How to dress for the Arctic Circle

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Martin Andersen

04 November 2016

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The northern most parts of Europe is an absolutely stunning landscape, but it can also be a hostile and unforgiven environment. The most important thing, if you’re going on holiday in sub-zero conditions, is to be well prepared for the elements. As the saying goes, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing, so here follows some advice on what to wear to stay warm and safe in the Arctic.


You are going to be on your feet a lot, and if your feet aren’t happy, then you won’t be enjoying your Arctic holiday very much. Waterproof, snow-boots are essential if you are going to be hiking and frolicking in the snow, however, if you’re holidaying in Reykjavik, good, waterproof hiking boots will suffice too. It’s furthermore also a very good idea to have worn in your boots before embarking on your snow adventure. Bring more than just one pair of woollen socks and make sure you’re always wearing dry socks, as wet feet will quickly make the journey into the wild turn sour.



Staying warm in the Arctic involves wearing at least three layers. One for comfort and warmth, one for insulation and an outer one for protection against the weather. You can choose to wear more than this, but you might end up looking too bulky and with restricted movement.

Thermal underwear should be the first item to be packed in your suitcase. Not only should your underwear insulate you, it also needs to redirect any moisture away from your body. Choosing to go with tight-but-comfy fitting underwear made from polyester or other synthetics will allow easier movability. Stay clear of wearing any undergarments made from cotton, as this material absorbs moisture and it will quickly feel very unpleasant when you’re out and about.

Moving on to the middle layer, this is where you want to allow air to circulate a bit, in order to stay well-insulated and warm. A slightly loose-fitting fleece jacket or a woolly jumper will provide a necessary extra layer, without preventing the ability to move. The middle layer can also be used as clothes to wear indoors, as the houses in the Arctic Circle are usually well-insulated and heated. 



The main things you’d want to ensure for the outer layer are insulation from the elements, breathability as well as something that you can move in. While it is possible to get a one-piece for both children and adults, it’s better to wear a two-piece outfit where the bottom of the jacket has an elastic fit that closes around the waist. The trousers usually come with braces or as dungarees, where the latter ensures extra insulation. The inner layers should be providing most of the warmth, so the outer layer is mainly to keep out the elements and retain body heat. One of the main escape points from your body for heat is through you head, and wearing a hat or a balaclava is absolutely essential. Staying outdoors in sub-zero temperatures means that you need to cover your ears as well as other exposed parts of your body. Gloves are equally necessary and make sure there is plenty of room for the fingers to move inside them, so that air can circulate. It’s also a good idea to wear silk inner gloves for extra warmth as well as bring heated pads –especially if you’re waiting for the Northern Lights to appear and as such won’t be doing much exercise.


*Please note that most places will be offering outerwear either as part of the deal or for rent, so you may not have to invest in, or indeed pack the snow suit or the mittens. Please check this for your specific holiday and remember to still bring extra inner clothes. 


Other things:

Now that you have been clad in comfortable but weatherproof clothing, you’re almost ready for your Arctic holiday. There are however just a few most things that are worth bringing along with you. First of all, you’ll need include a good pair of sunglasses or goggles.  Despite being in temperatures lower than your freezer at home, the sun can still be very strong in the Arctic Circle, as the snow reflects the rays. Wearing sunglasses or goggles that are tinted will also allow you to see the contours of the snow better and as such prevent snow blindness. Another essential aid to bring with you is a chap stick. The sun and the dry air can have a dehydrating effect on people and especially on an exposed area like the lips. To prevent dehydration, it’s also a good idea to bring bottled water with you on day trips, while, as you’re waiting at night for the Northern Lights, something warm to drink along with something to occupy your mind, like a book or a kindle will be a welcome treat. Also, if you’re going to Iceland, remember to bring swimwear, as a dip in the warm, turquoise water of the Blue Lagoon is something you’ll never forget.


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