Packing & Planning For The Arctic Circle Trail

Packing for Arctic Circle Trail

Packing for the Arctic Circle Trail

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Preparing to hike Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail? Here are some useful tips for packing and planning your trek based on my Greenland adventure in August 2015.

ARCTIC CIRCLE TRAIL SERIES
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Packing/Logistics

When I first began planning to hike Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail, it was difficult to find useful details online. There were a few blog posts about the trek, but they were written in German or Danish.

So this is my attempt to remedy that situation and make the hike more accessible to English speakers who are interested in exploring this beautiful and lesser-known area of the world on foot.

Located about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the typical route stretches 102 miles (165km) from Kangerlussuaq International Airport to the fishing village of Sisimiut on the West coast.

It’s possible to lengthen the trip to 124 miles by starting from Greenland’s ice cap for those who are up for the challenge.

Recommended Experience Level

While most of Greenland is covered with ice, the Arctic Circle Trail is ice-free during the summer. Passing through low valleys covered by many lakes, it’s a relatively easy walk with regards to elevation.

The difficulty comes with packing all your own food and supplies to last at least 10 days. Plus a complete lack of civilization nearby in the event of an unexpected emergency.

Arctic Circle Trail hikers must have experience surviving alone in the wilderness, understanding their own limits, reading weather patterns, and the ability to navigate unfamiliar terrain using a map and compass.

At the hike’s midpoint, you can be 5 days and 50 miles away from any type of civilization. You’re on your own out there. It’s not a trek for beginners, but you don’t need to be a serious mountaineer either.

Hiking in Greenland

Hiking in Greenland

How Long Does It Take?

Depending on fitness levels and the specific route chosen, the traditional 102 mile long Arctic Circle Trail from Kangerlussuaq Airport to Sisimiut can take anywhere between 7-10 days to complete.

To start from the ice cap like I did, plan for an additional 2-3 days.

It’s important to note that Greenland is a wild and unpredictable place. If you think you can hike the trail in 10 days, make sure to include 2-3 extra buffer days for delays due to weather, injury, exhaustion, or canceled flights.

Seasons & Weather

While hiking the Arctic Circle Trail is possible in the winter, it’s far more difficult & technical. The primary hiking season is from June to September when the trail is free of snow.

Greenland has a mosquito problem. Swarms can be downright maddening from June until mid August when the first frost finally kills them off. I started hiking August 12th and had to break out my mosquito head net a few times.

The trail is extremely muddy & boggy in June after the snow melts with river crossings becoming deeper and more dangerous. In September, the risk of snow storms is higher as winter begins.

In August, the air temperature fluctuated between 60’s (F) in the day to 30’s (F) at night, with one afternoon of snow flurries.

Over the 10 days I was on the trail, I experienced steady rain for 3 of them.

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Flying To Greenland

Flying to Greenland is the most expensive part of this epic trekking adventure. Air Greenland offers regular flights to Kangerlussuaq from Reykjavik, Iceland and Copenhagen, Denmark. So you’ll need to get yourself to one of these cities first.

I flew to Greenland from Copenhagen for $1032 USD round trip. Now if you’re hiking the Arctic Circle Trail from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut, you’ll also need to get yourself back to Kangerlussuaq in order to leave the country.

The one-way flight from Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq costs about $200 USD.

If you need help searching for international flights to Iceland or Denmark, make sure to read my popular post about How To Find Cheap Flights.

Accommodation Options

Accommodation in Greenland before and after the hike is expensive. A single room in Kangerlussuaq or Sisimiut will set you back about $100 – $200 USD. A hostel dormitory bed costs between $30 – $40 USD.

However both towns also have campgrounds available with bathrooms.

Kangerlussuaq Accommodation

Kangerlussuaq Youth Hostel
Old Camp Hostel
Polar Lodge (where I stayed)
Hotel Kangerlussuaq

Sisimiut Accommodation

Sisimiut Youth Hostel
Seaman’s House
Hotel Sisimiut (where I stayed)

Trail Hut

Inside a Trail Hut (Sleeps 6!)

Trail Huts & Camping

Spread along the route are a series of 9 basic wooden huts with bunks that are free for hikers to use. Packing a tent is highly recommended though, as some huts only sleep 4 and could possibly be full when you arrive.

