This has been my most requested post for ages now, and while at first I avoided it because most days I feel like I can barely dress myself and shouldn’t be giving out advice, I just sent an email to a friend coming to Norway telling her what to bring and realized that oh hey I do totally have thoughts about what people should pack for Norway.
Because when it comes to packing for winter in Norway, there are a few essentials that might not be obvious to people who aren’t used to -20 degree days, and there are also a bunch of things that people might think they need but in fact are totally unnecessary!
The last bit might be the light packer in me talking, but hey, when you’re cramming your suitcase full of winter gear it’s nice to be able to leave a few things at home, right?
What to Pack for Winter in Norway
Thermal base layers
I’m putting this first on the list, because a warm base layer (especially leggings/tights) is the single most important thing to have with you for winter in Norway – and I think it’s one of the things people most often forget!
Between the months of November and March, I never, ever, wear jeans without woolen tights or leggings on underneath. Personally I go for woolen tights most of the time, but microfiber, fleece, or that HEATTECH stuff from Uniqlo will all work. In fact even wearing a pair of cotton leggings under your trousers will keep you so much warmer.
And for my top half I always opt for a thin, 100% cashmere sweater (I own several of these ones and wear them every single day) under my other sweater(s) because, oh my goodness, so soft – and warm!
And the nice thing about wool is that you barely ever have to wash it, so you could totally get away with wearing the same cashmere sweater everyday on your trip if you simply air it out each night.
Wool wool wool – that’s all you should be packing for your trip to Norway.
Okay, not really. But also sort of really.
Wool is so warm, plus it doesn’t retain odors so it’s great for traveling. Basically I would say don’t bother packing any sweaters that aren’t at least 15% wool.
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A really good hat
One of the worst things I know is wearing a loosely knit hat on a cold, windy day. I always look for hats with fleece lining because less wind can get through and they won’t be itchy. This winter I’ve been living in this hat.
Also, not go total hat nerd on you, but I’ve found that the hats with ear flaps actually aren’t as warm because the flaps don’t cover your ears very tightly unless you tie them under your chin.
I mean, duh.
It’s really worth investing in some thermal Gore-Tex gloves, and I’d actually also recommend bringing some thinner touchscreen gloves so that you can use your smartphone without taking off your gloves (I sometimes even wear mine under my Gore-Tex gloves when it’s really cold).
If you’re only going to be in cities then you can get away with thinner boots by wearing really thick wool socks in them, but if you’re going to be walking through lots of snow you’ll want some real winter boots.
And if you’re in Norway in the middle of winter they don’t really need to be waterproof, but if the temperature might rise above zero then you definitely want something that won’t let any slush in.
They also happen to be the warmest boots I’ve ever owned, plus they’re waterproof, which is so key in the winter! Seriously, there’s a reason you’ll see most Norwegians wearing Sorel boots.
I’ve mentioned these before, but ice grips can be a real life saver on icy days. I wouldn’t say they’re essential for your Norway packing list, but they’d definitely be a good addition if you think you’ll be somewhere icy!
My dad actually just broke his wrist while visiting Norway over Christmas when he slipped and fell on some ice – and the next time I saw him after the fall he was wearing ice grips on his shoes! I believe that’s what people call living and learning.
Some heavy duty moisturizer
If you’re not used to cold weather then your skin might just go a bit insane when you get to Norway. Like, in the rest of the world I totally have oily skin, but in Norway it’s quite dry. So you might want to bring a better moisturizer than you’re used to using.
I’m hooked on this Shiseido cream, which was actually recommended to me by several different Norwegian girls. It’s expensive, but also downright magical – it feels really lightweight but makes my skin SO soft and never dry or flakey. Like, how??
But if you’re going to be returning to a warmer climate soon and don’t want such a huge investment, then a pot of something like Nivea cream might be enough.
Now, there’s actually a huge debate amongst Nordics about moisturizer. I’ve had a lot of people tell me not to use water based moisturizer because it will freeze in the cold, whereas others say that’s complete nonsense. From my experience, just don’t apply moisturizer right before going outside. Give it an hour or so to absorb and then you should be fine.
And if your skin does freakout from the cold, don’t worry! In about a week the flakes will disappear and you’ll have the softest skin of your life. Seriously, some time out in the cold is the best facial I know!
The truth is, a lot of places in Norway don’t get that cold. The coast has that whole Gulf Stream thing going on, so winter temperatures often don’t get much below zero. But if you’re going to be inland, in the mountains, or in the far north, you might need some extra winter gear.
I wear snow pants a lot in the winter, even if I’m not skiing. In fact I was wearing them when I got stuck in that blizzard on the mountaintop, and I was very happy to have them on then! They don’t need to be anything fancy – some cheap Amazon snow pants will do the job just fine, though personally I adore my North Face snow pants and definitely think they’re worth the investment.
And probably also…
If you’re planning on using your electronics outside a lot (or really at all), consider bringing extra batteries and one of those power bank things for your phone, because batteries have an annoying way of losing all their power really quickly in the cold.
What Not to Pack for Winter in Norway
A winter parka
Okay, if you live somewhere with real winters and already own a good winter parka, then definitely 100% absolutely bring it with you. BUT if you’re from somewhere warmer then you really don’t need to go out and buy one just for your trip to Norway. Save the money and invest in some woolen layers and winter boots instead.
The truth is, a lot of Norwegians don’t even bother wearing winter coats. And no, it’s not because they’re superhuman Vikings (though a lot of them do happen to be superhuman Vikings as well) but because they prefer to wear a bunch of thick woolen sweaters instead, with a windbreaker on top if it’s very snowy or windy.
At first I thought it was a hipster thing, but my aunt confirmed that actually it’s just a Norwegian thing. There’s nothing warmer than wool!
Proof: when I backpacked through Mongolia and Siberia in the middle of winter I didn’t have a proper winter coat with me but instead layered a wool sweater, autumn jacket, and windbreaker together (a good strategy for long-term travel because then I could use the layers separately in warmer weather).
I think the coldest Siberia got while I was there was -40C and I was fine. Then again, I did buy a parka as soon as I moved to Norway.
I feel like I should add that I live in the mountains where people do stuff the old fashioned way. In Norwegian cities everyone will be wearing parkas – but you don’t have to!
What to Buy in Norway
In general it’s best to buy most of your winter gear outside of Norway. Boots, hats, gloves, and snow pants are all very expensive in Norway. But there are a few things that are worth getting here.
I am obsessed with the wool socks sold at Fretex, which is the Norwegian version of the Salvation Army. I can’t remember exactly how much they cost, but they’re very affordable, and so, so warm.
Fretex also sells wool insoles for your shoes/boots if you find that your boots aren’t keeping you warm. And while you’re there see if they have any good second-hand woolen sweaters.
A thick Norwegian wool sweater
The best thing for traveling through cold climates is a 80 – 100% wool sweater. You only need one, and they’re so warm they can often double as a winter coat. I love the traditional Norwegian ones, which are definitely an investment, but they last forever (or at least a really, really long time).
You can of course find them online, but then when people ask you where you got your super cool sweater you can’t casually be like, oh I got it in Norway, no big deal.
The easiest and maybe cheapest place to get traditional Norwegian sweaters is actually at souvenir shops. Don’t worry, Norwegians totally buy sweaters there too – when they’re not knitting them themselves, that is.
For anyone who’s been here in the winter, do you have anything to add to this list?
If you are looking for travel advice for Norway, or just want to share stories with other Scandinavia enthusiasts, I also admin a Facebook group dedicated just to Scandinavia and the Nordics. This is the perfect place to ask your travel questions and connect with other people interested in the area. Click here to join the group!