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A wilderness hut (Finnish: autiotupa) is a rent-free, open dwelling place for temporary accommodation, usually located in wilderness areas, national parks and along backpacking routes. As such, the tradition is largely found in Finland, and to some extent in Sweden, Norway, and northern Russia too.
The huts can be roughly divided into official and unofficial, or maintained and unmaintained ones. Official wilderness huts are mostly maintained by Metsähallitus (Finnish for Administration of Forests), the Finnish state-owned forest management company. Most of the wilderness huts in Finland are situated in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Their size can vary greatly: the Lahtinen cottage in the Muotkatunturi Wilderness Area can barely hold two people, whereas the Luirojärvi cottage in the Urho Kekkonen National Park can hold as many as 16.
A wilderness hut need not be reserved beforehand, and they are open for everyone.
For centuries the vast wildernesses of Finland and its resources were divided amongst the Finnish agricultural societies (such as families, villages, parishes, and provinces) for the purpose of collecting resources. Areas owned in this way were called erämaa, literally "portion-land". People from agricultural societies made trips to their erämaas in summer, mainly to trap fur-bearing animals but also to hunt game, fish, and collect taxes from the local hunter-fisher population.
Huts were built in the wilderness for use as base camps for hunters and fishers from agricultural societies. Also non-agricultural Sami people built huts to help them manage reindeer. Huts were built for the free use of everyone in a certain society. The earliest huts, however, were meant only for the use of people from the society that owned them. People from other societies were not allowed to use the resources of other societies' erämaas.
A new tradition of huts that were free for everyone began in late 18th century Finland, when dwelling places were built along walking routes for passers-by. In the 19th century the authorities started building these huts. Later in the 20th century they started to be built for travellers.
Visitors should obey common sense and leave the cottage in good condition—as they would like it to be on their own arrival. When the cottage is full and someone arrives, the first one who arrived should make room for them.
Lapin läänin autiotupatoimikunta (The wilderness hut commission of Lapland Province) wrote these "unwritten laws of the wilderness" in the mid-20th century:
- Anyone who steals or deliberately destroys or damages other people's property behind an unlocked door not only commits a crime but also a shameful and cowardly act. So leave the contents of the cottage in good shape when you leave. This means that, should you return to the cottage, they will be in good condition. Huts can (and will) be locked if there's ill conduct.
- When you enter the cottage, check that the fireplace is in safe and in good working order before you light a fire. If there is a problem and you cannot fix it, leave a message detailing the problem, so that the owner will know about it and can fix it.
- Use the firewood reserves of the cottage sparingly unless you can immediately obtain new billets, as the next visitor may have an urgent need of dry wood. It is obvious that whittling kindling out of bunk boards, to say nothing of burning them, is an outrageous infringement of the laws of the wilderness.
- Use the cottage's food and other emergency supplies only in a really urgent situation. Another passer-by may later perish without them.
- Keep the cottage tidy, and the surroundings and the water supply clean. Leave the trees around the cottage in peace.
- Upon leaving the cottage, clean it well and provide it with at least the same amount of firewood that you have burned. A good traveller leaves a plentiful supply of billets and, if the stocks are low, replenishes them.
- If there is a guestbook in the cottage, leave your name, the date and words about your trip. Do not carve your initials in the walls of the cottage; this is an ugly habit that should be broken.
- If you can, leave a box of matches, dry kindling, bread, salt, or other non-perishable food in the cottage, perhaps in a bag hanging from the ceiling, safe from mice.
- Before you close the door make sure that the fire in the fireplace has completely died out and that there is no danger of it restarting.
- The last person to arrive at the cottage has a greater right to use it than those already dwelling there. So, if the cottage cannot hold everyone, those who have stayed there the longest are obliged to make room for those just arriving and tired. The old Finnish saying must be remembered: Sopu sijaa antaa (Harmony gives room). Also, note the American saying: "First in, first out".
- Lastly: never rely solely on the wilderness huts while hiking, on the popular routes they may be crowded. Always carry a tent or some cloth applicable to making a shelter.
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- Mountain hut - building located in the mountains intended to provide food and shelter to mountaineers and hikers
- Bothy - simple shelter
- Laavu – lean-to, small building intended for temporary residence during hiking or fishing trips in the wilderness
- Log cabin - small house built from logs
- Backcountry hut – huts that serve overnight hiking and trekking needs
- This article is based on a translation of an article in the Finnish Wikipedia.
- Laaksonen, Jouni. "Autiotuvat on-line" (in Finnish). http://koti.kainuu.com/joula/at/. Retrieved 2006-06-05.
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