Friluftsliv Is the Norwegian Philosophy Prepping Me for a Pandemic Winter
These days, it’s hard to have a casual conversation with anyone without eventually touching on The Big Three topics: the election, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact that the pandemic will still be raging once the temperatures drop. “What are we going to do about winter?” has become a common refrain, a question that is both too difficult to answer and too scary to ignore.
“We will have to just bundle up and hang out at restaurants with outdoor heat lamps,” some folks triumphantly declare.
“See you in April,” others moan.
“What about Miami?” dreamers ask as they whip out their phones to start the Airbnb search.
As a writer who lives in New York City, I have participated in these back-and-forths dozens of times over the past few weeks. New York gets bitingly, blusteringly, brutally cold in the winter, and most people I know are convinced that socially-distanced rooftop and park hangs will be a thing of the past, not the pandemic salve that they once were. But I will now say to you what I have said to all of them: The Norwegian lifestyle philosophy friluftsliv — pronounced free-lufts-liv — can help get us through the dark days ahead.
Friluftsliv, which loosely translates to “the free air life,” describes the Norwegian idea that life is best lived outside — no matter the temperature. I have a book coming out in the spring called Destination Wellness, which is about various well-being practices and lessons from around the world, and one of the chapters is devoted entirely to this concept. For research, I traveled to Norway last year to experience the philosophy myself, and I was forever changed by Norwegians’ approach to the cold.
Rather than dreading it like so many of us do, Norwegians tend to embrace chilly temperatures. They like the cold, partially because they like the nip in the air, but mostly because they like being outside — it’s part of their national identity. The country has outdoor schools (including outdoor kindergartens), and organizations in every town dedicated to promoting the outdoor life. “Nature Sundays” are a thing there, where people spend every Sunday outside with their families, even if it’s raining or freezing cold. You can even get a college degree in friluftsliv!
Perhaps most importantly, though, living the friluftsliv way leaves many Norwegians truly addicted to the outdoors, addicted to the clarity and the mental reset only nature can provide. On my trip, I interviewed countless Norwegians about what the philosophy means to them, and the common theme was loud and clear: Being outside is where the mental magic happens. If they don’t spend enough time outside each day, they start to feel off — weird, even — like how runners feel when they don’t run. Something’s missing.
And so, to make sure they feel this way as infrequently as possible, many Norwegians go to great lengths to get outside no matter what. Nothing will stop them — not rain, not snow, and certainly not ice-cold temperatures. Norwegians love to tell you that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” a clever way of saying that when it comes to spending time in their beloved outdoors, there are zero deterrents.
This is the mentality we need to adopt right now. I know it can be hard to do, especially when many of us didn’t grow up thinking about nature as an extension of ourselves. But we’ve gotta try. Countless studies have linked isolation with depression, and shown that human connection is one of the surest paths to well-being — so Netflixing our way into April is simply not the best strategy here.
To help you shift your mindset and start embracing the cold, I put together a list of friluftsliv-approved gear that will get you through the next few months like a true Norwegian. I’m assuming you have all the basics already, like a solid jacket and warm boots, so think of these more like friluftsliv upgrades. They are here to help you survive, and possibly even thrive, in the cold.
1. A good 100% wool sweater to protect you from the elements.
When I was in Norway, I went camping in the cold with a group of Norwegians. As the sun went down, I started to shiver despite my multiple layers of down jackets, and one of my fellow campers told me that wearing a 100% wool sweater underneath your jacket is the only way to stay warm out there. Lesson learned! Wool sweaters are especially helpful when you’re on the move, since wool can wick moisture — so it absorbs any cold sweats that may arise from walking around all bundled up.
There are lots of places to get 100% wool sweaters, but here are some of my favorite options:
Shop now: $250; amazon.com
Aran Sweater Market. Like Norwegians, the Irish are also known for their warm wool sweaters — and this is the place to get them. I visited the shop IRL when I was in Ireland last year, and it was like a winter sweater wonderland. They have tons of different styles and knits for every shape and size, and best of all, they ship worldwide. Most of their sweaters are made from 100% merino wool, though some are blended with cashmere, so just be sure to read the label before you buy.
The Icelandic Store. Does it surprise you that icy Iceland produces some quality wool sweaters, too? Most of the sweaters at this store are made from 100% pure Icelandic wool, and they ship to the US in just a few business days. You can even get one tailor made at no extra cost, though it may take anywhere from two to eight weeks to make—so if you’re in a rush, this may not be the best option for you. (“Please bear in mind that our sweaters are mostly made by retired women who do this as a hobby,” they write on their website. “We think happy knitters make happy sweaters, so we don’t rush them.”)
