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Camping on Svalbard

Life at the base camps of Svalbard

Camping on Svalbard is not as different as camping elsewhere. However you must follow the rules which have been set to preserve the protected and vulnerable environment of Svalbard. The untouched nature and the climatic conditions make camping on Svalbard a very charming and adventurous experience. Here you will not find equipped camping sites with all the usual comforts. The Polar adventure means outdoor activities and comforts are very few.

The layout of the base camps

The two base camps where we lived for some days were very similar. The tents are situated between the toilets and the tents are used for cooking and storage.

A huge tent is used as a kitchen where you can have breakfast and dinner. Inside, together with the gas stoves, tables and benches is a paraffin stove which heats the place.

Close to the tent you have a big fireplace which is lit in the evenings. Stones are used to protect wood from the cold ground and tree-trunk benches surround the fire. An axe is used to cut the trunks in order to build the fire.

The food storage tent is smaller.

The first base camp was the Raudfjord camp at the bay of Alicehamna whereas the second, the Blomstrand camp was situated to the south-east of the first camp.

From the boat to the base camps

Rubber rafts are used to disembark. The boat stays offshore whilst the rafts are put to sea. You take turns in boarding them to reach the coast. Another round is made to get the bags and once on the beach, you help to offload your luggage and load the bags of the people who are leaving the camp.

Waking up and breakfast

The alarm goes off at 8 when breakfast has already been prepared by the guides. You eat both sweet and salty food: jams, chocolate spread, butter, cheese, pâté, bread, hot tea or chocolate and coffee.


After breakfast you go trekking for about 7 to a maximum of 10 hours.

The backpack contains water, a Thermos and the sandwiches for our lunch. We are ready for the mountains, the snow and the ice. We stop and sometimes people divide into two or three smaller groups.

Dinner at the base camps

For dinner you have a warm meal. The guides prepare the food, which has been pre-cooked and made ready on the boat. You eat meat, sauces, rice and pasta: I even ate Barilla’s pasta.

Different drinks are available: coke, sprite and beer. So I wash my meals with beer every evening and also drink some good rum thanks to Stuart – an English mate.

Dinner is a very quiet moment. It is warm and you can rest and dry your shoes and clothes which are wet because of the snow and rain.

After dinner a fire is lit for people who want to stay up a bit before going to sleep.

At the camps, rubbish is divided to be recycled. This is another step for the protection of this Arctic paradise.

Sleeping in a tent

In the tent you do not need to use the thermic mattress. The mattresses of the camp perfectly isolate the sleeping bag from the ground.

As I did in Iceland three years ago, also on Svalbard, I slept in my sleeping bag with just my pants on at the extreme temperature of minus 20° C. The temperature inside the tent is already higher than outside and when I wrap myself in my sleeping bed I feel warm and I fall asleep.

Bear watching

Svalbard is home to the polar bear and our camps lie withing its territory. At night-time, we take turns in guarding the tents from polar bears.

Guarding is obviously voluntary but you can somehow not refuse, considering the great job the guides do. Guarding for two hours per night, for two nights on three, is more than bearable. I use to guard in the scouts and during the military service.

I am responsible for the guard during the 2nd and 3rd night, respectively from 5 to 7 and from 3 to 5. This last shift is the heaviest since it interrupts your sleep.

A winter suit is available and I used it at the first base camp: the weather was not good and we were facing the north.


Bathrooms are non-existent. There are two toilets: one for men and one for women. They consists of only one basket and nothing more. They are not chemical toilets.

Some sand covers the bottom of the basket to keep the plastic clean. Close to the basket is a metal tin where toilet paper must be burnt after use. This procedure is called “Second need” by the guides and differs from the first need which is actually going to toilet. In practice, you can go to toilet where you please – the important is you keep away from drinking water.

If you wanted to go for a “need number two”, you had to have more time and you also had to keep a special explosive pen to scare the bears away. The pen can be thrown as far as 30 metres and causes a small explosion. One guide had to use one at the end of our stay at the first camp when a Polar bear came close to our camp.

Melted water is use for cleaning. Otherwise, you can also use wet wipes.

Leaving the base camps

Before going away you need to make sure that you leave the camp in the same conditions in which you found it: clean. You need to clean the tents, the toilet, the kitchen and replenish food supplies. Rubbish needs to be taken away whereas food leftovers are thrown into the sea for fishes and birds which fly over the beach.

Then the boat arrives and remains offshore whilst rubber rafts are put into the water. One by one we board the boat where we can take a shower. Our adventure had just finished and we were ready to return.

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