Hiking Kungsleden

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Back in July 2017,  I spent a couple weeks hiking Kungsleden, a 270-mile trail in northern Sweden. I started at Hemavan and walked ~215ish miles north up to Saltoluokta, with time constraints keeping me away from the last chunk.

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Researching the trail was a bit challenging. While there was a lot of content on general trekking approaches, I didn’t find a lot oriented toward the more ultralight/lightweight approach I prefer. There wasn’t a ton of information in English, either. And because I do almost all of my hiking in the southern U.S., it was a little difficult to translate my own experience into what I would need to have a good time in a far different environment. So here I’ll jot down the gear and resources I used, in hopes it will help the next person along. (I meant to write this sooner, but… 🤷‍♂️).

Timing and Conditions

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I hiked from July 3 to 17. It was a higher snow year (I am told), and my start date was a few weeks earlier than peak season begins. When I began there was still snow lingering on many portions of the trail. Snow crossings happened on most days, but none of it was particularly difficult. It was rare to see patches longer than 100 meters or so, none of it was very steeply sloped, and I had only a bit of post-holing here and there. There was quite a lot of water on the trail – creek crossings, snowmelt, boggy sections, etc., so keeping feet dry was just about impossible.

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Temperatures ranged from high 30s on the coldest mornings, in the 40s and 50s on most days, with sunnier ones briefly in the upper 70s or low 80s. I was lucky to only have heavy rain on a couple of days. Those were pretty miserable, and just about perfect for hypothermia. Just about every day had some strong winds at some point. Walking from the south to the north kept the prevailing winds at my back, and I’d highly recommend a northbound hike for just that reason.

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The hut system is very nice, and I took advantage of it here and there.. Most have bunks, gas stoves, etc.. The best part is many have little shops with enough food to buy for the next few days. There isn’t a ton of variety, but if you’re hiking at a fair pace, you don’t really need to carry more than 2-3 days of food and a few bites to fill in the cracks.

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On to the gear.

Kungsleden Gear List

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Clothing

Item Rationale
Goodhew merino-alpaca quarter crew socks Durable, warm As expected, lots of miles left on these. Seemed to hold on to mud more than other merino socks I’ve used – side effect of long-hair alpaca, perhaps? I only used one pair for hiking, the other reserved for nighttime toastiness.
Adidas Traxion trailrunners Light, flexible; Deep cleats for mud and gravel; mesh for easy drainage Great choice. Feet wet every single day but shoes never waterlogged too long.
Swrve slim pants Cut for city cycling = deep pockets; no extra fabric to flap in wind, puddle at ankles, soak up water; don’t like zipoffs or cargo pockets; polyester more stretchy and comfy in rain and in bed Perfect choice, very happy
Lightweight merino long-sleeve shirt Comfy when damp; thinner for quicker drying; no stink Rarely to worn alone; usually needed additional layers for bugs, cold
Prana polyester long-sleeve quarter-zip hoody Easy temp adjustment; love the thumb loops Worn daily over the merino, usually all day. Hood very useful for light bug pressure when headnet too hot/fussy. (Interested to try a midweight merino with synthetic button-up?)
Under Armor spandex boxer-briefs No stretching, bunching, chafing, smell Perfect choice
Patagonia R1 hoody Warmth when active; deep venting; thumb loops! Hood is still a little tight and short for my long neck :(
Polyester balaclava Adjustable warmth when not wearing R1 Kept my cap from blowing off across the moors; lifesaver for nose/mouth when cold, dry air started to affect my lungs
Topo Designs camp hat Woven better than mesh for wet/wind; broad, flat brim helps when wearing glasses in rain Perfect choice
Casio digital watch Slim, inexpensive, water resistant; tells time Never took it off
Generic fleece gloves Warmish Perfect for small temperature adjustments. Worn daily. Not great in rain, but jacket sleeves helped. These things are… 15 years old?
Rab Kinetic rain jacket Light; long sleeves cover hands; great hood It worked great, but maybe a liiiiiiittle too light. A few more days with heavier rain would change my calculus here.
Sierra Designs rain pants Inexpensive, durable Light enough, sufficiently windproof; not going to spend much on something with limited performance requirements that gets heavy wear
Marmot Ion windshirt Helps with insects + cold, wind when active Absolutely perfect… for only one single day (cold, windy, alternating snowfall and sun). Otherwise, easily replaced by rain jacket.
Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic insulated jacket Nuclear option, just in case Mostly used as pillow. Could be replaced with 8-10oz vest, perhaps.
New Balance running tights Night-time layer if everything is drenched Never needed
ULA Circuit backpack More durable as luggage than my lighter packs Worked perfectly; love the hip pockets
Tarptent Moment tent Not bringing trekking poles; sets up easily Loved all the mesh for views and bugs; managed well in heavy winds
Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20º sleeping bag Only other option was summerweight bag A little bit overkill, but no complaints
Supercat alcohol stove Inexpensive, fuel everywhere, easier to fly with Would bring again
Evernew .9L Ti pot Trusty ol’ standby
20oz bike water bottle Water everywhere, don’t need a lot while moving Also very useful for drink mixes and steeping lots of tea at end of day
Platypus 2L water bottle Camp convenience
DEET Mosquitos waking up… Essential for middle stretch – boggier, lower-elevation campsites

