During the spring migration arctic-breeding geese pause in temperate and subarctic staging areas in order to deposit body reserves for breeding. Focusing on a single arctic stopover site in West-Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway (Vårsolbukta, 77°45′N, 14°24′E), behavioural strategies of Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis were investigated and body condition and presence of individually marked birds recorded. Individuals using different staging areas earlier along the migration route (Helgeland and Vesterålen on the Norwegian mainland) and heading to different breeding colonies (the close-by Nordenskiöldkysten, and the distant Kongsfjorden) were compared during springs 2003–05. Birds in Vesterålen left the staging area earlier than those in Helgeland, and arrived earlier in Vårsolbukta as well. In Vårsolbukta, females gained body condition at a similar rate regardless of their colony affiliation, whereas males from Nordenskiöldkysten exhibited a smaller overall increase in condition compared to males from Kongsfjorden. The Kongsfjorden birds stayed for a shorter period (average 2.8 days) than those from Nordenskiöldkysten (average 4.0 days). Nordenskiöldkysten birds frequently left Vårsolbukta for short periods presumably visiting the breeding area in order to optimise nest initiation with respect to prevailing snow conditions. The date of final departure was also correlated with nest initiation date at Nordenskiöldkysten. No such relationship for the Kongsfjorden birds was found. We suggest that the geese adopt a ‘hopping’ strategy, using a network of stopover sites in Svalbard during spring with a last stopover at a buffer area in the proximity to the breeding area. For this vulnerable population it is important to identify the sites forming the links in this chain, and to establish their function and utilisation by geese during the vital prebreeding period.