Finally, the time was there. Almost eight months after we enrolled ourselves, we could start the Fjällräven Classic 2018 on the 18th of August. Both carrying a backpack that was a tat heavy, plenty of food and an irresistible urge to start hiking, we were ready to go at 16.00 sharp at the start in Nikkaluokta in the gorgeous Swedish Lapland.
The Fjällräven Classic is a yearly event hosted by the Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven. 2000 nature lovers hike the 110-kilometer long trail through Swedish Lapland. To illustrate how remote this area actually is: during most of the hike you don’t have any cell phone coverage. That’s how in the middle of nowhere you are! No wonder this area is referred to as Europe’s last wilderness. A large part of the trail follows the famous long-distance trail the Kungsleden (the Kings trail). Everything you need during the hike, you must carry in your backpack (a number of items are required by the organization) and it’s mandatory to sleep in a tent. Because of the Swedish Allemansrätten (right to roam), this is possible almost everywhere along the track.
Don’t worry, not all 2000 hikers start their Classic at the same time. They are equally divided over 8 starting groups, each with their own starting time. The first group left Nikkaluokta on Friday the 17th of August at 9 am and the last group left the start on Sunday the 19th of August at 1 pm. So you’ll start together with approximately 250 other hikers.
Check-in and picking out some food
But before we could start, we had to drop by the Fjällräven Classic base camp in Kiruna. For the occasion, a school in Sweden’s most northern city has been transformed into the Classic headquarters, where hikers can check-in, get their food, meet fellow hikers in the Trekkers cafe and do some last-minute shopping in the Naturkompaniet pop-up store. We got our trekking pass, waste bag, map and got to choose our own meals for the coming hiking days.
There were large wooden containers, each carrying different Real Turmat outdoor meals. There were lots to choose from! From a lamb dish to curries and from pasta to pulled pork; there was something for everyone. You could take as many meals as you wanted, but of course, you had to carry them in your own backpack.
During the Classic, you pass eight checkpoints (including start and finish) where you must stamp your trekking pass. At two of those checkpoints, there’s an opportunity to get more food. So taking way too much at the check-in is definitely not necessary. When you take three breakfast meals and six dinners (also for lunch), you’ll make it to the first refill checkpoint. Base camp is the only place to get bread, so we took two bags of the tasty Swedish Polar bread.
At base camp, there was also the opportunity to leave luggage behind you don’t want to take with you during the trek. The people behind the scenes at the Fjällräven Classic, make sure you can pick it up at the finish line in Abisko.
Fast forward to 1 pm the next day. The bus is taking us to Nikkaluokta, the starting point of the Classic. Once we arrived there, we really wanted to get going! But there was not much to do than wait for two hours until we could finally start. Besides getting our safety tag and our first stamp!
There was an opportunity to weigh your bag in Nikkaluokta. But we weren’t too happy with the results…
3, 2, 1… Go!
After an official countdown, we finally could get going! Although we have often walked several days in a row, we never did a trail this long. Of course, we had made some plans in advance and thought that we should be able to cross the finish line on Thursday 23 August. Because we had to start at 16.00, it would take us about five and a half days. 110 kilometers in more than five days equates to just over twenty kilometers a day. That may not sound like much, but don’t forget: the surface on which we had to walk, makes it quite challenging! In addition, weather conditions can play a huge roll in the success rate of the trip. Afterward, we heard that a lot of people turned around or quit this year because of bad weather and/or material that wasn’t up for the challenges northern Sweden had to offer. Mentally the trip can also take its toll, perhaps even more than physically.
The first of many lakes along the trail
Raindrops on the tent
After about fourteen kilometers, we decided to call it a day. It was around eight o’clock and the rain really started to come down. The first checkpoint was an additional 5 km hiking, but we decided beforehand we weren’t going to spend the night there. We found a spot that was just big enough for our tent and after 30 minutes we could enjoy the soothing sound of raindrops falling on the tent.
Finding your perfect rhythm
When doing a multiple-day hike, it’s wise to stick to a comfortable rhythm. Ours was: rise early (the alarm went off at 6 am), have a nice breakfast and quickly get ready to go. We always walked until the end of the afternoon. In the evening we made plans for the next day and we had a GPS device with us to determine how far we’d hiked that day. The goal for the second day was getting past the second checkpoint. The first checkpoint was Kebnekaise Fjällstation, where we arrived at eight in the morning and got a stamp and a Swedish cinnamon bun! And as those are my favorite, there wasn’t a much better start of the day imaginable.
