How to Prepare for Backpacking in the Arctic
The Arctic isn’t the first place many would think of to go on a backpacking trip, but with its unique treeless landscape and eternal days it’s a one of a kind experience for any backpacking aficionado.
Though being in the arctic doesn’t always mean snow everywhere all the time, the constant sunlight of an arctic winter will not be kind to your skin, or your eyes. It’s essential that you apply sunscreen regularly, and that you wear sunglasses. If you lose or break your sunglasses you can reduce some of the glare by smearing something dark (like mud) under your eyes.
As you should be expecting, the arctic is going to be cold, and because of that you’ll need to make sure that you’re not sweating. Sweating underneath your layers will accumulate moisture, but your big coat will prevent it from evaporating, which means you’re wasting your water, and you’re committing yourself to that much evaporation worth of cooling at a later time (when you stop), which can mean hypothermia or frost bite. Dress in lots of thin layers and add or remove them to remain comfortably cool while you’re moving.
An additional “trick” is to bring wool clothing. Wool is a superior cold weather material because it will retain heat reasonably well even when wet, which cotton absolutely won’t do. I always bring a wool sweater, long underwear, a pair of thick socks, and a pair of knitted gloves just in case circumstances beyond my control leave me in a wet situation. That being said, still do everything you can to avoid getting wet at all costs.
Hiking in the Arctic is not like hiking anywhere else in the world, except maybe at very high elevations, because you’ll very quickly find that you’re hungry all the time. The cold weather will have you burning significantly more calories than you ordinarily would, and to compensate you should bring about twice as much food as you would on an ordinary trek. Besides the fact that you’ll be hungry enough to eat it, you’ll have enough to ration out for yourself if you get stuck in an emergency situation.
Another important aspect of food is to remember that if you’re in Canada the arctic food chain is topped by bears, and we are food. If you’re traveling in the high arctic you’ll be required to carry a gun for self-defense, and it’s generally smart to keep your food in bear-proof containers well away from your sleeping area.
The arctic is one of those remote places where you’ll want to bring a satellite emergency beacon, because if you break an ankle and can’t keep moving you’ll be in a world of hurt in no time. Think through possible scenarios and be prepared to deal with trouble. If you find yourself stuck in a tent during a snow storm for a few days on end you’ll need to keep yourself warm and watered. It’s more important to remain hydrated than it is to bring extra food because you need it to keep your blood flowing properly and the strain on your heart low. To that end you’ll want to bring fuel and a small gas-cooker to help you melt snow or ice.
Meghan Pierce has soft spot for Thai food and an insatiable appetite for travel. She currently freelances for the Arctic Travel specialist, G Adventures while dreaming about her own next adventure.