Winter Holidays in Sweden: How to dress for cold weather

Sweden is having a beautiful cold, clear winter at the moment, with some of the best lake ice for years and temperatures from just below zero down to -30 or more. Winter is a wonderful time of year for a holiday in Sweden, but while the dry air may mean that you feel the cold much less than with equivalent temperatures here in the UK, it’s nevertheless important to dress properly in order to make the most of your Sweden holiday in the snow.

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Accommodation in Sweden is always very warm and cosy and you should have no problem staying warm inside, but when you are out and about enjoying your activities, whether you are dog sledding, ski touring or tobogganing with the kids, dressing appropriately is the key to enjoying your winter holiday.

In this article we outline some basic advice for dressing for the cold – it is not necessary to spend a fortune on specialist equipment to keep warm, though good quality outdoor clothing will almost always perform better and last longer than budget-priced gear. Nature Travels clients receive up to 25% on in-store and online purchases with Cotswold Outdoor, so why not treat yourself to some new kit before you set off?

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The Layer Principle

The advantage of layering is that you can easily adjust your clothing to achieve a comfortable temperature depending on your level of activity and weather conditions.

Base layer:

A good-quality base layer is one of the most important parts of your outdoor wardrobe (“base layer” sounds much cooler than “thermal underwear”!). The base layer manages moisture, wicking sweat away from your body. One important thing to remember is not to have any cotton material next to your skin. Cotton absorbs sweat and chills you.

Good synthetic base layers are available, but merino wool is one of the most popular materials. There have been some animal welfare concerns connected to the practice of “mulesing”, cutting around a sheep’s rear end to prevent disease, so it is important to ensure that your merino wool comes from an ethical source. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer or supplier of your chosen base layer.

Your base layer should have long-sleeved top and long-johns. Merino underwear is also available.

Mid-layer:

The function of the mid-layer is to insulate you from the cold, trapping and heating air close to your body. A good winter fleece or woollen sweater is ideal as a mid-layer.

Shell layer:

An effective shell (or outer) layer should keep out the wind, rain and snow. Suitable shell layers include windproof fleeces, softshells, mountaineering jackets, etc. For winter conditions in Sweden, a good mountaineering or ski/snowboard jacket is often ideal.

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Breathability and ventilation are important considerations – a shell layer with zips under the arms and/or on the sides can make it much easier to regulate your temperature, preventing sweat from building up, making you damp and chilling you.

On Your Legs

On top of your (non-cotton) underwear and base layer, you should have a good warm, windproof, snow/waterproof pair of trousers. Ski pants are ideal for many winter activities, including dog sledding and snowshoeing. Again, zips down the side allowing greater ventilation can be enormously helpful. It’s also good if the trousers are elasticated at the ankles or can be fastened by other means to keep out the snow. A pair of gaiters can also be useful for this purpose.

If you do not have or do not wish to buy dedicated winter/ski trousers for your trip, an effective “budget” alternative can be to use warm tracksuit trousers (over a suitable thermal base layer) with windproof and waterproof rain trousers over the top.

On Your Hands And Feet

Extremities such as fingertips and toes can feel the cold very easily. A good pair of windproof and snow/waterproof gloves is essential in cold weather. Cold hands and feet can not only ruin your experience of the winter wilderness but can also be potentially dangerous. Mittens are warmer than gloves with separate fingers. If you don’t wish to be restricted by mittens all the time, overgloves which convert standard gloves to mittens are an ideal solution and offer greater flexibility. If out on an extended tour such as one of our dog sledding holidays or snowshoeing expeditions, make sure you have a spare pair of gloves with you. Gloves are easily lost and the consequences may be very serious.

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Socks should be thick and woollen or synthetic (non-cotton). One solution recommended by Torkel, an experienced expedition leader and guide for our Snowshoeing in Wolverine Country and ski touring tours, is to use a thin (non-cotton) sock next to the skin with a plastic bag over it and a warm woollen sock on the outside. The idea is that the plastic bag will contain any moisture and keep the outer sock and boot dry. Always carry spare pairs of socks if out for more than one day.

The 3-season hiking boots commonly used year-round in the UK are not really suitable for the sub-zero temperatures of a Swedish winter. Your boots should be  waterproof/snowproof and properly insulated (with some room to trap and warm air between the boot and your feet) with a good grip to give you stability on ice and snow. This is one piece of equipment which many clients may not have as standard, and if you are not planning to do activities regularly in winter conditions, you may wish to hire suitable boots for your experience rather than buying. Boots and other winter equipment (such as snowscooter overalls, a very warm option for dog sledding) are either included or can be hired as optional extras on many of our winter experiences in Sweden.

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On Your Head

A lot of heat can be lost through the head, and a thick woollen or fleece hat is important in regulating your overall temperature. Windproof hats can be even warmer, and it is useful if the hat can be adjusted to cover your ears.

A scarf or multi-purpose “Buff”-style headwear is a versatile piece of kit that can be used both to keep your neck warm and also to cover your face and nose.

Finally, ski glasses or goggles will not only keep the wind out of your eyes but also make it much easier to see where you’re going! If you wear glasses and are planning activities such as dog sledding, contact lenses can be a more convenient solution during your holiday – using goggles will be more comfortable and you will have fewer problems with fogging.

Down Jackets – ideal for breaktime

Down jackets are excellent for cold nights around the campfire and during rest breaks. However, they are likely to be too warm when active. As down is so light and compresses very well, down jackets are ideal for carrying in your pack for use in the evenings or when standing still for extended periods. As with merino wool, there are some ethical considerations regarding the sourcing of down for your chosen clothing. For more information, see clothing manufacturer Patagonia’s article on down at http://www.thecleanestline.com/2008/04/up-with-down.html. Synthetic alternatives such as Primaloft are also available.

There are many ways to enjoy the beauty of the Swedish winter landscape, whether you are looking for a traditional winter family holiday in the snow or the challenge and excitement of an extended dog sledding tour. Dress appropriately and you will be able to enjoy your Swedish winter holiday to the full!

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