How to survive

Communication is KeySometimes we forget how easy we have it. Amid our crazy life schedules we tend to take for granted that purified bottle of water when thirsty, or the push of a button to light a fire. But it’s important to remember that in the blink of an eye, it can all be gone. The unexpected happens, you get in an accident or lose your way; now, it’s just you and the wilderness with no ties to civilization. Here are ten basic survival tips to get you prepared- just in case.

Communication is KeyPlease please please tell someone where you are going before you set off for a trip. No matter where you go, even if you end up stranded unexpectedly, you started from somewhere in civilization. Tell close friends and family where you are going and if you have a specific route or amount of time you will be gone.

Keep Your Head OnNow is the time to be calm and think positive. It doesn’t sound like much, but optimism goes a long way, and in a survival situation, it starts with you, your attitude and your will no matter how scared and alone you may feel. First, keep a realistic outlook and diligently plan to keep yourself in the best possible physical and mental state. If something isn’t working out, like building a fire or shelter, don’t rush, because that can lead to panic. Stop, breathe and think about what you need, observe your surroundings and organize a new plan.

Take InventoryKeep everything you’ve got, because the second plans go south, these items will become your most prized possessions and could save your life. Don’t underestimate the worthiness of even the smallest knick knack-inn Gary Paulson’s classic, The Hatchet, Brian Robeson used his shoe lace to make a nifty bow and arrow for survival!

Build a ShelterBuild a ShelterIt’s time to get creative. Familiarize yourself with how to build a lean-to; there are various types of shelters you can build and each has different pros and cons. Obviously you want overhead covering for warmth at night and protection from the elements. If you are in rocky, mountainous terrain, look for overhangs. Otherwise, use limbs and leaves or anything that can provide insulation. Pine needles usually blanket the ground in thick batches, excellent for bedding.

Agua Por FavorYour body will not last more than three days without water. If you are lucky enough to be near a body of freshwater – good for you, just make sure to boil before quenching your thirst. No water in sight? Continue your search and construct a rain catcher or water still.

Keep that Belly HappyThings can get frustrating when it comes to finding adequate sources of food when you are in survival mode, especially since malnutrition will work you mentally and physically, making you feel weak, cranky and delirious. It’s a good idea to get familiar with edible wild berries and plants for future reference when out in the wild. Also, it’s time to grow up and banish the word  “picky” from your vocabulary. When it comes to survival, embrace anything and everything (carefully) including bugs, eggs, fruit, leaves. Learn to build some simple traps to catch small animals and don’t rely on just one single food source. Protein is important for strength; know what various nutrients your body needs for prime sustainability.

Light that FireThose glowing red flames provide light, cooked food, warmth and protection from predators and pesky bugs. Here are a few tried and true techniques for conjuring that mighty blaze:

One Word: ToolKeep a pocket knife, or multi-tool with you at all times, because you never know when you will need it- and when you do need it, you will rejoice that you have something to cut, protect and prepare food- even if all you have is a crappy, little knife. Now just learn how to sharpen it like MacGuyver.

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H-E-L-PSurvival is your first priority, but don’t forget- you need to get rescued as well. Come up with an action plan in case a plane flies overhead or there are are search parties nearby. You’ve seen it in the movies – prepare a giant, easily visible fire pit out in the open or lay out stones in the pattern of HELP or S.O.S. You can also use any shiny, metallic object for reflection purposes.

NavigationIt’s a good idea to have a compass with you at all times, but if not then what? Get old school and use the stars– it’s a lot easier than you think. Also, keep note of rivers, paths or mountains- following these can lead to roads and civilization.



A cinnamon-sprinkled cappuccino chases the winter chill away.Photo: Tuomi

Coffee gets you moving on cold, dark winter mornings. It provides strength to last the day, and some people even say it helps them get to sleep, believe it or not. Statistics show that coffee consumption per capita in Finland was 11.92 kilograms (in 2009), approximately 3.8 cups of coffee a day (compare to 4.09 kilograms per person in the USA, or 7.35 kilograms in Sweden). The brew that most Finns drink is light-roasted and slightly bitterer than that coffee on the Continent.

