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What to pack when going to the Arctic

Monday 29 February 2016

It was a month today (if your reading this on the day of publish) that I set off on my Arctic Charity adventure. The prospect of -20c temperatures was a very daunting one and so what to pack was pretty much a mind field.

You might be thinking, how often is this going to be relevant to me, but if you want to see the Northern Lights, chances are you’re going somewhere in the Arctic to see them. This packing list also applies for Northern Canada too.

I was given a packing list by my charity, but there was stuff now that I look back on that I didn’t need and also stuff I wish I’d taken. Plus I took stuff which you won’t find on an official guide.

So if you’re going somewhere below zero, enjoy this, and stay warm.

Thermals and lots of thermals.

The official packing list states thermal leggings and a thermal long sleeve top. I can tell you now you’ll need more than one set on at once. Double up on thermals, as the heat traps between the two.

Invest in one very good pair, like Icebreaker which are made from Merino Wool, which is super warming, and also doesn't trap smells. Sounds odd, but you'll get sweaty and yukky so it's rather handy. For the second layer, take one modest pair, Marks and Spencer are good.


Again, the official packing list will say a pair a day. Oh no, again you want at least two on at once depending on quality. Three would be good.

I found Heat Holders were amazing thermal socks, claiming to be over 3x warmer than other thermal socks, and I did find that true.

Mid Layers and Outer Layer

For mid layer you really don’t need anything fancy, but a hoodie is ideal. Something with pockets again is ideal for storing spare batteries, which I’ll get onto.

For the outer layer, you’ll want a light weight ski jacket. As I mentioned in my Skiing post, I have a Bench Thinsulate one and again it was perfect.

If you are doing anything like dog sledding, then the company you go with should give you an extreme snow suit, extra thick gloves, snow boots and a warm hat.


The cold is horrific on the skin. It’ll crack, and become sore and red and of course very dry. I can’t stress how much moisturizer is essential.

I used Dr Paw Paw, and it is a multiple purpose lip moisturizer but also for hands and skin. It’s incredibly thick and I still use it every day in the UK.

Spare Batteries and chargers.

The cold is notorious for zapping the life out of batteries in such a short space of time. I found that my camera actually lasted for 3 days without the need for a spare battery. The GoPro on the other hand, I’d use two batteries a day, and when the cold plummeted the battery would drain in half an hour.

As I was camping out with no electricity, I took a power pack, the ones you might have for your mobile phone. They can charge batteries too.  I also took a rather ingenious one which is solar powered, so I wasn’t sure if the power pack would last. Strap it to your backpack and let it charge all day.

Filming Equipment and Tips

The GoPro does work in these temperatures, although like I said once it hits around -15c it starts to drain really quickly. Obviously you’ll have to keep it in its waterproof case. Make sure clean the case around the lens, as snow in the air will cover it. Never change the batteries inside, as the condensation will get inside the case and then it will fog up and that’s it, foggy film.

For a SLR camera it’s much harder. I found that my lens fogged up and some of the photos looked like this…

This is what happened when there was ice and snow in the air.

Right through to this…

This was when I brought it into a log cabin that had a fire.

I had a mini heart attack thinking my camera was ruined, but if you leave it for a few hours to cool down the condensation will evaporate.

See there are two problems with cameras, two cold, and then too warm too quickly. The key is not go from cold to hot. I made the mistake of bringing it inside straight away.

When you’re outside, keep it in a warmish place. Close to your body if possible, or for bigger SLR types, in a padded rubble sleeve like this one I had. Weather resistant, and will keep it somewhat warm.

When you’re going to somewhere warm, first put it in a plastic zip lock/sandwich bag. This will limit condensation. Then put it in the coldest place inside. A porch is a good place. Then a few hours later, bring it inside fully. It needs to slowly warm up, so not to get condensation. 

Tri Pod.

If you are going for the Northern Lights, you'll want a tri pod. You can't take them without it as you need to use a slow shutter speed and you can not keep it that still- especially when your freezing!

Mine is a Velbon from Argos. It's lightweight, which when your are potentially carrying it in your backpack is essential.

Trust me, it gets very cold, and you'll want all the layers you have, so don't scrimp, even if it costs you a little extra money. It'll make things much more enjoyable. But it is an incredible experience so just go for it!


  1. omg, the winter wonderland
    Keep in touch

  2. Great review, super interesting, and good advice on the camera!

  3. Tripod. YES! Such a good call! :-)

    We always take one when visiting somewhere cold. In fact, when it was like -10 in Iceland we set up our cameras in the mountains, jumped back in the car and waited until the Northern Lights appeared!

    Great tips lovely! :-)

    Lloyd & Yaya xx