Kit review (no not the car, the gear)

I realised that when we came back from Finland I had completed most of the trip write ups. Then we took off to Paris and I never finished the remaining few days. I had also put together a review on some of the clothing kit we took with us. Thought I would finish this off and post it. I will then have to get on to finalizing the other days and posting them as soon as possible.

We purchased a few items before our trip to Finland but most of the gear we took we use daily in the UK. Yes, how sad are we that we still haven’t managed to acclimatise to the UK weather.

I was quite concerned that I would be cold in Finland but I also didn’t want to take massive amounts of luggage with me. This was my kit list: 2 pairs of fleece lined trousers (shower proof), waterproof pants, 2 pairs of thermal leggings, 4 thermal tops, 4 pairs of mountaineering socks, 3 t-shirts, 3 microfleece jumpers, Berghaus jacket with Gortex outer, Rab Neutrino down jacket, 1 pair of Scarpa hiking boots, 3 pairs of gloves (inner for dexterity, warm layer and waterproof layer), polarfleece buff, hat and of course a cozzie and personals.

The real winners on the trip would have to be the polarfleece buff, Icebreaker thermals, Rab Neutrino down jacket and the Berghaus Goretex jacket. I started out using the Rab jacket for everything including skiing. Then I found I got too hot, sweated too much and this left me with a damp down jacket which was not nice when we would stop for breaks. This was no fault of the jacket but just that I was overdressed for the conditions. So, I switched to doing the heavy exercise in the Berghaus jacket and inner which kept me warm but not overheated and sweat excessively. Then when we had finished skiing I would swap jackets for the warmth of the Rab down jacket.
The buff was excellent and really needed. I pondered for ages whether to bother taking one as all my jackets have high collars and warm buffers around them. In all honesty I am so glad that Steve convinced me to take a buff. It was a permanent fixture on my neck for the entire week. Very useful during skiing to cover your face and ears from the cold. Ice would start to form in my nostrils so I would use the buff to cover my mouth and nose created a warm environment and no ice.

Thermal leggings and tops were purchased from Icebreaker. I baulked at the prices while purchasing them but they proved their worth in Finland. I alternated between a pair of Icebreaker leggings and some cheaper KMD ones that I bought years ago. The KMD’s worked but I preferred the Icebreaker pair for softness, slightly warmer, longer leg length and the ability to wear them for longer periods of time without getting smelly. Sounds gross I know but when you are out bush you don’t have a choice.

Almost forgot the head torch. Steve purchased 2 head torches before we left. These were fantastic pieces of kit especially for the night skiing. Sun up was normally around 8.00am but it wasn’t daylight until at least 9.30am. It started to get dark again around 2.00pm and night by 3.30pm. In short we didn’t get a whole lot of daylight hours. Although quite well lit around the town and the snow manages to provide a lot of illumination in the dark the head torches were great when lighting a fire in the huts or checking maps/signposts on the ski routes. The torches would generally indicate the batteries were going flat (due to the cold) but once back indoors they would come right again. I always carried a spare set of batteries in my inside pocket to keep them warm. Even with the low battery light flashing the torches kept going and never once gave out during the whole 7 days.

We only got temperatures down to -14 degrees Celsius so this is as far as the kit has been tested. The only area I was chilled were my legs. It was bearable but had it gotten colder I think I would have been in a bit of trouble. I generally wore a pair of leggings, a pair of fleece lined trousers and my waterproof covers. A pair of ski pants would probably have been a bit more useful had it been colder. One night Kerryn and I went out for a walk into town to mail some post and headed out onto the lake Aurora Borealis hunting. It was already -12 at the time and dropping so I added another layer to my legs – a pair of my flannel pj bottoms complete with Winnie the Pooh on them (under my waterproofs of course) this seemed to do the trick. I wouldn’t recommend this as a permanent option but in a worst case scenario it worked a treat for me. 😉

Finnish touring

On Wednesday we decided to rent a car to look further afield. For only 80 euro for the day it was well worth it to have a look throughout the local area. Steve did a great job of driving while M provided snow driving advice.
Winter tyres are studded and the roads are well looked after. Although still covered in snow they have been groomed. They don’t appear to use salt or grit as I believe these don’t work once under a certain temperature anyway.
Steve invited the guy who dropped off the car to stay for a coffee and we all had a good yarn. He was able to provide us with some tips on places to go. So our first stop was the Snow Village.
The only thing about driving in Finland is that if you go past your turn off you have a drive a fairly long way to turn around. You can’t just chuck a u-turn in the middle of the road due to the snow banks. So after travelling quite a bit further past our turning we eventually managed to find a spot to spin around and make our way back to the Snow Village.

The Snow Village gets built every year when they take water from a local river to use for the ice and hire artisans to sculpt the blocks. It is basically two tunnels that run around in a circle. Off the tunnels are individual pods that are the hotel rooms. The tunnels are lit with coloured lights and each hotel room is uniquely themed. For example one had ice carved armchairs in front of an ice carved fireplace complete with dangling chandelier. The ice bar was pretty cool as was a complete ice chapel room. Note to self – wet reindeer skin smells like wet dog!

Next stop was the Husky dog farm (if only we could find it). After parking the car deep in a snow pile we hiked it down a road for about a kilometre before we figured that we were either lost or it was miles away. So we hoofed it back to the car. I think Steve thoroughly enjoyed getting the car out of the snow drift! About 4 kilometres down the road we came across the husky farm. We knew we had hit the right place when a tour bus was seen in the car park. You could hear the dogs barking from the road so we all eagerly walked towards the noise. Man, huskies are so beautiful but again, wet dog is a smell I am not too fond of. A number of tourists were already milling around and another bunch had left for their dog sled rides. We had a pat of the dogs and then the sleds started to return. The barking was incredible. The other dogs not involved in pulling the sleds were going nuts as they could hear the sleds coming well before we did and you could tell they just wanted to get out there and run!

By the time we left the husky farm it was dark so we were furiously looking for any sign of the Northern Lights. Later that night we picked a road that led into the national park where we knew it would be far darker. Steve noticed a hut just off the main road so we stopped to have a look. It turned out to be a walkers hut complete with fireplace and a shed load of wood, matches etc so we decided to camp out there for the night (or as long as possible as not everyone was too keen on staying all night). With a roaring fire, plenty of hot chocolate, snow for melting, chocolate for munching on and good company we holed up there until about 2.30am. The stars were spectacular but not a hint of the Aurora Borealis at all. During all the time there, not one car went past our little hideaway. What a magic night.

Velhon Kota

Day two of cross country skiing we headed to the Velhon Kota. Basically a kota is a hut. This one was a cafe in the forest which sounded like a great destination for a hot chocolate at the turn around point of a days skiing. At 7.5 kilometers it was a good distance given the skiing we had done the day before.

We just made it to the hut with 5 minutes to spare before closing time. The gentleman who owned the hut was keen for us to know we could stay and drink our hot chocolate while he was packing up.

The Finns although they appear quite standoffish are, we found, very friendly and keen to chat. They just prefer to get on with the job, in, out and then its time for a coffee and chat. Love it. So, we chatted to him for half an hour before we headed home as it was getting dark.

We weren’t too worried as we had our headlamps, extra warm clothing etc. One thing in this area, you may think you are isolated and then all of a sudden a snowmobile comes whizzing past through the trees, or you see car lights on a nearby road, or better yet, house lights twinkling from in-between the trees.

The kota is 20 years old and has no electricity. Inside everything was either lit by candles, kerosene lamps and the fireplace to keep it all toasty warm. The owner commutes to work each day on his snowmobile!