If you’re like me, your physical and mental health have been preserved over the past year by spending time outside. A brisk hike on my local trail network is the perfect antidote to the death spiral of the news, the pressures of working in the place where I parent, and the side effects of stress eating.
The only downside is that by now, I’ve completely exhausted all the hiking trails in my area. Beautiful as they are, especially at this time of year, I’m starting to itch for novelty — if not in the surroundings, at least in the form of a new challenge.
If you’re feeling the same, we’re both in luck. Nordic outdoor brand Fjällräven has moved its annual global trekking event online this year from September 30 until October 2, where adventurers from around the world will livestream their journeys. In previous years, the Fjällräven Classic hosted a series of week-long hiking events around the world, from Sweden to Korea to the U.K. The Classic offers adventurers a chance to test their mettle in truly breathtaking terrain, while also making new friends and digging deep into the global outdoors community.
Rather than cancel the beloved event this year, Fjällräven moved it online, with the surprising effect of making the event more accessible than ever before. And with the U.S. Classic now underway in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, we were eager to get the lowdown on how outdoor types like you and me can recharge our spirit of adventure by engaging with this unique online outdoor event. We were lucky to get an exclusive chat with Jean-Marie Shields, Fjällräven’s VP of Brand Experience, to learn all about the 2020 version of this unique event.
First, a bit of history. The Fjällräven Classic was born out of Europe’s love for trekking. If you’re not quite sure what this term means (as compared to just hiking), don’t worry, we had the same question.
“The big difference is that trekking is a more self-supported effort than hiking,” Shields explains. “You pack heavier gear to encounter rain or other conditions, and you’re out for a longer period, maybe 8 to 10 days.” However, unlike backpacking, trekking doesn’t involve traveling to a remote location to find your starting point — instead, the journey starts with just stepping out your front door. Moreover, trekking rarely involves having a specific destination in mind. It’s more about venturing out and seeing what you find along the way.
Sweden is uniquely suited to trekking culture, with its national law of allemansrätten, which provides everyone access to roam freely outdoors, across private land as well as public. The original Fjällräven Classic began 16 years ago in the boreal forest of Sweden’s Abisko National Park and Tjäktja Pass, following a trail within the Arctic Circle that includes Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise. It’s still the longest mileage of all the Classic events, and is largely an independent endeavor, with participants going at their own pace and finishing the course on different days.
In contrast, the U.S. Fjällräven Classic boasts the highest altitude of all the global events, taking place in the Indian Peaks region of the Rocky Mountains. The trek starts at 9,215 feet and ascends another 2,000 feet up a rugged single-track trail through the pine forest of Tenmile Range. The U.S. event involves a lot more wilderness immersion than the European events (bear spray is a must-pack), but also a more social atmosphere. Campsites are set up along the way where, in normal years, trekkers would get to compare notes and swap stories of the day’s adventures.
With the sweeping cancellations of collegiate and professional sports, the Olympics, and other athletic events, past trekkers might have expected the Fjällräven Classic to follow suit. But Shields says the team was determined to find a way to pursue the Classic’s purpose: Bringing together the outdoor community.
“Certainly the last year has been crazy, but we’ve noticed that people are eager to be in nature in any way possible. That made our decision easy. We had a lot of conversations about safety, and availability of travel, and thought about how we could meet people in their homes, to bring inspiration at this time.”
Bringing a multi-day outdoor event online offered plenty of problems to solve, especially in a time when nonessential travel is inadvisable. In lieu of inviting participants to travel to the Rockies for the event, Fjällräven enlisted an experienced local trekker to film the course while trekking it. The documentary effort is much more involved than just a few social media-friendly highlights, says Shields — the representative trekker is tasked with ensuring that people watching will really feel as though they are there on the trail. “The goal is to be totally transparent, show it exactly how it is. Every stream, every leaf, every scenic overlook,” she laughs, noting that on a trail like this, it’s a lot harder than it might sound. And it’s not just the scenery being captured on camera. The livestream will include every move, from packing up and setting out, to tent setup, filtering water, cooking meals, and even tending to blisters at the end of the day. “In that way, it really serves as a primer for how to do a trek like this.”
The Classic is being livestreamed but also recorded — you can stay up all night on the trail, or check in with the progress on your own schedule. Along the way, Fjällräven will provide commentary on the scenery, as well as helpful tips about performance as well as minimizing the impact to the local landscape and education on environmental stewardship. At-home viewers can interact with the team over Instagram, to ask questions about anything they’re seeing on the feed.
The unique interactive features of the online event, says Shields, have had an unexpected side effect: making the Classic more widely available, even to beginner-level trekkers. “It’s a great opportunity for people to experience it who might not have tried it otherwise.”
Based on the already completed Classic events in Sweden, China, and Germany, moving this unique outdoor event to a virtual platform has been more successful than anyone could have hoped.
“People are just so excited to be able to press play and be with nature. We’ve also heard that it’s inspiring people to get out and hike their own areas, or finding new variations on their usual sport or hiking route. It’s been really interesting to watch.” As a result, says Shields, Fjällräven is already building out a bigger program of curated hikes for people to tackle in their own neighborhood in the coming months.
What’s more, the online Classic has served not only as a recharge in the here-and-now, but a source of inspiration for the future. Shields says they’ve received tons of feedback indicating that, thanks to the Classic, people are reading up on routes, researching gear, preparing for how to get out on the trail as soon as they can once the COVID restrictions ease up. After a long year of living within the strict limitations of lockdown and social distancing, the world at large has discovered a new appreciation for the freedom and exhilaration of venturing out into nature with no plans, no schedule, and no expectations other than to get a little closer to what really matters. In the words of Fjällräven founder Åke Nordin, “We’ve been trekking for the past 50 years. Let’s hope we never get there.”
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