What to Wear in Svalbard

Alice Hodgson

30 Aug 2018

NWS Alice provides some handy clothing tips for your next expedition

So you’ve booked your once-in-a-lifetime trip on an expedition ship in the Arctic, and now you need to start preparing for it. The first question you think is: What do you take to a place whose name literally means ‘Cold Coast’?!

Top of your packing list should be waterproofs: jacket, trousers and most definitely Wellington boots! All of us in Team Polar at NWS have been asked a lot about the need for wellies and waterproofs, and after visiting Svalbard in May, I cannot stress enough how important having these items is.

The weather in Svalbard is not always sunshine; it does rain (this is something I experienced during my trip) and the weather can turn quite quickly. If you have a zodiac excursion planned or are already out on a hike, then a bit of rain won’t necessarily be enough for your expedition leaders to send you back to your ship. This is where you breathe a sigh of relief that you packed those waterproofs! Nothing will ruin your day faster than being freezing cold and soaking wet.

If you dress in layers and finish off with waterproof and windproof jacket and trousers and then a pair of (ideally insulated) wellies, you’ll be ready for any of the elements the Arctic may throw at you.

Dressing in layers is key to keeping warm in the freezing Arctic conditions. You will probably look like you are doing your best Abominable Snowman impression, but trust me, it works! How many layers you’ll wear will depend on the time of year that you visit Svalbard. From July to August temperatures can reach up to 8 °C, but from May to June they can drop as low as -4 °C.

Start with a merino wool base layer, followed by thermal top or vest, a fleece and then your jackets. You can always add or drop a layer depending on what the weather is doing. During my trip in May, one of the days I wore six layers! Then on other days I wore just three.

On your bottom half you should apply the same principles – a couple of pairs of thermal leggings or long johns (again merino wool is brilliant) and then your waterproof trousers when you are heading out in the zodiacs.

Now for the all-important part – keeping your feet warm! I cannot recommend insulated Wellington boots enough, especially if you are visiting early in the season. If you do not have insulated wellies, make sure you pack some insulated socks and wear a couple of pairs at once. When you’re trudging through knee-deep snow you will thank me!

The key purpose for your wellies are to obviously keep your feet dry. Not only will you walk through deep snow (during the early season), you may also make wet zodiac landings. These landings can be as shallow as just covering your feet or as deep as knee height. If you decide to take just walking boots, you will then have to walk or sit for a potentially long period of time with your very cold, wet feet inside very wet boots!

If you aren’t comfortable walking in wellies then you can take your walking boots onto the zodiac with you and simply change them before you head off on your walk. Just remember there will be a lot of snow in the early season!

Hopefully these tips will help you to stay dry and warm during your polar bear search and make packing for the Arctic that little bit easier.

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