Swedish Beer and Reindeer Along the Fjällräven Classic

“Wow, that sounds amazing,” I thought. I knew I needed to experience that.

NEMO's Dragonfly held its own in the Arctic conditions.
The Dragonfly Elite held its own in the Arctic conditions.

Rewind back almost eight years to my freshman year of college. I was new to the backpacking scene and had somehow stumbled upon Fjällräven, a Swedish outdoor hard and soft good manufacturer. While clicking through their website I found a link for the Fjällräven Classic, a trekking event they host in Swedish Lapland that covers 110 km of varied arctic terrain. The page went on to say how the trek culminates with a celebration at the Trekker’s Inn, where good food, good beer, and great company could be found.

“Wow, that sounds amazing,” I thought. I knew I needed to experience that.

From that point on I was almost obsessed with getting myself to the event … and with dragging my dad along for the ride. My dad is a Marine. For my entire life he has told me he’s had enough of international travel. So much to my surprise, he agreed to join me on the most far-flung adventure of my life. There would be a few hiccups along the way, but in the end — the Classic ended up meaning so much more to me than I could ever comprehend. I have tried and failed to put this experience into words, so I’ve decided on sharing my favorite parts with you.

Glacial valleys like these greeted us around every turn.
Glacial valleys like these greeted us around every turn.

The Event

Fjällräven has been hosting this event for 15 years now, and they have it pretty-well dialed. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, it felt like the staff were with us every step of the way. They picked us up from the Kiruna Airport and provided transportation after the event. They also provided transport of our extra luggage from the beginning to the end. Fjällräven also ensured that all the food and fuel we would need was available along the way —and had a pop-up store before the start so that we could purchase any last-minute essentials … and event swag of course. During the trek, we were required to stop at several checkpoints where they had staff to surprise you with treats (more on that later) and medical supplies to fix any minor scrapes and bruises. They set up portable composting toilets at each checkpoint to minimize the human impact and make “going” more comfortable for the folks who were new to the outdoors.

The finish line at the Abisko Tourist Station was a hub of activity between the Trekker’s Inn, the finish line itself, and numerous activities and presentations put on by Fjällräven staff and partners. Whenever a trekker would cross the finish line everyone in the vicinity would clap and cheer. This continued unendingly until the last trekker crossed the line. The Trekker’s Inn was, itself, a wonderful time. Each night there was a showing of the short documentary, Fjällräven Polar, followed by a live band that played until about 2 a.m. in the morning. I found myself at this party each night we camped at the Abisko Tourist Station, enjoying a few good Swedish beers and surprisingly having plenty of energy to dance with the crowd. The sun barely set so far north, so it was easy to lose track of time and end up at your tent in the early morning!

A bird’s-eye view of the event check-in. Note the crates of meals to the left!
A bird’s-eye view of the event check-in. Note the crates of meals to the left!

The food

For the event, Fjällräven provided all the food for the trek itself and had a few small vendors before and after that had let us sample some northern cuisine. They had partnered with a backpacking meal company called REAL Turmat, based out of Tromso, Norway. At registration, we were filed passed several crates full of these dehydrated meals, and we were to select however many we would need to make it to our first resupply checkpoint. Having no experience whatsoever with this brand and feeling rushed and a little panicky, I grabbed some random meals from the crates. Fjällräven also supplied Swedish Polar bread and self-consciously only took 4 pieces, which was far too little. The REAL Turmat meals were some of the best backcountry meals I have ever had in my life, with flavors such as pulled pork, cod curry, and lamb stew. I found myself looking forward to eating these pouches of deliciousness at the end of every day and have even asked our European co-worker to bring me more on his next visit to Dover. At most of the checkpoints we were greeted by Fjällräven staff with surprise treats like breakfast burritos and pancakes served in our coffee mugs.

There was also an abundance of reindeer venison in a variety of forms … I was happy and eager to sample the local protein. We had it in wraps, as burgers, and as part of a traditional meal called souvas, which consisted of reindeer, lingonberries, and some form of slaw wrapped in an unleavened bread. I’m not ashamed to say I went back for souvas more times than I can count.

 

Even at 10 a.m., a fresh reindeer burger from Lap Dånalds was much appreciated.
Even at 10 a.m., a fresh reindeer burger from Lap Dånalds was much appreciated.

The Landscape

Swedish Lapland was unlike anything I have ever experienced, and I truly hope to see it again. There were many plants and animals that were familiar to me, but at the same time it felt totally alien. Windswept glacial valleys between immense snow-capped mountains greeted us around every turn, while rivers that shined like molten silver wound their way to the sea. In the lower elevations, the alpine tundra gave way to lush birch forests peppered with spruce and thickly vegetated wetlands where moose were known to wander. It was easy to understand why the original inhabitants of this land believed in giants and trolls. The streams were filled with the clearest water I have ever seen, and we were informed repeatedly that we could drink straight from the stream without treatment. I eventually overcame my hesitation and did try some untreated water … it was crisp, clear, and cold. Herds of reindeer roam these lands. Even if I did not see them — there were signs of their presence everywhere.

