Surviving winter in Copenhagen
Someone told me the temperature can drop to -10C in Copenhagen which is probably outside most people’s experience and certainly outside their comfort zone. Googling for weather statistics for Denmark however, reveals that that -10C figure looks very much the exception and around freezing point seems to be the norm there for December. Copenhagen is on the same lattitude as central Scotland though so it may feel distinctly nippy there for us soft southerners. Since the British are notoriously crap at dressing for cold conditions and since I’ve ventured onto a few cold mountains in my time, I’ve necessarily learned a bit about staying warm in such conditions which I’m thinking may be useful to pass on to those going to Copenhagen. I could just suggest everyone goes to a good outdoor shop and buys loads of high tech survival stuff but since many activists are on low incomes this advice wouldn’t go down very well so here’s various cheapo options.
First off, don’t just dress for fashion. Fashion clothes are normally fairly hopeless at keeping you warm so even complete style junkies are going to have to compromise and dress a bit more functional. Besides which, it’s a situation where you probably don’t want to stand out from the crowd too much. Next check your garment fabric labels. In particular, avoid cotton as this is a cool summer fabric and not good for winter. Not only is cotton a very poor insulator compared to other fabrics, but when it becomes wet, (do the Danes have water cannons anyone?) it has no insulating effect at all and also takes days and days to dry. Anyone who’s ever been drenched while wearing jeans or a cotton sweatshirt will have noticed just how cold they became so avoid both of those garments.
The secret to dressing warm is to trap static warm air using several layers of insulating clothing. Firstly an absorbent but low cotton content garment should be worn next to the skin that can draw sweat away from your body should you have become too hot at any stage of the day. Next, wear one or two well insulated fluffy layers. Two or more thin layers are much more versatile than one thick one as you can regulate your temperature more finely. Wooly jumpers are good but can take ages to dry should they become wet and you will smell like a wet dog during that time Acrylic ones don’t suffer from these drawbacks. Best by far are synthetic fleece jackets or shirts as they are light and absorb very little water and even if they do become wet, their insulation value doesn’t drop much and they dry in a trice. You can sometimes find fleeces at second hand shops, car boot sales or Lidl often sell naff looking but functional ones at this time of year. You can buy cheap new ones at street markets but they’re often the shape of a sack and fall apart quite quickly. Dunno if he’s still there, but last year there was a guy selling some really nice second hand ones in Sclater street off Brick lane Sunday market. You can also try an outdoor shop called mountain warehouse in Southampton St below Covent Garden that sells all sorts of stuff much cheaper than its more up market neighbours. Your outer layer should be something densely woven or waterproof to prevent the wind from penetrating your fluffy layers and blowing the warm air away.
For your legs, no jeans but low cotton content or acrylic track suit bottoms from street markets are good or you can go for the trick of wearing thick woolly women’s tights underneath some regular closely woven trousers. On your feet, obviously boots and thick non cotton socks – wool is best. Good gloves can be quite expensive although Lidl again often do affordable ski gloves at this time of year. If you’re really skint then one thing I’ve found is that during cold spells, loads of people drop gloves on the streets especially at bus stops which you can hoover up if you ride a bike around town regularly. If you keep finding same sided gloves then turn one inside out. If you can find widely differing sizes then you can stack small ones inside larger for double the warmth.
People often complain that their hands and feet always get cold no matter what they wear on them. This is to do with humans having evolved as social animals and the trick to prevent your extremities becoming cold is to really concentrate on keeping your core temperature high. If your core temperature drops even slightly, your body minimises its chances of developing hypothermia and so starts to shut down the blood supply to the peripheral parts of the body in order to prevent that chilled blood from cooling the vital organs any further. So if you’re wearing insufficient warm clothes on your torso then even with the most expensive gloves, your hands will continue to feel cold.
Don’t forget to cover as much of your head as possible. Peruvian(?) hats are probably good but I’ve never worn one. Balaclavas are brilliantly warm though scary looking and if everyone wears them it’ll give a very negative image. They’re quite versatile though as you can fold the sides up and wear them as a regular non-threatening wooly hat if conditions aren’t so bad. They’re actually very expensive to buy from outdoor shops – often 20 quid though you can try army surplus shops. It may well be that conditions there are quite mild so remember to carry a rucsack of sufficient size to stash excess clothing if you become too hot. This is why wearing several thin layers rather than one thick one is important.
I’m guessing some of the sleeping accomodation may be fairly basic and heating could be minimal. If so, the best sleeping bag you can acquire and a sleeping mat is equally important. It’s worth knowing that most heat loss when camping is downwards into the ground so try and put as much locally acquired insulating material such as layers of carpet or cardboard beneath you and not on top. Watch how homeless people do just this. You can wear some extra clothes inside your bag but if you try to wear too much inside a tight sleeping bag, you can actually prevent the sleeping bag from working properly. If you know it’s going to be a very cold night then it’s important to go to sleep while still feeling warm, ideally immediately after having some hot food inside you otherwise you will never recover lost heat once your metabolism drops and you’ll get crap sleep. On the subject of food, remember that in cold conditions, your body is having to work harder just staying warm so eat more than you normally do.
Finally where you place yourself outdoors can greatly affect your warmth level. Do your utmost to stay dry. Standing on anything metal or in a puddle will chill your feet and sitting or leaning on anything cold and hard will suck the heat right out of your body so try and stand/sit on some wood or cardboard. If there’s much standing around and it’s windy then avoid the effect of wind chill by ducking into the lee of any kind of obstruction like wheely bins, barricades etc.