My biggest fear with my expedition was getting the Arctic expedition clothing and gear list right. Trying to get my head around what to wear in the Arctic circle baffled me. I wanted to make sure I got it right to give me the best chance of staying warm. But I couldn’t filter through all the technical gear, what was necessary and what wasn’t.

It’s worth getting your head around gear early on so you have plenty of time to get yourself organised…

Arctic expedition kit list and clothing

This guide is designed to help anyone who is planning an Arcitc expedition, extreme weather camping trip or even a Polar exepdition.

You might also be interested in reading my other Arctic circle guides:

Arctic expedition packing list

Like with all expeditions, the less gear you take, the more comfortable your journey will be.

On our Arctic Circle expedition (pulk pulling, cross-country skiing crossing of the Finnmark Plateua in Norway) , we experienced temperatures as low as -32 and 40mph winds so our kit was really put through its paces.

Technical gear

Some of the personal technical gear I hired directly from the expedition company I was using to help guide and lead this expedition, Turgleder. That included:

  • Pulk
  • Skis
  • boots
  • Ski poles
  • Ski goggles

They also provided some of the sleeping gear:

  • Expedition 3 man tents (we slept 2 to a tent)
  • Inflatable Mountain Equipment 4 season roll mat in addition to a foam roll mat
  • 5 season Marmut sleeping bag

As well as all the group kit we would need such as ice drills, shovels, Thermos and Primus cooking stoves. This gear was split between our team of 5 to even out the weight we were pulling.

Arctic circle clothing

Necessary accessories & a few luxuries to take to the Arcitc

I took:

  • Sleeping bag silk liner
  • Dry bags; Exped Dry Bags
  • Head torch: Petzl Tikka & spare batteries
  • Cup and spork
  • Nalgene 1 Litre (acted as a hot water bottle at night and a drinking bottle in the day)
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Baby wipes (split into batches of 10 in sandwich bags so they can be easily defrosted)
  • Snacks (take lots of snacks. While you’ll want to think about energy, also have in the back of your head that food is a big morale boost. Take things you find yummy and a treat like chocolate and sweets. I split my snacks into individual packs for each day on the expedition and would look forward to tucking into them as I waited for dinner)
  • Book
  • Olympus Tough Camera & spare batteries
  • iPod shuffle
  • Battery pack

Top tip: Note for the ladies: I took a Shewee but never used it. While some people in the team used pee bottles for the night, my preference was to just go outside. I didn’t trust myself to not miss!

Top tip: Electrical items work but the batteries go quickly so anything you take you will want to keep close to your body heat. Put them in inside pockets during the day and in your sleeping bag at night.

Arctic expedition food ideas

Top tip: Going for a wee in the night takes a lot of effort. As soon as you feel the urge though go straight away. Not only will it distrupt your sleep but holding in a wee can keep you cold. As soon as you get to camp start re-hydrating after your day of exercise. I’d try to drink a good 1.5L of water before dinner – this is the best time to get hydrated. That way I wouldn’t need to drink again after eating. I’d do one more big wee before going to bed (an hour after eating) then that’d usually see me through for most of the night.

Arctic expedition clothing guide – what to wear in the Arctic circle?

There’s a lot of Arctic circle clothing options and brands to get your head around. It can be hard to know how much to spend. Obviously if you are doing a Polar expedition you will want to go top end with all your gear. Less so for adventures that are not so extreme.

From my experience, it’s a waste of money to spend lots on fleeces. The technical difference and function between a cheap fleece and an expensive fleece is very little.

Top tip:  Don’t feel like you have to buy the gear new. I was able to get a lot lent to me just from asking around – some members of our team just emailed adventurers through their websites who’d done Arctic expeditions previously. It was amazing how many were happy to lend their gear as it was just sat being unused in a cupboard. And there are also lots of hire companies avaiable. Or use Facebook and eBay to find stuff second hand.

I learnt quickly that having lots of layers doesn’t automatically make you warm. It’s more to do with clever layering systems and ensuring you have air in your layering system so it has the space to work efficiently. And other little tips like – replacing clothes if they get wet from your sweat and drying your sweaty socks against your shoulder (put them against your skin) in the evenings.

Here’s what a good layering system might look like.

Arctic circle clothing guide for cold weather & polar expeditions

Let’s start with base layers and underwear.

For the base layers (top and bottom) you want 2 sets. One for the day when you are skiing – these are your work base layers. Then one for the evening when you get to camp – these are your resting base layers that you sleep in. To make it easy to find my sleeping clothes when I got to camp I’d leave them pushed down the bottom of my sleeping bag before putting it into the stuff sack.

I used Armadillo Clothing Merino wool for my base layers and they were comfortable and very warm. I’ve used them on many adventures since and they have lasted me really well. I didn’t bother with a bra but the others in the team brought sports bra (1 for the entire trip).

