What clothes should I pack to beat the cold?
November 18, 2023 2:55 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in Norway for most of December, as far north as Tromsø, and then head to Japan until mid-January, as far north as Tokyo. Since I live somewhere that doesn't get that cold in winter, I'm not really sure what clothes I need to pack, especially for Norway (e.g. will I need winter boots? Should I just buy things on arrival?). Can you help?

I'll mainly be in urban areas doing a lot of walking. In Norway it's possible I might want to do some winter sport type activities but from my research it looks like the special gear helpful for that will be supplied.
posted by Panthalassa to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Montréal, QC, Canada where (according to Google at least), the climate is a bit colder than Tromsø in December. I get cold quite easily. Here's how I dress:

- My normal Blundstones with wool socks. I'm careful not to step in puddles too much if it's warmer than zero degrees.
- Normal pants (chinos or jeans). If it's abnormally cold (less than -5), I'll add long johns. I recommend Uniqlo heattech because it's inexpensive and works well!
- A t-shirt, a shirt and a wool jumper. If it's going to be really cold, it's a long sleeve heattech t-shirt with a wool jumper.
- I have a Uniqlo down jacket and a gore-tex shell. Maybe you can wear the coat you'll be supplied for sport type activities instead of buying something new!
- A wool hat and wool mittens.

Tokyo seems quite wam in January (highs of 10 degrees), so you'll probably be fine with just a wool jumper and a shell.

I hope this helps!
posted by agregoire at 3:14 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

If you live somewhere that is not cold know that you lose a lot of heat through your head and that you will never feel warm with cold feet.

So yes to winter footwear - you want it somewhat water resistant, a bit of tread on the outer sole, you want a sole that insulates you from the ground and a bit of warmth all round. You want to wear warm socks when you try them on. Also, slippers. You can get cold feet indoors even if the space is heated.

Get a hat. If the collar of your jacket doesn’t go up round your neck, get a scarf. I rarely wear gloves but I do like sleeves I can pull my hands up into a bit.

Other than that thin layers, ideally one with wool somewhere.

Your coat/jacket should finish below your bum.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:27 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

Insulated walking boots are a great thing to have, and advances in how they're made mean you have lots of stylish options. If my feet are cold or uncomfortable, I'm miserable, so I would prioritize that first. (On preview: yes Blundstones!)

For clothing, when it's in the 20s and 30s here in NYC, I wear variations on this:
Padded wool socks
thin silk long underwear - pants and camisole
Wool dress slacks
Wool knit sweater
3/4 length wool topcoat or puffer
thin cashmere scarf, knit cap, lined leather gloves
If I'm walking a lot, the coat will get unzipped as I warm up. If it's windy, I stay tightly wrapped. If it's raining, I carry a sturdy umbrella. (If it's rainy and windy, I stay the heck inside.)

In Tokyo, you'll be able to ditch the long underwear and probably even the coat.
posted by minervous at 3:28 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

You might be able to get by if you have a pair of boots you're happy with that are water resistant, have a good tread, come up over the ankle and will fit a thicker pair of wool socks comfortably, but you'll very likely be happier with winter boots. I do think it's good idea to get them now and give yourself a chance to break them in some since you say you'll be walking a lot.

I go for gloves over mittens, but I would rather deal with slightly colder hands that are a bit more nimble. Mittens are definitely the warmer option. So I'd suggest starting with gloves and buying mittens there if your hands aren't warm enough.

I also have fingerless mitts (not these specifically, but similar) for two purposes: 1) to layer over gloves because my arms are just a bit long for off-the-rack clothes and the mitts cover any gaps between glove and sleeve and 2) to wear inside if needed.

If you don't like hats or have a hard time getting ones that fit well, get a coat with a hood, or one of those sport headbands that insulates your ears. Ears can get uncomfortably cold very quickly. It's good to have the option to cover them if you want it.

