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How to pack light for long-distance hikes and avoid being a donkey

Enjoying the sun on Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden.

Enjoying the sun on Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden.

 

One of the best things about my recent move to Germany and a change of lifestyle, is that I can travel the way I like. Being able to spend days, even weeks in one area makes me appreciate places more and allows me to learn a little bit more about them. Well, of course I also need to work but I’m trying to raise to a challenge and combine the two aspects together.

 

Kungsleden Autumn 2015 Dream Team

The Kungsleden is one of these longer-term projects which have been on my mind for quite a few years. I hiked a northern part of the Royal Trail in 2012, and I attempted to ski tour it in 2014, with no luck. And finally, in less than a month I’m going to walk the entire trail together with Cody – my favourite photographer, Theo – the filmmaker and his partner Bee – the writer. What a team!

 

Kickstarter campaign

This time we have an ambitious project in mind, to photograph and film the entire trail experience. We will start in the north in Abisko and finish (weather and other conditions allowing) in a month in Hemavan. Rare access to electricity means extra weight (all this camera gear and batteries we need to carry without being able to charge them as often as needed). Theo and Bee created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds towards pre and post production costs. It has been doing really well.

 

 

Packing

Talking about weight, when hiking, especially long-distance, proper packing is a paramount. It is not easy to find a happy medium – to balance what you need with what you can actually carry on your back. In general I am a pretty slow hiker and adding extra weight slows me down even more, which is not good when planning 440km hike. Below is the list of things I’m going to take.

 

Packing list:

Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links. If you click on the link and buy an item, I earn a small commission with no extra cost for you.

 

Clothing and footwear:

– Grassbow Sport Mid GTX Merrell boots – very light and 100% vegan boots. (Although I’m not vegan, I know that some people are looking for this type of footwear – wait for my review after the hike). I typically prefer trail runners, but nobody knows what the weather brings and I want something mid height, lightweight and waterproof. I’m planning to do some hiking in the boots beforehand as it is not very good to start a hike with the new footwear (#blisters).
Merrell Grassbow Mid Sport Gore-Tex®, Women’s Trekking and Hiking Boots, J48334, Black, 8 UK

– Norrona Svalbard Flex1 soft shell trousers – (previous version). Very comfortable and flexible, enough pockets to keep necessary stuff easily accessible. And they fit me really well which is not easy to achieve with my “short and square” figure.
Norrona Women’s Svalbard Flex 1 Pant –

 

Enjoying Lofoten in Norrona trousers, Mountain Hardwearr jacket and Osprey backpack.

Enjoying Lofoten in Norrona trousers, Mountain Hardwearr jacket and Osprey backpack.

 

– Marmot minimalist shell trousers – very lightweight and waterproof, already tested on Kungsleden in 2012. When it’s raining and the temperature is low, I often wear long underwear as well to keep my legs separated from the cool feeling of a hard shell.
Marmot Women’s Minimalist Waterproof Shell Pants – Black, Medium

 

Wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Marmot minimalist pants kept me dry.

Wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Marmot minimalist pants kept me dry.

 

– Norrona Narvik fleece with hood – warm but lightweight (and love the red colour).
Norrona Women’s Narvik Warm2 Stretch Zip Hood –

 

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. My favourite Norrona fleece.

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. My favourite Norrona fleece.

 

– Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer jacket – extremely lightweight jacket (about 180g) which gives just enough insulation for cooler days.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Ski Jacket Steam Womens Sz L

 

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Ghost Whisperer jacket kept me warm.

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Ghost Whisperer jacket kept me warm.

 

Mountain Hardwear Seraction shell jacket – lightweight waterproof jacket which should also give me wind protection.

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Mountain Hardwear jacket.

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Mountain Hardwear jacket.

– 3 x synthetic T-shirts – breathable and lightweight
– 2 x long underwear bottom and top – 1 set combination of merino wool and synthetic for cold days/nights. 1 set lighter synthetic for cooler temperatures and often used to sleep in when camping.
– 5 x underwear
– 5 x hiking socks
– beanie
– gloves
– knee and ankle brace – just in case

 

Gear:
– REI sleeping bag sub kilo -7°C – weighs around 1 kg and hopefully will give me enough warmth.

