Surviving Russian Winter: An Expat’s Take

Given the forecast predicts snow during the tail end of this week, I figured it’d be appropriate to talk about the infamous Russian winter, in addition to passing on my personal tips and tricks. (Side note: I’m finally getting back to my roots of dishing out travel advice.) If anybody is new to Russia or is thinking of ever visiting, I hope this helps!

First of all, I’ll say that, yes, I managed to survive my first Russian winter. However, I’m told that it was a milder one, with the low being -4F/-20C. Yes, that’s considered mild; I shudder to think what it’s like further north/east/in Siberia. With that in mind, I was able to get by by first of all buying my winter gear here in Russia, as the options in stores are well tested against Mother Nature. Given the current tumultuous state of the ruble (and it hasn’t gotten much better since), I was able to take advantage and buy some excellent boots, gloves, and my godsend of a coat for relatively cheap. Yet another disclaimer here is that since I’m based in Moscow, there’s an overabundance of shopping malls/centers in which to buy said winter clothes, but I do want to mention how there’s a solid choice of options available.

For starters, make sure you have a great coat that will actually protect you from the cold. Don’t worry too much about the aesthetic aspect, as a) it doesn’t matter if it looks manly, cute, etc. when you’re freezing and b) you’ll be in great company with all the bundled up Russians. (Parenthetical comment here, but I both fear and admire the women who, no matter how f***ing cold it is, will continue to wear skirts while the rest of us are bundled up to the nines. These women are to be treated with the utmost respect.) One noticeable difference between coats here in Russia compared to back home was the inner layers. I cannot speak highly enough about this, as it came in handy on more than one occasion! Even then, there were the rare times when I had to bundle up underneath the default layers because frankly, there were times where it hurt to even think about going outside. All in all though, if you take the time to invest in solid coats, your winter will be far more bearable.

While these coats generally do have hoods, it never hurt to have a beanie as backup. Lord knows how many times I was bailed out by having mine in my pocket (in addition to my gloves-more on them soon) when the wind was particularly nasty and/or when the cold was biting harder than usual. As with the selection of coats, I have noticed a relative abundance of selection pertaining to beanies/hats, and thankfully they’re not bank breakers; I got mine for about 300 rubles, which is about $4. Sames goes for gloves-good selections for decent prices. Trust me, back home you can get through winter sans gloves, but you’re nuts to try and replicate that act here. Case in point: in February I had to take my gloves off for maybe 10 minutes, and it consequently took the better part of half an hour for them to feel completely normal again. Treat all parts of your body with the utmost respect here!

All throughout the excessively long winter (basically mid-late October to some of April), my mom was constantly checking up on me to see if I wasn’t freezing my buns off in my apartment. Thankfully, each building in the residential complexes turn heat on to the point where I was able to comfortably wear shorts and a t-shirt inside. Not only that, but I had to open the window to let the cold air in because I was too hot. If anything, apartments err on the side of turning into saunas come wintertime.

If you’re worried about how your body will react, using my personal experience, I found that I got used to the weather. Maybe I combined that with a bit of bravado and some idiocy, but I found that over time, I considered temperatures in the 30’s (F; all temperatures are in Fahrenheit unless otherwise denoted) to be “oh, I can go out in my sweatshirt” weather, 20 degrees would be “maybe I should put on my heavy coat”, and 10 degrees or less became “okay, this is cold”. Again, I wholeheartedly concede that maybe I got a little too cocky regarding my body’s tolerance for (milder) Russian winter, but I’m able to write this with every single part of my body intact. So, don’t worry too much!

At any rate, I’m going to tempt fate by saying I await what the ever fickle Russian Mother Nature has to offer. I’m ready for winter!

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