The Kungsleden in brief
The Kungsleden – the King’s Trail – is a 440m trail in Swedish lapland from Abisko to Hemavan. It is a gem of a trip, travelling on well-marked paths through the stunning low alpine scenery of the Arctic tundra. Stay in the extremely civilised huts and you can have a goddamn sauna, or wild camp if you want to truly experience how far into the north of nowhere you have gone.
You should do the Kungsleden if:
You are looking for a moderate thru-hike with beautiful slow-changing scenery
You wand to be in the wilderness but with a good level of comfort and security
You love saunas followed by freezing river or lake dips
You like crispbread and squeezy cheese
You should choose something else if:
You’re on a tight budget
You want a super tough physical challenge
You want to be in the high mountains
Mosquitos make you really angry
Fitness and experience
You should be comfortable walking 20-25km days with moderate ascent of up to 500m over the day. In the section that we walked, there were a number of rocky descents to the huts that required careful footing, but no exposed sections, scree or boulder hopping.
Where to start and end?
The majority of people walk from North to South. The full trail takes about a month, but most people are doing the popular shorter trip starting at Abisko and finishing at Nikkolauta. The entry and exit points are described well on the Distant North blog. We did a 12 day trip from Abisko to Kvikkjokk, which included a rest day. If I were to walk it again, I would do it South to North so that I would finish with the beautiful scenery and better campsites towards Abisko. Abisko would also be a nice Fjallstation to finish at and you would have the bonus of the Abisko supermarket when you are tired of trail food. Useful map of the route and huts here. and an elevation profile here.
Navigation and Maps
Most people did not use maps on the trail, but this isn’t my style. Calazo produce the best paper maps but you will need to buy at least three for Abisko-Kvikkjokk and they are around 150SEK each. A nice solution is to print your maps for free from the Landmateriat site. It’s really easy to select the section you want to print and the quality comes out great. Select Fjallkarten from the drop down menu on the right, then use the search facility on the left to find a place on the route and zoom in. Press the PDF button to select an area for extracting and it will create and download gorgeous quality maps for nowt. For your mobile, you can get the GPS app Swedish Mountain Maps which is a dream mapping app, which I think was free. You need to download the segments of the trail in advance if you want to use it offline but it’s well worth it. You can also apparently get a free GPS map facility through the STF App but I didn’t find this out in time.
On the trail every path is fully marked and it’s hard to go wrong if you know which hut you are heading for. Red marks on the ground mark the walking trail and red crosses on poles mark the ski trails. They do deviate so make sure you still to the walking trail where there is an option.
Notes on my general hiking gear choices are on my Te Araroa page. For this trail, you will find walking poles useful for the rocky/muddy sections. It rains on 80% of days in August so decent waterproofs are a must, though we were lucky and didn’t get many real soakings. The mosquitos are the main thing on trail that will spoil your fun, so I recommend a bug headnet for particularly bad areas, mosquito proof clothing for the evenings (eg waterproof trousers) and a good insect repellent (Mygga, sold in the huts, works well).
Huts or camping?
The STF huts along the way (except for one section towards the south where it is camping only) are highly comfortable civilised affairs. There will be a place for collecting drinking water, a place for washing/bathing, a ‘slask’ for disposing of dirty water. Every other hut has a sauna and a shop. Sleeping areas are bunks in small rooms with mattresses. The self-catering kitchens have pans and crockery so you do not need to carry your own. You can pre-pay for huts for convenience and to save 50SEK per person but you cannot reserve a bed. We walked in early August and most huts were nearly full during that time but not rammed.
However the huts are expensive – 420SEK for STF members, and annual membership costs 295SEK – so in my view camping is the better option. You can camp near the huts for a lower fee, between zero and 150SEK depending on the hut. Within that price you can use some or all of the facilities (eg some huts will charge nothing for just camping and using the toilets, 50SEK for the sauna, or 150SEK if you want to use the hut kitchen). In general the huts in the first week were free camping and in the last week camping was about 100SEK. Camping also means you get your own space and can pitch as close or as far away from the crowds as you like.
You can also wild camp on most of the trail and there are often lovely spots for pitching between the huts.
Food and resupply
Food is available to purchase in many of the STF huts but it is about twice the price as Swedish supermarkets (given the costs of transporting it in). The more budget-conscious will stock up in one of the two supermarkets in Kiruna before setting out (both are good), with as many days’ food as you can carry. We carried four days of dry food from the UK and bought a bit more fresh stuff in Kiruna.
The huts with shops (every other) carry a good range of camping food, including pasta, crispbreads, cereal/porridge, nuts, dried milk, squeezy cheese, tinned fish and chocolate. If you are lucky you will find eggs. All the huts have light beer which is about 40/50SEK a can. The prices are a little cheaper at the Fjallstations but the selection is still pretty limited, though I was pretty delighted to come across a fresh tomato (10SEK) and halmouni (40SEK) in Saltuluokta.
This is not a cheap hike, because Sweden is not a cheap country. We budgeted £1500 per person including flights, transfers and the overnight train on the way back. We ended up spending around £1200 for two weeks. We were camping at huts but stayed four nights in Fjallstations.
This is a relatively safe trail if you go in Summer given, there is a lot of foot traffic and there are no exposed sections. The huts have mountain radios for emergencies. Apparently there are bears in Sweden but they are never seen. So the biggest objective dangers probably come from slips and trips, and the effects of the cold and rain.
My experience is based only on walking from Abikso to Kvikkjokk in August with good weather and solid tramping fitness, so all above advice should be tempered if your trip is different.