I live in a tropical country that knows only two seasons – heat and rain. So understandably, I was in a little bit of a panic when I found out that late November in Korea – where they enjoy four seasons – was already the transition from fall to winter. The sudden drop in average temperature from 12 degrees C to 7 and below in the week of our stay was testament to that, and Korean winter is notoriously bitter, with harsh winds coming straight from Siberia. In the two weeks leading to our trip I researched blogs, rounded up thick jackets, hoarded thermals and overdosed on winter survival tips. I like my trips cool, but the cold does bother me.
Now I can enumerate below my personal tips for surviving fall-winter in Korea. I survived without catching a cold, mind. I’m very proud of that.
1. Think like an onion. I read this in one blog and it is the best advice ever. The key is to layer. Even if you have on a properly warm down jacket, it won’t be enough to keep the Siberian air out if you just piled it over a sweater. Layers keep the heat in, and it’s also easier to manage as the temperature wavers. If the cold gets more comfortable or when I step indoors, I can just pull off my outerwear or peel off my hoodie. Like a proper onion, see?
2. Leather looks cool, but also feels cool. I thought my Seoul trip would be the perfect time to try on that sleek leather jacket. It did look cool and was warm, but when the wind started slapping me around and the Celsius dropped to below 7, I started groping for something warmer. Wool and fleece are much toastier bets, specially as gloves. My leather gloves did nothing for my frozen fingers. As for the leather jacket, I had to wear it over a thick cotton hoodie jacket, a turtleneck sweater, and thermals. Don’t even try to wear faux leather – it gets hot when it’s hot and cold when it’s cold.
3. Keep the hat. Our bodies apparently keep our heads warm as a priority, leaving our limbs to fend for themselves. So every time I stepped out in the morning or when the night started to fall, I would put on my toasty knit bonnet, never forgetting to keep my ears in. Hooded jackets were great friends too; the bigger the hood, the better to keep away the wind.
4. Face masks will help you breathe. This seems counter intuitive, but it works. Putting on a face mask not only protected my face from the Siberian wind, but it warmed my breath and kept me from breathing in the icy air.
5. Thermals are your best friends. They truly are, Uniqlo’s Heatteach thermals specifically. These are thin, soft and super comfortable, a perfect first layer such that I don’t end up like the Michelin man. Don’t forget thermals for your legs as well. I like Uniglo’s thermal leggings and also lined leggings we got for cheap at Divisoria. If you can get fur or wool-lined leggings I’m sure that would be super warm.
Summarizing my findings below:
- Season – early winter, very windy and the winds are arctic, with light drizzle some days, no snow yet.
- Temperature – 5 to 20+ degrees Celsius from 8am to 11am, with temperature at its highest from noon to about 2pm, then it starts sloping to single digits again. Fair warning: haven’t tested these clothes from midnight to early morning, where temperatures are as low as 0 to negative 3. Let me know how that goes. Really, I wanna know.
- Upper – thermal top, sweater (cotton, wool, fleece, or lycra blend, preferably turtleneck), hoodie jacket (windbreaker or thick cotton), outerwear (down or leather jacket, preferably down).
- Lower – thermal leggings, thicker denim jeans.
- Shoes – lined boots. But sneakers will do given you wear them with wool socks.
- Important extras – knit bonnet, gloves, socks, scarves (preferably wool), face mask.
Surviving and enjoying the late fall/early winter season in Korea makes me a tad bit braver to try and book a proper winter trip next time. But maybe next next time. My tropic-friendly body still needs practice acclimating.
ULD photo credits to Uniqlo.