Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Wilderness Guide School Internship Wrap-up

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The internship is over, I got an excellent customer service evaluation, made great connections with people and got to see a new area. Time to wrap things up.

Yours truly enjoying the show.

Obviously these kind of trips are very different from what I normally do, and will when I will be guiding in the future. It was, however, a superb experience. Seeing that there are highly efficient companies like Upitrek, where things work smoothly like a clock work, is rewarding and a great asset for tourists coming to Finland, because they can be sure to have a wonderful holiday.

I always believe that the customer is King (a remnant of my bachelor degree studies!), and hence tried to be very customer oriented as a guide, paying attention to the different needs and ensuring everyone had a good experience. While the guide work itself was not especially difficult in my opinion, it are long days - on average from 8.00 in the morning till 21.00 at night - in which one needs to be available, and "me time" is very limited. This ain't of a problem if the group you are with and your fellow guides are as great as on the two trips I was on, but might be more of a challenge if you get difficult clients. Other than that the work is good fun and rewarding to see the clients enjoying themselves on their holidays!

On the whole, the two weeks of internship were far more rewarding and enlightening than the time spent in class in Kuru. I will report on my growing frustration of the school separately in an update, but the internship really gave some joy and happiness, while I was able to learn a few things from my fellow guides along the way.

Finally, in case you haven't guessed yet, the focus of my guided trips in the future will be on lightweight and ultralightweight backpacking and packrafting; being off-trail expeditions in which we sleep outside and enjoy the beautiful Arctic scenary during the different seasons. I am currently planning one such trip, so if you are possibly interested, then you should stay tuned or get in touch =)

Interview: Ben Smith From GooseFeet

Warm feet are essential in winter, as I learned a few weeks ago. If I had been smart, I would have had a pair of GooseFeet Down Booties with me. Ben Smith is the man making these wonderfully warm and light booties, and he tells us how he got started with his cottage business, and where he plans to take it in the future.

Ben and his down filling station. All down is weighed out to the nearest 20th of a gram.

Ben, please briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are. Since when are you backpacking, and how did you start? How often are you outdoors on a trip nowadays?

My name is Ben Smith and I am the owner of GooseFeet Down Socks. I am 21 years old, and attend The Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in Industrial Engineering with a Minor in Materials Science and Engineering. I started GooseFeet in January of 2010, and it took off quickly. I was introduced to backpacking when I joined my local Boy Scout troop in 2000. I did all of my backpacking with a traditional load for 8 years or so, until I had the chance to go to the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmaron, New Mexico. I decided that I wasn’t satisfied carrying 50 pounds of weight and reduced my loaded pack to about 35 pounds with 5 days of food. After I got back from Philmont, I did some more research about how I could have done things differently, by going even lighter. I started investing in new gear, and went on trips that were local to test things out. Now that I am running GooseFeet and attending school full time, I don’t get out as much as I would like, but usually go on 3 or 4 weekend trips a year, with 2 or 3 week-long trips during the summer.

Are you an UL or lightweight backpacker? If so, what is your typical baseweight?

As a gear geek, my load is constantly fluctuating, but for 3-season trips, my typical baseweight is between 6 and 8 pounds. In winter, that will go to 10 pounds; in summer, I can go to 5 pounds.

Please tell us where the name "GooseFeet" came from, and what it stands for.

My first product was my down socks, so I decided to come up with a name that would conjure up images of what I sold. I use down that comes from geese, and you use the socks on your feet, so “GooseFeet” was the obvious name for this product. As my product line expands, that name doesn’t still fit, but since my down socks are still my primary product, the name will stay.

Ben working on sewing up a stuffsack.

GooseFeet makes innovative lightweight down booties. Can you tell us how the idea to start the company emerged and how you see its future?

As I was working on lightening my load, I was looking for a pair of down booties or socks to be able to keep my feet warm at night. As I researched my options, the only products that I saw were either heavy, expensive, or both! I had been playing around with fabrics when making some of my other gear, so I decided to make some for myself. I found that what I came up with was much lighter than other options, as well as being fairly inexpensive. I decided to test the waters for a market on the BackpackingLight forums, and found that there were many other people that were looking for the same thing that I was. I invested in some high quality materials, and started producing the socks right away.

As I get closer to graduating from college, I will have a clearer idea about where my career will be taking me. I will continue GooseFeet on the side for as long as possible, but there may come a time when I cannot continue producing my products because of career or family choices.

The GooseFeet booties and overboots are real UL products, aimed at people who want to go really light but wanna have warm feet in winter. Can you tell us a bit how you went about the design process of these two garments, and where the inspiration came from?

