If you’re new to winters in Seoul or Korea, this is a handy guide to staying warm in Seoul — from what to wear to keep from freezing your tuchus off to where to shop locally (online and offline) for cold-weather essentials in Korea. I’m no stranger to long, heavy winters, but let’s preface this by saying that I do not enjoy being cold.
Moving from Boston to Seoul
In Boston, Massachusetts, the temperatures often dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 Celsius), the streets are filled with dirty slush from last night’s blizzard, and my chunky boots were ruined in salt on the commute to work.
When I moved to Seoul, South Korea, the winters were so tame in comparison! If you’re from somewhere like Canada, you’ll be in for a milder winter, but if you’re from Hawaii or California, expect to freeze your butt off.
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What is Winter Like in Seoul, Korea?
Winters last from late November to March. It is cold, dry, and windy with average temperatures between 21 degrees Fahrenheit (-2.8 Celsius) to 27 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). However, temperatures can drop as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 Celsius). It is clear skies and very, very dry. It hardly ever snows. The weather in the Winter oscillates between freezing to only mildly freezing in three-day cycles. Fortunately, unlike Boston, the Winter doesn’t last as long, and the temperatures warm up quickly around Spring in mid-March.
You’ll find most public places and the subway to be heated well in the Winter, but some building lobbies and public bathrooms to be just as cold outside as in. Wearing multiple layers that you can take off helps transition your body from spending long periods outdoors to warmer indoor spaces.
Take advantage of underground pedestrian crossings and subway stations around Seoul for a jolt of heat.
Koreans are well acclimated to their four seasons, so there’s still plenty of things to do during winter in Seoul. You can keep busy with hot stews, soju, ice skating, ice fishing, jimjilbangs (indoor spas), and so forth. Did you know that Korea is the 17th most drunk country in the world? Well, it is according to Wikipedia, and Jinro soju is the most sold liquor in the whole wide world.
What to Pack for a South Korean Winter?
In addition to your favorite outfits, don’t forget to pack these essential winter clothing items:
- Gloves or Mittens
- Thermal Layers
- Wool or Knit Scarf
- Wool Socks
- Comfortable Boots or Winter Sneakers
If you forgot to pack these things, you can easily buy them in Seoul. The only exception is if you’re plus-sized or tall, you may have trouble finding your size. Since I’m bigger than the average Korean woman, I like to dip into the men’s section to find my shoe size (US 10 or Korean 265/270). A lot of Winter gear can be unisex, so it’s not a huge problem. International Brands may also be more expensive than back home, too.
READ MORE: You can read Where to Buy Plus-Sized Clothing in Seoul, Korea 2020 for more tips on how to find bigger-sized clothing in Seoul.
What Shoes to Wear in Seoul During Winter
Simple answer: boots. Since there’s hardly any snow, you don’t have to worry about the salt-pocalypse on the sidewalk that has ruined many a shoe for me. You’ll still want to wear warm, lightweight boots, and make sure that you have extra thick socks on though!
Like walking on clouds, the UGG Classic boot was originally worn by surfers to keep warm after early-morning sessions and has since become iconic for its soft sheepskin and enduring design. This version is now pretreated to repel moisture and protect against stains and the outsole provides increased traction, durability, cushioning, and flexibility.
Shoes that You Shouldn’t Wear
First of all, make sure to bring closed-toe shoes. You’ll want your shoes to be insulated and big enough to be able to wear thick socks.
Second of all, say no to ballet flats! Ballet flats make look chic, but they won’t protect your feet from the chilly winds, and they’re hard to layer socks with.
And lastly, you may also want to think twice about certain sneakers in the middle of winter unless you’re planning on wearing thick socks inside. I have a few pairs of sneakers with mesh that makes them extra breathable in the summer, but terrible in the winter. Lined sneakers like these Adidas Climawarm Sneakers have extra insulation.
Meet the sporty boot that’s super-soft on the inside, and city-ready on the outside. Stay dry its waterproof suede, stay warm with the 100g insulation, and stay stylish with the signature Kinetic scalloped sole.
You probably won’t need heavy-duty snow boots unless you plan on skiing or hiking up the mountains. Winter in Seoul is usually very dry and very cold. There will be snow at times, but it may not be enough to justify a new pair of snow boots or the used closet space. I leave my heavy, waterproof Sorel boots in the closet 99.9% of the time and opt for a pair of warm sheepskin Uggs or comfortable, black suede Chelsea boots instead.
Do Not Underestimate the Socks
Again, do not forget to wear extra warm wool socks like my favorite wool sock brand, Darn Tough (you can also find them on SSG.com). It may not be the sexiest looking socks, but it totally changed my life as my feet are always cold. They’re *ultra-*thick socks and probably one of the best purchases I’ve ever made in my lifetime. This may sound like an ad for socks, but no, I just really love my wool socks.
Remember when you used to balk at getting socks for Christmas? Well, when you’re over 30 and realize your feet are always cold, you’ll be glad you have that extra full sock drawer.
Quick Rule of Thumb
When buying socks, aim for at least 60% wool socks. SmartWool and Kirkland (Costco) Wool Socks are other popular wool socks brands. I’ve tried the Uniqlo HeatTech socks and weren’t sold.
This Korean sock brand is a sock lover’s dream. The Pebble Dot Pattern Socks are 67% wool with a playful pattern! A 2-pack currently costs ₩22,950 (₩27,000 at full price).
