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Embrace winter like a Norwegian this year by practising friluftsliv

Norway has strong outdoor traditions, even in the depths of winter. In a country where winters are long and stubbornly dark, they’ve learned to embrace the outdoors as much as possible through “friluftsliv” — a concept that roughly translates to “open-air-living”. It’s sort of like the Danish hyggebut where hygge is about finding comfort indoors, friluftsliv is about finding it outdoors.

A snow-covered mountain in front of bright blue water.
Rorbu huts on clear blue water with mountains behind in Sakrisoy. ©Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet

Friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) is a natural part of Norwegians holidays and spare time, and is deeply engrained in the country’s heritage. It’s about embracing the outdoors, even in winter with its chilly temperatures. Taking time to connect with nature, to breathe in fresh air and to appreciate the simplicity of the outdoors. “Outdoor life does not focus on competition or timekeeping, but on physical activity at your own pace, as well as relaxation, calm and time for yourself, and with others,” explains Dag Terje Klarp Solvang, secretary general of the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT). “It really is something that everyone can enjoy, and that is why it is so popular.”

With friluftsliv you don’t need to spend money to enjoy the outdoors. It can be something as simple as taking a walk with your family, going wild camping with friends, or enjoying a fishing trip with a relative. To be fair, most of us probably embrace friluftsliv to some degree. But in Norway, it’s a passion. Most people will find a way to embrace the outdoors come hail, rain or shine. The term was coined in the 1850s by the Norwegian playwright and poet, Henrik Ibsen, who described how spending time outdoors could improve spiritual and mental wellbeing. Now it’s used more broadly by Norwegians, and Scandinavians in general, to describe anything from commuting by bike, relaxing in a mountain cabin or chilling out in a sauna after an open-sea swim.

Boy on kicksled
A boy on a kicksled in the snow by lake Prestvannet, Tromso ©Øyvind Tufto/Getty Images

In Norway they’re lucky enough to have a broad spectrum of nature to hang out in, whether that’s in a big city like Oslo or a remote village in the north of the country with its snowy-wonderland scenery. But during the pandemic, even more people discovered how soothing nature and “friluftsliv” is. According to DNT, its trip-planning app, which helps users find a trail or cabin that suits them, reached over five million users this year, a growth of 70% from 2019, even though a number of restrictions narrowed down their hiking opportunities. It illustrates the massive demand for friluftsliv in these times. “When society was shut down in March, nature was open, 24/7. Nature is where we went to disconnect from daily stress, uncertainty and crammed apartments,” said Dag Terje.

DNT.jpg
Dag Terje Klarp Solvang, secretary general of DNT ©Marius Dalseg Sætre

In Norway, there’s a law called the Outdoors Recreation Act which essentially promotes friluftsliv by giving people right of access to the countryside. It entitles anyone to freedom to use the land for camping, hiking, skiing, biking, canoeing etc. without worrying about trespassing violations. As long as they respect the area and leave it as pristine as they found it, they’re free to use it for any recreational purpose. 

Winter wonderlands around the world

And the outdoor lifestyle is also given a boost by DNT who created Europe’s largest marked hiking trail networks (22,000 km) throughout the country. One of the association’s main goals is to organize paths in populated parts of the country so that nobody in Norway will live further than 500 meters away from the nearest hiking trail. “We have done a huge amount of it already, and we will continue to do so in order to make it easy for everyone to get out and on to a path close to where they live,” said Dag Terje.

For some of us, winter is just too long and too dark. It can make us feel mentally sluggish and can lead to darkness-induced seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Friluftsliv may not be able to cure some of those ills but it can help some of us enjoy, rather than endure, winter this year. To the Norwegians, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes, so wrap up warm, make sure you’re protected from the rain, and get outside. Even if it’s just to hug a tree like their Nordic neighbors in Iceland.

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