Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Packrafting in Finland - First Strokes

Last weekend I finally managed to get away on my first trip since Vålådalen, and it included a couple of firsts: I slept the first time this year not under a tarp but in a Lightheart Gear Solo tent, I used a ULA Epic backpack, and I paddled a part of the trip with my Alpaca raft. I'll deal with most of the other gear in a separate article, in this one I want to look more at the trip and the packraft. Finally, instead of my DSLR I used a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10,a fine little camera which geo-tags all photos automatically, and has a Full HD video function, as you'll see!

The idea was to walk 25 km from Kuru to the Helvetinjärvi Nationalpark, camp at the Heinälahti campsite, and in the morning paddle the 24 km Haukkajoen Reitti back to Kuru. The first part of the plan, walking from Kuru to Heinälahti, was pretty uneventful. It was cloudy and rained a bit every now and then, and I was happy about that - the six weeks of heat we had here in Finland are completely unbearable; and anyone who tells me there is no such thing as climate change I tell to wake up.

Passed by some fields as I left Kuru.

Bumblebee enjoying sweet nectar.

I've walked this stretch so often that I didn't even bother with a map anymore, I know it so well by now that I just enjoyed the scenery along the trail and was happy to pick nature's offerings where they presented themselves.



Forest strawberries.

Even if I wasn't super quick and made a few detours (one spring was completely dry so I asked some people who just arrived at their Mökki [Finnish for summer cottage] if I could get some water from their spring, and I took a one kilometer detour as I went to check out a place where I would come by the next day) I arrived at Heinälahti at 19.30 o'clock.

Ants using a man-made bridge to cross the river.

Early evening at camp.

By the time I arrived the sun came out once in a while, so I stripped down naked and took a swim in the lake. There was no one around, and knowing that most Finns won't arrive too late at camp, I had no worries. I then walked to the woodshed to pick up two logs, grabbed my Gränsfors Bruks Mini Hatchet and started to chop wood for my Bushbuddy Ultra. It was great fun, and because I "forgot" to take pegs I looked for some dead wood which, with the help of hatchet and puukko, were transformed into kickass pegs for my tent. I had it pitched in a couple of minutes, and started to roll out my mat and let my quilt loft, while I continued to chop wood and brew water for my cacao.

Home, Sweet Mosquito-free Home!

Outdoor Pyrotechnics.

I slept OK. I tried a new mat, which was great though if you roll it out over some tree roots (somehow at the campsite there was not a single spot found to be rootless) you'll only get so much sleep. At about 4.30 o'clock in the morning the sun started to rise, so I got up to take a good look at it, listen to the bird calls and enjoy the tranquility.

What's The Story, Morning Glory.

After half an hour I decided to catch a bit more sleep, and around eight I got up to enjoy the new day, eat breakfast and drink coffee before I set out to packraft.

Delicious breakfast.

After breakfast I set out to inflate the packraft, pack up, and start paddling. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't use my time to to share with you my first strokes (OK, not really my first strokes, as I was paddling a few times before on lakes at home & in Helsinki, but it was the first time out backpacking!) in a packraft. Thus lean back and enjoy the video.

I was fairly optimistic with my estimation of speed in the packraft. Now, six weeks of heat meant the lake, and hence the river, was about 50 cm lower than usual, and so I needed to walk all the "white water" sections as they were too low to float through. Add in an unbelievable amount of beaver dams (I recall at least six, and plenty of downed trees which obstructed the river) and my speed must have been something like 2 km per hour - I was calculating at least with four, if not five.


My last bus back to Tampere went at 17.05 o'clock, and with a speed of 2 km per hour I won't make it before ten to Kuru - far to late even for hitchhiking. So, after 8 km of packrafting I sadly packed up the raft and paddle, and started the walk back to Kuru. I decided to walk the road and not the trail, as I was hoping to be able to hitch a ride to Kuru - because 17 km in two and half hours were just too much. Happily a young boy on a Quad gave me a short lift, and a friendly lady gave me another short lift to the bus stop; but I still walked 14 km in two and half hours - something that I felt as soon as I arrived at home.


