48 hours in the wilderness with no shell layer and maximum 4 items
No jacket, no backpack, no sleeping bag. Unless you wanted to bring them as part of your 4 items you would have to do without them. Personally I didn’t need any of them. To me having a pot, a hatchet and a fire steel was sufficient. I also brought my knife although I didn’t really need it. I just enjoy having it with me.
Leaving for Sweden
Thursday evening on August 25th I was picked up by one of my friends in his dads car right after work. We were 7 people, driving in two cars from Copenhagen heading for the Swedish wilderness in the Northern part of Jönköping near Vättern.
The destination, a small hut in Aneby, was about 400km north of Copenhagen. A little more than a 4 hour drive. My longtime friend Petrus from Stockholm who had helped me arrange the trip was meeting us there. His family owns the hut which was to serve as our pre-challenge base.
We were full of anticipation as we crossed the Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. The sun was shining and the weather forecast looked extremely good for this time of year. We were talking about everything from music and work to challenge related stuff like the terrain and our strategies. As the organizer of the challenge I was also a little bit keen on getting to our base in time to plan for the next morning.
But after about an hour of driving our car started acting weird. We pulled in at a nearby gas station just in time before it came to a full stop. This was definitely not what we had hoped for. There was a roadside service insurance signed for the car but even so we had to wait for more than an hour to get help. We ended up being towed back to Helsingborg which is about half way back from where we came. Everything was closed there including all the car rental companies. It took my friend Thomas many discussions with the insurance company as well as a lot of work and stress before we finally managed to get a rental car. I don’t know how he managed to stay calm but apparently he is a highly trained diplomat. By the time we reached the hut it was 1 o’clock at night and the other guys had gone to bed. They didn’t quite sleep yet so we all had a quick chit chat before hitting the sack. We agreed to postpone next days challenge start two hours because of our late arrival. Unfortunately I never got to meet my friend Petrus who was supposed to meet us there.
Breakfast and preparation
We woke up to a warm and sunny morning. We all helped each other prepare breakfast before challenge start. We had oatmeal with milk, scrambled eggs, sausages and bread with cheese. A last proper meal before take off. Everyone was excited. We exchanged thoughts about the 4 items we had decided to bring as we prepared both mentally and practically for the challenge. It was the right decision to postpone challenge start two hours. It meant we had a calm morning with enough time to clean the hut and get ready without any stress.
Besides your regular clothes, in this case underwear, socks, pants, a shirt, footwear, a belt and 2 liters of water in a plastic container, you could bring 4 items of your own choice. With these items you had to spend 48 hours in the wilderness. These were the rules of the Undepend 48 Hour Challenge. To some it may sound like too little, to more experienced bushcrafters and survivalists it may sound like plenty. Either way the rules gave all participants the flexibility to adapt their gear to their level of experience. And the more experienced still had the possibility to challenge themselves and go more primitive.
Adam, the more experienced participant of them all decided to bring only two items. Well he insisted on keeping his hat on so he ended up bringing three items actually. Apart from his hat he brought a small hatchet and a fire steel.
One participant with long hair was very challenged by the fact that I deemed his hairband as an extra item. It was almost equal to a Buff which would have given him extra protection against the elements. So he had to replace it with a simple hair elastic band.
After gear check we packed up and took off. We drove our cars down some small roads left and right before finally turning up a small dirt road leading us into the wilderness area where we were to spend the next couple of days. We parked our cars between the brush next to the road, grabbed our things and got out. It was time for challenge start.
I briefly outlined some safety principles as well as a few instructions on what to do if lost. Basic stuff like S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan), a little bit about distress signaling, principles about eating wild plants, the Rule of 3 and the like. I also repeated the challenge rules as well as a few rules of conduct. And THEN we took off into the wild.
It was an extreme feeling of freedom and anticipation as we walked deeper and deeper into the forest. The terrain was rocky with a mix of birch and spruce trees growing dense.
We occasionally stopped to collect tinder from thistles, tinder fungi and birch bark. Since it was a hot sunny day it was a perfect opportunity to get some dry tinder for later. It could become a valuable resource in case it started raining later.
