Never did I imagine that my first winter camping experience would take place in Greenland, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. But when the Backpacker team down the hall from SKI asked if I’d join them on a gear testing and backcountry ski trip to the island nation covered in ice, I did the only reasonable thing: I said yes. Raynaud’s be damned.
After a quick Google search of Greenland’s climate and weather in late April—typically a balmy 31 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and lows of around 21 degrees overnight—I packed every single warm layer and insulating gear piece I own or could beg, borrow, or steal. Before zipping my Mountain Hardwear Camp 4 Duffel shut, I threw in a big bottle of 50 SPF sunscreen and Smith’s Embark glacier-style sunnies—I didn’t want to fry my face off on Greenland’s glaciers, after all.
Turns out, I needn’t have worried about the sun. We arrived in Greenland’s capital of Nuuk on April 24 to relatively mild temperatures (36 degrees Fahrenheit) and gray skies. The following day, as our adventure guides from Two Ravens loaded us, our camping gear, and skis onto a chartered boat to ferry us from Nuuk to the western fjords, the rain began. It didn’t cease for the whole four-day outing, though it would occasionally change to freezing rain or snow when the wind picked up (which it often did) and the temps dropped.
If you think this sounds like a miserable existence, I’d tend to agree with you. But this was a gear testing trip, after all, and you really can’t ask for better testing conditions than the terrible weather we endured during our week in Greenland. And thanks to my friends over at Backpacker and our Two Ravens team, who provided luxuries like reindeer hide to insulate our sleeping bags from the ground, I was well-equipped to handle it.
To my surprise and the following gear’s credit, I not only survived, but thrived in some challenging Arctic conditions (our guide’s words, not mine). Some of the pieces on this list are well-loved gear from the past, and some are brand-new products that will hit shelves come fall 2022. If winter camping or backcountry ski adventures way up north are on your horizon, add these gear picks to your short list.
Polyver Sweden Classic Winter Low boots
These boots go right at the very top of this gear list because they were the MVP of the trip. At first I was reluctant to give up valuable bag space for these clunky boots, but I’ve learned the hard way that there’s no coming back from cold feet. So in the ski bag they went, and that proved to be the best packing decision of the trip considering the wet weather we encountered.
They may look bulky, but they’re actually pretty light on your feet considering how bomber they are. The 9-inch high polyurethane boots feature a completely seamless design—making them 100-percent watertight and waterproof—a fast-drying and incredibly warm acrylic liner, and an anti-slip sole with a smart grip design that helps shed water and prevent mud from clumping up on the soles.
These features made the boots ideal for trekking around our basecamp in the snow, loading and unloading gear from our boat onto the rocky shores covered in slick seaweed, and navigating Nuuk’s icy streets in 20-degree temps. Polyver Sweden promises their Classic Winter Low boots have been tested and proven to keep feet warm in up to -40 degrees, and while temperatures didn’t get that low while we were in Greenland, I don’t doubt that these boots have the chops because all of the locals were wearing them around Nuuk. According to our Two Ravens guide, Polyver Sweden has become the new national boot of Greenlanders, and there’s no better testimony than that.
Helly Hansen W Aurora Infinity Shell Jacket and Pant
Jacket $650, Pant $450
There are two rules for winter camping and backcountry skiing: Don’t let yourself sweat, and don’t get wet. If you sweat or allow non-waterproof layers to get wet, good luck trying to get them to dry when you’re out camping in the rain or snow. And good luck staying warm in damp clothing.
Thanks to the Helly Hansen W Aurora Infinity shell jacket and pants, I was able to follow those two golden rules, even in the challenging conditions we had in Greenland. The kit’s fully waterproof yet breathable membrane treated without the use of harmful chemicals kept me dry not only while ski touring (and sweating) in freezing rain and snow, but also while hanging out around our constantly wet basecamp. For four days I spent 12 hours outside in the rain and snow in the Helly Hansen W Aurora Infinity kit, and moisture never seeped through to the inner liner of the jacket or pants—impressive, considering I never had the opportunity to dry the jacket or pants overnight.
It’s like this kit was designed for layering in cold and wet climates. I wore up to three layers below each while hanging out around basecamp, which was easy enough thanks to the kit’s relaxed fit and oversized, helmet-compatible hood; then while ski touring, I stripped down to just a baselayer beneath the jacket and pants, relying on the Lifa Infinity to keep those layers dry while using the jacket’s underarm vents and the pant’s leg vents to dump heat and keep me from sweating. Long story short: This kit offers the best of both worlds–waterproof yet breathable, and designed for high-output adventures.
