Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Climate Change & Backpacking

Today is Blog Action Day, which is an annual event to create discussion on a certain topic. This years topic is Climate Change, so I decided to have a look how this affects backpackers and vice versa. I'm going to keep it short and simple, as the aim of the post is to create discussion, so I am looking forward to many comments.

Lets first look how backpackers affect the environment, both negatively and positively. On the negative side we have gear; raw materials need to be extracted/ harvested, then the good is produced, and ultimately we buy it, use it and at some point dispose of it. Lots of transportation between these. UL gear is supposed to be less durable (I call BS on that, as we take more care of our gear and surely get the same mileage out of it). Good sides: Light gear uses less material. Much of UL gear is made of recycled and recyclable materials. We use less gear (we don't carry three pants and four shirts with us).

Once we have our gear, the next impact we have on the environment is transportation. Those of us who can walk out of the door and are in the forest or hills don't have that problem, but most of us need to use one mode of transportation to get to our destination where we want to hike. That can be either in our own car, or by public transportation. The latter is obviously the better option, but might involve longer trips towards the destination.

Finally, we have consumables. Esbit, alcohol, gas and food are here, and I think we can leave food actually off as we usually also eat at home. Esbit, gas and alcohol are all not the best ways to heat a meal/ water, wood is the best option but its not very widespread. Gas is arguably the worst, as you have those canisters which can't be refilled. Esbit comes in a wrapper, and alcohol in a bottle, if I would need to pick the lesser of two evils I would go for alcohol, but no scientific proof. I usually use wood, but dabble with alcohols and esbit every now and then.

So how does climate change affect us backpackers? Our hobby makes us (hopefully) very aware of the global warming problem. We are out in nature, and can see the adverse effects global warming has on the environment. Be it warm winters which are without snow or summers which are super hot, we are out there. And it is in our interest to take care of the environment, as we prefer to hike in pristine wilderness areas, where wildlife is abundant, instead of commercial forests where the only sound is that of the chainsaw.

I see two ways how we backpackers can have a positive effect on global warming. First, we support with out hard earned money those companies which create excellent, environmentally friendly gear (made of recycled/ recyclable material, organic materials, etc.) and who support the environment in one way or another (1% For The Planet, for example). Secondly, we use public transportation to our destinations, or if we go by car we share the ride with others. Finally, we can take friends, children and family out into nature and make them see that our environment is worth protecting. I'm looking forward to read your comments and hope we can have a good discussion about this topic!

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Writing for the Newspaper

As some might know, I have been writing a few articles for the Helsinki Times newspaper, the first English newspaper in Finland. Here the links to the two articles.

Backpacking in Pirkanmaa is a feature article I wrote for the October 1st Travel Edition of the Helsinki Times. All photos (there are more in the print version) are from me as well. Really liked how this came out, my Mom got a copy sent to Germany and was very impressed =) I also was able to communicate my lightweight backpacking principles, which is the icing on the cake!

The Walking in Finnish Forests was an article for the Expat View column, where foreigners living in Finland give their view on a topic. Previous versions entailed how terrible it is to life for six months in darkness and that Finns aren't very talkative, so I decided to show that also other experiences can be had - Finns on the trail are usually up for a short chat and are very friendly.

I really liked this opportunity to write for a real print newspaper, its a bit different than writing for the blog as you get a physical copy. Also dealing with an Editor was interesting, they have exact ideas what they want to "serve" their readers. Choosing photos was hard, but fun. All in all a very rewarding experience, and if you ever would have the chance to write for a newspaper, I would say "Go for it!"

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Gear Talk: Socks and Footwear

Going lightweight inevitably means that at one point you're going to think about the shoes you're wearing. I was wearing German Army boots for much of my backpacking career before going lightweight, always with the same problem: usually getting blisters, in winter getting soaking wet boots which would freeze over night, and in summer getting wet boots which won't dry over night. I still have a pair of Timberland half boots, which I bought in 2000 in Honduras, those would need to get a little help from a shoemaker but are otherwise very good shoes - I walked from Costa Rico till Mexico in these shoes, so I have a lot of memories with them.

