Travel Planning

What to Wear in Lapland in January: The Best Winter Layers

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I just returned from my first ever real winter experience. Before I went my biggest concern was staying warm and figuring out what to wear in Lapland in January! Kiruna is solidly in Swedish Lapland and typically stays between 1 and 19° F (-17 to -7° C) in January. When I was there it was even colder! Bottoming out at -17° F (-25° C).

It didn’t take many Google searches before I realized that I needed to find the best winter layers, but I was still left with a lot of questions. How many layers? What materials do I need for each layer? If long underwear is supposed to be the critical layer, do I have to go to the restroom and remove it everytime I stop at a restaurant or ride a train? Will I be able to move in all those layers? How will I fit all these clothes in my carry on? They cost HOW much?

For each of these questions, there was at least one website telling me that it’s impossible to tell how to dress for cold weather because everyone’s comfort level is different. Probably true, but not helpful.

How to Dress in Layers for Winter in Swedish Lapland

How many layers?

The internet and all the cold weather dweller I’ve polled agree that 3 is the magic number of layers. A long (or thermal) underwear layer, a middle layer (your street clothes), and an outer layer.

Long Underwear Layer: Long sleeved shirt, pants, sock liners, and glove liners.

Middle Layer: Pants, socks, scarf, and sweater.

Outer Layer: Boots, waterproof pants, coat with hood, gloves, and hat. Balaclava and sunglasses as needed.

Jessica in the best winter layers
I only risked pulling my balaclava down for a few photos. I needed to prove I had braved this extreme cold!

What material do I need for the best winter layers?

Long Underwear Layer: Wool is the gold standard, silk is good too, synthetic is OK if you don’t get wet, and cotton is to be avoided.

Middle Layer: Material matters less on this layer (assuming you have a good set of long underwear on), but avoid cotton if you’re planning to get wet. Wool or fleece are especially good.

Outer Layer: Down, waterproof material.

If long underwear is supposed to be the critical layer, what do I do when I’m inside? Do I have to go to the restroom and remove it everytime I stop at a restaurant or ride a train?

Short story: In college, I had some nice silk long underwear. I wore them a few times and they kept me warm walking to class but when I was actually in class I was so hot I had to discontinue wearing them. This experience really concerned me about Lapland. What would I wear on the train? What if I ducked into a restaurant or museum?

I finally thought to ask my neighbor who is from Norway and she informed me that people regularly strip down to their long underwear in public. Lightbulb moment. There is nothing whatsoever immodest about long underwear, but it is called “underwear” so it never occurred to me I could be seen in it!

In actuality, I was rarely uncomfortable indoors. I always took my coat, scarf, gloves, etc. off but I only bothered to remove pants or sweaters if I was taking a long train. Restaurants were perfectly comfortable and I often even took advantage of the blankets available in most Swedish establishments.

The best winter layers: the base layer
Here I am in the Ice Hotel in my long underwear! Please excuse the obvious photoshopping! If this were a real picture I would not be smiling, it was 17° F in there!

Will I be able to move in all those layers?

Yes! Avoid unnecessary bulk and don’t expect to win any awards for doing the limbo, but you should still be able to walk, sit comfortably, etc. Test out your warm weather gear before your trip, if you can’t move, change something.

How will I fit all these clothes in my carry on?

This is going to depend on your airline’s luggage allowance, but for me things were tight. The best solution for me was to wear my coat and boots onto the plane. I could take my boots off once onboard and my coat could double as a blanket during the cold overnight flight.

What to wear in Lapland in January
Here is the ‘What to Wear in Lapland in January’ step-by-step! Not pictured: balaclava and water-proof pants. You might be able to skip these if it is not snowing, but it snowed the entire time I was there and I was really glad to have them.

They cost how much?

Yikes! The very best winter layers can be a serious investment! Worthwhile if you live in the Yukon but maybe not worthwhile if you are taking a 2 day trip to Lapland in January! Here are some options across the whole price spectrum. Also, don’t forget you might need more than one pair depending on your trip length and access to laundry.

I also saved money by purchasing my coat and wind/waterproof pants at my local thrift store. I could probably have found boots as well if I’d started looking earlier.

Shopping for what to wear in Lapland in winter

The one thing I had to buy while I was in Sweden was new gloves. I had come prepared with silk glove liners and warm gloves with touchscreen capabilities, but it wasn’t enough. I highly recommend you just bring the ski gloves that are wind and waterproof.





When it came time to choose a coat, I was sure I wanted something long enough to cover my butt and something with a fur trimmed hood. The Marc New York coat I ended up with had a faux-fur hood and it worked exactly as I hoped to block the wind. I had zero complaints about the coat I chose and I only paid $50 at a thrift store!


The one place I really skimped out was on winter boots. I used to own a nice pair of snow boots but I downsized them last time I read ‘The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up‘. Instead, I decided to make do with my insulated rain boots. With socks and sock-liners, it was fine, but I would definitely have been more comfortable in nice snow boots.


 

Also worth noting: for really extended time outdoors, you will still get cold! If you’re just a tourist, this will all be fine though. I spent 5-6 hours outdoors each day and was perfectly comfortable. Remember to keep walking to keep your toes warm and sticking your hands in your pockets makes a big difference!

When I went dog sledding, they provided a cover-all, boots, and mittens and I just pulled those over all my existing layers.

 

Bonus Tips:

  • You aren’t the only one suffering in the cold! Your phone battery will die faster then you can imagine since the battery will be overextending itself trying to stay warm. Come prepared to keep your phone warm by carrying it in one of your inner pockets or putting it in a warm case.
  • You need to stay hydrated, even in Lapland winters! Bring a thermos and fill it with hot tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. The warm pick-me-up will be just the thing to get you through a cold spell.
  • If you’re really concerned, you can always bring some small hand warmers. They won’t take up much space in your bag and you can slip them into your boots or gloves as needed.

 

I hope this helps you decide what to wear in Lapland in January! Remember that layers are the key and so you just have to find the best winter layers for you!

What do you think?