Serving coffee is an important Finnish custom. Most family celebrations, special occasions at the workplace, receptions for sports personalities and visits by friends include a table set with beautiful coffee cups and pastries. But Finns drink coffee anywhere and everywhere – any excuse will do to get their hands on that coffee cup. A fairly recent addition to the urban scene are American-style coffee chains that have quickly attracted a broad clientele.

Other hot drinks, tea, cocoa, hot blackcurrant juice and ‘glögi’, a Nordic version of mulled wine, are also popular with Finns in the winter.



Nothing makes you feel more alive or refreshed than a dip in icy waters after roasting in the sauna!© Finnish Tourist Board

Sauna (or the sauna) is an icon of Finnishness, and no wonder. There are at least two million saunas in this country of approximately 5.4 million people and 2.6 million residential properties. The number is rising as most new apartments have an electric sauna adjacent to the bathroom.

Finns have a sauna to round off an evening, after sports, after sweaty work, in the name of friendship and togetherness, to mark the end of negotiations or just because it’s sauna day, if nothing else. The sauna is a natural part of big days such as Christmas and Midsummer. Contrary to foreign belief, people don’t compete about who can stand the heat of the sauna best, or who can stay in the hot room the longest. They consider a temperature of approximately 80 degrees Celsius to be sensible.

In winter, the sauna is a great place for warming up frozen fingers and toes. It is a place for relaxation, tranquillity and deep thought. The sauna experience includes escape from the tensions of everyday life to another reality, towards calm and contentment. Some say that having a dip in a hole in the ice of a lake or the sea is one of the joys of a waterside sauna in winter. It will certainly improve your circulation, and at the very least, make you feel refreshingly alive!

Warm housing


Triple-glazed windows ensure that temperatures inside remain warm even when temperatures outside plummet.Photo: Marttila

A warm house makes all the difference when it is -20 degrees outside. The development of building technology that saves energy and makes use of renewable natural resources has been emphasised in Finland. Building regulations state that windows in new buildings must be triple-glazed, and the latest technology enables window panes to function as solar panels. Draught-proofing and a layer of insulation material at least ten centimetres thick are incorporated into the external walls of houses.

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Various heating options are available, but district heating is an effective, economical and environmentally friendly way to heat a large number of properties. It saves about 30 percent of energy compared with separate production of heat and electricity. This form of heating is produced in power stations which cogenerate heat and electricity. This heat is transferred to water, which then circulates through a network of pipes to radiators in homes before returning to the power station for reheating and recycling.

Driving in winter


Engine-block heaters help cars start smoothly and quickly even in the worst winter chill.Photo: Sivula

Finns drive in winter almost as much as they do in summer, but special accessories are required when driving in low temperatures and on icy roads.

All Finnish car owners are required by law to equip their cars with winter tyres, which can either be all-weather tyres, or studded tyres. Drivers have to be on the alert as soon as the weather turns wintry. Visibility deteriorates, roads are slippery, braking distances are longer and driving in deep snow gives drivers less control over their vehicle.

An engine-block electric heater makes cars easier to start and reduces fuel consumption, and is a great boon for winter drivers who do not have a garage and leave their cars outside overnight. It is a common sight to see drivers plugging their cars into electric sockets in the parking areas outside their homes when they come home from work. Built-in seat heaters are standard in cars manufactured for the Nordic countries and are a feature that drivers in these latitudes really appreciate.

Snow: How to get rid of it


It’s heavier than it looks, but he’s still smiling!Photo: Tuomi

The northern parts of Finland are, on average, covered with snow as early as the end of October, while the southern parts are covered starting sometime between December and January. The snow usually doesn’t melt until well into March in the south, and in the northernmost parts of Lapland it can still be lying around in June. Finland knows how to cope with snowstorms and low temperatures.

