Adventures / Adventure Tapas

Arctic Wilderness Adventure in Svalbard

Hike, kayak and glacier walk across Norway’s Svalbard archipelago while keeping an eye out for polar bears

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Adventures / Adventure Tapas

Arctic Wilderness Adventure in Svalbard

Hike, kayak and glacier walk across Norway’s Svalbard archipelago while keeping an eye out for polar bears

DURATION

7 nights

LOCATION

Svalbard

ANNUAL LEAVE

6 days off work

SEASON

Jul-Sep

GROUP SIZE

Up to 12 people

MEETING POINT

Guesthouse in Longyearbyen

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel · Campsite

DIFFICULTY

Moderate

You'll need a reasonable level of fitness and a serious sense of adventure.

Set off on a true Arctic adventure as you explore the wild and beautiful Spitsbergen Island and experience the midnight sun

Take turns on polar bear lookout, sleep in the wilderness and brave the 'Polar Plunge' - a (quick) dip in the Arctic Ocean

Kayak beside majestic glaciers - eyes peeled for whales and walruses - and hike amongst insanely beautiful fjords and mountains

All our reviews are verified

We only invite travellers to leave a review if they have booked this trip with Much Better Adventures.

Jack, July 2022

Trip of a lifetime, would recommend to anyone. The guides provided (Nicolas and Kaisa) were absolutely fantastic, professional, passionate, knowledgeable and most importantly took our safety seriously. Was so happy when they surprised us with ice climbing on the glacier!

Stephen, July 2022

Great Fun. I've never done anything like this before and really enjoyed it. The trip is the perfect amount of time and the activities are varied. The local guides were amazing and tailored/tweaked our activities to the group. Polar Bear watch wasn't as bad as I thought it would be...and managed to get a night off because of a big group. We were well fed throughout. Highlights were climbing an Ice Wall with axes, the Polar Plunge and the hikes up mountains/glaciers.

Jon, July 2022

Svalbard is epic. Tucked high into the arctic circle, the archipelago – which is ever so slightly smaller than Ireland – offers an extraordinary adventure. However, to get the most out of your six days, you have to embrace the 'uncompromising nature' of this otherworldly wilderness. The trip starts in Longyearbyen, a strip of a town that squeezes itself into a narrow, avalanche-prone valley. (In July, the slopes are thankfully mostly snow free). The accommodation at hostel 102 is basic, but the showers are hot, and the breakfast waffles are worth getting up for. (You'll appreciate all this when you spend your last night there). A hike up to the local glacier, Sarkofagen, is the perfect warm-up for what's to come. It's also a chance to road-test gear and layering. In retrospect, I'd packed too many hi-spec base layers. Day 2 began with boarding a ship (not a boat) to the wilderness camp at Ymerbukta. After a 2.5-hour journey and a skit in a launch, we landed on the beach, backed by the stunning 17km wide Esmark Glacier. The camp hadn't been used for a few weeks, so the tents were down and filled with rainwater. But rather than being a problem, setting up and drying out became an opportunity to bond as a group. Over the next 3/4 days – it's tricky keeping track of time when its perpetually midday light – we: •Clambered up the towering glacier, which came with the unexpected bonus of ice climbing. •Kayaked to a stunning fjord that could have inspired Narnia or Hoth. •Hiked to peak and tiptoed the ridge of the 600m + Värmlandsryggen mountain •And bravely/stupidly took the polar plunge, which is literally breathtaking. Camp life was, sometimes, almost as challenging as the days out with everyone mucking in at mealtime and then taking turns on nightly polar bear watch. However, these were not hardships; they were all part of the experience. Spending a few bright night hours alone, with glaciers cracking and seals sleeping around you, is genuinely magical. However, what truly makes a memorable adventure are the people. We were an eclectic crew who happily pulled together for the greater good and spent 'evenings' swapping stories around the campfire. But the true heroes of this trip were our guides, Mikeal and Kasia, whose constant vigilance and understated expertise made us all feel simultaneously adventurous and absolutely safe. Their passion for this unique landscape was evident and quietly infectious. Tussen tak! Yes, the camp could have done with chairs and a light for the main tent. And, perhaps saying that you only needed to 'moderately fit' for this trip was a little disingenuous. But, if you get upset by these kinds of niggles, this trip and Svalbard are not for you. Me? I want to go back in the sunless, snow-filled winter.

