The Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland isn’t like other long-distance hiking trails… For one, you’re above the Arctic Circle Trail, walking from one town of 500 people to another town of 5,500 with no civilisation in-between.
You can’t arrange resupplies on the ACT – everything you need for the trek has to be on your back, including all of your food.
You also need to be happy with your gear. You’re going to be using it for somewhere between 7-11 days and you need to be prepared for rain, cold, sun, and wind, even if you’re super lucky with the weather as we were.
Here’s what I researched, tested, decided upon, and packed for my 10-day Arctic Circle Trail hike from July 15-26 this summer.
- 10 days hiking the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland, one of the most remote and stunning treks in the world
- What I wish I knew before hiking the Arctic Circle Trail (and what I found out)
I’m based in the UK and bought a lot of it from Cotswold Outdoor, which has a good returns policy (although I wish they had a points reward system!), some directly through Sea to Summit, plus last-minute bits and bobs from Amazon.
Just a heads up that this post contains Amazon affiliate links, which is no extra cost to you but contributes a little to the running of this site.
- Paddy Dillon’s ACT bible, Trekking in Greenland – The Arctic Circle Trail: From Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut. This is published by Cicerone and the new edition has just been released in 2019.
- Maps for Kangerlussuaq, Pingu, and Sisimiut. You can order these from Harvey Maps. You can get them in Greenland but I imagine they’d be more expensive.
- We also packed a Silva compass that we didn’t end up using but wanted for peace of mind, especially with the fires being unpredictable during our trip. Note: as Paddy mentions in his bible, the metals in the ground can make your compass a little temperamental during the ACT.
Pack and gear
When we checked in our bags to fly to Copenhagen, mine was 14.8 kilo without my sleeping bag, camera, and the two gas canisters we bought in Kangerlussuaq (weighing about 600g combined).
With those things added as well as water, my pack would have been at least 18 kilos (32% of my body weight).
The main advice for the Arctic Circle Trail is to bring as little as possible. You hear it so often for a reason. You have to haul that stuff for 7 – 11 days alongside all of your food for the trip. At least half of your weight will probably be food (and we didn’t pack enough). If you can, aim to get as close to 15 kilos as possible. Try your absolute hardest not to go over 20 kilos.
If you’re choosing any new big items (e.g. tent, sleeping bag, mat, stove), pay attention to weight. Go lightweight if you can, but not at the expense of quality. I was particularly happy with my MSR tent and Sea to Summit sleeping mat.
What would I have thrown out, if I did it again?
… In all honesty, nothing. I hardly wore my second hiking shirt and didn’t use my gaiters, so they could go. If I had to reduce weight, I wouldn’t have packed my camera’s zoom lens…. but I would have been grumpy. I could have sacrificed my skincare stuff, but I would’ve been grumpy and spotty. I had an extra pillow for between my knees, but that saves me from unnecessary back and hip pain. So nope, my 18ish kilos can stay.
So what did I pack?
- Karrimor SF Sabre 45 with side pockets PLCE (I was going to take my Osprey Mutant 38 pack, but it was too small so I borrowed my uncle’s bag last minute). Karrimor SF are military-issue and as a short gal it was a big pack and a very wide load. But they’re really great bags. Just make sure the side pockets are balanced if you have a wide pack.
- Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Cover (small). This was a bit small for my bag, but I just about got it over the one day I used it in Copenhagen. It’s great for bags between 30-50L.
- Leki Thermolite Telescopic Trekking Poles. We saw a few people hiking without poles, but these are a priority for me. They give you something to do with your arms, save your knees, and help you out on steep ground.
- Head net for mosquitos. Thankfully I only had to use this once. We were hiking the trail during the worst time of year for mosquitos, but it wasn’t horrendous. My Mum got quite a few bites and we had to evict mosquitos from our tent every evening, but I got off lightly.
- Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack – Small (10 litre) x 2 for clothes and waterproofs, medium (14 litre) x1 for sleeping bag. I’ll be using these again for any trip I need to pack clothes – so most trips, really. They do what they say they do: pack things down smaller and then smaller again when you pull the compression straps down. The main disadvantage is the dead space in your bag around them when you throw these in… I found it better to keep my down jacket out (or another bulky soft item or two) and use it to pad in some of the gaps.
