Last week, a friend and colleague of mine stopped by my office to drop a dress off that I had borrowed her for an outreach project. “What have you been up to lately?” I asked. She said that she and her students were at the airport this week greeting the first Chinese charter flight of this aurora watching season. Her Chinese class sang a Chinese welcome song. “How exciting” I responded.
Alaska is not only a great land to visit under the midnight sun, but also in winter for aurora watching. The aurora attracts many tourists from Taiwan and Japan every winter. The aurora travel packages of some companies include outerwear. The Princess aurora tourists from Japan were identifiable in town by their orange long down parkas with fur hoods. However, what else do you need for aurora watching when you are from a warmer region than Alaska?
What to pack for aurora watching
Here are essential items to pack and wear for aurora watching.
- Underwear – long thermal underwear, in plain English long johns. They are an essential part of the layering to create the right insulation to enjoy watching the aurora at -20F (-28.9oC). Underneath the long johns wear your underpants, bra (unless you are a guy), and undershirt. Tip: The breast enhancer bras provide greater insulation than a lacy bra.
- Alaska jeans – these are jeans with 16 oz weight and a flannel lining inside.
- A wool sweater.
- Socks. Go for wool socks as they absorb sweat without feeling wet and cold.
- Bunny boots are the gold standard, but hard to get outside of Alaska (and even in Alaska). Sorel boots or similar, but suitable for -40F (-40oC) will do too. Read the description. Buy them with wool socks on. Make sure they do not squeeze your feet. Any squeezing leads to cold feet, i.e. go a size up.
- Thermal over-pants or a thermal skirt to keep the knees and thighs warm.
- The down parka with hood should cover you bum and should fit loose, not tight. You don’t want to squeeze the air layers between the layers. Air is a great insulator.
- Silk lined gloves under a pair of shearling mittens. They should be long enough that they overlap with the sleeves of your parka so you don’t have any cold bridges.
- A scarf. A qiviut scarf that is made from the under-wool of the musk ox is the best.
- A qiviut hat, best in trapper style to cover your ears and head. Wear the ear pieces down. Oh, did I mention that chandeliers or long metal earrings will get cold and may stick to your skin at 40 below?
- A face mask. Be careful! Have the face mask in your checked-in baggage! Don’t have a mask in your carry-on baggage! Some countries forbid wearing and/or owning face masks. Thus, you may consider buying a face mask in Alaska and leaving it there when they are not allowed in your homeland.
Yes, with this outfit even a size 2 person looks like a dumpling. But you still can look stylish in outerwear at 40 below when you color-coordinate. Think of this aurora watching outfit as a casual vacation outfit that insulates at the same time.
When you know someone who plans to go on an aurora watching vacation tweet them what to wear for aurora watching in Alaska.
Have you ever thought about vacation in Alaska? What would you want to see? Send me an email, I am curious.
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P.S. At 40 below, batteries freeze. Thus, keep your camera warm.
Photos: G. Kramm (2015)
Copyright 2013-2015 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved