Ah, the eternal struggle. Upcoming trip on the horizon but what the heck do I absolutely need to pack and what can I leave strewn across my floor to be picked up upon return?
I tend to over pack – worrying that anything I leave behind will somehow become a totally crucial item, and not having it will result in my entire adventure going awry. However, I will be the first to admit that this has never been the case. Learning to cull down to the essentials takes time and practice, but you can do it and you will thank yourself for it!
So here is a list of what I absolutely and 110% needed for my autumn adventures in the Arctic – none of the unnecessary stuff here!
Thick weatherproof jacket
This is easily the most important item you will pack. Go with something black, versatile, windproof and waterproof. That way you will only need the one jacket and won’t need to lug around another heavy piece of outerwear. Prior to going on my trip to the Arctic I invested in a good quality (read: expensive) jacket from Kathmandu (Australia’s answer to The North Face) and it was a purchase I definitely stand by. I was never freezingly wet, it shut out the wind and it didn’t look like I had expected to turn up in a ski resort when I was just exploring the towns and cities.
The one I purchased can be found by clicking here but as long as you find one that is windproof, weatherproof and fleece lined, you will stay nice and warm!
Thick merino woolen socks
I have super low blood pressure which is usually a good thing, but one downside is that I am prone to poor circulation in my outer extremities. Basically – I am prone to getting super cold hands and feet! I can deal with a freezing nose, ice cold legs and frozen arms; but once my feet start to go numb I become a seriously unhappy human. So thick socks made out of merino wool are my most loved travel companions. Merino wool is warm, insulating, doesn’t irritate my skin and for some ridiculous reason – never seems to get smelly and gross!
I have about 5 pairs of these socks and absolutely swear by them.
Strong hiking footwear
This is a given. Exploring the Arctic is often best done on foot and there are more places subject to layers of ice than not. Unless you want to go arse-up on a patch of ice, invest in some boots with strong grip.
As I had blown my budget buying my jacket – I was left with minimal cashola to buy hiking shoes. Luckily – I was based in Adelaide at the time of packing and thus was able to trade in some old clothes for barely worn boots via the ever-growing Facebook page – TRADE*LAIDE – where Adelaide inhabitants trade unwanted items for things they want – no cash is to be involved.
The pair I got my hands on was a half size too big, but with all my thick socks that didn’t matter! They were great and they didn’t cost me a cent!
Okay, this one is a little hypocritical. Here I am saying to cut the unnecessary items and here I am telling you to pack something that I did not wear once. I did pack my thermals, and I did intend on wearing them. But I am a forgetful human who has an unnatural love of all things cold, which is a combination that led to my thermals going completely ignored. I only regretted this once on a day where it got down to around -20°C!
If you feel the cold, 110% pack your thermals. If you are used to a freezing cold environment or are just a bit of a daft human (I am the latter) then you can probably afford to chuck these back into your wardrobe.
Fleece lined stockings
I found these less bulky and allowed more room for movement under my pants than thermals did – so these were my go to guys. Granted – they did not keep my legs as warm as thermals would’ve but I definitely felt better in them.
I have been using Flox stockings for years and will be using them for many years to come! However, you can find similar quality in many European Christmas Markets – especially in Germany.
Cute (and thick) scarf
Resist the temptation to pack five scarves – choose one that goes with every top you are taking and only take that one. This means less to lug around and with less options to choose from, getting dressed each day is much quicker.
I got this one for about $7 many years ago in an ASOS sale. I have worn it half to death and still absolutely love it.
I hate pants. They don’t suit my pear shaped body and I find them cumbersome to wear. I got away with donning cute skirts and stockings during a European winter but I knew that this wasn’t gonna fly in the Arctic. I usually just wore plain black tights (Americans reading this: tights = yoga pants) over fleece lined stockings. Not exactly super warm but it did the job. If you are prone to feeling the cold in the slightest, it would be wise to invest in something a bit thicker and a bit more waterproof.
One upside to tights is that the material is soft and inviting for any Greenlandic puppies that are looking for a place to perch.
Long sleeved tops
Any type will do! I have a bunch in neutral colours and shades which I layer over each other. I still have cheapies from Primark that I bought in London about a thousand years ago. They don’t have to be fancy or overly thick. I took five (1 black, 2 grey, 2 white) and layered myself until I resembled the Michelin Man.
One nice sweater
There will be nights out, dates with super hot Danish tour guides or dinners where you don’t want to look quite as casual as every other day. I have a grey sweater (again from Primark) that does the job nicely.
