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I've moved / am moving, from a much warmer to a colder climate. Previously I had lived on the coast of the Mediterranean, with winter temperatures are ~ 10°c-15°c midday and 2°c-8°c at midnight, or thereabouts. Now it's 2°c-8°c at midday and -4°c - 3°c at night.

That's still not super-cold, but I'll also add that I'm personally sensitive to lower temperature and to wind, and catch a cold easily, my nose fills up and my sinuses flare etc. If that's not enough, I now use a bike to get around. And, finally, it rains here more frequently.

I have winter clothing from back home - but it is not remotely adequate to these conditions.

So, there are some items I've already bought personally, but now is the first time I'm experiencing the height of winter here, and it's snowing, and windy, and, well - I'm cold!

So what kind of items should I make sure I have, and what features of things like coats, gloves, caps etc. should I pay attention to when buying?

Notes:

  • I wanted to make this question non-country specific. The temperature range is mostly for illustration. If you think the details matter then say so.
  • Totally agree with @phoog and layers; let me add you'll feel warmer when you keep your head, hands and feet warm. Natural fibers, down, and Thinsulate are your friends. – Giorgio Feb 11 '17 at 23:39
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    For good advise on cycling, see this relevant thread on Bicycles.SE. There are other useful threads that you may want to browse as well. – iled Feb 12 '17 at 4:29
  • If you've not cycled through an icy winter before, be ultra-cautious. Dynamic balance isn't worth anything when you're on ice, which will happen when you least expect it (you pass into a patch of shadow, go over a bridge, etc). Steering and braking will both fail, too, at those times. So suddenly you'll be riding something that you can't steer, can't stop, and can't keep upright--in traffic! – MMacD Feb 12 '17 at 15:26
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I prefer the layered approach. One advantage is flexibility.

As it is rainy, you'll want your outer layer to be waterproof, or at least water resistant.

I prefer thin woolen underwear. Silk or synthetic base layers are also effective. I like the wool because it tends to smell a lot better and require far less frequent washing. It is also somewhat warmer in my opinion, and it retains its insulating capacity better when damp, be that from perspiration or precipitation.

A long coat, or even one that hangs just below the hips, can be problematic on a bike.

I lived in Amsterdam for six winters. After the first, I never wore my heavy parka. Instead, I had a nylon waist-length jacket with polyester fleece lining. When the temperature was very cold, I would wear a t-shirt, a long-sleeved t-shirt, a button-down shirt (possibly flannel) and a medium or heavyweight knitted woolen sweater under the jacket. On milder days I would omit the long underwear or the sweater. I would usually need to open my jacket after a few minutes on the bike.

I also had a woolen scarf and either a woolen or fleece hat. I had some cheap polyester fleece gloves. Oddly, I preferred them to windproof/waterproof gloves because they blocked enough wind to keep my hands warm on a cold day, but allowed enough perspiration to evaporate to keep my hands from overheating. Still, on milder days, I would remove them. You may obviously have a different preference.

For the lower half of the body, you can take a similar approach. If you will be cycling in the rain, a pair of thin synthetic rain trousers is very useful. Nothing is worse than heavy warm trousers that have become waterlogged.

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In addition to layering mentioned in the other answers, I have a couple of extra tips (a finn, used to -20-30 C):

  • Protect extremities well. You can have a good jacket and trousers, but if you forget about the fragile bits, it won't help that much. You can find gloves designed especially for cycling in cold (extra padding) that may be worth a look.
  • Get yourself a silk balaclava. This is an excellent way to protect your face from the cold. You can complement this with a scarf if it gets cold.
  • Equip your bike with studs. This is more of a safety measure (think insurance), but it will pay for itself when it gets icy.
  • Consider getting studded shoes or cleats you can put over your existing shoes. Again, a safety measure, but it will help you to avoid getting hurt.
  • Look into merino wool. It will cost more than synthetics, but I've found it to provide an excellent value. I wear a thin merino cap through the Winter just because it's so comfortable.
  • Prepare to invest into different temperature ranges. I have a heavy jacket for really cold, regular jacket for most, and a wind proof jacket for -10-+10C range. Wet conditions require some adaptation. A Gore-Tex jacket or equivalent may come in handy there due to breathing capabilities (important for exercise). There are also wet/dry cold weathers that may require some thought.
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The following is copied from my own answer on Travel SE.

