17 Jul 2012

A Million Biting Bugs - The tale of a Finland trek that became a city trip

I'm back home from Finland, landed in Frankfurt Hahn and drove all the way back to Belgium in pouring rain, what a summer it is.

Before you start reading expecting a report from a trek, I should warn you that this is only a minor report since we had to abort already on day 3 and got back to Tampere instead, the biting bugs were that bad (really!).

We landed in Lentoasema Airport not far from Tampere around 17:15 and missed the bus just. That was no big issue since the shops in Tampere have marvelous opening hours (most until 21h). So we tried to hitchhike without luck and then just waited, playing cards in a grass field, enjoying the sun and heat that we don't have in Belgium for the moment.
In Tampere I bought the hiking map of the region, Sinol for the cat can stove and then had a beer on a terrace. We ate pizzas at Napoli, which I recommend because there's a yummy salad bar for starters and tea afterwards. Then we took the last train to Parkano, where we arrived around 02:10, both feeling a bit tired of all the travelling but still admiring the twilight, it is strange for us not to need a light in the middle of the night.
We didn't bother looking for a very nice camping spot, we put the tent up not far from the railway station on rocky soil, so I had to tie the tent to a backpack instead of using a stake.
Whilst putting the tent up we were dancing and hopping around because some zooming and buzzing insects were flying around our heads and hands. I calmed my girlfriend by saying they'd only be active in the evening.

It came light pretty early and we both slept well and long. The tent was quickly folded back into its stuffsack (biting bugs again) and we started to walk in the warmth of the sun.

The dirt road in Parkano
An hour or two we walked along the tracks and a dirt road until we arrived at lake Poikkeusjärvi, we had a quick wash there that helped to cool down and feel replenished with energy. We also asked some locals where the hiking route (Paroonin Taival) was and they informed us to follow the red markings, an important bit of info there.

Lake Poikkeusjärvi
Into a thick forest with hardly a path to follow, wacking bushes and getting beaten by branches. But that was fine, it were the horse flies that annoyed us the most. They were constantly on us, on our arms, legs and even in our hair! Even if you'd run run hand over your head they would get back immediately with 4 at a time, buzzing around in your hair, it was almost preposterous. After half an hour of walking while constantly beating off flies we crossed a road where we held a small break to laugh with our situation. Surely this was just a temporary plague in this forest? Whilst hopping around and waving with shirts to get the flies off we saw a car arriving. It was a lady that was going to pick some mushrooms and she was dressed more appropriate, a long jacket with a hood and pants while it was 28°C at least... We asked her if she had a remedy or a trick to keep the bugs off, and she got out an aerosol can of 'Off'. I don't know whether it helped or not, maybe for a short time there were a bit less bugs on us while we walked on.

The 'before' photo everyone has.
Tent on the outside, luckily no damage.

The relentless mosquitoes

Again in the same kind of forest, keep in mind this was the stretch between Parkano and Seitseminen, with hardly a path to follow but with decent marking everywhere so we didn't get all too lost. Alas, the flies were back and this time also a lot of mosquitoes. Since we were both in shorts and t-shirt we exposed a lot of skin for them to bite on. We tried beating them off while walking but they are a relentless kind, the Finnish mosquito, they come back and stay on your leg or arm until you splat them. It's a dirty job but you got to do it...
The path became harder at moments since there was no obvious trail to follow, it felt like we were mostly off trail, but still following the markings on the trees and rocks. That didn't bother us, we even liked it but it was the combination with bugs that made it hard. You couldn't concentrate on the road and had to walk quite fast  because if you stood still there were hordes of bugs on us immediately.

I know we sound so under prepared right now but we got some repellent from friendly locals and that did not work. They also bit trough socks and shirts. So even if we had bug proof clothing, we were still annoyed that we couldn't enjoy a moment of serenity outside, which was a pity considering the awesomeness of the lakes and nature there.
The evening started and we still had a rough time in the forests, finally arriving at what seemed a dirt road. We paused there, walking fast is tiresome you know, and tried all kinds of stuff to keep the bugs off, I even took some dead branches and lit them to make some smoke, this resulted in only minor and short lived relief.
It was around 20:30 and we were still on the road, looking ahead if we'd find a camping spot but we didn't find one quickly. This is where I usually start worrying a bit, I liked to put the tent up a bit earlier than when we arrived at Parkano the other day. Luckily the Finnish daylight is mad long and Sarah eased my worries with her always calm voice, she could keep a crashing airplane in peace.