The idea and design behind the booties are in the answer to the previous question, but the overboots were not my original idea. Within the first month, I had customers asking for a lightweight waterproof cover to use either around camp or at night. I designed the overboots using the same pattern, again using high quality materials, and my first try worked very well!

Socks in progress.

Ben, we love to be let in on the work-in-progress stuff! Can you let us know what kind of new products you're working on at the moment?

Currently, I am selling pillows from my website. The current model works well for back or stomach sleepers, but since I am a side sleeper, I was not satisfied using this on my trips. I am working on a side sleeper version that will require the use of the customer’s current pillow. This will be a down pillow-topper that weighs about an ounce. For example, I use a small inflatable Flexair pillow, and a large Kookabay pillow. I would make a pillow topper that would fit over these uninsulated & inflatable pillows. Thus, you have the support of an inflatable with the comfort and insulation of down for around 2 ounces (flexair) or 2.5 ounces (large kookabay).

I am also working on a lightweight pullover vest, with or without a built-in hood that would be used for extra head and torso insulation while in your bag or under your quilt.

How works the R&D at GooseFeet, do you have a need yourself that you try to fix, or do some of your clients inspire you for new products and ask you for solutions to their problems?

I use a little of both. For example, the socks and pillow were my original idea, but the overboots were customer driven, as I don’t even use these on my trips! I welcome custom orders for socks, as well as orders for other items, such as pants, mitts, or balaclavas. I love trying new things, so if someone has an idea about a product, but doesn’t have the sewing skills to try it themselves, I would be happy to come up with a solution for you.

Where do your customers come from?

As shown on my wall map, most of my customers are from the US, but I have had customers from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Ben's map of all the locations he has shipped to. There are GooseFeet all over the world (Except Finland :-O )!

Are you in touch with other cottage manufacturers in the USA, Europe, Japan or other places?

I work closely with Titanium Goat to promote my products, and I have discussed materials and product ideas with Evan from Black Rock Gear, and Tim from Enlightened Equipment. I have not hiked with or met any other cottage manufacturers in person.

What is your own favorite backpack, sleep system and shelter? Any other favourite piece of gear which you always carry with you?

My favorite backpack is my ZPacks Blast, which I use for all seasons. My favorite sleep system are quilts of my own design, along with my Kookabay pads. My favorite shelter is constantly changing, but currently I use a Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid for trips with high winds or snow, and my custom ZPacks Hexamid Twin tarp for all other trips. My favorite pieces of gear - other than my GooseFeet products - that go with me on all of my trips are my Black Rock Hat and my Gossamer Gear LT4 trekking poles!

Hiking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana in July 2010.

When and where was your last longer backpacking trip, and what was your baseweight? Are you planning to get out for a trip soon, and enjoy the winter season?

My last longer trip was as a junior leader for the Montana High Aventure Base in Dupuyer, Montana. I had a baseweight of around 8 pounds for a 6 day trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. My next planned trip is 3 days on the North Carolina section of the Appalachian trail in late March. Winter is my favorite time to backpack in the Southeast!

Do you think ultralight backpacking will become more popular and break into the mass market, or will it continue to be something for a small group of people?

I don’t think that UL will become mainstream any time soon, but I believe that lightweight backpacking will become more popular, as I see more mainstream companies trying to lighten some of their products.

Ben, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions =) Is there something you would like to add?

I think the UL and lightweight community are some of the best people to work with, and I hope to be a part of this community for many years to come!

Wilderness Guide Internship With Upitrek: Multiactivity Tour

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And on to my second week of internship at Upitrek, the Winter Fun in Finland Tour. The idea of this trip was to give the clients an introduction to different winter activities, and hence tour is ideal for families with children and people who're not settled on one thing yet and like to try different ways to enjoy the snow and cold.

Our dogs.

It started on Sunday night as I met my fellow guide Tumppi and our seven clients from the Netherlands in a restaurant in Kuusamo. After a good dinner of typical Finnish cuisine we retired to the hotel in the centre, as the next day we would go direction Ruka for some Husky sleigh ride. This was the first time ever I went on a Husky trip, and it was quite enjoyable, even if it was short. I am a dog person, so this was quite exciting and I enjoyed the time with the dogs a lot. I can imagine to do a longer organized trip, of a few nights, with Huskies in the future - it must be quite something to travel with these great creatures through the white fjells and forests of Lapland.

In the sleigh.

After coffee, sausages and pulla (a Finnish pastry) we continued to Hossan Lomakeskus, our basecamp for the week. Following lunch we gave out snowshoes and some instructions, before some of our eager clients went for a walk to get familiar with snowshoes.

Setting off over the lake.

