11 Arctic Explorers To Inspire Your Own Polar Travels

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One of the most surprising discoveries about the Arctic for European explorers was that people actually lived there.  And in fact had for thousands of years in such an inhospitable place.

The early arctic explorers didn’t know what to expect when they first ventured off. All they knew was that it was a place so frigid that the frozen waters were unpassable for their ships.

The average winter temperature is -34°C (-30° F). Summers are warmer at 3-12° C (37-54° F) but hardly bikini weather in the artic.

One of the theories even ventured that a tropical paradise was waiting if you went far enough north – wishful thinking? And so an arctic expedition took off. The race started to become the first to reach the North and South Poles



It took incredible bravery, insatiable curiosity and some would say stupidity to explore this incredibly hostile environment. It wasn’t with the luxury that I experienced on my Arctic Adventure that I’m pleased to offer you on your own Arctic Safari.

I’m in awe of all the explorers who came before me. Those who are making my own journey into the Arctic possible. And it’s to these explorers I give my utmost thanks.

10 Arctic Adventurers You Should Know 

1. Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen - Arctic Adventurer

Related Reading: 9 Things You Probably Don´t Know About Inuit Culture

Fridtjof Nansen was born in 1861 in Norway and was a Norwegian explorer. He became a household name after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°14′ during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96.

It was the closest (on record) that any human had ever come to the North Pole. He retired from exploration after his return but his innovations in polar travel and equipment.

In his later years, this famous explorer went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Although not for his arctic travels but for his work benefitting displaced victims of World War I and related conflicts.


Louise was an American explorer. Born into a wealthy American family in 1887. Both of her brothers and her parents died when she was in her 30’s leaving her with a large fortune at her disposal.

Instead of spending it on diamonds, she used it to finance numerous expeditions to the Arctic with a number of expedition ships.

She gained international fame for her adventures – which included hunting polar bears. Newspapers referred to her as Arctic Diana and The Girl Who Tamed the Arctic.

Boyd is best known for leading a number of scientific expeditions to Greenland in the 1930s, one of her major expeditions. There, she photographed, surveyed, and collected botanical specimens.

Her findings were published by the American Geographical Society in a book titled The Fiord Region of East Greenland. Her name remains alive today in an area near the De Geer Glacier named Louise Boyd Land.

You gotta love a gal who spends her fortune on exploration instead of shoes! 

Related Reading: 7 Reasons Why You Should Travel to The Arctic

3. Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen - Arctic Adventurer

Roald was born in 1872 in Norway. He first studied medicine to make his parents happy but then at the age of 21 quit to follow his dream of arctic exploration.

He’s a man of many firsts; the first (without dispute) to reach both poles, the first expedition leader for an air expedition to the North Pole, and the first to have his own expedition first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06) in the Canadian Arctic.

He died in an ill-fated expedition when his plane disappeared over the Barents Sea in 1928. He was taking part in a rescue mission when it happened.

He was one of the exceptional leaders in the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration and is a true Arctic icon.

4. Sir John Franklin

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Franklin was an Arctic Explorer and an English Royal Navy Officer. While he was attempting to chart and navigate part of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. He and his entire crew along with the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror British explorer ships disappeared.

Despite one of the most extensive searches in history, what exactly happened remains a mystery. Interest was renewed when the HMS Terror was found 160 years later after its disappearance in 2014.

You can learn more about this fascinating part of Arctic history on our Arctic Safari.

5. Maria Klenova

Maria Vasilyevna Klenova Arctic Explorer
Photo from geo.1september.ru

Related Reading: Arctic Adventure: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Maria was a Russian marine geologist. She was born in 1898 and was a contributor to the very first Soviet Antarctic atlas. Maria was part of the first Soviet Antarctic Expedition which departed in 1955.

She spent 30 years exploring polar regions. Much of her years were spent on board the Russian icebreakers Ob and Lena. Here she made observations and took oceanographic measurements.

She was the first woman scientist who carried out research in Antarctica.

While her accomplishments are incredible in themselves, they’re even more so when you considered that they occurred at a time when women were dependent on their parents or husbands.

6. Sir Vivian Fuchs

Vivian Fuchs - Arctic Adventurer

Vivian is an English explorer who was born in 1908 on the Isle of Wight. He studied geology to pursue his love of the outdoors.

His first polar exploration was to Greenland. He’s best known for being the leader of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. A Commonwealth-sponsored expedition that resulted in the first overland crossing of Antarctica in 1957, which took 100 days.

In 1958, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

7. Elisha Kent Kane

Elisha Kane - Arctic Explorer
Drawing of Elisha Cane by Wellcome Images

Elisha was born in 1820 and was an explorer and a medical officer in the US Navy.

He participated in a recovery expedition to rescue Sir John Franklin explorer but he never did find out what happened to the fatal expedition.  

He was also a member of the Second Grinnell expedition. Despite battling scurvy, he ventured farther north than any other explorer had done up to that time. In 1856 he published his two-volume Arctic Explorations.

8. Janice Meek

Janice Meek arctic explorer
Photo by bootshealthandbeauty.com

Janice is a British three-time Guinness World Record holder born in 1944. She participated in the first-ever Atlantic Rowing Race in 1997 with her son successfully crossing the Atlantic in 101 days.

Mother and son reunited ten years later for the Polar Race in 2007. During this polar expedition, they set two world records in the Arctic.

9. Maria Pronchishcheva

Maria Pronchishcheva was born in 1710 in Russia. She and her husband embarked on the Lena River, where many crew members became ill and died.

The survivors eventually reached the coastline of the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia. Both she and her husband paid the ultimate price for their adventures – they died of scurvy on the return trip.

However, this expedition made her the first female polar explorer.

10. Sir Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton Arctic Explorer
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Ernest was a British explorer born in 1874. He was one of the key players during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

His arctic journey led to three expeditions. During his second one, he and three other fellow explorers established the record for the Farthest South latitude at 88°S. This was the closest anyone had gotten to the south pole at this time.

He’s most famous for his heroic efforts and leadership skills aboard the Endurance where he and his became trapped in ice. 

His men had to make their way to Elephant Island to survive. From the island, Shackleton went for help towards South Georgia, and eventually made his way back to Elephant Island to rescue the remaining men. 

For two whole years, the remaining 28 men survived the experience of being stranded on Elephant Island. Miraculously, they all survived.

He lost his life on his fourth expedition when he died of a heart attack. A journey in history to be remembered.

Feeling inspired by these Arctic Adventurers? Read my Arctic Adventure and check out how you can have your own Arctic Safari!

This post has been updated and republished.