After another say 30 minutes we stumbled across an abandoned house and decided to camp there since it was the only piece of grass around. I know this isn't strictly according to the camping rules but I knocked 5times, yelled hello and peeked inside... no one there. Plus we did not leave anything there, just put the tent up, boiled water for mashed potatoes with parmezan cheese which we ate in the bug free haven called Squall 2. Whilst getting our cooking gear together I put on my softshell and hood and the bugs were still biting my hands, face, getting into my hood, and even biting trough my socks, relentless Finnish mosquitoes!
It was rather disturbing watching an army of midges, flies, mosquitoes and even a spider waiting for us on the bug netting. Thank you Sir Henry Shires for making the stitching of the netting absolutely bomb proof so no bug got in!

Bomb Proof netting, thankfully!

In the tent I spoke with Sarah about maybe catching a bus because this wasn't the trip I had planned for. I hoped to enjoy the long evenings outside, sit by the lakes, cook slowly and eat relaxed. I wanted to lie down and peek at the mighty sky and walk while enjoying the views. And it is so sad that we had to give that up because of 1 factor. It seems a small one but really it has so much influence. We didn't count sheep to fall asleep but counted bites. We had a nice average of 50 per leg. Add to that the lower back, neck, face, arms, hands and feet. I donated a pint of blood to wildlife, Karma should be topped up until 2013 now.
Sarahs Arm

And my legs ;)

The next day we had breakfast in the tent of course and set out quickly with a plan to ask for the nearest bus station to Tampere or Parkano. We asked some locals but they all said there were no busses in the area, we were about 10km away from Seitseminen now. We hiked on, even encountering a small black snake that made Sarah startle (and me laugh) and passing what seemed an industry zone near Majasaarentie.
The awesome hissing snake

Eventually we came to a long asphalt road (Länsi-Aureentie) were cars drove past us at high speed, ignoring our raised thumbs. In the heat and with motivation running low we walked on. 

The long road to Seitseminen
The sign of 1km to Seitseminen seemed to lie about the distance. Or maybe it was our slow pace. A right turn and we entered...another long road until the visitor's center. I did want to get there because surely they would know if there was a bus. We finally arrived and enjoyed the nice center, it was cool there, they had fresh drinks and food and it was bug free. Would they have rooms to let :-) ?

To abort a hike...

A friendly lady at the desk informed us there were no buses but offered to call a taxi instead, I accepted the offer and she made a call in Finnish for me. I wrote a card while waiting and after 20 minutes the cab arrived, taking us to the Parkano railway station. We hopped on the train and arrived in Tampere, the city which I didn't expect to see that soon. But it was wonderful, we both were happy and I still believe we took the best decision.
We found place to sleep in Sofia Hostel, with very friendly personnel I must say, we had a shower and went off to buy city clothes. No need to spend the rest of the trip in hiking apparel.

To keep things short: we had an awesome time in Tampere, it is a nice city with lots to see. We visited both lakes, had a swim in the Holiday Club Spa, visited Helsinki and made lots of city walks and sat in the park with beers (which seemed like what most inhabitants of Tampere were doing on a sunny day).

The gear

Now I did learn a lot from this trip, I used some new gear and had the chance to assess my needs for next trips. So I would like to share with you what gear was great and what I will change next time.

First off: the Tarptent Squall 2. It got used for only two nights so a full review is not for now but I can give you some impressions. The first night it stayed bone dry, no condensation whatsoever. The second night when we camped on grass, it got wet inside. But a quick towel wipe took most moisture away and when the first hot rays of sunshine hit us is, the tent dried almost instantly. For the rest it pitched perfectly, kept 100% of the bugs out and I feel this is just the tent we wanted. I solved the slippery floor issue by applying silicone stripes to my sleeping pad.

What a looker!

My sleeping kit was a bit overkill but since I have only one pad and one bag I had no choice but to bring my Prolite Plus and the winter graded TNF Cat's Meow. The sleeping bag was of course too much, I sweated even when just draping the bag over me. So I'll be on the lookout for a 5°C quilt when budget rises (i.e. get a job) or maybe buy a small and cheap bag and cut the back out... a MYOG quilt if you want.
Backpack: Jack Wolfskin Escalade 80... In lots of UL blogs you see the author with a picture before his 'conversion' to UL-hiking, lugging a big and heavy pack around. Well, I am ashamed to say that I bought this pack only last year, finding out about UL 2months later. It weighs over 3kg empty and has so much features I do not need like an airplane cover, detachable daypack (which I didn't bring), and way too heavy fabric.
It was quite painful lugging it around on my back, with all the food, 1,5 liters of water and a liter of ethanol, it wasn't light at all. I guess more than 17kg. The thickly padded hip belt was fine when wearing it over a fleece but when only in t-shirt it burned my skin and felt like a bruise. I will try selling it and get an UL pack instead.

