In February I noticed a staff advert looking for ‘volunteers’ to participate in the Hilleberg Outdoor Academy. Sounded great! Amazingly I was picked, and after a frantic couple of weeks gathering kit, found myself flying into Östersund to meet the Hilleberg group. After meeting at the tiny airport we were taken to Hilleberg’s offices, given a presentation about the trip, issued with test kit and given a tour around the building; I was surprised how small the company is, and how few staff for such a world-renowned company.
After packing, we set off for a ‘test camp’on a hill behind the Hilleberg office. Our group consisted of 15 participants from the UK, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany plus our two leaders, Christian and Emil. We were split into teams and pairs; my partner was Johanna from Stuttgart.
'Our first night was spent in the Nammatj 3 GT tent, a lovely spacious tunnel tent'
It was a whole new experience for me pitching a tent in snow, which you have to compact down with snowshoes. I was surprised how well I slept in spite of the cold (around -8C that night) and was very excited to start our real trek the next day. In the morning we said goodbye to civilisation, taking a bus to the Vålådalen Nature Reserve. It was an easy walk to frozen Nulltjärnarna Lake, then across the ice and towards the mountains to our campsite, a frozen wetland. During the afternoon my right knee became quite painful from the weight of the snowshoes, and I also had a spectacular fall into a snow hollow. When you fall into snow of that depth it is hard to get up, and also highly amusing for all concerned; it took two people to haul me out. On reaching our campsite we pitched our tent for the evening, the Staika, a tough dome tent. Johanna and I were group leaders on the Thursday, so we woke the rest of the group then planned our route for the day.
'The perks of being group leaders included putting your bags on the Fjellpulken, or ‘pulks’ for short'
A pulk is basically a sledge that is harnessed around your waist and can be pulled across the snow. This was much easier than carrying a 25kg pack for my painful knee. The morning was tough going, through waist-deep snow in dense forest, as we attempted to cut southwest to meet a winter trail. Christian and Emil explained that there are summer and winter trails in Sweden. The summer trails can usually only be found when there is no snow, while winter trails are marked and cross lakes and wetlands while they are frozen. We picked up the winter trail shortly after lunch, and the going became much easier. Camp that evening was in a forest clearing, and it was our turn to try out the one-man tents.
Christian taught me how to pitch the Akto with doubled poles, as we were expecting strong winds overnight. The Akto leaves a lot to be desired in terms of space; I think you have to be a Yoga master just to get into it. I must admit that I did not have the best night’s sleep; frozen condensation kept falling on my face, and I had to be dug out in the morning as so much snow had fallen! Braam and Bo, group leaders for the day, kindly decided I should continue to use a pulk as it was less painful on my knee. The morning was fairly easy going and we made it to Stensdalsstugorna Fjällstation by lunchtime, recently rebuilt after a fire.
'It was luxury to be able to use a composting toilet!'
In the afternoon we headed into the foothills of Lill-Stendalsfjället, an imposing mountain to the south west, making our highest camp at around 770m above sea level. That evening Johanna and I had the Kaitum 3 GT, which was really easy to pitch and an absolute palace of a tunnel tent. The night turned out to be our coldest, with temperatures dropping to -20C. Unfortunately we had pitched the Kaitum on a slope, and I spent most of the night fighting to avoid slipping off my mat. Next morning I really struggled to carry my rucksack with the pain in my knee, so Thomas kindly strapped it to his pulk which made things significantly easier for me.
'For the last camp our tent was the Tarra, a geodesic tent; more difficult to pitch than dome or tunnel tents, but once up very comfortable and spacious'
I slept with handwarmers inside my bivvy boots, and was almost warm for once! Sunday’s trek took us back to the Vålådalen Fjällstation and the trip finished with a Hilleberg test, a delicious meal, and the presentation of our Outdoor Academy Diplomas. I was asked if there was anything I didn’t enjoy about the trip; the honest answer is no, I really did enjoy every minute. I guess it wasn’t too pleasant when it got so cold that your eyelashes froze, but I just saw the cold as part of the challenge!
Hilleberg the Tentmaker run these Academies twice a year and they offer them to retailers, like George Fisher, that sell their tents... we are SO lucky!
We have one of the biggest ranges of Hilleberg Tents in the UK, shop HERE for your next adventure under the stars #GetInspiredGetOutside