Bad weather may also prevent you from reaching one of the huts in time, so having a backup plan for shelter is very important for your safety in Greenland’s vast wilderness.

Due to personal preference, I spent most nights wild camping. However I did sleep in 2 of the trail huts during my hike, and took an afternoon nap in a third. If you’re hiking from hut to hut each day, the full journey (from Kangerlussuaq airport, not the ice cap) will take 10 days.

How Many Hikers?

Only 300 people hike the trail every year, so while you may run into other hikers, it’s possible to go days without seeing a fellow human depending on which month you decide to attempt the trek.

I met about 10 hikers on the Arctic Circle Trail over 10 days. Most were German or Danish, and one other American. Many people hike this route for the solitude, so walking together and chatting for a few miles before breaking off on your own again was the standard routine.

Breakfast in Greenland

Tasty Trekking Breakfast

Food & Water

The traditional Arctic Circle Trail route takes 7-10 days for most people to complete. So hikers need to pack at least 10 days worth of food to be safe. That’s a lot of food!

At 1-2 pounds (16-24 ounces) of food per day, that’s about 10-20 pounds of food on your back. To keep it as light as possible, I recommend buying dehydrated backpacker meals and bringing them with you to Greenland.

While there is a supermarket in both Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut, they don’t stock dehydrated meals. They do have ingredients for trail mix — but to be safe I’d also prepare your own trail mix before you arrive. It will be cheaper and you’ll have more options.

Water on the other hand is pretty easy to take care of, as there are countless freshwater lakes, ponds, and streams along the Arctic Circle Trail. So with careful planning you can get by with just a single Nalgene bottle. No filter is required either! Of course there is always a risk of water contamination, but it’s pretty low out here. Most hikers don’t use one.

My Greenland Trekking Diet

  • Muesli/oatmeal with wild berries & brown sugar for breakfast
  • Trail mix plus wild mushrooms/berries for lunch & snacks
  • Canned fish sandwich and dried fish jerky for dinner
  • Chocolate & Greenlandic Schnapps for dessert

(I brought dehydrated meals, but couldn’t use them due to a problem explained below)

Camping in Greenland

Wild Camping in Greenland

Packing List

Mosquito Head Net
Long Underwear
Hiking Pants
Hiking Shorts
Hiking Shirts (2)
Wool Socks (3)
Fleece Top
Ballcap & Sunglasses
Sunscreen & Lip Balm
Mosquito Repellent
Winter Hat & Gloves
River/Camp Sandals
Paper Maps & Compass
iPhone 6 & Camera Gear

Maps & GPS

You’ll want to buy a series of 3 paper topographical maps that cover the entire length of the Arctic Circle Trail. While you can generally buy these at the Polar Lodge in Kangerlussuaq, it’s better to get them in advance because in Greenland, things run out of stock easily.

You can try to pre-order the Arctic Circle Trail maps from Greenland Tourism. The trail is marked with occasional rock cairns along the way, but there are a few places where you can still lose the trail, and in bad weather, the cairns aren’t always super visible.

In addition to the paper maps, I also packed my iPhone 6 with a LifeProof FRĒ Power Case running Gaia GPS and pre-dowloaded maps. There is no cell-service on the trail, but you can still use your phone as a GPS device.

What Would I Do Different?

After hiking the Arctic Circle Trail in August 2015, there are a few things I’d do differently if I decide to return. Hopefully you’ll learn from my mistakes!

My 40 degree (F) sleeping bag was a bit too cold for wild camping, and I was forced to sleep in my clothing and use a space blanket for a few chilly nights. I’d probably want something closer to 0 or 10 degrees.

I packed a great lightweight and efficient Jetboil stove that became useless when I couldn’t buy fuel canisters for it in Kangerlussuaq. The whole town ran out of the type I needed.

Shipping butane/propane to Greenland is difficult, because it’s not allowed on airplanes. Canisters must arrive by boat. Because of this, I’d recommend a multi-fuel backpacking stove instead. It allows you to boil water with a few different types of fuel.

Sure, I made due with cold food for 10 days anyway, but strong hot coffee and warm dinners have a wonderful way of re-energizing you on long-distance hikes. They were missed.