German army boots drying by the fire, April 2009 @ Helvetinjärvi National Park.

I was familiar with trailrunning shoes, as I wore them when jogging.
New Balance and Adidas were usually the shoes I wore, and I was happy with them for their purpose of trail running. So how would they work on the trail when backpacking?

As I was living in Spain last year, I bought a pair of Adidas Supernova Riot. I used them for running in the park, and also for some excursions into the mountains around Valencia. They worked perfect. I decided to try them as well in Finland, and I would have wished I would have been wearing them already on my Easter hike in Helvetinjärvi NP, where I still wore the aforementioned German Army boots (1000 g they weigh, per boot!). On my next trip in Isojärvi I wore the Supernova, and I had no problems covering the large distances, had no blisters, and the shoes dried quickly when they got wet. Also I was able to cover more kilometers, and my feet and legs never got super-tired; neither where there problems with twisting my ankle or anything similar - my feet are free to move like they were intended to, and muscles were getting stronger. From then on, I was only wearing the Supernova, and covered many kilometers with them. They have a great grip, also on wet surfaces, are light at 745 g and are available virtually everywhere.

Adidas Supernova Riot.

With Winter coming up I decided to keep walking in lightweight footwear, although some changes will be made. The Backpackinglight.com article on Lightweight Footwear Systems for Snow Travel, which comes in three parts, was an excellent introduction to the topic and described the basics and techniques way better than I could, so please have a read. Well informed, I decided for that the winter I will continue using unlined trailrunners. I'll be walking in a pair of Adidas Supernova Riot 2, the successor of the shoe I have been using since last year, in a slightly bigger size to accommodate liner socks, thicker merino socks and GoreTex socks, with options on a vapour barrier liner sock and neoprene sock if I get really cold feet. They weigh 710 g, so Adidas was able to shave some weight off the shoe but keep them as comfortable and grippy as its predecessor. Here in Finland I have seen them at Intersport and similar stores, and I reckon your running shop of choice would not have a problem with ordering them for you.

The Adidas Supernova Riot 2.

Together with new shoes came new socks. Its fascinating how much socks can change your experience from a terrible one (wet, cold feet with blisters) to a splendid one (dry, relaxed feet without blisters). Previously yours truly had cotton socks and German Army socks, but I can tell you, after experiencing the pleasure of walking (and sleeping) in merino socks I wouldn't go anywhere near other socks. Merino has the ability to be still warming when damp/ wet, which is a very useful ability for a backpacker's sock as he tends to get sweaty feet. Thanks to merino it usually also doesn't smell as bad (if at all). I use socks from Woolpower and Smartwool, both are equally awesome and I can recommend them if you want to do something good for your feet. In Finland you get them at Partioaitta, Partiovaruste and Retkiaitta. I use liner socks from the same companies, just check that they're made from Coolmax or a similar material and you're fine.

Because I use unlined shoes, and I don't like to get wet feet, I bought a pair of Trekmates Amphibian GoreTex socks. I bought them from Amazon.co.uk though I saw that Ultralight Outdoor Gear now also has them in stock. These come on when its raining or when I walk through wet terrain, and in the next coming months snow. Excellent they are, keeping my feet warm and dry. It feels funny if you walk and you're sure you got wet feet, but nope, they're dry. If you walk with unlined shoes, I would recommend you to get a pair of these.

Socks! Smartwool Hiking Mid sock 96 g, Woolpower 400 socks 72 g, Trekmates Amphibian GoreTex socks 73 g.

So, that's my socks and footwear. In the coming months I will be getting a pair of Inov-8 Roclite 295 which should be even lighter than the current shoes. For winter I am additionally looking for a pair of gaiters, VBL socks and/ or neoprene socks to accompany the Inov-8s. So, which shoes and socks are you wearing when your out on the trail?

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