Friday, 1 December 2017

35 Ways to Keep Your Kids (and Yourself) Warm in the Cold Korean Winters

Koreans are very proud of their four seasons, but they're not all nice. Winter is horrible and freezing cold. What's worse is that many places cut down on costs by not heating buildings like they should. The admin offices are always nice and warm and toasty though. Hallways and bathrooms (including water) aren't heated. Main doors and windows in the hallways are left open to let "fresh air" in. If you haven't learned about layers, now is the time to learn! Below are some tips to help keep you and your kids warm this winter.

Basic tips for keeping warm in the winter are wearing layers. Korean kids learn to wear a t-shirt, button down school uniform, vest, school jacket, and coat. And they wear all these inside. If they get hot, they open a window. Makes no sense to me either, but that's just the culture. Use outerwear inside. Hats, scarves, and ear muffs. This goes especially for guys who shave their heads. I know of teachers who teach with a hat on because it gets cold. Some of these items are either hard to find in Korea or much more expensive than what I'd pay back home.

I usually buy things online, ship them to my parents' house, and then bring them back to Korea in my suitcase when I go visit them on vacation. You can also often find them in buy and sell Facebook groups. Uniqlo is amazing. If you haven't been there, definitely check it out. There are lots of affordable options to help keep you warm this winter.
Wool socks
 warm wool socks for kidsI discovered wool socks a few years ago and haven't looked back. They usually come in at least three different weights: light, mid, and heavy. I have a handful of mid-weight pairs from SmartWool.

Granted, I think they're expensive and I didn't want to buy them but I kept hearing rave reviews about wool socks. I paid about $10-$15 a pair. But hear me out, these socks have literally lasted me years and they are incredibly warm. They can be washed and put in the dryer and won't shrink. I bought five pairs and wear them from October to April. They've lasted four years so far and while in some places they're getting threadbare, there are no holes. They are fantastically warm. I highly suggest getting a pair. Wool socks and flannel sheets have been a game changer for me. Amazon tends to have good deals and Sierra Trading Post has discounted seconds that are about half the price as Amazon and I've never found any flaws with seconds.

Wool pants and diaper covers
Keep your baby warm with wool diaper covers, even if they use disposables. They also make wool pants for both kids and adults. You can find ones that are like long underwear as well as wool-blend dress pants.

Long underwear
 wool and silk long underwear kidsIn Korea, you can easily find thick black pants with fleece on the inside, but I found that the back was low and they just weren't comfortable. Someone recommended I go to Uniqlo because they're famous for their Heattech line. Back when I first started shopping at Uniqlo, they only had one version, but now they come in three different weights: regular, extra warm, and ultra warm. I prefer ultrawarm. Regular just doesn't cut it for me. It works in fall and spring, but in winter, I want the warmest option possible. Find out more about Uniqlo in the section below.

Besides Uniqlo, people have recommended CuddlDuds. Uniqlo's Heattech usually is made of polyester, acrylic, rayon, and spandex. CuddlDuds is made from modal and spandex. I have one CuddlDuds shirt and it's pretty warm as well. I don't own any CuddlDuds pants, so I can't talk about those. Other people swear by silk long underwear or wool long underwear. Some long underwear have both wool and silk so you don't have to decide between only one.

Uniqlo has lots of affordable options that can help keep you warm in the winter. Uniqlo is based out of Japan and there are stores all over Korea.
     purple warm cashmere scarf
  • Heattech: Uniqlo has lots of affordable options that can help keep you warm in the winter. I talked about their Heattech long underwear, but there's so much more to Heattech than long underwear. They have socks, shirts, scarves, gloves, leggings, and more.
  • Blocktech: this is thin outerwear designed to keep the wind out. I haven't tried any of their Blocktech items.
  • Fleece: They have regular fleece as well as fleece lined options, such as fleece lined jeans and leggings. They're amazing! 
  • Wool: they have some good wool options. I would skip the wool socks, at least the women's ones. They're thin, not warm, and get holes. You can try the men's ones, but I personally buy mine from Smartwool. Check out Sierra Trading Post since they sell them for about half of what you'd pay on Amazon
  • Cashmere: Uniqlo has good, affordable cashmere. I'm constantly hearing about how Uniqlo's cashmere rivals more expensive brands. They have tops, hats, gloves, and more. Here's an article that talks about how they keep their prices low and another that surmises that the grade of cashmere is probably a mix of A and B.
Like wool socks, you will pay a decent amount, about 10,000-25,000 for tops or bottoms. Buy at the end of the season if possible. If not, they're still worth buying. Mine have last years. I would not buy Heattech socks. They're thin, not that warm, and easily get holes in them. Buy wool socks instead.

Small changes in your home can make a big difference to keeping the heat in, the cold out, and lowering your heating bill. Many of these items are ubiquitous in Korea. You can find them online (gmarket and coupang), at discount stores (such as Daiso), and grocery stores (like E-mart and Home Plus). Usually buying them online will save you money, but sometimes stores have good deals as well. You can also often find them in buy and sell Facebook groups.

Here are a few recommended electronics to get you through the cold winter. 

     winter space heater
  • Electric blankets: They're much safer than they used to be. They will also save you money on your heating bill. 
  • Electric floor mat:You can buy small or large electric floor mats.The floor is heated as it is, but an electric floor mat will save you money.
  • Space heaters: Again, like electric blankets, space heaters are safer than they used to be. You still have to take precautions when using them though.
  • Heated seats: Gmarket has 1, 2, and 3 person seats that they call heating pads. They're not really made for multiple people. The number refers to the length. I have a 2 person one that is perfect for my office chair.
Home Hacks
There are plenty of little home hacks you can do to make your home warmer and keep your heating costs down.

