What Does One Need to Conquer the Russian North?

The Arctic is as beautiful as it is severe

Until you step foot on the landscape for the first time, it's hard to imagine just how unforgiving the northern climate can be, especially when the winter temperatures drop to –70°С and the icy wind literally sweeps you off your feet. That's why, no matter what kind of vacation you have planned, it's essential to make sure you pack the right equipment.

Whether it's an exciting safari on a snowmobile or dog sledge, an icy trek in snowshoes or skis, a visit to the reindeer herders, or a day of ice fishing, the Arctic can be a thrilling adventure—but only when you're protected from the cold and wind. It's much more fun to whale watch or admire the Northern Lights when you're not shivering from the cold.

Experienced polar travellers swear by the three-layer rule: wearing three relatively lightweight items with room for air between them will keep you warmer than one, no matter how thick it is.

The first layer is intended to wick sweat off your skin. The second layer retains body heat and further reduces moisture. The third layer should be breathable, while still protecting you from wind and melting snow.

The layering method works 100% of the time, as long as you choose the right materials for each layer.

In the past, people wore cotton or wool underwear as their base layer. However, this layer would get wet quickly and take a very long time to dry. Modern materials, such as polypropylene, are much better suited for the task. Good thermal underwear made with breathable fabric wicks off sweat much better than natural fabrics.

For the second layer, choose materials like Polartec. A fleece hoodie and trousers are also good options. Top it off with a jacket or jumpsuit made from fabric with a Gore-Tex membrane. Of course, make sure these layers fit loosely, so they won't limit your movements or obstruct blood flow.

Choosing the right headwear is also essential. In temperatures below –15°С, research has shown that an uncovered head accounts for three-quarters of all heat loss in the body. This is why Arctic explorers suggest putting on a balaclava first and then covering it with a warm hat that protects your ears. The warmer the better. Make sure your jacket has a hood, preferably with fur to protect your face. And a thick scarf to wrap around your neck is never a bad idea.

Don't forget about your feet! If you're planning a real adventure in the Arctic wilderness, and not just a weekend stay in a polar town, you're better off leaving your membrane trekking shoes at home. It only takes one night of drying by the bonfire for the membrane to lose all of its magical properties. The best choice for the Arctic are warm rubber boots topped with gaiters to prevent snow from creeping in. Experienced travellers prefer actual rubber over, say, EVA. The latter is more lightweight but also easier to pierce through. Waterproof canvas boots have a loyal following as well.

Take at least two sets of socks, each with three pairs in varying sizes. The three-layer rule also applies to your feet, so you'll need to wear all three pairs at once. Polar explorers recommend putting on thermal socks first, then a pair of normal socks and, finally, thick wool socks. The second set is a back-up in case the first gets wet. Extremities lose 25 times more heat when they're wet, so your feet must be kept dry at all times.

Warm gloves and wind-proof mittens are also a must. If you love photography, we recommend wearing thin polartex or fleece gloves underneath to protect your fingers from damage while trying to get the perfect shot.

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