Closing up to the first checkpoint: Fjällstation Kebnekaise
The path continues through the valley along Sweden’s highest mountain Kebnekaise (2114 meters) in the direction of the famous Kungsleden hiking trail. During the first 35 kilometers of the Classic, you’re not actually on the Kungsleden yet. Only when you reached the second checkpoint Singi, you’ll follow the famous long-distance trail. But don’t worry about getting lost or anything. Besides the fact that there’re a lot of other hikers (that you can recognize by the Classic safety tag on their backpacks), the route is very well marked.
It’s a mental game
The distance between Fjällstation Kebnekaise and Singi, the next checkpoint is about 15 kilometers. But it felt like forever to me. The path was slightly ascending and the mountains were blocking the view, so you couldn’t really see where you were going. Every time we reached a curvature, I felt like we should see the next checkpoint. Unfortunately, that took way longer than anticipated. And because the path was leading us through the valley, with nothing but steep mountains around us, the wind was blowing like crazy. A perfect example of how you can make things so much harder for yourself by thinking you’re almost there! From that moment on, I decided to be a little more pessimistic about the distance we had yet to cover. And, crazily enough, that really worked!
After about 23 kilometers, we decided we had walked far enough for that day. It was only 3.30, but continuing wasn’t the sensible thing to do, taking the distance we had yet to walk into consideration.
When we unzipped the tent the following day, we were surprised by a whole herd of reindeer that passed our tent. It was the first time we saw reindeer, but it certainly would not be the last time on this trip! After our regular morning routine, we were ready to leave. The plan was to pass the Tjäktjapass today. At 1140 meters this is the highest point of the entire Classic and the last part of the path goes up quite steep. “I am never going to cross this mountain”, an American girl behind me anxiously said. Fortunately, she underestimated herself. Because at the top, I saw her again. Puffing and panting, yes, but also happy the hardest climb of the trip was done. At the highest point of the pass, you get treated on a beautiful view over the valley you’d just climbed out of and you can see numerous hikers yet to conquer the pass.
On top of the Tjäktjapass
But before we reached the top, we had yet another milestone to celebrate. We had walked 55 kilometers, which meant we had 55 to go and we were halfway there!
In the flow
The third day (second full day of hiking) was our best day. We really felt like we were in some sort of flow. We didn’t have any issues with our feet or trouble carrying the weight of our backpacks. And we hiked way further than we had anticipated: almost 27 kilometers. At the Tjäktja checkpoint, a few kilometers after the pass, we got both a new stamp in our pass and a nice and firm chocolate brownie! While we were laying in our tent and planning the next day, we were surprised by the distance we had covered already. We might be able to hike the remaining 45 kilometers in just two days and therefore finish a day earlier than expected… How exciting!
From this point onward, we started eating more. We noticed our bodies wanting more food and Juul especially wasn’t full after ‘just’ one Real Turmat meal. Because we hiked further than anticipated and there were two checkpoints where we could refill our food supplies, it was ok for us to be a little less frugal on our meals. So I had two bags for breakfast and Juul had two for breakfast and two for dinner. During a multi-day hike like this, you absolutely don’t have to worry about your calorie intake, as it will likely be too little than too much. The important thing is to listen to your body and refuel it often. Maybe you’re like me and you’re not really hungry during the hike, but try to eat something every two hours. Your body is probably working so hard, that it forgets to send you the ‘I am hungry’-signal.
An awful day
When doing a multi-day hike, there’s always that day that everything feels extra hard and things don’t really go your way. Day four was like that for me. From the moment I put on my shoes, my feet started to protest. Maybe we took it a bit too far the day before, or maybe my feet just weren’t used to walking distances like these for several days. Turning back isn’t an option, so you keep pushing through. You’ll get there if you just keep placing one foot in front of the other. We divided the 47 kilometers we had left over two days. This day would be the longest, with hiking over 30 kilometers. So there would be 17 kilometers left for the final day.
The first few kilometers lead us through a fairytale landscape with lush green grass and small waterfalls surrounded by mountains. Those first hours of the day went smooth, but it went all downhill from the checkpoint Alesjaure. This cabin is beautifully located at the banks of the blue/green lake carrying the same name. Not a lot of ascending and descending, but man, that distance is hard to do! Mainly the last four kilometers were tough. Up until then, I succeeded in my tactic of being pessimistic about the distance we had yet to cover, but boy did that go wrong that day! Resulting in me having a small breakdown with only two or three kilometers to go. Luckily, it took only a few minutes of rest (and some food) to get me back together and soon, we pitched our tent and called it a day.
Camping Fjällraven Classic
During the previous nights, we had always succeeded in finding a quiet and secluded spot for our tent. That didn’t work for our last night. It was like we were at a campsite! Every remotely flat part of the land was covered by a tent. But there was a relaxed vibe because everybody was almost finished. Besides that, it was necessary to be close together, as it isn’t allowed to pitch a tent in Abisko National Park (only a kilometer away). And because there was a steep descend before the ‘campsite’, camping there also wasn’t really an option.
