Packing List: Winter In The Arctic


I have travelled in cold climates before. Winter in Europe – no problem. Autumn in the Arctic – not an issue. Until my most recent trip to Greenland, I had never once really needed my thermals. In Kangerlussuaq, the mercury plunged down to unbelievably cold temperatures (-41 centigrade on the coldest day) and I was in desperate need of the warmest clothing I could find. I purchased some thermals (long underwear) made of merino wool, and it was a bloody good investment. My thermals didn’t keep me ‘warm’ exactly, but they kept me comfortable enough to spend several hours outside in such bitterly cold weather, and honestly, I think that’s the best I could’ve asked for.

I bought my thermals from Australian store Kathmandu – but you should be able to find good long johns in any decent adventure store.


I must admit, this was an item I did not personally pack. I splurged on a good quality jacket and some amazing winter boots, which left my budget for Arctic-appropriate gear looking rather skint. I ended up wearing thermals and jeans most days, and adding extra layers with fleece lined stockings on the extra cold days. However, there were times when my legs were seriously uncomfortably cold.

When the winds pick up, that icy cold cuts through jeans and thermals very easily. I am certain that having a pair of windproof pants would have made a massive difference to my overall comfort while travelling through Greenland and Sweden, and as such, I would recommend that anyone travelling in these regions should most definitely equip themselves with at least one pair.


These don’t need to be anything expensive or fancy. I still have a bunch of el cheapo Primark tops that I bought on my first ever overseas trip – and they continue to serve me well. On the seriously cold days I layered my upper body with merino wool thermals, one thin long sleeve top, a jumper and my coat – and this kept me seriously toasty without having to wear a truly ridiculous number of layers.


Cold feet make me a total grump, so this was one purchase I did not make without doing a helluva lot of research first. I eventually decided on a pair of Sorel boots in the style ‘Caribou’. Rated to -35 degrees Celsius, these babies kept my feet toasty warm almost every day! I should note though, that my feet still got cold once the mercury hit around -33, but they were never so cold that I was in pain, or that I was fearful of frostbite! So in the end, these boots were a seriously great purchase.

You can get them from the Sorel online store.



Your winter coat is another purchase that you don’t want to skimp on. Being an Aussie based in a remote part of the country, my attempts to purchase a Canada Goose jacket were thwarted by shops and companies who refused to ship internationally. After working out that this was not a purchase I was going to be able to successfully make, I spent my hard-earned moolah on a Kathmandu jacket. Kathmandu is Australia’s version of the North Face, and despite some of their stuff being overpriced, what they do make is of quite a high quality. The jacket I took with me kept my upper body unbelievably warm, and overall, I was damn impressed with how much it could withstand.

However, I borrowed some Canada Goose gear a few times, and if you have access to those jackets, buy one. I doubt there is anything on the market that would keep a person warmer.



Okay, so while windproof pants may be your best bet during an Arctic winter, there is always weather fluctuation, and chances are that you will encounter a few warmer days here and there. For those days (or for nights out with hot Danish tour guides) a pair of jeans is well worth having in your backpack.


If thermals and pants/jeans just isn’t enough, try layering some fleece lined stockings as a middle layer – they work a treat.


Anything made of merino wool is going to be warm, and socks are no exception. Even if you splurge on the best quality winter boots you can find, unless you have the right socks, they aren’t going to perform at their very best. These socks may not be cheap, but they are an investment which you will be seriously happy you made.


If you want to buy the absolute best and warmest gloves or mittens possible, look for a design that has a solid leather outer layer to protect you from the wind, and a fleece lined inner layer to provide you with maximum warmth.


We lose a tonne of body heat from our heads, so travelling with a good quality beanie is an absolute must.



I travelled with a thick scarf, however if I were to travel back to the Arctic again (and lets be honest, I will) I would make sure to also pack a snood. If you aren’t familiar with what a snood is – it is like a circular scarf that doesn’t have any ends.

When I wanted to cover up my face from the cold winds, securely tucking my scarf into place around my face was a rather tricky task! Having a snood would have made that much simpler.



Only pack these if you are prone to getting cold ears and/or ear infections, otherwise, you can probably afford to leave these babies in your closet.


Hot tip: water based moisturisers and skin products do not cope well in the cold. They can actually freeze in your skin – making any fine lines and wrinkles appear x10 times worse and can even be rather uncomfortable.


If you think you’ll need one or two lip balms, you’d be better off packing at least 5. Cold climates can be incredibly drying and harsh on the skin – especially when that skin is on your lips. Keep them protected to prevent unwanted chapping, chafing and fever blisters.


Any and all electronic devices will have to work a lot harder than normal when in extremely cold climates. Pack extra camera batteries, as they will drain so much faster than you are used to.

It also pays to be prepared that not all camera equipment is created equal – and not all lenses and cameras are designed to withstand Arctic temperatures. I personally swear by my Olympus OM-D E-M1 – which has to be one of the most weatherproof mirrorless 4/3rds cameras on the market.


If after all this you are still worried that you will turn into an icicle, pack some portable hand warmers – they may be small, but they can make an enormous difference to your overall comfort.

Now go forth and conquer the amazing Arctic!


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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

38 thoughts on “Packing List: Winter In The Arctic

    1. Reasonably so, but this doesn’t change too much all year round to be quite honest! They are always pricey, but they are well worth the money.

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  2. I want the puppies. Forget all of the other stuff, I’ll just take the puppies and go 🙂 hahaha! Great advice, as I am definitely the worst packer in the world when it comes to going on trips. Great to get advice from someone who knows what’s going on!

  3. Great information to share, I must say you were quite brave to just go out in jeans in that weather. Once wet they will freeze. Go get a good pair of waterproof/windproof pants for your next visit as you stated. You will be much warmer. Cannot wait to hear of the rest of this trip. Hope the leg is doing better.

    1. Yes it definitely wasn’t the smartest of outfit choices – I will definitely be investing in a pair of windproof pants next time!

  4. This sounds like my check list just travelling to Asia (from Australia) during winter! I grew up in a tropical climate, so don’t handle cold very well haha

      1. Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Japan. We were in Hokkaido, the coldest region in Japan, during late January and early February for some snow and ice festivals. But I actually think the small town called Pingyao in China was the coldest place we visited!

  5. This is such a good, comprehensive list! When I went to the arctic circle in Finland a few years ago I found myself seriously under packed. As Scots we assumed layers would suffice – thank god for snowsuit hire!

      1. It was cool (literally). I went as part of a tour and only for a few days with family but it was a fun experience (though I wouldn’t say I got to see much of the country)

  6. Omg there is no way I would have survived that! Winter where I’m from is an average of 21 degrees celcius (above 0) and to me that’s cold hahaha you are brave 😀

    1. Where are you from? My background is rather similar – I am based in Darwin, Australia, so winter is like 25 degrees haha

  7. I might have missed it somewhere but when did you go to Greenland and how?
    I am planning a week ling trip in December (most likely to Kangerlussuaque or Illulissat) but they experience the polar night and I am not sure if it is still worth going there with a minimal day light. Where you there in that period of time?

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