Polar Bear Blog

The ultimate Churchill Wild summer safari packing guide

Guests photographing polar bear at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Didrik Johnck photo.
Guests photographing polar bear at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Didrik Johnck photo.

by Vanessa Desorcy

If you’re heading up to Churchill this summer, or are planning to in the future, listen up!

Packing for a trip to northern Canada is an adventure in itself. Arctic summers can bring rain, heat, wind and bugs. They also most definitely bring a lot of beauty, wildlife, and “wow” moments which more than make up for the fluctuating conditions.

The key when preparing for a summer Arctic safari is to pack a variety of clothes for layering, along with a few other essentials.

First, you’ll want to make sure you have the right type of luggage: it’s essential to come packed in a duffel bag. You’re allowed one checked bag weighing no more than 50 lbs (22 kg) and up to two carry-on items, provided that their combined weight does not exceed 20 lbs (9 kg).

Space on flights to Churchill, and from Churchill out to your chosen wildlife eco-lodge, is always at a premium. Using a soft-sided duffel bag as your checked item ensures that space can be maximized.

Your duffel bag can have a bottom frame with wheels, but the sides and top MUST be collapsible. We love this one and this one from L.L.Bean. For summer trips, this size of bag is sufficient, though you can bring one that has up to a 90 L capacity, so long as the total dimensions (L + W + H) do not exceed 55” or 138 cm.

Happy dresser uppers at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Colourful too! Nancy Herter photo.
Happy dresser uppers at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Colourful too! Nancy Herter photo.

Now that you’ve got the proper bag, let’s fill it up! For all guests visiting between July and September, this is what you’ll need:

Basics

As noted earlier, layers will be your best friend. Bring enough t-shirts (long and short-sleeved), pants, light sweaters and/or fleeces, and for the duration of your stay.

Essentials

There are a few other items that are essential to keep you comfortable. These are:

  • A warm spring or fall jacket
  • A sun hat with a brim
  • Indoor shoes or slippers

Suggestions

We also recommend that you pack the following:

  • Binoculars
  • A small day pack to bring on excursions
  • A dry bag for marine tours
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Rubber boot insoles (Note: We will provide you with rubber boots, but bringing a pair of insoles will ensure your comfort during hikes.)
  • A bug jacket or head net (This is especially important in July and August)

DO NOT BRING YOUR OWN BUG REPELLENT. The regional airline we partner with does not allow passengers to transport this item. We will have bug spray available at the lodge for you to use if needed.

Nature's warmth at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Allison Francoeur photo.
Nature’s warmth at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Allison Francoeur photo.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t listed waterproof outerwear for rainy days or marine tours, it’s because we’ve got you covered! We have rain gear available at both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge and can loan you a jacket and pants for the duration of your stay. When you go out in the Zodiacs to view beluga whales, we’ll set you up with waterproof jackets that double as personal floatation devices.

For those of you joining us for a September polar bear safari, there are a few more items you’ll want to bring in addition to those outlined above:

  • A pair of thin mitts or gloves
  • A warm sweater or heavy fleece
  • A light parka
  • Wool hiking socks
  • A knit of fleece hat
  • Long/thermal underwear

Thermals? Gloves? A fleece hat? In September? Yes! The weather can be very unpredictable this time of year and can change in an instant. Summer turns to fall on the Hudson Bay coast earlier than in more southern areas, so the more prepared you are for a variety of conditions, the more enjoyable your trip will be. You wouldn’t want to miss out on an excursion because the weather turns chilly and you don’t have the proper gear to keep you comfortable.

Prepared for wind and water at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Glenn Bloodworth photo.
Prepared for wind and water at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Glenn Bloodworth photo.

I was up at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in late September a few years ago and experienced rainy days, windy days, misty days, and sunny days. The temperature fluctuated from about 15°C down to about 5°C, but with the addition of wind and moisture in the air it felt cooler than that and I could have easily gotten very cold if I hadn’t had a warm hat, warm layers, and a pair of gloves. Luckily, the wildlife encounters we had erased any memories of less-than-perfect weather.

If you do catch a chill while out exploring the coast, during cocktail hour back at the lodge you’ll quickly warm up as you snack on hot appetizers in front of our wood-burning fireplace. If that doesn’t quite do the trick, a full-course meal of our tundra-inspired cuisine enjoyed with new friends should warm both your body and soul.

Now go get packing – our wildlife is waiting to meet you!

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