Next to pillaging, the one thing the Vikings knew how to do was live. More specifically, they knew how to live in winter. Norway, home of some of the fiercest and most badass Vikings (like Egil Skallagrimsson, Harald Fairhair, and Leif Eriksson) in history, covers an area that stretches from latitude 57 degrees south to 80 degrees at its northernmost point. Alaska, equally as cold if somewhat farther south, sits between 52 and 72 degrees latitude.
With winter upon us, it never hurts to be prepared. With temperatures as low as -80F (-62.2C) in the winter, it’s important that we are both physically and mentally prepared for the harsh realities of Alaska in winter. Well before the advent of Toyo stoves and North Face jackets, the Vikings were roughing it with open-pit fires and wool cloaks. It’s time we learned a thing or two from the godfathers of arctic living.
Dress like a Viking
Believe it or not, Viking-age and modern-day winter clothing share something in common: wool. In the winter, wool was essential in keeping out the cold. Both men and women’s clothing made use of wool as an outer garment. For women, wool was used as the outside of dresses and skirts, while men wore woolen coats.
While wool keeps you warm, it’s also durable; an important and necessary feature for the active Viking. The wool was also carefully woven and oftentimes dyed bright colors. Several burial sites – where we find most of our knowledge concerning Viking-age clothing – even revealed the use of multicolored plaid!
Both men and women made use of hats and hoods. Oftentimes these were made from wool or silk and decorated to match an overcoat or cloak. Hats were often pointed and have been found with mesh balls at the tops, much like the beanies of our own time.
In the modern day, some of the best winter gear is still made from wool. Clothing companies Woolrich and SmartWool both specialize in wool clothing. The best part about wool is that it’s warm, flexible, easily laundered, and is a classic winter look (Vikings were actually quite clean and fashion conscious). Some of the author’s best winter gear is wool.
Eat like a Viking
A Viking was the ultimate local consumer. He would eat fish caught from a nearby river or bay, make bread grown from barley or wheat on his own farmstead, and eat vegetables and berries harvested from local fields and forests. In essence, the Vikings were locavores before it was cool.
While the typical Viking farmstead might include livestock and poultry, fish was the primary source of protein. Vikings ate fish and lots of it. Protein is an essential nutrient in helping the body rebuilds cells. One study has shown that a diet made up of 30% protein can lead us to feel fuller, longer. It can also help us lose weight which, while not a bonus for the average Viking, is a bonus for the average American.
The best part about the Viking diet is that it’s varied. Another study, this time on the diet of contemporary Scandinavians, showed that a Viking Diet provides lower rates of obesity, longer life-expectancy, less heart disease and diabetes, and an overall healthier life. Foods considered to be essential to the contemporary Scandinavian lifestyle include ﬁsh, cabbage, whole grain rye and oats, apples, pears, and root vegetables (like potatoes).
Live like a Viking
If you’re going to dress and eat like a Viking, you are well on your way to living like one. According to the Havamal (a Viking book of sayings), warm and clean living is ideal:
These things are thought the best:
Fire, the sight of the sun,
Good health with the gift to keep it,
And a life that avoids vice.
While the stereotypical Viking is a sea-faring raider with a horned helmet and panache for murder, that’s not entirely true. It’s also not terribly far from the mark (except the horned helmets, that’s just a myth).
What really makes a Viking stand out is their constant motion and sense of adventure. A Viking is always doing something: whether it’s farming, travelling, ship-building, cooking, composing an epic poem, playing chess, fighting, or drinking ale and mead. In the age of cyber-realism (where a huge chunk of our life is spent online) living an active life offline may seem both odd and difficult. But, it’s also worth it.
It has been proven that being active is not only good for our bodies, but also our minds. In reality, simply standing around is better than sitting at a desk. In classic Viking fashion, just get out there. While the average Viking had to find the get-up-and-go in order to harvest his own food and protect his homestead, the need for activity is still the same. Instead of growing our own food (for most of us) and actually protecting our homes, we have to fight off the stress of work and protect our health. Both of which are negatively impacted by our sedentary lives.
As the Havamal said:
The coward believes he will live forever
If he holds back in the battle,
But in old age he shall have no peace
Though spears have spared his limbs