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How to hike the world’s northernmost pilgrimage trail

How to hike the world's northernmost pilgrimage trail
The St Olavsleden trail takes you across Sweden and into Norway. Photo: Tim Marringa
St Olavsleden is a hiking trail that runs from Sundsvall in the east of Sweden to Trondheim in the west of Norway. The historic pilgrim route has a long history that goes back to the time of the Vikings. The Local's contributor Tim Marringa gives you his best insider tips for hiking this fantastic trail.

In 2013 the old pilgrim route was restored to its former glory. The entire 580-kilometre trail was marked with distinctive red-brown signs and various stamping posts were placed along the way. The course of the trail is very diverse and lets you experience the best of Scandinavia as a hiker.

Where to start?

If you are coming from the Swedish capital, take the train to Sundsvall and buy a pilgrim passport at the local tourist office on the central square. In this passport you can receive a stamp in every special place. These are often churches or tourist offices along the way. The passport serves as proof to receive the certificate at the end and is a nice reminder of your journey.

There are many book guides about the route available in multiple languages. These books are often divided into different stages that you can walk in one day. There are also suggestions for overnight stays. If you want to be sure of a roof over your head, make sure to book these in advance since most places don't have that many beds. Or bring your tent and go for an adventurous wild camping experience.

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How long does it take?

The trail is 580 kilometres long, but if you wander off from the route to find a place to stay or a supermarket, you will quickly make extra metres. Depending on your rhythm, the circumstances and your own walking experience, walking the trail takes four to five weeks.


St Olavsleden is the world's northernmost pilgrim route. Photo: Tim Marringa


What to pack?

If you are going to make a lot of metres, packing light is essential. You will have to carry every gram with you for many kilometres. In addition to the fact that all of your camping gear must be lightweight, you must also carefully consider whether you really need the items that you take with you.

If you hike St Olavsleden in the summer, you can at least leave your flashlight at home. Because the sun in the north hardly sets in the summer period, it is only briefly dark at night. Bringing a sleeping mask is a better idea. You can take a little flashlight with you to be sure, but leave headlights and separate lighting for your tent at home.

A hole in your sleeping mat or a tear in your tent while you are hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest outdoor store – that's something you don't want to happen. Fortunately, there is a brilliant tape with which you can fix everything. Tear-Aid TYPE A tape attaches to every kind of surface and is water-resistant. You can repair leaking mats or broken tents yourself. An essential part of any camping equipment.

Because of the many water spots that you will find along the route there are also many mosquitoes. If you do not pay attention, you will be completely punctured. Bringing anti-mosquito spray is therefore not a superfluous luxury, it is a real must-have in your backpack.

There is a Naturkompaniet outdoor store in Östersund if you want to get extra camping or hiking gear along the way.


Bringing your own tent provides a lot of freedom during your hike. Photo: Tim Marringa

 

How to walk?

Follow the route marked by the red-brown signs. These signs can be found on stakes in the ground, nailed on tree trunks or on a string on a branch. The entire trail is very well marked, so it is not easy to get lost.

If you walk the route in the direction of Trondheim, the path starts out relatively flat. The Swedish landscape is slightly sloping, but without any real climbs. The closer you get to the finish in Trondheim, the more elevation you will encounter.

One of the reasons why Sweden is so attractive for long-distance walkers is allemansrätten (the right to roam). This right states that everyone has access to the beautiful Swedish nature and may also spend the night there. This law even applies to private territory, as long as you stay away from homes, disturb nobody and destroy nothing. Allemansrätten only works if you respect nature and the rules: “Leave no trace.”

If you're looking for a good spot to set up your tent, check for flat spots at the waterside. Flowing water is an excellent source for drinking water, doing the dishes or taking a fresh dive.


Cooking on the go is perfect with a lightweight camping gas. Photo: Tim Marringa

Food and drinks

The St Olavsleden route runs through fairly populated areas, so you will come across plenty of supermarkets along the way to stock up food. Being able to buy food on the go saves a lot of kilos in your backpack.

The sparsely populated area between Duved and the first town after the Norwegian border called Vuku is a logistical challenge. For this multi-day part of the trail you will have to bring your own food. Freeze-dried food packages are very light and nutritious. Just add boiling water to the bag, the food hydrates and provide a complete meal. Even if you have a route where you will cross many supermarkets, it is always smart to bring a few of these freeze-dried meals just to be sure.

Water from lakes and rivers is so clean in Sweden that you can easily drink it. The rule is that the water must flow and that there should not be any livestock nearby. But still it's better to filter the water with a Lifestraw just to be sure. This gadget filters bacteria and parasites from the water. People along the route are also happy to help you fill your water bottle.


The area around Åre provides beautiful views of the Åresjön. Photo: Tim Marringa

What to wear?

The type of clothing that you wear depends on the weather. The Swedish summers are either chilly and rainy or hot and humid. Make sure that your clothing is comfortable. It is crucial to use your walking shoes in advance to prevent blisters.

Good socks are one of the most essential parts of any long-distance hikers outfit. Good socks turn cheap shoes or difficult surfaces into an easy walk. Another advantage is that socks made of merino wool will not smell if you wear them for longer. The fabric is very durable, regulates heat and moisture, and is soft and does not itch.


The waterfall Tännforsen near the Norwegian border has a fall height of 38 metres. Photo: Tim Marringa

The finish in Trondheim

The finish is at Trondheim Cathedral and is a great experience. You will be welcomed in a pilgrim hostel where you will receive the final stamp and a certificate. There is a milestone at the cathedral square with a '0-kilometre' mark, a perfect place for a memorable picture. On some summer evenings, a special mass is organized in a chapel of the cathedral. The pastor welcomes hikers after their journey.

Read more about travelling in Sweden here.


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