Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Planning a UL Backpacking Trip - a How-to

Planning a trip, UL style. While I like the spontaneousness of 24 h trips and overnighters, some trips require some more preparation. Currently I am planning two trips, one solo trip of four to six days, and together with three classmates one school expedition for fourteen people with a duration of 11 days (two travel days, nine days solo skiing trip). As I like to go prepared I like to plan ahead, and as there are also a bunch of readers here who might just ponder how to go about their first winter trip, I thought to share with you how I go about planning a trip. This should be a good set of guide lines to follow if you're setting out to plan a trip and hopefully helps you have a great outdoor experience!

Location is the first thing I think about - where do I want to go? I go about this in a multitude of ways: Being inspired by trips which others have done, browsing through books and maps in the library, reading blogs, and checking out the Finnish Outdoors.fi website. Usually one leads to the other, if I read about a trip in a magazine I go to the library to loan the maps and a book if available, and also check the Outdoors.fi site. Once I have settled on a location, I move on to the second step.

Transportation is a tad more difficult. I don't have a driving license nor a car, so I rely completely on public transportation (or a friend with a car on rare occasions). Checking bus and train timetables and picking the best connections is thus next. Being an entrepreneur I have the advantage just go during the week, when also busses and trains are driving much more often than on weekends. When going to Lapland I am tempted to go by plane - it is fast and sadly way too cheap - but the emissions and that I usually would need to travel to Helsinki first means I skip this option. I reserve my tickets online and mark down possible connections back home - though hitchhiking home is often faster and cheaper! With that out of the way, I move on to the next steps.

Weather is important for a UL trip. yr.no is my favourite weather forecast service, as it actually does a good job of forecasting the weather. I don't own a TV or Radio, so those means, also being in my experience very unreliable, fall flat. Agricultural weather forecast services are great as well, farmers need to be well informed about it so that are sites to check if you go on a trip. Usually predictions get more accurate the closer you are to the trip, so having a quick look at the long-term forecast and then starting to plan gear, food, route and safety in general, so that they are ready and can be adapted the closer you get to departure is a good idea. Once you're closer to departure you check again, and pack accordingly.

Route planning is good fun - who doesn't love to spent looking at maps and thinking about possible routes, how the view would be from that ridge or mountain top, would the camping spot at this lake be fine, or is a high camp here feasible? I love maps, and can spend hours over them, thinking about routes, calculating distances, were I could bail-out, where to camp, etc. However, as here in the south of Finland most of my trips are in National Parks or on the Pirkan Taival Trail, planning routes as we did for Russia is not necessary - you just follow the established trails, which also in winter are well maintained and often prepared for skiing. But if your journey takes you into the wilderness, where there are no trails, then planning your route is an exciting part of the trip ahead. Think about where to start, where to stop, how to get back to civilization in a case of emergency, how easy/ safe it is to go through certain areas (fjells, mountains, crossing rivers, swamps, etc.), where to get water, where to camp, where to have lunch breaks, interesting features to see (old grown forests, ridge walks, hill tops with wide views, etc.). Consider the speed you're walking and the altitude you plan to gain/ lose on those trips, and better be conservative with your estimates - you might be able to walk 6 km/ hour on asphalt, but that can quickly decrease to 1 km/ hour if your traversing a boulder field or swamp. I plan with 25 km/ day, with a walking time of six to seven hours, to give you an idea of what is realistic.

Gear is next. Look at the temperatures to expect during your trip - is it going to be warm, cold, rainy, dry, snowing, windy? Plan accordingly to what to expect, and if you can not be sure and want to play safe, best prepare for the worst - if the forecast says it is going to be +5°C at night and your caught out at -3°C but didn't have enough of a safety cushion it is not going to be a nice trip. That said, this is of more concern on a longer trip and in an area where temperatures and weather can change dramatically, the forecasts for a weekend are usually pretty spot-on and you can rely on them. Depending on the conditions to be expected I think about what kind of quilt and sleeping pad I need together with the clothing to be worn and carried. I have a few basics which are always coming, these include a wood stove, FA & fixing kit, Hygiene, puukko, kuksa, compass, firesteel, and a tarp as a shelter. Depending on the length of the trip the size of the backpack is chosen, considering that there needs to be sufficient place for food and gear but there doesn't need to be too much space - I might take a smaller pack and have it a bit overpacked for the first day rather than take a too big rucksack. Laying out all the gear and packing it is a good way to see that everything that is important comes along.

Food is the next step. Starting at noon or in the evening, and planning on finishing at noon? Then you don't need to carry a breakfast and lunch for the starting day, and no dinner for the final day - those are consumed at home/ on the road. A healthy mix of bought and homemade meals is my diet, müsli and coffee for breakfast, noodles/ pasta for lunch, a freezerbag meal in the evening and snacks like nuts, dried fruits and bars in between meals - I carry about three bars/ day and around 50 g of nuts & dried fruits, that is plenty for me but others might go hungry with that and need more/ less. Think what is your energy need if you hike for a whole day, and pack appropriately. Going a bit hungry on a weekend hasn't killed anyone yet, but on longer trips you should make sure you get all nutrients that your body needs. If you're just starting out with backpacking and have no idea what your energy need is, have a look here for inspiration. I highly recommend to re-pack your food to the needed portion size and leave all the unnecessary packing at home - it is just more rubbish you need to carry out of the forest and mountains.

Safety is closely related to route planning, in my opinion. Leave a copy of your planned route and estimated times & places with your partner/ family/ friends - this benefits you twofold, your partner knows where you're supposed to be (it can give them peace of mind) and in case of an emergency/ you going missing, SAR can have an idea where you should be searched. I usually let my partner know in written form from where to where I plan to go, and where I plan to stay at the nights. I also inform her about my arrival at the camp site via a short text message, this gives again important peace of mind to those who care about you. A further important part of safety is to think about how to bail-out in case the weather is getting worse, you overestimated something, or you injured yourself. Look at close by roads/ houses/ signs of civilization and have an idea what would be your shortest route to safety in case something goes wrong. Additionally, if you're in a group on the trail, make sure everyone has a copy of the map, and possibly mark into the map the boundaries of the area you plan to traverse - if a member gets lost, and ends up at the big river in the east, it should know that it shouldn't cross that river but backtrack the river further up/ down to a emergency meeting point and hence safety. Discuss these with the group and make sure they understand the procedures before you start hiking.

If you follow these simple steps in planning a trip - from a two night - three days weekend trip to a five weeks expeditions in Greenland - you should be well prepared for a great time in the outdoors! If you have additional hints or tips, or questions, please feel free to ask in the comments =)