The home stretch
There wasn’t really a plan on how to cover those last kilometers. We both suffered from painful feet (luckily there weren’t any blisters), so we didn’t expect too much of our walking speed that day. After, reluctantly, putting on our walking shoes, we started hiking. In the morning, we often have a nice pace. Helped by the fact that the tracks are pretty much clear in the morning. Surprisingly enough, we were fast!
Assisted by the gorgeous weather, for the first time during our trek, we could maintain our strong pace for the whole 17 kilometers. The last part of the track passes Abisko National Park. An area we visited two years ago. And that also made a difference. We had walked these tracks before and we knew exactly how the path looked on the way to the final checkpoint. But the last four kilometers were a real challenge again. It sure felt like the longest four kilometers of the entire Classic. Yes, even worse than the awful kilometers we’d hiked the day before. But it was there at last: the finish! After 91 hours, 26 minutes and 23 seconds we were in Abisko.
Busy finish line
At the finish, there was plenty to do. You could get your boots treated, your Fjällräven items waxed, cut and paint your own wooden horse figure or buy a special Fjällräven Classic knife. And of course, there was a big tent to enjoy a well-deserved beer or some food. During the hike, the organization by Fjällräven was impeccable. The communication beforehand could have been a bit better though.
Even though it was a tough experience, this probably wasn’t our last Classic!
Very happy with our accomplishment!
Are you thinking about participating in the Fjällräven Classic next year (do it!), you might wonder about the exact distances between the checkpoints:
Nikkaluokta – Fjällstation Kebnekaise: 19 km
Fjällstation Kebnekaise – Singi: 15 km
Singi – Sälka: 12,5 km
Sälka – Tjäktja: 14 km
Tjäktja – Alesjaure: 12,5 km
Alesjaure – Kieron: 18 km
Kieron – Abisko: 17 km
The history of the Classic
Fjällräven is a brand that has always tried to stimulate people to explore and enjoy nature. But for the founder of the brand, Åke Nordin, it was not enough to only sell the products that allowed people to easily defy the elements. His dream was to actually allow people to experience nature and walk in the wilderness. Because he reasoned, the more people experience nature, the more they’ll care for it. His dream became a reality with the first Fjällräven Classic in 2005. In the past years, the Classic has gone beyond the Swedish border with several editions every year. In 2018, you could participate in the Classic in Denmark, the United States, and Hong Kong.
We’ve been trekking for 50 years, I hope we never get there
Åke Nordin – Fjällräven founder
How tough is the Fjällräven Classic?
The most frequently asked question we got after hiking the Classic was how difficult it was. Of course, we can’t decide for you what is or isn’t hard. How easy it will be, depends on a number of factors. First of all: your fitness. If you’re an experienced hiker and you’ve practiced hiking with a heavy backpack, you’ll probably be ok. But don’t underestimate the track! There might not be a lot of hight difference in the track, but the path itself isn’t a nice and even surface. Second, the weather will play a huge role in how easy the experience will be. The weather in northern Sweden can be really bad, especially in the mountains. And hiking in bad conditions for a couple of days can make your trip way more challenging.
So don’t let the lack of height difference fool you. The path is taking you through the valley with mountains all around you. There are lots of soggy parts and sometimes you’re walking on a rocky surface for kilometers (your ankles will loooove that…) or wooden planks. On the track you have to be prepared for everything; rain, wind, snow, hail or bright sun. And are things not going as planned and do you have to abort the trip? Then it isn’t as simple as just calling someone and be picked up… If you have to abandon the track, going back to the nearest checkpoint and being flown out by a helicopter is the only (pricey) option. So it’s important to carry plenty of food and clothes that are up for the challenge.
Participating in the Classic?
As a nature lover and hiker, participating in the Fjällräven Classic is a must! In 2020, the Classic will take place from August 7th till August 14th. Keep an eye on the Classic website for definitive dates and ticket sales for 2020. Tickets usually go on sale in early January. But beware: tickets for the Classic are always sold out fairly quickly. So you want to participate, make sure you are on time. One ticket will set you back 2300 krona (which is about 225 euros). For that fee, you’ll get more than just a ticket to start the Classic. It includes transport from the airport or train station from Kiruna to the base camp, transport from the base camp in Kiruna to the start in Nikkaluokta, transport of your luggage to Abisko, food on the go, a trekking pass, map of the area, garbage bag, some treats on the way and of course an unforgettable experience!
Do you have any questions about the trip? Or do you want to have some tips on how to prepare for the Classic or the gear you have to bring? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help 🙂