early whilst it was still fairly warm and then wake up and start the fire. So at around 8pm I shuffled into my sleeping cone and had some kip. It was cosy actually, the mosquitos were quite annoying but other than that I had a few decent hours sleep. 



I awoke around 11pm, feeling the cold from beneath me - despite my best bed efforts. So I shuffled out of my cone and got the fire going. The fire was fairly easy to get going, there was plenty of dryish birch bark and small dry branches. The problem was without an axe it was hard to split anything, I seemed to only have tiny branches or huge dead pines. So what I did was form a triangle of large logs, then built and maintained a small fire the middle of them, then pushing the long logs down every hour or so. It worked out quite well, but it still needed a lot of work feeding it all the time with smaller branches. 

Burning my big dead pine, this one lasted all the way till morning. 

Burning my big dead pine, this one lasted all the way till morning. 

I also found a really nice big rock, which at first I was using to sit on beside my fire, but when U decided I would head back into my cone for some more sleep I put it next to the fire for 30 minutes to warm up. Then I used it as a heavy hot water bottle for my next round of sleep. It worked really well heating me up as I wrapped myself around the warm stone to fall asleep again. 

We had ideal conditions that day, It had been super warm and sunny in the day with no real prospect of rain for the evening. Yet the night was still very cold. It really made me realised how difficult this would be. It was hard even with the best weather conditions possible. 

The night was a constant slog of trying to get to sleep. But always waking up and feeling too cold. So restarting the fire, warming up, collecting more firewood, getting sleepy again next to the fire then retreating back to the cone to try to sleep again. Then repeat. 

The nights were already quite light now, only getting dark around 11pm but despite my best firewood efforts I still had to keep going to collect more. Once it was dark this was tough because I could barely see where I was going, let alone what was decent firewood. I think the standards of nice dry pine had dropped massively as I gathered anything near by that would potentially burn. 

My humble abode 

My humble abode 

Around 3am I gave up on trying to sleep, and lodged myself beside a birch tree to just wait it out. It's crazy how slow time moves when you're waiting for it to pass. The birds were already making quite some noise so It was actually quite nice to just relax next to the fire watching the forest waking up. 

All in all it was a good experience. I went into it a bit cocky thinking that it would be easy because of how warm the day time was but it just shows, even with the best conditions the night time is still cold, and its really hard to make yourself comfortable and warm enough to get a decent amount of sleep. The lack of sleep gives you this awful hazy feeling, a bit like a hangover. Making every task very sluggish, and compared to the rest of the class I had a lot more sleep than most so most were feeling pretty shattered. Thankfully we had a nice relaxing day of paddling on the lake in the sunshine to enjoy.