Northern Lights Packing List

Seeing the Northern Lights ‚ also known as the aurora borealis — is widely regarded as one of life’s most spectacular experiences. This mesmerizing natural spectacle illuminates the northern skies with vibrant hues of green, purple, and blue and has captured the imagination of travelers and stargazers for centuries.  

While the auroras can be witnessed in various parts of the world, Canada is a premier destination for experiencing their awe-inspiring beauty. Areas in its North, including Manitoba, Yukon, and Northwest Territories, offer superior viewing conditions due to their location under the auroral oval, a region near the Earth's poles where auroras, including the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) and Southern Lights (aurora australis), are most observed.

A mature couple with suitcases in the winter.

These regions also boast vast open landscapes and minimal light pollution, providing an ideal backdrop for observing the Northern Lights in all their glory. 

When embarking on a Northern Lights tour, it requires more than a sense of adventure. Many travellers wonder what to wear to see the Northern Lights. Specialized gear and warm clothing is essential to ensure comfort and safety in the harsh subarctic and Arctic conditions. From insulated clothing to sturdy footwear and thermal accessories, proper attire is crucial for braving the cold temperatures often encountered during aurora-chasing expeditions. 

The local experts at Northern Lights Canada can help you plan your trip to see the Northern Lights. We take care of all the details, including arranging winter clothing rentals.  

In this guide, our Northern Lights Packing List, we'll share all the essentials you need to pack for a Northern Lights adventure in Canada, so you can relax and enjoy the extraordinary experience — while staying warm and cozy under the celestial light show. 

Popular Northern Lights tours in Canada

Fall Colours and Northern Lights in Yellowknife 

This four-night itinerary combines two iconic experiences: the beauty of Canada’s fall colours and the natural wonder of the Northern Lights. You’ll travel to Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Along with taking in nature’s best, you’ll enjoy seasonal activities, such as hiking, fishing and wildlife tours.  

Trip length (number of nights): 4  
Nights in Yellowknife: 4
Aurora viewing evenings:

Yukon Northern Lights Resort and Spa in Winter 

This itinerary takes you from Vancouver to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, before a short transfer to the resort. Far from city lights, this remote resort offers only northern-facing cabins for prime viewing in comfort. Enjoy the sauna, try dogsledding, and explore the cultural highlights of Whitehorse.  

Trip length (number of nights): 5  
Nights in Whitehorse: 4
Aurora viewing evenings: 4

Keep reading or chat with one of our local travel experts. We’re passionate about Canada and can help you at any stage of your vacation planning.

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Clothing for seeing the Northern Lights

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1. Thermal Base Layers

Thermal base layers serve as the foundation of your Northern-Lights viewing wardrobe They play a crucial role in maintaining comfort and warmth during outdoor activities in chilly climates. They are designed to provide insulation while effectively managing moisture to keep you dry and comfortable. 

Moisture-wicking thermal underwear (both top and bottom): When selecting moisture-wicking thermal underwear, it's essential to look for materials that can efficiently transport sweat away from the skin to the outer layers of clothing where it can evaporate. Fabrics like merino wool or synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene are ideal choices. These materials not only help regulate body temperature by keeping you dry but also offer excellent insulation properties, ensuring optimal comfort in cold conditions. 

Wool or synthetic thermal socks: Wool or synthetic thermal socks are preferred for their ability to retain heat even when wet, making them essential for keeping your feet warm and dry in cold and damp conditions. Wool socks provide natural insulation and moisture-wicking properties, while synthetic options offer durability and faster drying times. Both materials offer excellent insulation and comfort, helping to prevent cold-related foot issues such as frostbite.

2. Mid Layers

Mid layers are essential for adding insulation and warmth without restricting movement. They trap heat close to the body while allowing moisture to escape, ensuring comfort during various outdoor activities. 

Fleece or wool sweater: Fleece and wool sweaters are popular mid-layer choices due to their excellent insulation properties and breathability. Fleece is lightweight, quick-drying, and retains heat even when damp, making it ideal for active pursuits. Wool, particularly merino wool, is naturally moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, and provides exceptional warmth. Both materials offer versatility and comfort, making them suitable for a wide range of cold weather activities. 

Softshell trousers or insulated pants: Softshell trousers or insulated pants serve as protective layers for your lower body, offering wind resistance, water repellency, and additional insulation. Softshell trousers are breathable and flexible, providing freedom of movement during activities like hiking or snowshoeing. Insulated pants feature added insulation to keep you warm in colder conditions, making them suitable for stationary activities or extremely cold weather. These mid layers provide essential protection and comfort for your legs during winter adventures.

