What To Pack On Your Arctic Cruise

In this article we cover what to pack on your Arctic cruise to help you plan your expedition.

Adults find trying to plan for a real-life adventure virtually impossible. However, the truth is that this dream is being made a reality for around 30,000 people a year when they embark on an expedition to the icy, enthralling archipelago of Svalbard, Norway.

PHOTO BY VINCE GX ON  UNSPLASH

Svalbard lies between mainland Norway and the North Pole, and is full of natural wonders. Imagine a mountainous, remote terrain of calving glaciers, frozen tundra, fjords and ice sheets. Imagine lumbering Polar bears, the short (and frankly, precious) Svalbard reindeer, Arctic foxes, and an array of unique seabirds. And, depending on the time of year, imagine Winter Northern Lights or Summer Midnight Sun.

It’s the definition of true adventure, but don’t book your flight until you’re prepared for the average temperature ranges between 3°C to 7°C during the summer season, and temperatures of -30°C to -11°C during the winter season.

That’s one of the reasons why it is strongly advised that when travelling to Svalbard, to do so with the guidance of experienced local expedition leaders. These experts and the tour companies they work for, keep travellers up to date on everything from banned materials (no mesh!) to government updates and requirements. They will also let you know whether a Svalbard adventure is right for you when you detail any major health problems, disabilities, or physical conditions that may require emergency care.

Here our local experts advise what to pack on your Arctic cruise so that you can make the most out of your Svalbard adventure, any time of the year. 

What to Pack on Your Arctic cruise: Pre-Packing Advice Rules of Thumb

what to pack on your Arctic cruise

IMAGE COURTESY OF PATAGONIA

Even when planning an adventure to the Arctic, it is possible to purchase from brands moving toward sustainability. One such example is the clothing brand Patagonia; the above image from Patagonia celebrates its pledge of 1% of all sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.

Before you start shopping, consider these general rules of thumb.


Take time to research a good outer shell anorak and a parka for a winter expedition, or a good water and wind-proof jacket for a summer expedition. Your outer layer should be impervious to the elements so that a chilly breeze doesn’t carry your body heat away!


Inquire about what comes provided by your tour group.

For example, guests on Secret Atlas Svalbard expeditions are supplied with a free pair of sturdy rubber boots to wear ashore. They serve the double purpose of protecting the environment from harmful outside elements being introduced on an expedition as well as providing the peace of mind that guests will have the right type of footwear to handle the terrain. Ask whether your tour advisor offers any perks like this that offer you the assurance of quality and free up valuable luggage space.


Layering options are key.

Layers are super helpful for the daily weather variations, as your body creates a thin layer of heated air between each clothing layer. Make sure the clothing is roomy to allow for a greater quantity of heated air to become trapped between each layer. Add together a few roomy layers, and you suddenly get an insulating effect. If you dress overly warm, you can always remove unnecessary layers, but if you have dressed overly warm without layering options, you perspire. Consider perspiration to be dangerous when exploring ashore, as it can lead to issues such as frostbite once cooled down, which is a common injury in Svalbard.


Pack for your extremities.

Your hands, feet, ears and head will all need added protection, as they are prime locations to lose body heat. When shopping, pick mittens over gloves. For headwear, go with something that can be pulled down to offer extra coverage, like a winter trapper or a balaclava. When you start to feel the cold creeping into your hands or toes, putting on a warm hat will actually help by warming up your core body temperature.

what to pack on your Arctic cruise

IMAGE COURTESY OF STELLAREQUIPMENT

Leave your regular cotton socks at home.

Instead, take socks made of synthetic materials that spring back into shape after compression and wool socks so they can trap warm air and wick away sweat. Many prefer to wear one layer of liner socks under a pair of thicker, warmer socks.

IMAGE COURTESY OF ICEBREAKER

It all starts with the base layer. The brand Icebreaker has been rated ‘Good’ for upholding high labour standards, paying living wages and sourcing wool from non-mulesed sheep, in addition to base layers that keep you warm in the coolest of temperatures.


Polar fleece is a great idea because polyester down is a better insulator when damp than goose or duck down. 


Shoes with a rubber outsole, or a waffle sole, like those on a hiking boot, are the best to bring so that you can keep your footing, but please leave behind heavy footwear that makes it difficult for you to walk.

Packing for the Summer Season

Headed to Svalbard from mid-May to September? That’s the sunny polar summer season in Svalbard, the archipelago’s most temperate time of year with average temperatures of 3 – 7 ˚C. The summer means walkable, snow-free tundra, and a mild Midnight sun that won’t lower to kiss the horizon at all until the end of August. These polar summer days seamlessly blend with polar summer nights, so wildlife and humans alike take advantage of this extended daylight to be more active.

Summer Packing List

The base layer – Choose thermal underwear that keeps you warm without adding bulk (silk or polypropylene are most common), multiple pairs of tall, sturdy warm socks, and thinner polypropylene, or merino wool socks.


The mid-layer – Bring warm pants like ski pants, turtlenecks, fleece tops and bottoms, somewhat loose-fitting wool sweaters or a medium-weight polar fleece jacket, and waterproof trousers (Gore-Tex is a common example).