By now I had learned I definitely will buy a new pack, I am looking at Laufbursche because I hear they are excellent (Basti and Hendrik are both enthusiastic) and I am not looking forward paying a three figure sum to customs for an American pack. I call to you, dear knowledgeable reader, do you have any tips for me? About buying American packs, about the Huckepack and how it compares to a GG Gorilla (2012)?
This change of pack brings an extra cost: my sleeping bag is rather huge and would take up half of whatever UL pack, so that's a cost to be made. Then I would finally get the Big 3 right.

I do want to remark that when weighing our backpacks when leaving, Sarah only had 7kg. And this was with her hiking boots and hiking clothes in the pack. I'm proud and a bit jealous of her being already in the UL segment, she'll also be looking out for a new backpack too so I'm guessing she'll have a base weight of around 5kg. What a woman ;-)!

The small thingies:

  • Headlamp: I did not need it, it never got completely dark in Finland that time of the year so a small pocket light would've been more than enough.
  • Knife: My girlfriend's Victorinox Alpineer, yes it's a big knife with a blade of around 8cm but it cut bread like butter and it's handy to have around. Plus it doesn't have a million features thank God! 
  • Small card game: Unmistakably the most used piece of gear we brought :) To pass time in a pub, in the sun or while on a train. 13grams.
  • Sinol 100: We took a whole liter because we had to buy it in Tampere and that was the smallest packaging. Less would be enough, I will think of that next time.
  • Disinfecting hand gel: 1 bottle (75ml) would have done, I brought two because I didn't know how much we would use.
  • Cat Can Stove: Performed excellently. Two fills with ethanol and we had a rolling boil if we used a windscreen. I'll only look at campingaz on winter trips.
  • Hydration: I didn't bring a bladder because the filling is fiddly, try doing that while dancing off the bugs! I took a 2 liter bottle which I filled and purified with Micropur. I then filled my smaller bottle with sport cap which sits in a mesh pouch on the hip belt. The only feature I'll miss of my backpack.
  • Spork, two tone
  • I also learned how to colour my grey spork, just stir in a cup of curry sauce made from powder and it will come out as this: (and no it does not wash off, bonus!)

A hiker has got to eat

I thought we brought too much but apparently we were just fine, we did bought some snacks that I would not buy again like chocolate chip cookies (you needed a spoon to eat them) and crisps (too big and nuts give the same salty satisfaction in a smaller volume). Breakfast cereal was fine, it was a nice dessert or breakfast, and other sweets always came in handy.
For the mashed potatoes I will bring a bigger bag next time or prepare them in the pot. My 0.9l ziploc was a bit small to stir around so the water wouldn't spread evenly.
We did not take any meats or fish and didn't miss it either. We did take some Parmezan cheese, cheese spread (which you don't have to refrigerate, nice! :) ) and olive oil.


The top diners were couscous with curry sauce and corn; Uncle Ben'z Mexican rice (only once, just to have some luxury) and mashed potatoes (with nuts or crisps or cheese in it). Noodles I will not bring anymore since they aren't that good in curry sauce and they take up a lot of pack space.
I also realized the usefulness of Platybottles. I never saw the added value but when my empty 2liter bottle ate a two-liter column in my pack I could see why they are popular if space is an issue.

As a final note
I want to say that this was not the trip we had planned. I planned a trip where we could enjoy nature quietly, sitting around staring at lakes, walking in a good tempo but without haste. That was sadly not possible due to bugs so we took a decision and had a great holiday! We enjoyed Finland a lot, Tampere and Helsinki are both cities that are worth exploring. The weather was far better than here and It was a first time in a Scandinavian country for me.
The turn that our trip made, becoming a city trip, just made us more motivated to get out again on a 4 to 5 day hike this summer. We are looking at Germany (some Eifelsteig stages or the Wildnis trail) or maybe Luxembourg . If you have some tips, we'd be glad to hear.

