Practical suggestions on clothing for Russian winter, in Moscow.
When is winter in Moscow?
Moscow gets negative temperatures and first snow in November. November through December, however, very often is a transitional period with unstable temperatures and precipitation fluctuating between rain, snow and sleet. I wrote an article on clothing for November-December weather: What to wear when Moscow winter starts? Many of the suggestions of that article are valid for the whole winter in Moscow. In some years, like 2018, December is a normal winter month, with snow and stable negative temperatures.
In this article I am covering specific suggestions for clothing when Russian winter is its full swing.
What Moscow winter is like?
Winter in Moscow and in all central Russia is long. Starting in November-December, winter in Moscow lasts for almost five months. March is a full scale winter with lots of snow. It starts to get warmer only in April and snow melts by the middle of April.
It is dark in Moscow winter. In December Moscow barely gets any sunny days, what you see above is a layer of grey solid clouds, lacking any texture or form. Day light starts somewhere around nine in the morning and around four in the afternoon it is completely dark again. Daytime and number of sunny days increases in January and February.
Moscow gets lots of snow in winter. In between major snowfalls it just quietly snows, non stop, almost all the time. Communal services are in a constant struggle with snow throughout the winter. They are helpless however, it’s too much snow to handle. Moscow streets get very slippery in winter, covered with ice or snow or a thick layer of mud, when temperatures get above zero or when street cleaners apply snow melting chemicals.
Moscow winter conditions can be compared with those in Canada, Northern US states (Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota), Finland and Sweden. This is just to give you an idea of what it feels like in Moscow.
Beware that all apartment buildings, public places, offices and public transportation have really good heating in winter. This means putting on too much clothes on will make you feel uncomfortable when you are inside.
How about extremely low temperatures in Moscow?
Temperatures like -20C…-30C happen in Moscow, but not every year and normally do not last for long. We are talking about few days or perhaps a week of very cold weather and again, it does not happen every year.
Is winter different in other areas of Russia?
In St. Petersburg temperatures are the same, but it feels much colder because of wind and humidity. Same applies to Far East and Northern coastal areas. In areas close to polar circle it gets much colder. Siberian winter is low in humidity, but temperatures are lower. Clothing recommended below will perform well in most central parts of Russia, but in the North and Siberia you might need extra layers such as good wool sweater, thermo underwear, shoes with fur insulation.
What to wear in Moscow winter?
When buying winter clothing make sure it is suitable for Moscow climate. Many European countries have very mild climate therefore clothing that is good for European winter is not suitable for Russian winter. This means garments produced for UK or Spanish winter are no good in Russian winter conditions.
Gloves and hat for Moscow winter.
Must have good woven or leather gloves to withstand winter temperatures. Your hands will say thank you for thick pair of gloves with extra insulation layer made of wool or fleece.
Hatt can be any type of hat, warm enough for the winter. Avoid hats made of cotton as they are not warm enough. Ideally, the material your hat is made of, would have some natural wool in its composition. Wool provides warmth, but extra layer of fleece also works good. No one wears those famous “classic Russian” fur hats anymore, as they are not very practical and very expensive. There are hats available in that style, just in modern design and made of modern materials. They are good not only for Moscow but for other, much colder areas of Russia, because they cover your head and ears completely.
Upper garments to wear in Moscow winter.
It is suggested to wear waterproof parka or coat with hood. Insulation of your upper garment can be anything like down or sintepon.
Wool coats are not suitable for Russian winter unless you put on extra layers of insulation and scarf. Women might wear fur coats. Fur coats are extremely warm and perhaps stylish, however they are not always practical in snow as fur may get wet.
Hood on your winter coat or jacket is not everyday necessity, but very practical in winter conditions called “metel’“. “Metel’“ (метель) is a heavy snowfall combined with wind. Hood helps protecting your face and neck from wind and snow. Also, temperatures may get above zero in winter causing rain or sleet. This is when hood on your parka or coat becomes real efficient in keeping you warm and dry.
Lambskin coats are excellent to wear when it gets really cold (or in Siberia) or if you are coming from a warm climate and very sensitive to low weather temperatures in general. The downside of them is they are pricey, can be heavy, not practical in wet weather conditions and too warm for average Moscow winter temperatures.
I myself wear Canadian brand winter parka ($200, bought in Moscow) with hood and sintepon insulation. It is very warm, not requiring extra layers of insulation, it works excellent throughout Moscow winter. If it gets too cold or windy, putting on sweater or hoodie keeps me warm in any winter conditions regardless of how cold it is outside.
You can wear jeans or just thicker pants of any kind suitable for winter. If your coat or jacket covers your legs, it will give you extra warmth. If not, you can put on underpants, leggings style. Undergarments of this type available for women and men and can be purchased everywhere. It is often called “thermo” underwear, but in fact it can be made of some cotton composition and still provide that extra warms to your legs.
Shoes for Moscow winter.
Your footwear must serve three purposes in Russian winter. It must keep your feet warm, protect from water and provide extra support on slippery surfaces.
As mentioned above, Moscow gets lots of snow in winter. Snow and ice make streets very slippery. Despite best efforts in cleaning snow, there will be snowbanks everywhere. Street workers apply lots of chemicals to melt snow and it turns snow and ice into mud. Beware that snow melting chemicals will ruin any material
Shoes you are buying must come from an area where people know what real winter is. Shoes you are buying must have clear indication for winter use, have thick, sturdy sole, insulation, be slip-resistant and water-resistant.
Please be extra cautious on stairs outside, such as shop and office stairs, stairs to underground pedestrian walkways. Stairs in Russia are made of polished stone or tiles. In winter all of them get very slippery. Some of them have heating, but not everywhere.
If you need to wear business dress formal shoes, there is plenty of options available. You can buy office type of shoes with insulation of all kinds to protect your feet in the cold and snow.
It is uncomfortable to wear heavy winter shoes for the whole day in a warm office. Most Russian employees keep spare lighter shoes (from sneakers to formal dress shoes depending on company dress code) in the office to change for the day.
I personally wear insulated hiking boots. They are comfortable, warm, tall enough to protect feet up to an ankle. I bought them for $50 in an online store and they serve well in Moscow winter. Insulation is not fur, but still very efficient against winter cold. When it gets really cold, a pair of wool socks provides extra insulation.
It is suggested to buy shoe driers for your shoes. Shoe driers are two small AC powered heaters, put inside your shoes overnight. In the morning your winter shoes will be warm and dry. Shoe driers are sold in any electronics store in Moscow and cost about $10.