Winter in Korea is no joke. It’s icy cold, bone dry, and it hurts. As it was the very end of February when I arrived in Seoul this time, and having only visited in the summer before, this is my first experience of the real Korean winter. I’ve heard stories about it, but none prepared me for just how quickly the cold weather came on in the middle of November, and I found myself scrambling to buy winter clothes along with, it seemed, the entirety of Seoul. So, to aid those who plan to visit this city during the winter, or who hope to live here at some point, I’m sharing my top tips for surviving winter in Seoul.
How to Survive Winter in Seoul
1. Buy a good quality winter coat
This sounds like the most obvious tip ever, but your coat will make or break your winter experience here in Korea. The Koreans don’t scrimp on their winter outerwear, with people paying anywhere between 150,000W and 500,000W and above on a good quality, insulated coat that can protect them from the snow and icy winds. Said winds can really rack up, especially in a city with so many high-rise buildings, and the wind chill makes it all seem so much colder, so a decent windbreaking material is high on the list of importance when searching for the right coat.
2. Layer, layer, layer
Layering your clothes will be your best friend, especially if you want to keep the cost down! But sometimes all those layers can still let a chill in. To combat this, I went out to Uniqlo in mid-November and bought myself a whole bunch of Heat Tech thermal leggings, long-sleeve T-shirts, and socks to put underneath everything to keep the heat in. It’s the best purchase I made to prepare myself, and you know it’s a smart idea when the queues are 20 minutes long for the checkouts. The Koreans know what works, so follow them!
I bought my Heat Tech in-store in several locations. I particularly recommend the Heat Tech Extra Warm crew-neck long-sleeve t-shirts (19,900W), Heat Tech Extra Warm leggings (19,900, only Ultra Warm available online) and men’s Heat Tech socks (because I have big feet).
3. Tech-smart gloves
I could pass this tip off as being directed at tourists who need to use the maps and searches on their phones to find their way around, but who am I kidding! Judge me all you want, but I use my phone all the time and sometimes I just don’t want to put it down when I’m walking somewhere. Now, the winter could make it very difficult for those of us who have a bit of an addiction to our smartphones, but it doesn’t have to. Get yourself some gloves with fingertips that work on touchscreens and you’re good to go.
I bought my gloves for 7,000W in a roadside shop in the Idae area of Seoul, but these should be available in most underground shopping centres or subway station accessory stores.
4. Heat packs are my best friend
Heat packs have always been around. Some of them you have to microwave, some of them you can boil and use over and over again, and some are disposable. I recently bought myself a box of 30 HOT n HOT disposable heat packs, and they’re amazing. I can open them in the morning and they’ll stay hot until I get home from work – ideal when working in sometimes cold classrooms and walking to and from my school. I feel a little guilty that they’re not reusable, so if you’re a more environmentally responsible person than I am you can get yourself a microwaveable bean pouch or something equally as eco-friendly. Whatever you do, get yourself something – you’ll thank me later!
I buy my HOT n HOT disposable heat packs online on GMarket. I paid 11,900W for 3 packs of 10 hot packs.
5. Big scarves are best
Remember that wind that I told you about? That’s going to play havoc with your face. Even the raw cold hurts, but throw some wind in there and you’ll find a whole new level of chill. I have a couple of big, tightly woven blanket scarves (loose, chunky knits don’t help – holes let wind through) that I can wrap up around my neck and the bottom of my face. Another option is to get a ‘snood’ type thing that you can wear as a half-balaclava to protect your cheeks and nose. Stick a woolly hat on top to cover your forehead and ears and you’re sorted.
I have several blanket scarves from previous winters. The one in my photos was from New Look in winter 2015. H&M, Zara and Forever21 all have a good selection of blanket scarves both in-store and online.
I’ve got another post planned with some winter skincare tips in that might prove useful, but as a brief tip; moisturise! It may sounds silly since you don’t want your face to literally freeze, but keeping moisture in the skin on your face will really help to stop it drying out and cracking. Apply moisturiser and/or a moisturising sun cream with a high SPF (the winter here is cold but it’s not dark and rainy like it is in the UK) and top up throughout the day. Use a moisturising lip balm and hand cream often and drink lots of water. You’ll feel lovely and soft, and, as this prevents that horrible winter skin splitting, the pain of the cold won’t continue once you’re inside and warm!
I’m currently using the Innisfree Green Tea Moisture Cream (15,000W), CNP Laboratory Mugener Ampule Mist (8,000W at OliveYoung online, but I bought mine in-store for 10,000W), and the Nivea honey and milk lip balm (bought mine in-store and cannot find online, but there is a similar lip balm on OliveYoung online for 3,200W).
The Christmas season is no fun if you’re freezing cold and shivering 24/7, so sort yourself out with some good protection from the cold and get out and enjoy Seoul in the winter! There are plenty of things to do, some of which I’ll share with you in the next couple of weeks, and it can be just as fun as in the summer!
Featured photo by Fii.