3. Outer Layers

A waterproof and windproof insulated jacket: This is essential for protecting against the elements, especially in cold and wet conditions. Down or synthetic insulation provides warmth without adding excessive bulk, keeping you comfortable during prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. *Most gear rentals include a jacket.  

Waterproof and windproof trousers:  These offer additional protection for your lower body, ensuring that you stay dry and insulated even in snowy or rainy conditions. These trousers should be durable and breathable to provide comfort and mobility during outdoor activities. *Most gear rentals include trousers.

4. Footwear

Insulated, waterproof winter boots: Looks for ones with a good grip! These are crucial for keeping your feet warm, dry, and stable on snowy or icy terrain. Look for boots with insulation rated for cold temperatures and a sturdy outsole for traction in slippery conditions. *Most gear rentals include boots.  

Gaiters: This specialized gear is an essential accessories that wraps around your boots and lower legs to prevent snow from entering your boots, keeping your feet dry and warm in deep snow or wet conditions. *Most gear rentals include gaitors.

5. Head and Face Protection

An insulated beanie or winter hat: Important for retaining heat and protect your head from cold temperatures. Choose a hat that covers your ears for added warmth. A wool hat — known as a “toque” in Canada —  also makes a great souvenir of your winter adventure.  

A balaclava or neck gaiter: This provides additional protection for your face and neck, shielding you from biting winds and cold temperatures. These versatile accessories can be adjusted to cover various parts of your face depending on weather conditions. 

Ski or snow goggles: A crucial piece for protecting your eyes from wind, snow, and glare, especially during windy or snowy conditions. Look for goggles with anti-fog lenses and UV protection for optimal visibility and eye safety. *Most gear rentals include googles if needed.

6. Hand Protection

Insulated waterproof gloves or mittens: An absolute essential for keeping your hands warm and dry in cold and wet conditions. Look for gloves with insulation and a waterproof membrane to protect against snow and moisture. *Some gear rentals include gloves though most people prefer to wear their own.  

Thin liner gloves: Used for added warmth and dexterity and can be worn underneath waterproof gloves or mittens for extra insulation and versatility. These gloves are useful for tasks that require fine motor skills, such as operating camera equipment or adjusting gear.

7. Cold-weather Accessories

A wool or fleece scarf: Provides additional insulation and can be wrapped around your neck or face for added warmth and protection against cold winds. 

Thermal or heated insoles for boots: Offer extra warmth and comfort, especially during extended periods outdoors in cold temperatures. These insoles are designed to retain heat and keep your feet comfortable and cozy throughout the day.

Photography Gear

Capturing the ethereal beauty of the Northern Lights through photography is a rewarding and awe-inspiring experience. Here's a breakdown of essential items to include in your photography kit.  

1. DSLR or mirrorless camera with manual settings:

A camera with manual settings allows you to have full control over exposure, aperture, and ISO, enabling you to capture the Northern Lights with precision and clarity. 

2. Wide-angle lens:

A wide-angle lens is essential for capturing the vast landscapes and expansive skies where the Northern Lights dance. It allows you to frame the auroras against the backdrop of the night sky, creating stunning compositions with dramatic perspective. 

3. Tripod:

A sturdy tripod is indispensable for aurora photography, especially during long exposure shots. It provides stability and eliminates camera shake, ensuring sharp and clear images even in low light conditions. Look for a tripod with adjustable legs and a ball head for versatile positioning and easy adjustments in the field. 

4. Extra batteries:

Cold temperatures can significantly impact battery life, especially in digital cameras. Pack extra batteries to ensure you have enough power to capture the auroras throughout the night.Keep the spare batteries insulated and close to your body to help maintain their charge in cold weather conditions. 

5. Lens cleaning kit:

Frost or moisture may accumulate on your lens during cold weather shooting sessions, affecting image quality. A lens cleaning kit including a lens brush, microfiber cloth, and lens cleaning solution helps you keep your lens clear and free from debris, ensuring crisp and pristine images of the Northern Lights.

Safety and comfort items

Ensuring safety and comfort is paramount when embarking on a Northern Lights adventure. From navigating dark terrain to staying warm during prolonged outdoor exposure, having the right safety and comfort items can enhance your experience under the celestial spectacle.  

1. Headlamp:

A headlamp with a red-light setting is indispensable for navigating dark environments without disturbing others or compromising your night vision. 

