I’m headed to Fairbanks this winter to teach a northern lights photography workshop. I can’t wait; last year we had incredible aurora displays multiple nights in a row. The snowy winter landscape is magical…and yes, cold. But rather suffer through hours of subfreezing temperatures, I have learned to dress warm enough to stay toasty all night. I’ve spent frigid nights huddled on icy ridges in the Himalayas as a climbing guide, and nothing is worse than waiting for the sun to rise so you can thaw out. Fairbanks will be nice since we will always be near a warm lodge or heated vehicle. But I don’t want to miss one moment of aurora shooting, so I will be dressed for the occasion.
The picture above was from last winter in Fairbanks. Night temperatures dipped to 20 degrees below zero, and I was toasty all night wearing these clothes. First, upper layers. I start with heavy weight thermal underwear. I really like Patagonia expedition weight capilene underwear; warm and not scratchy like wool. Next I put on a lightweight down jacket (you could substitute another warm layer). Then I put on an expedition heavy weight down parka by North Face. The outer parka has a down hood which really makes a difference. Starting with lower layers, I wear expedition weight Patagonia capilene. Then I either wear insulted ski pants, Mountain Hardware compressor pants, or insulated down bibs by the North Face. If it is hovering around ten degrees or warmer then my insulated ski pants work fine. But for subzero temps my compressor pants or down bibs go on….plenty warm at 20 below zero.
Boots are really important. Take a look at this blog post I did last year. I like to wear Sorel insulated pac boots. The Glacier XTs are rated to -100 degrees, and last winter my feet were plenty warm all night. I could have worn Sorel Caribous and been just fine. There are other insulated boots on the market, just make sure they are plenty warm. Leather hiking boots in subzero temps won’t keep your feet warm. I like to wear one light liner sock along with a heavy wool sock. Wigwam 40 Below socks work well, as do other brands of socks.
Extremities are very important to keep warm. For my hands I like to wear a medium weight liner glove. If it is warm I may be shooting only wearing this liner. But when the temps really get cold, I cover my liners with a heavy North Face Himalayan mitten. These mitts are down, and have keeper strings to attach to my parka. I just take them off when I need the dexterity of gloves. I use a cable release to trigger my shutter so I can still trigger the shutter when I am wearing mittens. I always wear a warm hat and have a neck gator or face mask to keep my face warm.
When you are dressed right, cold isn’t so bad. Try using chemical hand warmer packs in your pockets to help keep your hands warm. And eating a hearty dinner provides calories to keep you warm well into the night. One last thing…don’t forget to pack a lot of extra camera batteries so you don’t miss an amazing aurora display!