Creative vacatons

Creative vacatons

Friday, 29 January 2016

34 things you need to know about dressing for the cold (or 8 if you're in a hurry)

Short Version

  1. Dress in layers - many layers - 3 or more.
  2. Wool closest to your body.
  3. All the layers have to be loose.
  4. Change your woolen socks frequently. 
  5. Warm hat and warm boots.
  6. Mittens, not gloves.
  7. Use hand and feet warmers if you need. 
  8. Be nice to the planet and the animals on it. 

Full version

Three layers is the basic for dressing in the cold.
The three layers are:

  1. a thin layer next to your skin, called underwear. 
  2. an insulating layer, thicker than the first layer.
  3. an outside layer that protects against wind, rain and snow.
Three layers are not always enough. When it is cold and we are standing still we need more insulation. So we add one or more layers. 

No layer should be tight. It will stop your bloodstream and make you cold.

First Layer 

Next to your skin: wool, wool and wool. I swear by wool next to my skin. 
Wool is the warmest. 

It stays warm even when it is a little damp, or even wet.

Wool does not stink. Unlike the synthetic underwear, wool does not get that famous smell the next day. If you get a wool quality that has not been treated very much you can use it days (some says weeks, I don’t know I’ve never tried) without any smell. For a traveller that is important. And for the people sitting next to you in the van when we go Aurora chasing it is also important.

Merino wool underwear is the best. It does not itch. It is the most comfortable thing you can wear. 

Unfortunately some people are cruel to the sheep in the process. 
Mulesing is a very painful method to keep flies out of the skin of the sheep. It involves cutting off the skin of the sheep without any kind of anaesthetise.  

Luckily there are more and more sheep farmers that are going away from this practice. And there are several brands that are banning the process. 

Second Layer

The second layer is thicker and warmer than the first. If you don’t have a Norwegian nitted woolen sweater made from mulesing free wool, you can use fleece (wool or synthetic) or a down jacket or a quilted jacket. 

If it is very cold it is a good idea to put on an extra pair of insulated pants (trousers/tights). 

Many brands have fleece products made of recycled plastic bottles. Among them are The North Face, Patagonia, Norrøna, Merrell, Paramo, Vaude and Quechua.

Wool is more environmental friendly than polyester fleece, even the recycled type. Tiny clothing fibers is a large source of plastic in our oceans. When we wash our clothes tiny fibres go out with the water and end up in the sea. Natural fibers such as wool and cotton are broken down, plastic is not. 

Down is lightweight and very very warm. It is a natural fiber and a very eco-friendly insulator.  According to the International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory (PDF), down has the lowest carbon footprint of any fill material and is biodegradable

Some people are cruel to the birds when they get the down. Some birds are live-plucked. Needless to say it is very painful for the bird.

Not all people are cruel, and more and more companies are making an effort to do the right thing.
Good choices:
Fjällräven, Patagonia, Mountain Equipment, Mammut, The North Face, L.L.Bean

Third Layer

We use well insulated one piece suits. Little heat escapes, little snow enters when you sit in the snow and they make you feel like a kid again. 


You should be able to feel your toes at all time. If you can’t feel your toes, please tell your guide. 

Of course nothing else than wool next to your skin. 

Change sock frequently. 
I always sweat on my feet. Damp socks are not as warm as dry sock. So I put an extra pair of socks in a plastic bag to keep them dry.  Then I change socks after a few hours.

Double boots are best.
Sorel, Kamik and Baffin are good choices.

Overboots are second best. You just put your normal hiking boots inside insulated overboots and you have double boots. 

It is super important to dry the boots every day. Winter boots get damp due to sweat and condensation. Humidity makes them cold. Dry your boots on the heated bathroom floor, or wherever you can. 

Mittens are best, gloves are third best. You cannot operate the camera any better with thick gloves than with mittens, but you can freeze better. You end up taking them off to operate the camera anyways. 

Finger glove mittens. The best of two worlds. And, the best ones are also wind proof. 

If it is really cold, insulated mittens with an opening in the front are preferred.

You can also wear thin gloves inside your mittens so that you never have to touch anything with your bare hands.


A warm hat that keeps your head and ears warm is essential. 

Warm hat, hi vis vest and headlamp. 
29) If it is extra cold I go with a BF or «Russian style» hat. One that insulates and keep the wind out. If not, a good beanie will do. 

30) Nothing says «tourist» as loud as big fuzzy ear warmers. 

Cold, colder, coldest…

31) Staying still, staring at the sky during the arctic night is a cold, eh… activity. The problem is that it is not very active. The best way to get your warmth back again is to move. Walk uphill, do some squats or dance the Aurora dance.

32) Lack of sleep is a very effective way to get cold, being dehydrated and hungry are also good options if you want to experience that deep freeze. 

Hands (and feet) can be warmed on the stomach of a person close to you. If he or she does not want your ice cold hands there, it means that the person does not love you. 

Not really warm clothing but: We always wear some reflective material. Either on the one piece suits or the hi vis vests. That way car drivers can see us, and I can find you if you wander off to take a better picture. Stay warm and safe!

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