Jouni Laaksonen 15.10.2018
Right now I am a family man and I do not dream of a two month backpacking expedition. I would just get way too homesick of my dear ones. However, when I was single, that was a big dream of mine. Then I met Markus Rask, one of my best friends ever since, and we started to convert our dream to a goal.
I’ve already flashed this long hike twice, here and here, and there’s long story of it in Finnish in my book Erämaat (Edita 2010), but I want to tell about it more specifically here and in English. We did that hike between 1st November 1999 and 5th January 2000, and I’ll be telling about it in November and December.
However, we did with Markus also another long hike, in October 2000.
We enjoyed our two month Millennium hike so much that we wanted to have more. When we celebrated Christmas we rested for three days in Tenomuotka wilderness hut. One day one of us opened the 1:200 000 road maps we carried as backup maps on the hut table, and we drew a pencil line from Kilpisjärvi to Nellim. Completely different route, shorter than this winter expedition, showing new aspects of each wilderness.
Right then and there we decided we will walk from Kilpisjärvi to Nellim next autumn.
In year 2000 I had just started to write to Finnish outdoor magazine Erä, and I managed to sell two test article ideas to the editorial staff of Erä:
1. Test of ultralight hiking equipment
2. Test of hiking rubber boots.
The latter maybe needs some explanation. There is a long tradition of hiking in rubber boots in Finland. There are lots of bogs in Finland, as well as rivers and streams to be crossed. Leather hiking boots are only newcomers in our country. Nowadays many use laced leather (or similar) hiking boots, but when you are venturing in the heart of a wilderness area, far away from marked trails and duckboards, you often still see fellow hikers using rubber boots. I’m not going to state anything about which one is the better – for there is no single answer. If one kind of boots type suits your hiking style and fits your feet well, stay with that.
More often I use lightweight trail running shoes when I use ultralightweight approach to hiking, so this was an exception. However, I do use rubber boots often on my ‘normal’ hikes, and they worked perfectly well also this time.
One of our backpacks in October 2000 hike. Karrimor Kimm 35 liters, Karrimat, Helsport Stetind 2 seen here.
We started from west, Kilpisjärvi, and had four resupplying points: Palojärvi/Galdotieva, Angeli, Utsjoki and Sevettijärvi. We sent a postal package for ourselves to those places. There was food for five days in the package – and new pairs of test boots for both of us.
I bought many of the ultralight stuff after the test, and still nowadays I use Haglöfs LIM 35 liters backpack. It’s perfectly in usable condition still. Two small zippers of Karrimor Kimm 35 liters backpack are failing, but the backpack can still be used. I still choose Helsport Stetind 1-2 persons tent if I go alone in mosquito season. RidgeRest sleeping pad has seen a lot of use, and is still completely usable.
Some of the test stuff I didn’t buy, like sleeping bag, stove, clothes and so on. There was nothing wrong with them, but I owned good enough ones on those categories.
All in all our backpacks weighed 10,8 and 10,2 kg. That includes five days worth of food, 3,5 kg. I found the gear list, with weights, that I wrote after the hike and I’ll include it here. The pdf list below is only in Finnish, sorry.
As I look at the list now, I note a couple of things:
- We had heavy and bulky headlamps. The plan was to get brand new Petzl Tikka headlamps, but in the end it was not possible to get those yet in end of September 2000. We took our old winter headlamps, Petzl Arctic (340 grams + spare battery 160 grams = 500 grams!). A good headlamp is essential when hiking late in autumn, but today you can get as much lumens and beam length under 100 grams as we got out of our bulky lamps back then.
- Either dry sacks did not exist or I didn’t know of them. We used unused rubbish bags to keep our spare clothes and sleeping bag dry. Nowadays I’m a big fan of dry sacks (like Ortlieb or Sea to Summit) , and I definitively use them always for this purpose.
- I see here’s when I acquired my grey Bridgedale hiking socks! Yes, I remember the editor-in-chief of Erä managed to get us several pairs of thin liners and thicker hiking socks for the boots test. The thin ones mostly got holes in them already long time ago, though they lasted surprisingly long. The thick ones are still in use! They are so thick I don’t use them on my every hike, but I’d say 20 years of lifetime is good for socks.
The test article can be found in magazine Erä 5/2001 (in Finnish, from library).
Is it safe?
Why ultralight? I’ve already written several times about ultralight hiking. We tried to hike 127 km without sleeping, we succeeded in hiking 100 km in 24 hours, and competitions on wilderness skills are close to my heart, too.
