On the move
Regardless whether you are going to follow a marked trail in the mountains or in low-lying terrain or if you are going to create your own path, you must be comfortable using a map and compass. Reading the landscape and tracking your progress on the map not only makes the trek safer, but also more fun since you become aware of what is around you.
By studying the map in advance and setting up appropriate daily goals, you can plan your route and find places to take a break, things to see and potential campsites. Also, remember to plan the route so you do not have to ford streams often, and when it is unavoidable, so you ford them in the safest locations possible.
Weather & wind
When you are living outdoors and moving around in nature, you need to adapt your schedule to the weather. It is quite simply not a good idea to pitch your tent at the edge of a cliff in the archipelago if the forecast is predicting gale winds, just as you should not try to walk the trail’s most exposed mountain passes under the same conditions. Listening to the weather forecasts and planning your route based on these forecasts is an important part of planning for your trek, particularly when you are trekking in mountainous terrain.
It is in reality not entirely correct to talk about “mountain weather”, since the weather basically follows the same principles as in other areas of the country. But the openness of the landscape, the mountains and valleys, the large changes in altitude and other variations in the terrain determine the wind, temperature and precipitation. Different areas in the mountains can have completely different weather conditions - it can literally vary from one valley to the next. The largest difference, however, can be found between the high mountains and low-lying areas.
People usually say that the weather in the mountains can change quickly, but in reality the change is not as drastic as you may think. What is really happening is that we are moving between different types of weather, for example when we leave the mountain birch forest for the open plains of the high mountains.
Mountains press the wind upward...
Normally, the wind in the mountains runs southwest. Air is pressed upward by the mountain chain and cooled by higher layers of air. The resulting clouds then release precipitation in the form of rain or snow. This precipitation lands primarily on the side of the mountain from which the wind originates. This means that it is normal for there to be more precipitation in the westerly part of the mountains. In general, mountains have slightly more precipitation than the rest of the country but it is also here we find some of the parts of Sweden with the least precipitation – such as the area around Abisko. There the sun can be shining from a blue sky while it is raining cats and dogs not far away at Riksgränsen
...then the wind is squeezed together
In the high mountains, the wind can blow freely without any obstacles. A wind force at home that would be considered “windy” can turn into a “storm” in the high mountains. But it is not only the open plains that factor in here. When the wind is squeezed into valleys and mountain passes, the wind velocity can increase to a full storm even if the general wind force is not particularly high. The type of terrain in some places can also create fickle winds that do not behave as expected. For example, they can come from the “wrong” direction or suddenly sweep in with tremendous force.
Beware of the wind!
The wind has a gentler side that cools the air on a warm summer day. But in the mountains, combined with snow and cold temperatures, it can be dangerous. “Moderate to frisk winds” does not sound so bad, but at zero degrees, the wind chill effect on the skin falls to –13°C! If the wind speed increases, the wind chill is even colder. This is when things start to get dangerous - if you are tired and cold the risk that your body temperature will fall increases. This is called hypothermia and, while hypothermia may be mainly associated with winter treks, during the summer, for example at high altitudes, the cold, wind and rain can force a person’s body temperature to fall so sharply that the situation can become serious.
This is why it is important to be able to predict in advance if the wind is picking up and if the weather is taking a turn for the worse, so you can change your route, head home or seek cover
Being able to navigate with a map and compass is a fundamental skill for being safe in the wilderness. There are of course many marked trails to follow in the mountains, but to blindly follow these markings can lull you into a false sense of security. You should therefore always follow your journey on the map so you know where you are. Another important piece of advice is to look up from the map and read the landscape around you – even behind you.
A map is a good start
Maps come in many shapes and sizes. The main difference is the level of detail. An appropriate scale for navigating in the mountains is 1:50 000. Maps can be bought at outdoor stores, mountain stations, tourist boards and specialised map stores. One good piece of advice is to buy your map well before the trek since studying the map is part of the planning stage. This also means you will not need to worry about the map you need being out of stock when you are ready to start your adventure. Remember that maps have a "best by" date. Parts of the trail can change since bridges and shelters can be moved for various reasons. You should therefore make sure that you have the most recent issue for your area.
Good supplements to the map and compass are GPS (with fresh batteries) and a pair of simple binoculars.
How to handle: Map and compass
1. Hold the map so its top edge faces north.
2. Align the edge of the compass so it is between the point where you are located and your target, with the direction of travel-arrow of the compass pointing in the same direction as the target.
3. Rotate the compass housing until the North arrow is pointing toward the map's North and is in line with the map's North-South meridians (graticule).
4. Rotate the compass so that the compass needle's red tip (magnetic North) is in line with the compass housing's North arrow.
5. The compass's direction of travel-arrow is now pointing toward your target.
Identifying clear landmarks and their location on the map is an important part of navigation. Peaks, streams, TV masts, electrical lines, etc., are called ”markers” in orienteering lingo and help you find your way. Following the direction of the compass is more difficult than many people are aware, and in terms of large distances the precision of the compass can be significantly wrong. One good tip is to set a clearly visible object, for example a large stone or a distinctive tree, as your target. Once you reach this target, get out your compass again and choose a new target. This way you do not need to look at your compass all the time.
If you get lost
If, despite everything, you find that you are lost, it is important that you do not just begin to wander around aimlessly. As soon as you lose your bearings, stop, take a moment to think and look around you. Try to identify where you are and set up a plan for how to make a decision. There are several ways to identify your position. For example:
• Turn back to the "last identifiable point". This is easier to do if you looked around at the landscape while you were walking. Your senses register both consciously and sub-consciously things that are different in the terrain, which makes it easier to find your way back to the "last identifiable point".
