I'd only been at George Fisher a few months when my name was picked at random out of a hat and I won a very unique opportunity to travel to Jämtland, Sweden, to train with Hilleberg Outdoor Academy for one week!
I flew over Stockholm heading up north to Ostersund on the 12th September, only to be greeted by the aurora borealis! I was sat on the left hand side of the plane as the pilot announced that all those on the left side would now witness the northern lights, my heart skipped a beat (I think the plane might have tipped slightly also) … so a pretty exciting start really to this epic adventure!
Hiking for five days we were expected to walk 6-9km per day over varying terrain, carrying 18-20 kilos in our packs including all our own food, stove and tent for the day. I realised on arrival that the person I was meant to be paired with couldn't make it, so I was my team! This wasn't so disastrous as it meant I didn't have to share a tent but it did mean I had to get my navigational skills.
The main agenda of this trip was not only to learn how to put up Hilleberg tents but also to get to know the company. We were lucky enough to have the managing director Rolf (son of Bo Hilleberg) with us too (no pressure). It turned out he liked to walk always at the back of the group and never in straight lines; so we got on well!
Meeting the kit list requirements, here are a few essentials that I took:
Meet Joel from pattern and production!
My first impressions of the Hilleberg headquarters were that it seemed to be a design studio with luxury coffee making facilities... I liked it very much. Based near Ostersund where I flew into, our tour organiser and main man 'Christian Benedikt' took us straight to meet the crew behind the scenes on arrival. Teaming with fabrics, a large warehouse soon to be filled with stock and at close proximity to the surrounding woodlands and lakes, it seemed the perfect spot for the innovative and earnest approach that underpins Hilleberg.
After a night camp up near the headquarters, we repacked our bags with Woolpower test gear and debarked for Vålådalen Nature reserve...
See map below: This ended up being our route (roughly drawn up post trip!) but before hand we were just given an indication of a potentially good camping spot (see circle and numbers) which each designated team had to navigate the rest of the group to each day.
The road ahead... cue the 2001 space odyssey theme tune
What does a vegetarian eat when alone in the wilderness surrounded by bears and moose (plural, moosi, mooseaye hmm)?
Summit to eat...
We stopped for our first lunch break at Burastjarnen Lake... I feel a review coming on
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Summit to eat camping food was my fuel for the week. I had a selection of main meals and desserts that varied from vegetable chipotle chilli rice and macaroni cheese to chocolate moose and apple custard granola crunch.... I found them delicious, each surprisingly fresh in flavour and texture. It was hard to believe that the cooking time after boiling the water was only 8mins. They make it so easy as there's even a line you pour the water up to on the inside film. I honestly can't recommend them enough - the apple custard granola was out of this world. Enough energy to keep you going in the cold weather; packed inside most of the mains are 600 + kcal at only around 130g.
The Kaitum 3 was my first night digs in the sticks. Seeing as my partner from Switzerland hadn't been able to come, I was all alone in this palatial 3 person tent. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. We were camped alongside some Sami hunting cabins which made for a sheltered position with a great morning view.
The tent itself is red label, meaning that it is exceptionally durable and resilient whilst not weighing much. This 3 person Kaitum (it also comes as a 2 person) weighs only 3.9kg! It is particularly good for those that are tall as it has a longer sleeping area with two flat ends that lead to two outer regular sized vestibules. The GT version offers the extended vestibule giving more space for those that require extra space for equipment. It is a simply pitched tunnel tent that has additional support in the guy lines design, meaning it withstands very windy conditions.
Things get steep...
We headed for higher ground on day two (seeing our first glimpses of reindeers!!), coming off the winter and summer tracks that are clearly marked by red crosses and painted stones. This was a good day to talk about the Aura AG 65L bag I had borrowed from Osprey. I was surprised at how much weigh I was carrying in my pack and exceeded the bags own weigh limit by a few kilos which made it unfair to review until the weight felt correct for the bags criteria. Up until this moment I had experienced some pains where the straps had been sitting. Now the bag felt like it was working to its full propensity, perhaps the meals I'd eaten had lessened the load so the comfort level was better... Or I was just numb! Having never tried the anti-gravity feature before I was excited to feel how much lighter the bag felt. The straps are snug, this did get some getting used to, but it soon became apparent that without that lift, the weigh would have put too much strain on my hips.
