If you’re visiting or moving to NYC, we’ve put together a practical guide on how to survive winter in New York and what to wear on those frigid days in January and February.
We’ve been in NYC for about two months now and needless to say, it’s been a struggle adjusting to the cold. We’ve spent the last few years in much warmer weather, and I’m pretty sure the two years living in SoCal may have ruined us forever.
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Last Updated: October 14, 2023
How to Survive Winter in New York
We have warm outdoor gear for hiking and snowboarding from our backpacking trips to Patagonia and Iceland, but nothing appropriate for city life in NYC. We had multiple people ask where we were visiting from since we stood out like a sore thumb in our bright, red jackets.
How to Dress like a New Yorker in Winter
- It’s an Umbrella City – When we were in Portland, everyone braved the rain in rain jackets. New Yorkers have an umbrella. Bring a cheap one, since NYC winds break them all the time. I like the clear ones to see where I’m walking, but black goes with the NYC uniform.
- Style – Just walk the streets, and you’ll see a sea of black. If you want to blend in, think blacks and dark grays. If you don’t, I love that you can wear just about anything and people don’t care.
- Get a Long Coat – It should be warm, windproof, and cover as much as possible (bonus points if waterproof). We both got parkas that cover our butts, but sometimes I envy those with ones that go down to their ankles
- Cover All Extremities – Always wear a hat, gloves, and scarf. Get lots of gloves! NYC is a bottomless pit for gloves, and everyone talks about losing them. If you have multiple jackets, have a set for each jacket to ensure you don’t forget them.
- Keep Track of Everything – Since you’ll be stripping down inside, have a designated spot for all your loose items.
- sNOw Thanks – NYC Winter and snow is magical the first few hours, but after that, it becomes a dirty gray slush or black ice and that initial magic disappears and it’s just horrible cold weather.
- Always Wear or Pack Layers – Most buildings keep the indoors warm so you’ll want to strip down. Layering also helps trap in warm air when you’re outside. We use the same rules for hiking as we do in the city: a synthetic sweat-wicking layer first, then an insulating layer, and an outer shell for snow, rain, or wind.
- Shoes – Remember all that gross slush I mentioned earlier. You don’t want to step in that and have wet feet the rest of the day. Waterproof shoes and high boots help keep you warm (I want knee boots).
New York Winter Clothing Guide
Here is what our typical OOTD looks like. Are you missing our pop of red already?
Esther’s New York Winter Essentials + Winter Packing List
- Winter Outerwear: I have a 3-in-1 Parka that performs well and looks great in the city. You can wear it 3 different ways, but I usually keep the insulating and shell layers zipped up together for maximum warmth since I get cold easily.
- Midlayer: I usually wear my Polartec fleece if I’m going to be active.
- Base Layer (top): I wear the men’s because I like it better than the women’s version.
- Base Layer (bottoms): I mostly wear these ones from Uniqlo, but I rotate a few of them. I also have Omniheat ones from Columbia, but apparently, I don’t generate any heat to be reflected back to me.
- Jeans: These are waterproof and we’ve taken them on urban and outdoor adventures.
- Boots: Love these waterproof Danners, but if I know I’m going to be walking through lots of snow, I wear these snow boots.
- Socks: The heavyweights work the best for me.
- Gloves: I’m all about Polartec after our trip to Torres del Paine.
- Beanie: It’s Omniheat ftw on this one. I guess my head does just fine with generating heat.
- Balaclava: I wear it on the most frigid days to cover more of my face.
- Cute Scarf / Wrap: I’ll wear a scarf around my balaclava, so I have both form and function. I like multi-purpose things, and this scarf happens to transform into a cardigan, shirt, and more.
- Hand Warmers: For really frigid days.
- Wet Wipes or baby wipes to wipe down the mud you kick up on yourself, especially on those slushy days.
Jacob’s New York Winter Essentials + Winter Packing List
- Winter Outerwear: We both have the same 3-in-1 parkas, but the women’s version is longer.
- Midlayer: I like these. They’re warm cover parts of my neck on really cold days.
- Base Layer: Always wear these performance tees.
- Base Layer (bottoms): The Uniqlo Heattech tights work really well for me. I have a few that are just regular Heattech and a couple extra warms ones. On really cold days, I may or may not double up on them.
