What to wear for Northern Lights Photography in northern Norway and Finland
Are you heading North to check out the Northern Lights? Are you worried about how to stay warm during those dark winter nights spent watching, waiting, hoping for the skies to light up with auroras? Here’s my list of some essentials I carry. Regarding clothing, you really don’t need too many different outfits; nobody cares what you are wearing underneath your coat! I had 2 sets of base layer, and washed them as needed (and left them to dry on the conveniently heated bathroom floors!)
Hopefully someday this post will contain affiliate links, which might yield me a beer someday and doesn’t at all change the price you pay.
1. Merino wool base layers
Discovering merino wool was a game changer for me. Before that, the words “thermal underwear” were only slightly more appealing than “root canal” or “tax day”. Now, I am happy to wear my base layer, and will lounge around the house in it after taking off the rest of my gear. My favorite brand is Smartwool, and my favorite place to buy it is Sierra Trading Post. I get the NTS 250 long sleeve top and leggings and wear them right over my underwear. Also recommend merino wool socks. I have been using Costco brand “hiking socks” but am slowly acquiring Smartwool socks.
2. Waterproof outer layers
For very cold weather or spending a long time outside, I will wear ski pants and a ski jacket. I would also recommend a big puffy down jacket instead of a ski jacket, as those are light and extremely warm, but I don’t have one yet. Waterproof items are important because cold and wet is not a fun combination! Gore Tex or similar fabric is my favorite. I’ve found that the cheaper waterproof garments don’t stay waterproof for very long, so in the end it’s worth the extra money to get the real thing.
3. Waterproof boots
I prefer winter hiking boots over Uggs because I like walking and want something that a crampon will attach to should I find myself hiking on a glacier or something. I recommend going to an outdoor goods store and trying on lots of different ones, to find out what works best for you. REI is my favorite place for this, but you might have a local store that’s excellent! Remember you will be wearing thick socks and tucking the inner layer of your ski pants into the boot so you don’t get snow down the boot when you tromp off through 2 foot deep snow to get your foreground just right!
4. A balaclava
I hate having a cold nose. I would rather look like a bandit than have cold cheeks. I might look silly with my balaclava on, but it’s totally worth having a warm face! This is the balaclava I use! The neoprene on the face prevents the wind from biting at your face!
5. A warm hat that covers your ears
I usually go for a very colorful hat so people don’t think I’m a burglar or something with my balaclava on. My current hat is a black and blue knit affair with a fleece lining and two very long blue, brown, and black braids that match my blue and brown hair. The balaclava covers your earlobes, while the hat takes care of the top of your ears.
6. Waterproof ski mittens
Gloves are nice if it’s relatively warm, but if you’re going to be out for a long time in the cold, you really do need mittens. I prefer to have my mittens on and then take off if needed to adjust things on the camera. Some people use photographer mittens that have a fingerless glove covered by a mitten that flips back, but I like having my hand warmers in the mitten.
7. Hand and foot warmers
When I’m out for hours in cold weather, I just can’t get my fingers warm on their own, especially when I’m going in and out of the gloves to operate the camera! I bring one pair of hand/foot warmers for every day I anticipate being out, as they are much cheaper to buy at home. One pack of warmers usually lasts about 8 hours, and sometimes you get a pleasant surprise in the morning when you put the gloves on! I usually pick the brand that’s cheapest.
8. (Optional) A clear ski mask
Because I HATE having frozen eyeballs, and I bicycle in -20F temperatures at home. With the ski mask, you have no exposed skin at all and it is glorious. Also might provide a bit of UV protection. I don’t worry about glare because I tend to be out at night, or the sun doesn’t really rise. These are the ones I have, but there are a ton of cheap options available!
9. An air insulated thermos
Hot tea (or coffee, soup, or hot chocolate) is absolutely essential for happiness in cold weather. Imagine entering your chilly car after an hour out doing some photography, triumphant, but chilled… and then pulling out your nice flask full of a steaming hot beverage of your choice and taking a moment to warm up. That’s nice, isn’t it?
10. Ice spikes
These are like mini-crampons, and you will appreciate them in icy parking lots and trails. They are more grippy than Yak Trax, and less of a hassle then real crampons. These ones are very similar to the ones I have (they actually look nicer because of the extra strap!) I remember when I was in Iceland, I kept a tally of crampons vs. gravity… the crampons won! I was able to go up/down some really icy stairs with confidence when everyone else was clinging to the banister for dear life.
11. A fleece or light down middle layer
In case you’re not warm enough, having something else in the middle is very helpful. I wore my faithful hoodie, which is not recommended as it is made out of cotton. I recently purchased a lovely and light weight down layer from The Clymb!
12. Reflective stuff
It’s dark at night (and often dark during the day too) and you’re going to be out near roads where you want to be seen. A reflective vest and wrist/ankle bands are lovely for staying visible! (And don’t worry, you won’t look like a dork… all the locals wear them, and you’d be surprised how many people you see out walking their dogs or jogging despite the cold and dark!)
13. Lip balm
I’m sure you have your favorite brand, mine is Body Shop Coconut lip balm. Cold and windy leads to chapped lips, so keep up with moisturizing! (And lip balm is not just for women… if you have lips, you should wear some.)