You probably know this already: winters in Lapland are freezing. In the far north of Finland, Sweden, and Norway, temperatures can drop far below zero.
When this happens, you might develop some interesting ice formations on your face.
Luckily, winter adventures don’t have to be pure tests of toughness. With a little preparation, you can have a great time outdoors during this magical season.
The secret? A few simple principles on the art of wearing clothes.
In addition to this article, we've prepared a comprehensive packing list for what to wear in Lapland in the winter. You can use it as a checklist when planning a winter adventure to the North.
Let's get to it.
Layers, Layers, Layers
This is the foundation for all winter activities. When out in the cold, you should always wear specialized layers of clothing.
The classic, tried-and-true system has three layers. The base layer passes moisture from your skin to the thicker mid layer, which is designed to keep you warm. The outer layer shields you from wind, rain, and snow.
Let’s look at the best materials for each layer.
Base layer: keeps you dry
Merino wool is the expert’s choice for the innermost layer. It’s super lightweight, breathable, and warm at the same time. It’s also silky smooth and non-itchy. And thanks to its antimicrobial properties, it doesn’t start smelling easily and you don’t need to wash it often.
For these astonishing features, we can thank a special sheep breed called the merino. Adapting itself to varying weather conditions, the merino has developed the perfect coat that keeps it warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
We strongly recommend using organic merino wool. Organic sheep live much happier lives and certifications such as bluesign® and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) are a mark of more sustainable production. In general, any fabric you see that’s bluesign® approved is a mark of high quality and minimized bad impacts on people and the environment.
Mid layer: keeps you warm
The main job of the mid layer is insulation. It helps you retain the heat that’s radiated by your body. Below are a few good options for this task.
Wool is a good option for this layer if you’re taking things easy – photographing and strolling around for example. But it’s not that good if you’re staying active because it gets too hot pretty easily.
Polyester fleece is our top pick for active outings. It's a synthetic material which has many of the features of wool, but it’s lighter and puffier. Fleece also dries fast and breathes well.
Down is great for bitterly cold conditions: it’s super warm and still breathable. It’s also lightweight and packs into a small space. The downside is that it stops working when wet.
As with all animal products, we strongly recommend choosing manufacturers who take animal welfare seriously. For example, Patagonia has worked extensively to make sure that its whole supply chain treats ducks and geese according to the highest standards. You can read more on Patagonia’s website.
There are also synthetic alternatives to down, which have been getting better and better. Their added benefit is that they also insulate when damp.
Outer layer: protects you from the elements
This layer is your protective shell that keeps wind, rain, and snow outside. Hardshells do this exceptionally well. Softshells offer better breathability and flexibility, but they are not fully waterproof.
If the weather will be consistently wet, hardshell is the easy winner. But for most sub-zero winter adventures, we’ve been loving softshells. They keep the freezing wind out, are sufficiently water-repellent, and the breathability is a major plus.
Pro tip #1: When buying an outer layer, remember to get a fit that is loose enough to leave space for inner layers.
Pro tip #2: Hooded jackets are best since they keep your head protected.
Pro tip #3: Pick your default outer layer according to how wet the conditions will be. In temperatures well below zero degrees Celsius, you won't really have to worry about being waterproof: go for softshell.
Extra layer: for the bitter cold
Winters in the north can get so cold that the classic three-layer system is not enough. When traveling to Lapland for example, it’s good to be prepared with an extra layer. This can be a loose-fitting down jacket for example. You’ll be grateful to have it when taking a break and staying put. When you’re not shivering from the cold, you’ll be able to fully appreciate the arctic beauty around you.
A quick word about cotton: don’t wear it for winter adventures. Cotton absorbs moisture, and if you have wet cotton touching your skin, it’ll quickly absorb heat out of your body. You’ll feel miserable, to say the least.
Remember that the no-cotton policy goes for underpants, too. Wear your thermal base layer directly on your skin, unless you have short underpants made from something else than cotton (again, merino is great).
Head, hands, and feet
Now that you got your core wrapped in layers, let's make sure your head, hands, and feet are protected against the winter elements.
Waterproof super mittens
Get waterproof mittens that can handle at least -30°C (or -22°F). They'll be comfy even on cooler summer nights when camping. Trust us: you can't go overboard with this one. Note that mittens beat gloves because fingers kept close together are warmer than those held apart.
Also, it’s good to have an extra pair of gloves which are handier to use than the bulky, no-can-do mittens. When it's really cold, you can wear these underneath the mittens.
Waterproof winter boots
A pair of quality winter boots is a must. The quickest way of losing all warmth from your body is sporting shoes without insulation, so aim for 200g of insulation in the sole. These work for most winter trips, and you can beef them up with insoles if needed.
