So I finally have a few section hikes coming up! I will most likely do a gear list breakdown for my spring base pack weight (BPW), but I don't think I will have the time to do one for my winter kit for the trip coming up soon. However, it has been a while since I've gone over my clothing combos for all the different seasons I encounter (my older one you can check out here, also includes BPW), so figured I should at least update my current clothing choices. Not to mention that I still get plenty of questions from friends, family, and sometimes online about what my clothing choices are for hiking. Later on in the year I'll do another breakdown like this for my two summer outfits (one for the mountains, one for the woods), so stay tuned for that.
Two years ago I showed off my winter gear list in a video, and not too much has changed since then as far as gear goes. But there have been some significant changes to my clothing, in spite of still using some garments for about half a decade or so. Some of the more hardcore UL backpackers may cringe and/or scoff at some of the relatively heavy choices of clothing I have. But everyone has their limits, and when it comes to clothing worn I am more likely to shrug and say "good enough" with slightly heavier choices.
I think because I obsess so much over my BPW down to every little detail, I just don't have the energy to really dial in my clothing combos to be lighter and (this is key) just as warm. I'm also just not into clothing in general, as say a fashion or social statement, so it's hard for me to get excited about buying say, a pair of pants or a shirt. But I've spent plenty of time drooling over packs, shelters, quilts, and other BPW gear, and have literally had my pulse rise after getting a package slip in my mailbox for new gear. Not to say that clothing is any less important for backpacking, it should almost go without saying! And also note that quite a lot of this gear gets used in my day-to-day life to work and on day hikes, so it's not just collecting dust in the closet when I'm not on section hikes.
So let's get down to the breakdown of my full winter and spring outfits. First up is some context:
Both trips will be in south-west Sweden to woodland areas below treeline.
The winter trip has expected average temperatures of a high of 0C/32F and low of -4C/25F, but with possible cold snaps and wind chill down to -10C/14F.
The spring trip has expected average temperatures of a high of 10C/50F and low of -2C/28F, but with possible cold snaps and wind chill down to -5C/23F.
I'm a man in my late 30's that is about 183cm/6ft tall and of average build.
Let's begin with winter clothing, starting with the tops:
Left to right:
The North Face "waterproof breathable" rain jacket, size x-large, 490g/17.3oz
Montbell Alpine Light down parka (2015 version), size large, 410g/14.5oz
Generic gridded, medium polyester hoody, size x-large, 415g/14.6oz
Handmade, 100% silk shirt, size large, 220g/7.8oz
Generic, medium merino wool base layer, size large, 225g/7.9oz
First the jacket. Most experienced backpackers will tell you that "waterproof breathable" doesn't really exist, and that such garments are really just buying you some time before they wet out. I don't recommend WPB for much, but one place where it shines from my experiences is in colder (i.e. below freezing) temps as a hard shell--and also works well as rain gear on day hikes or to work. There are expensive and heavier WPB fabrics out there that will extend the amount of time you have before wetting out, such as Gortex and the like. But in addition to the cons of costing more in terms of both money and weight, they are also really hard to dry out once they inevitably wet out, and I've read many people complain on forums (and a few in person) that Gortex also gets really stinky and gross after getting soaked.
I'm a huge fan of rain ponchos, but in the winter when temps are below freezing, it will be snow and not rain. Snow doesn't usually soak my pack (as long as it's cold enough for it to be powdery, naturally), so the added benefit of a pack cover that a poncho has is made pointless. A light WPB jacket will also keep you warmer and block wind better than a poncho, so this is my go-to outer layer in the winter.
The down jacket is kept in my pack until I make camp, and also doubles as added warmth to my sleep system. Great jacket! Nothing but good things to say about it, really. Very warm and comfy, and fits nicely under my hard shell jacket, which I bought one size larger to accommodate all my layers.
Then comes my medium thickness poly-grid hoody, which is a great mid layer that is also quite affordable and durable. This one cost me one-third of the price as some of the name brand hoodies that are nearly identical as far as fabric and design go. Tho this one is a bit heavier than some of those name brand ones, for example the super-popular Melly hoodies over on /r/ultralight are listed as 346g/12.2oz for a men's size large--but in fairness, this generic hoody of mine is size x-large.
Next up is a 100% silk button-up, short sleeve shirt that I got as a gift from a family member. They picked it up in Thailand while they were on vacation, and it's a great shirt for colder trips for added warmth and to wick moisture as well. Silk, like merino, is also great at not stinking for a while.
Finally for winter tops is ye olde merino base layer. I've had this top and its matching bottom for around 5 or 6 years now, and they have both served me well. Slightly heavier than some other base layers, but then again, also slightly warmer than thinner ones too. Warm and much less stink than synth base layers, so I prefer wool for most of the year as a base layer, especially when it becomes more or less like a second skin on colder trips, when swimming and washing are much less common (for me at least).
Now on to bottoms and extra clothing:
Left to right:
Generic WPB rain pants, 310g/10.9
MLD eVent gaiters, 60g/2.1oz
Swedemount medium nylon hiking pants, 410g/14.5oz
Joe Nimble Cuddletoes, wool-lined, barefoot sneaker boot, EU size 45, 775g/27.3oz
Generic, medium merino wool base layer, 195g/6.9oz
I've already explained the whole WPB use in winter above, so I would only note that for rain pants I suggest you save your money and go for something cheaper--especially if you like to go off-trail and/or bushwhacking, like I do. From my experiences pants seem to get more wear-and-tear than other garments, so no need to blow your dough on fancy pants. And the performance of the newer generations of generic WPB are pretty close to the name brand versions.
That being said, because you sweat more from your torso (especially arm pits for many people), you might want to invest more cash in a nicer WPB top with an emphasis on the "breathable" part. If a hard shell doesn't breath well, water vapor that is trapped in say down insulation layers will not only make things clammy and uncomfortable, but will also decrease loft, and thus you will be less warm.
Next up are some medium thick nylon hiking pants for warmth and to wick moisture, followed by ye olde merino wool base layer, which depending on how cold it is may be packed as a sleep/camp layer. Also don't miss my winter hiking shoes of choice (kind of hidden on my pants in the picture above), which are warm and super comfy. Only problem with them is that they are so warm I can only wear them when it's really cold out, otherwise they are too warm.
The rest of the extras are fairly self-explanatory. The cap may seem strange to some people for use in the winter, but after years of using an alpaca or wool hat while hiking in the winter, I've found more utility and comfort in using a trucker or baseball cap, so long as you have hooded tops. Trucker/baseball caps block sun, helps to keep snow out of your face, and also helps to keep hoods out of the way of your field of vision. The hoods negate the problem of cold ears, and if it gets really windy and/or cold, then the buff can be pulled up over the ears if needed.
Total weight of all my winter clothing: 4075g/9lbs
Not bad if you ask me, considering that includes all clothing worn (including boots!) and packed garments too, and that this will mos def keep me toasty down to -10C/14F. I'd be warm enough with everything on down to around -15C/5F, perhaps even a bit colder.
Now on to my spring outfit, which I'd also use in the fall and even into early winter if it is mild enough. As before, first the tops:
Left to right:
Golite poncho/tarp, 200g/7oz (or my MLD poncho tarp, 300g/10.6oz, depending on what shelter system I am using)
Generic, medium polyester hoody, size large, 385g/13.6oz
Generic, thin merino wool base layer, 185g/6.5oz
For the trip I have planned in the spring I'll be taking another tarp and use the Golite tarp as the front door/vestibule of my shelter system. And of course it's rain gear and a pack cover too. Other trips with different conditions and I will take my other poncho/tarp listed above. This Golite poncho is another piece of gear that I've had for about half a decade, and it has had a lot of good use.
The Torrid is a new addition to my lineup, and so far I've been very impressed with it. Warmer than I expected--slightly warmer than my circa 2013 version Montbell UL down jacket--and comfortable, it has been a pleasure to test out on day hikes and to work. I want to take it out on a few trips before I do a full review, but so far so good. I added a pull-tab on the zipper to make it easier to open and close. One minor complaint is that the zipper is pretty tiny and a bit tricky to use on its own, but it's an easy fix.
The Borah vest is another personal favorite that's served me quite well over the past four years I've owned it. For it's low weight, it really packs a punch of warmth, and it's normally tucked away in my pack for sleep/camp/cold snap use.
Found this slightly lighter weight poly hoody in the bargain bin at a sporting goods store and couldn't resist. It's nearly as warm as the grid poly hoody I have, and fits better under the Torrid as a mid layer, so glad I scored it.
Finally a newer, thinner wool base layer for warmer temps. I'm a big fan of merino wool, you may have noticed.
As before, most of these items are pretty self explanatory and/or have been comment on already. So I won't go into to much detail here. The hiking pants are yet another garment that I've been using for about half a decade, and they have been remarkably durable. I've put a few small patches of nylon tape on a few small holes, but it was not until recently that I got the idea to sew--or rather, my awesome wife was kind enough to sew for me!--some knee patches of some silnylon I had laying around. This will keep my knees dryer while kneeling, no more soggy knees after staking out my tarp in damp moss!
This spring combo of clothing will keep me toasty down to -2C/28F, and warm enough down to about -6C/21F and perhaps a bit more.
The grand total weight of my spring clothing: 3090g/6.8lbs
That brings this big clothing breakdown to an end. If you've enjoyed it or found it useful, as I mentioned earlier, my two summer outfits will also get broken down in a future post. As always, feel free to ask questions or give feedback. And same old disclaimer: I'm still not sponsored, still never got any free gear, and still no ads on my blog.
Happy trails to you this winter and spring seasons, and make sure to keep warm out there!
A month ago I announced a give-away contest on my Youtube channel, the winner getting their choice of either a tarp or a bug bivy from Borah Gear. Thanks again to Borah Gear who were nice enough to put up the prize for this contest! They make great gear and have a well-earned good reputation in the online UL community, for instance on Reddit's UL forum.
So the contest was pretty straight forward: to enter just leave a comment with a favorite backpacking tip on my 1000 subscriber video special, and I would take 20 of them and pick one at random. I also wanted to share all 20 of these tips here on my blog and also give some feedback on each tip, so here we go! I will make a short video picking the winner at random shortly after publishing this post.
Thanks to all my readers, Youtube subscribers, and special thanks to everyone that left a tip and entered the contest. These are good tips, and I've been looking forward to responding to them as they collected over the past month.
1. Susan Hornbuckle My tip: I use my pack liner/trash compactor bag inside my sleeping bag to help warm up my feet on a really cold night. :) Thanks for all the product reviews and information.