- Source 2l water bladder. I know a lot of people prefer Camelbaks and my Mum hated collecting water from lakes with this as the water didn’t flow in very quickly. But on the whole, I’m happy with it and won’t replace it.
- Squishy Osprey 500ml water bottle. I mostly used this during travel time rather than the actual trek, but it’s a good water bottle to stuff in a small pocket.
- A canvas tote bag to have on the plane and when wandering around Copenhagen before the trek. Super simple and it folds down to nothing.
Tent & sleeping
- MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent. I only have good things to say about this tent. It felt like a palace and I looked forward to retreating into it every day of the ACT. It’s quick to put up, although you do need to do the inner first, which might be a pain in wet weather. The loops are colour coded red and grey so you know which side to lay over the ten. The poles clip in and out super simply. And inside, you have a dome of protection and space to unwind and catch your zzzs. There’s a small porch on each side with lots of room for boots, bags and walking poles. When I brushed my teeth, I unzipped one of the doors, burrowed a little hole, and spat my toothpaste in there without leaving my sleeping bag.
- Before leaving for the ACT, I used SilNet Silicone Seam Sealer and one round of Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof Waterproofing (I also used this on my waterproof jacket). I had zero problems with water coming through when we had rain at night.
- MSR Universal Footprint 2. This helped protect the bottom of my tent, especially on nights when we were on unstable surfaces with prickly bushes around.
- Sea to Summit Women’s Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Mat. I loved this! I tested two other mats first (Thermarest NeoAir Lite and Thermarest ProLite) before settling on this one.
[My grand journey of trying to find the right sleeping mat will be published soon]
- Rab Women’s Rab Ascent 700 2018 Sleeping Bag. Although this sleeping bag is rated at -5C comfort, -12C limit and extreme -31C, I had a few cold nights. There are two toggles for the head and body sections and the cords can be annoying inside the bag. I also woke up with a few feathers on me each morning and some came out the exterior side (perhaps due to compressing it slightly to pack away each day).
- Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow. In my first gear trial night, I used this as my main pillow. I lasted until 10:30pm when I got so uncomfortable that I went inside to get another one. I’m definitely not one for air pillows. But I packed this for the ACT anyway, to prop my head higher when reading and then between my knees as I slept (I have quite wide hips and always find this most comfortable as a side sleeper). My main head pillow for the trek was…
- Thermarest compressible pillow (small). It’s not the most ultralight backpacking move packing two pillows. This one isn’t the smallest or lightest at 200g either: although you can fold it in on itself, it doesn’t pack down super small. But I slept so well on it and had no neck issues. It’s just like a normal pillow you’d have at home, but smaller and easier to pack. After unpacking, just plump it a bit to expand the filling (recycled foam from old Thermarest mattresses).
- MSR Windburner Stove. I originally ordered the Windburner Duo for two people, thinking this wouldn’t be big enough. But I changed my mind and switched to this one. It was plenty big enough. All we were doing was boiling water for drinks and dehydrated meals and it was fast enough to boil again if needed. I have a love-hate relationship with this stove… but love wins overall. I love it because it does an incredibly good job at what it’s designed to do: heat water very quickly. It’s also light and packs away small, with everything neatly inside the one cylinder. It was perfect for the ACT other than the reason for which I hate it – tipping over and giving me a serious burn injury on day 7, with 70km left to hike on it. When you look at the dimensions, you can see how it happened. It’s top-heavy and can easily topple when on soft ground. In a wind, you’ll want to be nearby to make sure it doesn’t tip and set fire to the earth around you. Just don’t do what I did and have your legs too close.
- Sea to Summit Trash Dry Sack. These are genius. It’s a far better solution than stuffing rubbish in plastic bags. To close it, you fold the top over and clip it like a normal dry bag, which keeps all the ickiness confined away from your clothes, sleeping bag, etc. When you start accumulating a lot of trash, you can clip it to the outside of your pack.