In year 2000 lightweight hiking was a very new trend in Finland. Or not a trend yet. We had read Ray Jardine’s books, like ‘The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook’, and got quite enthusiastic about trying to hike cross-country with minimum equipment. The idea to carry only half of the ‘normal’ load was very appealing.
Is ultralight approach safe? Well, you do need more experience, and you need to be able to adapt. If the evening is cold and you don’t have a down jacket or an extra wool/fleece, you need to stay warm in other ways. Like crawling into your sleeping bag already while cooking and eating your dinner. Or making a fire, if it’s allowed, or going for a short run around the camp.
October 2000 was exceptionally warm, but still some evenings it was so cold we liked to prepare and eat our dinner using our sleeping bags as sources of warmth. When it’s not raining and the wind is not high, you don’t have to stay inside your tent while doing this. Markus enjoying an evening meal during our October 2000 hike.
If you are an experienced hiker, meaning you know what conditions are to be expected, and what the conditions can be at worst, and you know you can handle all of these situations with the equipment you carry, then yes, I’d say ultralight hiking is as safe as ‘normal’ hiking.
There are great advantages, too, like less exertion to knees and ankles, and less exertion overall. You can walk a longer day march than with 20-25 kg backpack and still be less tired in the evening. And if you see a very dark cloud mass approaching and you are in treeless fell, you can speed up and hike fast to the treeline before the storm hits.
Light backpack is easy for knees and ankles, and it gives you a lot of mobility. Me during our October 2000 hike, carrying Haglöfs LIM 35 liters backpack, and RidgeRest sleeping pad behind it. Photo: Markus Rask.
You can only do ultralight on marked trails, eh?
Well, navigating is easier on marked trails. There are duckboards across bogs and bridges over rivers, and campfire sites or shelters at suitable distances. Along a trail there is also possibility to meet other hikers in case you need help. So, all in all many things are easier when staying on trails.
There are many great hiking trails in Finland, but still the Finnish way of hiking is also the possibility and ability to hike outside marked trails. Most of our largest wilderness areas do not contain marked trails, or the trails only show a fraction of what the area has to offer for a backpacker.
In many places around the world you need to stick to the trail as not to cause erosion, as not to wear out the terrain. In Finnish Lapland the wilderness areas are huge, and there aren’t so many hikers venturing out of the trails, and therefore there is no problem of erosion. In the most popular areas, like Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park with over half a million visitors per year, it sure is a good idea to stick to the trails, but when I’m hiking off-trail in a remote wilderness area, I do not feel guilty at all. I am not leaving any trace of my visit.
On the hike I’m trying to get to tell about, we hiked for about 100 km on marked trails, about 60 km along roads, and we took a 25 km taxi ride. All the rest, well over 400 km, we hiked outside trails and roads, through fells and forests and bogs. Of course it is possible to hike ultralight outside trails.
But you don’t see anything if you hurry?
I think it was Ray Jardine who pondered about which one sees more:
- Hiker A, who walks short day marches with leisurely speed, stops often and notes many things about nature along his/her trail.
- Hiker B walks fast and far, and does not notice all those things person A notes, but she/he gets to see a lot longer stretch of wilderness.
I think both are good options.
In October 2000 we had time to hike for two and half or three weeks. Had we walked ‘normal’ 15 km per day, we would have got from Kilpisjärvi to Angeli, through Käsivarsi, Tarvantovaara and Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Areas and Lemmenjoki National Park. Now that we walked 37 km per day on average, we got to see also Muotkatunturi, Kaldoaivi and Vätsäri Wilderness Areas and Kevo Strict Nature reserve.
I admit we did not always feel the peace and calm you can achieve on a ‘normal’ kind of a hike. We did not stop to admire the intricate beauty of a fallen yellow leaf, or the strangeness of a curious twig, like we do when I’m hiking with my kids.
On the other hand we had a clearer target and purpose than ‘normally’. We were fulfilling another dream and we enjoyed ourselves hugely. Well, there were some difficult moments and one life-threatening situation, but more on these on next posts.
I would not like to hike always ultra-light and ultra-long, but I do find these approaches interesting and definitively I want to use them every now and then.
I see this prologue to the actual hiking story is already very long. I’m stopping here for now and I’ll tell about our 600 km ultralight hike next Monday.
By the way, this blog got nominated within Top 100 Finland Blogs. Or rather that means ‘Top 100 blogs about Finland written in English’. I sadly have to confess that I don’t understand much about social media, and I don’t even properly know what a feed is, but anyway it’s very nice that someone produces this kind of lists. So, thanks Feedspot!
3 thoughts on “Ultralight hiking”