Vikings were part time farmer-hunter-warriors, and being outdoors was an essential part of their life. For modern man, being outdoors is something we choose to do.
Viking Man articles cover the benefits of outdoor activities, equipment, forestry skills, culture, diet and fitness, in the modern world and Viking Age Scandinavia.
Fire was an incredibly important part of Viking life. It gave life-giving heat, was a means of cooking food, a tool for illumination, a deterrent against insects and predators, a provider of safety when used as a beacon, and an instrumental part of sacred Norse rituals such as a Viking funeral.
Whenever they went hunting or traveling, Viking warriors needed to eat and keep warm, so they had to have the ability to make a campfire in all weathers. A campfire was essential and the center of most activities when Viking warriors made camp. Here they would cook food, eat, talk, dry clothing and equipment, and keep warm. Once a campfire was made, cooking equipment would quickly appear, as would drinking horns, mead and tall tales.
Campfires have been around a long time. Archeological evidence shows that man built campfires 1.9 million years ago. Campfires have been consistently used whenever people spent time outdoors, and a campfire is as popular today when outdoors as it was in the Viking Age.
Whether you use historical tools, or modern equipment such as a lighter, match, paper or flammable fire-starter to start your campfire, the main goal is to get the campfire going safely and enjoy the experience. With the help of some basic information, it’s possible to start a campfire in any weather.
MAKING A CAMPFIRE
The principles of how to make a campfire have not changed since the Viking Age. There are many ways to make a campfire, but the secret to making a good campfire is to build it piece by piece. Firstly, there is the material used to make the fire. Secondly, there is the method used to ignite the material. Thirdly, there is the construction of the campfire.
Material used to make the fire
Wood shavings and thinly cut strips of dry wood light easily and are a great way to start a lasting campfire, as are dry pine needles, dry twigs and dry grass. Bark from a tree is a very good material for starting a fire. Most tree bark will do, but Birch bark is probably the best. Dry string and unprepared wool are very goodmaterials to start a fire. The natural oil in wool is very helpful in getting a fire started.
Vikings collected a fungus called touchwood from tree bark, boiled it for several days in urine, then pounded it into something similar to felt. The sodium nitrate found in urine allowed the material to smolder rather than burn, which meant that Vikings could take this smoldering material with them as they moved from place to place, and start a fire quickly with the urine-soaked touchwood.
Method to start the fire
A lighter or matches work well enough, but if you ever run out of lighter fuel or matches, there are other methods of getting your campfire started. One method for starting a fire is the friction-based method usually called a fire-drill. This usually means rubbing a piece of wood (drill) against another piece of wood in order to create friction, which creates heat, which in turn warms up the material used to make a fire, such as wood shavings, wool or touchwood. It is a laborious job which can often lead to blisters. Old Icelandic texts refer to this form of fire starting as bragð-alr (twirling-awl) and bragðals-eldr (fire produced using a bragð-alr).
Another method, which is called percussion, is when metal is hit against stone. On the hit, the spark from the metal falls into the wood shavings or wool to start the flame. In the Viking Age, the dominant hand struck a steel object against flint, which was held in the opposite hand. Touchwood or other flammable material was held on the top of the flint, near the edge. In Old Norse, the name for this type of fire starting is drepa upp eld, meaning "to strike up a fire."
Vikings used a hand-forged steel fire striker called “fire-steel” to ignite a fire. When fire-steel was hit against a piece of stone or flint, they produced sparks hot enough to start a fire under any environmental conditions. Ancient fire-steels are usually found accompanied by pieces of flint, and often packed together with flint and tinder in a small leather pouch. These fire-making kits are called eld-virki in Old Norse, meaning fire-worker, fire-making kit, or tinder-box.
Construction of the campfire
There are many methods of construction in building a campfire. Each method is a functional design made of wood that is placed above the material used to make a fire, once that material is burning strongly. Here are a few examples of the most popular campfire designs:
1. A campfire can be built by placing thin pieces of wood against each other in a pyramid formation over the fire. The top ends of the wood can be held together by string, before placing over the fire, or placed loosely against each other. Either way, it is very important that there is enough room for oxygen between the fire and the wood.