Rab Ultra Mythic Down Jacket
This ultra-puffy yet ultra-packable down jacket was my number one layer in Greenland. Featuring 900-fill power European goose down and Rab’s innovative Thermo Ionic Lining Technology, which reflects generated heat back to the body, the Ultra Mythic is the warmest down jacket I’ve ever tested, which is mind-boggling considering it weighs a scant 17.6 ounces.
While the jacket’s recycled nylon ripstop face fabric is treated with a fluorocarbon-free DWR treatment, making it water-repellent, I never wore the puffy as an outer layer except for walking around Nuuk during dry and cold days. Instead, I wore the Ultra Mythic as the ultimate midlayer under the Helly Hansen Aurora Jacket while hanging out in the freezing rain around our backcountry basecamp, and threw it on to keep me warm in the whipping wind during ski touring breaks. Because it’s so lightweight and packable, I had no issues stuffing it into my 26L backcountry pack that was already filled to the brim with all the other ski touring essentials. Rab says extensive R&D went into producing the Ultra Mythic down jacket, the brand’s warmest, lightest down jacket yet. That R&D must have involved some kind of sorcery because this down jacket is pure magic. Available in the fall of 2022.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Pants
The secret’s out on these down pants, which have been a favorite amongst skiers for hut trips and backcountry camping adventures for seasons now. Like the Rab Mythic Ultra Down jacket, the Ghost Whisperer Down Pants are incredibly warm for how lightweight they are, packing 800-fill RDS-certified down insulation into full-length pants with a ripstop face fabric. Because they pack down into their own tiny stuff sack and weigh a mere 10 ounces, it’s a no brainer to throw these into the gear bag, especially when you’re headed to somewhere like Greenland, where chances are you’ll want a toasty midlayer even on your lower half.
I certainly did while hanging out around basecamp. I didn’t leave my tent in the morning without throwing these on under the Helly Hansen Aurora Shell pants. Favorite feature, besides the packability: the ankle zips with snap closure, which allowed me to cinch the ankles to fit into the Polyver Sweden boots, which helped retain heat and keep my feet warm. Pro tip: The Ghost Whisperer pants seem to run large, so consider sizing down if you’re between sizes. I’m 5’5”, 140 lbs and the medium was much too large around the waist for me.
Norrøna Lofoten Gore-Tex thermo100 Short Gloves
Like I said above, I’ve never been more thankful that Gore-Tex was invented. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex thermo100 has been my go-to ski touring glove for the past two seasons because I really like their balance of performance and dexterity. Their sleek profile with pre-curved fingers make fiddling with gear in the backcountry easy, not frustrating, while the high-performance materials—Pitard goat leather, stretchy softshell fabric treated with PFC-free DWR, and Gore-Tex waterproof yet breathable liner—ensure your hands are protected from all the elements (even in Greenland). They’re not the warmest, most heavy-duty ski touring gloves out there, but they did the trick for me (someone with Raynaud’s and constantly cold hands) while ski touring in the wet and cold in Greenland. After this trip, I can definitely vouch for the gloves’ waterproofing.
Rab Andes Infinium 800 Sleeping Bag
Last but not least, the sleeping bag that convinced a girl who never thought she’d survive winter camping that she could brave the cold after all. The Andes Infinium 800 sleeping bag features the same 800-fill RDS-certified European goose down and TILT technology found in Rab’s Ultra Mythic down jacket, so it essentially feels like you’re sleeping in a body-suit version of that magical down jacket.
It’s rated to -10 degrees Farhenheit, but we didn’t deal with temperatures that low, so let me use my own rating system: Usually when I camp with overnight temps that hover around freezing, I sleep in a full set of baselayers, Melanzana hoodie, wool socks, and a hat. In this bag in Greenland, where the average overnight temperature hovered around 26 degrees, I slept in just my baselayers, without socks nor hat, and I was darn comfortable.
With its Gore-Tex Infinium with Windstopper outer, the Andes Infinium was also the perfect bag to have for camping in the rain. Even after (inevitably) bringing moisture into the tent and onto the sleeping bag, it stayed dry inside. My favorite feature of the Andes Infinium, though: the generous mummy shape and angled foot box, which doesn’t cramp your style if you’re a tosser-and-turner like me.
Looking for more Greenland adventure beta? Stay tuned for gear and trip recommendations in Outside‘s 2023 Winter Gear Guide, which hits mailboxes in October 2022. While you wait, check out Outside‘s 2022 Summer Gear Guide.