Keep in mind that because the warmth from your feet melts snow even in sub-zero temperatures, the boots should also be waterproof.
You should also have enough space in your shoes for thicker socks or multiple layers of socks to fit in comfortably. Often they need to be one or even two sizes larger than your normal size. Tight shoes will reduce circulation in your feet and feel uncomfortable.
Many hosts on Everfells offer winter boots for rental (or included in the trip). If not, you might be able to rent them elsewhere. Ask your host about the available options before your trip.
You guessed it, merino wool for the win! It transfers moisture and insulates even when damp, so sweat won’t freeze your feet. Synthetic materials are fine, too. Look for hiking and skiing socks in the store.
Make sure to pack a few pairs. At least one pair should be really thick wool socks – the kind your grandma makes.
And remember: never, ever wear cotton socks in the winter. Just don’t do it.
Pick a beanie which keeps the wind out and is big enough to protect your ears. We’ve been loving the thick merino beanies by VAI-KØ, a Finnish company making high-quality beanies as ecologically and ethically as possible.
Pro tip #1: If you've ever wanted to sport earflaps, this is the perfect opportunity.
Pro tip #2: Windstopper beanies can be easily slipped into a pocket, so you can pack one as an extra for active days.
Pro tip #3: Avoid pom-poms. They can get in the way when using a hood.
Dressing for different temperatures
Below are examples of what we like to wear for cold temperatures. Keep in mind that people experience cold differently, so these are just general guidelines. If you’re sensitive to cold, pack some extra layers to be on the safe side.
What to wear for 0°C (32°F)
- Merino wool base layer
- Merino wool socks
- Fleece jacket or wool sweater
- Winter jacket: hardshell or water-repellent softshell
- Jeans for the city, shell pants for hiking
- Wool beanie
- Waterproof gloves or mittens
What to wear for -10°C (14°F)
Everything above for 0°C, plus:
- Wool scarf. If you’re not a fan of scarfs, you can wear a turtleneck.
- Softshell rather than hardshell jacket (better breathability)
What to wear for -20°C (-4°F)
Everything above for -10°C, plus:
- Down jacket for extra mid layer
- Extra pair of gloves inside the super mittens
- Extra pair of wool socks
- Wool or fleece balaclava
What to wear for -30°C (or -22°F)
Everything above for -20°C, plus:
- Consider adding another fleece or wool mid layer
- Make sure your boots are sturdy and insulated from the extreme cold
What to wear for -40°C (-40°F)
In this temperature, you’ll have to prepare like a polar explorer would. Exposed skin will quickly get frostbitten. It’s important to cover every inch of your face, including your eyes, cheeks, and nose. You need balaclavas equipped with breath deflectors that make you look like Darth Vader. Otherwise, breathing will start feeling like you're getting stabbed in the lungs by icicles.
You need everything above for -30°C, plus:
- Professional grade outer layer, which should be softshell that stops the wind while maximizing breathability. Being waterproof is not a concern here.
- Two balaclavas: polypropylene next to the skin, followed by wool or fleece
- Ski goggles (nice-to-have in warmer temperatures already; must-have now)
Don’t go out without somebody who knows what they're doing.
What to wear for -50°C (-58°F)
Venture out and imagine what it's like on Mars... or just stay inside? The last time -50 was broken in Finland, there were no smartphones, social media, or electric cars. It was 1999.
Complete winter packing list
To recap, you need to bring at least the following list of things to Lapland in the winter:
- Thermal base layer (merino wool is best)
- Fleece jacket (make sure it is 100% polyester, no cotton allowed)
- Fleece or wool sweat pants
- Thick wool sweater
- Extra down jacket
- Insulated shell jacket
- Ski pants
- Waterproof winter boots
- Thermal insoles (for example fleece)
- Wool socks (multiple pairs)
- Warm wool beanie or trapper hat with earflaps
- Windstopper beanie
- Balaclava (a must for anything involving speed, such as dog sledding)
- Waterproof mittens (made for at least -30°C)
- Thinner working gloves (wear these underneath the mittens)
- Ski goggles
- Sunglasses with polarized lenses
- Portable charger
- Lotions (face cream, hand cream, lip balm, sunscreen)
Our packing list in Trello has more detailed information. It's a collaborative list, so you can comment, add, and upvote things. We hope you find it useful and we'd love to hear your feedback!
Final words of encouragement
There’s a chance that you’re shivering right now, just because of reading this article. So here’s a little mental toughness you might need in addition to wearing the right kind of clothing.
Whenever you’re getting that cold sensation, just think: “What would Wim Hof do?”