During your time at UNIS you will most likely spend a lot of time out in the field, both during your courses and in your time off. For any course associated fieldwork UNIS will provide you with the necessary gear to keep you happy and safe out there. However, for any private trips and activities you will have to use your own gear.
Understandably not everybody has access to all the types of equipment needed for the many different activities you can do around the island. Student Equipment organises a weekly lottery to fairly share all the gear amongst students, in order to give everybody the chance to enjoy the outdoors to its fullest potential!
Student equipment is a student run organisation, and we have tons of outdoor gear available for year round outdoor activities, from skiing and ice climbing to camping and hiking. Everything from taking inventory to doing maintenance is done by volunteers and joining the team is a great way to get involved during your time here on Svalbard.
Of course we cannot provide you with everything you might need up here. To get an idea of what you should definitely bring yourself, take a look at this Ultimate Packing List written by a former student.
In the meantime follow @SvalbardStudentEquipment on Instagram to stay updated!
The ultimate packing list
Are you feeling overwhelmed with what to bring (and potentially buy) for studying on Svalbard? Maybe you have never been to a cold climate region – not to mention the Arctic Circle. And then there are all of these YouTube videos of people who travelled here just for a week, and you are wondering: Will this do for me? What about fieldwork? And the dark season? And activities? And…
Hang on, we (finally) got you covered! Here is a few things before we get started. In general, there is the spring semester (January – May/June), the fall semester (August – November/December), and there are summer courses (June – August). So what you really need depends on two things:
- The seasonality of your stay – and the duration
- The activities you like to do in your free time
If you are staying for a whole semester, you might have to think about covering more weather conditions than you do when coming, for e.g. simply one course in August/September. But in general, there are some basics that you should bring (and invest in) no matter at what time of the year and duration you plan to take courses. Let’s start with these.
Items in this section are recommended to bring no matter the season, duration or type of courses/activities you plan to do. And the essential thing you need to know about dressing for cold climates is layering. Let’s look at the three layers: the base layer, the insulted mid-layer and the outer shell layer.
The base layer is the “next to skin” layer. It should keep your skin dry by wicking moisture away from the body. So, this layer should be light, comfy, form, wicking and quick-drying. First things first: Cotton is your enemy. Avoid anything with cotton since it will not keep you warm plus – when wet – will make you super cold. You can go for the two materials, Merino wool or Poly Propylene/Synthetics. Quick pro/con:
- Wool: anti-microbial (less stinky on long hikes, can go longer without washing but just air refreshing), comfy, BUT: more expensive
- Poly Propylene: smells faster, is a bit more breathable than wool, more affordable
àSo yes, especially for Svalbard, it is better to invest in some fewer but good merino wool items here; otherwise, you will end up buying them anyways. If you are looking for brands: Aclima, Devold, Icebreaker, Kari Traa, SuperNatural and Urberg are a few examples– these are the classic ones but also a bit pricier. As long as your items are 80-100% merino wool, the brand really does not matter.
It is also mentioned that you can simply layer multiple wool layers on top of each other to adjust according to activity and weather conditions.
Let’s take a look at the MINIMUM base layer items you should bring:
- 1-2 t-shirts/tops
- 2 long-sleeves
- 2 long johns (long underpants)
- 2-3 pairs of thick woollen socks
- 2-3 pairs of thinner socks (wool or polypropylene)
- Head: Headband or beanie to your liking
- Neck: Buff (way better than scarfs)
- Hands: 1 pair of thinner liners and 1 pair of woollen mittens
The mid-layers main purpose is to trap heat and keep you warm. It is the insulating layer. It is simply a warming barrier between the base and the outer layer. You do not have to go for anything particularly technical or expensive here (save that money for the other two layers). There are different materials and it’s actually good to get a combination of them to layer and adjust for different conditions and activities: Down (synthetic/natural), fleece, flannel, and wool, and these can be jackets, vests, pullovers, etc. So here is some recommendation:
- 1 light down jacket (wool or synthetic), which you can also wear as a normal jacket when it’s not too cold or wet
- 1 fleece jacket/pullover
- 1 thicker woollen pullover (if you already have one – otherwise, bring some money since you might want to buy a good one up here and have a nice souvenir)
- There is really no need for a mid-layer on your legs which would be considered essential. You will be good with your long johns here!
