THE CHALLENGE – The 270-miLe Kungsleden trail is well defined and easy to follow. With the exception of the Tjaktja Pass (the highest point at 1,140m), you will only be faced with modest height gains and tosses. Hindrances include rocks, roots and boggy ground, so pay attention to your feet. There are frequent wooden boardwalks, helping hikers over boggy terrain and minimising erosion, although some of these sections are in dire need of maintenance. Local charter boats (about £18), or rowing boats (free), get you across the several large takes along the trait. Having experienced rain for at least a third of our trip, be prepared for cold, wet weather as the norm.
HOW TO GET THERE – There are direct flights to Stockholm from many UK airports. If you’re starting in Abikso and hiking south, an overnight train runs from central Stockholm through to Abisko (19 hours). It is also possible to fly to Kiruna from the UK, either direct or via Stockholm, which is much closer to Abisko.
A train or bus the rest of the journey takes just over an hour. Alternatively, if you plan to start from He-mavan in the south, internal flights from Stockholm to Hemavan and Tarnaby take approximately three hours, with low-cost Swedish airline Next Jet. Due to timings and connections, allow for a travel day at either end of your trip.
WHEN TO GO – The summer hiking season starts towards the end of June and lasts until the middle/end of September. If you want to witness the midnight sun, where you will have infinite daylight, then go before mid-July. However, if you want to avoid the worst of the mosquitoes, then go August to mid-September. The northern section is considered the most scenic, but that means it is also the most popular, so huts can be crowded during the height of summer. Beware of snowfall late in the season as this creates a muddier trait and makes river crossings more difficult. Rowing boats are usually in place by the end of June/early July, but lake crossings can be hampered by severe weather.
TIMESCALE – Because of work commitments, we completed the whole trail in three weeks, but only try that if you don’t mind hiking long days (about 16 miles). A more realistic target is 28 days, and the trail can be easily separated into four segments, each representing about a week of hiking. You may also want to allow for some spare days should the weather, fatigue or minor injury hamper progress. We were advised that for every week on the trail you should add an extra day for the unpredictable weather.
WHERE TO STAY – Sweden’s Allemansratten, or freedom to roam, means you can wild camp anywhere you like, as long as you leave the surroundings undisturbed and follow the leave no trace ethic. A good rule of thumb is to pitch your tent out of sight of houses and do not stay more than two nights in the same spot. However, if you prefer a proper bed at the end of a long day, there’s a network of mountain huts along most of the Kungsleden, primarily operated by the STF (Swedish Tourist Association). The distance between the huts is typically between 12km and 15km. The huts are simple, without electricity and running water, but comfortable, and are intended for self-catering.
They sell basic food and medical supplies. You can camp outside a hut and use the facilities if you pay a fee. Larger mountain huts, known as mountain stations, at Abisko, Saltoluokta, Kvikkjokk and Hemavan, have electricity, WiFi and hot showers as these are the main entry/exit points to the trail for section hikers. Some unmanned emergency shelters can also be found along the route, which are invaluable in extreme weather. If you are tackling the entire trail, there are no STF huts between Kvikkjokk and Ammarnas, about an 80-mile stretch, so you will need to carry a tent. Alternatively, private accommodation is available in Baverholmen, Adolfstrom and Jakkvik.
WHAT TO TAKE – If you’re staying in the huts, you don’t need to carry much more than a daypack, as you can buy food along the way and just need a sleeping bag. For the changeable weather, take a waterproof jacket and trousers. If you are intending to wild camp, make sure your tent will stand up to strong winds and wet weather. Lots of layers are key to keeping warm, both when hiking and at night. Even in August, we awoke to frost on the tent. Walking poles are not essential, but they do help you manage a full backpack. They also give you support in boggy sections where there aren’t any boardwalks.