With winter tours of St Petersburg and Moscow on the horizon I knew I had to pack warm. But while reading weather reports and temperature scores are one thing, strolling through the chilly city streets in the depths of Russian winter is another. Experiencing a highly continental influenced climate, Russian winters are hit with heavy snowfall and sometimes blistering easterly winds called Buran that bring in freezing cold temperatures and snowstorms. Of course, coming from Australian summer, I was blissfully unaware of this and just how unsympathetic the Russian winter weather conditions could be.
I had visited Iceland and Finland before going to Russia and, perhaps naively, had not expected Russia to be the coldest place on my travels. In Iceland it was more of an icy wind that stung you, but in Russia it was a whole different kind of cold that chilled you to the core.
I travelled to Russia over New Year with temperatures ranging from about -2 to about -12 degrees centigrade. While that may not seem that cold for the hardier of you, I can assure you it felt a whole lot colder! Even our guide said how often people are surprised by the chill factor when they visit at this time of year.
Russia is a truly magical place over winter; so to make the most of your experience stock up on these items of clothing and you’lll be well equipped to survive a classic Russian winter. Here is a comprehensive list of essentials to pack in your suitcase.
What to wear to survive a Russian winter
A heavy coat
Prepare to suffer if you don’t kit yourself out in a properly insulated, heavy, warm and waterproof coat – the most essential item along with a sturdy pair of boots. A down jacket or other warm filling is a fantastic insulator and is vital to keeping you warm outside so you can explore with minimal fuss. You’d be better opting for one with a hood for that vital extra protection from the elements and to keep your head warm and the heat in! Remember that your feet and head are the most important areas. My jacket had a false fur lined hood with trim which helped up the fashion and fit in with the locals who are generally really stylish and also wear a lot of fur.
A good pair of waterproof boots is absolutely crucial. This is a must have item when walking around icy and snowy streets. You will be very miserable if you have cold and wet feet. Mine were also lined with fake fur which definitely helped too, along with a thick pair of woollen socks (which there’s no shame in doubling up on).
Keeping your hands warm can be difficult when you are exploring new cities and constantly slipping your gloves off to snap holiday memories in the quest for that perfect Instagram; which is why a pair of touch screen gloves come in really handy so you don’t have to take them off at all! I wore a thicker pair of mittens over the top of them when we were outside for long periods of time. Be sure to take good care of your hands.
Layers are the key! I wore thermal leggings and a thermal long-sleeved top as my base layer to keep my core cosy. I would then wear a thicker jumper or fleece over that before putting my coat on. When you are moving from sub zero temperatures outside to the heated indoors, you want to be able to take layers off to remain comfortable otherwise be prepared to boil! Synthetic thermals are great for letting your body breathe and keep regulated indoors too. Take a minute to do some research before purchasing.
Scarf and Hat
A warm scarf wrapped around your neck helps shield your face from the wind and keeps you protected. It can also be fashionable if you wish to inject some colour into your outfit. Throw in a beanie to keep your head and ears warm too, or opt for a traditional Russian ‘ushanka’ with the ear flaps.
Whether checking out Moscow’s magnificent Red Square, Kremlin or bustling Izmailovo market on a walking tour, or Saint Petersburg’s St Catherine’s Palace, Hermitage Museum at the Winter Palace or UNESCO-listed area featuring Nevsky Prospekt, Museum and University districts, Peter and Paul Fortress, Church on Spilled Blood, The Bronze Horseman and Admiralty End – you must dress yourself properly, and that means warm. Quivering blue lips, chattering teeth or sodden shoes are not recommended and will leave you desperate for your hotel room. Proper clothing will make or break your winter trip. Get it right, and enjoy the cultural and aesthetic delights that Russia in winter has to offer.