How to Safely Travel to the Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle draws many tourists every year eager to take in the unique sights of one of the world’s most isolated and remote regions. From glaciers to polar bears, sweeping mountains to whale watching, auroras and ice sculptures, the Arctic has something to offer for everyone. However, given its harsh terrain and climate, going into the Arctic unprepared can lead to an unpleasant experience, injury or illness, or in the worst cases, death.
Traveling to the Arctic is much easier and safer than it used to be, but you still need to make some basic preparations in order to stay safe. Here’s a basic guide on how to travel to the Arctic Circle safely and securely.
How to Safely Travel to the Arctic Circle
Before you leave for the Arctic, you should make sure you bring the gear you need, specifically clothes. The Arctic is known for extremely cold temperatures and snow, but even if you’re visiting in the summer, you must know that Arctic weather can often change on a dime. Even if you’re traveling in July and the weather reports suggest clear, warm weather, you need to bring clothes that will allow you to stay warm and dry in the event of a cold snap.
A common way to dress in the Arctic is multi-layered clothing, providing multiple barriers to heat loss and also allowing you to shed some items of clothing if the weather turns out to be better than you expected. The base layer consists of long underwear, which will protect your skin against moisture, a common cause of hypothermia. You should avoid wearing cotton underwear because cotton actually absorbs warmth from the body, making you colder.
The second layer is an insulating mid-layer, consisting of shirts, pants, and a light jacket, preferably made out of synthetic materials, which dry quickly. Depending on conditions, you may want to wear multiple mid-layers. The third and outer layer is a parka and pants designed to protect you from the elements themselves and allow air to breathe. Avoid wearing ski jackets and other clothing designed for athletic use unless you are planning to take part in strenuous physical activity.
Finally, you’ll also want to purchase appropriate footwear. Insulated snow boots are a good choice and should be paired with disposable heating packets to keep your feet warm. Another good item to bring are removable liners, which provide additional insulation and dry quickly. When you’re not out adventuring, keep a pair of more comfortable shoes so you don’t have to tromp around your camp in heavy boots.
When selecting clothing for your Arctic adventure, it’s more important to stay dry than it is to perfectly protect against wind and cold. Exposure to moisture in the Arctic environment can rapidly cause hypothermia and permanent damage to your skin or body parts. You should also avoid overdressing, as wearing too much clothes will cause you to sweat, making you wet and lowering your body temperature.
You also need to factor in sun protection in the Arctic. Even in cold climates, it’s still possible to get sunburns and sun damage, and the sun also reflects off of snow and ice, making it difficult to see at points during the day. Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip protection rated at SPF 30 to keep yourself healthy. If you’re planning to visit the Arctic during the summer, you may want to bring a sleep mask due to continuous 24-hour sunlight and short nights.
If you’re planning to take pictures of your Arctic adventure, don’t forget to bring a camera. Your smartphone won’t cut it in the harsh environment of the far north, so it’s recommended to bring a telephoto lens with a minimum of 300mm, a wide-angle lens of 24mm or less, a mid-range zoom of 70-200mm, and a 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter. Also bring extra chargers, batteries, and SD cards so that you don’t run out of storage space or power.
If you’re flying or taking a cruise to the Arctic, your tour guides will often handle many of the finer details for you. Always listen to your tour guides, follow their safety instructions, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re planning to drive to Alaska or other parts of the Arctic, keep in mind that many roads leading to the region, such as the Alaska Highway, are often difficult to cross due to primitive road conditions and inclement weather.
When driving in the Arctic, pack survival gear, since you will often go long stretches between towns and rest stops. Obey the speed limit and other road restrictions that are applicable; for example, motorists on the Dalton Highway are required to keep their headlights on at all times, even during daylight hours. Don’t take unnecessary risks and be prepared for delays in the event of inclement weather, polar bear sightings, and other dangers that can pop up.
Visiting the Arctic can be a stressful and risky experience for the unprepared. As one of the last frontiers on Earth, you’ll need to be resourceful, pack appropriately, and protect yourself against icy weather, rough terrain, wildlife, and other hazards. However, visiting the Arctic has never been easier, so don’t let these concerns stop you. If you prepare appropriately, bring what you need, and keep your wits about you, your visit to the Arctic will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.