Thank you for reading and tell me if you liked or did not liked this post!


  1. I'm really sorry that you and Sarah needed to experience Finland like this - the mosquitos this year really are terrible, and I wonder if I there's anything I could have said that would have made you two better prepared; though even with long clothing, gloves, a headnet and a fire sitting outside by the lake isn't as relaxing as it could be. Maybe you both should come again in February next year, no mosquitos, just peaceful, calm snowy forests and starry nights!

    Very cool to hear abour Sarah being already an ULer - or are you just a Gentlemen and carry all the heavy stuff?! I think you both could be very happy with a huckePACK, though you might want to consider trying to attend the next German ultraleich-trekking.com Forumstreffen to check out packs and quilts before dishing out the money. If I'd be you two, I'd get a huckePÄCKchen for Sarah and a huckePACK for you, and a enLIGHTened equipment Revelation X quilt for each of you ^_^

  2. I second a huckePACK. It's worth it.

    Sorry the bugs were out to get you, but it is a bit of a bad year. You should think about coming again after the end of August when they are less annoying (and less numerous). Finland is nice in summer, but if you are unprepared (and often even if you are) the mosquitoes and flies can drive you mad. I do sympathise. I remember almost running through a birch forest here in Lapland once, trying desperately to get to high ground.

  3. Sorry to hear about your experiences with the Finnish bugs. They can be really bad at times. I went to do some tyre pulling few days ago in shorts and T-shirt as it was raining i.e. no bugs. But the rain stopped. I got some 23-25 bites in each leg and some more around the body in less than 45 minutes. The bugs are bad this year.

    The Sami people have a special word for the hordes of mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-um, horse flies and other biting things, they call it "räkkä". Singular word, sort of describing a state of things rather than the individual bugs, a bit like the word "rain"...

    The "Off" stuff you got is basically DEET (varying from 20-50%) but as you noticed, it doesn't help if the bugs are bad. Bugproof clothing (something like windshirt or tight woven cloths), good hat, a head net and bug free shelter help to retain some sanity. Other than that, I'd like to remind that the brands and models of gear are not that important, enjoying the outdoors is. ;)

  4. Reminds me of our first trips to Norway. That's when we learned the most. On our very first trip we hadn't even managed to leave the town. We wanted to walk but our packs were way too heavy and we decided to stay in Oslo on a small island instead. It then became a camping and city trip. Nice, but not what we expected to do in the first place.
    During another stay in Norway we got similar experience with bugs as you had. Althoughwe where still hauling 20 kg packs we were running along the trail sometimes, just to get some distance between us and the bugs. Still got pictures from this trip where I do look like a teenager due to all the red marks on my face... Unfortunately I even spilled a whole meal on the ground when I kicked against the pot while doing the bug-hitting-dance... :-(

    There are people out there that cry about a single day of rain "ruining" their whole trip. Others are frustrated due to a night of cold sleep. Some will stop hiking 'cause they got a minor blister.
    Believe me when I say managing more than a day fighting off midges is way more tough! Guess you've got the right spirit for a great hiking career! The next trips will be more fun no matter what.

    As for packs I'll give Hendrik a +1. A combination of the two Laufbursche packs and maybe some elightened equipment revelation quilts will be all you need for years! And you won't even miss your watterbottle holder as you would have side pockets accesible while walking! ;-)
    If you'll ever decide to do some walking over here just let me know. I could give you maps and advice and maybe even join you a day or two.

    Greetings from the Rhineland,


    1. Thank you everyone for the helpful tips! I am really learning here :) It feels great to hear from you and getting in touch.

      I was quite ashamed when posting this, feeling like a sissy because I ran from some mosquitoes. But when hearing the bugs are so bad this year, I feel better :) I definitely learned to go hike in a good time window and september or winter sounds rather good actually.

      As for the Huckepacks I'm feeling they are a king among packs, or is it just fanboyism ;)? I will look into it and @hendrik, I am going to need a pack quite fast because I'd like to go hiking again this summer. So I don't know if I'll make it to the next meet-up.
      And I was a gentleman for the tent and the cooking kit, All in one maybe 1,3kg. It was the pack and sleeping bag that differed so much.

      @Mark an Korpijaakko, thank you for your sympathy and learning me räkkä.

      And @Basti: I'll let you know when we are going, I'm looking at the wildnis trail and some Eifelsteig sections. And I'm glad I'm not the only doing bug dances.