110 kilometres of Arctic trekking through the wild tundra of Swedish Lapland – that’s Fjällräven Classic Sweden in a nutshell. I participated in this inspiring multi-day hiking adventure in 2019 and in this unaffiliated guide, I’ll reveal all about my preparation and my experience of summer hiking on the Kungsleden (King’s Trail) in Northern Sweden.
Read on for details about the 2020 ticket price and trekking route, tips for your packing list, links to downloadable maps of the area and answers to many frequently-asked questions!
What is Fjällräven Classic? 🦊
Fjällräven Classics are organized by the Swedish outdoor equipment company Fjällräven (famous for Kånken, those trademark boxy backpacks), so in a sense, they’re promotional events for the brand – but I found the experience authentic enough and not too commercial, and I don’t own a single piece of Fjällräven gear.
The Sweden Classic is the original event, taking place annually since 2005 – as of 2020, there’s a total of eight Classic events in places like Denmark, South Korea, the USA and Germany. The Sweden Classic remains the longest and one of the most challenging though.
In essence, this is a self-guided hiking and camping adventure with thousands of participants from all over the world. You begin in one of eight starting groups, you can complete it on your own or with friends or family – and you’re practically guaranteed to make friends with like-minded fellow hikers on the trail. You are obliged to sleep in a tent and you’re expected to cook your own meals and carry everything necessary on your back.
The event is by no means a race or a competition. Spending longer on the trail and revelling in the wilderness is encouraged, but you do have to mind the closing time for the supporting checkpoints and the finish (if you want to get a finisher’s medal).
When and where does Fjällräven Classic Sweden take place? 🗓
Fjällräven Classic Sweden is set among the tundra and taiga landscape in Sweden’s northernmost reaches, in Norrbotten County beyond the Arctic Circle. Most of the route coincides with the most dramatic section of the longer Kungsleden or King’s Trail. The Classic route follows the valleys surrounded by snow-capped Arctic summits and it never ventures higher than 1140 m (at Tjäktjä Pass), so you’re not looking at particularly challenging, technical terrain.
The Sweden Classic takes places annually in mid-August (starting on 7, 8 and 9 August in 2020), at the height of the brief and moody polar summer. The extremely long daylight hours (it never gets completely dark at that time) mean you can hike as long as you like, at any time of the day. And together with the Scandinavian freedom to roam (allemansrätten), which allows you to camp practically anywhere in the wilderness, it means a very flexible adventure schedule is possible.
It should be mentioned that you can totally walk the route on your own, without signing up for the Fjällräven Classic Sweden. You’d be missing out on some of the logistical advantages and you’d have to carry all your food, but you could sleep in the huts if you prefer (not exactly a great option for budget travellers though) and you’d also be avoiding the crowds.
How to sign up for Fjällräven Classic Sweden? ✅
It requires some effort and preplanning to sign up for Fjällräven Classic Sweden. Registration opens sometime in January each year on this page and tickets for each starting group are sold out very quickly, within a day or two.
For 2020, tickets will be released on 20 January at 10:00 CET, so make sure you save the date in your calendar if you’re considering participating.
Fear not, though – the event has a liberal resale policy. As spring arrives and people think their summer vacation plans over, many will drop out and resell their tickets via the Fjällräven Classic Official Facebook group. So if you’re looking to have your participation sorted well in advance, it’s best to be quick and buy your ticket in January – but you can still join months later.
How much does Fjällräven Classic Sweden cost and what do you get for your money? 💶
For 2020, tickets cost 2,500 SEK (235 €), which I consider to be a very fair price for what you’re getting. The all-you-can-carry freeze-dried hiking food from Real Turmat that you’re supplied with is extremely high quality (and quite expensive if you’re buying it on your own) and you’re also provided as much Primus gas or other fuel (depending on your stove configuration) as you need.
The checkpoints on the trail don’t just provide freeze-dried meals, but often offer free little treats like coffee or even pancakes. And they’re manned by medical staff that would be happy to help with any ailment – whether it’s a blister or a full-on health emergency. At a couple of checkpoints you also get free sauna coupons that you can use at the next STF hut – and I can’t describe how soothing and cleansing the sauna was after a few days of near-non-stop walking!
The price includes bus transfers from the Kiruna airport or railway station to the basecamp in Kiruna and from there to the start in Nikkaluokta (a 70 km ride) too, as well as luggage storage and transportation to the finish for your non-trekking belongings.
And along with the map, trekking pass, reusable trash bag and safety tag you get at the start, you receive a finisher’s medal and other Fjällräven goodies once you’ve completed the trek!
All in all, I consider this to be excellent value for money for a nearly a week of trekking in the remote mountains of Northern Sweden, complete with food, fuel and some logistic assistance.
