Hiking in Finland is a blog dedicated to ultralight outdoor adventures in the Nordics. You can read about lightweight & ultralight backpacking, climbing, bikepacking, packrafting and skiing trips gear, interviews with cottage gear manufacturers, and other interesting topics related to outdoor activities.
Northern Ireland, or Ireland in general, is not really a country which you associate with sunshine, 26°C hiking days and long, almost empty beaches and cliff paths. However, to my surprise this was exactly what I encountered on my thru-hike of the Causeway Coast Way!
Disclosure: This trip was supported by Tourism Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland, additionally I also received a fee for my work. This does not influence the article as I maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site. Read the Transparency Disclaimer for more information on affiliate links & blogger transparency.
At home in Vaasa, Finland, I have since six weeks wall-to-wall ☀️ every day, and as I was starting to have an eye on the weather forecasts of Portstweart, Bushmills and Ballycastle, I was happy to see that I will be equally blessed with superb weather during my hike on the Causeway Coast Way in Northern Ireland. So into my carry-on backpack went my Luna Sandals, sunscreen and T-Shirts while the rain pants and jacket stayed at home. I did not regret that decision - maybe the only thing I did regret was that I didn’t apply the sunscreen more often and that I didn’t add a few extra days to explore more of this beautiful part of Ireland.
My detailed trip report will follow in the next weeks, but for now enjoy these B-Roll impressions from the trail and it’s quaint little towns which lay along it. Right now this is still a fairly unknown trail, and while at some points along it you will encounter a lot of people this trail likely will soon be as popular as the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland which is renown for equally stunning scenery.
I arrived in Portstewart late in the afternoon, but the weather was so good - I had to go out and hike to the beach. Which was totally worth it!
The next day I hiked to the Giant’s Causeway, which is World Heritage site and can be very busy. But go there late in the evening or early in the morning and you’ll likely have it to yourself. It’s a mind-boggling beautiful place, and I didn’t plan for enough time there - I feel a photographer wants at least a full day to spend here!
I hiked onwards in the heat, along cliff paths which had me stop every few hundred meters to soak in the landscape which is just breath-taking.
On my last day on the trail the drizzle and clouds made an appearance, and also them I found beautiful and serene. And just like that I finished in Ballycastle, sad that this beautiful hike was already over.
Stay tuned for the full trip-report in the next couple of weeks, but take a look some more photos in the Flickr Album and on Instagram!
I first became aware of GramXpert as their Gear popped up in the German Ultraleicht Trekking Forum. Since then their backpacks and quilts are also sold at the trekking-lite-store.com, and their kit is light and looks good, with some unique solutions. Reason enough to get in touch with the two brothers and hear their story!
Maj and Kajo, please briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are. Since when are you backpacking, and how did you start?
We are two brothers with a passion for anything active and outdoorsy. Hiking is almost folklore in Slovenia so we’ve been at it from a very young age. The biggest influence was our father. He regularly took us on multi-day hiking and biking trips when we were kids, and those adventures sparked our interest. We still have fond memories of our first bike tour at the age of 8. It was a 4 day, 120km tour and we rode fully loaded 20” bikes with only 6 gears :) Similar adventures on bike & foot were on the menu every summer vacation since. As we got older we started planning our own trips. They became longer and more challenging and with that came better and more elaborate gear.
I am interested in many outdoor activities, I am not taking anything as a competitive sport but rather as an adventure. I was into rock climbing for a long time, but lately caving and paragliding got my attention. I am responsible for designing new gear and coordinating custom orders, also the main craftsman and tester. I am also finishing my degree in geotechnical engineering so at the moment I can only work part-time.
Maj: My approach when it comes to life is holistic. I’m a trained chef and passionate about nutrition. I’m currently also an assistant coach, a Tuina masseur, and a TCM student. I am also an advocate for animal rights and a promoter of sustainable lifestyle.
I’m the one that takes care of the bureaucratic side of the business, but I enjoy customer service, various daily tasks and of course sewing.
How often are you outdoors nowadays?
As often as we can be. We are very busy these days, but we always make sure to take some time off and go outside in order to recharge our batteries. We take every opportunity we can to go out, test our prototypes and work out the kinks.
Are you two more of “weekend warriors” or do you have some long distance trips under your belt?