(Not listed are the usual essentials and conveniences – sunglasses, first aid kit, chapstick, nail clippers, small light, journaling stuff, maps, etc.)

Helpful Links and Resources

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I got a lot out of Danielle and Wayne Fenton’s Kungsleden journal, and found their book quite useful as well. The photos were super helpful for understanding terrain and weather and such. Ditto for Distant North and Aaron Teoh‘s pages. (That said, there’s a fine line where you can read and see too much ahead of time…). Over on BackpackingLight.com, the trip reports from Kristin Gates‘ and Jörgen Johansson’s trips in Alaska were useful for rounding out Arctic travel knowledge, as were as various forum posts. The Swedish Mountain Maps app was really useful for daydreaming in advance, and the occasional peek at the terrain. The STF Kungsleden Facebook page is good for the on-the-ground trail conditions in the days leading up to the hike. The Calazo maps are really good, and I was glad I had them along.

And there you have it. Enjoy your hike.

Free Solo

Free Solo. Super invigorating. Yeesh. I can’t imagine. There are times I’ve gotten a little bit nervous about moves on a 15ft bouldering wall. I didn’t realize he had a girlfriend at the time of filming. The feat itself was amazing, but what made the movie good was those peripheral relationships. How people around him were stressing out, trying to be supportive without pressuring and without losing their minds. Saw this one on a long flight. Other outdoorsy movies I’ve seen on flights: Wild, 127 Hours.

A Hole

A while back I went trailrunning with an old friend. We went off trail at one point and cut through the woods toward nowhere in particular, toward wherever we would end up. We came across a hole in the ground. Holes are inherently interesting – something missing, a ready-made mystery, and you can fill them up with whatever stories you want.

We hauled up a long branch and eased it down the hole ’til we hit bottom. We marked the spot at surface level and drew it up again, like we were checking the oil. We stretched out on the ground next to the branch to measure it out. Six feet plus five-and-a-half plus, oh, maybe three-and-half. We had ourselves a fifteen foot hole, maybe two feet wide, and no explanation. Didn’t need one.

We dropped a pine cone down and listened for it to hit bottom. It took a while. I thought about dropping in, just to scare myself a little. I think I could have gotten back out. Pretty sure. Probably. As long as the mossy sides weren’t too slick. I wondered what reception was like down there.

Seeing What Is There

This past Saturday, I woke up early and went hiking. The day started gloomy like the photo above, then misty, then drizzly, and the weather got worse and worse as the morning went on.