I grew up in Norway. I've gone skiing, running, walking, playing, hiking, bicycling, etc. in the mountains there and in temperatures as cold as around -20 Celsius as a part of my childhood and youth. The single best tip I can give you is to wear wool. There is nothing like wool to keep you warm in a tough winter.

Here is a garment anyone living in a cold country is familiar with. It's a tight fitting woolen garment called woolen long-johns. Any sports/outdoor store in any cold place will have it.

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On top of this, you can wear normal clothes like pants and a winter jacket, etc. If you're still cold, put on another layer of wool, like a woolen sweater or even pants. You'll be ready to spend the whole day outdoors in the cold.

Now, you may be thinking that wool next to your skin is itchy. It is, to some degree, but these days they have ways to treat the wool to make it less itchy. Also, you get used to it. I personally prefer a little bit of itching to being cold. If you cannot stand wool directly on your skin, however, there are synthetic alternatives. They look somewhat similar, but they are not actually wool. If doing this, compensate by wearing a thick woolen sweater and woolen pants on top of it.

Avoiding wind is also very important. Make sure your jacket is windproof. Windproof pants also exist.

Rain is another thing that can easily spoil your trip, so make sure you pack a solid raincoat and rain pants.

It's extremely important to keep your feet warm. Get woolen socks. You can wear them directly on the skin or outside cotton socks if you prefer. Keep solid boots and make sure you have rain boots in case it gets wet. Few things are worse than wet feet.

3

I cannot comment on very specific clothing, but here is my experience.

I moved from a climate similar to coastal one you mention, to Canada. Now I walk to and from work all year long, from +30 in the Summer to -30 and even -40 in the Winter. The specific clothing that works for you, you'll have to find. What I learned after a while, is what I need to wear for each temperature; I know what to wear if it's 0C, -10C, -20C, -30C, and to take into account the wind (and the humidity, although it's not such a factor here), and even the amount of snow in the ground.

A second factor is that, to a certain extent, you get used to it. I don't wear any more the snow boots and snow pants from my first couple winters. Also, you get used to the cold as the Winter progresses. When we get -15C in October, everybody reacts like they are freezing to death; when in March, no one bats an eye.

And, finally, and maybe more important : you cannot really expect to be outside in the Winter and not be cold. If you are warm in the first few minutes, you can be sure you'll be sweating a little later, or soon having to remove stuff. My own approach is that I already know my hands will freeze during the first km of my walk/run, and they will recover fast after that (the alternative would be to wear thicker gloves for the first km and then carry them the rest of the time).

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It's likely you're not so much cold as dry. Something people from Mediterranean coastal climates don't realize is just how dry the air gets when the temperature falls below freezing.

Try wearing a scarf, a ski mask, or something else with a loose weave that you can pull over your mouth and nose. At first, it will feel funny breathing through it, but it will pre-heat and humidify the air before it enters your lungs. It will also keep the wind off your cheeks and nose, areas that are more sensitive than average to cold.

  • I'm also cold when it's not below zero. I might get dry as well I suppose. About putting something over my mouth and nose - my glasses fog up immediately (when it's not much below zero anyway), and this is not tolerable when I'm on a bike... – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 11 '17 at 22:07
  • Mine fog up too when wearing a balaclava. So I added goggles over my glasses (mine are old lab goggles; I'm sure there are better ones). – MMacD Feb 12 '17 at 15:19
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As a cyclist myself, I will say for cycling you want a windproof jacket. For dressing at other times, the important thing is layering. With correct layering, you should be fine and the flexibility of eliminating layers as it gets warmer is great.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Layered_clothing

Wool beanies are very good for protecting your head and ears.For gloves, if you're someone who uses a touch screen phone, try to get a glove which has the material for the thumb that touch screens are sensitive to.

Best.

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When biking in the cold, I find that the first body part to get cold is always the hands (as they are exposed to the wind and you cannot put them in your pockets). I recommend wearing two pairs of gloves: a pair of thin cotton gloves underneath, and then a pair of regular winter gloves or mittens. Besides providing extra warmth, this has the additional advantage that when you have to do some task that requires manual dexterity (lock your bike, send a text, take a photo, withdraw some cash etc.) outdoors, you can remove only the outer layer and still have some minimal protection from the elements.

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