Packrafting Finland’s “Nightless Night” Kairacross Events

5-minute read

Kairacross is a unique packrafting and backpacking adventure event based in northern Finland during its “nightless night” season—midsummer. We had a chance to connect with Mikko Nenonen, co-owner of a Finnish paddlesports shop and participant in Kairacross.

packrafters paddling towards the midnight sun

Kairacross competitors paddle into the midnight sun (photo courtesy of Poppis Suomela)

The first Kairacross was in 2021. It was started by friends of Mikko and his brother, Matti, so naturally the two have given it their full support. Their store, Melomo, is one of the sponsors.

More than 80 teams participated in Kairacross in its second year, 2022. Teams were made up of all men, all women or mixed, with at least two people in a team.

Kairacross: Backpacking and Packrafting through Finland’s Wilderness

Kairacross “is a relaxed wilderness adventure that involves navigation by foot and packraft. The adventure offers exciting new challenges for both ordinary hikers and experienced endurance athletes.”

The event, located in Finland’s Lapland region, includes two separate races:

Kairacross Ylläs

Kairacross Ylläs is the shorter and easier of the two races. There are three courses offered: a full (~60 km), a half (~30 km) and a mini course (~5 km, and can include children 12+ with their parents), all located mostly within Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in northwestern Finland.

The routes of the three courses follow mostly a trail system and some forest roads, with about half of each course on waterways.

The only requirement is that participants must be able to navigate in the wilderness. Recreational hikers and packrafters are encouraged to enter either to compete for time or simply for enjoyment.

drone image of several packrafters on a winding river through the forest

(photo courtesy of Poppis Suomela)

Kairacross Vätsäri

Kairacross Vätsäri, the “pro” course, is a wilderness trek up to 300 kilometers long in the northeastern tip of Finland. The course is in one of Finland’s most remote wilderness areas. This region is filled with lakes, which makes it ideal for a backpacking/packrafting combination.

two backpackers hiking on the horizon with sunset in the background

Traveling through the “nightless” night (photo courtesy of Poppis Suomela)

The course is roughly circular, with three possible short cuts if the team prefers to pursue a shorter route. So, it’s doable for both recreational hikers and trained athletes. The race must be completed within 100 hours, so each team can choose its route depending on their level of training and experience.

Participants of the Vätsäri race must have previous hiking, packrafting and navigation experience, as teams won’t follow a trail system (there are none!). They also must have wilderness survival training, enough to be able to be on their own for at least three days.

Kairacross: The Experience

One of the coolest aspects of Kairacross—for all events except the Ylläs mini—is trekking during Lapland’s “nightless night.” The midnight sun makes it possible to continue on the course all night long for an exceptional experience.

drone image of a man with his packraft standing on the brink of a waterfall

A packrafter in the Vätsäri race (photo courtesy of Poppis Suomela)

Mikko and Matti, along with their friend and business partner Matti Naakka, participated in the Ylläs Half course as a team in 2022. Besides the breathtaking scenery, these men found it to be a great event to do together. It forced teamwork and perseverance.

Matti Naakka said, “Things might seem easy when you are paddling nice rivers and the sun is shining. But fast-forward 12 hours when the temperature is only a few degrees C, all your gear is soaking wet and you are exhausted from paddling and running in forest and fells. This asks for both physical and mental strength, and 100% trust for your equipment.”

Coming from a business perspective, Mikko said, “It’s great to see so many participants enjoying packrafting and not just treating the paddling parts as a mandatory part of the rules. The packrafting gets visibility since there are still a lot of people who are not aware of this sport.”

Kairacross welcomes international teams! Rental packrafts and other gear are available in Finland, at Melomo and other gear shops, for participants who don’t have their own gear or don’t want to fly with it.

Mikko, Matti and Matti on a mountaintop with their packs and paddles, double rainbow in the background

Mikko, Matti and Matti during their race (photo courtesy of Mikko Nenonen)

Melomo Brings Packrafting to Finland

Brothers Mikko and Matti grew up canoeing and fishing with their cousins, father and grandfather. “We brothers have always been best friends, and therefore we have had a countless number of adventures since we were kids,” said Mikko.

Matti became a fly-fishing enthusiast and skilled kayaker (sea and whitewater), trained in river guiding and rescue, and began packrafting almost 10 years ago. Mikko is a family man with a wife and four children, works full time at Melomo, but still finds time to packraft with Matti and his family.

“When Matti ordered his first packraft (close to ten years ago), we all really liked its features: compact, agile, durable and handy. In every way, packrafts provide a new range of possibilities to enjoy outdoors and wilderness. Since in Finland there wasn’t any packraft resellers at that time, we decided to be the first one and started our own company, Melomo,” said Mikko. They opened in 2017.

With Matti’s entrepreneurial experience and help from friends like Matti Naakka, their shop has done well. Their goal is to provide high-quality packrafts and other needed gear to paddlers. Today, they’re a well-known brand around Finland and other parts of Europe.

Mikko and Matti, standing on pavement with their packrafts and paddles

Brothers, Mikko and Matti, co-owners of Melomo (photo courtesy of Mikko Nenonen)

“Aqua Bound has been our choice of paddle from the start,” said Mikko. “[The] Manta Ray is a well-known paddle in Finland since we have been offering it to our best and most demanding customers. Now during the last few years, we have expanded our selection to Whiskey, Shred and Bending Branches’ Slice paddles—all carbon, since that’s what we prefer in packrafting.”

If you’d like to follow Mikko and Matti on Instagram, you’ll find Matti at @nordicpackrafter and Mikko at @yhestapuustaveistetty.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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