Nice multi-use out of your pack liner! A vapor barrier will warm you up, but the down side is of course having whatever part of your body covered by a vapor barrier get clammy/damp/wet. I've actually resorted to using a garbage bag as a torso vapor barrier in situations when I was younger and less experienced to get some sleep on nights with harsh cold snaps, and while it worked, it was not very pleasant. So make sure to try this out on casual trips (like say car camping) to see if it is for you. But great tip to keep in mind if you're in a cold snap and need an extra bit of warmth.
2. Alex Guerra My tip is bringing bread bags when backpacking, especially in rainy or wild weather. They can be used as a VBL in the cold or at the end of the day, when you put on dry socks you can slip those over and put your sweaty/wet shoes back on and keep them clean.
Similar to Susan's tip, but another good version of it. Bread bags are essentially free, don't weigh much, and have other utility apart from VBL use. I used to take two bread bags with me just like Alex and for the same reasons, actually. But now and for the past few years I've switched to just having warmer/higher quality socks and good routines with them. I generally take three pair: two for hiking and one pair of sleep socks.
3. Brandon Smith My tip would be to adopt "one-piece-trash" to make packing out garbage a bit simpler. For instance, if you're opening up something like a Starbucks Via or Justin's packet, don't rip the top piece all the way off of the larger section. Simply leave it attached at the end. This makes managing your trash way easier and helps reduce the amounts of small, sometimes unseeable pieces of garbage on the trail.
I wish more people would do this! At camp sites it's more common to see scraps of trash rather than full-on litter (at least here in Scandinavia). Both suck, but odds are some of these scraps are just simple mistakes rather than intending on littering. So yes, be mindful of trash and pack it all out!
4. James Edge my tip is carry everything you could possibly use in the day( food, poo kit, rain shell, water purification, ext.) either in hipbelt pockets or my zpacks multi bag so I don’t take my pack off at all while hiking it’s crazy how many more miles you can get in when you can get to everything you need without stopping walking . I don’t take my pack off till I’m ready to set up camp. Not for everyone but works great for me !
I carry a satchel and one shoulder pouch, and also find it convenient to have most of what I need in there for my hikes. There is plenty of space in my satchel, but the shoulder strap has my water filter (Sawyer mini usually) and water bladder so it doesn't get other gear wet. One thing I've grown to like over the years is not taking off my pack as often. It cuts down on the annoying process of having to put the pack back on and then get all the straps back to the way you like them. It's not a big deal if you do this a few times, but back when I tried hiking without any pockets at all (on very minimalist SUL trips, for example), I was stopping every time I wanted to fill water, get out bug spray, put on sun block, take out a snack, read maps, etc.
One thing I do take my pack off is to put on rain gear or use the bathroom, though. But cool that it works great for you James!
5. Kerry Fristo Two fav tips: #1) for anyone using a bivy who doesn’t like finding bugs in their boots/shoes in the morning, put each shoe in a zip-lock bag overnight. And zip-lock can also be used as a dry seat in camp; #2) for women, use a bandana as a “pee rag” (instead of paper or fairly non-absorbent leaves) and hang on top of pack during day to dry. It’s kinda weird at first, but great LNT practice!
1. You know, I often use a bivy as part of my shelter system, and never had problems with bugs in my shoes. But I think if I lived in Australia I'd mos def cover my shoes! I've seen people (and read of others doing this online as well) put their shoes into a stuff sack, but I never liked that idea, as then your stuff sack could get all wet and/or dirty. But a big Ziplock or plastic bag would work great, plus I dig the multi-use dry seat aspect!
2. I actually have tried to get my wife to do this, but she didn't like the idea. I like the idea, tho as a man I pee LNT anyhow. But if I were a woman I wouldn't have any problem doing this.
6. Martin Dohnal My tips: Look critically at your gear, ultralight doesn't have to be expensive, if you want to reduce pack weight, invest into ''big free'', but other things you can buy usually cheap, moreover items like clothing can be found in thriftstore for almost nothing, make a rain skirt/bivi from tyvek,, use socks as a gloves when needed with cheap grocery bags as a mittens.
Yeah, you don't have to have an expensive solution to everything, nor do you need to spend that much money to go UL, which me and many other UL nerds have written about in great detail before. But it's worth repeating to traditional and/or new backpackers who have the misconception that UL is all about a price tag. For example, I recently found a great micro-grid, polyester hoody at a sporting goods store that's literally less than half the price (even a third of the price in some cases) of fancier, big-brand tops that are pretty much the same. Nearly the same weight, the same fabric content (100% polyester), just as warm and comfy.
7. Cameron's Ultralight Backpacking My tip would be to use as much multiple use gear as possible to reduce pack weight. Hiking poles to support your tent, drinking cup as food pot, poncho tarp for shelter and rainwear, use tent stakes as pot support for cooking, etc. Saves weight and money just by bringing less to do the same things.
Hell yeah! I love poncho/tarps, this is a piece of gear I recommend quite a lot. All it takes is a bit of experience and practice and it's an amazing piece of gear for a good range of hiking trips. I always eat out of my pot and honestly don't understand what the hell I was thinking bringing a whole big cook kit years ago. Less to clean, less to worry about, less weight, it's just such an advantage with certain things going minimalist that it's hard to deny or justify full cook kits for long distance trips.
8. Márcio Floripa My tip is to roll some gorilla tape or duck tape in the trekking pole to save weight and space in the backpack. Always useful and ready to use.
Just be careful where you put it! I used to do this back when I used trekking poles, but I put the tape too close to the hand grips. Over time my hands would at times slip down the pole and grab/bump/rub the tape, which eventually messed up the tape, and also got glue on my hands.
When going without poles, you can wrap tape around a pen (which is what I do) or an old library/bus card.
9. Robert Shine If its rainy out and your pack gets soaked, this can be problematic when you are using it in conjunction with a torso length sleeping pad. To avoid getting your sleeping bag and the inside of your tent wet turn your pack liner inside out and put your backpack in it. In the morning, just take the pack out and put your liner back in the bag. (make sure the wet side of your pack liner is facing your bag)
Yeah, this is great for people that regularly sleep on their packs. I will do this if there is a cold snap, but my pack is nearly always quite dry, because I use a poncho as rain gear/pack cover. Most of the time my pack is under my vestibule, and I put my foam sit pad under my legs while using a torso pad.
10. remmirath42 My tip: You can mix a lot of lightweight powdered stuff into your oatmeal. Protein powder for keeping you full longer. Matcha powder for a caffeine kick. Cocoa powder for chocolate cravings. Psyllium husk powder if you want to use less toilet paper, if you know what I mean (it makes for a nice and smooth consistency).
I also like using chia seeds, almond flour, sesame seeds, and spices like cinnamon and sometimes even cayenne for a spicy kick!
11. Jack Nolan My tip is to load up on mystery podcasts to listen with the wife, who's just getting into backpacking, in the tent at night. Has made for very memorable - read: scary and exciting - adventures in the woods.
I love scary stories! My friends and I will often tell them or just discuss hypotheticals that are frightening or dangerous. Fun but also a good mental exercise to think about what you'd actually do if say, a rabid wolf or a crazed junkie attacked you. Odds are none of these scary things will happen, but a "just in case" plan in your mind weighs nothing and if anything flexes your critical thinking skills.
12. Stu Minnis 2 tips: If you’re going somewhere hot with lots of sun exposure, a good umbrella is totally worth it. And if you have a cold trip planned and have cold feet like me, down booties are the best.
1. I am not on team umbrella, but if I lived in a sunny place like where I was born (what up Los Angeles, California!?), I'd mos def have one of them chrome-dome umbrellas. In rainy weather I prefer a poncho.
2. I recently ordered a pair of EE synthetic booties, and I'm excited to try them out! I don't get cold feet, but it's good to keep fingers and toes warm to boost over all core temperature. Also good to put on sleep socks over hiking socks if there is a cold snap or if you want to dry out a pair overnight that you just washed at camp.
13. Markus Ulfberg Here's my best advice that I've heard, but sadly didn't heed quite as much as I should have: Practice setting up your tarp (or anything else new to you) at home before going into the woods. Getting a nice taut tarp is a lot harder than it looks and something you don't want to have to deal with when you're far from home.
So many backpacking noobs need to do this, so it's one I often repeat and recommend. I hardly think about setting up my tarp when I make camp, and usually takes me less than 10 minutes to have both my tarp pitched and my ground cover and bivy sorted out as well.
14. Raphaël Verstraeten My tip when packing toilet paper is to remove the inner cardboard roll. This diminishes the volume taken in your pack, and allows you to take paper from the inside of the roll, making it possible to leave it in a ziplock bag at all times and avoid wet TP.
It's okay to steal other good tips! This is especially good for hiking in groups, but when I go solo I take little packets of tissues. Each pack only weighs like 20g and has 10 tissues, which works out to around 5 days of pooping for me, because I supplement my wiping with natural materials like moss and leaves.
15. dinosaur304 Two tips: 1. the best creamiest creamer for your on the trail coffee ! Starbucks VIA and Alpine Start are my favorite trail coffees. 2. baby wipes to get you clean as a whistle down there. helps stop chafing. But you have to pack them back out with you - just put them in a dedicated ziplock bag. you can sandwich them between drier-scent sheets to cover th em and add fresh springtime scent.
1. Never tried those coffees, so I'll have to look out for them. I love a good cup of coffee and/or tea. When I go solo I tend to stick to tea bags, but my wife is a coffee fan, so she takes fancy powdered coffee that's not bad.
2. Speaking of my wife, she is also a big fan of baby wipes. Moss will also get you clean as a whistle down there, especially with a bit of morning dew on it, but to each their own! ;)
16. RESTLESS OUTDOORS One of my favorite tips I use is to repackage my Mountain House meals... I dump them in freezer bags, and save one package to eat out of... easier to pack, save weight and space especially on a mult-day trip!
While I usually make my own backpacking meals, I do at times spoil myself with ready-made trail meals, and family members will buy them for me as gifts too. The packages can be quite bulky, and especially if you eat out of your pot anyhow, you don't need em.
17. Eric Klein My tip is to try your backpacking pad thai recipe. One of favorites.
Glad you like it! I'm working on another noodle recipe and will try and do a video on it in the future. If you ever get sick of my Pad Thai, you can always switch up ingredients. Try different kinds of noodles, for example, or hot sauces, even fruit to give it a sweet/spice kick like dates or date puree.
18. OperatorOneSix Tip: For great area lighting while doing things around camp after dark (or just to keep the light out of fellow hikers eyes when navigating in the dark), turn your headlamp upside down and hang it around your neck. Use the articulation in the head (that usually angles down) to position the light so it’s focused in your work or walking area but out of other people’s eyes.