LL Bean. Though the brand does make wool sweaters with other fabrics, like acrylics for added softness, they also make pure wool sweaters with 100% lambswool. This Classic Ragg Wool Fair Isle Crewneck is a great option. And at $74.99, it’s much more affordable than some of the traditional ones from various countries abroad.
Shop now: $89; llbean.com
2. A pair (or two) of wool socks to keep your feet warm at all times.
Smartwool has a cult following for a reason: Their stuff is WARM. Founded by two ski instructors in the mountains of Colorado about twenty years ago, the company makes some of the only wool socks out there that keep you cozy and warm without itching your feet. Though they’re pretty pricey — around $20 per pair — they’re worth it because they last. I got my first couple pairs for a hiking trip to Machu Picchu in Peru in 2016, and they’re still going strong!
There are tons of options, but I prefer the hiking heavy crew socks for friluftsliv-ing. Unlike some of the other sock varieties, like running and cycling, they have a full cushion for shock absorption — meaning they’re a bit thicker and keep your feet extra toasty.
Shop now: $22; smartwool.com
3. A set of merino wool base layers to wick sweat.
Before my trip to Norway, a Norwegian professor I was emailing with told me that I had to come prepared with some merino wool base layers to stay warm. As someone who prides herself on taking advice from locals, I immediately made my way to Paragon Sports, a popular sporting goods store in Manhattan, to get the goods he recommended. Everyone in the outdoor department there told me the same thing: It was Icebreaker or bust. The brand is one of the ultimate go-tos for all base layer everything. I picked up a long sleeve thermal top, and long-sleeve half-zip thermal top, and a pair of everyday thermal leggings — and I could not recommend this trio enough. If it’s too hot to wear a full wool sweater under your coat, the base layers are a nice lighter substitute — and the leggings are great to wear under loose pants for double layering.
Shop now: $85; icebreaker.com
4. A wool blanket to wrap yourself in a blanket burrito when you’re dining outside.
Outdoor dining is going to be a big part of socializing this winter, especially if you live in an urban area and can’t exactly gather around a bonfire. While base layers and rain pants should do the trick, wrapping yourself in a wool blanket will help, too. There are lots of brands that make them, but the two classics are Woolrich and Pendleton. Choosing a blanket you love is a personal choice, so that’s all you — but I will say that my husband and I are obsessed with Woolrich’s soft wool plaid blanket. We’ve taken it on many camping trips, and it delivers every time — it’s definitely the warmest blanket we own.
Shop now: $195; woolrich.com
5. A durable pair of rain pants to help you weather the storm.
Rain pants just may be my number one takeaway from my Norway trip. I will never forget the day when I was picnicing outside with a group of Norwegians and it started to rain. In a prime example of “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” they all immediately busted out their rain pants and continued hanging out without even talking about the possibility of — gasp — packing up and going home. The best part is that it doesn’t even need to be raining to put rain pants to good use. They are also great for protecting you from the wind; just throw on your base layer leggings underneath, and you will be ready to brave the elements. There are tons of options, but these rain pants from The North Face are my favorite. They got me through my very outdoorsy trip to Norway, so that’s saying something!
Shop now: $80; thenorthface.com
6. A blanket scarf to keep with you at all times.
There will be times this winter when you find yourself in a cold situation but do not have your proper gear (i.e. your wool sweater or base layers or whatever else) to save you. Enter: this blanket scarf, or any other blanket scarf that you like! As the name obviously implies, these scarves are big enough to double as blankets, but small enough to keep in your bag at all times. Do not ever leave home without this scarf. That way, no matter what weather the universe throws at you, you’ll be ready.
Shop now: $40; llbean.com
7. A wearable sleeping bag for when you just can’t with the cold.
There may also come a time this winter when you have simply tried it all to no avail. You have on your merino wool base layer, and your wool sweater on top of that, and your jacket over that. You are wearing your wool leggings with your rain pants on top. Your blanket scarf is somewhere on your body, too, though its exact location is a question you cannot begin to answer. You are basically Chandler from Friends, when he walks into Monica’s apartment with all of his clothes on and asks: “Could I BE wearing any more clothes?” And yet. You are STILL COLD.
This is when you know it’s time to purchase the ultimate cold-weather accessory: the wearable sleeping bag. It is exactly as it sounds, and in the end, it perfectly captures the spirit of friluftsliv. This philosophy is ultimately about doing whatever you possibly can to stay outside for as long as you possibly can, because you know that being out there — whether you’re wearing a cute outfit or a piece of glorified camping equipment — is good for your soul. And right now, that soul magic is exactly what we need.
Shop now: $169; amazon.com