2. Another type of campfire is one built in the same way a log cabin is built. Here two sticks or pieces of wood are laid parallel to each other, on opposite sides of the fire. Two more sticks are then laid across the top of the first sticks. Then two more sticks are laid across the top of the second row of sticks. Of all the campfire designs, the cabin design is the most difficult to fire up, but it is the least vulnerable to premature collapse, and is the most ideal cooking fire as it burns for longer and can support cooking pans.
3. A variation of the cabin design is the funeral pyre design. The main difference from the standard cabin design is that the funeral pyre design starts with thin pieces of wood at the bottom and moves up to thicker pieces in the second and third layers. This design means that when the fire-build collapses, it does so without restricting the air flow.
I highly recommend using lots of thin sticks to get the fire going. Once the fire is going strong you can place split logs onto the fire in either pyramid fashion or log cabin fashion. Just make sure there is enough oxygen getting into the fire.
There are several problems that can prevent a fire from lighting properly. Either the wood is wet, there is too little material to start the fire, too much wind, and the most overlooked reason; lack of oxygen. A campfire may need forceful blowing to get it going, but too much blowing can extinguish a fire.
Rain usually extinguishes a fire, but wind or fog can also stifle the fire. One way of getting a fire going in the rain is to put your flammable materials and wooden sticks inside a plastic bag and start the fire in the bag. In a strong wind you can use your body as a barrier against the wind.
In winter, it’s best to dig through the layers of snow down to solid ground, otherwise the fire will move downwards and collapse as the snow melts. Avoid building campfires under hanging branches, especially when they are covered in snow. Avoid making a campfire on a steep slope.
In popular hiking areas it’s recommended to use established camp sites so there is less wear on nature. When making a campfire in wilderness areas, it’s best to replace anything that was moved when preparing the campfire site. Tufts of grass can be cut away to create a bare area of ground for a campfire. These tufts can be carefully replaced after the campfire has been extinguished. Covering grass or ground with a few inches of sand helps keep the grass from burning or being destroyed by the campfire.
Ideally, campfires are made in a fire ring, made up of a ring of rocks that surrounds an area of barren ground. This is done to protect nearby grass or wood from catching fire. For a Viking, such safety measures were of paramount importance. Losing wooden equipment, a tent or a wooden longship whilst traveling could mean disaster.
Don’t make campfire near combustibles. Don’t bury hot coals as they can continue to burn and cause tree root fires. It’s best to never leave a campfire unattended. An unattended campfire can be dangerous as any number of accidents can happen which can lead to property damage, personal injury or even forest fire. When leaving a campfire for good, it's best to make sure it is fully extinguished. Ash, dirt, sand or snow can be used to extinguish a fire, but splashing water on the embers is best to make sure the fire is dead.
Campfire embers left overnight only lose a fraction of their heat, and it's sometimes possible to restart the campfire by blowing gently on the embers.
In Norway it’s allowed to make a campfire between 15th September and 15th April, or when it obvious that it can’t cause a forest fire. There may be local variations, so check the rules for the nature area you are going to visit.
Fire is needed
For those who visit
And are cold
Food is needed
For those who have traveled far
Hávamál - verse 3
Like their ancestors, modern Norwegians love to go hiking out in nature. Some of them like to hike with the best modern equipment money can buy, some with just the bare essentials, and others like me go hiking with Viking gear.
Only by living as a Viking is it possible to understand how it was to be a Viking. Before such big tasks like learning how to hunt or fight as a Viking, the first step, literally, is to start walking in nature as a Viking. By stripping modern equipment down to the essentials, with no electronic gear whatsoever, or making your own clothes and equipment as a Viking had to, you can experience a little of how it was to live as a Viking. By hiking out in nature this way in winter, spring, summer or fall, you can get to understand pretty quickly what Vikings had to deal with.
