“We are outdoor people and being outdoors is good for people,” say Sonja Ikonen and Henna Törmänen, who became friends as social sciences of sport students in 2006. Interest in outdoor life and nature prompted the women to specialise in this field, and they are currently in their second year of studies in Norway as part of the programme Nordic Master in Friluftsliv Studies.

Sonja Ikonen and Henna Törmänen like to spend time outdoors year round, be it in the snow, on forest paths or in the water. Many countries, including Sweden, Austria, and the UK, have outdoor communities for women, but Finland has lacked such a group, so the two decided to establish one together with their friends. Seven women’s passion for the outdoors eventually resulted in the Taivasalla Outdoor Community (Taivasalla is Finnish for “under the sky”.)

Both Ikonen and Törmänen come from small towns, where they were in contact with nature since childhood. At some point, however, their relationship to nature changed. Spending time there was no longer a natural part of their daily lives. Later, the tiring, performance-oriented urban lifestyle made them yearn for contact with nature and encouraged them to continue their outdoor studies.

The Nordic landscape and its four distinct seasons are a paradise for lovers of the outdoors. Finnish nature offers an endless number of destinations and ways to enjoy the outdoors. The coronavirus pandemic has inspired people to seek out natural environments like never before, but finding like-minded company is not easy for everybody.

“It has not always been easy for us either to find company for our trips from among our group of friends. Moreover, we have often found ourselves as the only women at surfing spots, on hiking trips, or on ski trails.”

Taivasalla got its start from autumn 2020, when the pair found themselves engaged in active WhatsApp and Instagram discussions with a few other female outdoor enthusiasts. These discussions led to the creation of an online community which these women from different parts of Finland with a shared passion for the outdoors hoped to establish as a meeting place for lovers of the outdoors. “People can share inspiration and hints within this community, as well as find company for nature trips and other outdoor activities from different regions of Finland,” Ikonen and Törmänen explain.

Although the original idea of the community was to help people find company for trips and to share experiences, Ikonen and Törmänen feel that it is also important to depict and write about outdoor life from different perspectives. Instead of just posting perfect Instagram images or extreme performances, they want to present research knowledge and topical themes from this field. For research knowledge and perspectives on outdoor activities in nature, Ikonen and Törmänen can draw directly from their studies in the Friluftsliv programme, and in this way share their reflections through the Taivasalla channels with other outdoor enthusiasts as well.

Research has shown that being active in nature supports our mental and physical wellbeing. Trips in nature also provide opportunities for enhancing contact with one’s own self and the environment. People’s relationship to nature is an important concept for society as well. A strong connection to nature increases our willingness to protect it and to consider our lifestyles. Writings posted in the Taivasalla community deal with the group’s shared value basis, responsibility, and outdoor etiquette.

“For us, it is important to bring up perspectives and reflections on how we as outdoor people can influence and establish responsible practices to protect our precious living environment.”

In addition to presenting skills and experiences, the website makes plenty of room for discussion on the effects of outdoor activities on wellbeing, relaxation, studying nature, and sharing moments with friends and family. Accordingly, the Taivasalla community advocates appreciation of nature and spending time outdoors in sustainable ways.

“Connection with nature has also been shown to increase people’s happiness, and to perhaps lead to scrutiny of one’s own values or to even greater changes in life.”

Many women who have had trouble finding company for their outdoor activities from their close circles have easily found like-minded individuals through the Taivasalla community. Local groups have been established, and after about half a year, there are now more than three thousand followers. The community makes outdoor activities assessible. Too often the focus is put on expensive trips abroad or long hiking trips in national parks, which require special equipment and considerable physical fitness, Ikonen and Törmänen say.

“Outdoor activities can be integrated with your daily life. In its simplest form, outdoor life can be about unhurried wandering in a nearby forest, a dip in a lake, or staring at clouds while lying in a hammock.”

Taivasalla also organises events in places across the country, such as trail running, excursions to gather wild herbs, and opportunities to try out climbing. At these events, you can learn new skills and find a new hobby as well as like-minded company for your next trips. Taivasalla stories and writings about outdoor life can be found on the group’s blog, and inspiration and company for outdoor activities can be found from its Instagram and Facebook accounts. Ikonen and Törmänen have plenty of ideas and dreams for the Taivasalla community, and they aim to make use of their Friluftsliv studies in their work as well.

Do you have ideas about what you would like to read or write about? Are you interested in joining this community of outdoor enthusiasts? Visit the Taivasalla website and send your greetings or ideas for texts by visiting writers. Ikonen and Törmänen hope that Taivasalla inspires people to share their stories about being active outdoors as well as their reflections on nature and outdoor culture.

Instagram: @taivasalla.fi

Get latest articles from The University of Jyväskylä’s stakeholder magazine into your email. You can cancel your subscription at any time.