If you are from a warm country like me, the thought of a snowy Winter might fill you with both wonder and dread. I’m here to give you all the advice you need on how to survive Winter in Korea, from all the necessary Winter gear, to combating the Winter blues. Read on to find out just how to get the best out of your Korean Winter experience.
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How to Survive Winter in Korea: What to Expect
Before you begin your prep, you need to know what kind of weather you’re going to be facing. Winter in Korea runs from late November to mid-March, and it is colder in the North and interior than it is on the South coast. The average temperatures in January are 0°C (32°F) or below for everywhere except the South coast, with Seoul having an average of -2.5°C (25°F). During cold spells, the temperature can drop to -20°C (-4°F)!
Seoul has an average of 25 days with snowfall per year, compared to 5 days in the milder coastal city of Busan. Korea is very mountainous, and skiing is really good in Gangwon-do, where the Winter is more snowy and wet than the rest of the country. Obviously Jeju Island is going to be a lot milder, but Ulleung Island in the East Sea has the most snowfall in the whole country! You can check out the average temperatures of the area you are visiting on this climate website.
My advice for how to survive Winter in Korea is to prepare for snow, lots of ice, and some very cold winds. It sounds like a bit of a nightmare, but if you get appropriate Korean Winter gear, there’s no reason why you can’t have a great time.
How to Survive Winter in Korea: What to Wear
We arrived in Korea in February of 2017, and I don’t think we were really prepared for how cold it would still be at the tail end of Winter. I distinctly remember getting off the plane in Busan (which is the mildest part of the country!) and immediately regretting not putting on about 10 more layers. Now, I do come from sunny South Africa, where snow is not super common, but actually the hardest part of the Winter for me has been adjusting to the icy winds.
My number one recommendation for Korean Winter gear, is a good puffy jacket. In Korea these jackets are referred to as ‘padding’, and there are tons to choose from. I arrived with a short padded jacket, but for my first full Winter I invested in a longer jacket and it made a huge difference. Unless you have a car in Korea, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, so a good coat is absolutely a necessary investment.
I want to note here, that a lot of padded coats contain goose or swan down. these animals are often plucked while they are alive, a hugely painful experience that is repeated as soon as their feathers return. If you can, look for brands that ethically source their goose down, or even better, choose a brand that uses synthetic alternatives. Here are two great synthetic down jackets that will definitely get the job done while letting you look stylish.
The next lifesaving piece of gear which plays a big role in how to survive Winter in Korea is a good pair of boots. Whether you want to take to the slopes, or simply survive a day of intense shopping, you’ll want boots to keep your feet warm and stable on the potentially slippery terrain. What those boots look like will depend on your foot coziness needs, but I will share mine with you in case you live with constant ice-block feet like me.
I invested in North Face snow boots, and unfortunately at the time I could only get goose down insulated boots. However, North Face now has Thermoball insulation, which gives you better insulation without the ethical concerns. Definitely have a look at these boots, I have not looked back after moving to North Face.
Of course, if you’re more prone to getting hot feet (what’s that?!), then you can definitely get by with hiking boots, or something like that. But for me, there is nothing that can spoil a day out faster than having cold feet that just ache. So I always err on the side of too warm!
Korean Winter is a season of extremes. You will be blown off your feet with icy winds, only to be sweating on overheated buses and trains. Make sure that you are layering your clothes so that you can stay comfortable indoors and out. I really like Uniqlo’s heat tech underclothes, as they are super light while still keeping you relatively warm. They are not warm enough to go without a jersey, but you’re not going to die from heat when you get inside, which means having a much more comfortable day.
Have a look at the Heattech collection for women, and keep an eye out for sales, although Uniqlo is pretty good about being affordable and good quality. You’re looking at around $15 for tops, and $20 for leggings.