Evan, July 2022

Svalbard is a really unique place to visit and we are very glad we experienced such a variety of activities here! All told, we covered kayaking, hiking (on quite uncommon surfaces: miles of rock scree and very squishy permafrost), glacier walking, and ice climbing. The barren Arctic rock and ice landscape is likely unlike any you've seen before. The mining-turned-tourist towns you visit (Longyearbyen and Barentsburg) feel like windows into the frontier pasts. The midnight sun will certainly confound your brain. At the camp, the tents were spacious, toilet handled well, and food tasty and plentiful. As far as execution, compared to other MBA trips with Wild Camping, we felt a few improvements could take this trip from good to great. At the camp, we experienced tent issues with rain water and mud that we were not well equipped to handle (as far as prevention or tools for cleanup). Thanks to the same mud, as well as lack of good seating, the communal tent was not a comfortable place to relax together after activities, which really impedes the bonding of the group on the early days of the trip. Lastly, though very nice and capable, our guides were relatively reserved and quiet, lacking the proactively outgoing personability that really helps a group connect with an area and each other via great conversations and stories about the surroundings.

Included

Guides

Expert, English-speaking, local guides

Accommodation

3 nights at a hotel or guesthouse and 4 nights at the Ymerbukta wilderness camp

Meals

All meals included except for 3 dinners in Longyearbyen

Equipment

Everything you need to camp, kayak and glacier hike

Permits

All permits and entry fees

Not Included

Flights to and from the meeting point

Travel insurance

Some meals as described

Personal expenses

Travel to and from the start point

The Area

map

Logistics

Starts

Guesthouse in Longyearbyen

Catch any flight on Day 1

Ends

Guesthouse in Longyearbyen

Catch any flight on Day 8

Transfers

The airport shuttle costs around £8 / $10 and links up with all flight arrivals and departures. It will take you directly to your guesthouse on Day 1 and get you back to the airport any time on Day 8 for your flight home. You can pay by credit card. Cash is not accepted in Svalbard.

It takes a maximum of 10 minutes to get from the airport to your accommodation. You can see full details on the Svalbard tourist website.

Travel options

Both Norwegian and SAS offers flights to Svalbard throughout the summer. We recommend flying to Oslo in Norway and getting a connecting flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen, which takes around 3 hours. If you arrive early there is plenty to enjoy in Longyearbyen before your trip starts.

Day 1

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 2

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 3 – Day 6

Campsite · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 7

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 8

Departure day

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

What is the food like?

Longyearbyen has plenty of international food options, including the world's northernmost sushi bar!

At the wilderness camp, breakfasts will consist of bread, ham, cheese, eggs and bacon, cereals or oatmeal, tea, coffee and 'Polar Bread'. Lunches, meanwhile, will be dry-pack expedition-style lunches, heated on stoves in the wilderness and accompanied by hot drinks and biscuits. You can make extra sandwiches each morning to bring with you if you want a particularly large lunch. Dinners are homemade and vary depending on what's in stock. Tacos, pasta or a variety of stews are possibilities - including Norwegian reindeer stew.

Vegans, Vegetarians and most food allergies can be catered for. Please let your host know of any dietary requirements in advance.

What is the accommodation like?

Longyearbyen

You'll stay at Gjestehuset 102 - a warm and friendly guesthouse with huge breakfasts. The departure starting on 20 July 2022, will however stay at Mary Ann’s Polarrigg (a cosy hotel) at the end of the trip.

In the wilderness

You'll stay in a twin-share tent at a private wilderness camp in Ymerbukta. All your camping equipment is provided, although you will need to hire a sleeping bag if you don't bring your own. There is also a toilet tent and a heated expedition mess tent with benches, table and stoves for cooking and drying clothes. Needless to say, there is no electricity or WiFi in the camp.

Upgrades

For solo travellers looking for their own space, a private room can be booked for the 3 nights spent in Longyearbyen for an extra charge, see Optional Extras for the price. Please request this at the time of booking (this is subject to availability).

Day 1

Arrive in Longyearbyen

Touch down in Svalbard - the world's northernmost city - and get your first glimpse of the Norwegian Arctic. The rest of the day is yours to explore and there are plenty of daylight hours to do so - 24 to be exact! The streets in Longyearbyen have no names, cats are completely banned and reindeer wander freely through the town. Join the rest of the group for a briefing and then grab some dinner in a local restaurant (dinner isn't included today but your host will book a table for the group so you can get acquainted).

