If you put your mind to it, you can find outdoor adventures anywhere. Some are quick excursions nearby. Others are further afield, and on a bicycle your options really open up.
Just ask Photographer and Filmmaker Jens Assur.
He lives with his family in Duved, a small ski resort town in Northern Sweden. There, he has a studio where he produces contemporary art projects and films. Currently, he is working on a photographic project where he investigates the relationship between man and nature, and what happens when they meet. One of the purposes of the project is to inspire people to spend more time in nature, both on small and big adventures. “Just like Fjällräven!”
Like many Swedes, Jens is a nature lover and is spoiled for choice when it comes to finding outdoor adventures close to home. Duved is as beautiful in the summer as it is in winter, so he can easily go skiing and hiking, or hang out with his kids and camp. Jens also loves to cycle to the creeks and rivers close-by for fly-fishing and kayaking.
On the other hand, Jens has a deep-seated passion for adventure and cut his teeth in photography by covering conflict zones as a staff photographer for the Swedish newspaper Expressen. Nowadays he pursues adventure by bikepacking in places like Northern Sweden, Argentina and – most recently – Scotland.
Tag along on his latest journey for bikepacking inspiration and practical tips.
Is bikepacking right for you?
If you enjoy the freedom that being active in nature provides, bikepacking is for you.
Jens especially enjoys the feelings of joy, excitement, and tranquillity created by biking for a long period of time. While riding a bicycle he “meets himself” and as he puts it, “I think it is the combination of physical and mental presence. When I’m outdoors, I feel like my head has shifted to where my body is.”
For Jens, bikepacking also combines physical and mental endurance in rewarding ways:
“When the conditions are right, I can travel very far when biking all day. There is a freedom because a bicycle is so quiet. I become one with nature. I also appreciate the fact that I am self-sufficient out there. I have everything I need with me.”
Although Jens appreciates solitary outdoor adventures, he enjoys bikepacking others. His good friend Peter Forslund joined him in Scotland. A former competitive cyclist, Peter was the ideal companion for the challenging Scottish route, which started in Edinburgh, went through The Highlands and continued on to the Isle of Skye. All along the way they had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the friendly locals. “It was always easy to start a conversation in Scotland,” recalls Jens. “The people were very open and interested in what we were doing, and it isn’t difficult to get help when you need it.”
Jens’ practical advice bikepackers:
Get a functional bicycle. It does not have to be fancy or expensive, but well-suited to the adventure.
Put effort into getting the right saddlebags and equipment. There are a lot of options out there, so be patient and thorough.
Fill your bags as lightly as you can manage.
Search carefully for a place to make camp. Think about the surface, noise, light, wind and water before pitching your tent.
Refuel in the evenings. It is vital to get going day after day.
Get out there! Start with an overnight or weekend. You can test your bike and try out different routines.
Make peace with less-than-perfect conditions.
On the trip, the guys revelled in the Scottish wilderness’ dramatic scenery, though the terrain was difficult in spots. There were times when Jens and Peter had to push their bicycles uphill, or even climb with them.
Then, there was the weather:
“Scotland has the intriguing combination of absolute stunning scenery and unpredictable (to say the least) weather. I enjoy weather like Scotland’s heavy rains and storms. It adds flavour to the adventure. It rained almost every day. And not the kind of rain that slowly sprinkles from the sky. It was more like being INSIDE of a wave.”
Were the conditions challenging? Yes. Did it stop them from enjoying themselves? No. Why? They were prepared.
Get to know your bike and baggage.
Though a self-proclaimed “learning-by-doing kind of person,” Jens spent a considerable amount of time preparing for his trip in advance. That includes educating himself about his bicycle and practicing fixing problems that could arise with it. He also packed and unpacked his bags many times to get the storage just right. For this trip he used a Fjällräven Seatbag Harness and Drybag, which he describes as his favourite items from the collection, (“Brilliant! Light and stable.”) as well as Handlebar Bag and Toptube Bag.
After test-packing, Jens would ride the bicycle to get a feel for the weight and volume of it with gear.
For Jens, the trick to packing is, “. . . to have as little as possible, but still everything you need.”
In terms of clothing, Jens is a minimalist. He likes wool because, “It’s the best material to keep you warm and odour-free.” He was also happy to have brought waterproof socks, considering the Scottish weather conditions. (“Your shoes will leak no matter what. They were a lifesaver.”)
Jens was also very fond of the Fjällräven x Specialized apparel, which took him from saddle to table with ease: “I think the clothing is functional and good looking. Classy in a way. I felt dressed when cycling, which is not the feeling I get with other biking clothes.”
Make camp like a pro.
Spending a night in nature is one of the highlights of bikepacking. Jens and Peter had an especially nice time in Scotland due to the bothies, which are basic cottages in which anyone is welcome to stay. Often set in very scenic locations, they are free-of-charge and are practically luxurious after a day in the saddle.
However, if free are not an option for your bikepacking adventure, Jens suggests spending time searching for just the right place to make camp and avoid settling for the first spot you find. Instead, you should carefully consider the surface you’ll be placing your tent, and think about noise levels, wind direction and proximity to a water source.
Jens also recommends bringing an extra base layer for the evenings. By keeping it dry and clean in your sleeping bag, you are much more likely to be warm and comfortable overnight. He also always has a headlamp and camping sandals.
Finally, it is important to refuel in the evenings as it is the only way you will be able to get up and get going the next day.
Bikepacking in Scotland was a wet and wild ride, and now that it is done-and-dusted, Jens will pursue some adventures close to home. All while planning his next trip, of course:
“It will probably be in Africa. I found a great secret route with which I can cross the continent. I think it would be both interesting and exciting. Like in Scotland, the weather is a challenge but in a very different way. Add all the wild animals and it will be the thrill of a lifetime.”
Have Jens’ experiences piqued your interest in biking and hiking? Read more on the Foxtrail about how we developed our biking and hiking collection with Specialized.