– Thermarest Neo Air sleeping pad – light and small when packed.
Thermarest NeoAir XLite Mattress – Regular

– MSR Hubba Hubba tent
MSR Hubba Hubba NX –

– MSR Wind Boiler Stove – boils water with the lightning speed.
MSR WindBurner Camping Stove System

– Osprey Talon 44 backpack – my favourite backpack ever. Doesn’t hurt my shoulders even with more heavy loads.
OSPREY Talon 44 Backpack, Black, M/L

 

Hiking over rocky terrain in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Nothing beats my Osprey backpack!

Hiking over rocky terrain in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Nothing beats my Osprey backpack!

 

– Black Diamond Ultra Distance hiking poles – love them, very lightweight and fold so easily.

– Toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, shampoo, hairbrush, camp soap, face cream sunblock. All if possible in mini/sample sizes.

– Lifeventure camp towel
Lifeventure Soft Fibre Medium Trek Towel – Blue

– Spork (knife, spoon and fork in one)
Light My Fire Spork, various colors (Colour: black) cutlery

Plus weekly amount of food for no-hut sections. Mostly:
– nuts, chocolate, BF bars, salami, instant asian noodles, cous cous, instant mash, instant soups.

 

Still thinking about:
– Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket – for this extra insulation as winter is coming… But it also adds 590kg of extra weight (as I wouldn’t hike in it, it would be just for sitting at campsites, waiting through storms, etc.)
Rab Women’s Neutrino Endurance Jacket

 

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Helpful info:
Cody Duncan Photography
STF – Info about the huts on the Kungsleden http://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/en/
Save Kungsleden

 

All photos © Cody Duncan

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Enchanted by the King’s Trail – Kungsleden in Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

 

My first experience with Swedish Lapland was on the Kungsleden (King’s or Royal Trail) in 2012. Cody talked me into hiking the northern part of the trail, which is the most popular section consisting of 100+ kilometres of wilderness between Abisko and Nikkaluokta.

 

When to go

Although accessible from mid June to mid September, we chose to hike the Kungsleden in September, mostly to experience colourful autumn. And to avoid midges swarming around any living beings in the summer. Still, the trail has the most visitors in July and first half of August, as the weather is usually better (although you can never predict what’s going to happen in the Arctic) and obviously because it’s a holiday time.

 

Small river flows south into Tjäktjavagge, near Sälka mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

Small river flows south into Tjäktjavagge, near Sälka mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

 

Preparations

I decided to combine the hike with raising money for the charity I worked for, to give myself this extra motivation boost. Although for the most part the hike is suitable for different fitness levels, some kind of training beforehand is highly recommended. Unless you have plenty of time to spare and take breaks, you must be prepared for 7-10 daily walks of about 10-20km each. Saying that, we met a couple of Swedish guys who skipped every other hut and hiked for 4 days covering between 30 to 40km each day.

My training for the Kungsleden started really well, in July I climbed a few fourteeners in Colorado (14k feet – 4k+ meter mountains). In August I was regularly spotted in Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains hiking my socks off with a heavy backpack. Everything was going well and then, boom, came the Bank Holiday Monday, August 27…

 

Walking along wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Walking along wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Sprained ankle

I was on the top of Hay Bluff, which is more of a hill than a mountain, striding ahead and suddenly I stepped on a grass mount causing my foot to bend awkwardly. Needless to say, I sprained my ankle. I still remember the pain which almost made me faint, and my hobbling down the mountain (luckily I always use hiking poles so had something to lean on). Painful driving away, doing shopping and building a pile of blankets to keep my foot up at home. It’s strange how certain situations become more ingrained in your memory, I remember that day like it happened yesterday.

To cut the long story short, barely 3 weeks after I was getting off the bus in Nikkaluokta to begin my journey to Abisko. Why did I choose to go ahead? There were many people who had told me that it was a bad idea and I should have just stayed at home and recovered. But the trail was so tempting to me and I just had to at least try. Especially that we were to attend a medieval music festival in Germany first. All the plane tickets were already paid for and non-refundable so we decided to go. I always had an option to turn around in case getting to the first stop – Kebnekaise mountain station – would be too painful.

