How to survive in Swedish nature
Here are a few things to know before heading out into Sweden's wilderness areas.
You’re surrounded by pine trees. The sun is unable to fully break through the layers of branches above you. It is dead quiet save for the occasional buzzing mosquito. If you sit still for long enough you might hear a branch break against the damp moss undergrowth.
This is bear territory. This is where wolves howl at night. You’re all alone and you need to find a way to survive. Welcome to Sweden’s back country.
Suddenly, what you thought was a boulder rises up a short distance away. It takes a few seconds before you realise you’re standing in front of one of the many big animals that live in Swedish forests.
Some large predators do stalk the woods in central Sweden: brown bear, wolf, wolverine and lynx. Most likely you’ll never meet one of them, simply because they would not want you to.
- Let people know your itinerary during backpacking hikes. Bring a map and a compass.
- Use appropriate equipment you're familiar with.
- Wear bright clothing during hunting season.
Make the bear know where you are
If you’re ever ‘lucky’ enough to meet a wild bear in Sweden, strike up a conversation and make sure the bear knows you are there. Clap your hands. Whatever you do, don’t run. Back up away from the bear without turning away from it. Keep talking to it calmly. Go about your business.
There have been bear attacks against humans in Sweden, but they are extremely rare. ‘Large predators in Sweden do not normally present a danger to humans. There are, however, certain situations in which predators could cause harm; that is, they have the capacity to harm,’ says Benny Gäfvert at Sweden’s Large Carnivore Centre.
The rare situations Gäfvert refers to are likely to happen in occurrence with hunting. So in general, common sense is enough to keep everyday hikers like you alive. As long as you don’t corner or attack bears, they will leave you alone.
- Don’t go alone.
- Don’t approach bears (and never ever a cub!).
- Don’t eat foodstuffs you're unsure about.
Find something to eat
The odds are on your side and hopefully the animal backed off when you did. But managing not to get attacked is the easy part: now it’s time for you to find something to eat. With autumn just around the corner, these woods are filled with treats. Below the pine trees the undergrowth is filled with blueberry bushes.
The neighbouring lingonberries are not yet ripe and therefore sour, but still highly nutritious. It’s not recommended to try out the mushrooms that spring up seemingly everywhere. Some make you sick, most taste like waste and practically none of them are worth eating raw. Chanterelles, however, are the truffles of the north and something you shouldn’t miss out on.
Other foods might be brilliant as herbal remedies or at least make a good cup of tea, but still warrant a warning. The stinging nettle, for example, can be used as remedy or food once prepared, but it’s not something you want to rub up against. If you see ‘peppermint’ growing in the wild in Sweden, approach with care.
Get yourself a drink
Once you have stuffed yourself with blueberries, you might want some water. Hiking requires water, but you’re in luck. Not only is all of Sweden scattered with lakes and streams, but you can feel safe about drinking the water. As long as it is flowing, whether from a kitchen tap, stream or river, there’s no need to filtrate or purify.
Water comes in many forms, though, and you can expect a clear sunny day to suddenly turn into a downpour in a matter of minutes. If dark clouds gather overhead and the first few drops of rain fall against your forehead, it’s time to rummage through your backpack and put on a windbreaker.
'Dress for success'
As the rain intensifies the air gets cooler. It’s getting late. You sit hunkered over under a tree and thank the stars you are not in the mountains of the very far north, where you’ve heard it can even snow in the summer. So how do you dress for the cold? You wear lots of layers, avoid cotton and make sure you have something wind and water resistant as an outer shell.
Swedish nature has so much to offer it would be foolish not to head into it. Imagine sitting by a creek up north, on a hilltop looking out over miles and miles of untouched terrain. You might be only an hour from a city but it feels like you are at the end of the world. You are all alone. It is dead quiet. And the best advice is to stay within your comfort zone. Sweden has something to offer everyone. From a stroll along the beach in Skåne in the south to backpacking trail-less country in Sarek National Park in the north.
The right of public access
Allemansrätten – the right of public access – gives everyone the right to enjoy Sweden’s outdoors. It allows the public to roam freely, even on private land, to camp overnight and to pick mushrooms and berries. The right also brings responsibilities – to treat flora and fauna and other people’s property with care.
The right can be summed up in the phrase ‘don’t disturb, don’t destroy’. The right of public access is written into the Swedish constitution. But it is not a law as such, rather a custom or part of the cultural heritage that has evolved and become accepted over the years.
Wear good shoes
Per-Olov Wikberg, spokesperson for the Mountain Safety Council of Sweden, finds that international summer guests tend to be underequipped for the potentially cold conditions in the very north. ‘Check the weather conditions, let someone know your detailed itinerary and head out only if you are well equipped,’ he says.
When asked what is the most common reason for the rescue service to be dispatched in the summer, he says, ‘Sprained ankles, without a doubt. We pick them up by helicopter.’ So there you go: watch your step and wear good shoes.
Swedish nature really is filled with danger: freezing cold weather, poisonous mushrooms, treacherous bog soil, wolves, bears, and forests so big you could get lost. Of course if you bring a compass or GPS, wear proper clothing, avoid eating stuff off the ground you are not familiar with, and try not to cuddle with bear cubs, you should be fine.