Embracing the Norwegian Concept of Friluftsliv


Reluctantly awaking from my peaceful slumber at my Trondheim hotel, I wondered why anyone would get up so early to hike through the woods on a chilly morning. My new Norwegian friend, Lisbeth, assured me the experience warranted the sleep sacrifice.
Renowned chef, Mikael Forselius greeted us at the edge of the forest. “Ready to forage for chanterelles?” he asked. Never having foraged for anything outside of the grocery store, I accepted the basket he offered and followed him into the woods intrigued. Emerging a couple of hours later with a basketful of the coveted mushrooms, I felt a sense of renewal. Not only had I been introduced to foraging, but I also began to understand the Norwegian-born concept of “friluftsliv” or free air life.

The next morning, Lisbeth and I set out on a berry-picking adventure. Hiking along a portion of one of Norway’s Pilgrimage Paths, we searched for blueberries and the delicious cloudberries found in arctic climates. Free to roam, we picked the berries on farmland as well as in the woods. As an American accustomed to fences erected to keep trespassers out, freely walking onto private farmland both surprised and thrilled me—more exposure to friluftsliv!

Mushroom picking in Norway. Photo by Lisbeth Fallon.

What is Friluftsliv?

Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen popularized the term friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-live) in the 1850s when he used it to describe the value of spending time in nature for spiritual and physical wellbeing. When I initially heard about free air life, my mind immediately conjured up images of people hiking frozen glaciers, swimming across the fjords and scaling mountains of terrifying heights. If that’s your cup of tea, go for it, but picking mushrooms or berries supplies a touch of friluftsliv too. Basically, just get outside and breathe the fresh air nature provides.

The 1957 Outdoor Recreation Act provides residents of all Scandinavian countries the freedom to roam—a concept that dovetails nicely with friluftsliv. Simple rules include respecting nature, wildlife and inhabitants. Want to pitch a tent or sleep under the stars? Go for it, just make sure you keep at least 500 feet away from the nearest inhabited house or cabin. If you want to spend a second night, seek permission from the landowner.

Embracing Friluftsliv! Photo by Terri Marshall

Friluftsliv in Every Season

A year-round way of life, friluftsliv continues through the winter snows. Norwegians pile on the layers, add crampons to their hiking boots or strap on their cross-country skis and keep moving. As they say in Norway, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.”
My fascination with friluftsliv followed me home to New York City. Often seeking an escape from the incessant honking horns and shrieking sirens of the city, I lace up my sneakers and lose myself in Riverside Park for a walk, stopping to smell the flowers in springtime or take photos of colorful autumn leaves.

When possible, I venture outside the city for a hike. Like my Norwegian friends, I continue these excursions through the winter months adding layers for warmth and strapping on my crampons to hike through the snow. I’m beginning to understand why Norwegians often rank among the happiest people on earth!

Hiking through Winter – Norwegian Style! Photo by Greg Holder