Guidebook & More Details

If you’re planning to hike the Arctic Circle Trail I highly recommend picking up the book Trekking In Greenland by Paddy Dillon.

It goes into far more detail than I can cover in a blog post, and it’s what I used to plan my own adventure. Good luck, and have fun! ★

ARCTIC CIRCLE TRAIL SERIES
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Packing/Logistics

READ NEXT: My Favorite Camera For Travel Photos

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Preparing to hike Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail? Here are some useful tips for packing and planning your trek based on my Greenland adventure in August 2015.

Any Questions Or Comments?

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49 Comments

  1. Hi Matt,

    Just a quick check, do you know which 3 maps we would need?
    I reckon one for kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut Region. What’s the last one that would be needed?

    Thx

    1. Pingu is the map for the middle section of the trail, sandwiched between the Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut maps. You can get it and the others online from Harvey Maps.
      PS Nice and helpful blog, Matt. Thanks!

  2. Hi there
    Fantastic information – thank you. We are hoping to do the hike in mid April. Any comments? Is the trail well marked and easy to follow even with snow on the ground?

  3. Thanks for sharing your blog! Its great. A question. Whats your view on hiking late April? Its the only window this year and your pics and info have inspired me.

  4. Great post – I am currently working on my Video of the ACT and had a completely different experience walking through waist deep snow and having to fight the ice on the Amitsorsuaq lake :) It was nice to see the landscape in those colors though!

  5. Thank you for your article. What about money? Is it necessary to pay by Greenland krones (is some exchange office in Kangerlussuaq?) or they also accept Danish krones, U.S. dollars or euros? Is it usually possible to pay by debit/credit card?

  6. Great post! Walked the trail myself July 15 – as a first time trekker! In only 6 days! Most insane expierience in my life :-) glad I had 3 greenlandic friends with me! Hopefully going back in July 17 – this time bringing more mosqiito repellent!!!

  7. Stoves and their fuel are problems everywhere. I just got back from Sweden where I hiked the Hallandsleden. I brought a brand new SEVA stove and fuel bottle as you can’t fly with a used stove. In Sweden I bought camping fuel, what I thought was similar to Coleman gas. Boy, was I wrong as this fuel was similar to Sterno. I couldn’t light my stove and thus couldn’t use my freeze dried food that was needed to bridge parts of the trail that were far between cities that had stores and cafes. Resultantly I ended up having to cut back on the hike. I later heard that you can buy fuel for SEVA stoves at an apotek/drug store…only in Sweden!

  8. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for putting together this incredible guide. My girlfriend and I are all booked and ready to do the trail from mid August so this site has been invaluable. Just wondering how much DKK you’d recommend bringing? I expect we’ll have almost a full day in Sisimiut at the end and will be keen to sample some local flavours. I’ve booked a hotel for 1400DKK but how much would you advise is needed for a couple of meals for two and perhaps a couple of souvenirs?

    1. Hi Tim

      i´ve been spending altogether few months in Sisimiut so I thought I´d contribute with what I observed.
      In a hotel restaurant, a lunch meal will cost between around 200-250 DKK incl. a beer. A dinner with Greenlandic ingredients, a beer and a dessert will be around 400 DKK per person. You should have breakfast in your room rate but if you eat both lunch and dinner in a restaurant, it can add up a bit expensive. They are some cheaper take away/sandwich places (or even cafeteria of Taseralik culture house) where a meal may be below 100 DKK which I think is ok option for lunch; you can then splurge for dinner.
      I think the best way to sample Greenlandic flavors is booking a table for Greenlandic buffet – a buffet style dinner with dishes such as muskox, whale, reindeer meat, different fishes and shrimps prepared in variety of ways. Try to ask your hotel if it´s taking place while you´re staying there. There´s also a Greenlandic buffet every Sunday in Kangerlussuaq but it probably won´t suit your schedule…
      Souvenirs – such a statues of Tupilak made of reindeer antlers cost upwards of 200 DKK, more like 500+ DKK for a statue. Other typical souvenirs may be made of seal skin and fur, such as small pouches, keyrings for maybe 100-200 DKK and bigger bags for hundreds of DKK, seal skin mittens for around 600 DKK. A seal fur coat is sold for thousands DKK in souvenir shops. A cheap souvenir that doesn´t catch dust is a reindeer or muskox sausage that you can sometimes buy at the airport in Kangerlussuaq :)
      Enjoy your hike and your stay in Greenland!