• In soft terrain, like mud, you can follow your own footsteps, like a real tracker, and return to a place that you can find on the map.
• Use multiple senses, including your hearing. The rumble of traffic indicates a main road, gurgling water often leads to a lake. Remember, though, that sounds can bounce off of rocks, so it is not always easy to draw conclusions about directions based on your first impression.
• An old tracker-truth is that trails lead somewhere. Man-made trails often lead to houses, roads or water, while animal trails lead to places to sleep, water or feeding areas. By following these trails, you can find a place that is easier to find on the map.
• Go up to a higher altitude to get an overview of the landscape. One technique for finding your location on the map is called interception and entails using two, or preferably three, points and the compass to identify your location on the map.
• Use GPS to save a waypoint at the "last identifiable place", for example when you get out of the car, during a lunch break or at the campsite. if you get lost, you can use the GPS to find your way back.
• If you know that there is a road or big lake directly south, use the compass to walk in a straight line toward it. When you reach the road/lake, it is often easier to find your exact location.
A successful trek starts long before the departure date. It is not unusual to hear experienced trekkers tell about how they hung the map up on the wall at home and followed the trail through valleys and passes, over streams and other obstacles, time after time. Studying the map is an important – and rather enjoyable – part of preparing for the trip.
So get out your map, or maps in the plural if your trek is a long one. Identify the obstacles you will encounter along the way. Follow the intended route with your finger and take note of the landmarks you will pass. If there is a turn-off around 400 m after a cabin, it can be a good idea to write a reminder and attach it to the map. This way you will not first remember that you should have turned there after walking 1.5 km down the wrong trail. Make notes about good locations for breaks and campsites, what you will need to buy when you pass a mountain cabin, where there is a sauna or where you think it will be easiest to ford a stream. Fill your map with lots of notes and observations.
How long will it take?
Many beginner trekkers wonder how long it takes to trek in the mountains. A rough estimate is approximately 3 km per hour in the mountains, but this tempo can depend on many factors: physical condition, terrain, weather and how heavy your pack is. A good way to prepare is to time yourself during your practice treks. Time yourself in different situations: how long it takes to walk one kilometre on a simple path without a backpack, how fast you can walk with a full pack and how long it takes you to walk off the trail when carrying a backpack. You will find that the times vary significantly. This information will make it easier to plan appropriate daily targets for your trek.
There are also standards for how to calculate how far you will walk in a certain amount of time. You can find one of these tables on the Swedish Tourist Association's website.
Be kind to yourself in the beginning
The first 24 hours of a trek are often the hardest. Your body is not used to the stress, your routines have not yet been established and your backpack is filled with food. Therefore, the smartest thing to do is to not plan too many difficult days at the beginning of the trek. During the first few days, set more generous daily targets, give yourself plenty of breaks and walk at a slower tempo. After several days, when everything feels more natural and the backpack is like an extension of your own body, you can increase the distance between the daily targets.
Plan with an error of margin
A good piece of advice for all treks into the wilderness is to plan with an error of margin. Make sure that you have enough food and water, even for a day trip! You can be delayed by bad weather, equipment problems or an injury – or some other unpredictable event. On a multi-day trek it is good to have at least one extra day of supplies. If you reach your final destination on time, you always have the option of exploring the area.
Tell someone where you are going
When you know which trail you will follow, tell someone at home about your plans. In the event you have problems when you are on the trail, do not reach your destination and do not check in by a certain time, there is someone who can raise the alarm. You can inform the staff at many mountain stations in the Swedish mountains about where you are going.
NOTE! Do not forget to report that you have reached your final destination, or if the route changes, to avoid unnecessary rescue searches.
During your trek
When you are on a trek, you are closer to nature. To make your trek as enjoyable as possible, it is best to let the rhythm of nature set the pace. Normally, there are only limited hours of daylight to take advantage of, so it is natural to get up at dawn and set up camp at dusk. Scandinavia's bright summer nights make it possible to let your own rhythm decide. Start early if you are a morning person or later if you are a night owl. Trekking in the bright summer nights in good weather is one of the greatest experiences you will have. You will experience nature in a completely different way and there is often a better chance to see wildlife.
Two hours to start
Morning routines take time. Experience has shown that it takes approximately two hours from when you wake up until you are ready to leave. If there are several of you, it is a good idea to agree upon what time you will be leaving so that everyone can work toward the same goal. This decreases the risk of tension between faster and slower group members.
Once you start your trek, it is important to find a good tempo that you can keep throughout the day, given the terrain and how heavy your pack is. Stop after the first 10-20 minutes to fix clothing and anything else that feels uncomfortable. Remove a middle layer so you do not sweat unnecessarily and smooth out any wrinkles in your socks or fix any other problems that could result in a blister. If you are part of a group, it is a good idea to decide in advance how you will take breaks during the day. One tip is to follow certain break routines. Do not forget to take off your boots and air your feet when you take a break. Take off your backpack and do some stretches to increase the flow of blood to your back and shoulders.
Set up camp when it is still light
As the day draws to a close and dusk approaches, it is time to find a campsite. You usually do not benefit much from continuing your trek in the dark - you risk getting lost and missing out on a chance to get some much-needed rest. If darkness falls before you reached your target for the day, you will have to improvise and find a new campsite.
In some types of terrain and during certain seasons there are other conditions that will affect how you plan your day. On warm summer days or in tropical climates it is often most comfortable to trek in the morning, before the sun has had time to warm the landscape. If the path is well-known or well-marked, it can also be worth trekking at night – so you can rest during the hottest hours of the day. Even in the early spring in the mountains, or in high alpine terrains during the summer, it can also be a good idea to walk at night, when the crust is hard. This applies in particular if you are crossing glaciers or frozen streams with snow bridges.