With no roads, no fresh cut grass, and no quick fixes, a walk becomes a hike. You have to work to walk in long grass, deep snow, and to scramble over rocky areas. Scrambling is the term used for getting up steep terrain by having to use hands as well as feet, and this is something you have to do when out in wild nature.
Hiking out in the Norwegian nature with hand made shoes, clothes and equipment is just part of the experience. Seeing raw nature up close and a panoramic view of the scenery from the top of hills and mountains is something else, as is sleeping under the stars. Once you are out in this powerful nature, preparing food and cooking meals over an open fire is not a chore, it's an experience that you can live on for years.
Hiking out in nature is a great way to improve your physical health. The muscles used for hiking in nature improves your balance and stability, and helps against knee and hip overuse injuries that can result from walking or running on level-ground . Walking and hiking are radically different forms of exercise. Your joints, heart and muscles work in different ways whilst hiking, compared with walking. Hiking out in nature recruits and strengthens different muscles, such as hips, knees and ankles, that you don't normally use when walking on flat, man-made surfaces. Passive dynamics is the name for walking on a level surface, and thanks to gravitational and kinetic energy, your walking stride keeps you moving with little effort. It's like the swing of a pendulum swinging back and forth without any additional energy input. But when you hike on uneven terrain, as you have to do out in nature, your heart rate and metabolic rate go up, you use a lot of energy and you burn more calories.
Hiking out in nature, is also an easy and immediate way to improve your mood. The idea that nature helps our mental state goes back over a thousand years. The sights, sounds and smells of nature calm activity in a part of the brain that research has linked to mental illness. Hiking in nature reduces stress and negative, self-focused patterns of thought linked with anxiety and depression. Simply walking out in nature decreases negative mood and increases positive humor.
Our ancestors hiked in nature because they had to. We do it because we want to. Whether with modern equipment, or with hand made equipment, the results are always beneficial. No matter what season, whether there is snow in the mountains, or the flowers are in full bloom, whether you take a popular marked trail or an untamed unmarked trail, the mythical landscapes of Norway are worth a visit. Hiking in rugged nature, surrounded by fresh air, water, trees and plants, is a powerful experience, you shouldn't miss.
The Norse people were fit, strong and healthy. Apart from living a physical lifestyle, in a land with lots of fresh water, fresh air and raw nature, a major reason for the good health of these people was their diet. Vikings knew how to hunt, trap, fish and cultivate livestock and crops. They had nutritious food in abundance, and had good techniques for preserving and storing food.
The men, women and children of the North ate much better than their European counterparts during the Viking Age. On every level of Viking society, from farmers to kings, meat was part of a meal eaten every day. Being great hunters, Norsemen had reindeer, moose, bear, boar, rabbit, duck, geese and other animals as a regular part of their diet. Meat also came from domestic animals such as cow, pig, sheep, goat and chicken. Being great fishermen meant that fish from lakes, rivers, fjords and the sea, was also a large part of their diet.
Although meat and fish were often roasted and fried, meat was also boiled together with vegetables. Viking Age farmers cultivated vegetables and fruit, but these also grew wild. A wide range of nuts, berries, herbs and seasonings also helped flavor this diet.
From their trips to other countries and empires in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Vikings found spices and different foods than they were used to. Bringing these spices back to Scandinavia helped Viking food taste even better.
Some people think that Viking food was dry and boring, but research shows otherwise. Vikings loved feasts and would celebrate several times a year. Gathering in longhouses, they would feast for several days, eating lavish meals with all kinds of meat and mouthwatering sauces, washed down with fabulous homemade alcohol. At such feasts, roasted horse meat or lamb would be served with beer and mead.
Food has always played a central role in having a good life, and Vikings had a great choice of tasty and healthy food. Healthy food was the fuel that made Vikings strong and durable. Today we can make a Viking meal with ingredients that are the same or similar to what made our ancestors powerful.
A good, healthy diet is essential for a healthy body. Making sure you have a good selection of fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruit in your diet is simple and recommended. Also recommended is a protein rich meal shortly after training or working hard. Eating healthy food regularly and drinking plenty of fresh water throughout the day keeps energy up.
