Date walked: 22/08/2022
Time taken: 17 days
I have learned over the years that what I like most about multi-day trekking is wild camping in the middle of nowhere. I saw a report on the Kungsleden Trail on walkhighlands website, looked at some beautiful drone heavy videos (I hate the intrusive noise pollution of drones in open country but they do take nice pictures) on YouTube and knew I had to go there.
This trail is the one I have enjoyed the most in the moment. There are fantastic camping spots, wonderful scenery and an unexpected bonus of the northern lights on several nights. The view of the delta at Skierfe was as awesome as it looks in all the pictures. The fantastic Swedish trekking infrastructure took all the dull bits (damp clothes, cold, stuck inside the tent) out of multiday trekking in cool climates.
The trail itself is not hard at all, with relatively little up and down. Its remoteness and bad weather changes everything. But the huts and refuge network take much of the jeopardy out of the remoteness. You a get a lot of reward for only moderate effort.
I am planning a return trip with my wife to do some off trail variants around the first section. Its just such good fun.
I have uploaded a video made for my family and myself, in case it should be helpful for some in terms of planning and practicalities – but for visuals of the trail there are some beautiful videos with fine photography and aerial footage on the internet – just search on Kungsleden.
My schedule and some pictures
The whole trail runs from Abisko to Hemmaven, but that looked too far for the time I had and the pace at which I like to go, and I was a little put off by the odd mandatory rowing trip across the more southerly lakes as I’m a terrible swimmer and even worse rower. So I decided to walk the section southbound from Abisko to Kvikkyok, which seemed a good point to catch a couple buses east to pick up the train to Stockholm for the home leg. Direct bus services from trailheads drop off quite quickly towards the end of the season, although are very reliable, you can book online through their app.Whilst I lingered 17 days, plenty of people were doing the same section in 6-8 days. I am time rich and appreciate plenty aren’t. Others were walking variants off the main trail, doing loops back to Abisko, or heading to Nikkaluokta. There are plenty of options for any pace and time budget.
Like Iceland the summer walking season is quite short. I was keen to avoid peak season, the fjallraven event (early august) and the mosquito plagues of high summer, so I opted to go in the last week of august to the middle of September. Early in the season looks tough on the higher stretches depending on how much snow has fallen over winter, and it seems as though the mosquitos come out to play quite early. Late august is great timing, because the pressure eases of the trail a bit (although most of the huts/shops are pretty low on stock by then) the nights are darker, which provides the unexpected bonus of near certain northern lights if it is a cloud free night, and best of the all the glorious autumn colours of the ground cover and birch forests are beginning to emerge. Each year the hut closing dates change a little (but usually around 18th September), and the boat services stop at the same time so you need to be careful to factor that in.
I was in Sweden from 21st August to 10th September. If I did it again I would go a week later. I flew to Stockholm and there is an evening sleeper train from Stockholm to Abisko (leaves about 6pm and arrives around 11.30 am the next day in Abisko. I went on the sleeper train run by NJ trains but book as soon as the three month booking window opens. My schedule was fairly leisurely which made it hugely enjoyable in the largely decent weather. You start at the train station Abisko Turiststation which is right by the start of the trail, it has a massive hut but I didn’t go there.
Day 1. Abisko - Abiskojaure hut. Camped by hut. 18.3 km
Day 2. Abiskojaure – to a wild camp just past the lakeside refuge, 17.7 km
Day 3 and 4. From wild camp spot to Alesjaure, camped by the hut for two nights to do some day hikes as the weather was beautiful.
Day 5. Alesjaure – wild camp near Sielmmanjira river, 2km short of Tjakta hut, 11.6km
Day 6. Wild camp – camping by Salka Hut, 16km
Day 7. Salka – Singi, camping by hut, 14.5km
Day 8. Singi – Kaitumjaure, camped near hut. 14.5km
Day 9. Kaitumjaure – Teusajaure, camped by hut, 11.5km
Day 10 and 11. Tesuajaure to Saltoluokta (via connecting bus ride and motorboat), camped by hut for two nights for rest day and restock. 18.3 km. This hut had well stocked shop, full on restaurant and bar, great campers service hut with electricity – the only place you could charge on the northern stretch of the trail. There was a phone signal for the first time on the trail once you got down to the road to catch the bus, and all the time at Saltoluokta.