The other Korean Winter gear you’ll need really depends on what you’re planing to do while you’re here. If you’re heading up to the ski resorts, I’d suggest picking up your own goggles and gloves, and you can rent the rest at the resort. If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, you might consider investing in a pair of cleats to help you not break your back hitting an icy patch on the sometimes uneven terrain. Korean convenience stores also sell hotpacks, which are little disposable pouches that heat up and can be kept in your pockets to keep your hands warm. In the spirit of being more environmentally friendly, I’d suggest going for a USB charged electronic hotpack that lasts ages and doesn’t contribute to the landfills.
How to Survive Winter in Korea: Skincare
Korean Winters are super dry, so your skin can really suffer. With the amazing-ness that is Korean Skincare, luckily you are in a haven for great products. Look for products that give you intense moisture without feeling too heavy or sticky. I personally love Dr Jarts’ cicapair range for when my skin feels the bad air quality. The overnight repair mask is especially moisturizing and calming for my face.
I also really like the colour correcting treatment in the same line. It contains an SPF, as well as removing redness from the skin, so I wear it instead of makeup. I’m linking to these products on Amazon, but if you are coming to Korea, you will want to buy them here as they are considerably cheaper, and there are often sales.
I would also definitely invest in a good moisturising body cream, and remember to put it on daily! I love the Nivea intense healing range, as it absorbs super quickly and does exactly what it says it will!
How to Survive Winter in Korea: Winter proofing your accommodation
If you are staying long term in Korea, you might need to Winter-proof your apartment to save money and keep comfortable. Korea has an awesome Ondol system, which is deliciously warm underfloor heating, but be careful because it can get expensive to run your ondol everyday. If you do want to use the ondol system where you are staying, set the system to be on a cycle, so that it warms every few hours, rather than a constant heat.
Make sure you turn your system to the proper setting when you leave the house, as older apartments runt the risk of freezing pipes. How to do this really depends on the system you are using, so be sure to ask your landlord or the owner of your apartment if you get confused.
You might want to invest in an electric blanket for your bed to save the cost of running the ondol overnight. You can also get really cool heated slippers to stave off the cold while you are sitting at home or work.
How to Survive Winter in Korea: Mental Health
Surviving Winter is more than just keeping warm though, you also need to be aware of your mental health as the weather gets colder. With days getting shorter, we get less sunlight than we may be used to, which can actually have a huge impact on our mental health.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a kind of seasonal depression that normally sets in from late Autumn. Although we aren’t sure what exactly causes SAD, it might have something to do with the brain chemicals serotonin, which affects your mood, or melatonin, which regulates sleep. Symptoms are similar to those of depression, and can included feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, low energy, difficulty in sleeping, a tendency to over-sleep, and irritability.
SAD is not managed by simply waiting it out until Spring. Depression is a very serious disease, and it can lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm. If you feel like you may be suffering from SAD, you can try light therapy. Light therapy basically involves sitting in front of a light therapy box every morning to get daily exposure to bright light. You should also approach a therapist if you feel like SAD is seriously affecting your daily life.I know that therapy can be expensive and also might be scary, but there are multiple options available. Have a look at SAD in more depth.
I also want to caution you against going into hibernation during the Winter in Korea. It is easy to fall into behaviour patterns that can isolate you and make you feel lonely and disconnected. Make a real effort to get in touch with friends, get out the house, grab a coffee or take in one of the awesome Winter festivals in Korea. I know that wrapping yourself up like a little burrito in front of Netflix is tempting, but make sure you’re also getting fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh air, and contact with friends and family as much as possible. Have a look at my tips for self-care for more ideas.
How to Survive Winter in Korea: Prep, Prep, Prep!
Korean Winter isn’t anywhere as bad as Siberia or Scandinavia, but it can be a heck of a shock to the system if you aren’t used to it. The important thing is to be prepared, and to invest in products that are the best quality you can afford. You don’t want to get to Korea only to find that your budget jacket lets the wind fly right through you, or that your boots aren’t so waterproof at all. Spend some extra cash on quality products, and you’ll end up saving money in the long run.
Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know how you survived Winter in Korea in the comments below!