Toward mid-day, the rain was coming down pretty steady. I came around a bend on the trail, walking up to a lookout point. A man and woman were standing there with their ponchos on, looking out at the wall of rain and fog and the dark fuzzy outlines of the ridge beyond.

I started a little small talk. “Not much of a view today!”

The guy smiled and laughed and gently corrected me: “Well… it’s different.”

Green

I spent a few hours at my favorite nearby park today. Heavy rains had the creek running high in the banks. Chilly air still had some snap to it, a different damp, one that makes your cheeks flush but makes you more eager to set out rather than bundle up. Walk along the creek, look out into the forest, and see the flora feeling the same way – branches blushing green, let’s get started, stretching out from the greys and browns of the last few months. Buds to unlayer and blossom soon enough. Just you wait. A few weeks ago I spent a week volunteering in Saguaro National Park, which was mostly grey and brown. I learned all about the cactus, succulents, flowers, trees, and more than I thought there was to know about grasses. It rained a bit before my arrival there, and there too I got to the first greens of the season peeking out. It was a preview of a preview, a hint of spring before spring. I came back home craving the first greens and what comes after. And out today, I think I see the plants craving it, too. Following through on their own promise. Just you wait. We’ll make it through the grey and brown and step out again.

Mother Nature’s Sons

I loved this Robert Moor essay on environmentalism and masculinity.

Even as progressive men renounce the traditional notion of subordinated femininity, many still harbor conflicted notions about manhood. They want to feel individually reckless, but not socially irresponsible. They want to minimize carbon emissions, but not to scold, scrimp, or carry tote bags. They want to be pure of deed but wild at heart. So they dig ever deeper into the past, searching for a way of life that existed before “real” men and their ecological consciences parted ways.

His book On Trails was one of my faves of 2017.

Meru

Meru. I liked it most when they were showing the footage that makes you squirm and makes your palms get sweaty. Wish they’d geeked out on the nitty-gritty climbing details more, and/or cut back on the talking heads. Sometimes the people who were there aren’t the best ones to tell the story?

The Cold Hard Facts of Freezing to Death | OutsideOnline.com

No one can yet predict exactly how quickly and in whom hypothermia will strike–and whether it will kill when it does. The cold remains a mystery, more prone to fell men than women, more lethal to the thin and well muscled than to those with avoirdupois, and least forgiving to the arrogant and the unaware.

In other words, I’m doomed. I remember reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire and watching the short film adaptation in middle school. Love it. Keep your gloves on, folks.

The Cold Hard Facts of Freezing to Death | OutsideOnline.com

Gannet & The Grand: A Wyoming Whirlwind Tour | The Ultimate Direction Buzz

On speed in the outdoors (after summiting Gannett Peak in 9 hours):

I used to be of the opinion that speed isn’t important. And, in an absolute sense, I don’t think it is. In a relative sense, however, I think that one’s speed does matter. This is because–relative to one’s innate ability–striving to operate as close to that ability as possible requires a level of commitment to the craft and presence in the moment that I have yet to achieve by other means. For instance, because I wanted to move quickly when climbing Gannet (or any mountain), I made a point to study the map carefully, read other trip reports, solicit advice from friends who had already made the outing. Not to mention spending countless hours in the mountains building skill and fitness (and having fun!). Without the impetus of speed I would’ve undoubtedly taken a more lackadaisical approach that likely would’ve left me irresponsibly underprepared, with less respect for the mountain, and, ultimately, less connected to both the landscape and the community of enthusiasts who venture into this gem of a mountain range. Going fast requires–above all else–paying attention, and achieving that fleeting measure of grace where my effort and abilities are meshed perfectly with the challenge is a huge motivating factor in what I do. I find that this practice of paying attention is one of the more instructive and valuable takeaways that a trip to the mountains offers me. Plus, I’m just really inspired by wild landscapes.

Gannet & The Grand: A Wyoming Whirlwind Tour | The Ultimate Direction Buzz