Which starting group should you pick? 🏁
The Swedish Classic has eight starting groups, spread over three starting days. Most people seemed to prefer the earliest starting groups, giving them the longest time to complete the trek before the finish closes. Mind that if you’re not a relatively fast hiker in the very first groups, you’re likely to be sharing the trail (and the best camping spots) with hundreds of other trekkers.
I was in the last starting group 8 and what’s more, I spent my entire second day off the trail, lagging even further behind. As a result, there were few Classic participants left around, making for a much quieter hiking experience and giving easy access to the best camping spots. I had to be careful with timing to not miss one of the checkpoints and the finish, but all the checkpoints were staffed and functioning as normal. I saw only one reindeer in the wild, though – I have a theory that the hordes of hikers walking before me had scared most of them to higher pastures.
What to expect in terms of weather conditions in Swedish Lapland? 🌦
Every local will warn you that the Arctic summer is completely unpredictable… and they’re totally right. It could be 20 degrees, sunny and peaceful, and half an hour later an incoming storm might bring the chill factor down to almost freezing. It’s not super likely to happen when you’re there, but it could snow even in July and August.
During most of my hike in 2019, it was around 10 degrees during the day, slightly colder at “night”. It was drizzling about half of the time, with a couple of stronger showers, and dry the rest of the time. The wind was never too crazy and it tended to keep the mosquitoes away (yeah, you get lots of those when it’s mostly dry and windless). Sunny moments were rare but memorable and fog often obscured the summits, especially in the mornings. All worth it for that double rainbow en route to Alesjaure!
One thing to note: because of the near-permanent daylight in August, you won’t have a chance to see the Northern Lights during the Sweden Classic, even if the skies are clear. The Aurora Borealis becomes visible sometime in September, as the nights get darker and the Autumn Equinox approaches.
What to pack for Fjällräven Classic Sweden? 🎒
Packing for summer Arctic trekking is a tricky and critical process. You don’t want to carry too much on your back for nearly a week, yet you want to make sure you’re well prepared for the unpredictable weather as well as for sleeping and cooking out in the open. It’s important to know how much your gear weighs, so I recommend using a website like Lighterpack to optimize your pack weight. This is my own packing list for reference, not including food and perishables.
Focus on your Big Four essentials: backpack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. Are they both light and sturdy enough? Will your sleeping gear keep you toasty even if it’s almost freezing outside the tent? Try as much as you can to get your total pack weight down to a maximum of 10-12 kg, your back will thank you on the trail. Also, make sure your backpack is comfy enough by taking all that stuff out on a shorter hike before you embark on the Classic.
Trusty rain gear (waterproof jacket, rain pants and backpack rain cover) is essential and dressing in layers will help you adjust to the changeable weather conditions. Merino wool baselayers are great both for moisture-wicking during the day and for sleeping in. A light down jacket was a real life-saver in the chilly mornings. And don’t forget a towel for the saunas on the way!
Your hiking boots should be well broken-in and high-quality – but if you’re a very light packer, waterproof trail running shoes might be a viable option too. In my opinion the trail allows for those.
You don’t need to worry about carrying water (or water filtration), since you’ll be surrounded by pristine water sources practically all the time. Even a one-litre water bottle will be enough for most people. You should definitely bring a few bags of tea, some instant coffee and your favourite snacks though! Sharing some snacks or alcohol from your country with other participants is a good way to break the ice and make friends 😉
Overall in terms of packing, getting inspired by the ultralight backpacking philosophy is definitely a good idea for long-distance treks like the Classic. But you don’t have to go overboard here, trimming your sleeping mat to match your body shape or cutting of your toothbrush’s handle are probably unnecessary measures.
Is the Classic route well marked? Do you need a map and compass? 🗺
I found the trail to be marked pretty well with red dots. Furthermore, the valley terrain you’re following most of the time made it very hard to get lost, unless it’s very foggy. Carrying a compass is a requirement for participation in any case, and you’re provided with a (not very detailed) paper map of the area at check-in.
If you’d like to download digital maps of the area for your GPS device or mobile phone, Fjällkartan has these in somewhat better detail. You can find a GPS track fo the Fjällräven Classic Sweden on Alltrails or on Martin Karl’s blog.
How to get to Kiruna or Nikkaluokta for the start? 🚂
Kiruna might look like the end of the world on the map, and undeniably it’s pretty far out. Thankfully, Sweden is a highly-developed country with decent infrastructure, so getting to its Arctic regions isn’t really difficult, just long and/or costly.
The Swedish Railways (SJ) run a comfortable night train from Stockholm to Narvik in Norway, passing through Kiruna and Abisko, with departures every evening in summer. The journey takes around 15 hours (not counting any delays, and SJ is infamous for those), so getting a sleeping car ticket is highly recommended. Open coach is also an option (and about half the price of a bed in a sleeping car), but much less comfortable.