So in conclusion, my thoughts on packrafting: It's awesome and opens up completely new possibilities to enjoy the outdoors and go new routes. For me, who has been enjoying Roman Dial's adventures, was happy to see that Jörgen from Fjäderlätt also packrafts in Sweden, and looked as Phil and Colin introduced packrafting to the UK last year, I knew that I will get one for this summer.

I got the Alpaca raft, with a Spraydeck. The weight is 2513 g, and the Sawyer paddle is 860 g, which is 3373 g together. As you see in the video, I did not bother with a life vest. That might be for some a strict no-go, but I don't have one and also didn't find a light enough life vest. I also knew where I was going and what was to be expected, and therefore knew that a life vest won't be necessary. If you're more security conscious than me, and will paddle in proper white water, take a vest. Back to the raft. I intend to go to Lapland and paddle in some decent rivers this rest-of-summer or autumn, depending on my time (We remember: Hendrik does a Wilderness Guide education and works as well). I think I prefer the white water, fast flowing rivers overs the lakes, so a trip to Lapland seems in order; I'm thinking about the Karhunkierros or going down the river along the Finnish-Swedish border...

The packraft is of course ideally suited to go paddling on the lake - it is what I do in the evenings after work, the lake being 150 m from my front door. But rivers mean you can lean back a bit more, paddle a bit less, be lazy & enjoy the landscape. As you saw, I went barefoot in the raft, but later, as the carrying increased, put the shoes back on. I didn't mind the wet shoes or pants, it was quite hot and thus a good way of cooling down. Thanks to the Spraydeck there was not much water in the raft, and once I improve my paddling style there shouldn't be too much water on top of it either. I also realized that speed will (likely) only be high on fast flowing rivers. If you have to paddle, calculate with two or three kilometers per hour, likely less.

Well, that are my initial thoughts after my first trip. I enjoyed myself immensely, and am looking forward to more packrafting in the future, it really is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and see nature from a very different perspective. I hope this was a good first look into packrafting for those interested, and shows that with the help of a little raft and some willingness to try something new, one can experience the outdoors in new ways!

Yours truly, proud like a god in his packraft =)

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The Week in Review

I'm got back late from my backpacking/ packrafting trip yesterday, hence the delay. Expect a trip report if I find the time before heading to Amsterdam and my computer doesn't die on me, until then enjoy these trip reports and other articles.

A mix of gear and trip report is Phil's Argos Budget Lightweight Challenge, which I found a good and interesting read. Go and read if you're keen to introduce someone to backpacking and get good gear for decent money!

Pig Monkey's Tale of Two in the Wild Sky is a recommended read for all those who enjoy mountains and pretty photos. Go read and see!

Dave is writing up his Seiland adventure, go read Part 1 and Part 2 to see what it means if the Norwegians take the dogs for a walk!

Martin tells us about his last trip, and it is as usual a great story.

James from The Lighter Side is new in the blogging business, and his Dartmoor Walkabout is a good read with interesting thoughts on gear. I recommend you check it out!

Back to Norway where Thomas takes us to Rondane where he spent four days with Anders. Beautiful photos and thoughts on light gear in the mountains, recommended read!

Barleybreeder lets us know a smart solution for traveling in environments with a high density of blood sucking insects. If you head to Lapland, Canada or Scotland, take a look at those garments which will offer you peace from mosquitos, midges & Co.

Carsten takes a first look at the Inov-8 Roclite 288 GTX, the world's lightest GoreTex boot. He will follow it up in a few weeks with a Review, once it has rained enough!

Joe enlightens us about smart and delicious foods when on the trail, and if you're tired of always the same grub take a look at his menu.

Nick's 10 Steps to Firelighting without Failure is useful for all those who'd like to start using their woodburning stoves or impress friends by lighting a fire.