As we walked on we saw tracks from both moose and wild boar meaning we were not going to camp in those particular places. You don’t want to camp on an animal path. Both for the sake of your own safety as well as the risk of disturbing local wildlife.
Setting up camp
As much as we had hoped for it, we never crossed any streams or creeks on our way. The weather had been warm and dry for a while so they had probably dried out we figured. It would have been a perfect situation to find running water before setting up camp. But it was getting late considering that we needed time to establish our camps before sunset. So we decided for a suitable spot and started building our shelters.
The first ones to start building had found a nice, well drained spot on flat ground between some spruce trees next to a glade. I was a little jealous of their spot but I didn’t want to camp right next to them. Instead I found a spot halfway up on a small rocky hill. When finding a place to camp in the mountains the general rule is that you want look for flat ground in between the top of a mountain and the valley. Although we weren’t on a mountain, the principle turned out to be quite favorable even on a small scale.
Some of the other participants had built their shelter on top of the rock which gave them a great view. It also meant however that they were exposed to the wind. Luckily for them the weather was fair so it wasn’t a real problem. Another participant had build a cave like shelter all the way at the bottom of the terrain. He didn’t have to worry about the wind. But when he woke up the next day surrounded by morning mist he was freezing.
I was a bit challenged by the fact that I couldn’t find any flat ground to build my shelter on. So I came up with an idea to kill two birds with one stone. I created a raised bed that would keep me off the damp ground at the same time as leveling the ground for me. I used two spruce trees as the foundation for my construction. I put a couple of long logs uphill of the trees so that they would naturally be pressed downhill towards them. I then cut up a lot of smaller logs to use for slats. It was a lot of work but the comfort it gave me was worth every drop of sweat.
I then proceeded to create the roof. In order to fasten the crossbar I went out to dig up some spruce roots. They work excellently as rope for shelter making. They are very flexible and you can easily dig them out from right under the surface of the ground.
To prepare my camp for the night I collected some firewood as well as some big rocks that I found near what appeared to be a dry creek. I used the stones as a reflector for my fire to keep me warm through the night. I was quite tired when I pulled out the thistle seeds that I had collected earlier on and prepared to light my fire.
In need of water
We had brought 2 liters of water each. (Normal Recommended Daily Intake is 2-4 liters for a male adult at normal activity) But the hot sunny day as well as our increased activity meant that almost everyone was already low on water before the first day was over. A few people complained about a beginning headache and so far we had only spent about 8 of the total 48 hours.
We knew there was supposed to be a lake somewhere, but it was a big area and there was no guarantee that it was near by. I talked to a few of the other guys about making a last attempt at locating water. It was about to get dark now, so heading out would be risky. Darkness comes quickly in the forest. And finding your way back in an unknown wilderness in the dark can be both difficult and dangerous.
We still decided to give it a try. Wary of the danger we decided to go to the edge of our camp where we were certain we could find our way back – even in darkness. There we left one person. The rest of us moved on as far as we could without loosing visual and auditory contact with him. Then we left the next person there and so on until we reached a nearby peak. We had seen it earlier on and we were hoping to be able to see something from the top of it. It was really disappointing when we realized that there was no view at all from up there. There were trees all over and we couldn’t see anything. It was getting dark quickly now so we went back down and returned to our camp.
I felt so privileged as I lay down in my shelter with my fireplace in front of me. As I looked up to the sky right before falling asleep, the last thing I saw was a beautiful red sky.
A red sky at night is a sign of fair weather the next day. I have come to learn that the old saying “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning” is correct most of the time. At least here in the Nordic region. And there is actually a scientific explanation to it as well.
The next morning I woke up with the sun at about 5 o’clock. I fed my fire a few small logs and had myself some breakfast: Juicy sweet blueberries mixed with a few sour lingonberries that I had picked the day before and saved for this moment.
It’s a funny thing about living outside actually, you quickly begin to follow the rhythm of the day. At least when you’re not tugged away inside a sleeping bag. Only one of the other guys was awake. Adam who is also a very experienced outdoorsman. It was a great inspiration to have him as a participant in this year’s Undepend 48 Hour Challenge.
