“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints…” – Aliyyah Eniath
Transport yourself to the outdoors, to a forest, a mountain top or riverside. What do you see? Or perhaps we should ask: what don’t you see? Take a closer look. There is a welcoming lack of litter. Birds are twittering, the occasional animal strolls by, trees sway freely in the breeze, grass grows healthily beneath your feet. Before we wander in with our walking boots on nature is pristine and we should do our best to keep it that way.
That’s not to say we can’t enjoy it, admire it and experience it. But the reason we venture into the great outdoors is precisely because of its untouched wonder. It’s not man-made; it’s not constructed to a schematic plan; it has its own rules and we must abide by them. Not the other way around. And at Fjällräven, we believe that time in nature can help teach us respect, can help us relax and can enable us to connect to each other.
“This is why we created Fjällräven Classic – to inspire people to spend more time outdoors,” explains Fjällräven event manager Carl Hård åf Segerstad. “We want to give people an outdoor experience in a safe environment and to ignite a passion for nature and its protection.”
For those of you who don’t know, Fjällräven Classic is the name for our trekking events. We now have four, in Sweden, Denmark, the US and Hong Kong, and we’re looking at expanding further. We hope that by adding new events in new destinations we can enable more people in more countries to experience the natural environment in their own backyard.
The first event took place in northern Sweden in 2005 and was our way of encouraging and enabling more Swedes to discover the wilderness that was just a hop and a skip from the large cities of the south. Fjällräven takes care of the logistics; we mark the trail, provide food and medical support (among other things). Participants – of which there were less than 200 in Sweden 2005 and now there are around 2,000 – must carry all their own gear for spending a few nights in the wilderness. Although each trail is different and the number of participants varies, this element of support and of bringing together people of different backgrounds, nationalities and trekking experience is what makes Fjällräven Classic unique.
But how do we manage to take up to 2,000 people into nature, to tread the same path and explore the same area – at the same time – without damaging the very nature they’re there to explore?
“We always need to be cautious about this, of course,” says Carl. “If we don’t do it properly it’d be totally counterproductive. We have to do it in a sustainable way. We stagger the groups and limit the number of participants. We give everyone trash bags and do clean-up checks ourselves. But we also see it as a way of educating people about how to act in nature and to build up and develop a greater interest in outdoor life. We also believe that the more time we spend in nature, the more likely we are to protect it.”
Nature is about balance, as is our time there. We should be free to enjoy it, but we should not disturb or destroy it. This is an ethos that runs through most environmental codes and guidelines. It’s what forms the basis of Sweden’s allemansrätten (right of public access) and the US’s Leave No Trace organisation, for instance.
We use our Fjällräven Classic events to educate people about these principles. We work with experts at Håll Sverige Rent (Keep Sweden Tidy) and Leave No Trace to develop our events and produce educational workshops and documentation.
“Aside from our online communication, instructional films and games, we run workshops on-site offering guidance and education around specific Leave No Trace focus areas, particularly waste management and impact reduction techniques. Furthermore, each participant receives a trekking pass containing information on how to behave in nature.”
We, too, seek out education. We listen to and work closely with local permit-granting authorities. We update the events on a regular basis depending on local conditions and the latest information and on-the-ground feedback. In Sweden, for example, Classic has been certified a sustainable event by Håll Sverige Rent. And in the US we are strictly controlled by the Forest Service that dictates when and where we can trek; representatives formally trained in Leave No Trace ethics are on-site to provide education around their seven principles.
“Leave No Trace collaborates with Fjällräven and the US Forest Service each year to identify the location of Classic USA and potential impacts that could result from the event,” explains Dean Ronzoni, Director of Corporate Development at Leave No Trace. “Through tailored messaging, on-trail staging, and presentations to all participants Leave No Trace works with all parties to ensure every participant is well informed prior to hitting the trail.”
Dean goes onto explain that Leave No Trace reviews the trail and camping locations, identifying areas where Classic USA might have a potential for leaving an impact, such as camping and trekking surfaces, and consults with us on ways to prevent those impacts. “The Classic is filled with backpackers who are brand new and don’t necessarily know how to practice Leave No Trace. We are there to bridge that gap and inform participants on each of the seven principles of Leave No Trace and how they can be applied to the trek,” says Dean.
Are the challenges with running these events? Of course! Do we make mistakes sometimes? Yes. But we feel that by working with the relevant authorities and organisations, listening to feedback from the trekking community and local stakeholders and being humble enough to admit we’re not perfect and we’re still learning, we hope to make nature a little bit more accessible without destroying its majesty and wonder.
We’re taking on feedback from Leave No Trace particularly around social media, which can be used to encourage people to get out more but can also lead to overcrowding and damage to popular areas in nature. “At last year’s event we hadn’t implemented Leave No Trace into the social media strategy of Fjällräven Classic, but we quickly identified that 50% of participants’ Instagram posts used geotags. So this year participants will be asked to avoid tagging specific locations. Instead, we encourage them to tag a general location such as a state or region, if any at all. While tagging can seem innocent, it can also lead to significant impacts to particular places.”
Leave No Trace’s principles fall squarely into our own brand goals and mission. We both want to create a healthy natural environment for people to enjoy now and into the future. If everyone at Fjällräven Classic and everyone that treads through nature puts Leave No Trace principles into practice this vision will be fulfilled and nature will remain intact for all of us to enjoy.
Here are the seven Leave No Trace principles for your reference:
Plan ahead and prepare
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
Dispose of waste properly
Leave what you find
Minimise campfire impacts
Be considerate of other visitors
Text: Sarah Benton