This female packing list for Lapland has been prepared by Kristin Repsher. See all packing list posts here.
I am not a winter person. I was just short of my 18th birthday the first time I saw snow actually stick to the ground, and moving to Brisbane didn’t improve my chances of seeing that happen again. Needless to say, when I started planning my trip to Lapland in winter, I was most concerned about how I would stay warm in sub-Arctic temperatures. With only a few modifications to my initial packing list, I made it through 28 days in temperatures as low as -38C! This is what I recommend for surviving those long nights of northern lights watching in Scandinavia’s far north.
Owning a blog called A Pair of Boots and a Backpack, it’s not a surprise that I would recommend taking a backpack to Lapland. I made this choice after traveling in Lapland with a rolling bag last year and finding it the most annoying thing in the world. The bag dug in to any uncleared snow and it seemed twice as heavy when I tried to pull it out. Plus, it slipped all over the place on ice.
My Osprey Farpoint 55 worked very well on this trip — it was large enough for my clothes and tripod and had a detachable daypack for carrying during the day (since I often needed to carry extra layers and gear). Plus, its straps zipped away to keep them from getting damaged in the baggage holds on buses.
>>Read another traveler’s review of the Osprey Farpoint 55 here.
No cotton: Cotton absorbs moisture and quickly becomes a fabric that makes you colder rather than warmer. Avoid it in all of your layers if you possibly can.
4 layers of thermals: Thermal underwear is one of the most important things you’ll take with you. I had at least two layers on top and bottom at all times — a layer of 200GSM merino wool and a layer of polypropylene. Wool is the best fabric you can get, since it helps to regulate your temperature more (keeping you warm in winter and cooler in summer) and doesn’t smell. I recommend bringing double the number you plan to wear, since you’ll still want to wear thermals when one set is being washed!
2 bras: I recommend supportive over cute, since it’ll be hidden under a pile of other clothing and you’ll be doing a lot of activities that cause a lot of bounce, like snowmobiling and dogsledding.
5 pairs of underwear: Just because you don’t want to wash them every night, but it’ll be easy enough to wash them and hang them on a radiator to dry for the next morning.
1-2 shirts: I wanted to feel like I was wearing something other than thermals so I took a T-shirt and a V-neck sweater to wear over them.
2-3 midlayers: Warm fabrics without the bulk are important here so you don’t end up feeling like the Michelin man. I wore multiple zip-up wool sweaters (one around 160GSM, one 320GSM) and an ExOfficio ChicaCool hoodie.
Jacket: Preferably one that’s rated at least 10,000/10,000 (meaning it is breathable yet waterproof). My jacket was thicker than a simple outer shell, but it wasn’t thick enough for the nights where it was below -20°. I really wished I had a down jacket because they are incredibly warm yet compact down a huge amount for packing.
Fleece pants & ski pants: I felt that the combination of fleece pants & waterproof/breathable (again, 10,000/10,000 rated) ski pants worked much better than jeans. I was much warmer and the ski pants had elastic that sealed around my boots to stop snow from getting in.
Swimsuit: I forgot mine and had to buy another one at H&M. You won’t want to pass up sitting in that hot tub with a view because you forgot yours, and it’s occasionally handy for mixed-gender saunas as well.
Protection from the Elements
Gore-tex gloves/mittens with glove liners: Gore-tex is one of the warmest, most waterproof fabrics you can find for winter gear. It comes with a big price premium, but even in -33°, my Gore-tex mittens kept my hands quite warm. I chose mittens because they keep your hands warmer than gloves, since warm air can circulate across your entire hand.
I really recommend buying a pair of gloves that comes with glove liners (or alternatively, buying a thin pair of gloves that fits inside the larger ones), especially if you’re planning on taking photos. Thick gloves (and especially mittens) make it impossible to work any controls on your camera, and you don’t want to be continuously exposing your hands to the cold air to get your focus right.
As a side note, if you plan on using your smartphone a lot (see electronics below for more details on that), you can buy special gloves with little nubs on the thumb and index finger that let you work the screen. I have a pair of Mountain Designs OnTips that work exactly as advertised; Amazon has a lot of cheaper alternatives.
Fleece neck gaiter: A scarf is handy, and I wore mine for the majority of my trip for a bit of extra warmth. However, a fleece neck gaiter is an absolute necessity. Not only does it let you keep your cheeks, nose, and mouth warm while doing things like dogsledding or snowmobiling, but it also helps you breathe during the cold nights. I found that, at any temperature below -20°, I would go outside and immediately start coughing from the harsh, dry air; wearing the fleece over your mouth helps to humidify the air and therefore avoid the coughing fits.
Beanie: You’ll be wearing this all the time, so make sure you’re not allergic to the material it’s made of (since it’s a hard choice when your head itches but taking your beanie off will make you lose heat quicker than anything else). I had a thick woolen beanie with extra reinforcement around the ears to help stop wind from getting through, but I also acquired an Arctic hat with ear flaps since I often found that my ears were cold no matter how much I pulled down the beanie.
Sunglasses: You can actually experience snow blindness if you don’t have sunglasses — and even if you don’t, you’ll end up walking around with your eyes squeezed nearly shut to cope with the glare of the sun on the ubiquitous snow.
Good, broken in winter boots: Of everything you take to Lapland, this one is the most crucial to get right. These are the only shoes you’ll be wearing outside, so you’ll want to make sure they are comfortable, have good grip, and are warm enough to keep your toes from freezing during a night outside watching for the northern lights (nearly all other organised outdoor activities will provide thermal overalls & boots).
