Being able to move about freely in nature feels like a given for us in Sweden. But it’s a right we need to safeguard. And even promote. This is one of the reasons we have Fjällräven Classic – to inspire more people to get out and explore nature.
“The reasoning behind Classic always has been and always will be the same: to inspire people to get outdoors,” says Carl Hård af Segerstad, Fjällräven event manager. “I believe it’s really important to experience nature. Because you can’t care for and protect something you’ve never experienced and right now, I feel, we need to take better care of our planet,” he adds.
Carl and Fjällräven Classic perfectly sum up Fjällräven’s relationship to nature. We have three main goals and their paths are overlapping but they eventually lead to the same place: nature. We strive to develop durable, timeless and functional outdoor clothing and gear. We always try to act responsibly towards people, animals and the environment and we really, really want to awaken and maintain an interest in outdoor life. And when you take a closer look at the crux of allemansrätten – Sweden’s right of public access – you see a similar mixture of enjoyment and responsibility.
“We challenge everyone to always leave their base camp in better shape than they found it,” says Christiane Dolva, head of sustainability here at Fjällräven. “I like this vision. In the best-case scenario, we can’t leave it in better shape because it was in such good shape already, but we should always do the best we can.”
Taking a walk in the forest, picking wild berries, cross country skiing over snowy meadows when winter arrives or pitching your tent by a babbling brook on a summer’s day – all this feels completely natural. But do we ever spend time thinking about what makes this possible? For those of us who have grown up in Sweden, Norway or Finland, it is a given that the right of public access gives us the freedom to move about in the countryside as we wish, without any thought needed to be given to who owns the land we’re on. We rarely think about how unique this is from a global perspective.
“I hadn’t really reflected on it at all until people from other countries started asking me about it. I grew up being able to go cross country skiing and hiking pretty much everywhere, as long as we took responsibility for our surroundings. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised that this is more-or-less unique to Scandinavia,” says Christiane.
Christiane grew up in Norway, where the right of public access is fairly similar to Sweden and Finland. Originally, the it was a customary law, based on long-established customs that had been in play for centuries, so that people could travel through remote areas of countryside. In order to be able to get from one place to another, travellers had to have the possibility of overnighting in the countryside and be able to forage for food along the way. In other European countries, it was usually possible to travel between villages in a day, but distances in the far north were often longer.
But it was after WWII that the expression ‘allemansrätten’ was first established. And the following decades saw the rise of environmentalism, more free-spirited sub-cultures and welfare states in Europe. And it was also at this time that Fjällräven took its first muddy trekking-booted steps into nature. Our founder, Åke Nordin, had as his goal to create gear that could stand all the rigours of nature so that Swedish people could make the most of all the landscapes of Sweden.
First he created a backpack with a frame. These days this doesn’t sound groundbreaking, but back then backpacks were more of the backbreaking variety. So a backpack with a frame that made it easier and more comfortable to carry heavy loads over long distances was, in fact, groundbreaking. Then came the Thermo Tent, hardwearing and condensation-free. These two pieces of gear together enabled Swedes to not just walk in nature, but to actually spend extended periods of time there. To pick berries and mushrooms; drink from fresh mountain streams; to pitch a tent anywhere; to light a campfire and wile the night away – those long, seemingly never-ending Swedish summer nights. And this was the start of a movement. A group of people that would take their first steps with nature. People that through allemansrätten, and Fjällräven, would develop not just an appreciation for but an adoration of nature. And once the love affair started, people just wanted more.
From the development of the Greenland Jacket and Kånken all the way to our latest collections, allemansrätten and its mixture of freedom and responsibility are always considered; when we design products, create events and even when we produce our sales and marketing material. We want you to get out there and enjoy allemansrätten with us.
In general, there is strong support for the allemansrätten in Sweden and in an attempt to reach out to all of Sweden’s inhabitants, the Environmental Protection Agency has translated its information brochures on the subject into 28 languages. However, it has been shown that people aged between 15 and 25 lack awareness of what it’s all about. This can lead to abuse – people who don’t know better might, for example, think it’s ok to break branches off trees or drive four-wheel drive vehicles through the countryside without permission. But the consequence of this lack of awareness can also be that many people don’t actually know about the amazing possibilities there are out there. And this is exactly what could threaten the future of allemansrätten.
“If we don’t use it, then there will no longer be any purpose for it. Knowledge and awareness are needed to understand the value of this unique law and there are groups in society who don’t realise what this involves. But by increasing awareness, more people can become inspired to get outdoors and enjoy nature in a responsible way,” says Christiane.
“I really believe that going outdoors and spending time in nature doesn’t have to involve challenging expeditions. Just spending time outdoors in the areas we have close to us is good for our wellbeing. And this is where allemansrätten is a valuable friend. One we don’t want to be without.”
Facts: The Right of Public Access
The Swedish Right of Public Access is based on an ancient customary law that was first mentioned in an official capacity around 1940. It is built on a “do not disturb or destroy” mindset, and it gives the public the right to travel on foot through the countryside, pick berries and mushrooms, make a campfire whilst obeying common sense and any fire bans, and stay overnight for one or more nights where it is suitable.
Obligations that come with this right include not destroying nature by breaking branches off trees or using motorised vehicles without permission, and always taking any rubbish you produce with you. You must also show respect towards landowners by not camping too near a house or entering gardens.
If there is a big group of you camping or if you are near a house you will need to seek the landowner’s permission. There are special rules for national parks and reserves regarding camping and campfires. In some cases, these are strictly forbidden. There are always information signs that let you know the rules of each area.
There are similar laws to the Swedish Right of Public Access in Norway and Finland. In Norway, the Right of Public Access is governed by the Outdoors Recreation Act of 1957. It is a customary law with flexible limits that are based on freedom with responsibility. Many of the obligations that are in place are also listed in the Environmental Code.
There are some details that differ between the laws of Sweden, Norway and Finland. In Norway, for example, it is stated that you cannot camp within 150 metres of a house. No specific distance is named in Finland or Sweden – only that you cannot disturb anyone.
In Finland you need the landowner’s permission to make a campfire, while in Norway there are special rules concerning picking cloudberries in the northern part of the country. However, in general, the three countries have a similar approach to our rights to spend time in nature.
Iceland has a few more restrictions, but the basic rule is that you may have access to another person’s land. Scotland also has a Right of Public Access that is similar to Sweden’s, and was passed as a law just like in Scandinavia. This happened as recently as in the early 2000s, and was most likely inspired by the Scandinavian countries.
More information on the Right of Public Access can be found at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation.
Text: Sarah Benton