I am exceptionally bad at packing for any trip lasting more than 24 hours – I bring all possible outfits I might need, and then add at least two identical pairs of shoes and several dresses I have never worn to the luggage. Every single time.
But, while I don’t consider myself good at packing, I have gotten quite good at dressing for arctic weather. After attempting to look fashionable and chic during winter for years, I gave up fashionable and gave in to practical clothing in my late twenties, after over a decade of always being cold and/or down with a cold. And walking in high heels on icy surfaces looks way more ridiculous and less cool than any practical outfit will ever do. So, while I aspire to dress stylishly during summer, when winter comes, I will wear whatever keeps me warm, dry, and on my feet.
Depending on where in Norway you live, or visit, dressing appropriately for the weather can be a chore or an actual challenge. In Tromsø, where the climate is rough even for Norway, it is indeed a challenge. But, I’ll try guiding you through this, hopefully you own most of the clothing already. If not, work with what you’ve got, and just bring the warm clothing you have. All of it. And you might want to buy a few essential pieces.
For an example, if you have not brought spikes of the kind you attach to the bottom of your shoe to make you able to walk on snow and ice, you will need to buy a pair. ASAP. Spikes make you able to not spend all your energy and concentration on trying not to fall, and you need to be able to focus on that awesome arctic adventure you’re experiencing. They are super useful, locals swear by them too, and being able to just nonchalantly walk on ice makes you feel a bit like a superhero. A pair will cost you 150 NOK at most, and you can buy them at G-sport , in the middle of the city. You will also be able to get them in most other stores selling sport/outdoor-equipment. You need those. Trust me on this one.
Also, on the topic of items that are literal life-savers: While we are blessed with midnight sun and thus daylight 24/7 during the summer months, during winter, it’s very dark, most of the day and night. When it’s dark and the roads are icy, drivers will greatly appreciate you being as visible as possible – which is best done by wearing reflective gear. Wristbands/anklets/vests in reflective material can be bought everywhere from tourist shops, bookstores, to where you buy spikes. Bring them or buy them, and wear them.
Note: if you are visiting Tromsø during the middle of the summer, never mind spikes. Or reflective gear. Or most of what I suggest in this blog post.
In addition to spikes, you’ll be comfortable in warm shoes, preferably made of water-resistant materials. If you do not own footwear with warm lining, wool socks will do the trick. Taking out the inner sole will give room for at least two pairs, and two pairs or more are the perfect amount of wool socks to wear outdoors during mid-winter in Tromsø. But one might do. Just pack socks made of wool if you own them.
Depending on where in the world you come from, and previous travel experience, you might have both knowledge and the actual clothes appropriate for very cold weather. Canadians, for an example, can just bring their regular winter clothes. If you are from, e.g Britain, you are, while used to winter, probably not winters like in Northern Norway. And it’s a known fact that coats made for the British market are not warm enough for Norwegian winters. Many of us have learned this the hard way shopping winter coats/insulated jackets in stores in the U.K.
But, if you are the owner of a winter jacket, you can easily work with that. In Norway, the rule of “three layers” is a well-established dress code we collectively agree on is optimal. Until I met my mild-mannered boyfriend from a country with a milder climate, I didn’t realize no one actually explains what these three layers consist of.
Let’s break it down:
The first layer is long underwear, preferably in pure wool, meant to keep you warm and comfortable. Wearing regular underwear in other fabrics under the wool is fine.
This universally non-sexy clothing have been developed into clothes people actually want to wear, patterned wool underwear from brands like Kari Traa (like the turquoise one in the picture) is basically the everyday version of a Norwegian women´s national costume at this point.
The second layer, will go above the first, and this is meant as insulation- it can be a light padded down jacket, a fleece sweater/jacket, but should be slim-fit enough to comfortably be able to wear the last layer over it.
The third and last layer should be a jacket that is both wind and waterproof. This is your “shell”, and those jackets are appropriately often called a “shell jacket”. A rain jacket/coat will actually do. If you own clothes you can use, just layer them up, if they look stupid together, no one will notice. It’s pitch dark all day in Norway the whole winter.
You can buy jackets that actually have at least two of the layers built in, but unless you think you’ll be using it more than rarely, consider whether you will invest in one- they will easily set you back 3000 NOK. If you own one already, you’re good – you probably do not need to read any of this.
Note that while layering is a known and effective way of staying warm, the “three layer concept” is primarily aimed for spending a long time outside, hiking, and other demanding outdoor activities. For strolling around the city, you will do fine with as warm clothing as possible underneath a wind/waterproof jacket.
The last essential items are hats, scarfs and mittens. Choose those with as much as wool as possible. Again. Wool is key in Norway. We love it, and it’s necessary.
Real fur is, of course, often warm and have been used for winter wear in generations. If you own something made of fur, bring it. Norwegians in general avoid fur for political reasons – but we do allow less politically correct behavior from tourists.
Last insider tip: If you are unlucky enough to be in Tromsø during a stormy winter day (there are not few of those a year), sunglasses will protect your eyes from snow. So while this sounds like a practical joke, bring sunglasses to Norway in the winter.
Now you know what you’ll need to be well-prepared for your vacation, but please do not worry about not having all the items. You’ll have a great time no matter what. Looking forward to seeing you here!