Day 12. Saltoluokta – Sitojaure, camped by hut 23.4km. A really helpful guardian at this hut with top tips for cutting out some unnecessary ups and downs if you are heading to skierfe before Aktse. He has made a big fire pit in the area for campers, with masses of potential firewood and an axe.
Day 13. Sitojaure – wild camp towards Skierfe, 23.8 km (including walk to and from Skierfe). Skierfe is a highlight of the whole trail, once I had crossed the lake from Sitojaure, and done the steady climb up to the plateau I took a short cut towards where I camped (taking a direct line towards skierfe from just past the cairn on the trail with instructions for contacting motorboat). This top tip was from the very friendly guardian at Sitojuare Hut which was very easy route (no path) and saved a ropey part of the path from Aktse uptowards Skierfe. Probably my favourite camping spot of the whole trip, with gently flowing water in-between the two small lakes for drinking. Also great place to see the northern lights with a clear sky. I walked up to Skierfe from my camp spot in later afternoon because the weather was glorious and had the top to myself. Its quite a stiff walk up to the top. But for someone who suffers from vertigo it was all quite manageable at the top so don't let the pictures put you off. Obviously i wasn't one of the ones sitting on the edge dangling their legs - madness.
Day 14. From nr Skierfe to Aktse, camped by hut, 8.8km.
This hut had a sauna which was not mentioned in my guidebook, a quite well stocked store as at early September. And exceptionally the campers service hut had a small power socket for recharging devices - powered presumably by their small wind turbine. Very useful to know its there. Muddiest and confusing part of the trail was a section just before starting the descent to Aktse, very glad my short cut to Skierfe meant I only had to do it once.
Day 15. Akste to wild camp spot 6km short of parte by Gallakahka river, 16.8km
Day 16. Camping spot to wild camp spot by Stuor dahta lake, 16.4km. I passed through Parte Hut and paid the day fee to warm up and cook (as I had run out of gas). Day fee entitles you to use hut from 10-3.
Day 17. Camp spot to kvikkyok, 15.8 km. This is a very poor hut for campers. It has a nice café and well stocked shop. But no service hut, no access to any facilities, just a ‘free field’. All campers left on the first available bus to Jokkmok, where you can change for a bus to Murjek to pick up the sleeper train to Stockholm (earlier in the season there is a through bus, but the new reduced timetable starts in September so you have to change with quite a long layover in Jokkmok). Jokkmok was a quite pleasant overnight stop with a decent sami culture museum. Nothing at murjek really other than a shop and waiting room at the station. I picked up the train about 9pm and it got in about 10am.
Some practical stuff
The trail guide I used for planning was primarily the Kungsleden (just covering abisko kvikkyok) by Fredrik Neregard, published by Calazo in English. Really good, nice mapping and with plenty of day hikes and alternatives routes, I took it with me. The only issue was it was published in 2017 and a little out of date on some of the hut facilities (ie new sauna, shop, or burned down sauna) – and the most notable change since then is the fact that prebooking for huts in preseason has become essential if you want to sleep in one, which is a change from the ‘there is a place for everyone’ approach that seemed to exist before. In a storm I am sure that they would squeeze everyone in, but don’t assume that is normal these days. The cicerone guide is fine but a bit bloodless and mechanical as usual, I didn't take it with me.
A distinctive feature of the kungsleden is the awesome infrastructure courtesy of the Swedish tourist federation. On this section to Kvikkyok there is a hut every 20-25 km or so. I don’t like sleeping in huts and didn’t but if you camp nearby and pay the campers fee you can use the facilities – which are always a drying room, kitchen with gas, and seating are you can use until late evening. Some huts have dedicated camper service huts (salka and abiksojaure,) most simply tell you in which sleeping hut you can use the facilities.