  9. Hey Matt

    I was wondering just how concerned you were about polar bears? I know they’re very rare to this part of Greenland. It seems people do not usually care any polar bear deterrents. Have you had anything with you should such a rare occasion occur?
    Thanks!

    1. They are not only rare, they don’t exist over here. Maybe one wanders over across the ice every couple years or something. All the polar bears live on the East coast — so you really don’t have to worry about them here.

  10. Thank you so much for this elaborate and well-informing read ! Me and a friend will be doing the hike from Kangerlussuaq in mid-August this year, and this kind of info was exactly what I was looking for. Kudos for great photos also ! I understand you didn’t try fishing, but any ideas on how big chances are for catching a char or two for dinner ? I’m considering a warmer jacket for cool evenings, also because my journey continues by ferry up to Disko Bay after the hike. Is it worth bringing one, you think ?

    1. Yeah you want some kind of waterproof/windproof jacket with warm layers underneath. It can get cold/windy, and was even snowing one day (also in August). I met other hikers who caught 3 arctic char from one of the canoes using a lure, so I think your chances are pretty good! Remember that you need to buy a fishing license in Kangerlussuaq.

    2. The temperatures in Greenland may get really warm in summer, up to 20 C in Kangerlussuaq and up to 15 C in Sisimiut. The sun shines incredibly strong up here, so you can feel like stripping down to shirt and shorts while on the sun. But! – when the wind blows from the ice cap in Kangerlussuaq, it´s understandably very cold, despite shining sun. And the air at the coast in Sisimiut feels very cold again because it may carry a lot humidity and fog. Always bring a warm down jacket for the evening and moments when you take a break on the trail. Long underwear makes a lot of sense, too.
      When you plan to take a ferry or even just a boat trip in Ilulissat (“midnight sailing among icebergs” is a must!), let me say there´s almost no way to keep warm on boat if you stay out on the deck for 2+ hours, no matter the air temperature on the land. You´ll sure want to have warm clothes with you, to enjoy the experience fully!

  11. This is a fantastic review of you hike. Thank you so much. My girlfriend and I are wanting to do this in mid September. She wants to only wear trail shoes, however I feel that is inadequate for this. What’s your opinion on this.

    1. Some parts of the trail pass through large wet bogs & swamp-like landscape. So just keep that in mind. Your feet will get wet. Random snow storms are also a possibility in mid September.

    2. I´ve been hiking around in Greenland and working in the field a lot. I would always recommend ankle-high hiking/backpacking boots. Where the path is not well-trodden, the terrain is often uneven and twisting an ankle is fairly easy. Especially if you carry 15+kg backpack. There´s probably no way to keep your socks dry on this trail (unless wearing rubber boots), but having a good ankle support in your boots sure helps!

  12. Absolutely amazing story and place, well done! By the way, the name of the red berry you mentioned is cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), isn’t it? Have you seen other species of mushrooms to eat? If so, how did you know they weren’t dangerous, was it by the guide book you recommended? Have you ever thought about doing the trekking on Svalbard from Longyearbyen to Pyramiden? I was thinking about going there, but there’s so few information available on solo trekking there, at least on the languages I can understand. Thanks!

  13. Matt,
    Your trip looks ridiculously great! I may try to pull this off in late August. Last August I tramped the troms border trek in the Arctic of Norway/Sweden/Finland and your pictures reminded me of that with just a few less people. Might you have your gps track to share?

  14. Hey Matt. That tent… is something else.

    Do you think you were comfortable doing this with the bag you took? I see you mentioned a 50ltr backpack as what you’d recommend, but you’ve got your 38l Arc’teryx bag on.

    I’m looking for a bag that I can do around the world travel, carry books and stuff to school and carry on a plane. I’m thinking the Fjellraven Friluft 35l and building something similar to a Rolo Scroll (google it if your interest) to attach to the bottom for extra storage.

    As always, love your work :)

    1. The Khamski 38 can hold up to 46 liters actually, even though it’s branded as a 38. Most of the other hikers on the trail had packs that were closer to 60 liters — I had no room to spare and have been living out of a backpack for years (lots of packing practice), so I’d say 50 – 60 liters would be safer. My sleeping bag and tent are also some of the lightest & smallest on the market — meaning average gear will take up more space.