  • Flannel sheets: They make a huge difference! I love my flannel sheets and switch them out for my regular sheets in the fall. I absolutely hate regular sheets in the winter now. It's hard to describe but honestly, they're so cold, it's painful. Flannel sheets, wool socks, both amazing!
  • Electric blankets: They're much safer than they used to be. They will also save you money on your heating bill. 
  • Regular blankets:Your regular old blankets, quilts, afghans, and fleece blankets are great for keeping you nice and warm. 
  • Electric floor mat:You can buy small or large electric floor mats. The floor is heated with the ondol, but an electric floor mat will save you money.
  • Indoor tent: Koreans love tents. There's nothing like going to a a beach or park and seeing tents all over the place. Well, they're not just for the outdoors! They capture heat and are used inside. Stick an electric floor mat inside and you're good to go. You can also find tents that fit over beds.
  • Hot water bottle:  An easy, cheap, no tech-needed hack is a hot water bottle. They can get pretty hot, but if you buy ones that come with knit covers, they're nicer to cuddle up with and won't burn your child. (cover and cleaner)
Windows and Doors
Heat can quickly escape through winters and doors so make sure yours are sealed up tightly. 

  • Bubble wrap: Put bubble wrap on your windows to help insulate them. Sounds weird, but people swear it works and lowers their heating bill. Here's a good video explaining how.
  • Plastic wrap: After you put bubble wrap directly on your windows, then cover them with plastic wrap to keep out drafts, then top all that off with some nice, thick insulated drapes and watch your heating bill go down. 
  • Drapes: Open the drapes during the day to let the sun in and close them at night. Make sure you have nice, thick drapes. Insulated drapes make a huge difference in cutting down on drafts.
  • Magnetic windproof door: In Korea, they're very common, stores use them all the time. It's a thick plastic covering held together by magnets.
  • Foam strips: Putting them around windows and doors will help cut down on drafts.
  • Draft stopper: Putting these at the bottom of doors will help keep out drafts. You can buy them or simply save money and roll up a towel.
  • Put a blanket in front of your door: You can also use insulated drapes to keep the drafts out. 
  • Closing doors: Creating a smaller space by closing doors to rooms will also help. This is especially true when you're sleeping. Close your bedroom door and keep the heat inside. 

Food and Drink
Drinking hot drinks and eating hot soup is a great way to stay warm. Drinking ginger tea or ginger honey crystals can help you keep warm because ginger improves circulation. High fat foods, such as nuts or avocados, can also help you feel warmer.

Cars and Strollers
It's one thing for an adult to have to deal with the cold, but it's an entirely different matter for a baby or child to brave the cold weather. Before I had a car, I took my stroller everywhere and believe you me, my daughter was always nice and toasty. Sometimes she'd fall asleep in the stroller and would come out with her cheeks flushed and her hair pasted to her forehead because it was so warm. I used a stroller for a long time simply because I didn't want her walking outside in the cold and slipping on the ice when I had to walk up and downhill in the street since our street had no sidewalks.

Many of these items are ubiquitous in Korea. You can find them online (gmarket and coupang), at discount stores (such as Daiso), and grocery stores (like E-mart and Home Plus). Usually buying them online will save you money, but sometimes stores have good deals as well. You can also often find them in buy and sell Facebook groups.

Footmuffs for strollers
I've always called them sleeping bags. I've also heard them being called buntings. Whatever you call them, they're awesome. They come with or without hoods and keep your kids snug as a bug in a rug. If you want a super warm option, check out this lambswool foot muff.

Stroller covers
Driving in Korea is a pain and parking is worse. Unless I know there's parking available, I take my stroller, even in the dead of winter. I've got a collection of stroller covers. I have quilted ones for winter, like this Manito one, and I have summer ones that keep kids dry when it rains. I have them in different sizes as well, since I have different strollers and they're not a one size fits all item. Gmarket has loads of stroller covers, just make sure you choose the correct option when checking out. I have a jogging stroller, a regular stroller with detachable car seat, and two umbrella strollers. I haven't found any that fit the umbrella strollers since they're too low to the ground, so I simply unzip the bottom section and my daughter's feet stick out. It works fine that way.

Lambswool seat liners
Speaking of lambswool, a cheaper option that a lambswool foot muff, which will run you hundreds of dollars, is a lambswool seat liner. You could use it on it own or perhaps put it inside a regular foot muff for extra warmth. I use one in my stroller. I know that people like to add things to car seats as well such as this infant support insert. My only issue would be to make sure your child is buckled in correctly when using inserts. Car seats aren't supposed to be cute, they're supposed to save your child's life. There's more info in this post about how to buckle your child in correctly.
 Cozy Cover winter car seat cover

Car seat covers
Puffy coats and car seat do not mix. There's more info in this post about how to buckle your child in correctly and why puffy coats can be deadly. Since you can't use puffy coats, car seat covers are great for keeping warm. There are some like this JJ Cole one where their heads stick out of a section. Or the Cozy Cover where their heads stick out of a circle. There are also ones which have the top part just like a blanket, so it doesn't go around the baby's head, such as this JJ Cole one. No matter which one you get, make sure your baby can breath.

On the Go
Hand warmers
There are hand warmers available in convenience stores. Some of them can only be used once, but I like the ones that can be boiled and re-used. Amazon also has a good selection. These are ubiquitous in Korea. You can find them at Daiso, discount stores, grocery stores, and online.

Rice Socks
I know a lot of people swear by rice socks. They're cheap and easy to make. Take a clean sock, stick uncooked rice inside, tie a knot and chuck it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds. Some people put a mug of water next to the rice sock as it's in the microwave. You can also use it cold, just stick it in the freezer. You can also buy ready-made packs, like the Bed Buddy, that you can use hot or cold.

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