One of the most common questions we get asked is what to pack for a trip to Siberia in winter. The weather here in Siberia can get incredibly cold – we’ve known it to fall as low as -64°C. It’s vital that you pack the right clothes for your visit here, because a cold trip will be a miserable trip. After living in the Russian Arctic for years, we’re confident that we’ve got the best packing list!
If you just want to get to the PDF checklist then click here, otherwise read on to find out how to choose what to bring. Don’t forget that if you’re joining one of our trips we can supply your outer layers and boots, saving you space and money.
How should I pack for Siberia in Winter?
You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s all about layering!
Your first layer is a base layer that wicks moisture away from your body – a dry body is a warm body.
Next, a mid-layer provides warmth, trapping your body heat.
Finally, you add a top layer to protect you from the elements.
This layering technique means that you can easily rid yourself of some of the outer layers when you find yourself in a hotel (or chum) that’s unexpectedly the same temperature as a tropical beach in midsummer. It also means that you can easily add additional clothing if you feel yourself getting cold.
How do I choose my clothing layers for Arctic weather?
Base layer – merino wool or synthetic thermals
The base layer of clothing for cold weather should fit close to your body. A base layer works by wicking sweat away from your skin, which means that you stay dry and therefore warm. Since it’s next to your skin, it’s important that you find this layer to be soft and comfortable.
We think that merino wool thermals are the best option here. Merino keeps you warm in the cold and stops you sweating in the heat, and it’s also breathable. Merino wool is also odour resistant, which is something you’ll definitely appreciate when you’ve been wearing it for a few days!
There are good synthetic options available which are often cheaper than merino. These are great at wicking away sweat, but unless they’re specifically treated they’re not as odour resistant.
Whatever you do, don’t wear cotton base layers as these hold sweat and will eventually result in you feeling like you’re walking around in a cold shower. In subzero temperatures that’s absolutely as unpleasant as it sounds!
You should pack 3 tops and 2 pants/long johns for a week-long expedition.
Mid layer – wool or fleece
This is the most important layer when it comes to actually keeping you warm in the cold. The point of a mid-layer is to trap and retain the heat that naturally radiates off your body. This layer should be snug, but not tight to the body, so there’s a thin layer of air.
Polar fleece is a great choice here, as the pockets of air between the fibres trap body heat to keep you warm. Merino or other wool options also work well.
You should consider both a lightweight and heavier option for both top and bottom garments for this layer so that you can add and remove warmth as needed. It’s also important that this layer is adjustable (think drawstrings and zips) so that you can increase or decrease the amount of ventilation according to your level of exertion.
A lightweight down jacket is also highly recommended as part of your mid-layer, since it can easily be thrown over a T-shirt and your base layers for immediate warmth.
We advise at least 1 fleece and 1 long-sleeved mid-layer top, in addition to a lightweight down jacket. You should bring at least 2 pairs of pants for this layer.
Outer layer – windproof and breathable
The outer layer is sometimes called a shell layer, because it gives you protection from the elements. There are options both with and without insulation, but given how cold it gets here, we recommend an insulated outer layer.
Your outer jacket needs to have a hood, and your pants should be salopette (bib) style. Salopettes ensure that the wind can’t sneak up underneath your jacket when you’re sitting on a snowmobile. The wind chill is a very real risk here in the arctic – as the air gets colder the wind actually has more of a cooling effect on the body.
Make sure that your outer layer has drawstrings and fastenings at the cuffs. This both stops warmth from escaping and snow from sneaking into places that it shouldn’t (snow is surprisingly sneaky in this regard). Without proper fastenings, your body movements can actually pump warm air out of your clothing!
Down is incredibly effective in terms of insulation for this layer, but new synthetic options can be just as good. A down coat does need to be breathable, otherwise, your body moisture will get trapped and freeze!
Don’t forget that if you’re having trouble sourcing clothes for your outer layer (often the case in countries like Australia!) you can always hire from us.
What should I wear on my hands and feet in the Arctic?
Protecting your extremities is really important when the weather is cold. After all, nobody wants to lose fingers and toes to frostbite. Just like the rest of your body, layering is key when it comes to keeping your hands and feet warm.
Keeping your feet warm
No doubt about it, wool socks are the best. They should contain a little nylon so that they’re more durable, and some elastane to stop them falling down. We recommend a thin pair of socks as a base layer and a thick pair on the top. Make sure the top pair isn’t too tight, since the same principles of trapping air between layers applies here.
Boots should be rated to -50°C, and Sorel or Baffin are excellent options. Look for boots that are waterproof with thick soles and removable insulating lining. Ideally, your boots should have a drawstring at the top so that they can be fully closed against the snow.
Proper polar weather boots can be very expensive, so remember that you can also hire them from us.
Keeping your hands warm
You guessed it, layers are what we recommend!
A thin pair of wool or synthetic gloves as a base layer are good for maintaining dexterity, especially if you’re on one of our photography trips.
We like to wear a pair of fleece gloves over our thin base layer, but you could also choose a pair of sensor gloves so that you can operate your phone camera without taking this layer off.
Your outer gloves need to be windproof. Mittens are the warmest option, but you may find yourself taking them on and off frequently if you need to perform fine movements.
How should I keep my head warm in Siberia?
We’re big fans of woollen beanies and the classic Russian ushanka. Hats that protect your ears from the elements, as well as your head, are the best. Make sure that your hat still allows the hood of your outer layer to fit snugly to your head.
When you’re on the snowmobiles a balaclava can be useful since it not only keeps your head warm but also protects your face from the wind and sun.
Protecting your eyes
Sunglasses with a high UV rating will stop the reflected sun from snow and ice damaging your eyes. Purchase glasses with the highest UV rating you can find. We’d also recommend that you make sure they have frames that protect the sides of your face.
Ski goggles are an absolute must for when you’re on the snowmobile. Not only do they stop the glare from the sun, but they have the added bonus of protecting a significant amount of your face from the elements.
Don’t forget your neck
Everything we’ve mentioned up to now is pretty obvious, but the neck is an area that people tend to forget. Since it passes warm blood to your brain, it’s actually one of the most important parts of the body to insulate.
We suggest an insulated fleece neck warmer or scarf. These can both be pulled up over your face, protecting your mouth and nose from the cold. A scarf can also be wrapped so that it stops warmth escaping from around the collar of your jacket when the hood is down.
Is there anything else I should pack for winter in Russia?
Lots of our clients bring chemical hand, feet and body warmers with them, although if you’ve followed our guide you probably won’t need them.
You will need SPF lip balm and sunscreen, since the sun can be surprisingly harsh in the polar regions.
Don’t forget toiletries and essential medication, along with any electronic gear you can’t live without.
We hope that you’ve found this guide to packing for the extreme cold in the Russian Arctic helpful. Click here to get our free downloadable PDF – it’s the same one we give to our expedition clients!
Leave a comment below if you have any questions, and don’t forget to check out our social media channels. Our full list of tours is here, and we look forward to seeing you on one very soon!