Also make sure to take advantage of white colored things to reflect light around your campsite or shelter. For example you can strap your headlamp to a white or translucent/white-ish water bottle, or hang your headlamp inside the trail shelter or tent with a piece of TP wrapped around it. I've rigged all sorts of DIY lanterns!
19. kryzzet My favourite is the simple thing of bringing parmesan, it surprises many people that I meet on the trail. Simply because it's such a great flavor enhancer for all kinds of meals, and because it's so dry and salty it lasts a lot longer than people expect. And most important, it's rather weight efficient at around 430kcal per 100g
I did this a lot when I used to eat dairy, but now that I'm vegan a nice replacement is either nutritional yeast or vegan mac n' cheese mix you can buy in powdered form. Add a heaping spoon of either of those to pasta, plus a splash of olive oil, and it's so good!
20. Michael Molloy Take all your food out of the packaging and put it in ziplocks.
Similar to the tip about re-packaging meals, another tip I'd also give about Ziplock food organizing is to combine foods into less bags to save on waste/bulk/weight. For example, rather than pack one bag of polenta, one bag of almond flour, one bag of sugar, one of salt, etc.--mix your breakfast grits into one bag. Saves time in the morning too, just dump in your pot and get cooking. Alright, that wraps up my response to all 20 of these good backpacking tips. I hope some of these tips and/or my feedback can help you to have happier trails out there. The winner of the give-away will be announced shortly in a short video, which I'll add below once it's uploaded. Peace out!
The Troll Trail (or TT for short, or Trollleden in Swedish) is a long distance hiking route I created that goes from city of Göteborg in the south, to lake Grövelsjön in the north on the Swedish-Norwegian border. It passes through mostly southwest Sweden, but at times goes into southeast Norway or follows along close to (or even right on) the border. It is approximately 1,100km long, but there are several side trails, loops, and optional parts of the route that are not included in that total.
The TT can be hiked as an alternative section of the E1 European long distance path in Sweden, rather than the official Swedish E1 route. You can read more about the official E1 route in my guide to it here. I created the TT as a direct result of hiking the Swedish E1. While I enjoyed this path overall, there were some problems with several sections, such as lack of trail maintenance, very little information/documentation, very isolated areas (making it difficult to resupply or have access to public transportation), and some sections had quite a bit of walking on asphalt and/or gravel roads.
But the shortcomings of the official Swedish E1 trail was not my only motivation in putting together this trail. After many years hiking in the areas that the TT goes through, I really fell in love with the nature and terrain of places like Bohuslän and Dalsland. I discovered more obscure nature reserves and woodland trails that not as many hikers travel to, or even know exist. Yet other established and well known hiking trails were not that far away. The more I hiked, the more a new route made sense, and I had a great time in the process as well.
A few new trails would have to be made to connect certain areas, so decided to do just that around 2015 with some initial exploration trips. While there are some new paths to walk, the majority of the TT is made up of marked and generally well maintained long distance hiking paths here in southwest Sweden. In fact, further up north--at The South King's Trail (Södra Kungsleden) near the village of Sälen--the TT merges with the official Swedish E1.
But my new route needed a name, and "alternative route to the official Swedish E1 trail" doesn't really sound as cool or roll off the tongue. So I came up with the name "Troll Trail" because:
1. Trolls (the mythological monsters) are both cool and of Scandinavian origin.
2. In Swedish the word "troll" can also be used as a verb to express creating something out nothing (i.e. magically). For example: "Jag kan inte trolla fram det." meaning "I can't make it out of thin air." And in a way I am creating a trail out of nothing.
3. The route goes through quite a lot of woodland that is considered "trollskog," meaning roughly "dark, still, and spooky woods" that traditionally is associated with where mythological trolls would live or be found.
Please keep in mind that this is still a work in progress, but below is a list of the seven general sections that make the TT. The ones that I have already hiked and written a trail guide on I will provide a link to, and in the future I plan on writing new trail guides for the rest of the trail as I have the opportunity to hike them. When possible I will also provide links to official websites of trails and nature reserves that are a part of the TT. If you plan on hiking here and have never done so before, please check out my crash course to backpacking in Sweden here with lots of good, general info.
Please feel free to offer feedback or ask questions, either in the comments below, via email (you can find my email on my blog profile), or on my blog's Facebook page.
The Troll Trail Sections (from south to north):
1. The City of Gothenberg/Göteborg!
I love this city! It's Sweden's second biggest city, and is a really cool place. There are lots of good aspects to this city, but I will stick to the ones that are the most relevant for backpackers. Though it is worth mentioning that it often rates high on lists for travelers/tourists, like being one of the most social cities in the world, and even certain fancy-pants types say nice things about it. And of course you can also check out the Lonely Planet guide for more touristy or urban backpacking type stuff to do.
The official E1 starts in the small city of Varberg to the south, which becomes all the more smaller when compared with Gothenburg. And honestly, having hiked the trail from Varberg to Göteborg, I wasn't that impressed with that stretch of trail. Which is why I skipped them entirely in planning the TT. Not to mention that if you are doing a thru-hike of the E1 trails (going north or southbound), it's probably more convenient and fun to have Göteborg as your first or last stop in Sweden.
Göteborg has two airports, a big train station with connections all over Scandinavia, and you can also catch a ferry over to or from Denmark (as well as other places like Germany). So if you are thru-hiking the European E1, rather than taking the ferry from Varberg to or from Grenå, Denmark, you sail to or from Frederikshavn, Denmark--and hey, you get to see a bit more of Denmark in the process. Highly recommend taking a zero day or two in Göteborg before you leave, though!
Back to useful stops for backpackers. Right in center city there are camping and sporting goods stores, just ask around or Google. Naturkomaniet is going to be more expensive, high end gear--but UL has not really caught on in Sweden yet. There are cheaper places to buy gear, especially clothing, like at Intersport. But if you are just looking for food and fuel, well there are plenty of supermarkets, but you can find Esbit, gas canisters, and alcohol a hardware stores called Clas Ohlson (and usually cheaper than camping/outdoor stores). And finally, there are lots of nice pubs around, but some of my favorite are around Järntorget.
Finding the TT in Göteborg is easy. An entry point to start north on Bohusleden can be found in various parts of the city, but the Skatås trailhead is perhaps the most accessible, which is why I chose it as the southern terminus for the TT. You also go from city to woods pretty fast once you head out on the trail. To find it head to the eastern part of the city past the amusement park Liseberg. It's about 5km from the Central Station and makes for a nice city walk, with parks and canals along the way. Or you can catch the number 5 tram and get off at the Welandergatan stop, then it's just down the road to the east less than a kilometer away.
From stage 3 (Skatås trailhead) to stage (Nornäs trailhead), approx. 270km.
This lovely little loop is based on several trails around the village of Edsleskog, which is west of the town of Åmål. It's a shorter loop, starting in and then returning to Edsleskog being a total of only 20-30km, depending on how you hike it. There is a small network of trails that cover much of the nature reserve, along with a few gravel roads, though there is not much road walking overall--and better yet, very little asphalt involved. You can get to the village by bus from Åmål, or you can hike there on a trail that connects the two places.
I wrote about hiking from Åmål to Edsleskog and then heading south on Pilgrimsleden Dalsland in another trail guide, which you can read here.
If you are hiking on Pilgrimsleden Dalsland/Varmland--for example, following my Alternative Swedish E1 Route--you can connect with this loop at various points. Going northbound, you'll hike right to Edsleskog, and can follow the loop to the northeast (through the village) or northwest (by the lake). If you have the time/energy to spare, I suggest hiking the entire loop and as a side trail, and then simply continue north on Pilgrimsleden afterwards.
But if you don't have as much time/energy, yet want a nice alternative to the road hiking that makes up most of the end of Pilgrimsleden Dalsland as it passes into Varmland, you can do half of this loop and meet up with Pilgrimsleden Varmland later on in the north. Why pass up the chance to explore a beautiful little nature reserve? Just hike northeast through Edsleskog and enter the Baljåsen nature reserve at the first or second trail into the reserve. There are signs and the trails are generally well marked, so it's hard to miss. Then just hike north to the tip of lake Edslan, continue hiking north into Varmland, then it's a quick 6km hike east on roads back to Pilgrimsleden.
Going southbound, there are two easy ways you can find the loop. One way is by hiking off Pilgrimsleden Varmland (around the big lake Ömmlen) west then south on roads to the northern tip of the big lake Edslan. Or you can follow Pilgrimsleden over the border into Dalsland, where the trail will pass right by Baljåsen nature reserve, and you can just follow the first trail into the reserve.
There were at least five trail shelters in this area at the time of this trip report (October 2017). One was a teepee style, enclosed shelter (with a nice indoor firepit!) on Pilgrimsleden Dalsland about 3km south of Edsleskog--this shelter is currently not marked on any maps that I am aware of--two were cabins (one with a good wood stove), and there were two lean-to shelters. There were plenty of excellent sources of water, from lakes to springs to streams. And for such a small nature reserve, the trails that went up and down and over the hills here offered many gorgeous views.
I definitely plan on returning to this loop again. It was a great place for a weekend trip, but it would also make for a great side trail on a longer hike.
Having already hiked to Edsleskog from Åmål, my friend Tomas and I opted to take a bus to the village, and in less than a minute after getting off the bus we were once again on Pilgrimsleden. We would not be on this trail for long. Only a few kilometers away to the north on the gravel road were two different trails that allowed us to enter Baljåsen nature reserve. We decided on the second trail to check out the views and also to get to the cabin on top of the hill to stay the night.
This hill is the highest point in Dalsland, and the cabin was among the nicer ones I've stayed at. The wood stove worked well, the cabin was well thought out and built (if not small), and could fit three hikers comfortably (there are three bunk beds) and perhaps five if you really squeeze in there. There was an outhouse and a wood shed near the cabin. One small drawback was that there was no close water source, though just up the trail going north a few kilometers were a few springs and streams.
There were three trails that converged at the cabin, all marked well on the map linked above, and also in reality. We took the northwest trail, which was a winding path that bent south then back north after intersecting with another trail. Inside the reserve there were also several ruins of past settlements and stone houses scattered along the trails. The trails themselves made for wonderful hiking, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of variety of landscape there was packed into such a small reserve. There was dark and spooky troll woods, open hard woods, mixed woods, a pond, hills and valleys, and natural and old man-made clearings. And views, more good views.
