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Traveling to a destination with subzero temperatures? Read these tips on how to choose the best arctic clothing to find out the best extreme cold weather gear for women!
Packing Essentials for Arctic Clothing
My name is Anubha and I am a writer, blogger, and ice cream enthusiast who lives Iqaluit, a remote Arctic town in northern Canada. Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut, Canada’s newest and largest territory, and home to about 7000 people.
Temper Finding temperatures are below freezing eight months of the year, meaning Iqalummiut (people who live in Iqaluit) are really, really knowledgeable about extreme cold weather gear.
Enjoy my arctic clothing tips and you can learn more about life in the Canadian Arctic on my blog, Finding True North.
How long have you lived in the arctic?
I moved to Iqaluit almost two years ago from my hometown of Toronto, Ontario. Wow, time flies fast when you’re having frozen fun!
What was the most surprising thing you learned about extreme cold weather gear?
The most important fact about dressing for sub-zero temperatures is a Travel Fashion Girl mantra as well: choose the best fabrics. Wind-proofing, for example, is vital; if you can cut out the wind, you can reduce the feeling of coldness.
While these premium products are sold at an equally premium price, it is worth it for your safety and comfort, and well-made garments will last you for years.
Learn more about how to choose the best fabric for travel!
Read these general tips to learn more about packing for cold weather travel:
- Capsule Wardrobe for Winter
- How to Pack for Cold Weather
- How to Stay Warm in Cold Weather (without the bulk)
- The Best Travel Shoes for Winter
What are people’s biggest misconceptions about the clothing needed for a destination as cold as the arctic?
People always assume that extreme cold weather gear and arctic clothing always has to be big, thick, and bulky.
While it is impossible to avoid some weight when dressing for extreme cold temperatures, you are much more likely to feel warm, and comfortable, if you wear several lighter layers, rather than one heavy coat. This also gives you the opportunity to remove or add layers as needed.
Learn more about layering and why thicker fabrics aren’t always warmer!
What does a typical layered look consist of?
This depends on the climate, temperature, and activity, but for our coldest days, my setup is as follows:
- Merino wool socks
- Merino wool base layers, top and bottom
- Fleece pants and sweatshirt
- Homemade parka
- Winter boots
Note: If I’m not going to be outside for long, then I omit the snowpants and run to my car.
At WITS14 you spoke about how much you love merino wool. What makes this fabric so special for the cold?
Merino wool is sort of like a miracle fabric: it’s lightweight but insulating, natural but quick-drying. Perfect for arctic clothing! The wool is also breathable and has anti-microbial properties, which means you can wear your Merino wool long underwear for days without worrying about scaring off your cabin or tent mates!
Learn more about why merino wool is the best fabric for travel!
Can you recommend the specific products that you use for base layers or thermal layers for extreme cold weather gear?
For base layers, I recommend purchasing 100% Merino wool tops and bottoms from Icebreaker. I’ve found Icebreaker products perform very well in terms of fit, durability, and temperature regulation – I’ve had no problem throwing them in with the laundry!
I would also recommend their socks and undies, if you want to go for a full-wool ensemble. They’re some of the best options I’ve found for arctic clothing.
In terms of style and weight, I find myself reaching for the Oasis Long Sleeve Crew in 200 Lightweight and the Everyday Leggings in 200 Lightweight. If I could add anything to my Icebreaker collection, it would be the Tech Top Long Sleeve Half Zip.
Another amazing layering piece is a down-filled jacket. These sweater-like down jackets are light, thin, super warm, and perfect for wearing under other coats when you need an extra bit of warmth.
I like this Down Sweater from Patagonia, because it’s streamlined and very easy to roll up and squish into a backpack. Having the option to add or remove a layer is key when you’re out on the land, so that you can accommodate temperature fluctuations and adjust your outfit to suit various activities.
Here’s a list of our favorite thermal layers to ensure you pack light and stay warm!
What shoes do you recommend?
I have several pairs of arctic boots to accommodate Iqaluit’s varied temperatures and terrain. Not surprisingly, they are all from Canadian companies!
