Off the few settlements, the tent is the only overnight possibility on land almost anywhere in Spitsbergen - apart from the very few commercial tourist cabins or snowcaves and igloos in winter. However, far from all visitors are willing or able to carry along on their backs full camping, cooking and safety gear plus food for days or even weeks. Here, stationary tent camps are literally a welcome relief: close to nature, but without heavy packs.
Locations of the Wilderness Camps
The camps are spread around the huge Icefjord, thus keeping transports shorter and easier. At the same time, Icefjord with its numerous branches gives access to much of central Spitsbergen with a wide variety of different landscapes and thereby allowing a wide range of possibilities to discover the arctic nature of Spitsbergen without the considerable extra costs for reaching its remotest parts. Even in most of central Spitsbergen, hiking tourism is so little that experiences of arctic solitude are possible also in most parts of the Icefjord area.
We have prepared detail informations about several of the camps on special subpages - scroll further down to the list of camps and to the links of their descriptions.
Permission for Camps
The norwegian administration of Spitsbergen tries to limit potentially damaging developments in tourism in advance. Seasonal tent camps need a permission and have to fulfill a number of conditions:
- Only on ground which can tolerate some wear - usually free of vegetation.
- Seasonal camps, only. Everything has to be removed afterwards to prevent a creeping establishment of more permanent and comfortable structures as a step into mass tourism.
- At least 100 m distance to cultural monument (which includes in Spitsbergen all human traces older than 1946 !).
- Respecting the regulations for minimisation of possible conflicts with polar bears in connection with camps.
Life in Wilderness Camps
The basic idea about the camps is not luxury, but a possibility for being nearest possible to arctic nature for several days (or even weeks) - but without having to log around masses of equipment and provisions in a heavy backpack. This implies the following points:
- Polar travel logistics are expensive - even more as our camps have to be established and removed every year anew. To keep costs at bay, nevertheless, we have opted for a no-frills-close-to-nature concept. Life in the camps is fairly basic regarding accomodation, kitchen, etc.. However, to provide good space, big conic base tents are used (central height 2.6m, ground diameter 4-5m, providing more space per person even when shared with 4, than alone in a typical tunnel tent, plus better transit of humidity through the strong cotton material, even when cooking inside.
For special arrangements, other solutions can be discussed.
- Basic sanitary facilities: improvised toilet, washing outside with water from stream).
- Around the camp, the guide defines specific places for drinkwater, washing/dishwashing and the toilet, to secure good hygienics.
- All participants are expected to do their share of all chores (setting up and taking down of camp, fetching water, cooking, washing dishes, etc.) - supported and aided by the guide.
- The camp is set up and taken down again by each group to avoid damages to an unattended camp by storms or polar bears. Materials may have to be carried jointly between landing site and camp site (or vice versa).
- To minimize the risk of conflicts with polar bears, safety rules have to be followed. This includes securing the camp during sleeping periods - preferrably by a watch shift system where all participants including guide do their shifts (gun stays with guide). From 5 or more persons involved, this works nicely also regarding sufficient sleep, nevertheless (and many participants enjoy their watch as an opportunity to absorb the surrounding nature). With smaller groups, a tripwire alarm can be an alternative. Food and other smelly items (waste, hygienic articles, cosmetics) are to be stored outside the camp but within sight. Participants have to stay close and within sight of the guide (or night watch) at any time. Staying behind in camp without armed guide while the group is on excursion is not possible.
- Access: the majority of camps is reached by boat, including landings/embarking with a small boat on a natural beach with possibly several steps through water and possibly breaking waves and splashwater. In addition to some agility and stable step, waterproof weather clothes (anorak, rain trousers, gloves) and rubber boots at least up to the knee and with a good profile are the right clothing here. Even better: rubber boots with a light extension which can be pulled up to the hip where needed or otherwise folded down around the shaft (no wading trousers, no waders with soft soles, no sandals, etc.). Sleepingbag, spare clothes, cameras and other things which should not get wet should be packed in sturdy waterproof bags.
- For embarking/disembarking, suitable natural conditions (wind, swell, driftice, etc.) have to prevail at the landingsite and the way there. Generally, the camp locations are chosen in locations, where this is mostly the case during the season. However, on some days special conditions may require landings at places more remote, landings can be delayed (in extremes by more than a day) or in rare cases even another camp may have to be used/installed in another place. Accordingly, flexibility is required - and programs include usually at least one reserve day in Longyearbyen to allow adaptions to program changes
- Travellers booking tent camp wilderness arrangement should be prepared to live with others fairly closely together, requiring tolerance and readiness for compromises. Also a single tent gives only limited privacy (ear plugs protecting more against snoring or sounds from surrounding nature). On the other hand: one can hardly be closer to nature than with camping.
Look out for further information (recommended equipment, etc.) in the detail descriptions for each camp and each tour.
Specific informations about each wilderness camp:
Glacier Camp (Isfjord, Billefjord/Nordenskiöld Glacier, next to the Glacier Cabin)
Birdcliff Camp (Isfjord, Sassenfjord/Diabasodden)
PointedPeaks Camp (Isfjord, Trygghamna)
Petunia Camp (Isfjord, Billefjord/Petuniabay - currently established only on request for special arrangements)