Orsberget Viewpoint on Edsleskog Loop - YouTube
After trekking through the heart of the nature reserve heading north by northwest, the trail took a sharp turn west down to the shore of the lake. At the shore there was a campground complete with a few park benches, a small and quite old looking lean-to shelter, an outdoor firepit, an outhouse, and a cute little cabin. The cabin had four bunk beds, but not much else inside.
Past this campsite the trail (marked in yellow) continued north to exit the reserve, and soon after would take one to another big lake, Ömmeln. This lake is right on the border of the traditional province of Dalsland (which is a part of the country of Västra Götaland) and the county of Värmland. However, if you are doing a loop back to Edsleskog, then you would follow the grassy trail that hugs the eastern shores of the lake back towards the village.
The walk back to the village was very pleasant and easy on our feet for much of the way south. Eventually the trail ended at a dirt road, which then turned into an asphalt road closer to civilization again. Along the way were some final nice views of the lake and the hills on the other side, plus some friendly sheep on one of the farms we passed. Back in Edsleskog, we noticed a small hotel, and next to that a rest stop with pubic bathrooms.
It's been a hot minute since I did a detailed breakdown of some of my favorite pieces of gear, so this time I figured I'd do all my big three configurations for each season of the year. Regular readers will recognize quite a bit of gear, which itself is a testament to its quality and durability. But there are some new additions to my collection of big three gear that I am very excited about, and can't wait to get more good use out of them.
Before I get to the gear, however, some of you may be new here and some context is helpful to better understand why I chose the essential components of my kit. So let's get that out of the way first, but you can also read my more detailed post on outdoor life in Sweden here.
General use: Solo (or with friends but sleeping solo), wilderness, UL backpacking on section hikes and weekend trips during all four season of the year.
Location: Scandinavia, mostly in the forests and fjälls (alpine mountains/hills) of the lower half of Sweden, and sometimes across the boarder in southeast Norway.
Climate: Generally mild and humid (plenty of rain, mist, and fog), with somewhat warm summers and cold winters--rarely going over 25C/77F or under -10C/14F, and hardly ever going over 30C/86F or under -18C/0F. Short cold snaps are not uncommon, especially in certain terrains such as rift valleys.
Pests: There are quite a lot of bugs to deal with for about half the year, May to September--and some bugs come in staggering numbers during peak season, roughly June-August. Bugs include mosquitoes, midges/noseeums, ticks, ants, wasps, moose/deer-flies (sv: älgfluga), horseflies, etc. There are also some animals that are more of a nuisance like mice, slugs/snails, magpies/crows/seagulls, etc. that do things like try and eat your food, poop on you or your gear, and on rare occasions scurry/crawl/fly all over your shelter and/or campsite. And then there is the occasional snake, both venomous and non-venomous. But hey, no deadly spiders!
Accessories of choice: Side straps x2, sternum strap, shoulder pouch.
Volume: 38 liters
Ideal Base Weight: 2.5-4kg / 5.5-8.8lbs
Max Total Weight: Around 11kg / 25lbs
Usage: SUL and lower UL base weight trips, generally half of the year, from mid-late spring to early-mid fall.
My Overall Thoughts: This is the best frameless backpack I've ever used. Super functional and well thought out, and very comfortable to carry. I only have a few very minor issues with the pack. Looking forward to grinding this pack into the ground, which should take awhile. Lint, the three time triple crown UL thru-hiker, has taken older versions of the burn on various thru-hikes. He said that his Burns lasted about two long thru-hikes. You can take a closer look at this pack and hear me ramble on about it a lot more in this video review.
On the Right: Zpacks Arc Haul in Dyneema X (2016 custom version--note that Zpacks no longer does customizations)
Accessories of choice: Shoulder pouch. The rest of the options come standard with the Haul, but I got some of them modified, for example a Dyneema X front pocket rather than a mesh pocket. Please don't bother asking Zpacks for mods, I was lucky and ordered this pack back when they did custom mods! And no, I don't want to sell this pack to you!
Weight: 725g / 25.6oz
Volume: 62 liters
Ideal Base Weight: 4-6kg / 8.8-13lbs
Max Total Weight: Around 18kg / 40lbs
Usage: UL and slightly higher base weight trips, generally the other half of the year when I prefer to used a framed pack in the late fall, winter, and early spring. Also for packrafting trips in warmer parts of the year. You can check out my packrafting kit here.
My Overall Thoughts: This is the best framed pack I have ever used. The glowing review I gave it about a year and a half ago still stands, which you can read here. There is also a video included in that review if you want to see a closer look of the pack and all that. This is truly an amazing pack. This will most likely be the pack I take when I finally have the chance to do a long thru-hike.
Part One: The Quilts
On the Left: 2.5oz Climashield Apex insulation and 10D nylon quilt, temperature rating is around 10C/50F. I paid a friend who is good at sewing to make this quilt for me, as I didn't have the time or skills to do a MYOG project on my own. No zipper, no clips, just a drawstring around the neck and a sewn up footbox.
Weight: 350g / 12.3oz
Size: Custom sizing. I asked my friend to make it big enough to be used as an over-quilt in the winter on top of a down bag. Roughly a regular length, x-wide width. Below you can see both bags used together, and with both collars cinched up.
Usage: Low temps of 7-15C/44-59F, or combined with my warmest down bag in the winter at low temps of -9C to -15C / 16-5F.
My Overall Thoughts: Very happy with this quilt, and love that I can use it both in the summer and the winter. The downsides of synthetic insulation are probably obvious to those of you reading this, but yeah, it's significantly heavier and bulkier for the same temperature rating. However the 2.5oz Apex is thin enough to come close to down weights for a 10C/50F rated bag. For example, an Enlightened Equipment 10C/50F down Enigma, size regular/wide, is about 300g / 10.5oz--which is only a difference of about 50g / 1.8oz from my synth quilt.
Then there are advantages to synthetics, such as generally dealing with moisture/dampness better than down. Then again there is the option of Down Tek down feathers, which are hydrophobic, which arguably makes this a moot point. But on the other hand, synthetic is also cheaper than down, which is nice, and synthetic also works better as an overbag in the winter to wick moisture away from your body while you sleep.
My Overall Thoughts: Very happy with this bag so far. This is a newer piece of gear, so looking forward to getting more time with it out in the field, but very positive first impressions. This is the quilt my wife used when we took a trip together this past summer up in the fjälls, and it served her well in a colder than usual summer. It will be my new go-to quilt for much of the spring and the fall.
The three main things that made this quilt so appealing and eventually got me to pull the trigger were the hydrophobic down, amazingly low weight (only 35g / 1.2oz more than my older 5C/40F Zpacks quilt), and cool option to pick custom colors.
On the Right: Zpacks, -7C/20F temp rating, 900 fill down (2014 version)
Weight: 610g / 21.5oz
Usage: Low temps of -4C to -8C / 25-17F, and as mentioned earlier, combined with my synthetic summer quilt I can push it down to -9C to -15C / 16-5F.
My Overall Thoughts: I love this quilt. It has kept me nice and warm when I needed it the most during the colder half of the year. It has a zipper on the bottom of it, so you could call it a hoodless sleeping bag, but when you unzip it all the way it behaves just like a quilt. I usually keep it closed to keep drafts out, however.
The 900 fill down is impressively puffy, even after years of use, but it does need some maintenance. I don't find the bit of maintenance to be a deal breaker, but I do see the appeal of synth and hydrophobic down. For optimum performance of 900 fill down, I make sure to air it out after I wake on trips, so long as it's not raining. Ideally it's quick and easy to lay it out in the sun, but that is a luxury you can't count on in cloudy, rainy Sweden.
So if it's raining, I may have to wait to air it out at, for example, a trail shelter or in a cafe of a village/town the trail passes. However if it stays below freezing and it's more crisp/dry winter weather, I've found this airing out to be quicker and easier. In the future, after running this quilt into the ground, I will likely replace it with a quilt with hydrophobic down. This may take a while however, as the craftsmanship of this quilt is pretty great.
Part Two: The Pads and Extras
1st from the Left: Generic foam, trimmed to 2/3 length
Weight: 90g / 3.2oz
R Value: ~1
Usage: Low temps of 12C/53F and up.
My Overall Thoughts: I can actually get a pretty good night's sleep on this pad, but location is key. A nice bed of moss works great! Though I generally avoid trail shelters when using this pad. A classic summertime pad that is pretty much foolproof, though one thing that is annoying is having to replace them every few years. Maybe because they are cheap and tough, I am harder on my foam pads than my air pads; but then again, air pads have gotten better and better fabric that is also pretty tough and doesn't act like a magnet for twigs, pine needles, and other debris.
2nd from the Left: Nemo Zor Short (2014 version), model has since been discontinued as far as I understand.
Weight: 270g / 9.5oz
R Value: ~2
Usage: Low temps of 5-11C/41-52F
My Overall Thoughts: Love this pad, and I've got good use out of it--slightly more than the rest of the pads, actually. Not just for me, but I've also let my kids use it when we go camping as well. I find it much simpler and easy to use than my Neoair pads, especially when used inside a bivy. But what it makes up for with minimalism, it does lack in comfort when compared with the Neoair pads. Yet in fairness, it's still pretty comfy, even when used in trail shelters.
3rd from the Left: Neoair Xlite Regular (had the 2013 version, was replaced by slightly newer version under its warranty in 2015)
Weight: 350g / 12.3oz
R Value: 3.2
Usage: Low temps of 4C to -4C / 39-25F
My Overall Thoughts: What an incredible pad. The gold standard of UL sleeping pads, really. This is probably the pad I'd take on a long thru hike. Light, comfy, warm. Makes the chore of blowing it up totally worth it. The supposed noise this pad makes has never been an issue for me. Some people think it sounds like a bag of chips crinkling when you lay on it and move around, but I think these claims are exaggerated.
4th from the Left: Neoair Xtherm Regular (2014 version)
Weight: 465g / 16.4oz
R Value: 5.7
Usage: Low temps of -5C to -12C / 23-10F, and anything lower I can add my generic foam pad under it.
My Overall Thoughts: Another incredible Neoair pad, though this pad has not been used all that often due to it being pretty much a winter only pad for me. And on top of that, the past few winters have been especially mild, so I was fine with my Xlite (and foam sit pad under it) most of the time.
I bring this on all my trips now, as it adds so much comfort for so little weight. Never going back to stuff sack with clothing, not to mention that over the years I've dialed my clothing enough that I usually don't have much extra clothing around to use as a pillow anyhow.
Below the pads: SOL Escape Bivy Lite, 150g / 5.2oz.