Day 2

Get your first taste of hiking in the Arctic

Lace up your boot and hike up Sarkofagen Mountain to experience the perfect silence of the Arctic. Enjoy the spectacular views over Longyearbyen with mountains and glaciers everywhere and then hike back down in time for dinner and a well-earned rest.

Day 3

Ymerbukta Wilderness Camp and the Esmark Glacier

Head down to the harbour and board a boat to the wilderness camp at Ymerbukta - keep your eyes peeled for polar bears, walruses, seals and up to 13 species of whales - including the Blue Whale, the largest creature on earth. Reach the shore by zodiac boats and after settling into camp, pull on a dry suit and life vest, ready for a sea kayaking expedition. Hug the shoreline as you make your way to the towering Esmark Glacier. You may even witness the glacier calving, signalled first by a loud, crackling noise like thunder, followed by huge ice falls that create amazing colours and waves in the water. Return to camp, prepare dinner together and if the weather allows, end the day around the campfire.

Polar Bear Lookout Tonight you'll have the unique experience of being on polar bear lookout. After a full safety briefing, keep watch over the silence and stillness of the Arctic wilderness, watching for polar bears in the distance as your fellow adventurers sleep - an unforgettable experience.

Day 4

Glacier hiking

After a campsite breakfast, get kitted out with harness and crampons and head out for a full days hiking across Esmark glacier. Cross untouched ice and deep crevasse and navigate snow bridges. At certain points, you'll be roped together for safety while being supervised by your expert guides. After lunch on the glacier, continue hiking, taking in the views of the fjords and mountains in the distance. Back at camp, it’s time for another dinner by the campfire and a chance to reflect on an incredible day, before pulling your next polar bear lookout shift.

Day 5

Wilderness hiking

Hike to the peak of Värmlandsryggen for a full Arctic panorama of fjords, mountains, plains and glaciers. The weather in the Arctic can have a big impact, so depending on conditions, your guides will adjust the plan according to the weather and how the group are feeling. Later in the evening, there'll be another outdoor dinner, another campfire and another chance for polar bear lookout. Maybe tonight you'll pluck up the courage to take the 'Polar Plunge' - a quick dip in the ice cold Arctic waters.

Day 6

Kayaking

Pull your hiking boots back on ready for a last day of adventure in the wilderness. Enjoy a combination of hiking and kayaking in remote spot chosen depending on the weather conditions on the day. Savour your last campfire meal and pull a final lookout shift as you soak up the place you've called home for the last 4 days.

Day 7

Boat back to Longyearbyen

Clear camp, head out for a short hike and then take the boat back to Longyearbyen, stopping off at the Russian settlement of Barentsburg along the way. You'll be shown around town by a local resident and see Russian culture and Soviet era architecture - after several days in the wilderness this makes for an interesting detour. Back in Longyearbyen, it’s time for dinner at a local restaurant and a night back in semi-civilisation.

Day 8

Say Goodbye

Say farewell to Longyearbyen and the Arctic and return to Svalbard Airport in time for your flight home.

15% Off Outdoor Gear

In need of a few more items? All bookings receive a 15% discount on us to use at Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock and Runner's Need.

What's provided?

  • Camping equipment (tent, ground mat, sleeping mat)
  • Personal glacier equipment (ice axe, crampons, ropes)
  • Personal kayaking equipment (dry suit, neoprene shoes and mittens, life vest)
  • Thermos flask

What's available to hire?

  • Sleeping bag. See Optional Extras for pricing.

What do I need to bring?

BAGS

  • Soft overnight duffel bag or rucksack
  • Daypack (35+ litres)
  • Waterproof liner for kitbag/rucksack or drybags, for the kayaking

CLOTHES

  • Insulated jacket (down or synthetic/PrimaLoft)
  • Fleece jacket or similar
  • Hardshell Gore-Tex mountain jacket with hood (breathable, windproof and waterproof)
  • Gore-Tex mountain trousers, ideally with braces (breathable, windproof and waterproof)
  • Gaiters (optional)
  • Thermal underwear x 3 sets (preferably wool/merino - no cotton)
  • Woolen socks x 3 sets (no cotton)
  • Buff or neckscarf
  • Warm hat x 1-2 (for cold/windy days, and also to sleep in)
  • Windproof overmittens x 1 pair
  • Warm woolen mittens x 1 pair (to be used underneath the windproof mittens)
  • Warm finger gloves x 1 pair
  • Breathable wicking layers
  • Underwear
  • Swimwear (for the polar plunge/Arctic bath)
  • Something to sleep in
  • Hiking boots with a stiff sole (crampon-compatible, worn-in)
  • Light shoes or sandals to use around the camp

