The Arctic is one of the most mysterious places on the planet. Covered in thick snow, ice, and tundra, the land has a natural beauty hidden amongst the mountains, glaciers, and icebergs that provide visitors with seemingly endless stretches of photographic scenery. If you want to know how to plan an expedition to the Arctic, use this guide as your best planning resource.
Polar adventurers are fascinated by remote destinations, and there are very few locations in the world that are as remote, mysterious, and interesting as the Arctic itself. Given the remote location and the near-perpetual winter conditions, it's important to prepare yourself for the experience by bringing the right gear. What should you know about how to plan an expedition to the Arctic? Let's dive into that.
Ultramarine—with its two helicopters and fleet of 20 Zodiacs—can take travelers deeper into
the polar landscape than any other operator. Photo: Michelle Sole
Planning your polar expedition: getting started
A polar expedition requires the right preparation. While the locations have some of the most illuminating natural scenery on the planet, weather conditions play a factor, but well-respected polar operators, such as Quark Expeditions, which was the first operator to take guests to the North Polar back in 1991, maintain fleets of polar-worthy vessels which lead to some of the most incredible wilderness expeditions.
You want to do your homework before undertaking one of these journeys, especially to a location as remote as the Arctic. You need to know what gear you should wear, what equipment you should bring, and what animals you could encounter on your journey.
For example, polar bears are commonly found across areas of the Arctic. These are proud, captivating animals that you could photograph in their natural habitats. Taking lots of photos on your journey is the best way to create a scrapbook of memories.
It all begins with the planning stage. You want to research details about the Arctic, including facts about weather patterns and the potential for frostbite. It's very important to bring the right thermal gear to protect your skin, and thorough research into the Arctic climate will help you decide what gear you need to go out and buy for a safe expedition.
After you've done your research, you can commence with your packing plan. We have a helpful packing guide for polar regions that offers advice on what to bring in your travel bags. This includes waterproof pants, muck boots, a certified parka, and even a personal floatation device to prepare for a possible capsize into the chilly Arctic waters. It's very unlikely that will happen, but it helps to be prepared for the worst-case scenario just in case.
How North Pole expeditions work
In 1991, Quark Expeditions became the first polar operator to bring consumer travelers to the North Pole. Photo: Quark Expeditions
So what do you need to know about how to plan an expedition to the Arctic? Preparation is key, and preparation for a polar expedition is very different from a vacation to a tropical destination. It requires its own type of pre-trip planning to ensure you have the best trip possible.
While much of the lands in the Arctic are frozen tundras, many animals find shelter and thrive in these regions. We've previously mentioned polar bears that only exist in colder northern climates, including the Arctic mainland, the Canadian Arctic, and the islands of Svalbard in the north Atlantic Ocean.
Additionally, you'll find occasional families of ringed or harp seals in the Arctic. You'll know you've seen one of these seals by the dark color of their fur and the silver rings on their backs and sides.
You'll also spot occasional pods of walruses, whales, and huge flocks of Arctic seabirds, many of which nest and breed on the cliff's edges while others inhabit the snow and ice-covered rocky shores. The Arctic has an impressive amount of wildlife, so make sure you pack a camera built for the cold conditions to snap some amazing photos of these animals in their natural habitat.
The Arctic Circle is what comes to mind when you think of the Arctic. But there are many countries with lands that fall within the boundaries of the Arctic Circle, including Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland, Scotland, and the Scandinavian countries. Visa requirements for each nation vary so, if your polar expedition includes visits to any of these countries, make sure you do your research ahead of time. If you need a visa, get one.
The Northern Lights dance across the night skies in East Greenland. Photo: Acacia Johnson
How to plan an expedition to the Arctic
Now that you know more about what to expect from a visit to the Arctic, it's time to start planning out your trip. What do you need to know about how to plan an expedition to the Arctic? Here's a quick breakdown of all the things you need to get ready for your incredible adventure. With companies like Quark Expeditions, you can get phone time or live chat with a trained Polar Travel Advisor who has traveled to the Polar Regions. Many have made multiple trips to the Arctic.
What to Consider
There are several Arctic destinations you can visit. For example, our Northwest Passage: Epic High Arctic journey takes you on a voyage to both the Canadian High Arctic and stops along the western coast of Greenland. This is a 17-day journey where you'll explore the Arctic regions of Canada and Greenland via Baffin Bay.
On the other hand, you could also take the Spitsbergen Explorer: Wildlife Capital of the Arctic voyage. This is a 12-day expedition on which you'll explore the islands of Svalbard, particularly the largest island of Spitsbergen.
What you need to consider is that each location technically falls within the Arctic Circle. However, conditions, like the topography of the land or the wildlife that roams across each region vary by location. When planning your Arctic journey, take into account what you hope to see and experience so that you can pick the right location to achieve your dreams.
One of the benefits of a polar adventure with Quark Expeditions is that you'll have the opportunity to visit Indigenous and local communities, many of them Inuit. We're very proud of a new initiative we've created called the Tundra to Table: Inuit Culinary Experience, a one-of-a-kind experience to sample Inuit culinary foods from the Inuit that live in Canada and Greenland
The program is hosted by authentic Inuit chefs who will also provide educational background about how they created some of the foods you'll sample. This program is available for specific journeys into the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, so take that into account as you consider what expedition you want to go on for your Arctic polar adventure.
As previously mentioned, you need to prepare for the weather you'll experience in any Arctic destination. Use our helpful expedition packing list to make sure you have everything you need to make your journey comfortable and fulfilling.
What do you want to see?
From amazing wildlife to rich diverse northern communities, there are so many reasons why a visit to the Arctic should be on your bucket list. Make a list of all the dream ideas you'd like to experience on a northern journey. Once you know what you want to see in the Arctic, you can pick an adventure that will check off as many of those items as possible.
A polar bear hunts for food along the Arctic sea ice in Svalbard. Photo: Hugo Perrin
What locations are you traveling to?
You have no shortage of options that you could travel to and visit. As previously mentioned, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and many other countries whose territory falls within the Arctic Circle all provide an authentic northern experience.
Throughout any of your northern adventures, you can book special excursions like flightseeing, hiking, and zodiac cruising for more up close and personal experiences. If you're feeling really brave and adventurous, you could also book a polar plunge experience into some of the coldest waters on the planet. How many people can say they've dared to do that?
As previously mentioned, the weather is one of the most important elements to prepare for ahead of your Arctic polar journey. Winter is the dominant season in the Arctic, causing near-permanent sub-zero temperatures across the region.
In some Arctic regions, like the northern portions of Greenland that lie north of the Arctic Circle, surface temperatures can fall as low as −70 °C. When summer sets in, areas in the Arctic Circle that have “tundra climates” can reach temperatures as high as 10 °C.
Your travel guides will offer advice on which pieces of your packed protective gear you should wear while out exploring in the elements. You can also use this helpful guide on how to pack for polar climates so that you can rest assured that you've brought the right gear for your adventure.
The Arctic Circle contains some of the most beautiful destinations in the world, and very few people have ever experienced all that these lands have to offer. You can regale your friends and family with stories of your adventures in the north when you take the opportunity to board a seafaring voyage through the Arctic Circle.
Be the adventurous one in your social circle, and hop aboard a journey into the Arctic. Memories and photos you capture along the journey will forever make this adventure something to cherish for the rest of your life!