What to pack for the Arctic – A Cornish Maids Guide
As an “incomer” to Norway, (I am originally from Cornwall in the UK,) I have learnt so much about living in this fantastic if on occasion, inhospitable climate.
One of the first questions I get asked when people realise I now live in the Arctic Circle, is WOW, don’t you get cold, and what do you wear? If you go by the wonderful Norwegian saying “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing” you can’t go wrong…can you?
The first thing I did when I planned my life changing trip to the Arctic Circle in 2011, was an internet search for “what to wear in the arctic”. All well and good and there is some great advice out there but as I soon found out, it’s not how much you buy it’s what you buy that is important. I read the word “layers” and literally thought that meant buy as many clothes as you could and wear them all at the same time. Not only did this fill up two suitcases, but I also looked like a seriously overweight “telly tubby” with about as much limb movement as a penguin!
So what does layering mean?
A good base layer is essential! Invest in both a top and trousers and they must be wool NOT cotton. The main reason for this is cotton traps moisture against your skin and if you sweat or get wet, as soon as you stop you will become cold. I have personally found Merino Wool base layers to be great and they don’t “itch”.
A good quality fleece is ok, (as long as it is not directly on your skin) or a course a wool jumper. A “down” jacket is also a fantastic investment (there are some ethical companies out there), and there are some great “synthetic” alternatives available, so do your research as this can make all the difference.
Over trousers or Salopettes are great for keeping you warm and dry and if you are spending long periods outside they are essential.
The top layer must be windproof and preferably waterproof – a lesson I learnt very early on. The conditions can change in the blink of an eye and the arctic wind can be biting and extremely intense. If your top layer is not waterproof a thin waterproof jacket (the sort you can roll up in a bag) is a great alternative.
It’s better to have a number of thinner layers, rather than one thick one as you can add or remove them as needed.
The biggest investment for me was good quality footwear. I made the mistake of buying a number of cheap boots, which simply were not suitable for keeping my feet warm. If your
feet are cold, you feel it all over. Good boots are essential, ultimately with an insulated removable liner. DON’T be tempted by fashionable “snow boots” they just don’t cut it. Of course this also depends on what you are doing, if you standing outside looking for the Northern Lights for hours on end, then please invest. If you are near warm houses and cars and not walking in deep snow, a good quality walking boot is “ok”.
Good old fashioned wool socks (the sort your granny used to knit) are perfect or possibly a “moisture wicking” synthetic material is ok, but again cotton is NOT suitable. Invest in two pairs of good quality socks and this will be money well spent.
The most frequent feedback we have from people visiting us, is “my feet are cold”, so please take heed.
You may also want to consider some spikes for your boots or shoes. These are brilliant when the ground is icy and can prevent slips and falls and more importantly broken bones. They simply slip over your shoes and have prevented me from many embarrassing (and potentially painful) moments.
Hats, Gloves & Scarves
I personally think waterproof mittens are essential. They are easy to remove and when your hands are cold are even easier to get back on. If you are planning to take photographs, where you need to keep removing them, they are great. More than one pair is a must, especially as they will get wet. An inner pair or liner gloves are also great and help keep your hands warm.
A thermal hat that covers your ears is again a must (you would not believe how many people come to Northern Norway without a hat, thinking the hood of their coat is ok)! I personally have two, a thin one and a thick wool one. If I get too hot I switch them over and I can also wear both. Again please go for practicality NOT fashion and of course a scarf or snood is also a must.
Rookie Mistake Number 1 - Buying “Cheap”.
I have learnt the hard way, fashionable clothes and boots in supermarkets and chain stores are simply not suitable. They cannot stand up to the arctic conditions and in some cases are dangerous. Footwear in particular do not have the “grip” and can contribute to slips and falls. Its false economy and if I add up what I have spent over the years on useless clothing it is significantly more than investing in good quality clothing in the first place.
Rookie Mistake Number 2 - Wearing everything you own.
Don’t be tempted to put on every layer you have. You will end up getting too hot, taking it off, getting too cold, and struggling to get it back on again. It was funny to start off with, but then when your hands are too cold to do up the zips and you start to shiver, it suddenly becomes very scary. A friend of ours experienced this and started to go blue when he couldn’t get his coat back on as his zips and cuffs had frozen.
Rookie Mistake Number 3 - Ignoring local advice.
There is a reason why people have survived in the arctic for so long -Experience! What advice have I been consistently been given… “Wear wool”! No synthetic fiber has ever managed to take the place of wool and after experimenting and thinking I know better I have discovered the old ways are the best. Wool is warm and cosy, it works like a natural air conditioner for your body, it regulates moisture and it’s also water resistant. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture before it feels wet. There is a reason why Norwegians have such amazing jumpers
I have learnt so much from personal experiences here in Northern Norway and my clothing is an investment not to mention practical and in extreme circumstances “lifesaving”.
Here at Lyngen Adventure we pride ourselves on giving good advice but we also provide additional clothing if you need it when you book a tour with us. We have coats, trousers, gloves and boots available and we are here to help. Please feel free to ask questions if needed and we look forward to being part of your own Arctic Adventure.
Sarah - Booking Manager & new Norwegian