- Sea to Summit X-Bowl and X-Mug. These are fab little ultralight utensils. The main disadvantage is keeping them clean. They have ridges that allow them to collapse down, but these collect food (think porridge). It was good to have a completely collapsible cup and bowl to compress down and tuck in the top pocket of my bag though, usually in a plastic bag to keep the stickiness of unwashed hot chocolate and porridge away from everything else.
- Light My Fire titanium spork. Your all-in-one eating tool with no plastic, unlike my silicon bowl and mug. My spork came with a little drawstring sleeping bag (for some reason my Mum’s didn’t), so I could pack it in there as soon as I finished to a) keep it clean or b) keep the still-sticky-with-porridge utensil away from everything else.
This is what we divided between our bags for the two of us. Note to readers: it wasn’t enough. At least not for me as a 5’3 twenty-six-year-old who weighs between 55-57 kilo and incinerates food.
Count up your calories per day and make sure you’re covered. It’s also recommended to carry food for 1-2 days longer than your planned hiking duration in case of delays and bad weather.
We ate our Real Turmat/Summit to Eat/Adventure Food meals as our main meal of the day, initially for dinner once we’d finished hiking and set up camp. But after a few days, we started eating these at lunchtime. This gave us the energy to get in a decent number of easyish kilometres. We’d then have a lighter dinner.
All of our food was just-add-water and you could eat the Real Turmat/Summit to Eat/Adventure Food meals in the bag (meaning clean bowls!)
- 10x Real Turmat meals
- 5x Summit to Eat meals
- 5x Adventure Food meals
- About 10x packs of Sainsbury’s instant couscous meals (which claimed to serve 2 each, but no way you’d share)
- About 10x instant Mug Shots (noodles, pasta etc type things)
- 22x Quaker Oat So Simple Cuppa Porridge
- One pack each of Clif Strawberry Energy Bloks
- One pack each of Dextro Energy Tabs (Orange)
- 4x Kind Bars (dark chocolate nuts with sea salt)
- 2x Quaker Oat So Simple porridge oat bars
- 2x Tony’s Chocoloney caramel sea salt bars
- We also had communal Kendal mint cake and shortbread – we’re British, after all.
- Hiking boots. Mine are Scarpa Women’s Marmolada Pro OD, which I’ve concluded my feet like for mountains but despise for multi-day hikes. My Mum had North Face ones which she compared to slippers. She didn’t have a single blister, so I believe her.
- Rab Women’s Electron down jacket (in Graphene/Peony). I’ve had this for a few years and love how small you can pack it up. Also has a great hood to keep you snug in cold winds.
- Patagonia light raincoat. Usually attached to the top of my bag.
- North Face light fleece. I mostly used this in the evenings and when having breaks.
- Columbia women’s hiking trousers, which are semi-waterproof in case of mild drizzle and have drawstrings at the bottom for improvised gaiters. I’d removed the belt as it got in the way.
- Rab Latok women’s gaiter. I didn’t use these, even though we passed over a lot of boggy ground.
- 2 x Páramo hiking shirts. I’m not sure they make them anymore. The long-sleeved one that’s also cool, fast-drying, anti-stink, and covered a lot of skin I wore most days. I wore the short-sleeved one only once.
- Sacred evening and sleepwear to keep as clean as possible. Icebreaker merino wool thermal leggings, a Ron Hill light wool long-sleeved top, and thin hiking socks.
- 2 x other tops to try and keep clean (one long-sleeved North Face, the other my favourite T-Shirt with a cabin in the woods print from United by Blue). These were kept for after the trail in Sisimiut and Ilullisat, but I could hike in them if necessary.
- Flip flops for relaxing and river fording
- 2 x Smartwool hiking socks. My Mum had waterproof Sealskinz socks (apparently a popular choice) and really liked these and had no blisters, even though she had a mild reaction as she’s sensitive to wool.
- Underwear x3 (Icebreaker merino short undies and comfy M&S ones)
- 2 x Thinx underwear (not required by men and women who do not menstruate)
- Wide-brimmed hat (Vivian hat in Fog from Sunday Afternoons)
- Bandana to use as a headband (a pretty one from United by Blue with constellations on)
Keeping clean & healthy
- Coghlan’s Backpacker’s trowel for toilet trips and 2x toilet rolls that came with it on Amazon UK.
