8 tips for Northern lights hunting

It is thanks to the weaker magnetic field around the poles, that electrically charged particles from the sun can enter the earth's atmosphere here. But you don´t need to understand the physical part of it, to enjoy amazing Northern lights show in Iceland! However, there are a few things which you should or may want to do before you go.

1. Check the forecast – There are two conditions that need to meet in order to see the Northern lights:

A) High Northern lights activity – Meteorologists can predict the probability of active Northern lights. They use degrees from 0 to 9, which show a combination of how probable the lights are to come out at all, and how active they will be when they do come out. Best site to check the forecast is the official site of Icelandic Meteorological Office or try this Aurora Service by American enthusiast Tony. However, don´t let the numbers ruin your night. You can still see a nice show even if the forecast is not optimistic, as well as you might only see a few white shreds while the page promised you level 9.

B) Clear sky – You will not see aurora if the sky is cloudy as the lights move at height of 60-200 miles. Again, you can check the forecast if planning a Northern lights hunting, but as the weather in Iceland is hardly predictable, it is more definite to just check the sky yourself before you go. If it is only partly cloudy, you can still see some lights between the clouds.

2. Find good spot – The less light there is around you, the more powerful will aurora be. That means it is always better to get out of the city when you have the time and possibility. And avoid the full moon night. Also, it is convenient to find a spot with a good view to all sides. Don´t let some mountain block you away from lights theatre that is going on behind it!

3. Dress warmly! Even if you feel fine in your trench coat over the day, you might be grateful to dress up like for Arctic expedition when you go aurora hunting. The temperatures go deep down during the clear night and you probably will not move too much, so get prepared for this. Good boots, hat, scarf, and gloves are definitely a good idea. Dressing well is the basic thing to enjoy your night and will scare off all the tempting thoughts of the warm bed waiting for you.

4. Be patient and attentive. Sometimes the Northern lights dance for 5 hours, sometimes for 5 minutes. Some nights they come at 9 pm, sometimes at 5 am. Meteorologists can predict roughly at what hours the activity will be the highest but still bear in mind that you are hunting for something very natural, unpredictable and glimmering around by its own rules.

5. Bring tea and snacks – By now you probably assumed you will spend some time waiting out there. Why not make it more pleasant with some winter picnic, hot tea or other warming beverages?

6. Bring a good camera and a tripod if you want nice pictures – If your idea of Northern lights hunting is kind of connected with Instagram or Facebook likes for your pictures, get equipped. Sure you can impress people with pictures from your phone (there are some Northern light apps that can help you with it). However, for more quality material, it is crucial to have a camera that allows manual settings and a tripod. The more invisible the lights are, the more exposure time you want to use.

7. Charge your camera fully. Your camera can go two days without charging, but low temperatures will make her battery discharge very quickly. Ideally, bring an extra battery with you and keep it somewhere warm (pocket near your body) before using it.

8. Get on tour – Why would I pay for a tour when I can rent a car myself, you are thinking. Nevertheless, having a guide brings several advantages:

  • The guides are experienced in searching for Northern lights, so they know where to go to have more chance of spotting them.
  • It is nice to just enjoy the evening and let someone else drive, meanwhile you can observe the sky and have some hot wine.
  • It is safe. Dark Icelandic roads can be tricky, especially in winter. The dancing lights will easily tempt you onto a gravel road that your car can´t handle and there you find yourselves – running around looking for mobile connection instead of enjoying the show above you.
  • The guide will finally explain to you WHAT the Northern lights actually are :)
  • Also, the guide will help you with setting up your camera for the perfect shot.
  • You can link Northern lights watching with some other activity during the day. Asgard Beyond offers a tour that connects glacier hiking, traditional dinner and then, of course, Northern lights hunting.