The tundra is no doubt the coldest biome on earth and can be found in regions just below the Arctic ice caps, mostly in Alaska, Canada and Siberia. The tundra biome is characterized by freezing temperatures and permafrost. It's treeless and consists of large stretches of bare ground, rock and low vegetation, including mosses and small shrubs. If you plan on traveling to the tundra, you'll want to pack the right clothing and gear.
Understanding the Tundra Environment
Temperatures in the tundra are almost always at or below freezing. The summer is the only time when temperatures might go above freezing, ranging between 37 and 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, the tundra is constantly freezing and thawing, repeating the cycle over and over again. Additionally, up to 9 inches of rain can fall each year. All of these factors make this biome unique from other biomes that are similar, such as the taiga.
Some animals and plants are native to the tundra biome, but because of the harsh temperatures and dryness, it is hard for them to survive. The animals who live in the tundra are one of a kind, like arctic foxes, chinchillas, yaks, arctic hares and polar bears.
Tundra vs. Alpine Tundra
The term "tundra" consists of two types of biomes that are similar but have a few slight differences: arctic tundra and alpine tundra. Both are found in the Northern Hemisphere, but alpine tundra exists at higher elevations in virtually any mountainous area on earth. To determine if a place outside the region in the north is considered alpine tundra, look for trees at the top. If there are no trees, due to the high winds and freezing temperatures, then the area is typically defined as an alpine tundra.
Trips to the Tundra
The tundra biome is truly fascinating for some adventurous travelers. But the conditions are rough there, and inexperienced travelers will need help navigating the biome. Many people choose to travel with a tour group.
Many tour companies lead trips into the tundra biome, for instance, Tundra North Tours, which creates "authentic arctic experiences" in Canada. You can choose which time of year you want to travel, depending on what you're hoping to see or what you're looking to do.
What Clothes to Pack
If you're planning a trip to the tundra biome, take your packing seriously. The right or wrong clothes won't only make or break your experience, but they could dictate whether or not you'll even survive your travels. Several items are key:
- Upper body layers: wicking layer, insulated layer, insulated jacket and T-shirt
- Lower body layers: wicking layer and wool pants
- Specialized layers: wind jacket, wind pants, rain jacket and rain pants
If you're not sure exactly what's appropriate to wear or which brands are the most reliable, then ask expert staff at a sporting goods store or call the tour company to see what it recommends.
In addition to warm layers, certain accessories help prevent the heat from escaping through your extremities. This gear should also be top-notch and, ideally, waterproof:
- Warm hat
- Sun hat
- Neck warmer
- Liner gloves
- Gloves or mittens (and an extra pair)
- Socks (and many extra pairs)
- Hiking boots, particularly rubber
Once the clothing and accessories part is covered, there's additional gear you'll need to bring along, unless your tour company provides it. Many tour companies also rent gear to travelers who hike out on their own but need the right stuff:
- Daypack with food, water and extra layers
- Hand and foot warmers
- Extra layers
- A camera or phone
If you're joining a tour company, this gear should be more than enough. However, if you plan on taking on the tundra backcountry on your own, then you'll need quite a bit more essentials.