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Thursday, 8 November 2018

Father and Son Bushcraft Trip to Sweden; Gear

This months review is going to feature some of the kit we used on our father and son trip to Sweden, both well tried and tested, there's no point heading so far afield with unproven gear. 

Klättermusen Arvaker 60 litre modelled by yours truly. 

The first review is my rucksack, the Klättermusen Arvaker. They don't make it anymore but I've had this for about eighteen months and it's seen extensive use in Scotland and Sweden in that time. It's by far the most comfortable rucksack I have ever used and although at 60 litres it doesn't have a huge capacity, they do also produce a 100 litre rucksack, the model that was contemporary with the Arvaker was the Mjölnir which has now been replaced by their Tor model. 

Even when it's loaded heavily it is extremely comfortable, you can hardly feel the weight in it at all and I really wouldn't want to switch back to a rucksack without the proprietary load bearing system.  

The rucksack has an aluminium frame which spreads the load and the hip belt is a perfect fit and is adjustable from four points so it can be tighter at the bottom or top depending on how your prefer it. The hip belt also includes the loop fields which can be found all over the rucksack. These can be used to attach a range of pockets and accessories. They are not designed for use with MOLLE but they do just about fit and a Maxpedition map and compass pouch fits perfectly on one side of the hip belt for convenient access, this means I don't have to carry my map and compass around my neck, and I hate carrying things around my neck. 

The external stretch pocket fitted to the arvaker using the loop fields

A closeup of the butterfly bridge feature on the right pack strap, you can also see them in the picture above.

The shoulder straps feature Klättermusens unique 'butterfly bridge' technology which is best explained in the manufacturers own words;

"Key for carrying easier and increasing your endurance is transferring the load to the skeleton in an efficient manner, which our Butterfly Bridge does efficiently. 

The benefit of load transfer is twofold. By carrying directly on your skeleton, you can simply lift more with better endurance. On the other end, the strain placed by regular systems on the muscles and ligaments is relieved letting blood pass freely through your muscles keeping you both free from pain and more alert."

All I can say is that this feature seems to work beautifully; I often find that the muscles of my left shoulder get uncomfortable when carrying a heavy rucksack but not with this pack. It is a little on the heavy side due to the frame but any actual weight the construction of the pack adds is more than made up for by the way it spreads that weight so well. 

Although it is a roll top pack like many dry bags, it;s not guaranteed to be waterproof so anything you need to keep dry should be packed up in waterproof bags inside the bag. Although it resembles a dry bag it is constructed far more strongly and the Kevlar reinforced bottom  will put up with being put down in brambles, bushes and on sharp rocks without you having to worry about damaging your pack. 

The only bad thing about the Klättermusen pack is the price. The Arvaker used to retail around £250 as far as I remember and it's equivalent product that is available now is about £300 but the quality is undeniable, if you spend a lot of time on expeditions you will struggle to find anything more comfortable and it is comparable in price with other very high end packs like the Fjällraven or some tactical packs by Karriomor SF, TAD Gear and Mystery Ranch.  


My Arvaker at a trig point in Scotland

Another piece of kit we took with us, and which despite the craze amongst 'survivalists' for one tool knives I would recommend everyone include amongst their bushcrafting gear, was an axe. The fact that on a bushcraft trip to Sweden I didn't take a Swedish axe may seem a little blasphemous to some but for the last two years I have been using an axe by a Basque company called Jauregi. They make axes by hand to a traditional pattern and rather than having the axe handle inserted into  the bottom of the head and secured with a wedge these axe heads are fitted to their handles in a similar way to tomahawks. The model I have is one of their pruning axes and it has a 50cm handle and a head weighing 0.8kg's. 

When I picked one up a few years ago i wasn't necessarily looking for an alternative to my other axes out of any sort of dissatisfaction, I have a Wetterlings Swedish Forest Axe which I have had for over ten years now and which is as close to being the perfect axe as I've ever found, but it is a bit on the big side for every day bushcrafting, and for taking in hold luggage. I also have a Gransfors carving axe which is a specialist tool and not one to take on a bushcrafting trip. The Jauregi pruning axe is a little larger and longer than a hatchet  making it more powerful for cutting and chopping but it's lightweight handle means it weighs no more than a hatchet. 

Clockwise from top; Gransfors Bruks carving axe, Wetterlings Swedish Forest axe, Jauregi pruning axe
The beech handle is the only disappointment I have with this axe, it's a little on the skinny side, it has to be for the handle to fit, but that does make it a little uncomfortable so I wrapped a small portion with tape to provide a slightly chunkier grip, it can easily be unwrapped if I want to get the head off.  Additionally beech is not going to be as strong as the hickory used in most modern axes. I understand that they are using traditional materials but there is a reason that Wetterlings and Gransfors use hickory and it's not that it's native to Sweden. Hickory is an American import and before we had access to it tool handles in Europe would have been mostly made of ash and while ash is an excellent material for tool handles it's not quite as resistant to impact as hickory and I'd prefer something other than beech but it's not the end of the world.

The handle was fairly rough when it arrived and while some might complain about that just pause and think for a moment that the Gransfors carving axe, which will cost you at least £50 more than the Jauregi is deliberately made with a rough handle, according to the design criteria of celebrated wood carver Willi Sundqvist, to aid gripping it. If a rough handle is a problem for you use it more and get some callouses. 

Clearing a trail from windblown trees in Scotland last year

Looking out over Ullsjön and having a hot meal thanks to the firewood cut with our axe. 

The carbon steel head does seem to be a little more prone to rust that some of my other axes but it sharpens easily and came with a very robust leather guard that secures with a buckle.
The Jauregi 50cm pruning axe and a home made froe
I've only found one place to get these axes from; the Finland based online knife, tool and outdoor supplier Lamnia. While I can't recommend it above Wetterlings or Gransfors axes it is a unique design and very effective and lightweight. 

Whatever approach you take to choosing your gear make sure before heading off far from home to practice your bushcraft that you take tried and tested gear, don't head off on an expedition with a brand new rucksack or brand new boots use what you know and are comfortable with.

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