Tag Archives: preparation

Finland/Lapland Dogsled Setup, Maintenance, Operation

The following outlines the steps to setting up and arranging a traditional Lappish (northern Finnish) dogsled team, along with operating the various functions of the sled itself.


The process is one I learned from my guide during a weeklong excursion into the northern Finnish wilderness and subsequently practiced myself on a daily basis.


In the morning, after feeding the sled dogs, who are altogether kept along a chain line (attached by their collars), each member of the five-dog team is harnessed one-by-one onto the sled. Their harnesses are first slipped over their heads, with their collars then buckled to a line attached to the sled. Their front paws/legs must then be guided through two front straps. At this point, the dog can be considered securely attached.


A particular layout and order of the dogs is required for a one-man sled with about 50-100 lbs of cargo to be properly driven:


Two dogs are placed at the front of the line, one in the middle, and two in the back (closest to the sled). The dogs at the front are known as the lead dogs, typically reserved for those that are younger and less experienced, while the dogs at the back are known as the wheel dogs, the strongest and most capable of the pack. The dog in the middle, known as the center, is the dominant member of all five, meant to lead the wheel dogs on and keep the lead dogs in check should they misbehave.


The lead and wheel dogs are also buckled to each other, along with being attached to the sled line, as to keep their strides in sync and prevent any wandering from any direction that is not forwards.


If the sled is larger in size, or there is a greater amount of cargo (and thus more weight), more dogs will be needed. To do this, a set of three dogs (a single and a pair of leads) are attached to the front of the already present five, totaling eight. A greater number is typically unnecessary.


It should be noted that having a greater number of dogs on a smaller sled will not make it go any faster, as the dogs are all attached and therefore can only run at the same speed as an individual is capable. What it does serve to do is disperse the weight of the sled even more, and thus allow the dogs to travel for longer distances and amounts of time without becoming exhausted.


What is interesting to note is that the dogs, having been raised by Finnish trainers, respond only to commands in Finnish, unable to understand any other languages such as English. This is particularly important when driving the sled. As there are no steering-related controls, any shifts in direction must be verbally commanded to the dogs in Finnish, being either vasen (left) or oikea (right). However, steering is not often necessary as the dogs usually follow paths that are already made, leaving the commands to be reserved for turns and switches onto new paths. Should the dogs travel the wrong way, the driver must hop off the sled and manually guide the dogs back in the proper direction.


Getting off the sled arises the matter of braking, which is performed using the feet. A flat metal mandible bar is stepped on, the bottom of the bar containing two outward-sticking pieces of rebar that dig into the snow below, slowing or, if pressed completely down, halting the dogs.


Longer periods of braking require a large metal hook tied to the sled and hung off the side when not in use. To use this hook, one must have already braked the dogs to a halt with the manual step, then throwing the hook into a solid patch of snow/ice and lodging it firmly into the ground. This way, when the dogs attempt to move forward, the hook anchors them in place and prevents them from moving. Additional security can be managed by using another length of rope to tie the sled to a nearby tree.


Once back on the sled, (and if necessary, having removed the anchor hook from the ground) the driver lifts their foot from the brake and shouts at the dogs mennä (go) or juosta (run) in order to prompt their team to resume running.


Backpacking Preparation

Informant Info:  The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: As a hiker/backpacker, do you have any little traditions, rituals, or lucky charms that help ensure you have a safe and successful trip?

Interviewee: Well, before any hike, and also… any test, presentation, or project… I uhh, always – always – ALWAYS – have a very very specific omelet. I make it with 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon of milk, 2 strips of crumbled bacon, half of a pepper, a little spinach, and about a third of a cup of cheese.

Interviewer: Wow, that is specific… like why?

Interviewee: Well, some people have lucky charms but I have my lucky meal. It eases my mind, and it fuels me up. I can focus on making the perfect omelet that it prevents me from stressing out about what’s to come… and I also feel good after, so why not.

Interviewer: Makes sense, have you ever gone without it. If so, how did you feel?

Interviewee: I have. I wasn’t a fan. Something just felt missing. I know it’s stupid but I did noticeable worse on a test once. I knew the material, I studied for weeks… I just blanked. I doubt it would’ve happened had I eaten!



As with other lucky charms or rituals within these collections, a common trend seems to be mindset. The informant sort of mentions it herself by stating that the omelet itself isn’t lucky, but it instead helps her clear her mind. In a way, the omelet only serves as a placebo effect for her. This similar case can likely be argued for many lucky items. Nonetheless, it is interesting that she has such a belief and must make an omelet, of all things, so specifically (and ritually) before any major event.

Family Meditation

From interview with informant:

“My family, every time we go on a big trip, like whether it’s an emotional trip or a physical trip, we all have to sit in the same room on a different surface and take a moment of, like, repose, that my father decides. We take or moment, and then we stand and we go on our journey. I don’t know if it’s a Russian tradition or a Jewish tradition or something from my dad’s family, but it’s something that my family does.”

This is a simple custom that makes a lot of practical sense. It serves to bring the family closer together while preparing for potentially arduous or important times in the near future. It sounds a lot like a moment of prayer, but the informant made it sound very secular, more like meditation and contemplation. It could have any mixture of cultural, religious, or familial roots like the informant suggested. A secularized Jewish prayer, perhaps, or just something a family member thought of that stuck. Not sure about the “different surfaces” aspect. That certainly makes it sound more like something specific to this particular family.

“When you are an anvil, bear, a hammer, strike.”

My mother, who says this proverb has a lot of significance for her as an adult, learned it from her father, who was a strict man with a tough work ethic and a Latin scholar. My mom’s family immigrated to the United States from Dominica when she was a kid and they were able to do so, because her father had saved up enough money to be deemed self-sufficient by US immigration. The meaning of this proverb is about timing, preparation, patience, thinking strategically and taking the right opportunities. When you are the anvil, you have to take the blow, because that is the position you are in. Basically, sometimes you have to pay your dues early on in order to be in a position to reap the reward later. Moving through life smartly means not striving for instant gratification. You have to wait, plan, and work hard for opportunities that may come in the future. Essentially, you must put yourself in a position to strike, so you are able to take opportunities when they manifest for you.


1. This was official quoted by Edwin Markham.

Translations from other languages:

2. If thou art an anvil then suffer: if a hammer, then strike.  Romanian

3. If you are an anvil be patient; if you are a hammer strike hard.  German

4. It is better to be the hammer than the anvil.  French