If you’re planning a trip to the Arctic Circle in wintertime, knowing what to pack can make the difference between having a great experience or a miserable time freezing in the snow while having your camera repeatedly die on you. To get the best Arctic gear, clothing, and accessories for photographers and the outdoorsy among you, read this ultimate Arctic Packing List.
When I was preparing for my trip to Tromsø, Norway and then Svalbard, I realized what I had in my LA closet just wouldn’t cut it (for obvious reasons). When I got to Norway, I also realized that I had made some mistakes with my personal Arctic packing list, so I had to do last minute (expensive) shopping in Norway – and no one should ever have to pay Norwegian prices unnecessarily without getting Norwegian incomes. So learn from my mistakes and make sure you’re prepared BEFORE your arrival.
In addition to the basic winter clothing you would pack anyway, the packing list below should help you stay warm, comfortable, and most of all, ready to explore the Arctic Circle! I have included suggestions for the best products to buy, as well as general guidelines in what you should be looking for if you choose to go out and buy cold weather gear on your own.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for which, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. However, all opinions and recommendations are my own.
Arctic Packing – Layers, Layers, Layers
I don’t think I once went out in Norway in under four layers on top, and two on the bottom. Let’s start with the basics for our packing list.
You’re going to want thermal layers underneath at all times in the Arctic. I love the UNIQLO Heattech collection for thermal tights and shirts – it uses special technology that keeps you extra warm. If you want to order thermal layers online, you can order the Duofold thermal shirt and Duofold thermal leggings.
Tip: Pack at least two thermal shirts and two thermal leggings because those things will get gross and sweaty pretty fast. You will need to wash and alternate.
This is probably going to be the most expensive item you invest in, but parkas are pretty durable and furthermore, necessary. Opt for a waterproof, long optioned, with a lined hood if possible; you’ll be glad for that extra warmth on your upper legs and head.
Options for women:
Options for men:
In terms of cold weather gear, a solid WATERPROOF pair of boots with good traction to prevent slipping and sliding on the ice is indispensable on your Arctic trip. The Columbia snow boot is great for women, while the Kamik Nationplus boot is a good option for men.
Though you will probably want to find the thickest gloves available, if you’re going to be doing things that require a lot of dexterity (AKA taking photographs), bulky gloves will be a problem, and you’re probably going to end up having to take them off a lot. If you don’t need your hands to be too flexible, the Carhartt Insulated Gloves work well. If you need more dexterity, try the Tomily Touch Screen Gloves.
Tip: If you do opt for the more flexible and lightweight gloves, get some Yaktrax Hand Warmers you can slip in to keep your hands warm.
Check out the North Face Denali Thermal Scarf, which will really trap the heat in – it’s one piece of cold weather gear for which you’ll really be thankful.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of outdoor activities, like skiing, snowmobiling, or dog sledding, snow pants are a good idea to pack as well. The Arctix Insulated Snow Pant is a good affordable option.
I put this under the “optional” list, but I still HIGHLY recommend a neck warmer/face mask. If you want to get this instead of a scarf, that’s perfectly fine. Try the Thermal Insulated Neck Warmer.
Arctic Gear and Cameras
Waterproof, Sturdy Backpack
I kept my cameras in a backpack that I ended up having to place in snow banks quite often so I could set up tripods, etc. So top priority on my Arctic packing list was to have a pretty weather-resistant, waterproof backpack. Even if you’re not a photographer, you can use it to keep extra layers or anything else you may need. The Swiss Ruigor Water Resistant Backpack is one of several great options; pick something that fits your laptop and anything else you may need.
Great DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
A point and shoot camera isn’t going to do much in the low light (or no light) conditions of the Arctic Circle in winter. If you want to capture the Northern Lights and your snow-covered surroundings, you need cameras which you can set to take long exposure shots, and cameras where you can bump up the ISO without getting too much noise. Below are the cameras I use:
DSLR – Canon 5D Mark III: There is no equivalent to the quality of a DSLR; however, it is more expensive and heavier than most cameras. Also, if you are a novice photographer and aren’t comfortable shooting well in AV or Manual mode, this camera may be challenging.
Mirrorless – Sony α5000: I love how light and easy to use this Sony mirrorless camera is. I don’t know if I could have captured the Northern Lights shots I got with the DSLR on this, but it did well for most of the other shots I had to take.
Sturdy, Weather-Resistant Tripod
Of all the cold weather gear you need for your camera, a solid tripod is absolutely critical to getting great shots on an Arctic Circle trip. You will need to take many long exposure shots, and the near-constant wind will interfere with your shots if you use a less-than-sturdy tripod. However, there are plenty of tripods that are sturdy yet lightweight and don’t take up too much space. I use the Benro Aluminum Tripod, and I’m very happy with it.
Wide Angle Lens
In addition to your standard kit lens, a wide angle lens will allow you to take some truly great photos of the epic Arctic Circle landscapes. Plus, a wide angle lens with a low F-stop is highly recommended for Northern Lights shows. I use the Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8 wide angle lens.
Extra Camera Batteries
I recommend packing at least two extra camera batteries with you. Battery life is reduced almost 50% in below freezing weather, and I found my batteries were running out of juice constantly. Get a couple of Canon batteries or batteries for your camera brand of choice, and be sure to keep them as close to your body as possible (for example: an inside pocket), so the cold doesn’t affect them as much when they’re not in your camera.
Cleaning Cloths for Your Lens
I can’t tell you the amount of photos that I discovered (too late) had drops of precipitation obscuring some stunning Arctic vistas. It snows A LOT. You will regularly be taking photos while flurries fall all around you. Stock up on MagicFiber cleaning cloths for your camera lens to make sure this doesn’t affect your photography.
What NOT To Pack for the Arctic Circle
The fact is, any complete Arctic packing list is, no matter how well thought out, is going to result in a bulkier suitcase than you’re used to carrying. Winter clothing and cold weather gear takes up a lot more space than packing for a tropical getaway, unfortunately. To keep your suitcase to a manageable weight, here are some things you definitely do NOT need to pack.
Any Shoes Beyond 2 Pairs of Boots
I seriously doubt there is any occasion for which you will need heels, fashionable flats, or anything of that kind. Though boots are essential Arctic gear you need on your adventure, pack just one pair of boots and wear another pair on the flight to save on space – you don’t need anything beyond these two pairs of shoes. I recommend two pairs JUST IN CASE something happens to one pair.
More Jewelry and Accessories Than What You Wear on the Flight
98% of your skin will be covered up at all times. Necklaces and bracelets won’t be visible for the most part. Wear whatever you like on the flight and stick with it – no need to add more weight to your bag for accessories people can’t see.
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Have you been to the Arctic Circle in winter? What do you recommend packing? Comment below!