Where to Buy Thermal Layers in Seoul
Embrace the layers! Embrace! Uniqlo has a range of HeatTech innerwear and outerwear that does the job well. I usually buy the Uniqlo HeatTech leggings and tights because those are areas that tend to be exposed since I just generally don’t wear pants. Wearing skirts and dresses all-year-round requires some strategizing.
What Kind of Winter Coat to Wear in Korea
My general rule of thumb is to stick to puffy down coats when it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4°C) or lower, and wool coats when it’s above 40 degrees (4.4°C) Fahrenheit. You can still rock a wool coat in the dead of Winter if you master your layers. Channel your inner kimbap roll.
If you’re serious about staying warm and spending a lot of time outdoors, I suggest you go for some heavy-duty winter “padding” coats with goose down. When I emerge onto the street from Gangnam station in the dead of winter, I can see a sea of people outfitted in long, black puffers. There’s a reason for this: Korea is bitterly cold from December to early March.
Technical padded coats like Arcteryx, Canada Goose, Patagonia, or the North Face are suitable for Korea’s cold winter climate. They also tend to be lighter in weight than wool coats, making them practical for travel. Realistically, I’d avoid any cheap padded coats from fast fashion brands like Zara as they’re mostly polyester blends. Polyester will make you sweat while adding zero insulation.
Make sure to read the washing instructions on goose down or synthetic coats or you’ll risk the inner material bunching up. More often than not, they’re usually dry clean only.
At the peak of Winter in Seoul — January and February — I’ll be most likely wearing my full-length Canada Goose Mystique Parka. Overkill? Maybe. But this sleeping bag has me shimmying around the streets like it’s at least 60°F (15°C) outside. Yes, Canada Goose coats are expensive, but I don’t have a car, so these coats are basically my goose-padded vehicle to get me from point A to point B.
Wool coats are perfect for transitional weather in Seoul, particularly around the end of Autumn and the beginning of Spring. When shopping for wool coats, take a look at the wool count. You’ll see them range from a sad 10% to a reasonable 70%, and anything higher than 70% may be pricey. Wool is also water-resistant due to the waxy substance, lanolin.
This chic, beige gray wool coat from Aeer is made with 100% Australian merino wool and light twill fabric. Free size only. Priced at 648,000 KRW from WConcept.
Where to Buy Winter Coats in Seoul
Popular on chilly film sets and city streets alike, our full-length Mystique Parka offers maximum protection in harsh environments. An elaborate quilt-through design promotes even heat distribution without adding excessive bulk. Use the interior backpack straps to comfortably carry it over your shoulders when temperatures rise. Comes with a Lifetime Guarantee (iffy), but not sure how usable it is in Korea. Priced at 1,650,000 KRW on SSFshop.com.
The unisex Descente long padding coat provides excellent thermal insulation, and it is made with a durable ripstop material that is lighter than conventional materials and provides superior durability. It also boasts an 80:20 (down: feather) ratio! Priced at 439,000 KRW.
Who knew National Geographic made clothes? One of the most popular “padding” in Korea, these Standard Fit National Geographic Long Paddings are made with high-quality, responsible goose down (80% goose down and 20% feather) and filled with water-repellent material. There is heat lining used on the back to form an insulation layer. Outer shell is made from polyester and nylon. Priced at 439,000 KRW.
Yes, Wear a Hat
You may not think you need a hat, but you need a hat — preferably a wool hat. I know, I know. My mama used to always nag me about wearing a hat when I was a kid, and I never wanted to mess up my hair. We were children then and we had better natural tolerance to the cold. Ever since I started wearing a hat, I went from suffering in the cold to thriving in Winters.
For moderately cold weather, I alternate between my cashmere beanie from Goorin Bros to my wool beret from Goorin Bros. When it’s below 30 degrees (-1°C), I wear a HeatTech beanie from Uniqlo, and if the wind chill adds to it, I’ll throw my hood on top of my head.
Face Masks Also Keep Your Face Warm
I said it. Face masks also keep your face warm. I’ve completely embraced the face mask in the wintertime when I first arrived. I started wearing them due to the high air pollution — exacerbated in the winter — but I enjoy the extra warmth that it brings to my face. And with COVID-19, masks are now mandatory in public.
As soon as the temperature dropped this year, I traded in my pack of lighter disposable face masks for a thicker fabric mask with changeable protective filters.
How to Keep Your Hands Warm
Ski gloves are beasts for keeping hands warm, but they can be a bit f’ugly. I have a few pairs of ski gloves for those brutally cold days where I’m more concerned about staying alive than looking cool. The pair that I usually wear are highly insulated Outdoor Research gloves.
Leather gloves are beautiful, but they probably won’t keep you all that warm. With that said, there is nothing more elegant than tailored leather gloves in the cool Autumn.
Mittens are also practical because they allow you to keep your fingers together to generate more heat when they’re not separated. On the other hand, they also look like you’re about to take a turkey out of the oven. But guys, it’s about survival here.
If you’re spending some time outdoors, another winter hack shared by a local is to buy those heat packs from the convenience store (around 1,000 to 3,000 KRW each) or online to keep your body warm. They also sell rechargeable electronic hand warmers that you can stuff in your pockets while you roam around Seoul. In the dead of winter when your hands burn from the freezing cold, these little heat packs are lifesavers. You just open the pack and shake to activate.
Each hot pack in this hot pack set easily fits in your pocket and lasts for 14 hours. Sold in a 30 pack set and a 50 pack set.