The Day my Leather Jacket Broke and General Tips on Surviving the Russian Winter

This is another post of my Life in Russia, and I will talk a bit more about living abroad and dealing with the winter and the snow around this part of the Soviet Union  Russian Federation.

It’s winter again in Saint Petersburg, and that means that no one will see the sun until May. Only a few weeks ago, right before the actual start of winter in Russia, we got a temperature of -25 °C (-13° F) with heavy snowfall. 

By the way, a bit of Trivia: whereas in other parts of the world the seasons officially start on the 22nd day of a certain month, in Russia, they officially start at the 1st day of the month. For example, whereas winter starts December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, in Russia, the first day of winter is actually the 1st of December.

Winter in Russia: Expectation

Back to the main topic, though. Most foreigners who leave their home country are not prepared to deal with this kind of cold, and you will have to if you want to survive the winter in Russia. If you come from a warm country, you might marvel at the snow for the first two weeks, but thereafter, the cold somewhat loses its magic. That’s why I decided to share a few tips with you on coping with, and surviving, the Russian winter. I might also have one or two funny stories, though. 

How to Break a Leather Jacket

This happened when I was still living in Belgorod, a small town near the Ukrainian border, during my first winter in Russia. One beautiful wintry morning, when the temperature was around -32 °C (-25.6° F), I decided it was a great idea to walk to the university wearing a leather jacket. Of course, I wasn’t wearing only a leather jacket. I am not that crazy to venture outside with a leather jacket and nothing else. I am just a bit mentally challenged, which is why I was wearing a sweater under it too. And my jeans, of course.

It was only a 5 mins walk, anyway. What is the worst that could happen?

Well, it turns out that at a temperature of -30 °C, leather can actually freeze. Would you have imagined that? I certainly wouldn’t. I am, after all, only a Brazilian which had never seen snow before moving overseas that same year. Maybe if I had paid more attention to my history classes on the Napoleonic wars, I would have known that leather is not the best choice for the Russian winter.


So, I walked up to the door and took my university pass out of my pocket, only to feel the leather jacket breaking down around my arm. I looked at it in disbelief, not understanding what was going on with my clothes. I quickly realized the obvious: the jacket was ruined, and I had to wait inside the building to show my pass to avoid breaking any other parts. 

Yes, I am dumb. Thanks for noticing. At the same time, if you were considering doing the same thing, take my story as a cautionary tale. Even though a 5-minute walk finished out as a simple awkward experience, it is definitely a dreadful reminder of how quick cold temperatures can kill someone without proper clothing on the streets. And it happens more often than you think.

Dressing for winter

If you can’t count on jackets for the winter, what should you wear, then?

Thermal wear. They sell it in every SportsMaster (A sportswear store chain) around Russia, and you should totally get at least one set of thermal pants if you intend to walk around in negative temperatures. 

Me, enjoying the winter

Of course, there’s no need to mention that you also should have a proper winter coat and a few thick sweaters. The more layers, the better. Have a look around clothing stores and get the biggest scarf you can find as well. Keeping your neck region properly insulated is critical. This way, your body heat stays inside your clothes.

You also won’t regret having shoes lined with fur. If any vegans are reading this, synthetic fur is a good option, and it’s normally cheaper than real fur. An extra measure of caution is to get tall boots. You might be stepping into 20 or 40 cm of snow on the first few days or weeks of winter, and you really don’t want that snow to get inside your shoes. Really.

Overall, even if you are well-dressed for a severe and cold winter, you might want to stay inside more often. And don’t use a leather jacket.

That’s it for today, I guess. If you want me to write about anything in particular in Russia, let me know!

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