PTC's Gear Diary goes in the next round.

Keith did a review of the Terra Nova Laser 20l pack, and does a good job on it, and also shows what all fits into it!

I found Maz's Tilley TH5 Review also very interesting, such a hat would have been handy last weekend!

If you're planning a trip to Lapland, check out Roger's Nordkalottleden Gear Review which helps if you're not sure about what to take to the beautiful north.

Markus made a MYOG Visor Buff, a great little project for a boring weekend.

Jonas, who was with us on the Trekking-Ultraleicht.de Winter trip, is finally trying UL backpacking and shares his thoughts on it.

Finally, travelling light is not only smart when going outdoors, also if you're travelling to cities for holidays going light is the way to go. This website gives a bunch of good information on how to lighten up if you're travelling for business & pleasure.

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Going Lighter - My Experiences Going UL

Not to be confused with the blog of the same name, this post deals with my thoughts on lightweight and ultralight backpacking, my experience from going from a normal 20 kg baseweight to a sub 5 kg base weight and what my experiences where along the way.

After reading the various blogs, articles and forums you decided to make the step towards a lighter load. But what is important in the beginning? In this completely subjective article I will detail my journey from hauling 20+ kg through the outdoors to going an ultralight load of less than 5 kg. So, I think to see where I started, here's me on a trip in with a heavy load:

As you can see, a massive 80l backpack, a nice heavy fleece pullover and I also had a Fjällräven synthetic jacket with me. On my feet were the dreaded German Army Boots - 1000 g per boot! - and as I didn't know it better back then, long cotton underwear. A down sleeping bag which could have kept me warm till -35°C and a TAR ProLite were my bedding, way overkill for the -10°C I was expecting. From the trip I took a few things home: one Euro coin size blisters on my heels which took well over four weeks to heal, and the realization that if I had gone lighter and better prepared I would have had a better time outside, would have seen more of the flora and fauna, and could have gone further.

One thing I realized already before I bought any UL gear, and that is while the gear will make it easier, it is the mindset that lets one succeed. You need to be open to new things, willing to try new techniques, willing to leave "necessary" items behind. It is a way of mind over matter, skills over gear, that make an ultralight backpacker. Sure one can spend hundreds of euros on 150 gram cuben tarps, 900+ down quilts and the lightest eVent garments there are, and while these certainly help, if you don't know how to use a tarp correctly you might as well have taken nothing or the bombproof equivalent.

Ultralight backpacking is a mindset, a way of life, an attitude, a philosophy. It can be scary for the novice to head to the forests and mountains with ultralight gear, thus some practice in a save environment is advised - there is a reason why I test cookers, pitch tarps & tents and try different rucksacks in the nature reserve behind my house before I head into the distance forest. It is about knowing the gear, being able to use it correctly and feeling comfortable with it, knowing that I will be able to use it also when conditions aren't 30°C and sunshine. If you know your gear and how to use it, also a thunderstorm in the fjell is nothing you need to be worried about.

Once you're on the trail with your tested UL gear, and have left behind the worries that it might not be bombproof enough, you slowly realize that with less weight you're enjoying yourself more. You're feet are less tired and move more natural in your trailrunners, your merino shirt doesn't smell even after three consecutive days of hiking, and the vest is all you need for being warm at camp and breaks.

My old kitchen on the left, the current setup on the right.

So lets have a look at a few items and my thoughts on them. I start with my kitchen, and the photo above shows quite well the evolution (I'm working on an even lighter kitchen, so stay tuned!). Anyhow, from a Trangia I went to a Bushbuddy Ultra and a Titanium pot, and I think it makes a lot of sense to start saving the weight here - it is easy, fun and you need to cook on the trail. The savings in weight are very good, but I like even more the savings in space - the BBU combo is about one third the size of the Trangia & alcohol bottle. I would nowadays make again the exactly same investment of BBU + Titanium pot, but maybe would go for an Evernew pot instead. If your fire skills are decent take the BBU, if you're still practicing take the Bushcooker or Ti-Tri. If your fire skills are so good that you think woodburners are civilized toys, just take a titanium pot and cook over a fire. If gas or alcohol are more convenient for you, take a light setup there, but try to go for the lightest gas stove right away, or build your own 50 g kitchen.