Having a well balanced diet, daily exercise, and daily contact with nature, are essential for healthy mind, body and spirit. It is simple to fry up some fish, or steak some meat on an open campfire, and eating out in nature throughout the year is a fantastic and rewarding exerience.
After a hard day’s work, a man needs a great tasting and fulfilling meal. A great meal makes the day much better, and knowing how to cook empowers you.
A vital man-skill is being able to turn meat and vegetables into a tasty meal. This includes choosing the ingredients, preparing them, and turning them into a healthy dinner. In order to provide ourselves with good fuel, we need to be able to cook food. This isn't about being able to make some fancy dish, but about having the ability and confidence to make a meal for yourself, for your family, and anyone you care for.
Here is a simple recipe for a great tasting and healthy meal for two that is easy to make on a campfire:
2x 200g Beef tenderloin
Heat some of the fat from the beef in a frying pan. Grill the steaks for about thirty seconds on both sides to keep the juices in, then grill for two minutes on each side. Add slices of paprika, onion and cherry tomatoes. Fry in the pan with the beef, and squeeze a lemon lightly over the vegetables.
This is simple to make and tastes absolutely great.
Manhood was not something given in the Viking Age, it was something a boy had to earn. Over several years, young Norse males were told and shown what was needed of them to become men. A Viking man was expected to provide for and protect his family, and Viking men took very seriously the job of preparing their sons for manhood.
According to the oldest Scandinavian law books, a boy was legally considered an adult when he was 12, but generally a boy was considered a man in the Viking Age after he had passed 15 winters. In Iceland, a young male was considered an adult when he was ""hestefør og drikkefør", meaning he was able to ride a horse and allowed to participate in drinking with the other men.
In Viking Age Scandinavia, an extra pair of hands helping out at the farm was a real benifit, so from early childhood, boys had everyday tasks that were needed to be done responsibly. There were many essential skills a boy had to acquire, and these skills were taught by fathers, brothers, uncles, and other grown men in and around the family. Age didn't automatically mean a boy had what was required of him to be regarded as a man by his peers, so young males had to prove their worth.
Viking manhood training had to start early in a young boy's life, as becoming a man in the Viking Age was something that could only be achieved through years of training and experience. Daily training in hunting, fishing, gathering, tending to animals, building, repairing and making equipment, gave a boy the ability to go from being reliant on his parents for food and security, to being totally self-reliant.
A boy only achieved the change of status to a man after being able to successfuly do what was expected of a Viking man. Manhood rituals, such as hunting with a group of other Viking men and combat skills, were transitions that ensured the success of Norse society. The Viking rite of passage was something every Norse boy trained for and longed for. To be looked upon by peers as a man was a very important achievement not only for Norse males, but for all of Norse society.
The most important social institution in Viking Age Scandinavia was the family, and marriage was the core of the Norse family. From the age of 12, a young male could marry, which was the most obvious way for him to be regarded as a man, as providing for and taking care of a family was a very important and adult task. A Viking marriage was a legal contract wich consisted of power, inheritance and property. A Viking wedding was an important transition not only for those being married, but for both the bride and the groom's families, as the wedding ceremony created a legal pact in which both families promised to help each other. In this pact that bound several families, the male head of the family had the final say in important matters. The many years of training enabled Viking men to make tough decisions for the benifit of family and society.
We at the Academy believe that the Viking rite of passage is a neccessity for young Scandinavian men. Therefore, the Academy not only trains students for physical well-being and self-defense situations, we train young men to become self-reliant and mature men. We impart on our students dicipline, a good moral code, an appreciation for their cultural heritage and family, and stage by stage prepare them for the challenges life has in store. This is good for the students, good for their families, and good for Norwegian society.
The Norse people spent much of their time out in nature and became skilled woodsmen and hunters. Modern Norwegians still spend much of their time out in nature, especially during weekends and holidays, and woodsmanship and hunting are still popular year-round activities.