- Jeans: Love these All Weather denims from DUER.
- Shoes: These Danner Boots are amazing at keeping me dry and comfortable.
- Socks: I have some midweight socks and heavyweight ones for cold days.
- Gloves: We both love these Polartec gloves.
- Beanie: With this one from Mountain Hardwear you don’t even notice the wind. The guy who sold it to me said he was in 60 mph winds and couldn’t feel it. Will let you know if I’m ever in 60 mph winds.
- Scarf / Neck Warmer: This one is incredibly warm, but it’s sometimes hard to breathe when you have your face covered.
- Backpack: It helps to have a backpack when you walk around town so you have your hands free. If you don’t think you need as much space, this sling works great too! Both of these are perfect for cameras + other stuff.
How Cold Does it Really Get in NYC?
We’ve been to Patagonia in the winter and Iceland in February, yet NYC feels even colder. When I started looking into the weather itself, though, the numbers don’t make sense.
Why does NYC seem so cold?
I loved reading this NYT article about a native Icelander describing the cold in New York. For those of you who don’t want to bother reading it, a big part of why NYC feels so cold is that the cold lasts for a long time.
It’s one thing knowing you’ll be really cold for a few days, but when those days turn into weeks and months, then those chills in your bones never seem to disappear.
In addition to that, you end up spending a lot of time outside here. You can absolutely hop in a cab everywhere you go, but eventually, that takes too long or costs too much, which means you’ll be walking or taking the subway.
Don’t even get me started on the wind. The buildings have created wind tunnels that blow the cold air straight through you. Just this past week, I’ve been walking 3-4 blocks a day running errands and by the time I reach my destination my face, lips, and fingers feel like they are going to fall off. I really miss having my car now.
Let’s look at the numbers. Here are the temperatures during winter:
Now keep in mind that those are just the averages. As I write this post, it’s snowing buckets outside at a 45-degree angle, which means the wind makes it feel even colder. Also, check out the weather for the upcoming week…
How Much Snow Will I have to Deal With?
It doesn’t actually snow a ridiculous amount in NYC. The snow days are magical but soon after, it turns into gray slush. Then when it gets really cold, that snow starts turning into black ice and everything is extremely slippery.
We’ve experienced snow twice within the first month of our time here. A couple of weeks ago we even had a 24-hr period of constant snow resulting in one of the largest snowfalls in a long time.
People keep telling us that this was the worst year to move here and that they’ve never seen so many snow days in the low 30s. Bad weather seems to follow us everywhere.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with anything that helps keep us warm. Even though we leave our thermostat on higher temps during the winter, my desk is next to a giant window. Here are some tips to help you be as warm as possible at home.
15 Tips to Stay Warm at Home and Keep Your House Warm
- Wear more layers. I’m covered from head to toe in fleece as I’m writing this. I also always have a blanket draped over my chair in case I need it.
- These down booties have been a lifesaver since my feet run cold. We used them while hiking Patagonia, but now I use them around the apartment to keep super warm. Lately, I’m curious about this pad for under the desk.
- Electric blanket to heat up our bed before sleep.
- Let the sunlight in during the day. Sun beats the cold air coming in.
- Hang insulating shades or blackout curtains on windows to reduce heat loss.
- Hang blankets on cold walls or windows for extra insulation. It doesn’t look the best though, so I’m looking for alternative solutions.
- Carpets and rugs insulate wood floors and reduce heat loss and is less cold on your bare feet.
- Clear shower curtains let the sun in and provides an insulating layer.
- Use candles. I have one going on my desk at all times.
- Bake more often, and leave the oven door open after to get all the heat out. Most importantly, always make room for cookies.
- Line the inside of your walls with radiator foil. It will reflect that heat back to you.
- Reverse your ceiling fans so that they blow the hot air down.
- Close doors to keep heat in rooms you use.
- Space heaters are a great option to add heat to your rooms. You can go with a directional one, this circular one, or a heater that can also be a fan. (PS space heaters can be a fire hazard.)
- Have a pet on your lap! Luckily, both our cats are lap cats, so I always have a personal heater on my lap.
Where to Stay in New York
Have you experienced a winter in New York? Have you used any of these hacks to keep warm?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.