Deserving the peak – how to participate in Friluftsliv

In the previous article, we looked at what friluftsliv is and why we need it – and I believe we need it more so than ever. If you have not read it yet, please read it first. By starting with values, principles and the why, we are much better suited for the how. So let’s delve a little deeper into how to participate in friluftsliv.

8 minutes to read

by Emil Ronning / July 17th, 2020

Participating in Friluftliv – which activities?

Now, you might have read the previous article and wondered why I didn’t go into detail about which activities comprise friluftsliv. That is entirely by design because I believe that it is not as important what you do, but how you do it. I see friluftsliv more as a way of life than a strict selection of activities, and that is maybe why many people in the Nordic countries find the English term outdoor recreation to be lacking, when trying to describe the Nordic term friluftsliv.

Through an analysis of literature on Norwegian friluftsliv spanning over a hundred years, Heidi Richardson found three core values that applied to almost everything when participating in friluftsliv. I will explain them in detail further down but here they are in short:

  • Use of simple equipment.
  • Simple or no accommodation or facilities.
  • Skill and experience among the participants.


Use of simple equipment

The practice of friluftsliv is said to have developed from simple hunter/gatherer and farming lifestyles, where the main activities all have something to do with bringing food to the table. You were either hunting, fishing, gathering, crafting tools or transporting the food from the wilderness to the village or homestead. But not everything was work and hard labour and the same means of providing for the village were also used for recreation.

Nordic walkers at sunrise in a snowy scene

Hiking was necessary, but also enjoyable. Cross country skiing was a way to get from A to B in the winter, but also a pastime where the community socialised, built jumps and chased each other around. Canoeing and kayaking made it possible to access more of the land, but was also an enjoyable activity in the warmer months. And in some places, glacier crossing was an annual event where farmers brought their cattle to the market in the village on the opposite side of the glacier. Today we walk on glaciers for fun!

By keeping equipment and technical aids to a minimum, you reduce the complexity of the activity. This helps you to focus your attention on your sensations, surroundings and the flow of what you are doing.

Simple or no accommodation or facilities

When immersing yourself in nature, simple (or no) accommodation and facilities are used. Tents, cabins, sleeping under the stars or in a self-dug snow cave has been and is
still the way to go. You could be hiking for multiple days, carrying everything you need on your back. Or staying in a cabin for a week, hiking or climbing a peak during the day and
returning at night. Whatever form the activity takes, the simple and non-luxurious cannot be beaten.

In Norway and other parts of the Nordic region, cabins are scattered around the landscape, providing shelter for those in need.  Whether you are working and taking cattle up to the high alpine meadows, or getting away from the bustling and hectic life of the city, cabins are a great accommodation option. Cabins like this can also be found in some areas of the UK, particularly in places that are renowned for outdoor adventure and exploration. Scotland is especially good for this, owing to its access to lochs, islands, mountains and glens. The perfect UK destination if you’re planning on adopting the friluftsliv philosophy!

These cabins or mountain huts are simple, isolated and usually do not have running water or electricity. You have to chop wood, find water in a nearby stream or melt snow during the winter. A lot of time is spent on the basic needs of staying alive, but research shows time and time again, that manual labour is good for us and makes us happy. The idea of simple or no accommodation and facilities is to get into nature and away from society.

Higher standards of living do not equal a higher quality of life

Friluftsliv is not to congregate in luxurious resort villages with all-you-can-eat buffets and night clubs – which unfortunately is what is happening in many places. As wealth has increased, cabins have got bigger and have increased in numbers. More cabins are being built and many of them are much more expensive and lavish than regular homes. As the amount increases, they slowly eat their way into the wilderness, leaving less and less space for nature.

Isolating ourselves from feeling the environment only serves as a numbing agent. Comfort comes at a cost. By going back to basics, you will find satisfaction in the smaller things, appreciate a warm bath and realise how much work it takes to brew a cup of coffee or tea. Because in order to do that, you had to go outside and chop wood, melt some snow and bring the melted water to a boil. 

