Why Hiking & Camping Solo in Norway is Simply the Best
This past July I was extremely lucky to spend a whole month in Norway. It was not my first time there but this time it included long-term hiking and wild camping. It is hard to find words which would describe how wonderful my backpacking in Norway was. I have realized that fell in love with that land and that I want to walk more through its majestic mountains and fjords.
What is so special in Norway?
It’s not just about the stunning natural landscape – although it’s probably one of the major reasons. It’s a collection of multiple factors – natural beauty, safety, good trails, an amazing web of mountain shelters… all of that creates the perfect destination for all adventure lovers – especially for women hiking and camping by themselves.
Let me pick a few subjective reasons, why I think Norway is just perfect.
The Natural beauty of Norway
There are many beautiful places and it’s a quite subjective thing as to what pulls on your heartstrings. Some love luscious forests, others seaside or rolling hills. For me, the most striking are Big Views. Wide open spaces or mountainous terrain, with lakes, rivers or patches of woods. I want to see far and wide – and the rocky mountains of Norway are exactly what I love so much.
Thanks to its unique climate, you go above the tree line pretty fast around here. The trail is ever-changing but the views are always huge. So many times I stopped at a point and just stared for long minutes at the raw beauty surrounding me. I loved it all – grey solid rocks, old snow patches, green pools of moss and grass, loose pieces of rocks left behind by retreating glacier, some thousands of years before, dozens of streams and fast flowing rivers. Wherever I looked, I could see the visual definition of the word “awesome”.
The right to roam in Norway
Norway, similarly to other Nordic countries, has the right to roam. Which means I can wild camp basically anywhere as long as I behave responsibly and follow some basic decency rules. The fact that I knew I could legally wild camp eased my anxiety and opened a huge field of possibilities. I didn’t have to worry about making it to a shelter or cutting my hiking short because of no other sleeping options.
Throughout my hiking time in Norway, there was not even once a camping spot that was "blah". All of them were breath-taking, filling my mind with amazement of how lucky I was to be in such a stunning spot.
I like wild camping but doing it in a country which does not allow it or has some vague approach to it, makes me feel anxious. In Norway I could relax, knowing I have the right to pitch my tent and no one would say anything.
The abundance of water in Norway
Hiking in the Norwegian mountains you are never far from a source of drinking water. There are small ponds and lakes, fast running rivers, and trickling streams. Most of them are fed by melting snow – clean and pure. I filter it anyway, as there were sheep around and I don’t feel like catching a parasite… but there was no need to carry a lot of drinking water on me – I could refill the bladder on the way.
The abundance of water means also a lot of opportunities for a wild bath. Some ponds or rivers are icy cold but some are warmed up and shallow – perfect for a sponge bath or even a quick swim. Most of the ponds I passed by were perfectly clean, with no growth of any kind.
Another good side of it was that I stopped having breakfast the first thing in the morning but rather was taking a longer breakfast/coffee break some two hours into the trek. I could find a lovely spot by a stream, brew a fresh cup of coffee and hot oatmeal, then read for a while and enjoy the view. I had water for the food and an easy way to wash the dishes. Perfection.
The long days of Norwegian summer
Hiking in Norway in the summer means very long days. If you go up north it means midnight sun and no real night. I found it just wonderful. You can hike as long or as short as you want – without the need to worry about being caught by the night. When I was hiking on Crete or in Spain during winter, I had to constantly watch my time and there was no chance for long coffee breaks. By 5 pm the sun was set and it was getting dark. In Norway? I had to use a buff as a face mask and I never needed to use a headlamp.
The fact that I could stop for hour-long breaks for a coffee and a book was the main reason why I had such an enjoyable time hiking in Norway.
The photo below was taken around 10:30 pm:
I could walk for a long time and never even think about what time it was. It was so relaxing and calming to know I didn’t have to worry about it. If you like to walk long distances – this is the perfect destination, you could walk from 5 am to 11 pm if you wanted!