- A basic and super light washbag (you could also have a ziplock) containing:
- La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF50 suncream (50ml). I use an Anthelios suncream every day as I’m extremely pale and it doesn’t break me out. I packed a 50ml bottle for the trail and nearly ran out, but I’m a redhead… so your mileage may vary.
- Sea to Summit biodegradable Wilderness Wipes (3x packs of 12 between two of us)
- Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash with Citronella (40ml)
- Mooncup because I’m a woman and haven’t reached menopause (yeah, sucks when you’re in the remote Arctic). To combine with 2x pairs of Thinx period pants mentioned in clothing section.
- Nivea Light Moisturising Day Cream (to use at night, heh).
- Things you probably shouldn’t copy me on, especially if you’re an ultralight backpacker. If you’re foolish enough to bring skincare products, remember to not get them anywhere near water sources (if my tent was 200 feet from water, I normally dug a hole next to it and put my washing water and toothpaste in there).
- The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser 50ml. I know that leaving suncream on my skin at the end of the day is a bad plan.
- The Ordinary Granactive Retinol in Squalane 30ml. I KNOW, it shouldn’t deserve a place in my pack. But I have problem skin and I’ve spent months getting it clear. I wasn’t packing makeup, so my strategy was prevention rather than coverage.
- The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 30ml. Same as above. I use this with my moisturiser to prevent breakouts.
- Life Systems Pocket First Aid Kit. Also with a few extras added:
Electronics & miscellaneous
- Phone with Greenland GPS (iOS / Android) and Garmin apps downloaded.
- Garmin inReach Mini with Expedition subscription for the month.
- Kindle Paperwhite. I read these books on it during my trip (reviews coming up):
- The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van Hemert. “For fans of Cheryl Strayed, the gripping story of a biologist’s human-powered journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Arctic to rediscover her love of birds, nature, and adventure.” I adored this book.
- Paddling North: A Solo Adventure Along the Inside Passage by Audrey Sutherland. “In a memoir remarkable for its quiet confidence and acute natural observation, the author begins with her decision, at age 60, to undertake a solo, summer-long voyage along the southeast coast of Alaska in an inflatable kayak.”
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.” —Barack Obama
- The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. “Acclaimed author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert explores the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway. In 1977, at the age of seventeen, Conway left his family’s comfortable suburban home to move to the Appalachian Mountains. For more than two decades he has lived there, making fire with sticks, wearing skins from animals he has trapped, and trying to convince Americans to give up their materialistic lifestyles and return with him back to nature…”
- In Search of Silence by Poorna Bell. “A powerful memoir about love, loss, and rebuilding a life on new ground. After her husband Rob took his own life, Poorna Bell works towards choosing what she does and doesn’t want from society. Cutting across the remote landscapes in India, New Zealand and Britain, Poorna questions why we seek other people to fix what’s inside of us – and builds her own authentic healing pathway instead.”
- Thin notebook from Paperchase and favourite pen.
- The trusty whistle that I was given as a sixteen-year-old and have never ever used. Back then it was marketed as the loudest whistle in the world. Maybe it would help in case of musk ox attack?
- Nikon D3300 camera with 10-20mm Sigma wide-angle lens and 55-300mm zoom lens (really heavy, but I wanted to take wildlife photos). A lot of weight (over 1.5kg) was for my camera stuff, but that was one of my non-negotiables.
- USB Nikon camera charger to charge up batteries with power pack ->
- Anker power bank (heavy at 356g, but charges everything several times)
- Cables for phone and other electronics (my InReach, camera charger, and Kindle all used the same)
- UK and EU plugs with USB adapter to charge electronics
- Ziplock bags to keep passport, a couple credit/debit cards, cash, electronics etc relatively dry. I also read someone say you can use these to create a portable leave-no-trace washing machine.
Phew. That’s it!
Read my other posts about the Arctic Circle Trail, stay up to date on Facebook, and reach out with any questions.