For extreme cold weather
These boots are rated to -100C/-148F*, meaning they will keep your toes toasty until about -40C. I’ve worn these for prolonged periods of time in the dead of winter, when temperatures dip well below -30C, and my feet have been passably comfortable at worst, and warm most of the time.
For moderate cold weather
I love these boots. They’re rated to about -40C/-40F, which in my experience means you can trust them with your feet until about -20C/-4F. I love the vintage look (Pillow Boots are a reproduction of an 80s Cougar Boots style), and they are incredibly comfortable.
Their waterproof construction and thick, non-slip rubber soles also make them ideal for hiking over rough terrain, or anytime you need a little more agility in your heels.
For either of these arctic boots
I would recommend purchasing a pair that is slightly larger than your regular size, as tight-fitting shoes will not work to keep your feet warm.
Just a note about temperature ratings: There is no industry standard method to rate boots or jackets, thus, the temperature rating is the manufacturer’s estimate of the degree to which the article of clothing will be able to keep out the cold.
What accessories do you recommend?
Arctic clothing accessories should include a warm hat which is key; look for something that has a fleece lining for extra coziness and warmth. At Arctic temperatures, it’s often necessary to also wear a face mask or balaclava.
When it comes to your hands, layering again is key, especially if you want to maintain the option for dexterity. For very, very cold temperatures, I would recommend thin, Merino wool gloves that you can fit under very warm mitts. This layering will give you the ability to perform more finite movements, like opening a container or tying rope, without exposing your skin to the elements.
My favourite cold-weather mitts are made from wolf skin, but if wolf mitts are in scarce supply in your town, look for something that has good insulation and long cuffs, like this pair from Auclair. Again, make sure your mitts are not tight, or you will risk freezing your fingers.
If the weather is a warmer but still below freezing, try your hand at a pair of SealSkinz gloves (not actual sealskin, which is also super warm).
The Ultra Grip Gloves have three layers: an outer shell that allows for grip and movement, a middle layer that is totally waterproof, and a built-in Merino wool liner for warmth and comfort. These are the best gloves you can own if you need to work outside in the cold.
They can also be worn under big winter mitts (just make sure the mitts are big enough to accommodate the SealSkinz and your hands without cramping).
What are the top 5 essentials you would recommend to someone traveling to an extremely cold destination?
Without question if you’re living in or traveling in the arctic, my top 5 essentials for extreme cold weather gear would include:
Layered clothing: This includes base layers, but also mid layers and other garments that allow for maximum heat retention.
Chapstick: I mentioned this in my Arctic survival gear post, but I never leave home without some kind of lip balm. Look for something that is moisturizing and also contains SPF.
Sunscreen: Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you can’t get sunburnt! Choose a solid sunscreen, like this one from Neutrogena, because liquid sunscreen will freeze.
Fur: Without question, fur provides a ton of warmth and protection from the elements. In Nunavut, fur from coyotes, wolves, polar bears, seals, and other animals are used as trim for hoods and material for jackets, mitts, pants, and boots.
Sunglasses or goggles: As I stated earlier, the wind is your worst enemy, so it is absolutely imperative that you have some way to protect your eyes from the gusty onslaught. Make sure they’re polarized to reduce glare and prevent snow blindness.
Any additional tips to share for extreme cold weather gear?
The tips and tricks listed here aren’t only applicable to extremely cold Arctic weather; they can also be used for extremely cold city weather!
Merino wool base layers and down sweaters are very, very thin, and so can be worn under most clothing. I’ve tucked mine under skinny jeans and peacoats, allowing me to maintain a sense of style without compromising comfort.
I may use these items as arctic clothing but you can also use them for other cold weather destinations too – just wear less layers!
What else would you add to this list of arctic clothing?
For more tips on packing for cold weather, please read:
- 10 Step Packing Guide for Europe
- How to Pack for Transitional Climates
- Ski Trip Packing List
- Best Waterproof Shoes for Snowy Cold Weather Travel