Like numerous other trails I have hiked, E1 has been on my radar for quite a while. Actually, since I found out it more or less passes through the region I grew up - Zürich Oberland. This revelation happens in 2017, shortly after returning from New Zealand. During summer 2019, my intentions of hiking E1 are getting more specific and later that summer I decide to hike E1 - a European long-distance trail leading from the North Cape all the way down to Italy.
Unlike Te Araroa, I am hiking E1 in sections instead of doing it in one go, keeping my current job rather than quitting it. Several reasons led me to this decision. One is its whopping distance of more than 8000km, which makes it hard to thru-hike "non-stop". Not impossible as other hikers have apparently achieved it but chances are high I'd hit snow at one point, not to speak of unpleasant wet winter weather in Germany.
Another reason: After hiking Te Araroa in one go, I had a hard time finding my way back into normal life. Hiking in sections makes the temporary return into normal life easier, especially because with the next section already awaiting me, I will have something to looking forward to.
I can stay away from work for a maximum of 90 days in a row in order to stay current in my job as AFISO. Thanks to my flexible employer, I was able to work out an 80 percent contract, which allows me to take 3 months off during summer, while working 100 percent the remaining year. This gives me the opportunity to hike roughly two to three months every summer.
My sections on E1 are the following (distances are only a rough reference, click for more information)
The route logged by my Spot emergency beacon. My position was recorded every 10 minutes.
E1 is one of 12 official European long-distance trails. On its 8000 kilometres from Nordkapp to Sicily, E1 crosses 7 countries. Starting at Nordkapp, it, then loosely follows the Norwegian/Swedish border, briefly entering Finland, always staying up in the mountains and away from the coast. It crosses Denmark, Germany and Switzerland into Italy, where it follows the Apennine and leads across Sicily to its southernmost point. While I generally follow E1, I create my own hike at times, mainly in the southern part of Sweden, Denmark and South Italy. The lowest point of E1 is minus 212 meters below sea level (Nordkapp Tunnel), the highest one 2106 meters above sea level (Gotthard Pass).
Often, the trail is following existing long distance hiking trails like Nordkalottleden, Westweg, Route of St. James or the Grande Escursone Appenninica (GEA). Along these trails, navigation is easy. E1 is sometimes specifically marked, sometimes not. However, in between it is varying quite a bit. Days without seeing any E1 or other hiking trail sign are not uncommon.
In Norway, for example, where, out of respect of the Sámi people, on certain stretches, no tracks and markings are present at all. This means either navigating by map and compass or GPS. Also in Italy, apart from the well beaten tracks in the Apennine, navigating with trail markings alone is not feasible.
Technically, I wouldn't consider E1 as difficult trail to walk (especially compared to Te Araroa in New Zealand, which I hiked in 2016/17). Exposed parts are rare. A couple of places, where one needs to scramble a bit but nothing where climbing experience is required. There are river crossings in Norway, which will get challenging after a lot of rain.
There are other things that make E1 an adventure. The above-mentioned lack of markings, navigation, the solitude and long stretches in between civilization (I will come back to that topic below), snow and cold temperatures well into July in Norway and Sweden. Overgrown and non-existent tracks in Italy.
Up north, the landscape is scarce. No trees, no shelter. Nothing to escape from the wind and rain for days. It's different further down south but also in the Apennine one is exposed to the elements. And thunderstorms in this region are not uncommon. So are heat waves. The sun and heat can be brutal.
Then there are ticks. They are a serious problem. All the way from Sweden to Italy. I didn't count but over the course of my hike I had to remove more than 100 of them. Checking for them has become a daily routine. While not as dangerous as the ticks, mosquitos are a big nuisance as well. I had my worst experience in Finnmark, where I had to walk in my rain gear to not be eaten alive.
While there are bears, wolverines and wolves I have never actually seen one and never felt particularly scared. It was the guard dogs in Italy that where making me feel uncomfortable at times. However, while they got close, they never actually tried to attack.
E1 takes hikers through large cities. Hamburg, Frankfurt. Catania. Just to name a few. While the city centres itself are generally pleasant enough to walk, one also crosses the outskirts of these cities, often run down areas. While I did not make any bad experiences, I understand that it might not be safe at times, especially at night.
Diverse! Tundra in Finnmark, mountains in Scandinavia, Switzerland and Italy, forest in Sweden, Germany and Italy, steppe like landscape on Sicily as well as coastal walking every now and then. There is a bit of everything.
Resupply is straightforward in the southern part of Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In Norway good planning is needed since places to resupply along the trail are few and far in between. The longest stretch without any resupply is around 300 kilometres (between Abisko and Sulitjelma along the Nordkalottleden). In Umbukta, I hitched into Mo i Rana for resupply. Also in Italy, the trail follows a rather remote stretch of the Apennine, where careful planning regarding resupply is needed.
In Norway with its lakes and rivers and Switzerland with its fountains, water supply is no problem. In Sweden, there are less possibilities to refill your bottle. Still, there usually pass a couple of lakes every day. Denmark has towns and shelters, where one can often find water. In Germany, cemeteries are a good place to find potable water and in Italy, there is a surprising number of public. Sometimes a bit hidden but usually most villages have them. There are springs in the Apennine, where no villages are around. However, not all of them are usable. Therefore, in these part as well as around Etna, I carried 5 Litres of water, which proved sufficient for me.
And where there are houses or serviced huts: there is always the possibility to ask for water. Generally, people are very helpful.
Norway has a good hut system (except for the stretch between Nordkapp and Kautekeino). However, they are generally expensive, and one needs to obtain a key (the same key fits all huts) in advance. I opted to camp, which thanks to the Allemannsretten (meaning "everyman's right") is no problem. Only be aware that sheltered spots from wind and rain can be rare. In hindsight, obtaining an access key would have been a saver option.
Sweden and Denmark have their Vindskyyds. A simple kind of shelter made for sleeping. Mostly free and generally located at scenic spots.
In Germany it gets a bit trickier. While wild camping is officially not allowed, there are plenty of so called "Schutzhütten" (shelters) that offer a place to sleep should the need arise. Furthermore, there is a website called https://1nitetent.com/ where people invite hikers and campers to pitch tents in their garden.
Switzerland is tricky as well, so is the northern part of Italy. But if you are not too picky, one always finds some hidden spots for a tent. The Apennine and around Etna are straight forward again and there are also plenty of huts (refugio and bivacco, the later generally being free of charge), And finally in southern Italy, where there are many official camping spots are available.
Of course, hotels, airbnbs etc. are, if budget permits, also readily available outside of Scandinavia, so is Couchsurfing, which is also a great possibility.
Below a selection of websites, which I used to plan my hike.
My main resource for planning. While not fully complete, it offers great advice regarding distances and accommodation. Also, the descriptions (where available) and comment sections of each stage helps to get an idea of what to expect.
Map of Sentiero Italia (long distance trail) and a good resource for additional and more current information about E1 stages in Italy (where they coincide). Sometimes Sentiero Italia even offers a better alternative route than E1 in my opinion. Two helpful features are the possibility to display water sources as well as information about the track status.
A site, where house owners can offer a place in their garden to pitch a tent for free. Mainly for Germany.
Map of Shelters in Sweden. There are also good apps available online.
Hiking maps of Norway with Huts and tracks visible. There is also the option to display E1 on the map.
Clear, simple, accurate weather forecast for Norway and the rest of the world.
In my "Looking back" part, I have a more informal, emotional approach to how I experienced the trail, which might help with the planning or the decision if E1 is a trail to consider.