Welcome, proud member of the Anxious City Dwellers' Club!
So you are travelling to Kilpisjärvi? As the unofficial, self-appointed president of our clumsy organization, I am happy to present you with the list of things you should pack in your suitcase to ensure that fear and anxiety do not weigh you down before your first trip to Lapland.
Travelling from outside of Finland (I live in Paris, France), I first took a flight to Tromsø. Very easy. Closest airport to Kilpisjärvi. You may travel in your usual warm clothes to feel comfortable. Personally, I wore my big winter coat and boots to make room in my suitcase for the rest of my equipment. Upon arriving, take a taxi or bus into town. Tromsø is quite a big, modern city, so if you ever forget some equipment, you can always buy some missing items in one of the many shops downtown. Tromsø seems to be a very dynamic, touristic city by the fjord. You will not feel lost here, Anxious City Dweller. But the journey continues.
The bus to Kilpisjärvi leaves only once a day, at 7 am. The red bus stop is waiting for you on an open parking lot by the fjord (‘Arctic Route’ spot on Google Maps). The driver was friendly and spoke English, so I could ask him to stop at the Biological Station (instead of the usual stop at the supermarket 5 kilometers down the road). The trip takes about two hours along the fjord and between the mountains. The driver eventually missed the biological station, but I had spotted it on a GPS app (right after the Norwegian-Finnish border station), so I warned him and he kindly turned around to drop me off at the right place. Everything should go smoothly for you too, Anxious City Dweller. Fear not and enjoy the view.
This was March 2023. March is the beginning of the tourist season. The sunlight lasts long hours already. You may want to check the weather conditions in Kilpisjärvi on the following page: https://www.yr.no/en/forecast/daily-table/2-12495334/Finland/Lapland/Tunturi-Lappi/Kilpisj%C3%A4rvi%20Biological%20Station. During my stay, temperatures changed between -5° and -25° but I never really suffered from the cold, except for occasional burning sensations on the tips of my fingers and some cold sensations on my ears. Other than that, the cold was never a problem. I have experienced warm, sunny days as well as snowy, windy days. Fear not, Anxious City Dweller: as long as you stay in the village, you will not end up in a frightening, freezing desert. In fact, if you get a chance to see the sun, you will often feel too hot and sweaty while walking or skiing outside. In general, cold feels very natural here. After a few days, -10° with no wind actually felt like +10° or more in France. Just make sure you have the basics in your suitcase.
By the way: I am absolutely no expert on the far north, Lapland or even the Nordic countries. It was my first time in such a cold environment. So be sure to seek advice and information from other, more informed sources.
However, since we are all members of the Anxious City Dwellers' Club, I just wanted to let you know how I prepared. Because just like you, my main concern was that I did NOT want to suffer from the cold. I wanted to feel comfortable and not realize that I had forgotten some important piece of clothing that I could not find anywhere else around Kilpisjärvi.
About the conditions of my stay:
- I am a man in my 40s, in average physical condition,
- The time of the year was March (mostly sunny with occasional bad, snowy weather, temperatures between -5° and -25°),
- I spent two full weeks in Kilpisjärvi,
- Temperatures inside the buildings are usually warm (around 21-23°), even more so than in temperate climate countries,
- I bought most of my gear from sporting goods stores (mountaineering / skiing / hiking sections) and from online orders.
- There is a shop in Kilpisjärvi where you can buy winter clothes in case you are missing something (as well as in every airport on your journey of course),
- You can also find good quality wool products (underwear, socks, hats, neckwear, mittens…) as well as some hiking and skiing equipment at the Visitor Center / Café, just a few minutes walk from the station,
- There is a washing machine and a drying room at the station if you want to wash your clothes (bring only 1€ and 20ct coins); I washed my clothes twice during my stay, everything dried in about two hours and I never ran out of anything I needed to wear,
- I saw some locals wearing surprisingly "normal" clothes (like sneakers and jeans); I would not recommend it, of course, but remember that there is a big difference between the clothes you need to hang out in and around the station and the village, and the equipment you need to wear outside for long hours for work on the field or hiking trips, or to stay out at night when it drops below -15 to 20°,
- The station lets you use skis, snowshoes, and rubber boots if you need them (if you stay at Kiekula and do not have a car, you will need to walk or ski through the lake for about 1.3 km to get to the cafeteria, which means that for lunch and dinner, you will get to walk or ski in the snow for more than 5 km every day... or cook your meals in the house),
- What they say about wearing three layers is true: you will feel warm (if not hot) most of the time, especially if you are moving around, and you can always take off a layer depending on how you feel.
- Finally, avoid cotton. Wool is always preferable for most of your clothing, although I did not always choose this fabric—mostly for financial reasons.
With that in mind, here is the list of items I did pack in my suitcase.
- 5 thermal long-sleeved tops as a first layer (4 tech, 1 wool / 4 crew neck, 1 turtleneck), which was probably one too many.
- 2 regular short-sleeved t-shirts (one was enough)
- 1 polar fiber sweater
- 3 wool sweaters (2 would probably be enough)
- 1 lightweight waterproof puffy jacket (for moving and skiing outside)
- 1 waterproof winter coat (heavier but warmer, with a large fur hood)
- 2 warm stockings
- 5 'normal' boxer shorts
- 1 pair of lightweight, warm waterproof hiking pants
- 1 thicker, waterproof ski pants
- 2 'regular' pants (which I never used, as my hiking pants were very comfortable, but I could have used them for dinner at a restaurant, for example)
- 1 pair of 'regular' sweatpants (for hanging out indoors and feeling warm)
- 4 pairs of thin socks (silk or synthetic) to wear under thicker socks,
- 4 pairs of "regular" wool socks
- 2 pairs of thick wool socks
- 1 pair of ski socks (for long hikes)
This was more than enough socks, thanks to the washing machine at the station.
- Foot warmers (never used thanks to the warm shoes and socks)
- 1 pair of warm, waterproof low hiking boots (easier to walk and ski with)
- 1 pair of waterproof high winter boots (wide, comfortable, over the heel)
My shoes were the most expensive item I bought, but they were very comfortable and my feet were never cold.
You have to take your shoes off indoors and at the station, so good quality socks are important also for this reason.
You may keep your shoes on in restaurants and shops.
- One pair of ski gloves (but I should have brought a double pair of warmer mittens (wool + synthetic, one on top of the other) since I got cold on my fingertips several times.
- 1 pair of thin gloves (to wear under the larger gloves)
- Wool hat
- Scarf (never used)
- Hand warmers (used after suffering from cold fingers, usually solved the problem)
- Waterless Moisturizing Cream
- Lip Balm
- Bathing suit (in case you are shy about getting naked in the sauna)
- Flip flops (for the sauna and if you want to go take a dip in the cold lake)
- Travel hairdryer to avoid getting out with wet hair
- Plastic freezer bags to prevent condensation on your phone or camera
- Laundry detergent tablets (with 1€ and 20ct coins)
What I did not bring and probably should have
- Thin, warm balaclava to protect the whole head (ears, mouth and nose)
- Water bottle.
The list may seem long, but it actually all fits in an average-sized suitcase. As long as you wear the big boots and the bit coat on the plane…
That's about it. I am no expert but this has worked for me, fellow Anxious City Dwellers. Hope this helps.
A huge thank you to Leena, Piritta and Milla from the Bioarts Society, for having the patience to answer my million obsessive questions before my trip.
Now I know they were right: wear three layers, prefer wool, and everything will be fine.