Top tip: If you use the code LHW20 you can get 20% off any Armadillo order!

Base layer:

Top tip: I felt the liner hat made a noticable difference tempreture wise. I also found the liner gloves especially practical for when we had really extreme winds and tempretures. It meant I could take off my thicker gloves to do small tasks (like doing up a zip or putting in a tent pole) without exposing my skin and risking getting frostbite.

Top tip: I opted for mens thermal boxers instead of women’s underwear as they are bigger and covered my hip area for additional insulation – women lose more heat in this area)

Polar & arctic circle expedition clothing

Mid-layer:

For the Arctic expedition clothing mid layers I took:

Top tip: In terms of socks, I’d wear a thin sock against my feet. I then put a plastic bag around them before pulling on my thick winter socks. This would stop the sweat seeping into my thicker sock which would be hard to dry. As soon as I got in my tent I would replace my socks for a ‘bed’ winter socks which I’d sleep in. I’d put the liner sock against my shoulder (against your skin) and the sweat would be dry within half an hour.

Top tip: put the clothes you are going to change into in the morning in the bottom of your sleeping bag over night. Not only will this make them easy to find in the morning but will also mean they are warm! Just make sure they are fully dry before putting them there.

Outer layer:

For Arctic expedition clothing outer gear, I used a hire company called UK Expedition Kit Hire. It didn’t make sense to buy the gear as it’s so specialist. I ordered the gear which arrived about 10 days before I flew (enough time to swap anything that didn’t fit). You keep the box and at the end of the expedition just send it back.

The gear that they provided was good but it’s worth noting that I found the company and staff here very unhelpful (not least because I got dumped with a bill for a repair that wasn’t my fault!). From them I hired:

  • Salopettes (make sure you get a pair with a bum flap to make going to the toilet so much easier! One of our team didn’t have bum flats and every time she needed a wee she had to delayer on top and pull the straps down then re-dress after. Not practical!)
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Down trousers (which I didn’t use once!)
  • Expedition gloves
  • Wooly hat with ear flaps

What to wear in the Arctic and how to wear it…

On a 2 week expedition, I took just 2 sets of underwear and base layers. I changed my underwear after 7 days (halway point)…that was an exciting moment! You are going to get smelly. I took a few eco baby wipes (they’d freeze but you can defrost them against your body heat) to have a wipe down in the evenings. Remember to take your dirty baby wipes away with you.

When I was skiing on the move I would wear my base layers (top and bottom), a fleece jumper, waterproof salopettes and waterproof jacket. My liner gloves under my thick gloves. I’d also have my liner hat on all the time.

I would then regulate my temperature by taking my big thick hat on and off, my buff on and off my face and also by using the chest zip on my jacket – zip up for more warmth or zip down to cool off. I was never cold on the move, even at -30. You might feel cold when you start off in the morning but when you are skiing or hiking your body tempreture will soon rise.

It’s important to not sweat (keep all your zip vents open) as this will make your clothes wet and will make you cold.

Every time we stopped for a break or as soon as we reached camp, I would grab my down jacket and put it on over my waterproof jacket (make sure it is big enough to fit over all your layers for this reason). This was an important thing to do because as soon as you’ve stopped moving your body tempreture will plummet.

In the evenings, once the tent was up, I’d change into my other thermal top and bottom. The waterproof jacket would go away until the next morning. I’d wear the fleece trousers, my fleece top (same one as in the day) and the down gilet for extra warmth when I was resting and preparing dinner in the tent. The salopettes and down jacket would be by the tent door for when I needed to go out for a wee.

If you do go out for the toilet or for a walk make sure you put your salopettes on and do your shoes up properly. Any snow getting in will melt and turn to water which on essential bits of kit could mean the end of your expedition as you have no way of getting them dry again.

Top tip: I really liked having a fleece buff for use at camp and I’d put this over my face at night as my nose was always freezing cold. It’s important you never put your sleeping bag over your face as your breath will make it wet.

What to wear in the arctic circle - Arctic expedition clothing

Top tip: On the first night, I wore all my layers (even my down jacket) to bed. When I stripped off to just my base and fleece layers the following night I was noticeably warmer. If you need the extra warmth at night, wrap your down jacket loosely around you in the sleeping bag…this is especially good for women to do in the hip area where you lose a lot of heat. Another thing you can do is lay your waterproof jacket under your sleeping mat to add an extra layer to stop cold seeping in through the floor.

Getting your kit ready for the Arctic circle

I hope that has helped with understanding gear you’ll need and what to wear in the Arctic circle. I’m happy to answer any questions – just use the comments box below.

If you want to find out more about the Norway Arctic Expedition I did and how it went (it didn’t go to plan!), check out my vlog from the expedition:

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