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Birkebeinerrennet: Why Carrying A Backpack?

Birkebeinerrennet is just around the corner on Saturday, March 18. The 54-kilometer long-distance race marks the twelfth stage, the fourth and final Grand Classics event of Season XIV, and has a peculiarity; all skiers need to carry a backpack. Learn all about the tradition.

Photo: Magnus Östh/Ski Classics

All Birkebeinerrennet participants must carry a backpack weighing at least 3.5kg during the race.

The Legend of Birkebeinerrennet

The history of the Birken races is rooted in the legendary escape of the Birkebeiners, Skjervald Skrukka, and Torstein Skjevla, who rescued the little prince Haakon Haakonssen from the Baglers during the Civil War in Norway in 1205/1206.

The Civil War in Norway

The Birken races originated from a civil war in Norway between two factions, the Birkebeiners and the Baglers, who fought for control of the country’s main parts. After the Birkebeiners gained control of most of Norway, their leader King Sverre died in 1202.

A Boy Is Born

Two years later, in the spring of 1204, King Haakon Sverresson’s son and the late King Sverre’s grandson, Haakon Haakonsson, was born in the county of Østfold. Unfortunately, King Haakon Sverresson had died just a few months before his son’s birth, leaving the little boy vulnerable to the Birkebeiners’ enemies.

The Dangerous Journey

The Baglers, who held power in Oslo and Oppland counties, sought to kill Haakon Haakonsson, the future King of the Birkebeiners. The Birkebeiners, determined to keep the boy safe, embarked on a perilous journey through Bagler territory to bring him to Nidaros (Trondheim). The journey was particularly challenging as they had to traverse areas controlled by their enemies.

On Christmas Eve 1205, the Birkebeiners arrived in Hamar, where they rested and regained their strength during the Christmas week. However, as the boy turned 18 months on New Year’s Eve, they knew they had to continue their journey to Nidaros. Fearing the Baglers would intercept them if they took the “normal” route through the valley of Gudbrandsdalen, they decided to go over the mountain from Lillehammer to Rena and the valley of Østerdalen. Two of their best skiers, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, were chosen to transport the little boy across the treacherous mountain terrain.

The journey was long and dangerous, but they finally reached Nidaros, and Haakon Haakonsson became King. Under his reign, all the civil wars ended.

All Competitors In Birken Bring History Forward

The Birken races allow participants to ski the same mountains between Rena and Lillehammer as the Birkebeiners did 800 years ago. 

However, unlike the Birkebeiners, competitors do not need to carry a future King in their backpacks. Instead, the bag symbolizes the little boy Haakon Haakonsson, and each participant honors Norway’s history by carrying it.

Birkebeinerrennet. Photo: Magnus Östh/Ski Classics

Birkebeinerrennet and the Significance of the Backpack

Birkebeinerrennet is a challenging 54km cross-country ski race that requires hours of hard training, sweat, tears, laughter, and joy. The race’s significance stems from the dangerous journey the Birkebeiners undertook over the mountain to save the future King of Norway.

The Backpack: 3,5kg And Its Content

From 1932 to 1992, the backpack’s weight was set to 5,5kg. From 1993 the weight was reduced to 3,5kg.

All Birkebeinerrennet participants must carry a backpack weighing at least 3.5kg (7.7 lbs) during the race. For safety reasons, the backpack must contain a windproof jacket and pants (long-sleeved), dry and warm underwear, headwear/hat, buff/head over/balaclava, and gloves/mittens.

Additionally, the event organization recommends bringing food, drink, ski wax, sun cream, and blister plasters, checking the weather forecast, and taking necessary safety precautions.

Which Backpack Should You Choose?

Finding a backpack that fits well is significant when you are going to ski 54km. You should have a backpack that you don’t even notice you have on your back! There are several things you should think about when choosing your bag:

  • The right length for your back. Not too short – and indeed not too long.
  • The width of the shoulder straps should suit you. If you go with a backpack with too wide straps, they will get in the way and chafe when you double pole.
  • It may be a good idea to have a backpack with hip straps with pockets or a backpack with shoulder straps with pockets. In these, you can, for example, add your energy gel.
  • Above all, the backpack must sit well when you move! This means you should test the backpack with its contents before standing on the starting line at Rena.
  • The size of the backpack depends on what the aim of the race is. Some choose to bring more clothes and food because they will be out longer. Then it might be good to have a bag of 16-20 liters.
Birkebeinerrennet. Photo: Magnus Östh/Ski Classics.

The significance of the backpack in Birkebeinerrennet is not only practical but also symbolic. It represents the journey the Birkebeiners undertook 800 years ago to save the future King of Norway. Carrying the backpack throughout the race is a way for participants to honor and connect with the history of Norway and the legacy of the Birkebeiners.

In conclusion, the Legend of Birkebeinerrennet is a significant part of Norwegian history and culture. 

The dangerous journey undertaken by the Birkebeiners to save the future King of Norway is remembered and celebrated every year through the Birken races, particularly Birkebeinerrennet. The backpack, which must be carried by all participants, serves not only a practical purpose but also symbolizes the legacy of the Birkebeiners and their role in shaping Norway’s history.

You can find more information about Birkebeinerrennet here.

The Season XIV of Ski Classics Pro Tour consists of 14 events on 10 event weekends in 6 different countries. 

Ski Classics Pro Tour Season XIV (2022/2023)

  • Event 1: December 10, 2022 – Bad Gastein PTT, Bad Gastein, Austria, 15km
  • Event 2: December 11, 2022 – Bad Gastein Criterium, Bad Gastein, Austria, 35km
  • Event 3: December 17, 2022 – La Venosta Criterium, Val Venosta, Italy, 36km 
  • Event 4: January 14, 2023 – Pustertaler Ski Marathon, Sexten, Italy, 62km
  • Event 5: January 15, 2023 – Prato Piazza Mountain Challenge, Niederdorf, Italy, 32km
  • Event 6: January 21, 2023 – Engadin La Diagonela, Engadin Valley, Switzerland, 48km 
  • Event 7: January 29, 2023 – Marcialonga, Trentino, Italy, 70km
  • Event 8: February 12, 2023 – Jizerská50, Bedřichov, Czech Republic, 50km
  • Event 9: February 18, 2023 – Grönklitt Criterium, Orsa Grönklitt, Sweden, 50km
  • Event 10: February 19, 2023 – Grönklitt ITT, Orsa Grönklitt, Sweden, 15km
  • Event 11: March 5, 2023 – Vasaloppet, Sälen-Mora, Sweden, 90km
  • Event 12: March 18, 2023 – Birkebeinerrennet, Rena-Lillehammer, Norway, 54km
  • Event 13: April 1, 2023 – Reistadløpet, Setermoen-Bardufoss, Norway, 40km
  • Event 14: April 2, 2023 – Summit 2 Senja, Bardufoss- Finnsnes, Norway, 67km

More information about the Ski Classics Pro Tour you can find at skiclassics.com

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