What kind of clothing should you wear, when you are going someplace North, such as Arctic Norway? Do you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, for example, chasing the Northern Lights and what should you when then? I am not a fan of cold weather, despite living in Northern Europe, and before last year I did not own too much clothing suitable for very cold climate (driving from home to office does not require much!). So before going to Svalbard and Tromso in Norway I went on a major shopping spree to buy everything I needed for myself and my husband Jekabs. I also read many blog posts about what to wear to Iceland, Greenland and Canada, as well as spend two full days in the stores talking to consultants. Most of the stuff we bought at our local store Gandrs, some items we already owned and a few things we ordered online. Turns out, it is not that easy to buy things that are really warm, as most of clothing is for winter sports, where people move a lot and sweating is the concern! Also, while late winter is a good season to buy warm clothing (we bought ours at the beginning of February) with good discount, the only issue being that towards the end of the season many items are out of stock! So try not to leave shopping for the last weekend before your trip!
Check out the weather we experienced in Svalbard:
What weather were we shopping for: Svalbard and Tromso was around -15-20C when we visited. A few days it was significantly warmer, but some also much colder, down to -30C. Both places were supposed to be very dry, but with serious melting happening in Svalbard, we did experience +4C and rain one day, which really made me reconsider suitability of my jacket (it was not waterproof).
What kind of clothing did we buy and how did it keep us warm?
- Thermal underwear – long pants and shirt with long sleeves, best to have merino wool mix. We bought MILLET. Sizes can really differ by brand! We wore thermal underwear for all outdoor trips in Svalbard and for longer ones in Tromso, when we were not planning to go indoors every 20 min or so (so mostly – just for aurora chasing)
- Socks – you need special warm socks and not regular cotton ones! There are many options available, I bought longer ones, much like these thermal socks. Don’t buy too tight ones, as then air won’t be able to circulate between your skin and sock, as well as don’t wear too tight boots for the same reason!
- Balaclava or face mask – it is very good to have balaclava for windy weather! It goes over your head and covers your neck as well. Pick one that has breathing holes, for example one like this, that way less moisture will accumulate on the inside and you will not have a wet face. We didn’t use these too much in Tromso, but in Svalbard we wouldn’t leave the guesthouse without them!
- Hat & scarf – pick a warm one that covers your ears and sits tightly on your head without slipping, best, if you cat tie it. I wore hat on top of my face mask. The one I had from US as a souvenir “bear face” hat turned out to be surprising warm! I had a wool scarf given to me by relatives, so didn’t need to buy a new one.
- Gloves or mittens – one of the most important clothing items when going to the North! I had inner gloves with sensor fingers so I could use my phone, and outer gloves from Vaude. I didn’t see any mittens my size in any of the stores, so ended up with regular gloves, and this was a bit of a mistake – as my hands were cold and I needed to use chemical warmers. Jekabs, on the other hand, got special Heat gloves suitable for hunters or photographers, with an inner glove and outer, openable mitten with a zipper and magnet. These were incredibly warm!
- Hand and foot warmers – while this is not clothing, it is extremely important to pack chemical warmers with you, when going North! I tried both single-use and reusable warmers, and single-use ones, such as Thermopad are so much better! They really keep you warm for more than 8 h (package says 12). The reusable ones you need to boil after using, while will last you a long time for many trips, unfortunately, only last about 20 minutes giving out heat. They also tend to activate accidentally in your backpack or pockets. So I prefer single-use ones – one pair in the boots, a pair between gloves (don’t put these directly on your skin, as it gets really hot!) and there are some you can even stick to your clothing. I ordered them on Amazon in advance.
- Several “inner” jackets – I had a few at home, Jekabs didn’t, so we needed to buy one for him, similar to this one, and that is the only one he wore under his outer jacket. He wasn’t cold!
- Warm, insulated trousers – I had a really cheap pair from local Sports Direct and they were just fine – puffy, waterproof and windproof, and most important, warm. As Jekabs didn’t have any winter trousers, we bought a pair of Millet in local Gandrs store, Columbia also has some really good ones! The trousers was our most difficult purchase – there was very little variety and most stores only had a few options for insane prices.
- Warm, insulated jacket – I already had a nice dawn jacket with was warm enough, but I would have liked a longer one with the nice sleeves that have like an inner glove inside -so there is no space between your gloves and the jacket. Turned out that my jacket was not waterproof! So for next cold adventures I already have bought an insulated Gore-Tex North Face jacket. Jekabs got one from Millet and it was really very warm. Your jacket should have a hood so you can cover your neck and head if it is very windy!
- Winter boots – good boots are a good investment that will last you a long time! Both of us already had really nice warm Ecco boots that looked like campers boots just slightly taller (mine are similar to these), so you can walk in a bit deeper snow. Since my pair is slightly too big, I usually wear an additional pair of socks just so it is more snug, but not too snug – for air to be able to circulate! Be sure your pair is waterproof and the sole isn’t slippery! Mine were perfect! They did not feel slippery to begin with, but for longer hikes our guides still got us chains.
Overall, I was satisfied with my purchases and my selection for winter clothing, when going to Svalbard. I already have invested in a new insulated jacket and next time I will make sure to get some mittens to be really warm! In many countries, they will provide you with warm clothing for tours (and interestingly, mittens, for example, were just plain sheep skin and no fancy membranes or insulation!), but if you decide to go on your own, as we did in Tromso for aurora’s, you better have your own stuff!