So you can survive the long nights and darkness through proper diet and preparation (mental and physical), but what about the actual “winterness” of winter – the snow, the cold, the ice? What about those times when – much to your dismay – you need to actually leave your home and embrace the tangible and phenomenological fact you are not a hibernating animal and that you live in a cold climate that gets lots of snow (sometimes in a short period of time) – how do you manage that?
It might seem strange for those that know me well to think about me talking about surviving the cold and dark of winter. Afterall, I am frequently spotted in my neighbourhood taking the Spaniel out for her evening bathroom trip in shorts and a t-shirt, even in winter. I am a naturally warm person and wear shorts indoors almost all year because I find indoor temperatures too warm most of the time. I would rarely wear sweaters simply because I get too warm too quickly. However, I’m still no stranger to dressing for winter weather. I’ve spent time in Northern parts of the world (including Northern Quebec where temperatures were well below -25°C (-13°F)), so I claim some authority on the topic of dressing for winter, even if I find 10°C a slightly cool summer day!
1. You embrace the Norwegian attitude to weather and clothing
There is a very common saying in Norway. It is one you will hear repeated ad nauseam by children and adults alike and should really replace “Alt for Norge” (Everything for Norway) and “Enige og troe, indtil Dovre falder” (United and true until the mountains of Dovre fall) as the national motto: “Det fins ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær.” (“There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing”) – it’s a mantra throughout the year, be it rain, snow, or horrible winds – and it’s true. There is no bad weather so long as you are dressed to suit the weather. Just as you don’t drive 100 km/hr on the highway in fog or torrential rain, you drive for the conditions, you should also dress for the conditions. Don’t fight the weather because it will do what it’s going to do with or without your cooperation. You just have to work with the weather. This means sometimes sacrificing fashion for function, but thanks to a lot of fantastic designers the two are not always mutually exclusive.
2. Learn to love wool…
On the topic of quality and type of clothing, there are fewer products that are as effective as wool. And at the mention of wool right now I imagine everyone’s skin is getting a little itchy and you’re having flashbacks to horribly itchy wool sweaters knitted by grandmothers world-wide. I was one of those people, but I’ve also learned that wool doesn’t have to be itchy or uncomfortable though. There are fantastic wool blends and styles that you can wear that you hardly notice they’re wool at all.
The Norwegians (along with other Scandinavian nations, like Iceland) have made wool into a fashionable style and sweater patterns like the Mariusgenser are icons of Norwegian culture and fashion.
Most importantly, wool is warm and it keeps you dry. It doesn’t absorb water like a lot of synthetic materials so it’s great for going out to do snow-filled activities. When it is very cold and I want to protect myself from wind burn or cold I layer up with wool socks, a wool sweater, and wool hat/mitts/scarf.
3. When it gets cold, remember that acronym you learned that one time….
The military loves acronyms, and for good reason. They help you remember things relatively easily and sometimes those things can save your life. During my six week-long survival training at Canadian Forces Base Bagotville I learned many acronyms related to survival in all sorts of environments and conditions, and one of the first I learned was: when you get cold, remember C.O.L.D.
Clean: clean clothes will help retain heat much better than dirty clothes. This is because dirt proves itself to be a poor insulator when it embeds itself between the fibers of your clothing, thus stretching them and allowing colder wind/air to breech your layers much easier. This is easy to solve with a load of laundry and avoiding unnecessary dirtiness, which admittedly is not a common problem when you’re not in a survival situation, but is a good “pro-tip” either way.
(prevent)Overheating: The sweating that results from overheating not only dehydrates you (which is just bad overall), but is also containing dirt (oils and the such) which goes against the above-mentioned “C,” and can make you feel wet (which will violate an up-coming letter). To prevent overheating you’ll need to regulate your clothing and your activity. My parents (and even the Norwegian herself) have called me crazy for shoveling snow in just a t-shirt (but with hat and mittens), but I can promise I never started shoveling like that. More often than not, I start with a jacket and a sweater (in addition to all the other typical winter gear), but as I start to work and get warm, I start to shed the layers to keep myself from getting too warm.
Loose and Layered: Much to fashionistas’ disdain, wearing loose and layered clothing is the best way to keep warm and to prevent overheating. As with the example above, having layers to shed allows me (and you) to regulate your temperature as necessary. This ensures that you’ll neither be too cold or too warm. As for loose layers, not only is a comfort-related reason, but looser clothes allow warm air (generated from your body heat) to circulate around you and keep you warm (and if your clothing is clean, then it’ll be properly insulated so that the colder air doesn’t penetrate as well). The best set up for loose and layered clothing looks something like this: a warm set of wool underwear (longjohns). These are meant to keep moisture away from you while still keeping you warm. For this reason Wool is your best option (see below), but a high quality synthetic will also work. Your next layer is your insulation layer and are meant to keep you warm while also helping to keep moisture out. Eastern Mountain Sports has a great guide with lots of tips layering.
Your final layer is your outer layer and includes good boots, outer jackets, and hats and mittens.
Dry. The final part of COLD is dry. As mentioned above, regulating your temperature to avoid overheating and sweating is key to keeping you dry, but so is avoiding getting wet. This is where the outer shell of your clothing and good choice of material is important (as is not jumping in the north Atlantic in January, but a topic for another day, perhaps). Wool is, as mentioned above, a miracle material that keeps you warm and dry even when it is wet.
The quality of your clothing is also important, not all products are created equally (and in winter, fashion comes secondary to functionality).
4. The weather outside is frightful? Go outside anyway!
Just like the last post that helps with the psychological survival of the Norwegian winter, staying active can help you beat the winter cold. Just because the weather isn’t perfect doesn’t mean you can get out and enjoy it. Go out and participate in activities you can only do in winter. Rediscover your sense of wonder in winter. Build snowmen, go skiing, or sledding. In addition to that, any sort of physical activity (be it indoors or outdoors) will make you feel better which will help push away the winter cold.
5. Find your inner summer – embrace the Norwegian sense of koselig
For all my discussion about getting out and enjoying the weather – about clothing, and layering, and wool – sometimes you just need to stay inside and embrace the other Norwegian winter tradition: “kose seg inn/hjemme” (cozy night in/at home).
Loosely defined koselig means cozy or nice, but this word is not an easy one to pin down or define. Some things can be koselig in some situations while in others they are just strange (see my discussion on BBQ and Norway). In winter when you go cross country skiing you bring an orange, something to cook on a fire/grill and when you reach your destination you sit outside, soak up any sun that might be out and enjoy your winter bbq. This is something most Norwegians would find koselig. Remove the skis from that situation and suddenly you’ve got something that most would find not so koselig.
It takes a person about a year and a half to get a good handle on the meaning and practice of koselig, but what I’ve gathered in this time are tealights, wool blankets, good food, fires (in the fire place that is), and/or good company comprise the essentials of koselig. I have yet to determine if it is possible to overdose on koselig, but what I can say is the more of it you have in winter the better you will fare those long, dark, cold months.
Good luck and stay warm!