If you’ve spent any time in Scandinavia during the depths of winter, you’re probably familiar with the adage on repeat from hardy locals: There is no bad weather—only bad clothing. That is to say, if you know how to dress for the elements, you can be comfortable outside all winter long.
“Staying warm is all about using nature’s solutions, not fighting them,” says Linn Elise Rølvåg, a Norwegian adventurer with prior military experience who currently lives above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø.
We talked to Rølvåg and three other adventurers from Norway for their tips for staying warm in freezing-cold weather.
1. Start with the three-layer system
“Layering is all about dressing in a way to layer air between garment fabrics,” says Rølvåg. “It’s a balance where the layers are not too loose. They should be snug but also not too tight.”
There are three core layers to consider.
Merino wool is the preferred material for the layer closest to your skin, Rølvåg says, because even if it gets wet (from sweat or the elements) it maintains its warmth and insulation properties.
On top, your second layer should be a thicker wool sweater or technical layer (like PrimaLoft) followed by a top layer/outer shell with wind-breaking/wind-stopping qualities. (Gore-Tex is always a good bet.)
To layer your legs for warmth, wool long underwear under a wind-breaking shell pant should suffice, though extreme conditions may call for a third layer.
2. Pack a thin down jacket to adjust your temperature in a hurry
Instead of wearing one monster jacket, it’s better to wear several layers that you can shed when needed. Kristin Folsland Olsen, an outdoor photographer and journalist based in northern Norway, recommends packing a thin down jacket to help adjust comfort levels during outdoor winter activities.
When you’re not wearing it, she says, stash the jacket inside a waterproof bag in your backpack to avoid it coming into contact with any liquids. (Down doesn’t recover from a leaky water bottle nearly as well as wool.)
3. A good hat is a must
“Think of your body as a chimney where heat rises, so you’ll want to cover it off effectively,” says Rølvåg, who recommends choosing a hat that wind won’t easily penetrate. (Tight-knit merino wool does the trick.)
4. Protect your other extremities, too
Cold feet can really ruin your day—and not any footwear will do. Only well-insulated shoes and good socks need apply for outdoor winter fun.
Karin Strand, vice president of expeditions for Hurtigruten, who has traveled to Antarctica more than 100 times, says wool does the job for socks.
“I wear mostly my own hand-knitted socks because I get them the way I want,” says Strand, who also recommends buying woolen insoles for your winter boots to keep the cold at bay.
Folsland says to opt for winter shoes or boots that are a bit larger than your regular size (1.5 or even two sizes larger works as a rule of thumb).
“That way you can adjust the number of socks you’re wearing underneath and, more importantly, there’s air around your feet,” she says. “They won’t get squished and your blood circulation can keep flowing.”
5. Consider it an investment
Quality materials don’t come cheap but are worth investing in, says Torunn Tronsvang, CEO of Norwegian travel company Up Norway.
“Buying high-quality leisure clothing is expensive,” she says, adding that cotton or synthetic fabrics might keep you warm when you’re dry but are quickly useless once you get wet.
“It is more sustainable to invest in quality that is produced ethically and that lasts year after year,” Tronsvang says.
7 Great Nordic and Scandinavian clothing brands for winter 2022
Taking all these factors into consideration, here are several of our favorite Nordic and Scandinavian clothing brands—from Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark—that make it easy to look stylish while staying functional for winter-weather enjoyment.
The Norwegian brand that makes everything from sleeping bags to tents is behind some of the most colorful and technical ski wear for men and women that looks sharp on and off the slopes. Shop Norrøna for Gore-Tex outer layers like the Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Jacket ($699) and Lofoten Primaloft80 Anorak ($399) as well as merino socks ($39) and a range of quality base layers (from $99) made from 100 percent merino wool.
Norrøna ships directly to the United States, but you can also find its gear at Backcountry. As part of its 1% For Nature initiative, Norrøna donates 1 percent of its total sales to organizations that promote sustainability and environmentally friendly initiatives.
More for city slicking than scaling mountains, Danish designer Ilse Jacobsen’s handmade waterproof wellies for women ($190–$230) are functional and look super cool, too. Made from natural rubber, they keep your feet warm with a fleece lining and come in several lengths, plus wide-calf versions.
The Ilse Jacobsen website only ships within Europe, but these boots are sold in the United States via Nordstrom.
The Scandinavian standard for great gloves, Swedish brand Hestra should be on your radar whether you use them to ski or just stay warm in winter conditions. Stylish options that can go from the slopes to après include the Senja Wool Terry Mitt ($120) and the Helags EcoCuir Mitt ($125). But there are many other gloves, wool mitts, and liners and inner gloves you can choose from. Styles are available for men, women, and kids.
Iceland’s major entry for stylish, practical, and seriously warm winter wear is 66˚North, offering everything from the unisex Oddi down jacket ($575) in cheery colors and Icelandic wool sweaters ($350) inspired by traditional Icelandic lopapeysa styles to shell pants ($400) made with Gore-Tex and cozy lambswool hats ($55).
While the brand has been around since 1926, it wasn’t until 2020 that it started shipping to the United States. The company has been carbon neutral since 2019.
The Norwegian brand Devold is known for its beautiful sweaters for adults and children inspired by traditional fisherman designs. Made with harsh coastal Norwegian winters in mind, gorgeous unisex sweaters like the Nordsjö ($265) and Nansen ($265) are knitted from 100 percent pure new wool from Norwegian sheep and work well in any winter clothing layering strategy.
You’ve probably seen Fjällräven’s colorful Kanken backpacks (from $70) everywhere. But the Swedish brand makes so much more, including expedition pack down hoodies ($275) to stash in your daypack when you’re too warm to layer them, 100 percent wool sweaters (from $150) in Nordic patterns, technical shell jackets ($500), and merino wool base layers ($100) for both women and men.
Fjällräven is widely available in the United States. In addition to shipping directly from its own website, you can also find its gear at stores like REI and Nordstrom. As part of its sustainability initiatives, the company aims to become completely carbon neutral by 2025.
Sweden’s Skhoop has quickly become a darling of ski town divas who prefer to look as sporty-stylish as possible with a powdery backdrop. The brand is known for its iconic mini down skirt ($159), but you can also shop infinity scarves ($89) made of lightweight down, Scandinavian lambswool sweaters ($160), and wool-mix socks ($30) for women.
Skhoop ships directly to the United States from its own website; you can also find its clothes online at Backcountry and Aktiv, a Colorado-based retailer that specializes in Scandinavian clothing brands. Use the code “AFARMEDIA” to get $10 off your order at aktivstyle.com.
>> Next: The Ultimate Ski Trip Packing List