Skill and experience among the participants

I won’t go into too much detail, as I covered this in the previous article, but by focusing on learning, the process, sensations and mastering a skill, you are able to experience things
fully. This, in turn, will allow you to plan longer adventures and take on more difficult challenges in the future. By planning according to your group’s skills, everyone will be much happier and will most likely want to come back for more.

Last winter I took my scout group on a four-day cross country skiing and winter camping trip. None of them had any prior experience. Our goal for the trip was to come out alive and have a good time, nothing else, and we managed to do both! Had we set an objective of
skiing a long and set-in-stone route, we would have failed. We managed to ski 10km over four days, which is short compared with some of my other trips (10-20km per day), but it didn’t matter. This is because our goal was not something that had to be ticked off on a list or a map, but to learn and enjoy the experience.

Some examples

As noted above, I am a bit reluctant to mention any specific activities, but I understand that it might seem daunting and confusing without anything concrete, so here are a few activities you could try:

  • Cook dinner over a bonfire that you made
  • Spend a night under the stars or in a tent, far away from civilisation
  • Hike in a wild natural environment. A day trip is great but going for more days is better!
  • Go cross country- or backcountry skiing
  • Go snowshoeing
  • Go canoeing or kayaking
  • Rock climb and/or climb a local mountain, fell or hill
  • Watch birds and learn about them
  • Gather edible plants, mushrooms or berries and prepare them (but make sure you’re not collecting anything poisonous. If in doubt, don’t eat it!)
  • Switch off your mobile devices
  • Stray away from the beaten path and go where your interest tells you to go

For more ideas, The Wildlife Trusts website has a lot of good suggestions for everyday activities. Or you could have a look at our 30 Days Wild ideas for some more inspiration.

Also, next time you are outdoors, try to think of a friend, partner, spouse or family member. Do you think of them as being of lesser value than you? Are they only on this earth to serve you? Now think about your relationship to Nature. Do you see nature as being of lesser value than you? Are all the world’s plants and animals only here to serve you? If you try to love nature instead of conquering it or using purely as a playground, I almost guarantee that you will feel more connected to nature and more satisfied with life in general. The same as will happen if you extend that mutual respect and equality to fellow humans.

A brief note about modern and extreme outdoor activities

The media loves showing us all the extreme things people are doing today; BASE jumping, extreme skiing in steep and dangerous terrain, free solo climbing and other death-defying athletic feats in nature. In many ways, we have made nature our Colosseum for showing off, getting likes on social media and promoting sponsors that are trying to sell us an ideal lifestyle fuelled by expensive watches and unhealthy energy drinks.

Outdoor sports and risk-prone activities are not inherently bad; people get much joy and satisfaction from these activities. But when nature gets demoted to a ‘playground for humans’ and we modify the landscape to suit our wants, and allow more and more technical aids and methods of transport (i.e. heli-skiing and snowmobiles), we are no longer living with nature; we are exploiting nature.

It is possible to partake in more modern activities without losing the essence of friluftsliv completely, but the perspective and values should align with the original philosophy. I love skiing and have spent a lot of time in ski resorts, but by hiking up mountains without ski lifts, I usually find much more joy than by taking the lift. Deserving the peak is one of the
keys to friluftsliv. A warm meal after a long and wet day of hiking will always beat the gourmet restaurant on a casual weekend in the city. 


About the author

Friluftsliv - young man in a NOrdic-style sweater on a boat

Image credit: Guro Midtmageli

Emil is Danish and lives on the west coast of Norway, where he has just finished his bachelor’s degree in Friluftsliv & Nature Guiding. In his spare time and when he feels like it (which is sometimes not that much) he skis, hikes, cycles and does other random things
outside. Emil is also a music nerd (see his website Tuesday Tapes for a weekly mixtape that disappears after 7 days!), very interested in culture and constantly debating whether he should live in a city or somewhere in nature.

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