We regularly go on two or three day hikes and one or two week-long trips per year. Too busy for anything longer at the moment.
We want to experience thru hikes also, we just weren’t able to do it so far. Hopefully sometime in the near future.
Hiking in Finland Readers & me, we are gear-nerds! What is your typical baseweight?
Kajo: It depends, but generally about 3-3.5kg for a 3 season setup. While I am very selective about each individual piece of gear, I never really weigh the total pack or bother with the LW/UL/SUL tags. I also still have quite a bit of room to optimize the setup.
Maj: I have similar base weight as Kajo, but I usually carry heavier food (fresh if possible). Thankfully it counts as a consumable :)
Please tell us where the name “GramXpert” came from, and what it stands for.
As you might expect Gram comes from grams. As for the Xpert, we would never claim to know everything and are always happy to learn more, but we felt like our experience and almost obsessive research of design and materials justified the Xpert part :)
What makes GramXpert different from other cottages?
We really try to keep up with our short lead times, keeping the products at high quality levels and most importantly providing good customer service. Our products are also highly customizable. Each person has different needs and wants and we are always willing to adjust and adapt to every individual’s wishes.
Is GramXpert your full-time job or “just a hobby”?
Maj: A little bit of both. At the moment we are also busy doing a bunch of other things as we mentioned before, so we are not sure if this will be a full time job for both of us. I would like to keep working halftime at GramXpert so I can simultaneously work on other projects, but Kajo will put more effort into it in the future, after he graduates. European market for UL gear is quite small and most people (at least here in Slovenia) are day hikers and tend to sleep in huts. Despite that the business is on a positive trajectory and steadily growing. Our mantra is: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
GramXpert makes lightweight and stylish quilts, accessories and a backpack. Can you tell us how the idea to start the company emerged and how you see its future?**
It started with us trying to tweak the gear we bought so it would fit our needs. Then we made the first quilts for ourselves and our friends. The key moment was when Kajo’s plan to thru-hike the PCT fell apart due to bureaucratic obstacles. He realized he wouldn’t get the necessary visa in time, so he invested his savings in the company instead.
We’re very enthusiastic and full of ideas and plans for the future. We spend most of our free time thinking about our craft, our mission, and our vision. We’re aware of the areas in which we are lacking, but we always strive to improve. We never want to sacrifice quality in order to get a few extra sales, so while we definitely want to grow and flourish, we plan on doing it strategically.
Any intentions of starting to branch out into other segments, for example offering shelters and bivys?
Yes! Eventually we would like to branch out and offer most items backpackers need. R&D takes a lot of time especially if you want to test the gear thoroughly. Bivys will be available soon. Later we will add some clothing items that are currently in the development phase. Branching out proved to be quite challenging seeing as different gear requires different sewing machine settings, or sometimes an entirely separate machine if you want to do it right. We learned a lot while we were launching our backpacks and we hope we can optimize the process and streamline the workflow in the future. Our workspace is quite limited, we’re currently cramped in a 20 square meter room and this makes some things an impossible task. We would like to produce shelters as well, but first we need to move to a bigger workshop.
Are there any other cottage manufacturers in Slovenia that you work with?
No, we are not aware of any other similar cottage manufacturers nearby, but we do collaborate with a couple of independent local suppliers.
And are you in touch with other cottage manufacturers in Europe, Japan, Canada, the USA and other places?
Not at the moment, but we are open for collaboration. It might be interesting to work on some joint projects.
Your company is still young and already has been getting good reviews and praise from all across Europe. Is business going well?
We’re slowly but surely increasing the visibility and hopefully building a good reputation. We are very happy with how things are going, but it will take a while before everything will run smooth. We’re planning on expanding our product range so we can reach more people, but like we said, quality over quantity.
Can you tell us a bit how you went about the design process of eLite quilt, and where the inspiration came from?
Kajo: Our past experiences inspire all of our products. The same thing happened with eLite. I remember winter camping a few years ago. Trying to find those tiny cordlocks to completely close the footbox in the middle of the night drove me crazy. As soon as I came home I designed a new quilt with a handy closure. With eLite you can close the footbox in a breeze, even with your gloves on.
Kajo and Maj, we love to be let in on the work-in-progress stuff! What kind of new products are you working on at the moment?