Road maintenance is regulated by law in Finland. Individual landowners and local authorities share responsibility for the upkeep of roads. Local authorities make sure that snowploughs are at the ready when roads need to be cleared and when salt and grit spreaders have to be called out to tackle slippery roads.

Rural Finland is sparsely populated and there are long stretches of road maintained by private individuals who own the adjoining land, or by cooperatives that are responsible for sections of the road. Reflector poles serve as markers that indicate to snowplough drivers and other road users where the edge of the road is even in the heaviest of snowstorms.

Snow: How to enjoy it


Sledding is a matter of attitude, just like winter! You’d best sit back and enjoy the ride!Photo: Tuomi

What a fantastic feeling to wake up one morning in the late autumn and look out of the window to see that the first snow has fallen! Children waste no time rushing outside to make their first snowmen and find the nearest sledging hill, while adults dig out their winter sports equipment.

Cross-country skiing is a national pastime and nearly all municipalities maintain ski tracks that are lit at night. The yearly Finlandia skiing marathon attracts more than 5,000 participants for its 60-kilometre course. Also, schools close for a one-week ski holiday in February or March and many parents take time off then so that families can enjoy outdoor winter pursuits together.

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Other key sports are the various branches of alpine skiing, snowboarding and freestyle skiing. The latter are relatively new sports but they have rapidly become big favourites among the young and daring. Ice skating is another national pastime, like cross-country skiing. Local authorities maintain outdoor skating rinks on school sports fields and other suitably large, flat areas. Indoor ice rinks all over the country serve individual skaters and clubs, but also hockey teams – ice hockey is the biggest spectator sport.

Proper attire


Messing around in the snow is no problem in coveralls!Photo: Heittola

The secret to spending time outdoors in the winter is to make sure you are dressed properly. First of all, you must have a comfortable under-layer that draws perspiration away from the skin. Materials that transfer moisture to the outer layers of clothing but keep the warmth in and the skin dry are available in sports shops and department stores. Put another layer of warm clothing on top of this: fleece, cotton or wool is good material for this. The third or outer layer should be a garment that is windproof and waterproof but breathable, and, depending on the degree of cold, padded or quilted.

Special attention must be paid to protecting the feet, hands and head from the cold. First put on socks which draw moisture away from the skin and do not chafe, then some wool socks and finally comfortable, properly insulated winter footwear with non-slip soles. Nothing will ruin the fun of outdoor activities faster than frozen feet. Gloves should be roomy with a warm lining. Headgear should protect the ears properly, and in very cold weather a silk balaclava is excellent for protecting the face.

Remember the Finnish saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

Joys of winter evenings

Contrary to what foreigners may imagine about dark winter evenings, there is an array of activity options when the work day is over. For avid learners, the extensive library network supports the national reading habit. There are also 250 publicly owned community colleges and adult education centres across the country that offer all kinds of courses at a reasonable price: languages, handicraft, social studies, art, sports – anything that is popular or relevant and interests people. These voluntary educational centres have long traditions and attract approximately 800,000 participants every year.


Winter’s most popular spectator sport is full of action and close calls.Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva

Finns join associations that improve the quality of life in their home district and in the world in numerous ways: through sporting activities, learning about other cultures, dealing with local issues, carrying out international development projects, bringing the interests of children, the elderly and the disabled to the fore and, most importantly, mixing with like-minded people. There are about 123,000 registered associations and statistically every Finn is a member of more than one of them.

Cultural pursuits and sports have a big following. Every self-respecting town has a theatre and a significant number also have their own orchestra, and waiting lists for the most popular performances are often months long. The menu of indoor sports is long and varied, but ice hockey attracts the biggest crowds on winter evenings. So whether it is staying home with a good book, learning Portuguese or supporting their favourite hockey team, Finns have plenty of ways to enjoy the winter season.

By Salla Korpela

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