Nervously, I shoulder my backpack and carry it across the campsite. Doesn’t eeel too bad – I’ve carried heavier things before! Just never for this long… After a few steps I stop, standing before my judge – the scale hanging off a tree, ready to tell me the awful truth. I take off my backpack and set it to the ground – big mistake. I struggle to lift it high enough to hang in on the scale. It’s alright, I tell myself. Your arms are just weak because you stopped climbing and doing yoga so much. There – I managed. I barely dare to look at the round display above the hook. How much was it going to be?
As I take down the backpack again and walk back towards my cabin, glad the weight started with a 1 and convinced I could find a few items to take out to make it lighter, one of the guys from the other media group shouted over to me. How heavy is it? I say, 18kg, and he chuckles. On a girl…, he says behind a wide grin to his friend sitting next to him. Oh, I’ll show you!
I was in the middle of nowhere, 150km north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. Tomorrow, I would make my way to the small village of Nikkaluokta, which lies on the end of a single track road. We came here by bus from our camp near Kiruna, but soon we would slow down considerably. From 300 horsepower down to one Kathi-power – my legs alone would carry me to Abisko, 110km from where I was standing right now. Around me were 15 other women, with equally heavy backpacks and the same motivation to show the world (and particularly these chuckling guys from our camp) that indeed, women can do this kind of thing – we were the “Women on the Trail”.
Welcome to Fjällräven Classic Sweden!
What is Fjällräven Classic Sweden?
Fjällräven Classic Sweden was launched in 2005 with the aim to encourage more people to hit the trails of Sweden and spend more time outdoors. The event evolves around a 110km-long stretch of the Kungsleden from Nikkaluokta to Abisko. Most participants hike it in 4-6 days, although some run it in 19 hours (!) while others take more time to finish.
Kungsleden was built in the late 19th century to promote outdoor tourism in northern Sweden, and named ‘King’s Trail’ because it was supposed to be the most beautiful trail in the country. And while I haven’t hiked any other Swedish trails to compare it with, I’d say, Kungsleden must be high up on the list of top scenic trails in Sweden anyway!
Together with 2,000 other hikers from all across the world, our group set out for a 5-day long journey through the Swedish wilderness. We carried everything we needed on our backs – tents, clothes, food and everything else you might need on the trail.
Middle photo by Anette Andersson
As a mountain-loving Travelette myself I must say, I’m often quite annoyed that the field of outdoor sports and leisure activities is so dominated by men. When I look up ‘adventure’ on my favourite stock image platform, the majority of photos shows guys giving it all out in the wilderness. And the women? Not so much… I encounter the same at outdoor film festivals, even though I see that the tendency to focus on women’s stories is on the rise.
When the invite for Fjällräven Classic Sweden came in, I jumped at the opportunity simply because I wanted to meet more female writers, photographers and bloggers who love the outdoors – together we might be able to change the image of the ‘outdoor adventurer’.
Photos by Anette Andersson
The women on the trail
40% of all Fjällräven Classic Sweden 2017 participants were women, which is the highest number they have ever reached. 800 women were gathered on the trail, some of them walking alone, others with their partners or in (mixed) groups. I was one of them.
“There is a different energy when walking with an all-female group”, one of our guides, Ann, tells me as we walk from Singi to Sälka. It is the second day on the trail; the first day had been longer than expected and the first blisters had to be taken care of. The atmosphere in the group though is as jolly as it was when we skinny-dipped between sauna sessions on our first night at Fjellborg Arctic Lodge.
As a female guide Ann has had to deal with her share of inconvenient male clients. “They don’t accept help that easily; won’t say when their feet hurt or the backpack is too heavy. They don’t want your help, don’t take your advice and sometimes just don’t listen.”
And that, even though Ann has years of experience in the bank. She has been guiding groups for a long time and also worked for Fjällräven Classic before. Together with her husband she has 140 huskies and is a successful dog sledder.
“Dog sledding is a pretty much gender-neutral sport. It’s not about the strength of a musher, but rather about endurance and making the right decisions for your dog team. I think it’s pretty much 50:50 between men and women,” Ann says. In other outdoor sports there are less women, but it is getting better.