 

Snow covered mountains and autumn colors in southern end of Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Snow covered mountains and autumn colors in southern end of Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Hiking the Kungsleden

Armed with two hiking poles, an ankle brace and elastic bandage I was treading my way through the trail. Anything flat was fine, but I wasn’t too keen on all the stones and pebbles which were forcing my sprained foot to twist. Surprisingly though, walking was more comfortable than I thought it would be, so we just kept on moving. And once you make a commitment to hike the trail, venturing deeper into the wilderness, after 3-4 days you don’t have much choice but to carry on, as turning back would take you the same amount of time as getting to the end of the section.

I didn’t regret my choice (unless you count some occasional curses in my head). We walked through the amazing landscapes, from Moon-like flats, grassy and boggy sections, through green and fiercely orange slopes, snowy mountain passes to colourful autumn trees. We have encountered sun, rain, snow and wind. We got frozen, wet and caught a cold. We enjoyed the sun on our faces and blue skies with puffy clouds. Quite a few times I wished my boyfriend had not been a photographer and we could just go faster and without all this hassle of stopping and going, and smiling (which is not easy when you’re cold and tired)…

But it was one of the most beautiful trips of my life. Watching the video we made from the trip reminds me of how extraordinary our journey was.

 

The northern section (Nikkaluokta-Abisko / Abisko-Nikkaluokta)

You can hike the Kungsleden in both directions, the choice depends mostly on your personal preferences. The steepness of ascents and descents is comparable both ways. You might take into account the sun position, I would also advise to check the bus schedules and when the huts open/close (especially if you’re planning to do the trail at either beginning or end of the season).

The section between Nikkaluokta and Singi does not actually belong to the trail. It is a detour for those who don’t walk the whole trail or fancy climbing the highest mountain in Sweden – Kebnekaise. There is an option of taking a boat on the Nikkaluokta-Kebenekaise section which saves about 7km of walking (out of 19km). Affluent visitors and groups can take a helicopter taxi to/from Kebnekaise and avoid the whole stretch altogether.

 

Bridge in Ladtjovagge with Tolpagorni - Duolbagorni mountain in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Bridge in Ladtjovagge with Tolpagorni – Duolbagorni mountain in distance, Lappland, Sweden

 

Huts

The northern section of the trail allows you to plan your daily hikes from hut to hut without needing a tent which can in turn save some weight, one of the most important factors to consider before embarking on a long-distance hiking trip. Check out here how to pack light. We had a tent but we ended up camping only once. Most of the huts have shops where you can buy some basic camping food which again can lighten your backpack quite a bit. All the hut beds come with the bedding but I would suggest bringing either a sleeping bag or a sleeping sheet for better hygiene. More about packing here.

Most of the huts on the trail are run by STF. There is no electricity or phone signal for the most parts of the trail (except for the mountain stations, like Kebnekaise), no running water and basic bunk beds. You can pay with cash, prepay online or in the mountain stations. Don’t count on using the credit card on the trail, at least for now! You need to chop the wood for the fire, get the water from the nearby rivers and clean after yourself. But in return you get gas stoves for cooking, saunas in some of the huts (yes, saunas, it’s not autocorrect) and most importantly: the stunning views. And by the views, I don’t just mean naked guys jumping into the lakes or rivers after steamy sauna sessions…

The huts are in a need of repair to be prepared for future generations and STF is running a campaign to raise money to do all the necessary work in the huts and on the trail. Don’t forget that you are in the wilderness and someone needs to make it more accessible by building bridges, pathways in especially boggy sections and providing signposts so we don’t get lost. All this work also helps the conservation of the trail.

 

Candlelight illumintes room Singi mountain hut at night, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Candlelight illumintes room Singi mountain hut at night, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Cuting firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Cuting firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden

Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden

 

Helpful info

Cody Duncan Photography – More detailed info and guide about the northern section.
STF – Info about the huts on the Kungsleden
Save Kungsleden

 

All photos © Cody Duncan