Views like this were abundant even though the terrain changed daily.
Views like this were abundant even though the terrain changed daily.

the people

My dad and I prefer wilderness without people, often becoming frustrated with busy parking lots and crowded trails. Embarking on a single trail with 2,000 people, no matter how spread out, seemed like it could be a nightmare. It was everything but. We met so many wonderful people along the trail, people that I truly hope I see again before too long. My dad entertained them with stories from home, and from his time in the Marine Corps. We shared meals and coffee … and more than a few beers, laughing and enjoying everyone’s stories and celebrating our accomplishment.

“I see now that it is not just the hike that keeps people coming back, but the camaraderie and friendship that can be found. Each and every person were so genuine and kind, and for me this was the highlight of the trip.”

There was Henning, from Germany — a solo traveler on his sixth Fjällräven Classic. Alex, from Mississippi, who spent his time traveling and working as a ski-bum in the States. Lorenzo, from Italy, who participated in the Fjällräven Polar event just last year. Paul, from Austria, who had just finished his bachelor’s and came out for a little rest and relaxation. Lene, also from Germany, who had timed her Kungsleden Thru-Hike so that she finished in time to join the Classic. And another father-and-son duo like us, this one from Montreal, whose names I deeply regret not asking for.

Alex, myself, and Lene on my last night in Abisko.
Alex, myself, and Lene on my last night in Abisko.

Spending time with my dad

Growing up, my family and I spent every summer camping as often as we could. And while I didn’t always appreciate these trips at the time, I can honestly say I would trade anything to be able to adventure with my family like that again. Having left Illinois four years ago to move to New Hampshire, I see my family about twice a year — so any chance I get to do something with them is always special. My dad and I try to squeeze in at least one backpacking trip a year, and they are always a blast.

This year, it was great being able to experience a new landscape and culture with him. Having him along also helped alleviate a lot of the anxiety I was feeling in the face of my first international journey. I knew that even if things hit the fan, my dad can always be counted on for a helping hand on the trail, sound advice, and a good laugh. I would absolutely travel internationally with him again, and hopefully we can fit in a few more big trips as the years go by.

Dad and I crossing Tjaktja Pass, the highest point of the trek.
Dad and I crossing Tjaktja Pass, the highest point of the trek.

AIrport reflections

As I sat in the Kiruna airport due to a scheduling error on my part, I was suddenly alone for the first time since arriving in Stockholm to meet my dad. I found myself surprised to be reeling with emotions, mostly sadness that I had to leave … but also excitement for what adventures my future might hold.  I wondered, would I come back here? Or would I attempt to travel to some other corner of the world? I was able to immediately answer both questions with a firm yes. I will definitely make my way back to Sweden, and hopefully back to the Fjällräven Classic. This year Fjällräven announced four new additions to their lineup, and the Scotland Classic is calling my name. Maybe 2020 is the year I head to the Highlands.

I spent the year leading up to this trip as a nervous wreck about my first international adventure. Now, after successfully traveling to Swedish Lapland and back, I feel a confidence that I did not have before. There are a few small things I’d do differently … so, to my future self and anyone interested in pursuing this trek, I have a few pieces of advice.

  • Take your time. This isn’t a race, so enjoy your time in nature. Take a nap, go for a swim, and use the saunas!
  • Take as much bread as they will let you, and try the REAL Turmat meals at the testing booth outside the check-in.
  • Give yourself plenty of time before and after the event in case of a delayed flight or derailed train! You might end up with some downtime, but at least you won’t be late.
  • I know you are supposed to be disconnecting but bring a portable battery block. Two thousand people trying to use the few outlets available at the finish line means nobody can really charge anything.
  • Bring an eye mask — the sun never really sets up there — so it will help you sleep.
  • Snag extra meals at the checkpoints. You never know if you will be doubly hungry or if you might find your new favorite backpacking food.
  • Get the double burger at Lap Dånalds. I only got the single and view it as my biggest regret of the trip.
Essential Gear:
  • Dragonfly™ Elite 2P: While not in production yet, this updated Dragonfly™ was the perfect tent for this trip. Light enough to carry solo, with plenty of room for gear storage during the rainy evenings.
  • Tensor™ Insulated Regular: This pad is so lightweight and comfortable, and the new Vortex™ pump sack made inflation a breeze!
  • Disco™ 15° Regular: Our classic spoon-shaped bag kept me plenty warm in the Arctic for the whole trip.

The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Travis Gagliano handles warranties and repairs at NEMO and loves to hike and explore new landscapes.