I've written about this bivy a few years ago as one of my favorite pieces of gear (along with a few pieces of shelter that are included below), and that remains true. I love the flexibility this piece of gear adds to my kit, and I've had nothing but good experiences with it. It actually does what it claims to do by reflecting a significant amount of warmth back to you, while also being very breathable. Never had any issues with condensation, plenty of space inside, and weighs less and is warmer than any sleeping bag liner that I am aware of on the market. A silk liner will perhaps weigh around the same or less, but is not at all as warm. And weighs less than most top or bottom layers of clothing, yet provides full body warmth.
I take this bivy along when the low temps of my quilts for a given trip are on the edge. For instance if low temps are hovering around say 6-8C/42-46F on a beautiful May weekend, I can just throw this bivy down to the bottom of my pack and have some good peace of mind. Even if there is a cold snap and temps dip down to say 4-5C/39-41F, I'll still be able to get an okay night's sleep with the bivy plus my summer quilt and wear all my clothing layers (base layers, hiking layers, down vest, wind jacket, buff, gloves, socks x2, etc.). And if the temps turn out to be on the warmer end, no worries, then I can just lay the bivy under my pad as an extra bit of padding and insulation without being sweaty.
From left to right (all weights include stuff sack):
Borah Cuben Bivy (2013 version, modified with net vent) 150g / 5.2oz (including one guy line) No stakes needed
MLD Serenity Solo Net Tent (2015 version in silnylon) 345g / 12.3oz (including two guy lines) Can be pitched with no stakes, but four stakes makes for a better pitch
MLD Poncho/Tarp (2016 version in silnylon) 310g / 10.9oz (no guy lines) Ridge and guy lines, two mini-biners, and mini-sack add 50g / 1.8oz Depending on the pitch, needs two-eight stakes, 90% of the time I use six (A-frame)
Zpacks 6x9ft/1.8x2.7m Cuben Fiber Flat Tarp (2014 version) 250g / 8.8oz (including six guy lines) Ridge and extra guy lines, two mini-biners, and mini-sack add 40g / 1.4oz Depending on pitch, needs two-six stakes, 90% of the time I use six for a classic A-frame
Borah Dimma Bivy (2016 version, silpoly bottom) 240g / 8.5oz (including two guy lines) No stakes needed
SMD Skyscape X (2012 version, .75 Cuben, no longer in production) 510g / 18oz (including six guy lines and poles) Five-six stakes needed
Nemo Hornet 2 (2016 version) 900g / 31.7oz (including seven guy lines and poles) Four-seven stakes needed
So because I have already written/spoken extensively about nearly all of these shelters, I won't repeat myself here. These are all of my favorite, go-to shelters, after all. At this point in my UL game, I could have opted for pretty much any other UL shelter combos, but this is what works best for me. Yet there is one shelter that I have only spoken about a bit and not written about in detail, which is the Nemo Hornet 2. So for that shelter I will give my overall thoughts.
There are enough pests and enough precipitation where I hike that I take a fully enclosed shelter year round. Now that weight is out of the way for each piece shelter, let's take a closer look at each shelter combination and when I choose to use a given shelter system.
Borah Cuben Bivy + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit
Total Weight: 510g / 18oz
Usage: Light and fast SUL trips, usually summer weekend trips. Poncho/tarp also doubles as rain gear and pack cover.
MLD Serenity + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit
Total Weight: 705g / 24.9oz
Usage: More typical UL section hike or weekend trip in the summer. I prefer a net tent during peak bug season most of the time. Though if I am doing nothing but hiking and then sleeping right after setting up camp, or the trail I am hiking happens to have a lot of trail shelters, then I will opt for a bivy.
Borah Dimma Bivy + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit
Total Weight: 600g / 21.2oz
Usage: Typical set up for spring, fall, and early summer (before peak bug season) section hikes or weekend trips on marked trails.
Borah Dimma Bivy + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Zpacks Flat Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit
My take on trail routines was inspired by this great book I am reading at the moment by Liz "Snorkel" Thomas, Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru Hike. I thought it would be fun for me and perhaps useful and fun for others to see a rough sketch of what my routines are while I'm out wilderness backpacking, and this is the result. In Liz's book, she gives her and other experienced thru-hiker's trail routines, and I found it both useful and interesting to compare them to my own.
Now I am no thru-hiker (yet), but a humble section hiker, and Liz and her choice of experts are some of the most experienced backpackers you'll find on the entire planet. While I do have a fair amount of experience under my belt over the last few decades of backpacking and outdoor life, it's but a shadow compared to other hardcore hikers like Liz. They would maybe laugh at my daily personal goals when it comes to how far and long I hike, as they would likely have no problem hiking literally double of what I usually hike. But the book gives me hope for my future life as a thru-hiker once I sort out some life complications that prevent me from getting out there more and for longer periods of time.
Anyhow, it's a great read so far (I'm about halfway through it), in case anyone reading this is looking for a good, non-fiction backpacking book to read. Though this book is specifically for people who fully intend on going on (or who already have gone on) one or more thru hikes, not the casual backpacker, I would add. And no, I didn't get a copy for free, nor do I know Liz at all--just an honest recommendation!
Now on to some of my routines. I will breakdown my most common trips, which are section hikes here in Scandinavia for 2-6 days. These trips are usually on marked trails, but there are also the occasional off trail/bushwhacking trips I like to do as well. The main difference is that I usually don't hike as far on off trail trips, as they are often to familiar stomping grounds where I want to relax and maybe read a book, pick more wild edibles, go for a longer swims, etc. So I won't get into my off trail routines, which can vary greatly depending on my mood, weather, the season, etc.
I will cover two different types of routines based on season: summer and spring/fall (which are nearly the same routines). I also won't get into all the logistics of catching trains and buses to get to and from the trail, but just focus on life on the trail itself. These routines are also for when I am solo hiking. Hiking with friends, things can be all over the place depending on the friend or group I am traveling with. And finally, all times are just rough estimates, of course, and can change quite a bit when it comes to how much sunlight I have to work with given what month it is.
In the summer I am way more relaxed about time, as here in Scandinavia there is sunlight until around 10-11 at night during its peak. My personal goal in this season is usually to hike around 30-35km a day.
6:00-6:30: Wake up to birds singing 9 times out of 10, turn on my phone (or turn off airplane mode) and check if I have an internet connection. If I have internet, check the weather forecast, make sure there are no emergency or important text messages or emails, etc. If no internet, put it on airplane mode put it down again. Lay and reflect on my plan for the day.
Sometimes I will go back to sleep for another 30-45 minutes or so if I had an especially demanding hike the day before, and skip messing with my phone and my plan reflections. If there was a cold snap, then just before, during, and right after sunrise it's coldest, so this is when I will put on an extra layer (like a wind jacket) if needed and bundle up more in my sleeping bag/quilt before the sun warms things up.
7:00-7:30: Deflate my sleeping mat if I am using an inflatable, and get out of my sleeping bag. If I am sleeping in a bivy, then get out of the bivy to change into my hiking clothing and get my shoes on. If I am in a tent or net tent then I change inside. Either way, during my changing process I'll check for ticks. Then go and find a nice tree to pee on.
If it's not raining, turn my sleeping bag or quilt inside out and hang or lay it someplace to air out. Eat a granola bar and drink some water. Read my map. Go and find a nice spot to dig a hole and take a dump. Wash my hands. Pack up clothing, fold up my sleeping mat, wipe down any condensation with my small towel if needed, and then break down my shelter. After everything is packed up and ready to be put into my backpack, then I will stuff my sleeping bag/quilt into its drybag last, and then fully pack up. Put on my satchel, then my backpack, and walk around camp to make sure I didn't forget or drop anything.
If it's raining I will do all my packing under my tarp or in my tent and wait to air out my sleeping bag until later. The last thing I will pack will be my shelter, after I have everything else ready to go. If there was/is moderate to heavy rain I will strap my tarp or rain fly on top of my backpack as the last thing I pack, or if I am using a poncho/tarp I will just put that on last before I double check my campsite and move on.
7:30-8:00: Hit the trail for a very short hike, 2nd breakfast, and find water. After double checking my map and making sure I am on track again, I will eat another granola bar and/or some dried fruit and nuts while I hike. Drink more water, and I tend to drink a lot of water for breakfast, so if I am low on water I will look for a water source directly in front of me on the trail as I am hiking. If no water is in sight, then check my map for the next potentially good water source.
I favor water sources that are more isolated (i.e. away from any houses, farms, roads, etc.), and try and find springs and small creeks/streams that are clear and flowing rather than lakes or bogs. I also decide if I am going to filter my water or not, depending on the conditions of the water source at the time. For example, if I find a cold, clear spring of water flowing directly out of the side of a hill in the middle of a nature reserve, and there are no dead animals or any animal poop in or around the water upstream, I will give it a little taste first, and if it tastes fine, then I'll drink my fill and then fill up my bottles directly. Otherwise, if I think I need to filter, I fill my bladder, filter a few liters of water, and now I have a belly and a few bottles full of clean water.
After filling up on water, and if it's not raining, I can focus on a bit of personal hygiene. First I'll brush my teeth. Then I will wash my face, rinse off my head, neck, and arms, and dry myself off with my small towel. Hang the towel to dry on my backpack, then wash my dirty socks and hang them to dry too. If it's raining, I will just focus on filling up my water bottles and then just brush my teeth.
8:00-12:00: Try and hike around 10km. Take lots of pictures, maybe pick some berries and wood sorrel to munch on as a snack if I can find them. And if I find any mushrooms I save them for later--either cook and eat them for dinner (if I brought a stove, put them in a stew, or roast them on an open fire if I am stoveless) or bring them home. If it's raining, I will check my map and try and find a good, dry spot for lunch. Ideally this means a nice trail shelter, but could also be under a bridge, under some overhanging cliffs, or even under a big pine tree in a thicker patch of woods.
12:00-12:30: Lunch. I often go stoveless in the summer, so this means eat something quick and easy like chips, tortilla sandwich of some sort, nuts, maybe a luxury item like a fresh fruit. Yet even when I do bring a stove, I will usually opt for a no-cook lunch to make things easier. If it's still raining and I'm in a dry enough place, here is where I can air out my sleeping bag and tarp or rain fly. If it was raining all morning and I skipped out on personal hygiene and washing my socks, then I will do those chores after lunch (rain or not), where I have a dry place to work with to make things easier.
12:30-17:00: Try and hike around 10-12km. Take even more pictures, try and find even more wild edibles along the way, and eat another snack (granola bar, nuts, chips, etc.). I will drink most or all of my water, but unless it's really warm out I won't bother with filling my bottles again until dinner.