The STF website is useful on hut facilities, and has lots of tantalising pictures of well stocked shops. You need to take that with a pinch of salt, especially if you are walking later in the season. Most do not seem to resupply during the season, and whilst you will always find some tinned chill con carne, and loose sold rice, packet soups and pasta, you can forget buying nuts, dehydrated meals let alone rye bread (which I saw nowhere) outside of Saltolokta and Alesjaure. Walkers coming the opposite way from me were a really good early warning systems for low stock levels in shops. And of course the shops are quite expensive for obvious reasons.
I joined the STF to benefit from the discount members get on camping, day use and motorboat charges – the annual membership easily paid for itself over 15 days. But even so the STF charges would mount up so if you are on a tight budget and you would probably camp less near huts except when weather turned really nasty..
Many of the huts also have what turned out to be the unexpected highlight of the trail for me - a wood fired sauna, usually adjacent to a bracing lake, river or stream. These all ran from 6pm – with the first hour for women, second hour for men, and last hour for mixed. So relaxing and cleansing after walking long distances or getting cold, and very social and friendly. I surprised myself by getting into the cold dip element as well encouraged by friendly swedes who were helpful on the whole sauna etiquette, fire and hot water management features.
If the weather was foul it was really nice to know you could dry your stuff, spend the evening in a cosy wood stove heated kitchen, and usually have a sauna. For me (I know its not for everyone) this takes most of the potentially rubbish bits out of multi day treks in remote places. It was (together with the awesome scenery) what made it the most enjoyable in the moment trek I have done. Being able to use the gas in the kitchen helped with supplies especially when I ran out of gas myself in the last two days.
Whilst the whole northern section of the trail is in the artic circle, it is quite popular, but so long as you don’t head off at the same time as everyone else each day it isn’t what you would call busy. There are plenty of alternate routes and diversions around the main trail (which I am returning to do later this year with my wife) so it is easy to achieve decent isolation if that is what you like (I do). Going south the volume of people tails off once you go past the turn off to Kebnekaise, and apparently very much more after kvikkyiok where most people seemed to be finishing who hadn’t gone to Nikkoluokta via Kebnekaise.
One striking feature was the how many more women were hiking alone and in small groups compared to Scotland or the UK – for the first 10 days I would have said at least half the walkers were women. Diverse crowd on the trial, most numerous being german and swedes, then assorted Europeans, a few americans and a few brits.
The main kungsleden path itself is very easy to find. You just make sure you follow the red splashes of paint on rocks – if you haven't seen one for 70 metres you have wandered off the path. The splashes are one rocks, trees etc and very helpful. Do not though make the mistake of following the winter trail markings – the high poles with a red cross on top – they will take you into the middle of lakes and unfordable rivers – they work when everything is frozen and covered in snow (some fantastic videos on youtube of winter walking – more often sledding or skiing - on the kungsleden). I took the wrong route once before I had realised the red crosses meant winter route when I was leaving abiskojaure, but luckily it was easy terrain to cut across and join the summer trail.
Obviously you will have access to mapping for safety, but you don’t need to use it much. You can download and use Swedish mapping offline, which was very helpful.
There is not a great deal of up or down, the only slightly taxing elements is that on some stretches there are large boulder fields which are quite tiring to walk across. The extensive use of board walks is helpful across boggy and fragile land, and prevents horrific scarring of the landscape by broad boggy paths. I tend to plan to walk no more than 4 or 5 hours a day as I am not in the rush and like to spend time enjoying the surroundings without a pack. But some young and/or fit people were doing the trail in a third of the time I took – each to their own. There were a couple of short messy boggy sections sometimes with slippery tree roots – walking poles helpful – the worse being the route half way back from Skierfe to Aktse, but they didn’t last long.
The weather was largely pretty good (unusually so I think). I had a couple of days of light snow flurries in early September, a couple of days of showers and drizzle, but otherwise pretty lucky. Obviously it would get tougher in storms or early season snow and ice.