There are many prototypes of different gear in the works and you can certainly expect new and exciting things in the near future. Insulated balaclava and backpack accessories will be out in the upcoming months. We’re also currently testing two bivy models along with a simple rectangular 1P tarp/ ponchotarp.
And are there any new lightweight materials that have you all excited?
Not really, but we’re looking forward to the day when super light and breathable DCF will be available :) 10g/m² or lighter shell fabric for quilts would be really awesome.
How works the R&D at GramXpert, do you have a need yourself that you try to fix, or do some of your clients inspire you for new products and ask you for solutions to their problems, which then are adopted in the GramXpert line-up?
The “base” products are mostly inspired by our own experiences. We design the prototypes, then incorporate any improvements we might feel are needed. Due to our gear being highly customizable, we can always consult each individual customer and figure out a solution for their specific needs.
Where do your customer come from, and how do they find you?
All over the world, but mostly from Europe. Some find us organically, but it seems that most of our customers discover us through word of mouth.
When and where was your last trip?
We took a two day trip two weeks ago. We hiked through Kamnik-Savinja Alps, mainly because we live nearby, so it was really convenient on top of being gorgeous. Our last week-long trip was last autumn. We did a section hike of Slovenian mountain trail.
And where is your dream backpacking trip taking you?
Kajo: My dream backpacking trip is constantly changing. Currently it’s PNT (Pacific-Northwest Trail).
Maj: I enjoy taking short trips all over the world, but if I had to choose, the ultimate backpacking experience would be exploring South America.
Any favourite piece of gear which you always carry with you?
Kajo: That would probably be my wind jacket. It’s super convenient if you are always a bit cold like I am. In the colder seasons I always bring a pair of Climashield pants with me to keep me warm and cozy.
Maj: I also never leave home without my wind jacket, but other than that, I always pack my knife so I can prepare fresh meals.
Are you planning to get out for a trip soon, and enjoy the spring in the Julian Alps?
Our trips are mostly planned a day or two before they actually happen. There is still a lot of snow in the Julian Alps, so we’re focused on other areas at the moment. Our next trip will probably be somewhere in the coastal region. What we really like about Slovenia, and in particular the area near the capital, is that a short 1 hour drive can take you to a sub-mediterranean climate at SW, alpine at NW and continental in the eastern parts of the country. So on a good winter day you can choose between snowshoeing or rock climbing in a T-shirt :)
Social Media - on which channels is GramXpert active?
We’re not very active on social media at the moment, but we plan to change that in the future. We occasionally post on Facebook and you can also find us on Instagram.
Maj & Kajo, I thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions =) Is there something you would like to add?
We’re really happy that the ultralight community is growing and supportive when it comes to smaller manufacturers. Hvala Hendrik for this opportunity to showcase our work, and all the best to you and your readers!
If you prefer the Outdoors over Cities but need to go to Helsinki - squeeze in a Microadventure to Sipoonkorpi National Park the next time you are in the Capital of Finland!
Last week I was going to Helsinki for PING Festival 2018 and I decided to sneak in a wee Microadventure in Sipoonkorpi National Park before the event. Sipoonkorpi is a new-ish National Park and less than an hour by bus away from the centre of Helsinki, so it makes for an excellent place to escape the city for a while and enjoy this unique park with its forests, hills and beautiful nature. If you prefer Video over photos and want to see some enchanting Drone Footage, relaxed hiking and me brushing my teeth just hit play:
24 h in Sipoonkorpi National Park | Microadventure - YouTube
I took the train to Helsinki, a great way to do some work and watch the latest Episode of Neo Magazine Royale, and then jumped on the Tram to the Clarion Helsinki to drop of the stuff I needed for the following few days in Helsinki and Ruka. Then it was off with the Bus to Sipoonkorpi National Park, which lays on the outskirts of Vantaa, one of the three cities which makes up the Helsinki Metropolitan area. I got off in the middle of nowhere at a scenic road. I followed the sign to the Tractor Museum and then just walked down the road where I saw the blue “Sipoonkorpi National Park” sign. Shortly after I saw the Luontopolku sign, this trail can be walked in either direction but as it was early in the day and I had an idea where I wanted to sleep and what I wanted to see when I followed the trail first north.