A handy pouch on the front was great as a map storage area or wet shoes compartment. I found it hard to use the open access mesh side pouches for your drinks bottle though once fatigue set in, it was a struggle to reach back and pull them out easily.
SEE AURA AG 65L ON OUR WEBSITE
Overall though, I was very pleased with the comfort and back support this bag allowed for. If I did this again though I'd have opted for the step up in weight allowance so my first few days were more comfortable. My error though, not the bags.
The group tent was the Altai and we spent every evening inside having tent clinics covering all aspects of the tents from the fabrics that hilleberg have developed (Kelon) to the manufacturing of it solely in Estonia and the repairs and handling advice as well as how to identify different labels.
Rudolf and his friends arrive… and I am team leader for the day!
After navigating through herds of reindeer and lots of marshland I got the team to a nice bit of water to camp for the night...
Night temperatures were +1 Celsius, it felt much colder so I was glad of the -10 down sleeping bag and the woolpower long johns/ baselayer were fantastic. Even after a five days my baselayer smelt fresh; the anti-bacterial properties of merino wool are incredible!! We sell Icebreaker in the store which is equally as good.
Flying tents and river crossings...
SEE ANJAN 2 ON GEORGE FISHER WEBSITE
This Yellow label three season tent demonstrated its abilities to remain tethered in an extremely windy storm. I held the internal guide line down with my back pack as a weight and made sure all the pegs were correctly positioned I felt confident I could enjoy my porridge without loosing my tent... It paid to take time that morning and stay inside weighting it down (I did have to starfish face down at one point). Always tie your tent to the nearest bush, tree or just your back pack incase its so windy it goes up. This particular morning saw one person summersault inside one tent that continued without said person in, over the lake... to be collected shortly after. And saw another tent caught mid air until one person decided to jump on top of it to anchor it, meaning three poles were instantly snapped! I felt quite proud of myself for keeping my three season Anjan singlehandedly, all I can say is that most of all I just wanted my porridge and nothing was getting in the way of that.
Later on after the winds calmed … I found some mushrooms to match my shiny red shoes!
My Asolo Greenwood boots made for a comfortable hiking experience. I was a little nervous as I had only worn them in for a week prior to going away, but I found that the addition of a foot volumizer as well as my orthotic foot bed meant it was super comfy. The flexibility that these boots allow for in the heel is noticeable, and made me feel more agile than when wearing a heavier clunkier outer fabric. The hide is cut from the lower level of the skin (just below top surface) meaning that there is increased flexibility but it still maintains excellent breathability and sturdiness. They are Gore-Tex lined so they are completely waterproof too.
It was important to have the correct socks so my heels were well padded. I used mainly bridgedale and Stance socks. A woolpower sock liner became a staple. This and good old compeed used fast enough stopped any discomfort continuing. Having said that I felt so comfortable in these boots that I was in no rush to kick them off when we returned.
After a tricky river crossing we sat under one of Hilleberg's tarpaulins and got warm. I had a moment to look into the forest and make this sketch before we headed further in. Moose and bear poo everywhere!
Beautiful waterfall stop for lunch
With heavy hearts (more than the bags now) we headed back out of the wilderness and joined the summer trail back up to Vålådalens Fjällstation, where a surprise awaited...
HOT TUB TIME!
After a sauna and swim, Swedish waffles and a beer we all felt absolutely shattered/restored.
This was the best five days and a truly once in a life time experience. I have so many great memories and have learnt a lot whilst meeting some brilliant people. Thank you George Fisher and of course to Hilleberg (Rolf and Christian in particular). To anyone that gets the chance to do this trip or something like it, go for it...!