I always camped, wild camping about a third of the time, camping near huts the rest of the time. Almost always easy to find decent sports for camping, some of which were out of this world beautiful. Once or twice I needed to to fill up on water 30 minutes before my camping camping spot, but the trail book I was using was very reliable on such issues. In between huts on some more exposed sections (eg: tjaktja pass) there are refuges huts (always with adjacent composting toilet) which are great if the weather is nasty to let you get out of the wind and brew up. And there are few composting toilets dotted in between.
No-one uses a water filter, neither did I and I had no problems. Water is generally plentiful so you never need to carry more than half a litre if that. The calazo guide is clear on where you might need to stock up on a few stretches.
Much to my surprise most huts used contactless/cards - so I ended up with quite a lot of currency I couldn't spend - but you do need cash for many of the boats, and some huts had problems with their card machines.
There is no phone signal at all until you get to vakkotavare/saltoluokta. At my age I decided it was finally time to get a satellite gizmo that both allowed me to send/receive texts/emails/daily location etc to some nominated contacts, and provided an emergency beacon/assistance service. Mainly used it to get football scores from my son, but nice to reassure the family that I hadn't fall down a chasm. Can recommend Zoleo device warmly.
Kit and food
I go fairly lightweight having found it transformed the trekking experience - and have now a accumulated a decent set of kit. If you pack for the Scottish autumn you will not go wrong. The difference on this trail was I was I carrying most of my food for a 15 day walk just in case I had problems resupplying on route. This turned out to be a wise plan for end of season walking on the kungsleden. But I think I started out at about 13 kg, and got down to 11kg after the first week.
I had a new tent which I had tested in the much worse weather of parts of the Cambrian way. Otherwise it was all tried and trusted kit. The tent was Big Agnes’ Tiger Wall UL1 – fantastically comfortable and roomy, you have to work hard to get it really pitched well for windy conditions, but I think I have cracked that now. It is super light and unlike all my previous tents quite pleasant to sit up in if you are trapped by the weather. I think their copper spur variant would be more robust in windy conditions as it has a freestanding frame design, rather than semi freestanding. Extra pegs and adjustable guys helpful as always with big agnes.
My luxury item as always is the helix lightweight camping chair which comes in at around 500g but I have never regretted taking it- it transforms wild camping.
Definitely take walking poles – there are almost no rivers to cross if you stick to the main trail, but they help you balance on boardwalks and on the boulder fields and the odd bit of slippery mud and treeroots in forest bits.
Your food strategy is the key challenge in terms of keeping your rucksack closer to 11kg than 15kg. I went for a fairly minimal diet as usual as I seem to get away with an intake of around 1500 cals a day, and have given up sugar. Nuts are key for me in terms of calories to weight, but I would have taken double if I had known I had no chance of picking them up in the hut shops in September. Luckily someone was dumping excess provisions in the saltoluokta campers hut so I got two lovely bags of nuts from them (thankyou!), otherwise I would have run out.
I had a three season sleeping bag rated for comfort down to -8, which I think is the minimum for a September trek. I had some very hard frosts some nights when I was camping higher up.
I used dehydrated meals by firepot which are healthy and mainly tasty, and for about six nights I had rice and chill con carne,– both bought in the huts. Next time I would take more dehydrated food, from someone like Huel rather than the single portion packets, as there is less packaging. Assume that you will have carry out almost all of your waste as only a couple of huts will take non-organic waste. Otherwise I was having a single rye roll a day for breakfast (I bought 21 in Stockholm and eked them out for the whole trip once I realised I would not get anymore bread) with laughing cow cheese – and then 50 g of nuts for lunch, and a dehydrated meal in the evening. Take enough real coffee for the whole trip if you are an addict like me – I ran out and they only have expensive sachets of instant coffee in the hut shops. There are low effort foraging opportunities in many places for mushrooms and berries (lots of blueberries) - so long as you know what will kill you.
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