Right away I loved the little trail - Wood Anemone were everywhere along the narrow trail which went through a very young forest which was beautiful, and then one got a first taste of the granite slick rocks which I later see a lot in the Högberget section of the trail. This section was short and after a short while I was out on the forest road again, before entering a more shaded pine forest on the other side. This section ended also again in that same forest road, and then the trail went on the road further till a parking lot where quite a few cars were parked and a few boulderers where just shouldering their crashpads to go hug some pebbles in the National Park’s surroundings. I followed the trail towards the Kalkkiruukki Laavu, which was very busy with day hikers grilling sausages and enjoying the fantastic warm weather.
I sat down for an hour or so, drunk a coffee and shot some video scenes, and complained on Instagram that my NEW Katadyn BeFree 1l bottle was apparently already broken as I got it (see it here on Twitter). I packed up and then the trail continued for a few kilometres through dark pine forests, past rocks, climbing up and down and over streams. The path was wide and great condition, and here and there one could see where the winter XC trail goes. I had a chat with two women who where hiking with their dog and inquired about Ticks, and according to them these little pests are not a problem here (I didn’t encounter any).
And then I arrived at Högberget! These are probably the most popular spot of the National Park, I saw a lot of people here, enjoying the view from the higher rocks towards the city and sea beyond (I didn’t see the Baltic, but it should be possible to see it on a clear day). These slick granite rocks are really nice and I decided that I wanted to sleep under the stars somewhere over there, though as there was no water close by I first needed to find a water source - and I wanted to finish the trail before looking for a place to sleep. As the days are long in Finland now - the sun sets somewhere around 22:30 - I had enough time to do everything, and still could find a nice spot to roll out my mat & quilt and have something to eat.
I slept shortly that night - because I got up at 1:00 o’clock to photograph the stars, and low-and-behold, I got very lucky as I even captured some Northern Lights! In May! The next morning I slept in as long as I could before the sun was just too warm, made breakfast, shot a video about the As Tucas Sestrals quilt and then ran back to the Bus stop to catch the Bus back to Helsinki - I had a Design Tour to attend and didn’t want to meet that!
All in all it was a fantastic little trip: Beautiful warm T-Shirt weather, stars and Northern Lights, beautiful nature and lots of fresh green on the ground and trees! If you come to Helsinki, Espoo or Vantaa (or life there!) and have an extra day, do it like me: Take along your Ultralight backpack, some food and hop on the Bus to Sipoonkorpi National Park!
How to get there & what you need
I took Bus 717A from next to the Helsinki Railway Station to Sotunki, Google Maps or the Reittiopas Website are recommended to find the times when the bus goes and see where you have to get off (which is Kalkkiuunintie and should be displayed in the Bus, too). From there follow the sign which says Trollberga and Traktori- ja Konemuseo and after around 250 m you’ll see the blue Sipoonkorven Kansallispuito sign above. From the bus stop the complete nature path is around 8 km in length, and you can hike it either direction. A water bottle and some snacks are recommended for a day trip, if you want stay for the night bring a mattress, quilt and bivy which are appropriate for the season, and possibly a tarp or tent if you do not want to stay in one of the lean-to shelters. Questions? Ask me on Twitter of Facebook!
How much did you spent on your last piece of outdoor gear? And how much did you support your favourite blogs in the last months? If you enjoyed this trip report & video buy me a coffee - I work Full-Time on Hiking in Finland to bring you inspiring trip reports, in-depth gear reviews and the latest news from the outdoors. You also could subscribe to the rarer-than-ever Newsletter and follow along on Instagram, Twitter and Youtube for more outdoorsy updates!
“Flickering green/ a hint of orange/ the night is gone.”
How much did you spent on your last piece of outdoor gear? And how much did you support your favourite blogs in the last months? If you enjoy The Week in Review & other articles buy me a coffee - I work Full-Time on Hiking in Finland to bring you inspiring trip reports, in-depth gear reviews and the latest news from the outdoors. You also could subscribe to the rarer-than-ever Newsletter and follow along on Instagram, Twitter and Youtube for more outdoorsy updates!
You want to vote with your £$€ when you buy gear and buy from companies which think about social and environmental matters? You can now shop by sustainability attributes on the REI website, for example by searching for “Made in USA” “fair trade” or “Organic Cotton”.