What To Pack For a Trip To Svalbard.
The Norwegian offshore territory of Svalbard is the Northernmost inhabited point on Earth. As such, it gets pretty damn cold in Winter and then stays cold all the long Summer; you need to wrap up warm up on Svalbard.
Coming from the North of England, I am kind of used to the cold so had no qualms about Backpacking Svalbard last year. However, there is standard cold and then there is arctic-winter cold which can kill you dead in minutes. To avoid chilblains, frostbite and death from exposure, you need to make sure you pack the right gear before you head up to Svalbard.
For many of you, this will mean parting with some hard earned cash and buying some proper, specialised winter gear. Whilst spending money kind of sucks, getting the right clothing to keep you warm really could mean the difference between actually enjoying your trip and spending the whole time cursing the Gods of winter, shivering in your skin and longing to get back indoors beside the warmth of the fire side.
So, let’s take a look at just what you need to pack for a trip to Svalbard.
Thermal Layer – First up, you need a proper thermal base layer of long-Johns and a thermal-vest. Yes Long-John’s look ridiculous but shivering looks even more ridiculous and besides that nobody ever sees them under your normal clothes (unless you get lucky with a polar bear…)
Dress over the top of this with your normal person clothes which you will walk around in indoors.
Ski or Down Jacket – Getting the right jacket is crucial here. You need a thick, warm ski/down jacket with waterproof coating. I picked up a former hire ski jacket for £15 in my hometown which was pretty good. It looked minging though, so if you want to look good for all of those polar bears it may ne worth spending a few more quid. If you really want to look suave on Svalbard then get yourself a proper Goose down jacket like this one from Rab ; it will last you for many long years of trekking and adventuring.
Ski or Waterproof Pants – You will need a pair of weatherproof pants to go over your jeans. These are for wearing outside and can be taken off when you step inside. All indoor spaces on Svalbard have cloaks rooms where patrons deposit their over layers and nobody ever steals them.
Winter Boots – Keeping your extremities warm is vital on Svalbard. Unless you want to lose some toes to frostbite, you need good, thick, warm, waterproof boots. I wore some standard army issue hiking boots and they just about did the job but had I gone on a long range hike then I really would have felt the cold. Ideally you want proper winter boots with a thermal layer in the sole.
Wool Socks – Thick wool socks to wear over normal socks.
Thick, Waterproof Ski Gloves – Fingers are also painfully susceptible to frost bite and need protecting at all times when out doors. The £1 a pair, fingerless market trader gloves I wear in England just weren’t made for Svalbard so I had to get some proper hand-wear. Ski gloves will be fine.
Trappers/Cossack Hat – Get yourself a hat with wool interior that protects your head and your ears. Ideally you need it to fasten around the chin so that it doesn’t get blown off by a sudden gust of arctic wind. I loved my hat so much that I wore it for weeks even after returning home.
Hand/Foot Warmers – These little bad boys are effectively magical mini radiators. Once activated they will keep generating heat for up to 4 hours. Put them in your pockets or inside your boots for that extra bit of warmth during cold snaps or when out on hikes.
Camera – Because of its sheer Northerness, Svalbard is one of the best places on earth to see the Northern Lights. In order to take incredible photos to wow your friends and preserve your memories though, you need a proper camera as a phone will not cut it. You also need to learn how to take images at night as auto settings cannot really do thisl YouTube will help with this.
I really cannot emphasise the importance of gearing up properly before you leave home. If you find you have forgotten anything then you can buy most things in Longyearbyen but it will cost you twice what it will anywhere else in the world; Norway is after all the most expensive country on earth.