As native Sydneysiders, we have no concept of what real cold feels like. An 8 degree day is enough to start the complaints rolling. Everything is just a little more difficult, a little less enjoyable. We like stepping out in single layers, shoes without socks, jackets not required.
After just 5 days in sub zero temperatures, I’ve pieced together a cold weather survival plan – things I would do if I had to endure this cold as a resident and not just get through for novelty’s sake as a tourist. I’ve been checking out everyone on the subways and the streets, seeing what is available to alleviate all manner of chills.
Let’s go from the top down.
Head Cold: It’s an oft spouted fact that you lose a lot of heat from the top of your head. Headwear is big here. Beanies, fur-lined hoods, berets and flat-caps. Street labourers wear open faced balaclavas – some pulled up over the nose so that only a small oval of the eye area is visible. If balaclavas were more common I might choose that as part of my survival kit, as the cold, red nose is a common side effect of icy winds. Phoebs and I have been discussing the merits of furry ear muffs. They come in bright colours and they are basically just fluffy circles held in place by a clear plastic headband. Again, cold ears are a common complaint when the wind picks up. Phoebs says that her ears feel hard in the cold.
Neck Wraps: Just down from the head is the neck – in fact they’re connected ; ). Keeping the neck area warm and tightly wrapped keeps the rest of the body warm as no draughts can get in through jacket tops or shirt necks. Good jackets and coats button high at the neck, so you can keep your chin nuzzled in and woollen scarves have the added benefit of being able to be wrapped halfway up the face…maybe even up to the tip of an icy nose.
The Midsection: The torso or trunk is the least of your worries. Like a river delta or a busy intersection, your midsection is the starting point and meeting point for most layers. A singlet tucked into some leggings or thermal underwear. Long sleeved undershirt, T-shirt, shirt, jacket, coat. It doesn’t take much to become roly-poly in the middle. I have never once thought – Jeez my chest is cold. It’s the extremities that threaten to snap off like icicles. In fact, if you don’t get a chance to strip off a few of the outer layers when indoors for brief transitions, you can actually get a bit sweaty with all that puff around the chest.
Hands: Who knew cold thumbs could hurt so much? I have gone gloveless most of the time because I’m a phone addict and it’s annoying to be constantly taking gloves on and off so you can text or post on Instagram. Also, I lost a pair of fingerless gloves that I bought on the first day and I’m loathe to pay for another pair. I’ve found that pulling the sleeves of your shirt or jacket over your hands or keeping your hands in your coat pockets works pretty well. But when it gets really cold and you’ve been doing too much with your hands – like trying to take a photo or extract a credit card from your wallet – the icy weather can render your digits useless – frozen butter fingers. Raw and frozen thumbs need to be massaged back to health. Street vendors selling polar fleece gloves, mittens and convertible mittens can be found on most street corners.
Legs Eleven: Keeping legs warm can be tricky as it’s difficult to work up a lot of layers. Phoebe has taken to wearing three pairs of stockings at a time. For the guys, a pair of long johns under jeans is a good idea as denim doesn’t block out the icy wind. If all else fails, it’s best to keep coats long, boots high and exposed leg to a minimum.
Tootsies: Frozen toes can really cramp your style. Mattie said his toes felt like ice cubes that would shatter if you hit them with a hammer. After tramping around in the snow for a while it feels as if there are a row of marbles in your boots. Problem is that you can’t layer your socks up too much or your shoes don’t fit anymore. The trick would be to buy your winter shoes a size too big to make room for some thick, thermal socks. Alternatively you can go down the Ugg route and have sheep-skinned warmth in a bogan boot. Actually, I have seen way more Uggs in America than I’ve ever seen in Australia…possibly our most lucrative export.
It’s hard to imagine that there is ever a combination of cold weather gear that could make you feel like normal. Unless you are in a fully enclosed suit, there is always going to be a little bit of discomfort, a need to brace, to huddle, to burrow against the elements. It isn’t easy going about your business with stiff arms, raw fingers and knocking knees. We’re only here for two weeks, but to endure an entire winter in the city must be tough. A couple of times we’ve chatted to locals who have given us advice about the neighbourhood and the relative dangers. I was amused to hear them say that things got “louder” or “crazier” in the summer. The implication was that the natives turn a little wild in the hot weather. But on reflection, it makes sense. It’s just to goddamn cold to be out on the streets running amok in winter. Snow and ice – natural crime stoppers.