SLEEPING

  • 2 to 3-season sleeping bag (Extreme Rating of down to about -15 degrees Celsius, Comfort Rating of about 0 to 5 degrees Celsius - see our Sleeping Bag Guide (either hire one or bring your own)
  • Sleeping mat (provided, but bring your own if you prefer)

OTHER

  • Binoculars (for wildlife spotting)
  • Reusable water bottle x 1-litre (two if you have room)
  • Thermos flask x 1-litre (provided, but bring your own if you prefer)
  • Lunch box
  • Sunglasses
  • Suncream
  • Eyemask
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Padlock for left luggage
  • Universal travel plug adapter
  • Power bank or solar charger
  • Camera and spare camera batteries
  • Passports (and visas)
  • Travel Insurance documents
  • Earplugs
  • Insect repellent (optional, not generally an issue)
  • Personal first-aid kit (including blister treatment)
  • Personal items (biodegradable toiletries, sanitary wear etc)
  • Alcohol hand-gel
  • Biodegradable wet-wipes
  • Energy bars and snacks
  • Water purification tablets/treatment system

Optional Private Room Upgrade: prices start from

Payable Before Departure

Optional Private Room Upgrade: prices start from

Per Person

Sleeping bag hire

Payable Before Departure

Sleeping bag hire

Single room: prices start from

Payable Before Departure

Single room: prices start from

Per Night

Twin/Double room: prices start from

Payable Before Departure

Twin/Double room: prices start from

Per Night

We've crunched the numbers to work out the total carbon footprint of this trip, and plant enough trees to suck 2x as much back out the atmosphere.

What's the number?
It works out on average at 94kg of CO2 emissions per person, including all local transport, accommodation, food, activities, guides, staff and office operations.

The only thing it doesn’t include right now is flights and travel to the destination. We do make an overall estimate across all our customers separately, but as we don’t book flights, have customers from all corners of the world, and no way of reliably knowing their travel plans, we simply can’t include an individual number in the figure on display here. We’ve got a goal for 2022 to fix that, so that when you book, there is a way to measure and mitigate the carbon emitted by your flight too.

But what does the number mean?
Yep, hard to picture eh? To give you an idea:

  • Driving 1000miles/1609km would be approx. 281kg of CO2 in an average car (or 140.5kg per person if there was 2 of you in it).
  • A return economy class flight London - New York would be approx. 1,619kg (1.66 tonnes) per person.
  • 10 trees in a temperate forest are estimated to remove approx. 250kg of CO2 from the air in a period of 5-10 years.

What are we doing about it?
Our trips are relatively low-carbon by design, and we're working with all our hosts to develop long term carbon reduction plans. For every person booked with us since 2016 we’re planting enough trees to suck at least 2x more carbon out the atmosphere than is emitted by their trips. All native trees, as part of amazing projects that are re-foresting degraded land, tackling the biodiversity crisis and supporting local communities at the same time. We go further than that too, also funding re-wilding projects worldwide to help protect important keystone species from extinction. See the reforestation and re-wilding schemes we support. See our carbon action plan.

Want to know more?
Amazingly, no international travel company has ever publicly published their carbon measurements before, as far as we know. We believe that must change, quickly. So we’re openly sharing the method we used in the hope that other companies will be able to more easily follow suit and build on what we've done so far. You'll find it all here.

Sustainable Tourism provides an economic incentive to protect, rather than exploit, vital wildlife areas and over the years 7 national parks and 21 nature reserves have been created to protect the Svalbard archipelago.

Thankfully, the population of polar bears and various marine species have increased and Svalbard tour operators - including your host - have worked alongside environmental groups such as the WWF and Friends of the Earth to block any unsustainable development such as new roads, mining and fossil fuel exploration. Every visitor to Svalbard also pays £15, which goes directly to an environmental protection fund to manage the protected areas.

Of course, we are aware that the flight to Svalbard is damaging to the environment and the Arctic is visibly feeling the effects of climate change. As there are currently no viable, sustainable travel alternatives available, Much Better Adventures mitigates 4 times the carbon emitted by your flight to Longyearbyen through our partnership with Cool Earth. The adventure itself - self powered activities and wilderness camping - is about as low carbon as it’s possible to get, especially when compared with the myriad cruise ships that visit Svalbard.