At least this year, we made sure that there were 16 women more on the trail.
Ann also points out that she noticed that in mixed groups, men often take the lead. When this happens it is only a small step to the “followers” of a group to not try as hard. “But in an all-female group every participant, every woman, realises what she’s capable of doing,” and we sure are capable of quite a lot!
Photo by Anette Andersson
Can I do it?
Hiking 110km with 18 kg on my back was a major challenge – maybe the most challenging experience of my life so far. But it was also an incredible boost for my confidence. If I was able to do this for 5 days, why should I be worried about doing it for longer?
My big dream for next year is to hike the Hebridean Way in Scotland, which is 150 miles long and takes around 2 weeks to complete. Before Fjällräven Classic Sweden I had been talking about this dream, tentatively – always with a cloud of doubt overshadowing my excitement. Now, I know that I can do it.
Most skills I needed for long-distance hiking were already there before the trip. I knew how to pitch a tent, how to tell drinkable from polluted water, how to make a fire, how to carry a backpack in an efficient way. Hiking the Kungsleden helped me to understand my own strengths and weaknesses, taught me a thing or two about packing for long-distance hiking, and most importantly, made me trust my own body.
Providing a safety net
Fjällräven Classic Sweden gave me an incredible amount of inspiration and confidence for my next trail adventure. Funnily enough, I heard exactly these words at our farewell dinner after we all had completed the trail. CEO Martin Axelhed explained their motivation to host events like the Fjällräven Classic Sweden (other Classic trail events are held in Denmark, Colorado and Hong Kong).
Boosting people’s confidence and inspiring them to set off on their own adventures once they’ve learned to trust their skills and bodies in a fairly safe environment. Throughout the event Fjällräven provides a safety net for greenhorns and experienced hikers alike, with check points, first aid stations, gas and food re-fills. The trail leads past 8 check points (including start and finish), where every hikers’ time is taken – no one can get lost. There is a Facebook group for participants to form groups in advance of the trail, exchange packing & walking tips and stay in touch with after the trek.
If you want to include a Fjällräven Classic in your itinerary, but you’re traveling on your own, you will find that it is really easy to meet hiking partners in advance or on the trail. In order to participate you have to buy a ticket, which includes airport transfers to the basecamp and starting point, fuel for your camping stove, freeze-dried food for the hike, a Fjällräven trash bag and bag transfer from the start to the finish line (everything you don’t need on the trail).
Find more info here.
From girly blogger to girly adventurer
Our other guide Susanne is a devoted skier and loves trekking – even though she would not describe the latter as a ‘sport’, but rather as a hobby. Together with her Australian shepherd dog Vassi, she made sure our group stayed together and kept a good pace.
On day 4, the route from Alesjaure to Kieron, she tells me that she’s actually not a fan of girls trips. The past four days must have been quite an experience for her… “They are just often too focused on being girls, rather than the activity itself,” she says. However, Susanne also admits that she has really enjoyed the past four days – phew! – and trekking with a group of female bloggers and journalists has been less ‘girly’ than she might have had expected.
Gone was the day, when she told us not to burden our backs with dry shampoo and deodorant – we were proper adventurers now. Never mind the baby powder my tent buddy shared with me to freshen up our hair – or the deodorant I had sneaked into my toiletry bag…
On our last night we bonded over whisky – even Susanne, who said she never liked whisky before. I guess the trail brings out new skills in everybody!
As the finish line came closer and we realised what we were about to achieve, we ditched the make up altogether and exchanged it for something else – cold and wet Swedish mud. With war paint in our faces and humming ‘7 Nation Army’ (our group came from 7 countries not counting Sweden) we marched over the finish line.
No one knew what was going on – why do these women look like maniacs?
But we knew. We had done it.
We were women on the trail.
Photos by Anette Andersson
Disclaimer: I was invited to join Fjällräven Classic Sweden – Women on the Trail by Fjällräven and Hanwag.
All opinions and experiences are my own.