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How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

Buenos Aires
posts: 80
reviews: 3
How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?


I never visited a place with temperatures more than a few degrees below 0 C.

I'm heading to the Dongbei region next winter and I see I'm still clueless on what clothes to wear.

All I know is that the temperature will be between -20 and -30 where I'm going. Long, woollen underwear is an obvious start. Then what? What are the layers for legs and top? I have a pair of trekking boots (leather + gore tex. . . -_- ) I can use with thermal socks but that doesn't seem enough for -20C. . .

Those are the kinds of things I need to figure out.

So, if you have the time, please enlighten me.

The only good thing is that I'll only need one set of everything for the first couple of days (and I still have plenty of time for that!) - then, I think, I can complete my wardrobe locally.

Edited: 1:36 am, November 01, 2012
12 replies to this topic
Melbourne, Australia
posts: 1,733
reviews: 35
1. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

Are you actually planning on being outside for long periods of time?

Magog, Canada
posts: 29,811
reviews: 607
2. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

The key is to keep extremities warm. Wear warm gloves, good socks and a hat. Do not wear many pairs of socks. It makes your feet to tight and reduces blood circulation therefore making you feet cold quickly. Make sure you clothes are dry. If you dress too much while inside and start sweating, the humidity in your clothes will make you cold quickly.

At minus 30 you cannot stay outside very long in any case. Drink warm liquids like coffee or tea.

Buenos Aires
posts: 80
reviews: 3
3. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

Thank you.

- Is one thick pair of socks enough then? One pair of gloves?

- Other than long, thermal, underwear, is one pair of pants enough (corduroy for example)?

I don't know how long will I be standing around outside so I'd rather err on the safe side.

Dublin, California
posts: 12,891
reviews: 30
4. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

I am sure there are stores where you live that sell outdoor gear. Go there and ask one of the sales person for advice.

posts: 156
reviews: 56
5. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?


I'm from Sydney so sympathise with our lack of experience in dressing for freezing climates much to the amusement of our northern hemisphere colleagues.(-:

in my Trip Report from earlier this year, I detail the various layers.


We ended up wearing two pairs of thermals and very heavy overpants.

Good idea to buy one set of the basics then if you have time buy more in Harbin.

As indicated above, talking to an expert in an outdoor type store is great, I lucked out and found a local salesman who grew up in Siberia - very helpful.

Despite the cold, I really hope you enjoy yourself, it's a fabulous experience.

Buenos Aires
posts: 80
reviews: 3
6. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

Thank you! I actually printed out the trip report. It's very good.

Yesterday I went to an outdoor gear store but, as feared, the clerk could not give me much advice. He said only three layers for the top including the thermal underwear! He was hesitating, looking sideways and (evidently) making up the answers as he went by! Good thing I read your post.

I will definitely go to other stores and see what they tell me. I still have three months to go. At worst, I'll complete my outfit during my Shanghai stopover.

Magog, Canada
posts: 29,811
reviews: 607
7. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

In the end it is more about the quality than the number of layers. Technical clothes have improved a lot over the years. On cold days, I can be fine wearing just a T-shirt under my winter jacket. But for just a few days it is not worth spending the lind of money that it would cost.

So, the lower the quality the more layers you need.

Saudi Arabia
Destination Expert
for Kanchanaburi
posts: 15,634
reviews: 21
8. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?


I spent a couple of weeks in Harbin at the beginning of the year and wore thermal clothing, a T shirt, a shirt, two jumpers and a jacket. It seemed like a good idea having travelled over from the heat of the desert. However, what I wore was way too hot (and heavy). However, I did benefit by wearing two scarves and a woolly hat. I also wore some winter footwear which was bought in Harbin and one pair of heavy socks. Warm gloves are an absolute necessity.

If you travel there via Harbin do stop off there at the New100 Store for your winter clothing.

Enjoy the cold, I certainly did !

Edited: 12:42 pm, November 06, 2012
posts: 4,832
reviews: 5
9. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

On a visit to the Harbin ice festival in January with those temperatures, I wore:

---lightweight thermal underwear top and bottom

---long sleeved turtleneck, not too thick

---med wt fleece jacket, hip length

---heavy sweatpants (alternate: skiing pants)

---heavy wool blend socks

---thermal lined gloves

---fleece ear muffs

---long heavy quilted coat with hood.

---thermal-lined boots, snowproof is preferable (available for purchase and not expensive, everywhere around Harbin in winter)

The only place I suffered was the hands. It's just impossible to take photos without taking the gloves off, and you can only do so for a few seconds at a time. My limit for outdoors was about 15 minutes, then jump inside for a hot tea or coffee.

Edited: 2:46 pm, November 06, 2012
Buenos Aires
posts: 80
reviews: 3
10. Re: How to layer for -20C / -30C degrees?

Today I went to another store; this time the sales guy explained to me the technicalities of the products and how to layer; he even wrote down for me a list. Still suggested three layers but said that I could make it four by having two polar middle layers instead of one.


- long sleeve thermal (black, with a zip on the upper part, looks good enough to use like any other t-shirt) (polartec)

- jacket (polartec)

- water proof insulating jacket (primaloft + gore-tex)


- long thermal underwear (polartec)

- (don't have this written down but it's basically ski pants, insulating and waterproof)

Hands, feet & head

- two pairs of gloves

- two pairs of socks (the inner layer pair is supposed to keep the feet dry)

- hat (ear covering)

- neck warmer

With this. . . I'm still not suppossed to linger for too long outside. Not sure what I'll do if I have to wait for a bus. . .

The other minor problem is that's it's mostly ski gear, whereas I'd prefer something more suited to urban settings; stock is limited around this part of the year.

It's a start though. . .

Edited: 9:45 pm, November 07, 2012
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