For more on this topic you can read our article on tourism and conservation in Svalbard, where our very own Stuart Kenny interviews Arne Kristoferson, your host for this trip and resident of Svalbard for nearly 3 decades.

Also, here’s how our very own co-founder Sam answered the question ‘Is it responsible?' after we launched our winter Svalbard adventure.

You'll need to have a decent level of fitness and a serious sense of adventure. There are several full days of hiking (sometimes using crampons and harnesses) and sea kayaking, though no previous experience of either is necessary.

Each member of the group will take it in turns to lookout for polar bears while the rest of the group sleeps, however it doesn't get dark in Svalbard during the summer, so lookouts are done in daylight. The experience of being on lookout is one of the most memorable parts of the trip and has been described as "like being a crew member on a a David Attenborough documentary."

You'll be given a full briefing and safety instructions and a shift roster will be developed between you all. Lookout shifts are generally around 2 hours, however, If the group size is larger than 4, you will have at least one night without needing to do one.

While on this trip you will be in the hands of expert wilderness guides and your host has been operating wildlife expeditions in the area for over 25 years and never had a close call with a polar bear. This is all down to their knowledge and expertise. There are polar bears in the area and they have come close to camp before, however, the guides know exactly what to do in all cases.

Over the years there have been incidents of polar bears being killed in self defence, however, your host has been running trips across Svalbard since 1993 and has never had to kill a single bear. The guides travel with flare guns to scare bears away if they get too close, and if needed will follow this up with a warning shot from a rifle in extreme situations. The wilderness camp, meanwhile, has special storage units for food so as not to entice bears towards the camp and a perimeter tripwire that activates flares if triggered.

Your guides are also expert wilderness guides, many from Svalbard itself and have safely led adventure travellers, scientists and filmmakers from the BBC and National Geographic photographers across the region. Their knowledge and experience means they know what to do in all situations to keep both adventurers and bears safe.

Many of the negative encounters with polar bears have occurred during excursions led by less experienced guides, particularly cruise ship based ones who bring guests to shore but aren't fully experienced in what to do during an encounter.

Our local host has also created an association for Svalbard based guides and small travel companies that develops certification for sustainability and safety and only recommends operators who look after the adventurers, the polar bears and the wilderness.

Sure can! Over 50% of our travellers travel solo, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

The water in Longyearbyen is drinkable, while at the wilderness camp, the source is fresh ice water from a nearby river. This Arctic ice water is perfectly safe to drink and super refreshing!

Svalbard experiences the longest period of 'winter sun', during which the sun never sets. Average summer temperatures in Svalbard range between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius, while at certain times during 'Polar Summer' it can reach as high as 12 degrees, though it can also see negative temperatures as well so you also need to be prepared for temperatures down to around -5 degrees Celsius.

You can leave any excess luggage in Longyearbyen before heading to the wilderness camp. There is storage at your hotel and also at your host's secure warehouse.

We recommend checking out the country specific information here and also talking to a travel nurse.

For current advice about travelling in Norway, have a read of the UK Foreign Office pages here.

Svalbard is a cash-free society - cash is not accepted and there is no bank. Only card payments are accepted so you'll need to bring your credit and/or debit cards with you.

Our recommended travel insurance provider is Campbell Irvine.

Travel insurance is compulsory on all of our adventures. Your insurance should include adequate protection for overseas medical treatment, evacuation/repatriation, your baggage and equipment and the specific activities involved on your adventure.

Your insurance policy should also include specific Covid-19 cover, including cancellation and curtailment cover if you, your travel companion or a close relative are diagnosed with Covid-19.

We fully endorse Campbell Irvine as their insurance offers all of the above, so get in touch with them or call on 020 7938 1734 to get your insurance sorted. We suggest that you book travel insurance as soon as you book your adventure, just to cover you for any last minute life changes. We know you’re an active lot and injuries do happen!

We automatically convert prices from the local currency that a host receives to your chosen currency. We update our exchange rates on a daily basis so this does mean that prices displayed on the site are subject to currency fluctuations, which is why you may see them change over time.

If you wish to change the currency you pay in, head to the bottom of the page.

All of our group adventures are specially designed for adults to enjoy (18+) as we want these adventures to bring together outdoorsy people who are truly like-minded. Children can be accommodated on some private departures.

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