With temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, up to seven months of snow and ice covering the ground, and fewer than four hours of daylight at peak midwinter, winters in Finland are so hard that even locals are sick of them. But while surviving winter in Finland is a challenge, it can be a fun one for those who embrace it. If you are visiting Finland during the winter, these are some top survival tips to help you not only stay alive but enjoy the frozen wonderland.
Nobody likes taking the risk of falling over on the ice and looking like an idiot, but it is unavoidable to get around during the winter. There is a trick to walking on ice, however. Walking at a regular pace doesn’t distribute the body weight in the correct way to stay upright on ice. The trick is to take short, quick steps, much like the way that penguins walk. You may still fall over from time to time, but locals expect this so they won’t laugh at you.
Another tip to remember is that freshly fallen snow is much easier to walk upon, and makes a satisfying ‘crunch’ sound when you step on it. It is only when the snow has been on the ground for a few days and iced over that it becomes dangerous. Thankfully, the Finnish government pays for snow ploughs to clear roads and pathways, but it is still best to tread carefully, particularly on hills and steps.
Probably the biggest pain of the Finnish winter is having to dress in multiple layers even just to take the rubbish out. Stepping out into the cold of the Finnish winter can feel like walking into a freezer, so the right clothing is essential. Correct shoes are the most important as you will need some with good grip which will also keep your feet warm. Buying some spikes to attach to your boots can also help. Finns wear thick trousers during the winter with long-johns underneath, along with woollen socks. On your top half, you will need a thick jumper, preferably one made of wool, and a good snow proof coat. The correct gloves are important too, as regular ones won’t be enough for the Nordic winter. For the coldest weather, consider investing in some gloves lined with reindeer skin, which is a natural insulator and helps to financially support Lapland communities. Finally, complete the ensemble with a scarf and something to cover your head and ears.
As strange as it may feel, remember to breathe through your mouth rather than your nose when it is cold outside. This is because breathing in cold air through your nose and breathing out warm air can cause the blood vessels in your nose to rupture, giving you a nosebleed.
Frostbite and rashes are also common in the winter, and in the worst cases may need medical treatment. Both can be prevented by covering the skin properly, not staying out in the cold for too long, and re-warming affected areas in warm water when the first symptoms appear. If skin becomes dry and itchy, it can be treated with moisturising cream. You should see a doctor if the symptoms of frostbite persist, the skin turns white or pale, or you develop a fever.
Many people overlook the effect that winter can have on the mind. Short hours of daylight combined with isolation and dreary weather can cause a feeling of physical and mental exhaustion and lack of motivation, which is why some remote towns in Finland are experiencing a suicide epidemic. These symptoms are normally felt during the early winter and are usually temporary, easing off once the body becomes more accustomed to the winter. There are still some preventative measures you can take.
It is difficult to get up when it is so dark outside, but doing so and going for a half-hour walk every morning will expose the body to sunlight and provide enough energy to get through the day. Light therapy lamps can also simulate sunlight and are easy to find online.
To handle the mental side of winter depression, Finns use the Dutch concept of hygee to create a pleasant, warm, and cosy environment to elevate the mood. This could be done by getting together with friends, reading a good book, having a warm drink, turning on the fireplace, watching a favourite comedy, using the sauna, or anything which personally makes you feel calm and happy.
Good, warm meals are also essential for mental health and warming the body after a cold day. Karjalanpaisti, or Karelian hot pot, is a meat stew served with mashed potatoes which is particularly popular in the winter. It not only provides necessary nutrition but it is hearty enough to warm the body and soul even during the bleak midwinter.