What to wear to see the Northern Lights?

I’ve written about my experiences with the Northern Lights here. But I guess I forgot to address one of the most important things about seeing them. What should you wear?!

Some things can vary a little, but I can guarantee you one thing, it will be cold when you go. When I went last year in February (2012), it was about -5 degrees Celsius. The first night I spent sleeping in a Sami tent outdoors, which is pretty much similar to sleeping in a tent outdoors, compounded by the fact that all of us had forgotten to add logs to the fire. For this kind of sleeping outdoors, I had the following on:

  • 1 pair Thermal tights
  • 1 pair of ski-pants worn over my thights
  • 2 Uniqlo Heattech top
  • 1 leather jacket worn over my two Heattech tops
  • 1 long down jacket worn inside my moon suit (over my leather jacket)
  • 1 wool scarf
  • 1 set of winter / ski/ moon suit: Provided by the Lyngsfjord Adventures since we were staying there
  • 1 pair of thick socks
  • 1 pair of toe warmers
  • 1 pair of moon boots: Provided by Lyngsfjord Adventures
  • 1 pair of thick ski gloves
  • 1 snow hat
  • 1 set of earmuffs (360’s)

DSC_0070(Tres chic no?)

Now, I honestly didn’t have that much on, but the saving grace du jour was the moon suit and moon boots that were loaned to us by Lyngsfjord. This kept us completely warm. I didn’t feel cold at all (except in the face). I actually could easily lay down directly on the snow covered ground (which I did for about 30 minutes) watching the sky and trying to see if we could spy the Northern Lights. It was also the saving grace when I was asleep since (as I mentioned) we forgot to put logs into the fire. This was also exactly the same thing I wore when I went dog sledding the next day (come on, don’t judge me, it was incredible cold and the tent didn’t have fire!) which again was completely fine and kept me warm.

DSC_0064(Want to up your dog sledding style? add rings!)

After the outdoors, we returned to Tromso and prepared for a second night of chasing the Northern Lights. Similarly, it was -5 degrees Celsius that night, and we had to be well dressed and prepared to spend time outdoors. Since I no longer had the moon suit and boots, and only had what I had packed, I wore the following (almost everything that I had brought with me):

  • 1 pair Thermal tights
  • 1 pair of ski-pants worn over Thermal tights (I debated wearing my jeans over my tights and under the ski-pants, but the ski pants and a good pair of thermal’s was sufficient)
  • 2 Uniqlo Heattech top – worn on top of each other
  • 1 cashmere sweater – it was a bit moth eaten but did its job
  • 1 down jacket by Helly Hansen – built by a Norwegian brand and designed to survive the Norwegian cold (and wasn’t too bulky)
  • 1 wool scarf
  • 1 pair of thick socks
  • 1 pair of toe-warmers (I brought a spare with me as well) <– these were life savers
  • 1 pair of thick calf length boots – these were by Sorrel, and were built to last -20 degrees weather. Don’t mess around, even with these, my toe warmers, thick socks and my thermals, I eventually could feel the cold around my toes towards the end of the night
  • 1 pair of thick ski gloves; I also brought a pair of thin liner gloves I wore inside my ski gloves. This will be helpful when you need to set your camera but keep your fingers warm. Easily allows for slipping the ski gloves on and off
  • 1 set ear-muffs (360 degree ones that can still easily allow you to rotate your head)
  • 1 snow hat

For ski pants, I recommend the true heavy duty ski pants (not the snowboard type). You can tell the difference by the fact that they are bulkier and seem to have some kind of filling. I wore silk thermals and the ski pants and I did not feel a thing (and it helps because you can also sit down and not get wet which will be important in setting up your camera). Both the ski pants and the jacket were Norwegian brand (Helly Hansen). My normal 100% down jacket from Amsterdam did not cut it (I had to wear my moon suit over my down jacket to stay warm)

In a way, I was lucky, I lasted five hours outdoors in -5 degrees weather and was actually feeling quite good in everything I had on. I had learnt from the guide that the month before they had to withstand -30 degrees weather the whole night to watch the Northern Lights. I have no idea what else I could have thrown on top of what I had on to survive that. Possibly the moon suits. Which by the way, can be rented from the town of Tromso in case you don’t feel like lugging/ buying everything. Especially if you’re originally from the Tropics and would have no use whatsoever for these things after you’re done with the lights.

Remember, this is also highly dependent on each persons ability to withstand the weather. I am not particularly big, nor am I particularly small, but I do think I get colder than the average person since I did not grow up with the cold. You should plan however, to be spending easily more than five hours outdoors in sub-zero temperature. Especially if you had travelled all the way and wanted to see the lights. And if you wanted to take pictures as well.

I actually had a friend who wasn’t well prepared for the weather and had to turn back and stay in the bus to keep warm. What a shame! Especially since Mother Nature decided to put on an amazing show late in the night.

cropped-photo_451_20120219.jpg(Worth the cold and the ginourmous layers? totally)

This may be the one time I would say that function trumps fashion. With all of that on, you will inadvertently look like a yeti. But at least you’ll be a warm yeti. And if all else fails, maybe you can add a belt to ‘define’ your waist a little.

Enjoying a beautiful day outside(After its all over – relaxing in Oslo in minimal layers of a Heattech top and my leather jacket)