Packing for a trip up north is no throw-a-few-t-shirts-in-the-suitcase-and-go kind of activity. The dramatic climates of Norway require ample planning, but if you pack smart, you won't be one of those travelers who bring mounds of clothing only to realize, upon getting there, that they have nothing to wear.
If you've done your research, you already know that Norway is no swimsuit destination. The summers are sweater weather and the winters are downright frigid, so come prepared. It's best to bring natural fibers that are breathable and also quick-drying because Norway is extremely wet year-round.
Understanding the Climate
Norway exhibits eight different types of climates. It's actually quite temperate on the western coast, thanks to the passing North Atlantic Current of the Gulf Stream. This means places like Bergen rarely see snow in the winter and have an average maximum January and February temperature of about 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) and about 17.5 degrees Celsius (63.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in June, July, and August. The temperature remains fairly temperate wherever the Gulf Stream passes along the coast, even in far-northern islands. Areas in the far north without the Gulf Stream warming coastal waters are cold even in the summer.
By the same token, the farther inland you go, the farther away you are from the Gulf Stream's effect. It snows more in Oslo on the east coast, even though Oslo is a little south of Bergen. Oslo is also colder than Bergen during winter, but a bit warmer in summer, with an average maximum of about -1.5 degrees Celsius (29 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter, and an average maximum temperature of about 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) in June, July, and August.
What to Wear in the Summer
- Long sleeves: Not only is it always chilly (if not absolutely icy), Norway also has a mosquito problem, especially during the months of April and August.
- Boots: Bring along your sturdiest boots, too (of the hiking variety, specifically, if you wish to explore the pristine fjords and mountains on foot). Be prepared for the cold weather to harden your soles. If your trip is concentrated in the southern parts of Norway and cities such as Oslo, a pair of closed, waterproof shoes will probably suffice.
- Rain gear: The weather can turn sour unexpectedly (Bergen, by the way, is the wettest city in Europe) and you might want to take a ferry trip out to the fjords, which is guaranteed to be a wet activity.
- A down jacket, hat, and gloves: Bring your warmest layers and accessories if you'll be traveling to northern islands like Jan Mayen and Svalbard.
What to Wear in the Winter
- Thermal underwear: You would deeply regret not bringing a pair of thermals to keep you warm and dry under all that snow gear during winter.
- Wool sweaters: Those Norwegian knit sweaters are not only fashion statements; their woolen makeup serves an essential purpose, too. They're warm and stylish (for evenings out), but remember that several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than a single thick sweater.
- Waterproof boots: Boots are almost optional during the summer in Norway, but during the winter, they're most certainly not. Bring the warmest ones you can find.
- Winter coats and accessories: They might take up an annoying amount of room in your suitcase, but puffy coats and thick, knit accessories are simply non-negotiable during the colder months.
- Snow goggles: If you plan to participate in outdoor activities (it's Norway, after all, and you should), it might be best to bring along a pair of snow goggles, too.
Protect Your Skin Against the Sun
Norway may not be a beach destination, but sun protection is important as ever, especially when it snows. The snow reflects light and leads to sunburns, so pack your SPF and sunglasses no matter what time of year you'll be visiting. The mountain regions can be much sunnier than the cities and the sun rays can be more damaging. If you plan to go hiking, be wary of heat stroke caused by UV rays. To protect against this, you should always pack a protective hat as well.