The concept of friluftsliv—a word that translates roughly to "outdoor life”—is about as Norwegian as cross-country skiing and wool-knit sweaters. Open up Instagram and you’ll find over 1.5 million posts tagged with #friluftsliv, showcasing humans posing, hiking, and generally enjoying miles of open country. The phrase, pronounced “free-loofts-liv,” was coined by famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in a poem in 1859 titled "På vidderne." He used the term to describe the value of spending time in remote locations for spiritual and physical wellbeing. Break it down, and you'll find that friluftsliv consists of three words: “Fri” meaning free, “luft” meaning air, and “liv” meaning life. It's not dissimilar to the Danish hygge, but where hygge describes finding comfort indoors, friluftsliv is all about finding sanctuary outdoors.
Despite being a nation with a very modern lifestyle, connecting with nature and enjoying an outdoor lifestyle is seen as a core element of Norwegian culture. Friluftsliv even has its own law, Friluftsloven, aka the Outdoor Recreation Act of 1957, which includes the Norwegian right to roam. The basic rule is as follows: show due care and consideration to the countryside, respect private property, and be kind to others who roam, and there's nowhere you can't go.
The right to roam allows outdoorsmen and women to set up a tent or sleep under the stars anywhere in so-called uncultivated areas, with the mutual understanding that you will not cause any damage to them. The main caveat is that it must be at least 150 meters from the nearest occupied house or cabin, and you have to leave your chosen spot as you'd like to find it yourself (similar to the ethics of Leave No Trace). In these uncultivated areas, you're free to roam on foot, skis, horseback, or bicycle. You can also paddle, row, fish, sail, and enjoy the bounties of nature: berries, fungi, flowers, and the roots of wild herbs. In Norway, nature is for everyone.
The outdoors transcends Norwegian life in more ways than friluftsloven. The country has many outdoor kindergartens (friluftsbarnehager) where children spend 80% of the time outside. In Norway, it’s not unusual to go hiking or cycling on the first date. They even have government-sponsored “libraries” where you can borrow outdoor gear. In the entertainment world, Slow TV broadcasts offer a genre of "marathon television" that includes coverage of an ordinary event in its complete length. Viewers tune in to watch birds hatching live on remote Arctic islands, at-home knitting jamborees, slow trains moving across the country, and six-day ferry cruises on Norwegian fjords.
"Due to the temperate waters of the Gulf Stream, Norway has a much milder climate than other parts of the world positioned at the same latitude."
Norwegians also have an enviable vacation policy—each summer they enjoy a collective holiday called fellesferie, where nearly the entire population of Norway has a summer vacation at the same time during the month of July. This annual respite is designed to give Norwegians the opportunity to escape the cities and spend time in the country’s picturesque fjords and countryside.
Norway’s climate allows for this encouraged integration with the outdoors year-round. Due to the temperate waters of the Gulf Stream, Norway has a much milder climate than other parts of the world positioned at the same latitude. In addition to being set up for success geographically, Norwegians are thought of as mentally resilient too. In an interview with National Geographic, Stanford University health psychologist Kari Leibowitz said that Norwegians are equipped with something she calls the “positive wintertime mindset.” People with this attitude “see the opportunities of the season,” said Leibowitz, rather than focus on prohibitive factors like rain or limited daylight hours, both of which are typical of Norwegian winters.
That positive attitude isn't necessary during the summer months though—during a week-long trip to northern Norway, we enjoyed daylight for 20 hours each day. But as we stepped off the plane and into an atmospheric river, it quickly became apparent that daylight doesn’t necessarily mean sunshine. I had been dreaming of extended hours of golden light around the never-setting midnight sun; I imagined soaking in sidelit mountainsides, taking full advantage of our hiking schedule tailored to when light would be best. More fool me.
In Norway, we experienced every weather imaginable—torrential rain, hail, snow, ice, and some fleeting glimpses of sunshine. I dug deep to find a sense of humor when we saw the forecast each day: 99% chance of rain. I own five rain jackets and I forgot to pack a single one. We adapted, banking our sleep during the rainstorms (often in the middle of the day) and hiking in all hours of the night. Each hike was tailored to the gaps in the deluge. And in those moments where the clouds parted for an hour (or two, if we were really lucky), and the sun broke through in an ethereal display of light, you couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face. Friluftsliv is a philosophy I could get used to.