Although much has changed in the last millennium, most Norwegians keep in touch with nature and see the value of nature's life-giving gifts. Throughout the centuries, Norwegians have appreciated the fantastic nature that surrounds them, and just as their ancestors did, modern Norwegians feel that they are an integral part of nature and that they need to work with nature, not against it.
Since the dawn of time, humans have lived in nature and as part of nature. Our ancestors understood the simple truth that everything is connected. We are a part of nature and nature is part of us. Norwegians are almost daily in direct physical contact with nature, and recieve massive health benifits from having this contact.
"Ut på tur aldri sur." This Norwegian saying, which basically translates to "Out for a walk, never sour" is used all the time by a nation of people who go for regular walks out in nature. Modern science is now proving what Norwegians have always known intuitively, that nature effects our character and does good things to the human brain, making us healthier, happier, and smarter.
A walk outside in nature as a health-promoting physical activity is a given, but many modern Norwegians are also embracing walking barefoot out in nature. This the age-old activity stimulates the feet as they press on the gound, something which helps with the body's healing system. Climbing trees barefoot is also an activity that naturally stimulates the hands and feet.
Trees have always been vital to the health of life in Norway, and were of inestimable value for the Norse people. Trees represented a place where food was to be found, they were a source of heat, and were the most important building material. As important as trees were to Norse society, it was essential to not cut down too many trees in one area, as this would create ecological and resource problems.
The people of the North knew that the Earth was incredibly old and had powerful energies, and that all nutrition and everything they needed to be healthy came from nature. It was of paramount importance for the Scandinavian people of the Viking Age to keep the earth fertile. If the nature that surrounded them was fertile, they too would be fertile.
Vikings understood that spending time in nature strengthens the spirit and is very good for the health in general. Modern Norwegians understand this simple fact too, and spend a good deal of their time enjoying nature, in a country that has a surplus of fresh air and fresh water, surrounded by magnificent mountains, forests and fjords.
Get in touch with the Viking inside you, and enjoy the many benefits of being out in nature. Whether it is a walk in the forest or hills, camping out for a weekend, going fishing, or simply grilling your food out in nature, the physical, psychological and spiritual benefits are enormous. When Norwegians do this, they say "God tur", which means "Have a good journey".
Being outdoors was an essential part of life for our ancestors. All of their food and building materials came from the outdoors, so naturally they became experts at surviving and thriving, year round in the great outdoors. "Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær." This old Norwegian saying means "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing." This is the commons sense mentality needed in a land that can have freezing winters that last 6 months.
For hunting and combat training, Vikings used specialized clothing that would withstand the weather and the wear and tear of use in rough terrain. Modern Norwegians also have specialized clothing for hunting and training. This clothing is called either 'Jaktklær' meaning hunting clothing, or ‘Skogsklær’ which simply means forest clothing. Just as our ancestors did, we use skogsklær for combat glima training and camping. It's practical and tough, and exactly what we need for year round outdoor training and being out in Norwegian nature.
The Academy arranges year round outdoor combat glima courses and outdoor survival classes. On such courses, its really easy to get back to our Viking roots and core values. Training combat glima and learning how to survive outdoors is very healthy and fun. Its never the same from month to month, and there is a big difference between being outdoors in the summer, and being outdoors in rain and snow.
The survival course consists of being out in nature for several days, making a shelter and equiment out of natural materials found in the forest, and learning about vegetation and means of surviving out in nature. It's always educational and a great experience.
The Norsemen were great hunters, and for them, the hunt was both a practical and spiritual endeavor. This is still pretty true for most modern Norwegians who hunt, just as our ancestors did, and get to enjoy the practical and spiritual benifits of being outdoors.
Today, we don't need to hunt to find food, we have the luxury of finding all we need in a local store. What we can't get from a store though, is the experience of being outdoors.
Throughout the year, I spend time outdoors. Sometimes its a weekday, but definately on weekends. Sometimes I just take a backpack, and start walking in the nearby forest and hills. When I feel for stopping, I stop and enjoy the great outdoors, spring, summer, fall and winter.
