Pack lots of wool to keep warm while spotting the Aurora
January is one of the best months to spot the Northern lights in any of the countries close to the north pole. It is however also one of the coldest times for being outside at night staring at the sky.
I had the opportunity to see the northern lights in Norway in January of 2017. The whole family traveled to Tromso where we had a wonderful time and also were lucky enough to see the northern lights despite a lot of clouds and snow.
As I was preparing for my trip, I asked myself what to actually wear to keep warm. I called up my Norwegian friend who lives in Norway, another wool lifestyler, to get some advice.
My friend advised me about this basic rule:
“Think three layers. Wool in two layers and a wind-proof third outside layer. Think air – not too tight. Feet and head need to be toasty.”
Keeping this in mind, here is what I packed and it worked out very well. I was always warm and comfortable without overheating.
1st layer or base layer
The first layer of your outfit is next to the skin. This layer will regulate your body temperature and transport any moisture away from your skin, so that you stay warm, but not overheat and don’t feel wet. The most important here is to choose next to skin items that are super soft on your skin and don’t irritate your skin. Some people are more sensitive than others, so make sure you can test the fabric to see if you would find it itchy or not. You can read more about itchy wool here.
Wool Long Johns or Wool Tights
To keep your legs warm, you need to wear a pair of long johns or wool tights. There are many different brands available who offer long johns. For tights, I can recommend the ones from Falke as they don’t fall down your hips but stay up.
Last year I gifted a pair of wool long johns to a very good friend from India who had never worn long johns not to mention wool long johns because he thought they would make him feel too hot. However, he was willing to try the wool long johns for a day of skiing. He wore a synthetic long sleeve t-shirt on top together with the wool long johns on the bottom. Afterwards, he became fully convinced of the wool long johns as he could feel the difference in comfort. While he was feeling very hot and sweaty on his upper body he felt comfortable on the bottom.
Long sleeve wool t-shirt
Another important 1st base layer is the long sleeve wool t-shirt. Same as the long johns, it regulates your body temperature and manages your moisture in such a way that you don’t feel wet.
Long sleeve wool t-shirts come also in all different styles and fabric thickness. Choose a lightweight one if you don’t feel easily cold and a heavier one if you tend to feel cold more easily. For staying out in the snow a heavyweight long sleeve works often best.
Wool Vest or Singlet
This one might not be for everyone, but I typically feel extra cold, therefore I also wear a wool undershirt or vest underneath my long sleeve wool shirt. I recommend that you choose wool for this layer as well and not cotton. Cotton would then be the first layer on your skin and would absorb any moisture from your skin and feel wet once you sweat a little bit more than usual. The wet fabric on your skin will feel uncomfortable and may also make you feel cold after some time. If you choose wool instead, the moisture would be transported away from your skin into the air and ensure your skin stays dry.
We all know cold feet can ruin every outdoor activity. As my friend wrote ‘keep your feet nice and toasty’. Therefore it is important to invest in a good pair of wool socks. I often even wear two wool socks on top of each other. There are really good wool skiing and outdoor socks to try. They are a bit thicker and give you special protection and support by how they were knitted. Make sure you try the thick socks together with your boots. Your boot should not be too tight when you wear your thick socks as the wool needs a bit of air to do its job of keeping your feet warm.
2nd layer or mid layer
The second layer goes on top of your 1st next to skin base layer. This is a layer that gives some extra warmth but it is also the layer that can easily be taken off if you need to as temperatures or your activity may change. For the Northern lights season, you definitely would want to add this 2nd layer.
A wool sweater is, of course, a classic wool item to wear. As sweaters tend to be a bit bulkier, they can trap much more air which is what essentially keeps you warm.
I would typically be wearing a second layer of wool long johns just because I need that extra warmth when I am in the cold. Due to the elasticity of wool fabric, two wool long johns layers on top of each other still keep me flexible to move and don’t let me overheat.
Depending on your outdoor activity and your third layer, you might find a wool sweater to heavy and prefer a heavier wool shirt. These tend to have a heavier fabric of 250 g per square meter than the base layer which is often around 130 to 200 gms. These shirts often come with a zipper to be easily worn with the base layer and also be taken off or on more easily.
3rd layer or outer layer
The outer layer is the layer that needs to protect you from the elements and therefore need to be wind and/or waterproof.
Wind resistant trouser and jacket
The jacket and trousers need to be made of a wind and waterproof fabric that will be made of a synthetic fibre. The padding of both garments can vary between downs, polyester fleece or even wool fleece. There are now jacket and trousers available that are filled with a wool wadding, but you may have to hunt for them a bit more. Downs and synthetic fillings are more common. You can have a look at Ortovox and Mover if you are interested in a wool padded jacket and trousers.
Your gloves also need to be wind and waterproof and should have some extra padding to keep your hands warm. Typical skiing or snowboard gloves will work well. I was very happy to find gloves filled with wool from Ortovox.
The importance of keeping your head warm goes without saying. You need a beanie that covers also your forehead and your ears. In addition, your jacket should have a hood to protect you from snow and wind. If possible the hood should have some fake fur at the edges as that works best with keeping the snow and wind out of your face.
I love my beanie from Buff. It is quite thin fabric but super soft and amazingly warm. I wear this beanie every day during the German winter with temperatures between 0 and 8 degrees. If the wind and temperatures get extremely severe I sometimes wear a second hand knitted beanie over the buff beanie for extra warmth.
As we need to keep our feet also toasty, you have to invest in proper snow boots. To watch the northern lights you will be standing a lot outside and you will also be walking through snow. You, therefore, need shoes that are wind and water-resistant but also have high insulation properties for temperatures well below zero degrees celsius.
I am a big fan of the brand Sorel. They do all sorts of different snow boots that will keep your feet warm. Have a look at their Caribou and Winter Carnival shoes.
Scarf or neckwarmer
While your jacket will close up nicely around your neck, you do also need a scarf for extra protection and warmth. Depending on the wind you might even wish to pull your scarf over your chin to protect your face as well. A normal wool scarf will do or you might prefer a neckwarmer. Buff also offers a wide range of merino wool neckwarmers in different weights of fabric, depending on what you need. While I usually wear a normal wool scarf, I did like the merino wool neckwarmer, as it was less fabric underneath my jacket. Also, the neckwarmer covers your neck seamlessly and can be more easily pulled over your chin and back down if needed.
Do you have some more tips on how to keep warm while spotting the Northern lights? I would love to hear about them, so please leave a message below.