Outer Shell Layer
The outer shell is there to keep you dry and windproof. Although there is not too much of rain in Svalbard, precipitation is increasing, and there is often fog which will get slowly sock your clothes. So you might not have to go heavily waterproof for the sky crashing down on you, but you should have some waterproofness. Windproof is essential up here! There are two main types here for top and bottoms: Softshell and Hardshell.
- Soft-shell: Flexible, allows for all kinds of activities, is more breathable, lighter and easy to pack. Some protection from wind and wetness.
- Hard-shell: More durable and weather withstanding, but also sturdier/less flexible and less breathable.
Common brands are: Arc’teryx, Bergans, Brynje, Fjällräven, Haglöfs, Jack Wolfskin, Klättermusen, Lundhags, Mammut, Patagonia, Peak Performance, Rab, The North Face, Vaude.
- 1 Hardshell jacket
- 1 Softshell jacket
For both jackets: big enough to have your base and mid-layers underneath! So don’t buy the slim fit since you want multiple layers underneath!
- 2 outdoor pants: Okay, this is heavy on your preference. Softshell is nicer for hiking, but hardshell will protect you better from the elements during long fieldwork or winter hikes. Probably the best combo to start with is one pair of softshell and one pair of hardshell pants. If you go for softshell only, get some padded, more sturdy ones that will protect at least a bit from moisture and wind. You might also want to get lightweight rain pants to wear over your softshell.
- 1 pair of solid alpine/mountain hiking boots: waterproof, at least over-the-ankle high, 1 size bigger to allow for thick woollen socks in there. Good brands are Alfa, Crispi, Handwag, Lowa, Lundhags, Meindl, Scarpa
- Water-resistant and windproof gloves/mittens (think skiing gloves).
When going on fieldwork, and special clothes/equipment is required, you will get this from UNIS. This is mainly:
- Winter: Snowmobile suite (including boots, helmet, goggles, leather mittens and balaclava).
- Summer: Regatta or Survival suit for boat trips
You will usually wear a solid base and mid-layer underneath these, and then you put the snowmobile/boat trip suits on top. However, familiarise yourself with the type of fieldwork you will be doing during your studies up here since, for courses with extensive fieldwork, you might want to increase the quantity and quality of your essential stack.
You can wear functional/outdoor clothes kind of everywhere around town (it is also acceptable for restaurants and parties). However, you might not always want to… So yes, pack your favourite pair of jeans, some normal shirts for days at the university, some sneakers or everyday Chelsea boots to walk around town, and your favourite party outfit (maybe not go all-in unless you want really stick out at parties), etc.
There is further equipment that you will need will come in handy in any case:
- Bed sheets, and covers: For the student housing, you must bring your own bed sheets and covers. The bed is 90cm x 200m. It is sufficient to bring one set since there are driers available so if you wash them, you can still use them again the same day.
- Towels: You also must bring your own towels. If you want to pack light-weight, go for micro-fibre ones.
- Slippers: You will have to take off your shoes at the student accommodation and at the university. Though you can walk in socks, the floors here are cold all year round, and you want to bring at least a pair of slippers. If you get cold feet easily, bring some warm ones. If you have some room in your luggage, you might even want to bring two pairs of slippers to have one living at the university and one in the student accommodation to avoid carrying them back and forth.
- Drinking bottle(s): The tap water is drinkable, and it’s good to have a general drinking bottle for your room, university, fieldwork, outdoor activities, etc. Insulated ones are a must for bringing hot beverages on fieldwork and hikes.
- Food containers: To bring food to university and on field trips or outdoor activities
- Basic headlamp (~600 lumen): Unless you are staying only during the months of the midnight sun. A basic headlamp is handy for hikes or cabin trips and if a power outage strikes.
