The Art of Layering
Some people prefer spending their adventures in the warmth of the Caribbean, or trekking in the humid forests of South East Asia, however, some peoples' compasses might head north, exceptionally north. Instead of tropical mellow golden sunsets, they prefer the Land of the Midnight Sun, where the Sami Tribe in Norway lives, or they might prefer being captured by the mystical Northern Lights of the Aurora Borealis, while visiting the Komi in Sweden.
Packing a couple of bikinis is not the same as few pieces of heavy and technical clothes that could potentially save your life, especially if you are going to visit the Nenets and the Yakut in Siberia, or even the Inuit in Northern America, where temperatures are below zero.
The perfect way to keep you warm and dry during these adventures is by mastering the art of layering, that will work for every inch of your body, from head to toe. Besides, you will most probably have only one chance to put into practice this technique, as it will be challenging ever to have the occasion to change your outfit!
Usually, thermal gear is essential in this type of climates; however, Merino Wool can be a great sustainable alternative to synthetic clothes that will last you a long time, and it is polar-approved. This wool is well known for its incredible resilience and adaptability, and it does not itch! It keeps the body warm by providing the perfect insulation while making sure to keep the body dry despite the natural moisture. It has antimicrobial properties, it does not collect sweat, and it does not provide the environment for bacteria to grow. It also repels odours, and it is very lightweight, making it perfect for longer adventures during which changing occasions will be rare or even inexistent. Merino wool is sold with different ‘weights’ according to its thickness; needless to say, go with the heaviest! In general, cotton is forbidden in polar expeditions, as it won’t keep you warm at all, so don’t waste your precious packing space.
Down below you can find a short list of essentials to include in your backpack while travelling during colder months to the Nomadic Tribe's polar destinations and to enjoy your adventure at its full potential (while avoiding frostbites!).
Nomadic Tribe's expedition to Siberia
Thermal socks, as well as some Merino wool ones and some thermal underpants to keep your privates warm and protected! Also, pack some thermal mid-layer pants which you will then cover with a pair of waterproof and insulated ones, like polar ski pants. Consider trousers with a drop seat to ease up the “going to the toilet in -40°C in nature” procedure.
Same layering technique goes for the upper body: thermal or Merino Wool long sleeves undershirt, to insulate you and to wick away moisture to keep you dry and warm, topped with another thermal shirt. Go on then with a light fleece jacket to ensure the insulation is locked in and complete everything with what is going to be your first jacket. We suggest an expedition quality down jacket, but you can choose whatever you feel like is going to do the trick, however, always designed for polar conditions. Protip: reindeer hair is incredibly hard to remove from fleece items, so keep the two separated at all times!
Then, it is time for arguably the most essential item in your backpack, a winter coat.
The winter coat!
You need to find the heaviest on the market, able to bear every low temperature, rain, snow and wind. Often these are a little bit on the expensive side but are an investment piece that could save your life during the coldest of days, and you could easily reuse it for another Nomadic Tribe polar adventure.
Nomadic Tribe team on the sled heading north
Do not forget to cover your ears, head and bring a balaclava that you will always keep raised above the nose and mouth to stop them from freezing, even from the moisture of your breath. Remember: in many polar experiences, the mean of transportation is the reindeer sledge, during which the icy wind is going to feel on your face. The nose is one of the first victims of frostbite along with hands and feet's toes.
If you see the nose of one of your adventure friends going a waxy white colour, warn them immediately as it could be the sign of early frostbite. It also might be particularly useful while visiting the Nenets and the Yakut in Siberia where temperatures drop quickly.
Good quality waterproof gloves (inner and outer gloves with reinforced palms) and boots are essentials. Pack felted snow boots, waterproof, lightweight and in general, the warmer you can find. We suggest going one size up since you will pack very heavy socks and they will reduce the space inside the shoe. Keep in mind, if you tighten your boots too much, you will cut the blood's circulation and the air trapped inside will work as an insulator making your feet colder. Consider bringing some body heat patches - they are very helpful self-adhesive pads that provide heat for any part of the body. The air-activation releases a reaction heat that lasts up to 8 hours and can reach a warm temperature.
Reindeer skins drying to make coats in Siberia. Nomadic Tribe Expedition.
In some cases of extreme cold - and this may not be valid for all travelers, although it must be accepted as an ancestral tradition - tribes that live with reindeer such as the Nenets, can sacrifice one of these animals from their herds to warm themselves by feeding with its nourishing meat.
Make sure to remember also plenty of sunscreens and lip salve with UV protection; the reflection of the sun on the snow makes it more potent, and you could end up with a nasty sunburn and chapped lips. Pack also ski goggles and/or polarized sunglasses. Bring also an insulated water bottle to keep your liquids, well, fluid.
If you feel overwhelmed by the layers you have to pack, or even worried to have forgotten something at home, Nomadic Tribe's polar guides will assist you. They will provide you with whatever you might need to feel comfortable, warm and safe. This could potentially mean that you will have to wear in some local traditional handmade gear that will last you a lifetime, and most probably will keep you warmer than any technical gear on the market! It might include some reindeer-hair undergarment… Who knows?
Nenet wearing traditional Malitsa coat. Nomadic Tribe expedition
Traditional Nenet clothing made from reindeer skin. Nomadic Tribe expedition.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is for general information purpose only. It does not intend to substitute any detailed gear list you will receive by Nomadic Tribe before leaving for your polar destination, including Sami Tribe in Norway, Komi in Sweden, Nenets and the Yakut in Siberia, and Inuit in Alaska. Take polar expeditions seriously and pack accordingly!
NOMADIC TRIBE TEAM
Cover photo. "Nomadic Tribe expeditioner in Nenetland" by Javier Salinas