Tuesday morning I set off with the clients towards Hossan Luontokeskus (Hossa Nature Centre), where we would have a look at the Museum and enjoy lunch. It was good fun to go with the clients, after we climbed up the ridge via the skiing and snowmobile track we went along on top of the ridge, until we went in a zick-zack method the good 40 m in elevation down. For people who stood the first time on snowshoes this was a challenge, though everyone made it safe and sound down to the lake. And to top things off, we saw a few female Black Grouse taking off while going down!

Going down.

On the lake.

We were faster than I thought so I did a few pranks (walking in circles, zick zack, getting lost =) before we climbed the small hill to the Nature Centre. Lunch time. The weather was very much on our side - which is always nice - so we set off towards the cabin at which we would spent the night. Now going through the National Park area we followed the summer trail markings, this was easier than going off-track - the sun meant that the snow was melting and becoming a mush which made it more difficult to walk on top of it - unless you're Legolas (See the Everytrail Trip of this day)!

Almost at the cabin.

As we arrived early yet again, and there was plenty of daylight still, one of the clients and me went for a fine walk through the forest and back over the lake. We witnessed two Raven - in many parts of Europe very rare, here more common than crows at this time of the year - fly into the dusk, which was very beautiful - the photo doesn't do it justice.


The warm glow of light from the sauna and cabin.

Wednesday we snowshoed back to the Hotel in Hossa, with a lunch stop at a cabin. Groups separated, and while the Gentlemen and me made in a straight line through the forest the Ladies and Tumppi followed the skiing track to the cabin. The wind was blowing pretty hard over the ice, but it makes for a beautiful sight seeing the loose snow speed over the ice crust, swirling up in a little vortex. At the cabin I showed the clients how to start a fire just with birch bark, a fire steel and a puukko which resulted in some "Ahs!" and "Ohs!" and soon sausages were being grilled and the water for the coffee started boiling.

We continued on a easy route towards the hotel, though again we were so fast (Dutch people are the tallest people in Europe and hence have super-long legs =) that we made a little extra round over the lake, taking photos, making snow angles, and enjoying the winter sun (See the Everytrail Trip of this day).


Thursday was fairly relaxed, with a visit to the Hossa Reindeer Farm. Lovely creatures, and so tasty. After spending some time in the enclosure with them, feeding and petting them, the clients went for a short sleigh ride á la Santa before getting into the beautifully renovated house to warm themselves next to the fire and enjoy a good reindeer soup. A video about reindeer farming and history later we continued back to the hotel.

I found this little fellow a lot cuter than the reindeers =)

I was a bit bored at the hotel, so I went for an extra skiing round.

Friday was our skiing day. I am now totally hooked on skiing and looked very much forward to this day, so right after breakfast we started with some basic instructions - how to fall right, get up again, how to get forward, get up and down a hill, and break. A few rounds on the beginner circle before we moved to the advanced circle and hill, where I went with some of the clients for a small tour already - they stood the first time on langlauf (Cross Country) skis and did really well, very excellent!

It had snowed a lot that night and morning.

After lunch I went with a small group for an afternoon trip to the Hossa Nature Centre (Everytrail Trip), which was very nice again. To see beginners so eager to go for a trip is very rewarding, and while there were some falls everyone arrived in one piece back at the hotel in the afternoon while feeling that they accomplished something great - I was pretty proud of them!

Off track with langlauf skis. Where there's a guide, there's a way.

Saturday was our last day, and clients could choose an activity they'd like to try more or go for something new. So the morning was spent with ice fishing, while some went snowshoeing as well. I spent time packing and reading, as also I would travel back home on the following day.

High endurance sport.

Sitting around the dinner table the question for northern lights came up. While we saw some very weak ones on Monday night, our clients felt that they'd like to see "proper" northern lights on their last evening. While there is no switch to put Aurora Borealis on, a sacrifice to the pagan gods can help make them appear =) I put on my jacket to see if there's a show on, and much to the joy of our guests, there was. It was spectacular, with even red and yellow northern lights to be seen besides the green ones. Fantastic!

Aurora Borealis.

And so the week ended with a great show. Sunday morning a last breakfast together, collecting the gear the clients loaned, packing and jumping on the taxi bus to Kuusamo. I myself jumped on the bus and started my 10+ hour trip back south, planning routes for upcoming trips, reading, tweeting and looking forward to sleep to my loved one in our own bed.

A guest enjoying the show.

And so my internship ended. While it were long days it also was fairly easy and relaxing, as I was doing something I enjoy myself a lot. Having smart, funny and interested clients helps a lot as well to make this "work" seem less like work but more like having a good time with mates. I will wrap up this experience in a separate post and tell more about what happened at school in the meanwhile, so stay tuned =)