What You Should Pack for a Trip to Svalbard
The definitive guide to what to pack, what to bring and what to wear in Svalbard.
In case you have never heard of it, Svalbard is a Norwegian offshore territory situated inside the Arctic Circle and is the Northernmost, inhabited point on Earth. Therefore, as you can probably imagine, it gets very freaking cold in the winter and then it stays cold all summer long! Basically, if you are headed up to Svalbard then you had better wrap up nice, cozy and warm!
I come from the North of England so, I am kind of used to the cold. Therefore I had no real fears about Backpacking Svalbard in the depth of winter last year (I was literally there at midwinter which is 23rd December). However, I still wasn’t exactly fully prepared because there is regular cold and then there is the Svalbard brand of arctic-winter cold which can apparently kill you dead in a matter of minutes.
Yep, if you’re going to avoid chilblains, frostbite, and death from exposure then you need to make sure you pack the right gear before you head up to Svalbard. Our Svalbard packing list will help you to do just that.
For most of you, this is going to mean spending some of that hard earned cash and buying some proper, specialized winter gear (you know, the likes of which us normal people don’t generally have?). Whilst spending money on gear you may only ever use once can be painful, getting the correct clothing to keep you warm is essential. It really could mean the difference between being able to actually enjoy the trip and spending your whole time cursing the cruel Norse Gods of winter whilst shivering in your skin and longing to get back indoors beside the warmth of the fireside. In the worst case, it could even mean the difference between life and death…
Svalbard is very cold so make sure you get a cozy and warm place to stay – you do not want to be outside overnight! The below box lets you search Svalbard Hote and Guesthouses over at Booking.com. If you book through this link then I get a small commision which I use to help keep this site running.
If you do need to buy some gear, then please consider purchasing it via the links I have inserted into this post. The small commision I get helps me to keep this site running.
So let’s get down to business, here is What You Need to Pack For a Trip To Svalbard.
Svalbard Packing List
So, how to dress in Svalbard? We’re going to start right at the beginning with a thermal base layer.
You will need a proper thermal base layer made up of long-Johns and a thermal-vest. Yes, Long-John’s look silly but its better than freezing your ass off. Besides that, nobody ever sees them under your normal clothes (unless you get lucky with a polar bear…). These can be picked up fairly cheaply but it is still worth spending a bit to get a layer that is insulated to keep you warm but then breathable so it’s not too intense once you get indoors. This one from Amazon is cheap, does the job and if you buy it here from the icon below…
..then I get a tiny little kickback which I need in order to get this blog going.
Dress over the top of this with your normal person clothes which you will walk around in indoors. You can then use these during winter back home to save you having to put the central heating on!
Ski or Down Jacket
Getting the right jacket is of paramount importance. Ideally, you need some kind of warm ski jacket or a down jacket with a waterproof coating. I picked up an ex-hire ski jacket for £15 in my hometown which was pretty good and did the trick. It didn’t look very cool though so if you want to look good for all of those polar bears, then it may be worth spending a few more quid to get something resembling stylish.
Furthermore, buying a used Ski Jacket for £15 is not always going to be an option. Therefore you may wish to consider picking up a proper, good quality microlight down jacket by a respectable manufacturer like Rab or Columbia. You can then use on those cold winter mornings for walking the dog. It’s extremely warm yet light, fold up very small to fit in your luggage when you are not wearing it and furthermore an item like this also carries a pretty good resale value if you keep it in good condition.
This one by Columbia is very good quality for the price. If you cheap out and pay less than this then you risk winding up with a poor product and feeling the cold. You can look at it on Amazon through the icon below.
Ski or Waterproof Pants
A pair of weatherproof pants to pop over your jeans is essential. You need them as an extra (3rd layer) and to keep you dry in case you are caught in a snowstorm.
These are for wearing outside and can be taken off whenever you step inside. All of the indoor spaces on Svalbard have cloaks rooms where patrons deposit their over layers and nobody ever steals them.