17:00-18:00: Find a nice spot for dinner near a good water source, and eat, drink, and fill my water bottles again. Study my map and decide on a goal area to set up camp for the night. This is my last big break before I put in my final push for the day, so I try and enjoy it--especially if the weather is nice. In the summer I generally start the day slow and easy, and then after lunch and until dusk I am more in "the zone." I will at times hike my longest stretch after dinner, especially if I feel like I am a bit behind on my daily hiking goal. So I will eat up, drink up, take off my shoes, maybe do a bit of meditation, maybe go for a quick swim, then hit the trail hard as I take full advantage of the last bit of sunlight.
18:00-22:00: The last big push. Try and hike another 10-12km. When it's close to dusk, start scouting for a good campsite if there are no trail shelters around, otherwise gun for the trail shelter I set as my goal. I always try and get to a trail shelter with enough sunlight to get a good look at it and the campsite around it. If the trail shelter sucks (holes in the roof and/or floor, mouse infestation, filthy, non-existent, etc.), then I will need to fix/clean it up enough to make it livable for the night. Or if it's too messed up or I am too tired to bother (or if it's not there at all), I'll need some extra time to set up my shelter, and may have to do last minute scouting for a nice, flat spot to pitch my tarp or tent.
22:00-22:30: Set up camp. After I set up either the trail shelter or my own shelter and then my sleeping mat/bag, I will usually reward myself with a late night snack, like some dark chocolate. Then I pee, hang up my food, brush my teeth, change into my sleep clothing, check for ticks, and then crawl into my sleeping bag/quilt and settle down for the night. Next to my sleep system I will lay out my hiking clothing--which helps them to dry out if wet, and if there is a cold snap I can find them easily in the middle of the night and put them on--along with my head lamp, phone (and plug it into a my battery bank if needed), and maps.
22:30-22:45: One last, quick look at the map to formulate my plan for tomorrow, then I take my phone off airplane mode and check for a signal. Do a bit of quick catching up and sending messages if possible and needed, then back on airplane mode (or turn it off). Once I am snug in my shelter and everything is in its right place, I am usually able to fall into a deep sleep pretty fast.
In these two seasons I have to be more disciplined about time management, as there is less sunlight to work with. As such, I am more flexible about my personal hiking goals, and am happy with 25-30km. Since I've already elaborated on many of the details and nuances of my general routines in the summer--and much of them are the same in other seasons--I won't repeat that here and just give a condensed version of routines. This is fitting considering the higher pace and attention to time that is needed during these two seasons, when the sun goes down anywhere between 6-8pm much of each season. So shorter breaks, and much less foraging for wild edibles while hiking. Swims are rare, but do happen on occasion. When they do happen they are pretty quick tho, brrrr!
6:30-7:15: Wake up to my phone's alarm. Earlier in the spring and later in the fall I will set my alarm earlier to make up for the shorter days, at times it will be a bit dark when wake up, so I will make good use of my headlamp.
If there is a cold snap, same routines, but warmer layers. Keep water filter and phone inside bivy or sleeping bag, and make sure to loosen up shoe laces and pull the tongue of the shoe out wide. That way if it dips below freezing, filter and phone won't freeze, and if shoes are wet/damp and do freeze, they will be easy to put on--cold, but I use minimalist/barefoot shoes, so in not too long my body heat defrosts them. That way I don't have to worry about putting my shoes inside my sleeping bag. I'd rather be comfortable sleeping and put up with around 10-20 minutes of cold shoes in the morning.
No time for chilling out like in summer. Take a few deep breaths, deflate the damn sleeping pad, and get down to it. Get up, change, pee, eat bar #1, drink, read maps, poop, wash hands, pack, break down shelter, pack, put on the backpack, look around one last time, and hit the trail while eating bar #2.
7:15-11:30: Hike around 10km. Eat a few snacks along the way. This time of year is colder, so it's generally more eating and less drinking. But somewhere in there fill up on water and get some hygiene in too, tho less sweat makes for less stink which makes for less washing up.
11:30-12:00: Lunch. I bring a stove during these two seasons, as warm meals for lunch and dinner I think are worth it when it's brisk out.
12:00-17:00: Hike around 12-15km. More consistent, steady pace. But still lots of pics tho.
17:00-17:30: Dinner, and try and find a spot near water. No time for a big last push, but a small push is possible.
17:30-19:00: Small push of around 3-5km with enough sunlight to get things done at camp.
19:00-21:00: Routines are the same as in the summer, only once camp is set up, I have more time to relax before bed. This could mean do chores like laundry. But also fun stuff, like building a campfire, using my phone more to listen to music/read/chat with friends, put on my headlamp and do some short walks close to my campsite in search of fire wood, mushrooms, nice views, wildlife, etc.
21:00-21:30: Hit the sack. Important that I go to sleep earlier these times of year because I need to wake up earlier to make good progress.
And there you have it, my life in a nutshell while I'm a temporary forest nomad. As always, feel free to ask questions or give feedback, either in the comments below, or on my blog's Facebook page (link on the sidebar). Peace!
Part two of the Södra Kungsleden trails see the path continue west through Fulufjället, briefly exiting the national park, entering another large national park called Drevfjällen, and then heading north. As before, this hike offers stunning views and gorgeous fjäll/mountain landscape, but again with the same cost of it being a more challenging trek. In fact, the group I traveled with and I agreed that this trip was even more difficult than last year's trip (see: link above). In addition to tough terrain and elevation to get through, Drevfjällen park is all the more isolated, and overall the trail was much less maintained.
The trail markings were mostly fine, but a few key spots really could use some better signs/markers. Plus in Drevfjällen there are several marshes/bogs that the trail goes through--much more than before in Fulufjället--and the majority of the time these wetland trails have either no planks/bridges for walking on, or there are old, rotten/broken ones. So you will get wet and muddy, and not just your feet, but most likely up to your knees and beyond. And then there are the trail shelters, which simply put, are generally not as nice as the more popular (and therefore more well maintained) Fulufjället shelters. Though there are a few exceptions, as you will soon see.
Okay, so that's the bad news, but with all that being said (and so long as you are at least a somewhat experienced backpacker), I would still recommend this hike, and my group and I had a great trip. A harder trip, but a good trip, and one that is more off the beaten path than before. In the five days we hiked (only one of which was in Fulufjället) we only saw a handful of people in western Fulufjället (mostly day hikers) and only two backpackers in all of Drevfjällen. And at the end of the trip, we were even able to see a small herd of reindeer.
My wife said of this trip: "It's beautiful, but you have to know what you're getting yourself into." So now you know, and considering the lack of information on this stage of the E1 trails in Sweden, I hope this will help.
Our trip, according to my wife and I's smartphone pedometers, covered roughly 90+km. This is much less than the trail accounts for on paper from the hamlets of Mörkret to Flötningen, but there was quite a bit of zigzagging on the trail, we took some side trails and a some off-trail exploring, and this also includes going off trail for bathroom breaks and water gathering, etc. On the map this section of trail is only around 60km, but in reality it will most likely be longer for one reason or another.
Yet as harsh as this trail was at times, there were still a few surprise luxuries along the way that you can spoil yourself with if you so desire (and have a bit of extra cash to spend). Passing the hamlet of Gördalen there are some nice cabins for rent for what we all thought was a reasonable price, and just across the border in Norway, about 3km from Flötningen, there is another nice place to rent cabins (again for a fairly reasonable price). So these deluxe amenities for a weary backpacker were a nice balance to this challenging yet beautiful section of trail. More information on these campsites/cabins later.
One thing that you won't lack is water, and plenty of good, clean sources of it. You will pass many lakes, tarns, ponds, rivers, springs, streams, and odds are you will probably get rained on too. So hydration shouldn't be an issue. Resupplying food could be an issue however, but there is a small supermarket in the hamlet of Flötningen, but with inflated prices. If you are on a thru-hike of Södra Kungsleden, it may be best to somehow get to the larger villages of either Särna or Idre to buy and prepare your food supplies for this hike, and also the rest of the trail from Flötningen to the end of the trail at Grövelsjön. Idre is larger and has more shops and such than Särna. And we all agreed the lone pizza shop in Särna was generally pretty crappy, but passible for hungry hikers. Canned mushrooms? Seriously?
Transportation is another hurdle to overcome in this rather isolated area. There are buses you can take from Flötningen to Idre, but they run rarely and also have to be booked in advance via Dalatrafik. There are no buses from Särna to Mörkret, so you're going to have to be creative with getting rides to or from there. There is always hitchhiking, but you can also arrange a ride for a small fee via the Fulufjällsgården campsite, which is what our group did, and we rented a cabin there as well. This was the second year we stayed at this campsite, and both times we were quite happy with the facilities and service.
Our group and I had intended to hike all the way to Grövelsjön, but due to several people having some minor injuries, we had to end the trip a few days earlier in Flötningen. We intend on returning there next year to finish the E1 trail and also do some of the many side trails in the area on both the Norwegian and Swedish sides of the fjälls and mountains.
We got picked up at Särna and spent the night at Fulufjällsgården before heading back into the national park. Our first day was rainy and quite windy as we returned to Njupeskär waterfall. We stopped for lunch at the Rörsjöstugan cabins, then continued on to the Harrsjöstugan cabin, where the wind and rain made it difficult to follow the trail from there. At Harrsjöstugan there are three trails that intersect on the western side of the cabin, and in spite of several members of our group (myself included) double checking the signs outside the cabin to go the right way, we took a wrong turn and ended up hiking several kilometers south rather than west.
South there is another cabin called Bergådalsstugan, and the trail loops back to the east past the cabin, so rather than backtrack north we decided to follow a faint trail I discovered that we dubbed "Secret Trail." Secret Trail runs west somewhat parallel to Södra Kungsleden, which is to the north, and both trails end up in the hamlet of Gördalen. The trail begins with a rock pile just off the marked trail to the west, close to where there are four mountain tarns (one is bigger than the rest, east of the marked trail), about 2km north of Bergådalsstugan.
It's a tricky trail to find and to follow. If you choose to hike Secret Trail, be careful, as it is only marked with an occasional pile of stones, and is thin, and at times almost non-existent. But it does pass over higher elevation than the marked Södra Kungsleden, which makes for some great views. We were able to follow Secret Trail up and over Brattfjället and into the edge of the forest on the western slope of the mountain, but dark clouds rolled in again and dumped more wind and rain on us, so we lost the trail and were forced to bushwhack west by northwest back to the marked trail.
This would be the toughest part of our whole trip, scrabbling over and down wet boulders in the wind and rain and off any kind of trail, but thankfully we were all cautious and came down the mountain unscathed. Due to all these complications I wasn't able to take any pictures in this stretch, which is a shame, as it's quite a scenic area, in spite of its difficulties.
