The northern lights are one of the most spectacular phenomena on the planet, and a sight that many flock to see each year. However, the likelihood of having a good trip will be slim unless you plan ahead; the lights are unpredictable and the climate is not the most hospitable on the planet. Here are some planning essentials for making your Northern Lights trip a great one.
Northern Lights Forecast
A long trip outdoors when you’re in the Arctic is going to be cold, so it’s best to make sure that when you go outside you won’t be wasting your time. Northern lights forecasting is surprisingly accurate, and much more reliable than a weather forecast! For the most up to date information try the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute website which has a scale of aurora borealis activity that is easy to understand. You can also sign up for email alerts to make sure that you are entirely up to date.
Photographing the Northern Lights
Once you’ve seen the northern lights you will probably want to capture the spectacular light show on camera. Taking a good photo can be difficult, however if you use an SLR camera on a tripod with a long exposure, around 10-20 seconds, then you should get good results. Camera batteries don’t last long in cold conditions so take a spare set if you can and keep them warm. The northern lights cover the sky in a magnificent 360°display, so to capture a more complete picture take a fisheye lens too.
Find out when is best to go
To get the best northern lights experience you will need to know the best time to go. The sky will need to be dark to see the lights distinctly, so don’t go during the arctic summer unless you want to be disappointed. The aurora is most active around the equinoxes, and the end of August and beginning of September are the best time to go if you don’t want to trudge through lots of snow. They are also most commonly seen between 5pm and 2am and a good display may only last half an hour. Some can extend to a few hours though, so you may need a bit of patience for the most rewarding experience.
Pack Lots of Layers
The key to staying warm in the Arctic is to wear layers. The air that gets trapped between thin layers acts as an insulator when it warms to your body temperature, so it is also important to make sure that your layers are different sizes so that they won’t constrict you. It is also important to get thicker outerwear if you plan on being outside for a long time and, although they are expensive, they can be rented from suppliers. If you are only planning for short excursions whilst you are outside some good quality skiwear should be fine.