When you talk about chasing the Northern Lights, everyone becomes worried about the cold. It can be very harsh for someone coming from a country near the equator like Singapore. Whenever it is nearing the end of the year, you will see many people flocking to the stores selling winter wear and thankful for Uniqlo that so many winterwear become much more affordable. Having survived my Finland trip, here are my own personal tips for first timers on how to survive.
What to wear
The first thing people worry about is what to wear? how many layers to wear? So here is a small guide on what will keep you alive in the harsh cold.
1 Thermal Wear ( 1st layer)
This is the layer that you wear first and it keeps your body heat from escaping and the one that will keep you warm by using your own body heat. For a minus 30 degree temperature, a simple heat tech kind of inner wear is not sufficient. You should invest in a good one which is thin, absorbent and disperses your perspiration and very fitted. There are a few different kinds of thermal wear like cashmere, wool, cotton and polyester. You can choose the kind you like which is suitable for minus 30 degree. I personally have the performance dri-fit polyester kind made for extra heating as I get allergic to wool to my body.
2 Main wear ( 2nd layer)
After the thermal wear, this is your main piece of clothing. This is the layer that further provides you with additional heating. I would recommend wearing a pull over either made of wool or fleece. Fleeces are slightly more warm as they are tightly woven together and a lot less bulky compared to wool. If you are not so afraid of the cold, a semi thick fleece pull over will be sufficient. If you are extremely afraid of the cold, you can wear 2 layers; one thinner layer of fleece long sleeve top and another thicker fleece pull over. For pants, it is important to get wind proof and water proof pants so you can get thin ski pants which you can find at Decathlon or Uniqlo. Non water or wind proof ones will absorb the water and cold and make it even colder for you.
3 Outer Jacket ( 3rd or 4th layer)
This in my opinion is the most important part of the attire as this is the layer that should keep the harsh cold winds out. Other than being the most crucial tool to keep the wind out, this is probably the only outfit that will appear in all your photos. After 2 days, you realise that what you wear inside no longer matters as you don’t really see it at all except your travel mates. If I could rewind to my trip, I would have packed less main wears and maybe 1 more jacket. The important part of the jacket is that it should be wind and water proof and have a hood that can protect you from sudden snow or downpour. There are ones made from down, or just padded synthetic or even special temperature proof materials with an additional layer of fleece inside. The very expensive ones are thin and not bulky. My advise is to invest in a really good, thin and light one so it doesn’t not add to your weight which can be very tiring in the Winter.
Gloves – This is crucial as the first place to freeze up will be your fingers and I had the experience of feeling my blood freeze on my fingers and no warmer packs could help. So get gloves that is wind proof with either wool or fleeces lining so it warms your hands and keep the wind out. The plain fleece or wool ones are quite useless as they are unable to keep the wind out. So remember that the external materials needs to be wind proof.
Cap/Beanie/Hat – This will keep your hat warm but you can do with or without it if you have a hood on your jacket. However, having a basic one will be convenient so you don’t have to wear the jacket hood all the time. As our head is protected by our hair, our head doesn’t really get very cold so a basic one will do.
Scarf/Neck Warmer – If you have a jacket that zips right up to your face, This is only necessary during the late night ski mobile rides, husky rides or reindeer rides. Instead of protecting your neck, this is actually important in covering your face up to your nose area to prevent any frost bite since the skin is the most thin on our face. I had a neck warmer from Uniqlo and this really works better than any scarf or ear muffs.
Shoes/Socks – For shoes, it is important to get comfortable ones that are wind proof/water resistant and anti-slip on ice. It is not so important to get fleece or wool lined ones as you can depend on a good pair of socks. Instead, you need it to keep the wind out, not get wet from the snow as well as allow you a good grip on ice. For sock, it would be good to get a pair of thick wool socks.
I have put together a pictorial representation of what I have mentioned above so you can have an idea of what to pack for your arctic holiday.
What to bring
When any human is put in an extreme weather like minus 30, the thing you crave most is any kind of warm drink or soup or food. In a place like Finland, most of the restaurants are very expensive too so there are a few things I brought to the trip and it is extremely helpful.
1 Thermal Flask
This is extremely helpful to carry any form of hot tea, water, milo and it needs to be one that can hold the temperature. I remember sipping on my flask so often during the small breaks in between of waiting for the Northern Lights and it really warm the body up. Some recommended drinks include ginger tea, ginseng tea or hot cinnamon tea so you can bring ready sachets.
2 Electric Kettle
In order to have hot tea every day, we brought an electric kettle as it is common for many European hotels not to provide any in the room and it is a hassle to get it from the kitchen all the time.
3 Instant meals
It feels good to have a hot soupy meal. Being Chinese, the usual western soups are usually lukewarm so having hot ramen or instant porridge feels great and warm up your body during late nights when you are camping to see the lights.
4 Heat pads
While there are not all that useful, they still do provide some kind of warmth when you most need it. The areas to put them is usually in the shoes for the feet in the pockets of your jackets for your hands and anywhere else you will need them
5 Camera and Tripod
You will definitely need a good camera and tripod to catch the lights on picture
It is not easy to get to a doctor or hospital when you are so far north and it helps to carry simple medication with you. Our tour mate had the runs and luckily we had medication and he recovered the next day.
This is pretty much everything that will be helpful for your trip up North and most importantly bring an open mind when you travel to catch the lights since it is never a confirmed sighting and no tour company can promise you that so even if you do not catch the lights, do enjoy the white winter wonderland with everything it offers.