Red light preserves your ability to see in low-light conditions while minimizing glare, making it ideal for reading maps, setting up equipment, or simply moving around without attracting unwanted attention to yourself. 

2. Hand and foot warmers (chemical or rechargeable):

Hand and foot warmers provide essential heat in cold conditions, helping to keep your extremities warm and comfortable throughout the night. Whether disposable chemical warmers or rechargeable battery-operated ones, these items offer portable and convenient heat sources, ensuring comfort during extended periods outdoors in chilly temperatures. 

3. Insulated sitting pad or portable chair:

Waiting for the Northern Lights to appear can often involve sitting or standing for prolonged periods in cold and sometimes snowy conditions. An insulated sitting pad or portable chair provides a comfortable and insulated surface to sit on, reducing heat loss from contact with the cold ground or snow. Look for lightweight and compact options that are easy to carry and set up, allowing you to enjoy the auroras in comfort without adding unnecessary bulk to your gear. 

4. Thermos with hot beverages (e.g., tea, hot chocolate):

A thermos filled with hot beverages such as tea or hot chocolate is a comforting and warming treat during cold nights of aurora viewing.

Navigation and Communication Items

Navigating the wilderness under the vast expanse of the Northern Lights requires careful planning and the right tools to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Whether you're venturing into remote areas or exploring marked trails, having reliable navigation and communication items is essential for peace of mind and preparedness.  

If you’re with a guided tour, your local guides will have all the necessary equipment.  

1. GPS device or compass (especially if venturing away from guided areas):

A GPS device or compass is indispensable for orienting yourself and navigating through unfamiliar terrain, particularly if you're venturing away from guided areas or marked trails. These tools provide reliable direction and help you stay on course, reducing the risk of getting lost or disoriented in the wilderness. Be sure to familiarize yourself with their use before embarking on your journey. 

2. Fully charged mobile phone with a portable charger:

A fully charged mobile phone is a valuable communication tool in case of emergencies or for contacting local authorities or tour operators if needed.Additionally, carrying a portable charger ensures that your phone remains powered throughout your expedition, even in areas where electrical outlets may not be readily available. Do be aware that many remote areas in Canada do not always have cell service.  

3. Local maps or guidebooks:

Local maps or guidebooks provide valuable information about the area's geography, trails, points of interest, and potential hazards. These resources help you plan your routes, identify landmarks, and make informed decisions about your itinerary. Whether in digital or print format, having access to local maps or guidebooks enhances your ability to navigate and explore safely and efficiently amidst the captivating beauty of the Northern Lights. 

Miscellaneous Items

Other items you will need for your Northern Lights adventure.  

A waterproof backpack: An easy and practical way to carry your essentials during outdoor adventures, especially in unpredictable weather conditions common in Northern Lights viewing areas. 

Dry bags or zip-lock bags: One of our favourite travel tips.  These are invaluable for keeping electronics, documents, and other items dry and protected from moisture, ensuring they remain functional and intact throughout your journey. 

Personal items: Personal identification, travel documents, and necessary permits are essential for smooth travel and compliance with local regulations. Make sure to keep these items organized and easily accessible. 

Snacks: Consider packing energy bars, nuts, and other lightweight, non-perishable options that provide quick and convenient sources of energy to fuel your adventures and stave off hunger during extended outings. 

A first aid kit: with basic supplies is a must-have for addressing minor injuries or medical needs that may arise during your trip. Include items such as adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any necessary prescription medications. 

Binoculars: while optional, binoculars can enhance your viewing experience by allowing you to observe distant landscapes, wildlife, or celestial phenomena with greater clarity and detail. They are particularly useful for scanning the night sky for faint stars or other celestial objects. 

Aurora forecast apps: Real-time information about aurora activity can help you plan your viewing sessions for optimal chances of witnessing the Northern Lights. These tools analyze solar and geomagnetic data to predict aurora visibility and intensity, allowing you to maximize your opportunities for experiencing this natural wonder.

Why book your trip with Fresh Tracks Canada?

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Enjoy local expertise and guidance with a fully planned itinerary. Personalize your trip by adding extra time in Canada at the start or end of your Northern Lights tour.

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Relax and focus on making memories. Let us make all of the bookings for you, including your guided Northern Lights tour, hotels, excursions and activities, and transfers.

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We’re here to make sure you get the inside scoop before you even leave home. And you can relax on your vacation because you know that we’re a phone call away if you have any questions while you’re in Canada.

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