How are you going to survive the cold?!? That was probably the first question my friends and family asked once I told them I was moving to Finland to study my masters. And honestly, I was asking myself the same question. I remember that I started looking for big jackets, scarves and gloves back at home, and when packing I was selecting my warmest blouses and pants. My mom was the one more worried about it and was visiting almost every secondhand store at Guatemala looking for proper sweaters. As Guatemala is known as “the country of the eternal spring”, clothes shops do not usually have garments suitable for minus zero weather, but the clothes at secondhand stores usually come from the US and Canada so they had some winter wear on sale.
I did not know what to expect from my first winter in Finland, but I was advised by a few Finnish friends on how to search for a proper jacket and winter shoes. I was nervous and excited at the same time; I was looking forward to my first snow ever, but I was worried about not being dressed properly and catching a cold. Fortunately, my experience was amazing, I enjoyed last winter so much, and I learned a lot about the items you need to “survive” it. Even though there are certain things you will probably only learn by experience, I collected a few tips that I would like to share with you on how you can make the best out of this cold weather and vibe along with the snow.
The first thing that you need to know is that all Finnish houses, apartments, restaurants, buildings, and indoors in general have a heating system, most of them of the “water central heating” type, along with insulation of double or triple glazing that keeps temperature inside between 20°C and 23°C. In rooms with very big windows or a balcony it may be colder than in the rest of the house but is nothing that an extra blanket and warm socks cannot fix. So, if you are out on a walk and you start feeling that the cold is taking over you, just go to the nearest café to grab some coffee or tea and enjoy the warmth of the place for a while.
However, if you are someone like me who loves to be outdoors and walk around lakes and forests, you will need proper winter clothing and the key is “layering up”. Here is the list of the MUST have items:
1. Winter boots
You will find multiple options of winter shoes at the stores; they have very specialized ones even for people who like trekking and camping during winter. But, if you just want to have your feet warm while you walk around, check for boots that have warm fabric inside. It is even better if you can get the ones that are waterproof, because snow will melt, and you do not want to have your feet wet and cold. You can also find shoes with built-in spikes, they are very useful for walking on icy roads; and believe me, there will be ice in a certain period of winter. Unfortunately, winter shoes and especially those with spikes might be expensive so my suggestion is to first look for them in secondhand stores. There are many secondhand stores in Tampere so you can just search “secondhand Tampere” in Google Maps, and it will show you all the options available. And for the spikes, you can also get removable spikes, they sell them in shoes stores, or some supermarkets and they are made with an elastic band that you can attach to any type of shoes.
2. Winter jacket
You must look for specific jackets that are made with this insulative type of material. You can find them in almost any store in Finland and they are made for this cold weather. I prefer long jackets because they cover a little bit more and then you can also sit anywhere outside. But if you ever have doubts about how to search for it, ask the personnel in the store, they will be more than glad to help you and they can guide you in identifying what is the best option for you. And once again, I recommend you check in secondhand stores first, they are always an environmentally friendly and budget-friendly option.
Look for the ones made from the same material as winter jackets, because they have this insulation protection that is perfect to grab snow without freezing your fingers. Wool gloves are also a good option if you are not planning to play around with the snow that much, but for me they were not enough, and I needed to change them because I used to come back home with my fingers numb after making snowman and throwing snowballs with my friends.
4. Beanie or ear muffles
It was surprising for me how fast your ears can freeze when you are walking outside at minus zero degrees. Therefore, I recommend getting a warm beanie, preferably made with wool, or earmuffs if you find the beanie uncomfortable.
5. Scarf and socks
Get a warm scarf and warm socks to cover your neck and feet. I have both cotton and wool scarves and socks, and they kept me equally warm during the winter. Even if you have warm winter shoes, it is a good idea to have woolen socks or wear a double pair because your extremities get cold very easily as they are far from the center of the body. Also, the scarf is a very nice accessory to match your outfit.
Light reflectors are sold in almost every single store in Finland, and you can find a wide variety of shapes and designs. Winters are very dark, having just around 5 to 7 hours of sunlight. The reflectors are a safety measure to be seen, even from far, by cars and bikes when walking. Do not underestimate the darkness, even with the streetlights it is sometimes difficult to see the pedestrians while driving. You can attach it to your jacket either on the shoulder or near the neck, in your backpack or bag. They also sell reflective bracelets to wear on your wrists or ankles and reflective vests. Besides the fact that they will keep you safe, they are a very cute accessory and even a nice souvenir.
There are many different types of thermals, but I would say all of them work, you can order them online or buy them at the store. As they are stretchy, they usually have sizes from S – XL and they fit perfectly fine. They should be your first layer of clothing and on top of them you can wear the pants of your choice, shirt and sweater.
As I said at the beginning, it is all about the layers. Everyone has a different resistance to cold so you will need to figure out for yourself how many layers you need to feel comfortable. For example, when the temperature is below -10°C I usually wear thermals (just bottom), woolen socks, warm pants (no jeans), shirt, hoodie or sweater, scarf, winter jacket (with my reflector attached), beanie, insulative gloves and winter boots. That is usually enough for me to be warm, and I can walk outside for an hour. But when the temperature is below -15°C and I know I am going to be outside for a long time I add another layer: top thermals, insulated pants, woolen gloves inside the insulated ones and another pair of socks. It is better to be overlayered rather than realizing halfway that you cannot continue due to the cold. You can always remove a few layers if you start feeling too hot inside.
Furthermore, I would also recommend you start taking D-vitamin supplements from the end of the autumn as due to the little amount of sunlight you might start feeling a bit more tired than usual. You can find them in any grocery store, there are many brands, and you can find either pills or effervescent tablets. Get yourself a good lamp in your room to continue working after sunset or before sunrise. Last winter I preferred to work on campus with a group of friends. All the campuses are open 24/7. My friends and I would book a room together or go to the library to have good light and good company to study.
Even though it might sound like a lot of work to go through the winter, I can assure you it is totally worth it! The cold is always a good excuse to have a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or my favorite: glögi. Also, there are so many winter activities you can enjoy such as winter sports, snowball fights and making snow angels. Last year I learned how to ski and made tons of snowmen and snow angels. Also, in my opinion, winter is the best time for sauna, and you can try ice dipping, I have not tried it myself, but I am willing to do it this year. Would you dare to join me?
In summary, there is absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to “Finnish winter”. So do not let anyone scare you. Yes, you do need proper armor to protect yourself from the weather but once you get it you will for sure win the most enjoyable battle of your life.
About the author
Hello! I am Andrea Maybell Peña Echeverría. I came to Tampere in August 2021 from Guatemala to pursue my passion by studying my Master in Factory Automation and Robotics. Besides my love for robots and technology, I enjoy outdoor activities, being surrounded by nature, swimming, knitting, traveling, and taking pictures.