What's the easiest way to stay warm in the super cold? Grow a crazy beard.
At least that's what Santa told me, before adding: "What works better is clothing."
Over Christmas, Dennis Goodboy and I challenged ourselves by taking to a trip to the Arctic Circle. On average, it was minus 10 to minus 15 degrees Celsius during my trip. Normally, I can't even stand winter in Hong Kong, so Santa's advice was a good start.
We brought back some very useful tips for keeping warm in the Arctic - they work just as well now Hong Kong's temperature is in single digits!
Three layers work wonders
Layering is not a matter of just putting on all the clothes you own; the key is what you layer. Start with the base layer, that sits right on your skin: choose something insulating and absorbent. Just because it's cold doesn't mean you won't sweat, and keeping moisture away from your skin is vital in keeping you warm.
The middle layer traps warmth, which your body will still produce. A sweater or fleece are both good options.
The most important layer is the outer garment, which should be waterproof and windproof. If you don't take that into consideration, you may feel cosy while it's sunny, but you will definitely be miserable when it turns windy and rainy.
This three layers rule also works for dressing your bottom half, especially when it comes to the outer layer - I found ski pants to be a lifesaver.
Don't forget to keep your hands and feet warm, too. Gloves, wool socks and boots are your friends.
Cover every bit of your skin, when possible
You lose heat with every millimetre of exposed skin, which was the biggest lesson I learned on the trip. My whole body was well covered, from head to toe, with gloves tucked into sleeves and trousers tucked into boots. But I missed one spot: my face. The hat only covered my forehead and ears, so it often felt like the wind was going to rip my nose, chin and cheeks off!
A big scarf came in handy to wrap the lower part of my face.
Cold = clumsy
As the temperature drops, it's easy to become a klutz. You become all thumbs and it gets easier to trip up. Yes, everyone wants to text or game all the time, but when it's cold and you're outside, put your phone away, for the sake of both the phone and your safety.
Don't rely on heat packs
Heat packs are popular in Hong Kong, but I find them useless. They heat up your skin - but only in one spot. If you attach the pack to your calves or thighs, for example, the heat doesn't transfer to your knees.
Exercise, don't just stand still
When it's cold, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing, but be smarter. Take a walk, faster than your normal speed, and you will feel the difference.
When we first got to Rovaniemi in Finland, home to Santa Claus, Dennis was freezing and he didn't have three layers of clothing like I did. I had to drag him outdoors. After a couple of minutes hopping around and woofing, he was comfortable playing in the snow.
If you have a heater...
You may want to turn it all the way up, but it's best to keep it at between 18 and 20 degrees. That will keep you comfortable, but not create a huge difference between inside and outside.
Aside from trying very hard to stay warm, the trip was a blast with many first-time experiences. Dennis and I met Santa Claus; I saw snow dancing in the wind in Kiruna, Sweden; I hiked at the Abisko National Park in Sweden, and walked through fjords in Norway's Tromso. I saw the northern lights on three different nights, and also experienced polar nights: with only three hours of daylight, you don't get to see sunrises and sunsets, but the sky bursts into light pink and blue.
But I'm most proud that I kept myself warm and didn't get sick. The tips I picked up meant I didn't have to deal with a runny nose on such a magical holiday.