As a Balkan cheapskate, I opted for an open coach train journey, which cost me 1050 SEK (100 €) for the round trip. That’s a great deal for a total of 30 hours of rail travel in Sweden, but it was not exactly pleasant. In early August the trains are sold out and cramped with hikers with their huge backpacks travelling to the Classic or for other Arctic hikes.
If you’re not willing to listen to Greta and travel by train, there’s also regular domestic flights from Stockholm to Kiruna. Those aren’t usually cheap, but will get you to Lapland in 1.5 hours. Driving the 1,236 km from Stockholm to Kiruna is also possible, if you’re into long road trips.
Fjällräven Classic staff meet the train as well as the flight arrivals during the starting days. Transport to the check-in zone is included in your participation fee. And although transport from Kiruna to Nikkaluokta is also provided, you could in theory make your way to Nikkaluokta independently and check in right at the start as well.
Can you extend your trek with any additional hikes? 🏕
Totally! I chose to summit Kebnekaise, the highest mountain of Sweden, for which I spent my entire second day off the Fjällräven Classic trail. Another nearby option would be a day hike to the awe-inspiring Tarfala Valley (just 8 km from Kebnekaise Hut).
Before and after the Classic, you could venture deep into the remote and pristine Sarek National Park to the south. Kärkevagge, the Stone Valley with its enormous boulders, is a lot more accessible and worth a day trip from Abisko. And Narvik and Loften in Norway are just around the corner, offering a whole other set of Scandinavian adventures.
What was my Fjällräven Classic experience like and how long did it take? 🏔
Thanks for asking 😂 All in all, it was a bit tough but absolutely wonderful! In terms of gear and physical preparation, I was definitely up for it, but I still wouldn’t call it easy.
I was in the very last starting group 8 and wanted to devote an entire day off the trail to summiting Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain. So it was necessary to follow at least a rough schedule for my trek in order to collect all my checkpoint stamps, finish in time and get a finisher’s medal.
It took me six days and five nights to complete the Classic, with one of those days dedicated to ascending Kebnekaise. You can ignore this if you’re not into peak bagging.
Here’s the schedule I followed:
Day 1: Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise Hut
- Distance: 19 km, 5 hours
- Terrain: light ascent (460 m to 690 m) through stunted birch forest, past a lake
- Memorable moments: the creamy turquoise waters of the vast Lake Ladtjojaure and the reindeer burgers at LapDånalds
Day 2: Kebnekaise Hut to Kebnekaise South Summit and return (not part of the Fjällräven Classic Sweden route!)
- Distance: ? km, 11 hours
- Terrain: tough and steady ascent (690 m to 2100 m) mostly over barren rock, small ice cap at the summit required crampons
- Memorable moments: seeing a reindeer next to our tents in the morning, then ascending in view of glaciers, snow fields and waterfalls to Europe’s highest mountain this far north. Zero visibility from the top because of fog 😀
Day 3: Kebnekaise Hut past Singi to Sälka Hut
- Distance: 28 km, 9 hours
- Terrain: light ascent (690 m to 835 m) in a wide grassy valley, fording streams
- Memorable moments: perhaps the most beautiful section of the Classic, with formidable glaciated Arctic peaks on flanking the valley. And of course, the comfort of the sauna at Sälka Hut coupled with a well-deserved Laplandic beer!
Day 4: Sälka Hut over the Tjäktjä Pass to Alesjaure Hut
- Distance: 27 km, 10 hours
- Terrain: moderate ascent and descent (835 m to 1140 m and down to 780 m) over a mountain pass and rocky ground
- Memorable moments: the double rainbow we witnessed when approaching Lake Alesjaure, followed by pouring rain and then another soothing hour in the sauna
Day 5: Alesjaure Hut to Kieron Checkpoint
- Distance: 18 km, 6 hours
- Terrain: moderate descent (780 m to 550 m) with level grassy ground along the huge Lake Alesjaure, then a somewhat steep downhill into birch forest
- Memorable moments: munching on all-you-can-eat pancakes at the checkpoint, then making a birchwood campfire under Mount Kieron as the endless Arctic sunset light hits a waterfall above us
Day 6: Kieron Checkpoint to Abisko Hut
- Distance: 17 km, 4 hours
- Terrain: light descent (550 m to 385 m)
- Memorable moments: the well-deserved view over Abisko, Lake Torneträsk, the vast boreal forests and the Lapporten (Gate to Lapland) valley from the top of the Aurora Sky Station after we finished the Classic
Instead of an ending, a shout out to my Alaskan buddy Evan for keeping me company throughout the trek! Never expected I would learn so much about commercial fishing, bear encounters and the concept of timbersports (aka lumberjack contests) on a hike in Sweden ✌