Soggy and exhausted, we exited the national park and took a short break at the small, shitty campsite near the paved road. The trail shelter was tiny and in front of a gravel parking lot, and none of us were happy about the prospect of pitching our tents there. So I set off north to try and find the other trail shelter marked on our map to see if it was any better than this one. I couldn't find the shelter, but I was able to find a place that rents out cabins to snowmobile riders in the winter. It was the off season, but I knocked on the door anyhow to see if I could talk the owner into renting a cabin to us. The owner agreed, which we were all very thankful for, and we spent the night in a big, luxurious cabin.
I asked the owner if he would be willing to rent out cabins to other backpackers in the future, and he said yes, so I told him I'd mention it here on my blog. He was happy about that, and was very accommodating and friendly. You can't miss his place in Gördalen, it's only about 1km north off the trail on the main road, and below you will find a picture of the place with a phone number to call if you'd like to book a cabin in advance or see if the owner is around.
The next day we followed the dirt road (which is right next to the cabins) that headed south back towards the trail, and soon enough we were back on the trail and entered Drevfjället. It's a steep climb into the park, and shortly after the elevation plateaus, there was a small trail shelter near a stream where we took a nice water break.
There was some very pleasant fjäll hiking after the little wind shelter, passing several mountain tarns. Then the trail goes more north by northwest and heads back into the forest, where the cabin Drevfjällsstugan stood in a lush, green valley near yet another mountain stream. It was a not bad cabin a bit on the small side, but in a pinch I think all eight of us could have fit, albeit a tight squeeze. Past the cabin the trail follows the boggy cliffs that overlook lake Drevsjön, but views of the lake are mostly obscured by trees and brush until you get to the northern tip of the lake. There was another tiny wind shelter there near the lake, with hardly enough space for one person.
The first of many marshes to come was between the lake and the next trail cabin, but thankfully the cabin was on a hill and in a clearing. The cabin was perhaps the nicest in the entire park, lucky for us, as we decided in advance that we would be camping there. The name of this cabin is Id-Persätern, and the cabin was in the remnants of an old farm. There was a good stove in the cabin, enough space to fit all eight of us inside (and fairly comfortably--by backpackers standards, that is), a crystal clear stream with good, cold water a stone's throw from the cabin, and there was also a good outhouse close by too.
The E1 Trail connects Vasaloppsleden and Södra Kungsleden via the village of Sälen, and goes through a few nature reserves, most notably (and the largest) being the Fulufjället National Park. This is the second to last stages of the Swedish E1 trails in the north, and its length can vary considerably depending on how one chooses to hike it. There are several side/alternative trails and potential loops that can be hiked, though on a map following the most direct route the length is roughly 80km. However the route my friends and I hiked ended up being around 110km according to an average of several smartphone pedometers we had with us. Here is a link to a basic map and general information of this area (in English).
This stage presents some logistical challenges due to how isolated the area is, and will require plenty of planning ahead of time. For the record the map we used was the Lantmäteriet Fjällkartan W2, Fulufjället-Sälen, November 2013 edition. You will absolutely need a good and current/updated map of the area and of course a compass, and I would personally advise doing this and the next and last stage in the same trip if you have the time. Unfortunately my friends and I did not have the time and exited the trail at one of the northern ends of Fulufjället near the hamlet of Mörkret after about 5 days of travel. Another issue is food supplies, again due to isolation and general lack of civilization on or around the trail. So make sure to have ample food supplies before setting off into this big patch of mountainous, wild nature.
Getting to Sälen is easier, with daily buses going into town. Mörkret however is another story, with its closest bus stop around 24km away in the village of Särna. There is a hostel/campground in Mörkret that offers a shuttle service for a small fee to and from Särna (we paid 150 SEK per car with 4 hikers stuffed inside). You will need to ask for this shuttle service, as it is not advertised, and here is a link to the hostel's website (in English).
Please note that there is a roughly 20km transitional distance between Vasaloppsleden and the beginning/southern entry point of Södra Kungsleden, however you can take a bus from Sälen to the trailhead at Sälen Högfjällshotell.
If you have not read the introduction to this trail guide yet, you can do so here, and there is also a list of links to other completed reports of the Swedish E1 trails. Please keep in mind this is still a work in progress.
Having hiked all but the final stage of the entire Swedish E1 trails, let me start by saying that this is what I would consider to be the crown jewel of the entire trail system. Granted we got lucky with good weather (mostly sunny, with very little rain--this is rare in the fjälls!), and I had amazing company, but that being said this was easily what I would consider the highlight of not just the E1 trails, but one of the single best hiking trails I've ever done, period. I took over 350 pictures and was absolutely enamored with this trail, though I will add that this trail is not for everyone.
Aside from the logistical challenges mentioned above, the terrain is also challenging. One goes up and down small mountains again and again for the majority of this stage; and the trail itself, while wide ranging in conditions, has quite a lot of hard, jagged stones to hike on. If you are there in the summer also expect to be eaten up by bugs to one extent or another, even if you are veteran and are vigilant with head net and bug spray and such. But with the hard work and enduring certain hardships comes many rewards. There are uncountable views, many of which are stunning, and some of which (if you are lucky and have good visibility) are jaw droppingly beautiful.
One of the reasons why it has taken me so long to write this trail guide in spite of it being nearly a month since I embarked on this journey is the challenge of choosing the best/most useful photos to include in this guide. And forgive me for sounding trite, but this is a classic case of many of the photos not being able to do justice to nature. The wind, the smells, the reflecting/refracting light, the colors--this is just one of those vivid places that overloads the senses while you're there.
Speaking of photos, in the photos you will often see my travel companions, who are my friends Julia, Mike, Ryan, Mikaela, Veronica, Alex, and my wife Karin (who was also with me on Vasaloppsleden last year). Thanks so much for coming along and helping to make this one of my favorite backpacking trips of all time, all you weirdos!
Photo cred: Alex
Our motley crew arrived at the trailhead after traveling for nearly 10 hours on several different trains and a bus ride, and were surprised to find a surreal little bubble of civilized convenience in the mountains. This is due to the high amount of ski tourism the area receives in colder times of the year, but in the summer most of the facilities are closed. They even have a McDonald's up there, I am sad to report. The only thing that seemed to be open was a small supermarket near the front of the trailhead, but it had just closed by the time we got there in the evening. Which was fine, as we were all stocked up and ready to go.
The first few kilometers of the trail are actually paved with asphalt, for the tourists that want to take a quick stroll in the fjäll. And shortly after starting the trail, the nice views began, and you'll find the first water source from a crystal clear tarn. There will be plenty more views and good water to come--in fact, water is one of the few logistical issues that you don't really have to worry about much on this trail. There is an abundance of water, much of it clear and clean and that you can drink directly.
This is anecdotal to be sure, so take it with a grain of salt, but I've talked to many locals and hikers alike that don't filter or treat or boil any of the water they drink in the fjälls--and I've never once heard anyone tell me they got sick from the water. That being said, my friends and I did a pragmatic mix of filtering and drinking straight up (about 50/50 as a group), and none of us got sick or had any stomach issues that I am aware of.
You pass a small trail shelter going north before coming to the first real cabin of this section, Östfjällstugan. It is a fine shelter and right on the banks of a tarn, and looking back I am a bit split about not staying the night at this shelter. The group was full of energy and wanted to march on, especially me, so I am glad we were able to cover more ground.
But the next cabin at Källfjället was not as nice as the one before. That being said, all eight of us were able to fit inside--though it was pretty snug--and get a good night's sleep. We were able to fill up on water and do our washing up in various little rain pools around the cabin, and in the end it proved to be not a bad place to make camp. Just not as scenic or spacious. Though the hike there and immediately after this 2nd cabin were wonderful. The next day we also saw plenty of wild cloudberries growing right on and around the trail, though they were not quite ripe yet (and even when ripe they are an acquired taste).
As the trail goes west through fjäll forests, it then climbs up a small mountain before soon going back down into more fjäll forests. There are a few small, cold, strikingly clear tarns along the way that make for great places to take a break to fill up on water and/or go for a swim. Going back up another mountain, there is the quite lovely cabin Närfjällsstugan, which we enjoyed while we stopped for a long lunch break. Close to the cabin is yet another conveniently located little spring to use as a water source.
Past this cabin is more fjäll trekking, and a happy accident happened to us after I made a mistake navigating the group. In fairness to myself, it's an easy mistake to make, especially considering that I was awestruck by all the gorgeous view around us. Here is the key detail: going north between the mountains Öst Granfjället and Väst Granfjället there is a fork in the trail, and one sign (pointing west) says "Granfjällsstöten" while the other (pointing north) says "Granfjällssätern." I confused the two and turned west, which was not our intention, though it actually proved to be an excellent little detour.
Hiking west the views were stellar. I will again note that weather plays a key role here, and we had amazing visibility. You can see for many kilometers in the distance all around, from mountains in the distance to rolling, lush, green forests in the valleys and dales. That's when I noticed some buildings in the distance, and realized we'd gone the wrong way. We hiked on and continued to enjoy the views, and then decided to take the direct route off trail down the side of the mountain towards the buildings in the distance. The collection of buildings is a ski hamlet called Stöten.
Soon after bushwhacking we found a marked trail leading into the hamlet, and as before everything was closed for the season. There are a few huts with grills that we used to take a break before moving on, but otherwise it's a ghost town with no other shelters, bathrooms, or anything else. A gravel road runs through the hamlet, which we followed north to a dirt/grassy road going east. On my map there was marked a trail shelter on this grassy dirt road, but there was no shelter to be found. Which is no big deal because there is an excellent campsite just ahead after reconnecting with the trail.
The trail goes north through a big bog (your feet will get wet) and then passes over a handsome bridge over a surreally scenic river. On the north banks of the river is an outhouse, plenty of flat ground to set up tents and such, easy access to the river, and a small trail shelter called Lillbäcksstugan. The shelter could maybe fit one or two people inside, so we didn't bother to use it and instead all set up our tents on the grass by the river. There we had a fire and a lovely stay by the river, with more swimming and resting before carrying on the next day.
For those of you that intend on actually hiking in this area, if you have not read my guide to The Ed Loop, I suggest you do that first, as these two sections of hiking are directly related and connected to each other. Plus, there is also more background information and context that I won't repeat here, so do check that out please. Together, The Ed Loop and The Dalsland Connection Route (DCR from now on) provide an alternative to hikers to connect two longer, well established trails: Bohusleden to the west, and Pilgrimsleden (Dalsland) to the east. Or these new routes can also work as section hikes unto themselves. One potential shorter thru-hike that I really like the idea of is to start in Åmål in the east and hiking all the way to Strömstand in the west, or the other way around.