If you're prone to cold feet, you might want bed socks. And you might want to have a couple options for pajamas to adjust for the warmth of the bedding, since you presumably will have some limitations on how much you're in control of that. I always need long sleeves because I'm a bit restless and move my arms outside the blankets, but sometimes shorts are more comfortable than pants.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:39 PM on November 18

I was in Tokyo in January a few years ago and it was in the 40s/50s F

it will be strawberry season there
posted by brujita at 5:18 PM on November 18 [2 favorites]

A narrowly focused answer… I’ve repurposed early-Covid cloth masks to sub for scarves which I find too bulky and fiddly. It’s amazing how much warmer having something covering your mouth/nose makes you feel on the coldest days when walking. A cloth mask is a quick on/off, slips easily into a pocket before/after use, dries out for reuse, and can be washed.

Also, unless your coat comes up to cover your neck really well, a neck gaiter or even just a kerchief folded triangularly and tied around your neck will prevent a lot of heat loss from there and that coming up from your body. And, as mentioned above, a warm, ear-covering hat is a must.
posted by ClingClang at 6:28 PM on November 18 [2 favorites]

I was given a pair of Helly Hansen boots when I went to live in Norway and they didn’t need breaking in and were made for Norwegian snowy winter ground. Not everyone I’ve recommended them to has felt as comfortable in them as me but maybe try them. Tromso is very snowy and the ground icy.
posted by flink at 6:45 AM on November 19

Seconding wearing a mask when out in the cold. One caveat though, when your mask gets a little moist from condensation, and when you remove it for a bit, it becomes really unpleasant to put back on (cold and moist rather than warm and moist). I keep a few spares.
posted by M. at 10:56 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

> Should I just buy things on arrival?

You may find Japanese clothing and footwear is sized too small to fit you, or is designed without enough room in the butt and bust regions. Including the complimentary indoor slippers.

I'd make sure to have boots with leather and thick socks and/or some insulation.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:04 PM on November 19

Layers are the key in Norway. Get some long johns to wear under trousers, warm socks, and consider an upper body base layer or vest. You'll also want a warm coat, hat, scarf/buff and gloves.

I normally wear mountain walking boots and have slip on 'brodder' to add grip if there's ice. I even have a pair for my running shoes.
posted by knapah at 6:09 AM on November 20

Oh man, do you need winter boots. I don't know about Tokyo, but Norway will be cold and likely also very wet. What a cool adventure, though!

If you want to be comfortable, here are some specific brands:

Baffin Boots. Very sturdy, warm, and comfortable. Blundstones are great for the city part, but you probably can't ski in them. They also won't protect against heavy rain.
DarnTough socks. They're not cheap, but come with a lifetime warranty. Holes = free replacement.
You need a wool or wool-like base layer. SmartWool makes very high-quality base layer clothes. You will be warm.
A warm and waterproof winter coat. My best one is a long, puffy coat by Jack Wolfskin. You can often get coats like that used and barely worn.
Gloves or mittens. 100% necessary. I get cold hands easily, and Hestra mittens have eliminated the problem. However, for not terribly cold days, you'll also want fleece or wool gloves. Remember to either get waterproof versions (or waterproof covers), or to bring two or even three pairs.

Then, you need:
A wool or fleece sweater, for the coldest days. On warmer days, base layer/regular clothes/coat will be enough
A wool hat. Maybe get a couple in case you get wet and can't get your hat dry fast enough. Covering your head is not optional, this is where you lose body heat.
A scarf. I'd recommend a loop scarf made of fleece.
If you want to go skiing or you'd like to play in the snow: sunglasses and ski pants. I would make 100% sure that these will be provided if you do not buy any. I doubt you'll be able to rent ski pants or any of the clothes. Just boards/skis/a helmet maybe. What they do in those skiing resorts is to sell ski pants and other gear at astronomical prices. So I'd definitely get some ahead of time. I don't have a brand recommendation, but every ski pants I've ever worn have been warm enough in similar conditions, even cheap ones.
Consider a little (electronic?) hand warmer and those thermal soles (Terratherm, for example). They make a huge difference in exchange for very little packing space, and might help in the first days of getting used to a very different climate.
posted by toucan at 5:56 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

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