Keeping your extremities warm is vital up on Svalbard and hands are feet are especially vulnerable to frostbite. So, unless you want to lose some toes, you need good, thick, warm, waterproof boots. I wore some army issue type hiking boots and they just about did the job ok. However, had I gone on a long-range hike then I really would have felt the cold.
Ideally, you should get proper winter boots with a thermal layer in the sole. If you go dog-sledding then these will be provided but if you want to but your own, then why not but them here…
Thick wool socks to wear over your normal socks. Yep, to keep your feet warm, you want regular socks on and then the woolen ones over the top…its all about the layers I tell you.
These ones below from Amazon are great value and are customed made for these conditions.
Thick, Waterproof Ski Gloves
Fingers are also painfully susceptible to frostbite and need protecting at all times when outdoors. The £1 a pair, fingerless market trader gloves/Artful Dodger I wear in England just weren’t made for Svalbard so I had to get some proper hand-wear. Any kind of Ski gloves will be fine.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes lost a few of his fingers to frostbite (well, he cut them off himself because they had frostbite) and at the time of writing, they still haven’t grown back.
I recommend a Cossack hat with a wool interior that protects your head and crucially your ears. Ideally, you need it to fasten around the chin so that it doesn’t get blown off by a sudden blast of the cold arctic wind. I loved my hat so much that I wore it for weeks even after returning home and will wear it again next winter.
Whilst not exactly essential, a Balaclava will be especially useful in keeping your face warm during snowstorms! Do remember not to wear it in the airport though as they may take you for one of those terrorists that the papers talk about.
Hand warmers are basically like magical little radiators. Once activated (usually be squeezing them) they generate heat (by magic) for up to 4 hours. You can then pop them inside of your pockets or inside your boots for that extra bit of warmth during cold snaps or when going out on hikes. Before going up to Svalbard I did not even know that these existed. Happily, though, I got hold of a few and they were a God send.
You can buy them here from Amazon and have them sent straight to your house in a matter of days!
The glare from the sun on snow can actually blind people so far North. I was there in mid-winter when there was no light whatsoever but for all other times, decent glasses are a total must.
You can buy ski goggles if you wish but as an absolute minimum, you will need decent glasses to withstand the glare.
Flask For Hot Tea
Is there anything better in life than hiking up a mountain or onto a snow-covered beach and then sitting down to take in the view with a nice hot cup of tea? So bring along a flask! Oh, also remember to fill the flask with tea before you set off exploring. This is not exactly an essential on our Svalbard packing list, but it will certainly come in useful.
A Proper Camera
Svalbard is a great place to see the Northern Lights. If you want to take pictures of them then you will need a proper camera and to learn how to use it. Phone cameras are, sadly, not up to this level of photography. In fact, phone camera’s don’t do any of the epic sights on Svalbard any justice whatsoever so bringing a real camera will be a good investment.
A Good Book!
Sometimes, the cold will get too much and you will want to head indoors to curl up beside the fire with a good book. I recommend Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights; it’s a semi-theocratical, fantasy adventure novel and a lot of it is set in a version of Svalbard from a parallel universe.
Whilst it was written as a children’s book, I read it as an adult and still truly loved it.
Whilst your trip to Svalbard will most probably end safely, there are some potential dangers with the polar bears and the extreme weather. Therefore, it is crucial that you obtain full and comprehensive travel insurance before your set of. If you get hurt up there, healthcare in the most expensive country on earth can get very costly very fast. Simply use the widget below to arrange your Insurance via World Nomads right now!
Buy Before You Fly!
I really cannot over-emphasize the importance of buying your gear before the trip. If you arrive in Svalbard and discover that you have forgotten something, then yet you can buy most things in Longyearbyen but it will cost you twice what it will anywhere else in the world. Remember that Norway is one of the most expensive places on earth and there isn’t exactly much market competition to bring prices down on Svalbard!
If you need more information about visiting Svalbard including details on what to do and where to stay, then check out my Svalbard information post.