Continued search for water
Knowing that water would soon become an issue for everyone, I suggested to Adam that we should head out to look for a resource before the others woke up. We knew there was supposed to be a lake somewhere but we had no idea about the direction or how far away it was. We also didn’t know if the water would be clean enough to drink if we found it.
As we left camp we had an idea that we would need to go east in order find it. The problem was that it was a very hard and potentially dangerous direction to follow. We would need to climb down a steep cliff and walk through really dense forest. I suggested to Adam that we headed north instead hoping that we would cross a creek leading to the lake.
As we walked on we occasionally turned around to take note of landmarks and change in vegetation, in order to remember what the landscape looked like from the other side. This is a really good idea if you are walking in a place that you need to find your way back from. Even on a trail there may be a fork in the road that you can’t see on your way out. Mind you that we weren’t allowed to bring any compass, GPS or the like.
We continued like this for about 20 minutes when Adam suddenly cried out: “The lake! I see it! It’s right there”. Contrary to what we had thought we had been walking straight in the direction of the lake. And furthermore it was only about 20 minutes away from our camp. When we reached the shore the water looked as clear as it gets. There didn’t seem to be any algae in it. This was almost too good to be true.
We filled our bottles and headed back to camp. This was indeed a motivation boost. Some of the other participants were down to less than a mouthful of water. So it really made a difference. Most of you are probably familiar with The Rule Of 3. It’s a rule of thumb helping you prioritize in a survival situation. It says that you could die in as little as 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. This doesn’t mean that you can go without water for three days however. You quickly begin to feel the effects of dehydration if you don’t drink regularly. Fatigue, mudded thinking, headache are all symptoms of beginning dehydration. The problem with this is that you may end up making wrong decisions or mistakes. This can be critical in a survival situation.
We no longer had that kind of problems though. Our trip had suddenly turned into a luxury trip. This is where my pot really came in handy. For purifying water. Most of the other participants didn’t bring a pot so they had to take the chance of drinking the water as it was. Some of them had expected to be able get by on 2 liters of water for the whole challenge. I believe they learned something here. Luckily no one experienced any problems after drinking the water.
Pure vacation and some foraging
The sun was shining and people either just hung out or they were out foraging for food. We had no permission for hunting or trapping but there was plenty of opportunities for foraging. I collected tons of berries, mushrooms as well as some birch bark and some ants. I was never really starving at any point. I just had fun testing different kinds of wild food.
As we reached evening there was a slight change in the weather. It was getting a bit colder. I started collecting firewood for the night. I had a feeling it was not going to be as comfortable as the first night. I had been running around barefoot with just my pants and a t-shirt on. As I lay by the fire like this I quickly realized however that I needed to put on my socks. A few minutes later I also put on my shoes and my wool shirt. It was definitely getting colder.
A change of weather
The next morning I woke up at about 5.30. It had been a cold night and I had been awakened by the cold numerous times. Each time I had fed my fire, gone back to sleep just to wake up about an hour later and start over again. The first thing I saw this morning was a beautiful red sky glowing through the silhouettes of the surrounding spruce trees. Sailor’s warning.
Almost 43 hours had passed with great weather, what more can you ask for? I knew this morning would be spent taking down our shelters and erasing all tracks before heading back to civilization. So there was no need to feed my fire. It takes a really long time for embers to burn out and we certainly did not want to risk setting the forest on fire.
About 3 hours later we were all about ready to leave. It had started raining now which was actually perfect. Because although we had made an effort to put out our fires you can never be too certain. I have to admit that I also enjoyed the fact that the participants didn’t completely avoid a bit of rain. With only a hike through the forest and two hours left of the challenge this was still a luxury trip.
It was obvious that some of the less experienced participants were feeling the wear of the trip as we began finding our way back out of the wilderness. They felt that they had already made it and all they wanted now was for the challenge to end. Personally I enjoy being outside in the rain and I wasn’t looking particularly forward to going back to civilization either. The trip back was a great one and we even managed to find some big and beautiful penny buns on the way. A couple of hours later we were back in familiar territory. And just as the 48th. hour ran out we finally reached our cars. Everyone had made it with bravour.