The outer layer – Pack a fleece neck-buff, water-proof mittens with thin, polypropylene gloves so that you can remove the mittens to operate your camera, hat, a breathable waterproof and windproof jacket (Gore-Tex to the rescue again!), and sturdy shoes with rubber waffle soles (not sneakers).

IMAGE COURTESY OF STELLAREQUIPMENT

Aboard the vessel – It will be relatively dry, warm and comfortable aboard your vessel, so you should bring T-shirts, and other casual, comfy clothes. You’ll also want comfortable closed-toe shoes (leave behind the sandals), earplugs and an eye mask to ensure you can get some shut-eye, soft luggage bag or hiking backpack for easy storage.


Photography Packing – Consider leaving the tripod at home, unless you want to shoot video or have a heavy lens, as long exposure shots from a moving vessel will result in blurred imagery, unless anchored. The bright conditions with reflective ice, snow and water will make shooting challenging with a smartphone or a classic point and shoot camera unless you have a viewfinder, a shade, or even an LCD hood to help block out some light. Additionally, the highly recommended polarised sunglasses you’ll be wearing may add difficulty to seeing your screen, so try to practice before you go. A great solution is to bring a polarizing filter that can be turned on and off, which removes surface reflection so your camera can pick up on something in the water from the vessel.


Highly recommended – Pack a strap for your sunglasses so they don’t fall off, sunscreen, lip balm, a pair of binoculars to enjoy all of the interesting wildlife and landscape features, a camera with extra memory cards/ film and a cleaning kit for the camera and lens, an extra camera in case of accidents, plastic bags to store your camera while in the Zodiacs, a small waterproof backpack with shoulder straps for your camera, walking sticks, chargers and extra batteries, and a bathing suit in case you decide to take the Polar plunge!!

What Summer Readiness looks like in Svalbard

VIDEO STILL, COURTESY OF VISITSVALBARD

Packing Tips for the Winter Season

svalbard photo tour

During the winter months (October to May), the normal temperature is -30 – -11 degrees ˚C. You will notice that the packing list for winter packing is quite similar to the summer packing list, with a few key differences: the outerwear is warmer, you will wear at least one additional layer, and the highly recommended section is slightly different. After all, we don’t think you’ll want to take the Polar plunge in this weather!

Winter Packing List

The base layer – Choose thermal underwear that keeps you warm without adding bulk (silk or polypropylene are most common), multiple pairs of tall, sturdy warm socks, and thinner polypropylene, or merino wool socks.


The second layer – Bring warm pants like ski pants, turtlenecks, fleece tops and bottoms, and make sure they aren’t tight-fitting.


The third layer – Select somewhat loose-fitting wool sweaters or a medium-weight polar fleece jacket, and waterproof trousers (Gore-Tex).


The outer layer – Pack a fleece neck buff or wool scarves, waterproof mittens with thin, polypropylene gloves to wear underneath so you can operate your camera, hat, shell anorak and parka with attached hood, and sturdy shoes with rubber waffle soles (not sneakers). 

IMAGE COURTESY OF WINTERGREEN NORTHERN WEAR

Wintergreen Northern Wear created this shell anorak for a North Pole expedition: it is suggested to layer the above anorak over a fleece anorak for colder conditions. The company prides itself on building gear to last a lifetime by American workers earning sustainable wages.


Aboard the vessel – It will be relatively dry, warm and comfortable aboard your vessel, so you should bring T-shirts, and other casual, comfy clothes. You’ll also want comfortable closed-toe shoes (leave behind the sandals), earplugs and an eye mask to ensure you can get some shut-eye.


Highly recommended- A good pair of UV protected sunglasses with strap, sunscreen, lip balm, a pair of binoculars to enjoy all of the interesting wildlife and landscape features, camera with extra memory cards/ film and a cleaning kit for the camera and lens, an extra camera in case of accidents, a small weatherproof backpack with shoulder straps for your camera, walking sticks, chargers and extra batteries, a reflective vest to wear in the dark, and, if you plan to wear your own boots, you may want to bring ice cleats, as the road can get icy.

what to pack on your Arctic cruise

IMAGE COURTESY OF BACKCOUNTRY GEAR

What Winter Readiness looks like in Svalbard

VIDEO STILL, COURTESY OF VISIT SVALBARD

Final Reminders

Before you start shopping, you ought to make sure that you will be able to have key carry-ons prepared well in advance of your voyage. A valid passport and visa may be required, so check on your particular requirements with the nearest consulates/embassies well in advance of your voyage, and make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your trip ends. To go on an adventure expedition, your insurance policy must have sufficient levels of cover in place for Svalbard travel, planned activities, flights and hotel coverage in case the vessel is delayed or the trip cancelled. And finally, don’t forget to keep your carry-on stocked with day one essentials like prescriptions, toiletries, and your ticket for the vessel!

For those who dream of true adventure, a Svalbard expedition shouldn’t be off-limits or overly daunting. Your tour company will make sure to answer any questions if you’re still feeling unsure, and should provide a comprehensive list of packing and travel instructions and an open line of communication so that you too can explore the Arctic!

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