The most important thing you can do to ensure a warm pair of boots is to buy them a size larger than your normal shoes. This way, you can wear thick socks and still have extra room inside the boot for warm air to circulate. Also, do not believe the ratings on boots — even if it says you’ll stay warm down to -40C, it’s unlikely that that’s the case. I adored my Columbia Bugaboot Plus XTMs, but my toes started to get cold when it was below -20° — which was way off the -65° that the label said they were rated to.
While my boots didn’t have them, many Sorels offer removable liners that you can pull out and dry at the end of the day.
Yaktrax: After breaking my leg falling on ice last year, I don’t know if I could have coped in some of the cities without these. While many towns had snowy sidewalks and roads that my boots could grip quite easily, cities like Kiruna and Tromsø often had very slippery ice that you couldn’t avoid. The Yaktrax, which are little contraptions made of bungee cords wrapped in spring-like steel, give that additional grip to stop you from uncontrollably sliding down the sidewalk. It’s a bit annoying that you can’t wear them on non-icy surfaces since it will damage the steel/break the bungee cords (the latter happened to one of mine), but it’s worth having to take them on and off a few times.
Flip flops: Even though I didn’t stay in many hostels, these flip flops came in quite handy for trips to saunas and hot tubs. You wouldn’t want to put wet feet in your boots because the boots are likely to stay wet; at the same time, running through the snow to a sauna is a good way to not feel your feet for the next 15 minutes (I know, I tried it).
Non-water-based hand lotion: My hands were covered in cracks by the time I left Lapland. Why? Because the only lotion I took with me was water-based, and water-based lotion accelerates frostbite. That meant I could only use it right before bed — when I knew I wouldn’t be going out to watch northern lights anymore. Had I had other lotion, I could have used it much more regularly and avoided the painful cracks.
On a side note to do with frostbite — you shouldn’t shower or sauna within 2 hours of spending time outdoors. Both of these strip your skin of necessary oils it needs to help insulate so you’ll feel the cold much more quickly.
Chapstick: The dry air will destroy your lips.
No makeup: I’m not big on makeup at the best of times, but it’s really not necessary in Lapland. It’s more likely to be an annoyance when it gets all over your scarves/neck gaiters, etc.
Razor: Although getting a wax beforehand is a good idea, since shaving is one more thing that dries out your skin.
Hair ties: It’s possible to keep your hair under control with a beanie, but with the number of outdoor activities you’ll be doing, you’ll probably want to tie up your hair and keep it out of your way.
Brush: After all those activities, your hair will be a mess.
Prescriptions/other medication: Most towns will have small pharmacies (sometimes as part of the supermarket), but it’s good to travel with any medicines you might need. I recommend adding some Sudafed and Benadryl to your kit to knock out any sniffles you might get.
Batteries, batteries, batteries: Batteries just don’t last in the cold — some people say their lifetime can be up to 5x shorter. My iPhone often died without warning when it said there was still 50% battery left, and even when warmed it wouldn’t turn back on until I’d plugged it in. I’d definitely consider taking a portable power pack like the Anker Astro if I went back.
You’ll need to make sure you have multiple spare camera batteries as well. When they die, you can put them in an inside pocket of your coat and warm them back up to get a bit more juice out of them.
Camera: This goes without saying. Cameras with a bulb mode (or a manual mode that lets you adjust shutter speed) are important for taking northern lights photos, and you’ll want something very portable to take on excursions (since shooting with an SLR while driving a dogsled isn’t really an option). Most activities have somewhere to store your big camera so you can get it out at stopping points, but I liked having my GoPro so I could capture the action hands-free.
Memory cards: Take a lot of memory with you (or alternatively, a device that you can transfer photos on to). I took more photos in Lapland than I’ve taken in nearly every other place I’ve been.
Tripod: If you want to get any photos of the northern lights, you’ll have to take a tripod, otherwise you risk blurry photos (or none at all, since the lights aren’t usually as bright as they appear on camera). A cheap one (like this one from Velbon) can do, although having a tripod with legs that aren’t attached to each other (like this one from Manfrotto) is helpful since the surfaces you’ll be shooting on will be uneven (and you won’t know how uneven until the tripod sinks into the snow). I use a carbon fibre tripod for its light weight.
If your tripod has a detachable head, I recommend putting it in the freezer and testing how maneuverable it is in cold weather. This would have saved me having to buy a new tripod after mine got jammed.
Power adapters & chargers: Norway, Sweden, and Finland use the European two-pronged plug. You’ll want a few so you can make sure your phone and camera batteries are always charged to start the day.
>>Check out our ultimate travel photography packing list here.
Kindle: You’ll spend a lot of time in the evenings expectantly waiting for the northern lights to come out. Reading on your Kindle is a good way to pass the time without having bulky books taking up space in your bag.
Headlamp: If you plan on going out on your own to look for the northern lights, even if it’s just behind your hotel, it’s much easier to not fall into a massive snowdrift if you can see where you’re going.
Handwarmers: Having these in the toes of your boots or in your pockets can feel like a lifesaver.
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*All photos, except for title photo, by Kristin Repsher.
Book a Viator Tour Before You Go
Lapland Husky Sled Ride from Yllas – $121.01*
Glide through the snow courtesy of eager husky dogs on this invigorating 30-minute (approx.) sled ride from Yllas. Head for a welcoming husky farm and enjoy a sled ride across the snow-clad landscapes. Rush around forests, fells and fields and enjoy the all-encompassing silence on route. Cap everything off with a hot berry juice while you listen to fun husky stories beside the campfire.