The great web of trails and shelters
The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) takes a very good care of the huge network of trails and mountain shelters. There is just one trail mark: a big red letter “T”. Most of the time I had no problems finding the correct path and only sometimes the markings were not clear or too far from one another.
The DNT takes care of a lot of mountain shelters. Some of them are manned, most are unmanned but with supplies you can buy and some are very simple with no supplies of any kind.
The ones I visited were unmanned but fully equipped with pots and plates, with a gas cooker and sink for washing the dishes. There is no running water – you can use water from buckets (and refill them later) – the shelters are always close to a stream or other water source. There are also no bathrooms - there is a shovel by the door.
The shelters run on an honor system – you use what you need, you buy food from a storage room and you pay with your card or cash. You fill in a document with your credit card info or you put cash in an envelope and then drop it inside a locked box. I loved the system and the fact that it worked.
People were honest and paid for whatever they used (or for a day/night stay) and always cleaned after themselves. All the shelters were spotless and cozy. I never stayed the night – had no need for it, but a few times I stayed during the day for a coffee, lunch or a break. I bought some GF cracker-bread a couple times, too.
It is pretty obvious that I should not judge a whole nation after a few weeks of traveling among them. But I liked the people I met on my way, especially on the trails. Quite often there were families or seniors, hiking in groups of 2 or more. There were a few solo hikers but it was the minority. What I really liked, as an anxious introverted woman, that people generally left me alone. Even in a shelter, there were just a few simple lines exchanged and that’s it. It seemed the rule is “if you don’t want to speak, I leave you alone”. No one questioned the wisdom of hiking alone, no one seemed much surprised and absolutely no one suggested it was dangerous or that I was “asking for it”.
Another big quality of Norwegians is learned from the honor systems of their shelters. The fact that it works means that the vast majority of people who visit do their job. They pay, they clean after themselves, they think about the tourists who come after them. They don't care that no one can see them, they do what they should because that's what's the right thing to do. And that's also why the social system of support works in Norway - people believe it's worth adding to the general pool, do something for the next person and not just selfishly use resources for oneself.
The Norwegian Sheep
This one might surprise but I seriously adore the Norwegian sheep. They are by themselves up there in the mountain for the whole season (I think) and they are generally not used to seeing people much. Most of the time when I encounter sheep on my hikes, they run away before I can take a closer look. Not here. The first time a sheep started to run towards me, I got scared! What is this wild Norwegian sheep doing charging me!!! But soon I realized that they simply liked to come and say hi. Some were running away, some came close to sniff me like dogs. A few times they even followed me for a short while! I'm guessing they were expecting me to be someone important (a shepherd?) and were disappointed when I was just... well, me.
The challenge of Norwegian trails
Most of the trails I walked were marked with red signage, which meant “challenging” (blue=very easy, green=easy, red=challenging, black=expert). And they truly were. I have learned fast that if I generally hike 15 - 20 km/day, here I was happy with doing 12-15 km. The difficulty lied not in only in how high the peaks were but rather in the trails themselves.
Of course, getting up high from a valley was seriously hard. Most of the times when you start your hike you have to go a few hundred meters up before you reach the main height of a trail. Sometimes up to 1000 m in one go! But once you are up there the differences in height are smaller.
You walk over rocks of every size, boulders and snow patches. There trail rarely stays even – it goes up and down almost constantly. And as much as I was often cursing another crossing over unstable rocks and boulders, I loved the challenge. I felt like a badass upon completing the day’s hike – no matter how long it was.
The size of Norway
Norway is huge. Like really, really huge. It also has only a few millions of citizens - less than any number of big cities. Even with hiking being a very popular activity, there are just not enough Norwegians to properly clog the trails. For me, an anxious introvert who loads her batteries on solitude - this is perfect.
On some trails I couldn't see anyone for two-three days. Or I could meet someone at the shelter but then no one on the trail. Only a few times I was closer to more popular destinations so I met a few hikers here and there. Still, a lot of space to enjoy by all Nature lovers and a fantastic destination if you like to be alone, like me.