Like with thick socks, these are an absolute must. Everybody has different preferences re mittens or gloves, and neither is better than the other. As long as you choose something warm and woolly, your fingers will not be subject to frostbite.
General rule of thumb – pack at least two weeks worth of coverings for your nether regions as you may not have access to washing facilities all that often. If you are getting down to your last few pairs without a washing machine on the horizon, do the old hostel style sink hand washing to get by.
As long as its thick, any beanie will do! We lose a lot of heat from our heads – so this one is pretty essential to keep warm. Just beware of locals who may want to take your beanie for their own – more specifically – watch out for this cheeky devil!
Optional: Cuter Boots
If you have the room and luggage allowance to spare and think you might be going on a few nights out or to a few nicer restaurants – it doesn’t hurt to have a pair of less rugged looking boots in your arsenal.
You 11/10 need bathers! Thermal springs, spa baths, public pools or just being silly/brave/amazing enough to do a polar plunge all call for swimwear! I only packed the one pair for my trip and I used them way more than I expected to. I am head over heels in love with all swimwear by Aussie label Tigerlily.
You can get cheap microfibre towels on eBay for less than $10. They dry quickly and are super lightweight, however they will not dry you off as effectively as a regular towel.
Make sure you have a smaller backpack for day to day use. When the sky opens up you will want somewhere safe to stash all your electronics and foodstuffs. Most hiking/adventure stores will stock day packs that are waterproof.
Any and all electronics
Phones, chargers, headphones, cameras, lenses, batteries, filters, cables, tripods, electrical adapters etc. The list goes on. Do not count on being able to replace or purchase any equipment in the Arctic, so make sure you have absolutely everything you need. This is one area where you shouldn’t be as worried about over packing.
I took my iPhone 6 and its Lifeproof case, headphones, chargers, my gorgeous Olympus OM-D E-M1 and M.Zuiko 12-40mm Pro lens, HOYA polarising filter, Kenko neutral density filter, GoPro Hero and Nikon Coolpix waterproof camera.
I made sure to write an entry at least every two days. Those journals and this blog will be a wonderful way to relive all my amazing adventures when I am old and grey. Plus, it’s amazing how quickly you can forget small details – keeping a journal stops memories from being fleeting.
Bring whatever you need to bathe, shave and make yourself look half presentable (thank you mascara). Make sure to bring lip balm – the Arctic winds will chap your lips. Leave behind fancy perfumes, eyeshadow palettes and bright lipsticks – you won’t need them.
I brought BB cream, bronzer, mascara, lip balm, shampoo, conditioner, disposable razors, shower soap, deodorant, hair ties, toothbrush, toothpaste and make-up wipes.
It is also prudent to bring contraception, feminine hygiene products and any medications you need. I also like to bring medications such as anti motion sickness tablets, broad spectrum oral antibiotics and basic analgesia like paracetamol.
It goes without saying that you should have your passport, another form of identification, credit/debit cards – Visa and Mastercard are most commonly accepted, foreign currency and a back up plan for accessing money if your cards were to fail.
Make sure you take out travel insurance with unlimited medical cover and contact your bank to advise them that you will be travelling and where you will be travelling to – otherwise they may freeze/cancel your cards.
So what can you leave at home?
Those travel belt things to keep your valuables under your clothes. Nobody in the Arctic is going to pickpocket you – keeping your stuff in your backpack is fine.
Fancy jewellery, make-up, clothes or shoes. The Arctic is one of Earths greatest wildernesses’, the weather will wreak havoc on all your fancy gear, not to mention how ridiculous you will look to the locals.
Any tools for hair styling. The Arctic is windy as can be – any hair styling is going to get completely ruined within seconds of walking out the door. Leave them at home and save yourself the hassle!
Any other tips?
Packing light for a cold climate is hard but important. It isn’t hard to find yourself semi stranded in Greenland and being able to walk numerous hilly kilometres from place to place is necessary. If you have 20kg on your back such a task will prove so much more difficult and laborious.
The proverb “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” should be your motto for dressing in the Arctic. Be prepared to completely outfit repeat. Wearing the same jacket and pants each day but with a different top is pretty standard. Choose items that go with absolutely everything else. If something doesn’t match your other clothes – leave it at home. That super hot leather shift dress (or anything along this line) is just gonna take up space and go completely ignored.
Finally, make sure you pack with excitement! If you are headed to the Arctic then you are about to visit one of the most beautiful places on Earth and my favorite ever travel destination.