- Backpacks: It’s good to bring a “smaller” day-pack (up to 30 l) for smaller hikes and going to university and a bigger one for overnight trips (e.g. going to the cabin, camping, etc.). Make sure they have a good fit with hip belts, etc.
- Sanitary & beauty items: Think ahead about how much you will need for your stay. Yes, you can buy all these things up here, but if you prefer certain brands, you most likely won’t get them here. Also, you might want to think eco-friendly. Currently, no wastewater treatment is available in Longyearbyen, so yes – shocker – everything you put down the drain goes into the ocean. You might want to bring some environmentally friendly soap, shampoo, etc.
- Skincare: The air in Svalbard is super dry all year around. You might want to bring a good moisturiser, lip balm and hand crème. Also, think about moisturising hair care if you have long hair.
- Menstruating humans: You can buy tampons and pads up here, and prices are not too bad. You might want to bring a small heating bottle since the cold climate can lead to more cramps. If you are using period cups or period underwear, consider that you might need an alternate option for longer field trips.
- Medication/first-aid: No-brainer, but again, think about personal medication items and go-to things when being sick. You might not get the same ones up here, and they can be expensive. Also, if you are on a prescription, check with your doctor if you can get sufficient supply for your whole stay.
Nice to have
The following items are not essential, but depending on your preferences – and if you already have them – you might love to bring them:
- Power Bank (if your phone dies easily)
- Small sitting pad for hikes/lunch breaks during fieldwork or for longer trips
- Drinking bladder for your backpack (it’s good to get one with insulation for the tube)
Add-Ons Winter / Spring
These items are more or less essential for the colder, darker and snowy seasons:
- Warmer base layers – like heavier woollen long underwear
- Snow boots – not for hiking but walking around in the city
- Thick down jacket (this does not have to be waterproof, but should keep you very warm). Not so much is required yet for November, but definitely for the winter/spring semester.
- Microspikes / Cramp-ons (but you can get them from student equipment, too)
- More advanced headlamp (~2000+ lumen) for winter activities (ice climbing and skiing trips)
Add-Ons Summer / Fall
These items are more or less essential for the “warmer” daylight seasons – please remember that summer temperatures equal European continental winter temperatures, especially when in the mountains or on the sea, the elements are rough. That’s why we have the essentials.
- Sunscreen: Especially for your face
- Cap/Hat: Not a must, but it helps to protect you from the sun
- Dry Bag: If your fieldwork calls for boat trips, a dry bag comes especially handy when going out with the open polar circle boats. You can use it as well if you like kayaking!
Activity related items
There is lots of stuff to do in and around Svalbard. So you might want to bring some more equipment according to what you enjoy doing/have at home:
- Running gear (fitted for the temperatures)
- Gym gear (there is a gym at Svalbardhallen, and you can also play volleyball and other sports)
- Climbing gear (there is a climbing and bouldering wall at Svalbardhallen)
- Swimming gear (there is a 25m pool at Svalbardhallen)
- Yoga mat if you enjoy a yoga session in your room
- Skiing equipment
- Dry bag – e.g. for sea kayaking
- Outdoor & ice climbing equipment
- Advanced hiking/tour equipment (tent, sleeping bag, camping items)
How to get stuff you forgot/need/want once you are up here
There are plenty of options depending on your liking and budget:
- Student equipment has all the essential equipment that you could need, such as sleeping bags, snow scooter equipment (same as you would get from UNIS for field work), climbing equipment, spikes, helmets, etc. Check out this YouTube video to learn about student equipment
- Bruktikken: The all-free second-hand shop. Perfect to stock up on your essentials. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeWPFwEeRIg . For updates, you can also check their Facebook page.
- Outdoor stores: There are multiple outdoor stores in town and you get a student discount! Check out this YouTube video for a tour around Longyearbyen.
- Fjellsport.no: This Norwegian outdoor online shop ships to Longyearbyen: https://www.fjellsport.no/. Don’t forget to email them after you have placed your order to get the tax refunded (since living in Svalbard allows for tax-free purchases). It is also wise to combine your order with other students to share shipping costs.