10 Things to Take to the Arctic

It’s December now so it’s past time to be thinking about winter trips – to Lapland, to the Arctic, to the cold and the snow and the Northern Lights. I like cold places and cold trips and I’ve made a little list of things you might want to take with you.

1) A hat with earflaps

It’s obvious you’re going to need a warm hat in a cold place but one with earflaps will keep your otherwise-exposed ears & half your face warm. Sure, you can just pull a normal hat down but it’ll keep riding up and it won’t cover as much as an earflap will.

2) Waterproof gloves

Again, yes, of course you need gloves. But those little thin woollen ones that come in three-packs from the supermarket won’t cut it. Fleece gloves are a good start but the moment they get wet, they’ll get cold and they’ll freeze – no good for so much as a snowball fight. If you’re going to ride on a dogsled or a snowmobile, you’ll want something tougher and waterproof often means reasonably windproof. It’s worth spending a little more – your fingers are going to feel the cold before anything else apart from your nose and they can get damaged by the cold quicker than you think.

3) Lip balm/chapstick

Whatever you call it, that stuff that you put on your lips to keep them soft. I’m not in the habit of using the stuff but when it’s cold, your lips will dry out and crack surprisingly quickly and you’ll find yourself searching for it in the local supermarket – and for some reason, it’s quite often behind the counter where you have to ask for it. Take some with you.

4) Sunglasses

I know the Arctic has a reputation for being dark twenty-four hours a day in winter but it’s not true, not really. The High Arctic, yes. If you’re going to Svalbard between November and February, it’s going to be dark. Just about anywhere else, you’re probably going to get at least a few hours of daylight. And the sun is going to be low, which means it’s going to be in your eyes, which means – unlikely as it seems – you’re going to want your sunglasses. Especially if you’re photophobic.

5) Driving licence

Yes, you’ll already have ID in the form of your passport because you’ve flown there. But if you’re planning to drive a snowmobile and the company organising it is the least bit reputable, you’re going to need to produce your driving licence to prove you’re legally allowed to drive it.

6) Swimming stuff

This isn’t such an obvious one because even in summer, no one goes to the Arctic to sunbathe by the pool. But especially if you go to Fennoscandia (that’s Scandinavia plus its cousins Finland, Iceland and the Faroes), saunas are a big thing, there’s almost always a spa of some kind nearby, or a pool. Even just a local municipal pool can be great after a day in the snow. Take your towel and costume and maybe your googles.

7) Low-profile crampons

I’m not talking about the sort of crampons you wear to climb mountains. I’m talking about ice-grippers. This month’s Useful Travel Items is going to be about my Yaxtrax, those catalogues that drop out of the Saturday newspaper always have some studded shoe-grippers, you can get them in any outdoors shop (although when I bought mine, I did so on the very day they’d put them away for the summer) and they’ll make a huge difference in getting around on icy streets. They may not be accepted in hand luggage, though.

8) Spare camera battery

Things like camera batteries don’t last as long in freezing conditions as they do in normal conditions. So take a spare, charge it in advance and stick it in an inside pocket where it won’t get too cold. If you’re going to be taking photos of the Northern Lights, you’ll use more battery power than you think you will and it’ll run flat faster because of the temperature.

9) Tripod

Continuing on the theme of how to take photos of the Northern Lights, a tripod will be handy. The camera needs to be still otherwise the pictures will be blurry and your hands are not as steady as you think they are – I promise they’re not. Fenceposts and the ground can sometimes work but a small cheap collapsible tripod (or maybe a gorillapod – I’ve never tried one but I’ve heard good things about them) can make all the difference.

10) Thermal underwear

I know thermal underwear isn’t the most attractive thing you can wear but it’s great! I have always said that my Primark thermals are better than my expensive Merino ones – I find them no less warm at a fraction of the price (and I admit, I wear the leggings to work as normal leggings under skirts). I do tend to go for the men’s ones rather than the women’s, which is partly because even in the matter of thermal underwear, the women’s leave a lot more skin uncovered which is not warm. And the Primark ones do come in more colours and patterns than they used to.

So that’s my little list of Arctic essentials. Do you have any others to add to it? Let me know in the comments.