Next, another very not very sexy area to save space and weight - the hygiene area. I wrote about this previously, so won't repeat too much here, but let me point out that a packtowel, a mini dropper bottle with soap and a toothbrush + tooth silk is all you need. No, you don't need a deodorant, no perfume, no 120 x 80 cotton towel, and a huge hand sanitizer bottle for a weekend trip. Most of all, this area is easy and cheap to start! I once again would buy the complete set of items you see there, plus mini dropper bottles to take just what I need for the time I am out.

Progressively lighter: First a Scarp 1.

and then quickly a tarp and bivy - also in winter!

Lets look at the hot items. Tarp, quilt & mat, backpack. I started with a Scarp 1, tried a Hubba HP and ended with a SpinnTwinn. To cut a long story short: I'd buy a tarp - or make one - immediately today. I love the freedom, the views, the super lightweight, the ease of use of a tarp. I will try some more tents now and then, but tarps are where my heart is - it allows me to be closer to nature than any tent can. I know it is a big steps to go from the "safety" and enclosedness of a tent to a open space like a tarp, and it surely isn't for everyone and everywhere, but if you want to cut the weight and experience nature, go buy a tarp. Silynlon, spinnaker or cuben, it is a question of money and preferences, but get a tarp.

I <3 my quilt.

For sleeping I continue to recommend a quilt for the spring - summer - autumn times, and your mattress or pad of choice. The lighter the better goes for pads in my opinion, though if you need the comfort of a NeoAir or POE Ether Elite, please use it - sleep is important, and those mats can make a difference. For quilts, I like the freedom they offer, and the adaptability. They're also slightly cheaper than comparable sleeping bags, and there are a growing number of cottage manufacturers who make sweet quilts. No surprise, I'd again buy the same quilt and mattresses I have than in the past, though as the GoLite Ultra 20 is no longer easily available, I would look at the products of cottage manufacturers and probably buy something suitable there.

Lastly the backpack, probably the most obvious sign of a UL backpacker. I started with the ULA Ohm, a great pack for beginners for a good price, with great details and craftsmanship. Nowadays I mainly use the LAUFBURSCHE huckePACK, and considering the circumstances I would again buy first the Ohm and then the huckePACK. The Ohm has simply more space, and for someone who is scaling down the weight the bulk is often the biggest hurdle. A slightly bigger pack like the Ohm is thus a good idea, and once you have everything in UL size go for the huckePACK (which, as you surely know, I love!). If the huckePACK would be easily available already now, I would certainly take the 45l size (I have the 35l size pack) and be a happy backpacker with it.

On a trip in the summer of 2009.

There are some more items, like knifes, headlamps, water bottles, clothes, and more. Have a look at my past reviews to see what is good and possibly worth your hard earned money. I'll for completions sake shortly let you know what are my favourite items at the moment: Finisterre merino underwear and Icebreaker merino shirts, Arc'teryx windjacket, Inov-8 trailrunners (and soon VFFs!), super lightweight pants and shirt from BPL, a Finisterre synthetic vest, an umbrella, a good camera and my kuksa!

To recap: Invest into books to develop those skills. Go hiking with more experienced UL backpackers and learn from them. Visit courses if you can. Buy right away the best & lightest gear for your usual trips, and check out the cottage manufacturers and the gear they make before you buy from the mainstream companies. Try the new gear in a familiar environment, get familiar with it. But most of all, just go out.

On the Vålådalen trip - photo courtesy of Jörgen Johansson from Fjäderlätt

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