  15. I came on this page to check out your tips on packing, but I sure got more than I bargained for! Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us! I’m more than ready for my trek this coming March. Just wondering, with all the things you did pack. How, were you able to scrunch them up in your backpack?

  16. Hey Matt,

    Loved reading this and its really helped me out for planning my trip in Aug this year! Cannot wait its going to be epic. As a gal its going to be hard work without all the luxuries (I note no wash kit in your packing list ha).

    I actually wanted to ask you about your Camera kit. What did you take? How many spare batteries. I was thinking of taking a DSLR 2 lenses and a bunch of batteries (+/- a lightweight tripod dep on what everything else weighs in at). Is this the sort of thing you took?
    Thanks
    Em

  17. Hey Matt:

    Did you actually using the topos, or was you primarily using the GPS function of the iPhone?

    I am wondering in practice how difficult it was to find the trail in some places.

    Also, did you encounter any female soloers? Do you have any insight in that regard?

    1. hi I hiked the Arctic Circel Trail two times solo. First in 2013 (Middle of Aug.)both ways absolutely amazing had some snow midway. The second time 2015 one way and taking the ferry from Sisimiut up to Iluissat.

  18. Good tip on the Jetboil. I carry the Flash version with a spare cup for my wife (if cooling larger meals) Haven’t had a problem with finding gas yet, but it’s a valid point that you raise. Not being able to get gas in some areas. Did you try a good old fashioned wood fire? Just take the Jetboil Cosy off and pop it on the fire? Great article.

  19. Looks like a great experience.
    How did you charge your batteries during the 10 days? the Sony cameras are great, but go through the batteries quickly, especially if you shoot video.
    Did you have some solar charger?

    1. I couldn’t recharge them on the trail, I just kept them warm and tried to minimize camera use. I also turned on the camera’s airplane mode, and turned down the brightness of the LCD monitor to conserve power.

  20. Hey Matt, this was an awesome series of posts and pictures! Really enjoy reading about these off-road adventures. Quick question though: How much does your pack weigh in total on one of these trips? And how much (in terms of weight) do you carry around when travelling in general?

  21. My wife is Icelandic and she’s been riding me for years now to go back “home” to hike there, but I’m not a big hiker, having only done two distance hikes ever, and a failed attempt at Everest when we weren’t even planning on reaching anywhere near the summit. (I fell dreadfully ill and we had to go back) so maybe I should plan for this trip instead and we’ll both be happy. It sounds like something even a novice like myself could do, and I really appreciate the tip about the mosquitos, because those buggers seem to love whatever’s in my blood.

  22. AMAZING!
    Love the photos mainly the one camping.
    Does that photo in the airport with the signs I guess I’m bad with a map but how does the time shown reflect the distance :) only 6hrs to L.A.

    This could be the perfect way to drop the pounds too with the food you were eating per day and of course all the walking.

    1. Thanks Stephen, yeah it was a new packing experience for me. You want to have all the essentials, but not overpack either. As hiking for 10 days with too much stuff wouldn’t be very fun!

  23. Hey Matt, now that this series of your adventure in Greenland is complete, I wanted to say it was a very good read. Beautiful photos, good writing and especially very good information on the trail! I think I should do my report on the trail again. :)

    We had the same issue with Kangerlussuaq running out of fuel/gas for our stove. I wrote a couple emails a few weeks before we flew in and made a reservation on Primus Gas, but when we got their to pick it up all they said was it´s sold out. Good thing was we met very nice people on the trail and they let us use their stoves. That´s the good thing on staying in the huts, you meet nice and helpful people.

    For me the Arctic Circle Trail was very painful, but it was totally worth it. It was also very nice to meet you in Sisimiut!
    Greetings from Germany.

      1. Haha, that´s exactly what i wrote in my blogpost. A small shop offering all kinds of stuff for hikers would do pretty well i assume, at least during peak season.

    1. Stefan, can you give the name and e-mail address of the shop you tried to buy Primus gas at? Also, did they have Camping Gaz? I have two small lightweight stoves, one of each type, and I guess I could take both.