The simple acts of staying outdoors, building a fire and cooking a tasty meal is incredibly rewarding. Being able to fish, hunt, gather, prepare and cook food, is a very important part of becoming more self-reliant and independent. There's few easier ways to become more self-reliant and independent than the outdoors experience.
Interest in Viking life and Norse mythology are massive today, but Tyr Neilsen (57) has been fascinated by Viking life and Norse mythology since he was a young boy and lived in England. When he moved to Norway in the 80s, he married a Norwegian woman and got in-laws that were knowledgeable in this rich heritage.
Thanks to my mother in-law I learned a lot about Norse mythology, and my father in-law introduced me to Glíma, the Viking martial art, says Tyr, who lives in Buskerud, Norway. Here he lives in many ways like a modern Viking and teaches the Viking martial arts.
Tyr has been a consultant for several Norse related books, including a book about Glima. He is committed to promoting Norwegian culture and history, and is recent years he has held exhibitions and seminars at museums, schools and festivals in Norway and Europe.
NORWEGIAN CULTURAL HERITAGE
When journalist Bente Wemundstad interviewed Tyr for Byavisa Drammen and had conversations and discussions on various Viking topics, they hit on the idea of him writing a book about Hávamál with photography to illustrate it. After work on the book had started, they contacted Nova Publishing. Just hours after Bente sent e mails, she received a phone call from publisher Jan Hervig who said that this was absolutely something Nova publishing wanted. Thus began a very hectic journey, literally. Besides diving into the brilliant philosophy that is found within Hávamál, Tyr and Bente traveled to Iceland where the original manuscript is held.
For a long time it seemed that there was absolutely no way to see the original vellum Hávamál manuscript, as it is heavily guarded and only very few have been allowed to photograph it. Eventually Tyr and Bente received a mail from the institute that holds the manuscript, saying that they understood the importance of the work on this book. It was therefore granted an exclusive audience with the original manuscript from the year 1270. Photos had to be taken without a flash in a rather dark room at a museum in Reykjavik.
In the Viking Age, Odin’s speech was delivered as a performance. To recreate the original way of presenting Havamal, Tyr and Bente took exciting photographs of modern Vikings and models out in Norwegian nature and at sea. Together, Tyr and Bente translated the first 80 verses of Hávamál (called Hávamál proper) to modern Norwegian, then Tyr translated the whole book into modern English, with the goal that this Norse heritage will be known to future generations.
Edited Byavisa article by Geir Arneberg
Hávamál is one of the most important documents from Viking Age Scandinavia, and is well described as the Wisdom of the North.
Viking Wisdom - HÁVAMÁL - the Sayings of Odin is the most complete book about the Hávamál proper, and Tyr Neilsen had exclusive time in Iceland with the original 13th century manuscript.
This magnificent book contains the Vikings wisdom in original Old Norse and a new modern translation, exciting photos of Odin and other Norse Gods, and information about the Gods and Hávamál. Also in this edition are insights into the violent history and many mysteries surrounding the Hávamál, as well as information about how Hávamál has influenced the world’s bestselling books and films.
In Viking times the sayings of Odin were delivered as a performance. Here the Hávamál is illustrated with fascinating photographs of models and modern Vikings in Norwegian nature to recreate the original way to present the message
There is much wisdom and inspiration to reclaim here, inherited from our ancestors, from an era that was subsequently named after them. Tyr and co-author Bente Wemundstad worked diligently to create a new translation of the Hávamál, and make the Vikings wisdom more accessible to the modern reader.
Foreword from Robert Ferguson author of Vikings - the Hammer and the Cross
Foreword from Dr. Gunnar Pálsson Iceland Ambassador to Norway
Viking Wisdom - HÁVAMÁL - the Sayings of Odin from Nova Publishing in English, in Norwegian, and as an eBook.
The Hávamál book in English can be ordered through your local book store: ISBN: 9788282810593
An English version is also available as an eBook - Available from Amazon: