What to Pack If You Want to Be Warm (And Stylish!) in the Arctic

PHOTO: Sigit Prasetio/Shutterstock

If you’re adventuring above the Arctic Circle and wondering what to pack, here’s how to stay warm—and stay on-trend.

Whether you’re exploring the glaciers of Nunavut, Canada, or cruising by the icebergs of Ilulissat, Greenland, this curated packing list will help take the guesswork out of what to bring on an expedition above the Arctic Circle. These cold-weather brands know how to keep the style factor high even when the temperature is low.

PHOTO: Canada Goose
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A Sleek Down Parka

Parkas were originally made out of seal or caribou skin, and designed by the Inuit peoples in Canada’s northern territories to protect them from wind and moisture while hunting. So, it seems fitting to turn to those who know the Arctic best for functional fashion advice. Of course, modern-day parkas make use of technological advances when it comes to water-and wind-proof materials and superior insulation—Canada Goose’s military-inspired Olympia Parka is filled with Canadian white goose down, which is rated for 5 to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Another lesser known (but equally hip) Canadian coat brand, Moose Knuckles, designs nylon-shelled parkas, many which come with a detachable hood for extra versatility.

PHOTO: Patagonia
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An Insulated Sweatshirt

When you’re chilling out at 66.5 degrees north, your tops need to work a little harder to keep your body temperature temperate. Look for pullovers with extra padding that bring the heat without being bulky, such as Patagonia’s retro-inspired Snap-T quilted sweatshirt. The North Face’s Beyond The Wall sweatshirt also goes beyond basic, with its drop-pit sleeves and PrimaLoft-insulated body designed to move with you while navigating snow packs or striking out onto wild tundra.

PHOTO: Lisa Houlgrave/Sweet Turns
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A Lined Hat

When it’s minus 15 degrees outside with bone-chilling winds, you do what you can to protect your noggin from those icy gusts. A hat with an extra inner lining to cover delicate earlobes is a must, but that doesn’t mean you have to pack a boring old beanie. Look for one with a cute pompom on top—or go bold with an ethical faux fur trapper’s hat, which gives a nod to the North’s trading-post past while keeping cold temps at bay.

PHOTO: 66° North
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A Pair of Performance Pants

High-rise jeans may be your go-to in everyday life, but when you’re up north, heavy cotton will weigh you down and freeze the moment that it gets wet. Stay light on your feet (and keep your legs warm) with a pair of pants made to handle the Arctic’s harsh climate and rugged terrain. Iceland’s über-trendy 66°North definitely knows how to cover your gams for the cold—their insulated Laki pants feature a flattering silhouette and reinforced waterproof knee panels.

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A Few Pairs of Padded Socks

When it comes to comfort in cold climates, you just can’t beat a good pair of padded wool socks. But don’t worry—gone are the scratchy, saggy styles of yesteryear. Thanks to advances in wool-poly blends, this next gen of wool socks are soft, cushy and surprisingly stylish. Stance offers a whole range of fun graphic prints in a variety of lengths and weights, while SmartWool socks come in a cacophony of colors and are made in the U.S.

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A Pair of Polarized Sunglasses

When your guide points out a polar bear and her cubs ambling across the snowy landscape of Svalbard, Norway, you don’t want glare to scupper your sightlines. Always make sure the sunglasses you pack have proper full-spectrum UV protection as well as polarized lenses, which eliminate reflective light. For a fun 1980s throwback, Spy’s Cyrus sunglasses feature on-trend mirror-tinted lenses and a nearly indestructible thermal-plastic frame.

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A Set of Merino-Wool Base Layers

Nothing is more important for an adventure up north than a comfortable set of merino-wool long underwear. You may not think they’re necessary at first, but you’ll find yourself wearing them every day, under every outfit, no matter what the activity. Merino-wool base tops and bottoms tend to be more expensive than the synthetic alternative, but the natural sweat-wicking, quick-drying properties of the material make them worth every penny. Up your style game and look for a set with a geometric print or vivid color—sure, you may be the only one who ever sees them, but you’ll know.

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A Warm Dress or Skirt

After spending your days bundled up, snowshoeing around the frozen lakes of Finnish Lapland, you’ll probably want to dress up a little in the evenings (post sauna, of course). SmartWool’s wrinkle-proof poly-wool LBD is not only perfect for packing but it also looks cute with a pair of black insulated leggings underneath (plus, it has pockets!). Another way to dress up leggings and a simple top—while keeping out the chill—is to layer on a travel-friendly skirt. Icebreaker’s merino-wool slim-fit skirt not only helps to regulate body temperature so that you’ll never feel too hot or cold, but its design is super flattering and easy to wear.

PHOTO: Gordini
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A Pair of Fleece-Lined Gloves

Whether you’re planning a simple sightseeing trip to Tromsø, Norway, or heading out into Sweden’s Abisko National Park for a weekend of Northern Lights gazing, don’t forget about your fingers. Making sure your hands are well insulated with a pair of lined, waterproof gloves is key to keeping your whole body warm—but that doesn’t mean you can’t look cool, too. This pair of reinforced leather gloves by Gordini comes in a brilliant gold color, which is an added bonus for visibility when out and about during the Arctic’s dark months.

PHOTO: Pajar Canada
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A Pair of Boots with Super Grip

The Arctic can hit you with a lot of precipitation in its various forms—rain, sleet, snow, and more snow—so make sure your footwear is ready to take on the whims of the weather gods. Made in Montreal, Canada, Pajar Canada’s Carry F riding boot not only has the look of a sleek city stomper, but is jam-packed with features designed for Canadian (read: Arctic) winters. The waterproof Italian leather and suede keeps tootsies toasty even down to minus 40 degrees and the thermal rubber sole grips even the most slippery of icy walkways. For a more traditionally styled snow boot with superior grip and dryness, Merrell’s Tremblant Mid Polar is a cute low-bulk option too.

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A Cashmere Hoodie

Ideal as an extra layer before heading out into Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a cashmere hoodie is one piece of clothing that is equally luxurious and utilitarian. This super-soft fiber brings instant heat on long arctic nights and chilly flights, but also gives you that lodge-chic look while hanging out by the stone-hearth fireplace post expedition. Softer and suppler than its sheep-wool counterparts, this cozy hoodie will feel just like an end-of-the-day hug.

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A Soft Flannel Shirt

When coming back to your accommodations in the evening after hours of wearing waterproof pants, padded parkas, and long underwear, you’re going to want to put on something soft and not weather-treated. A brushed-flannel shirt or tunic gives your après snow-day outfit an instant woodsy feel while still looking presentable enough for a meal out on the town (if there is a town).

PHOTO: Tomas Karmelo/Manitobah
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A Pair of Moccasins

When thinking about bolstering your body’s defenses against the unpredictable weather north of the Arctic Circle, don’t forget about what you’ll wear indoors. Pack a pair of easy-to-slip-on moccasins and, at the end of your first day of tundra trekking, your tired toes will thank you. Manitobah Mukluks, a company run by indigenous Canadians, produces a whole range of traditional and modern moccasins and mukluks. Look for a style with a custom-designed Vibram sole so you can nip outside to grab something and not have to worry about getting wet.