The DCR is around 50-60km (depending on how you choose to hike it), and runs from the town Ed in west, to the Dalsland Canal area to the east, centered around the villages of Håverud, Åsensbruk, and Upperud. These three canal villages are all right next to each other and offer a variety of interesting things for hikers and travelers alike. One option already mentioned is Pilgrimsleden, which runs right through this canal area. Another is that in the summer time, special boats and trains run up and down the Dalsland canal and beyond. Then of course there are more mundane but practical amenities for hikers/travelers, such as access to regular public transportation, restaurants, cafes, B&Bs, supermarkets, etc.
From these canal villages, one can catch a bus or train to the larger town of Mellerud, where there are further connections. Or backpackers can simply continue hiking onto Pilgrimsleden, which is accessible at several points in this area. The trail passes right through Upperud, and there are a few roads and trails one can follow from Håverud that intersect with the trail only 2-3kms away.
However if one is hiking on Pilgrimsleden and wants to jump off this trail to hike west on the DCR, there are generally two ways to go about this. One is to hike around the south end of the big, narrow lake Åklång, which is right next to Håverud and Åsenbruk. The other way--which is the path that I chose to take--is to either hike or take the local summer train a few more kilometers north to the hamlet and nature reserve of the same name, Buterud. I was lucky enough to catch the train--completely by chance, as I didn't know it existed until this trip!--to this charmingly little place that sits on both sides of the Dalsland canal.
What is also key to this place is that there is a footbridge (see: below) that crosses over the canal, and this bridge is a mere 4km walk directly from Pilgrimsleden (leaving the trail close to lake Livarebosjön) or a 5km walk from Upperud.
Note that it is generally safe and acceptable to hike on the train tracks in this area, and you will need to do this to one extent or another to get to the footbridge over the canal anyhow. I spoke to a very friendly local in Buterud who assured me this was okay, and that locals do it all the time. The train is not a modern, fast type train, but one of those smaller, old school type trains (see: below), and goes at a slower pace than regular trains. Plus, the local told me, the conductors are good at tooting their whistle at people on the tracks so they can move aside.
Please note that this route, The DCR, is not a marked trail. There are no trail shelters, though there are plenty of nice spots in the woods to make camp, and lots of good water sources. This is a path that I came up with to connect with another route (that I also came up with) mentioned previously, The Ed Loop. As such, this path is not one I would recommend to inexperienced backpackers. You will need good maps of the areas, a compass, and good orientation skills to hike this route. And as my guide will soon point out in detail, there are several challenges in navigating this path, though nothing insurmountable for a backpacker with some solid experience under their belt. But if you're not up for it for whatever reason, and you're in Ed and just want to get to Pilgrimsleden, no worries--just take a bus to Mellerud.
On the DCR you will be hiking through fairly isolated terrain on various lumber roads, backwoods dirt roads, unmarked trails, even faint animal trails and outright bushwhacking. To further complicate things (for the time being, at least), some of the roads and trails this route follows or passes by are not even marked on any map that I am aware of. And I studied several maps thoroughly and brought along two separate maps of roughly the same area, and both of which were the most current maps available.
Keep in mind that hiking in isolated terrain also has its advantages. Peace and quiet, for one, and on this trip I was also able to see more wildlife in one trip than I have seen in recent memory. In total I saw 5 deer, 4 moose, 2 foxes, a wild boar, and a plethora of birds of all kinds. If only I was faster with my camera! But here's a moose and a deer (you have to look carefully):
Finally, before we get to the trip report itself, I would add that I worked very hard in planning this route to limit the amount of time spent hiking on asphalt. There is a fair amount of walking on dirt and gravel roads, but most of them go deep into the forest and are more wild and woodsy. A large portion of these roads were overgrown with grass and moss, and felt more like hiking on a trail than a road. In total there is only a maximum of about 7-8km of asphalt from Upperud to Ed, though from Buterud to Ed following a slightly less direct route into the town of Ed (which is what I did, more on this soon), you can limit this down to 4-5km. The report that follows goes from east to west, starting just past the footbridge in Buterud and ending in Ed.
The train up to Buterud I highly recommend, if you can catch it. It runs twice a day only, but as stated before, only in the summer. But if you can't catch the train, this place is easy enough to find and is close to Pilgrimsleden. Past the bridge and the water lock there is a water tap, an outhouse, a trash can, and a picnic bench. There is a gravel road that goes north, past the canal, and to the big lake Råvarp. When you get to a small and old looking dam that flows into the big lake, follow the overgrown path down to a run down building that is the end point of a large pipe of water that I guess regulates the flow of water into the lake.
Close to this building to the west is an old and even more overgrown trail that takes you to the large yard of a house on a small bay. Continuing west, a faint trail loops around the southern nub of the small bay of the lake. The trail was blocked by a fallen tree and overgrown brush, but I was able to slog around and find it again and head northwest. All this made for quite a pleasant hike, and it was an encouraging start to this first hike of the DCR.
Soon on the western side of Råvarp the unmarked trail intersects with a gravel road with a handful of small farms and summer homes. After a few kilometers, there is a small lake called Ånäsetjärnet, where there is some nice if not faint woodland trails to explore on either side of gravel road. South off the road a trail follows a cliff close to the lake, while north off the road there is a small nature reserve. I decided to explore the trail near the lake to make camp for the night, and it was quite a lovely place to spend the night.
The next day I continued with a short (1km) hike south on the paved road that intersects with the gravel road near the lake. There is a gravel road that heads west off this paved road, and again I was pleasantly surprised to find that the road eventually transforms into a woodland path for a bit (behind a small farm) before reverting back into a gravel road. The gravel road crosses between two lakes, Nedre Högsjön and Övre..
There are several different trails in Scandinavia called "Pilgrimsleden" (The Pilgrim's Trail), so this one is not to be confused with other trails fo the same name! I've hiked on at least two other trails in Sweden called the same, but this guide is for the one that runs through the Dalsland area. The trail goes roughly from the city of Vänersborg in the south to the border of Varmland county to the north. Also worth noting is that past the border to the north, the trail continues and eventually goes into the Glaskogen nature reserve further north, where there are even more hiking trails throughout the park.
Pilgrimsleden Dalsland is about 110km in total, but for the purposes of wilderness backpacking I strongly suggest a modified route. My modified route incorporates a long side-trail that begins in the town of Åmål called Storspåret, and skips a long section from the village of Upperud to Vänersborg on the southern part of the trail. The reason behind skipping this section is simple: it's mostly asphalt walking. And hiking on paved roads for a long time, if you ask me and many others interested in wilderness backpacking, sucks.
But there are also good logistical considerations to my modified route. Rather than starting or ending this trail in the middle of nowhere at the northern endpoint of the trail, one can begin or end in Åmål, which has a train station, buses, supermarkets, restaurants, etc. And in Upperud the trail literally passes by a bus stop (see: below) where you can catch a bus to the town of Mellerud, where there is a train station.
So my way of hiking this trail goes from Upperud in the south to Åmål in the northeast, and covers roughly 75km of trail--55km of Pilgrimsleden Dalsland and 20km of the Storspåret side trail. It's a wonderful section hike that my friends and I really enjoyed.
I have to admit that I had low expectations of this trail before setting off, and was pleasantly surprised by this little gem of a trail. There are several nice views, lots of lakes and streams, plenty of time deep in the woods, and even some relatively newly built and really nice teepee style trail shelters along with some other more traditional lean-to shelters as well. The reason why I was not expecting much was due to a lack of information on the trail. I found a few pictures after some cursory searching, and had to dig around for some maps and info that I linked above. But not much else. It's one of the more obscure trails in Västra Götaland county, and locals (including local hikers/outdoors people) never mentioned the trail to me. I only found out about it after doing some deep dive searching for trails of the area after running out of new trails to explore.
Sometimes life has some nice surprises! I hope to hike this trail again in the future following my route again, and am also very curious to continue north into more trails that lay ahead in the Glaskogen area. Naturally there were some things that could be improved on the trail, which I will point out soon--but overall we had few complaints on our three day hike.
We began by taking the train to Åmål, which is perhaps most famous for the 1998 movie Fucking Åmål. I also recommend the movie, by the way! Walking through town going northwest, the trailhead for Storspåret can be found in a park. One easy way to find the park is to cross a bridge over the E45 highway that leads right to the park. In town if you need supplies, food, or booze, there are places to buy these things along the way.
Storspåret starts off as a gravel path and intersects with other local hiking/running trails. Shortly after things get more woodsy, and you pass some lakes and eventually the first cozy, wooden, teepee trail shelter.
Not too long after this shelter through more pleasant forest hiking is yet another campground near a lake. This second camp spot has both a lean-to and a teepee, and we all agreed it would have been a nice spot to stay the night. But it was early yet, so we continued. We also hoped that the shelters to come would be as nice as the ones we had passed, and to our delight we would soon find one that was even nicer. More on that later.
Plenty more woods, but also some hiking on dirt roads, but at least the roads were dirt, gravel, and grass. You pass a few farms, so be aware of farm dogs. Storspåret is only 20km, so if you start the trail early enough, it's relatively easy to finish the entire trail in a day. The trail ends to the west at a ski resort with a ski lift, so you can't miss connecting with Pilgrimsleden Dalsland. Traveling west doing a final bit of road walking, the trail passes over a narrow strait that connects two lakes (Bräcketjärnet and Knarrbysjön). Shortly after the lakes is the big hill where the ski slope is clearly visible.
You can choose to hike around the hill to the north following the trail, or you can choose to hike straight up the ski slope, which is the most direct route to Pilgrimsleden Dalsland going southbound. The views on the hill are great, and on top of the hill just beyond a ski lodge is one of the nicest trail shelters and campsites I've ever stayed at. This campsite has almost everything: great views, a breeze to keep bugs away, another nice teepee shelter with two big windows and a firepit inside, a fire ring outside, a small lean-to near the fire ring, and there are even outhouses behind the ski lodge. The only thing missing was a water source, but you can just fill up at the lakes below on your way (which is what we did).
Heading south down the big hill, there is more pleasant trail to hike that passes by another not bad campsite with a lean-to on the shores of a lake. Continuing past this lake there were signs of beaver activity, and sure enough the trail passes right over a beaver dam. Then for a while there is a mix of woods and lumber roads, but the lumber roads are not bad, being grassy or dirt and easy on the feet. Then there is yet another lean-to that we found even nicer than the last, again on the shore of a lake--this lake (Tansjön) is much bigger and better for swimming, which is what we did to cool off after a lunch break.
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