What to Wear in Svalbard – An Illustrated Guide
Heading to the far Arctic North and wondering how many layers of clothes you’ll have to take with you? Or what the weather will be like? I mean, there’s sure to be snow… right?
I can’t help but think I’m cursed sometimes, because wherever I go, I stop the snow.
I lived in England for over two years, I’ve travelled extensively in Europe in the winter, including visiting Iceland and Norway in the colder months. Tokyo was where I saw the New Year in in 2012 and I’ve bloody well been to the Arctic Circle and I still haven’t seen snow. Proper snow, like in the movies, where you can build snowmen (snowpeople?) and make snow angels and have snow ball fights and I’ve been denied this for the entirety of my life and it makes me sad.
People will say: “How can you have never seen proper snow?” I reply: “Well, my home country is 70% desert to start off with, follow that up with the fact that a trip to the snowfields can be more expensive than a trip abroad and then sprinkle a little bit of bad luck on top and you’ll have your answer.”
Anyway. Snow, or no snow, it’s cold in Svalbard. I ended up borrowing a lot of clothes to see me through my few days there. As I was about to move back to Australia, I didn’t see the point in investing in a proper winter coat, particularly not when a friend was happy and willing to lend one to me.
Here’s what I recommend packing clothing-wise for a trip to Svalbard. If you don’t have these items in your wardrobe, I thoroughly recommend borrowing what you can and purchasing only what you think you’ll end up using multiple times over.
And if you’re wondering what you can get up to during your time in the Arctic North, here are some of the best things to do in Svalbard.
You’re standing in your undies/pants, trying to figure out what the hell you’ll need to put on to stay dry and cool.
Well, first things first – you’ve got to get yourself a suitable base layer.
I love thermal underwear. I wear it in winter destinations obviously, for pjs in the wintertime at home and around the house as oh so fashionable “loungewear”. My go to fabric is merino wool. It’s quick-dry and extremely warm, plus it doesn’t retain body odour. This means you can wear a pair for a couple of days in a row, without offending people with your rank stench.
Polyester is said to be a good fabric for similar reasons, on the cheaper end of the scale (avoid cotton – it doesn’t dry quickly). As I fancy myself to be a green traveller, I avoid buying polyester clothes these days. Merino wool all the way, baby.
I then ignored my own advice about quick-dry fabrics and threw a t-shirt and velvet leggings over my thermals each day. Remember the days of the “emo”, when long shirts under tees were a fashion statement? Sometimes I really miss 2003. I wasn’t an emo – I swear.
A jumper or light jacket
Thermals probably won’t be enough, so the next step is a nice fleece jacket and perhaps trousers. You’re going to be a bit of an “insert-animal-of-choice-here in sheep’s clothing” – but those animals do tend to thrive in the most harrowing conditions, so they must be on to something!
Once again, polyester can be used in lieu of fleece. I usually retch when looking at fleece jackets in shop, but you’ll find a fashionable one if you look hard enough.
Fleece tracksuit pants or leggings wouldn’t go astray either – but I wore two pairs of thermals instead.
Related: Where to Stay in Longyearbyen
Waterproof ski trousers
Perhaps the one regret of my trip was not bringing along a pair of waterproof trousers – mainly because it rained in Svalbard, which is an arctic desert, although let’s not get into all of that right now (*cough* climate change *cough*).
I managed to get through my trip with just thermals and leggings, although if I had my time again, I’d probably bring along the waterproof trousers. No harm in being prepared.
Please note – if you do end up doing any tours in Longyearbyen (dog sledding, ATV adventures, etc), the companies will supply you with protective gear. So, you don’t need to worry too much about how your clothing will fare against the elements in extreme settings. This is more about getting from point A to B without losing your fingers, nose or toes.
When I’m feeling even the slightest bit cold, all I need to do is slip on a pair of socks and I’m ready to rumble.
Once again, I’m going to nominate merino wool socks as being the best for the job. Although, I used a pair of bed socks that I think I bought from Target of all places eons ago and they were fine. Depends on the weather and the quality of your shoes too.
Related: 14 Facts About Longyearbyen
My leather gloves weren’t going to hack it in the Arctic Circle. So, I borrowed a friend’s ski gloves, which are warm, but cumbersome to use. I was forever having to take them off to use my camera (don’t judge – Svalbard is extremely photogenic).
Arctic mittens would be a good bet, worn over thin fleece gloves that don’t restrict your movement.
Reusable hand warmers
I am going to have to report back on the best hard warmers when I’m next in a winter destination, but one of my best friends (who lives in Switzerland and therefore knows her stuff) swears by them.
I’ll be investigating this further the next time I’m in Europe, so the jury’s still out on which product will serve best. Just something worth considering.
I travel the world with a thick woollen scarf that my Aunty knitted for me years ago and it does a pretty darn good job of keeping me warm. It’s long enough so that I can wrap it around my chin and nose if need be.
I love scarves – they’re practical and they look good too.
However, wind can get everywhere, sometimes in the nooks and crannies that a scarf may not accurately cover. In this instance, I’d recommend a balaclava. Get one with a hole for your face. You can pull it over your nose, or down past your chin. You also won’t look so much like a bank robber, which is a good thing.
Gotta keep that noggin’ warm. I have two woollen beanies and a head warmer, which I rotate. I particularly like the head-warmer, mostly because I bought it in Iceland and it’s pretty.
Don’t worry too much about your headwear being waterproof – get a coat with a hood and you’ll be right.
Faux fur-lined boots with good grip
As far as shoes go, I made do with my insulated Timberlands, which have seen me through several winters. Paired with thick socks, they did the job.
If I were to spend more time in Arctic conditions, I’d probably get a pair of moon boots with a thick sole – I like the way they look! If I were to be a far more sensible person, proper arctic boots would be in order.
For a short trip, I don’t see an issue with a solid pair of waterproof boots. Unless it’s the dead of winter, of course.
An excellent winter coat
Here’s an investment I’m yet to make. I got through two decidedly mild English winters with a pretty basic coat, which I knew wouldn’t be able to stand the Arctic temperatures. I borrowed a coat off my friend and it did the job.
One day I will buy a proper, quilted winter coat, with a hood lined with faux-fur (simply because it looks pretty), which is big enough to contain my layers. Bonus points if it’s bright red.
Optional – slippers!
There’s a saying in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s capital, which goes “Leave your boots and gun at the door.” Not to be taken literally per sae, but it is considered good mannered at many establishments, to remove your boots before entering. Some places – such as local hotels – will provide you with slippers, that you can pop on your feet. Others don’t, so you’ll be plodding around in your socks. You could bring some thin slippers to pop into your bag and whack them on your feet, to save your socks from getting too grubby.
So, that’s it! Please keep in mind, that this list is intended for those travelling to the region for a short period of time. If I were going to Svalbard or anywhere like it for a good stretch, I’d consider investing in good quality items, to keep me warm. As it were, I managed to borrow much of what I needed from friends. Saved me bucketloads of cash, which was nice. Hooray!
Have you been to Svalbard, or anywhere else like it? What would you recommend adding to this list?
Planning a trip up north? Please pin this post for future reference!