7 October 2013

Dressing for the Cold

We had our first snow of the winter last week.  This usually happens in the third or fourth week of October so to have it in the first week came as a bit of a shock.  This summer has been a wash out and with last winter having been relatively mild everyone is saying that we should expect a very cold one this year.  That said people give dire warnings of very cold winters every year and they have been absolutely fine but with the snow showing its face I thought it would be about time to check on our winter coats to see if they need any repairs and to make sure that they still fit the children.  At the moment and for the next few weeks we are still wearing our woollen Autumn coats although we will gradually supplement them with warmer and warmer accessories until the switch to full winter gear becomes inevitable.

A шуба or fur coat is the best option in the cold dry climate that we have here in Astana – it is warm and wind-proof.  I tend to wear a long coat most days as it is the most practical option for living in the city – I can wear an ordinary thin dress underneath and still be warm enough for a long walk.   Cosy lined boots  a warm fur hat, scarf and lined gloves keep all extremities warm.  Mink (норка) is the most popular fur – usually dyed black but sometimes left natural and seen in a stunning white tipped with grey and sometimes in brown.  Fox (лиса) and beaver (бобер) are also popular and rabbit (кролик) is often used for scarves, tippets and trimming accessories. 

Fur is practical in the cold
The downside of fur is the expense. Families here can save up for years to buy a coat and it will be handed down as an heirloom and often shared between family members.  You have to be very careful with handbag straps that can wear the fur, make sure that you do not sit on the same patch of the coat for extended periods and pay for cold storage over the summer.  For many expats fur brings ethical problems to the fore.  It is possible to buy ethically farmed fur and some manufacturers claim that the environmental impact of real fur is much less than that of the manufacturing process for faux fur.  Before we came to Kazakhstan I was adamant that I would not wear it but it really is the most practical option for keeping warm. 

Sheepskin: Heavy and very warm a дубленка or sheepskin coat is a popular and a cheaper option than fur but is, if anything, even warmer.  Sheepskin tends to be more durable, (women can wear a shoulder strap handbag) and does not need to be cosseted to the same extent.    The downside is that a full length coat can be extremely heavy indeed and very very hot as soon as you come inside a building.  Sheepskin does not seem to carry the same ethical dilemma for expats.   My husband tends to wear a sheepskin coat, his is short so if he plans to be outside for a long time he needs to wear thermal leggings under his trousers. 

Down and sheepskin keeps the family safe and warm.
Down:  Down coats are extremely popular – much lighter than the other two options but every bit as warm because of the loft of the down.  Down coats are available for as little as £100 or sometimes even less making them one of the most affordable options around.  The downside is that you can look as though you are walking around in a duvet.  Some of the designs are quite fetching, however, and many women's versions come with an elastic belt to help give some shape and definition.  Astana is dry but of course we do get snow sometimes in the winter and down can loose its effectiveness when it is wet.  Down is also very popular with children mostly because it is light, cheap and effective.  Ours wear down coats with a waterproof outer so that the down is protected when they play in the snow.  Salopettes, warm fur lined hats, mittens and snow boots mean that they are covered head to foot and can stay safe outdoors. 

Waterproofs mean that children can play in the snow without getting the down wet. 
I very rarely wear technical outdoor coats because I find it is just not effective.  It also screams ‘I am an expat’ but there are times when it is necessary.  This is usually when we decide to go skating or sledging outdoors.  Then I swallow my pride and morph into the michelin man, wearing salopettes and a winter-weight wind-proof fleece with waterproof jacket, a warm hat and earmuffs.  I usually find that I have to wear a number of layers underneath to stay comfortable and I am considering giving in and purchasing a ‘down duvet’.

Even the dog has her winter clothes - it is too cold for her to enjoy being outside for long and she needs protection for her feet as the ice can burn her pads.  We have thick warm coat that covers her body and chest (most coats don't protect the chest) and some rubber booties that slide over the feet, she doesn't like the sensation of having them put on but once they are on she does not remove them.  They are malleable enough that she can feel where she is putting her feet but they are protected from the worst of the cold. 

Dog in Astana
Technical clothes are useful for 'playing' outside.
Even the dog has to wear a coat and shoes.  It may look like a thin layer of snow
but it is a recent fall sitting on a whole winter's worth of ice.
Of course  in addition to coats warm accessories are a necessity.  We have just about every different type available from mittens to lined gloves and wrist warmers  to be worn in just about every permutation depending on the severity of the cold and the activity we are planning outside.  My pride and joy is a handmade fuzzy Orenburg scarf bought on a trip to Moscow.  It is incredibly warm and the yarn so strong that I can hold the whole scarf from a single fibre of fuzz.  They are not elegant but I also have my eye on some валенки (traditional felt boots) which are reputed to be very very warm.  

Unless you are coming from somewhere equally cold there is little point in buying winter clothing in your home country.  Astana is set up for the cold weather so the stuff you buy here really works.  Before we came we bought some gadgets called ‘yaktracks’ a pair for my husband and a pair (designed to fit over heeled shoes/boots) for me.  Sold as an essential in the UK we have never used them here, the boots come with more than enough grip.  

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. I also have a nearly 2 year old with me and just want to make sure he is protected from the cold.

    1. It is a worry - our daughter (our youngest at the time) was two when we moved to Astana. I ordered both the children a down jacket with waterproof outer lining from Jack Wolfskin - I am not sure if you can get their stuff in Aus but it is really very good and their children's wear is as high quality as the adults. They then wore down/waterproof lined salopettes and lined winter boots with hats, mittens (much better than gloves for little kids) and scarves. I bought a size up and, 4 years later the children are just growing out of them so the cut is generous. They are as high quality as ever even after three winters and with the outers doing service on rainy trips back to the UK and our son's coat will be doing our daughter service for some years to come. Even from a young age the children could stay out for a fair amount of time in the 'warmer' temps ie down to about -15 degrees. -15-20 less time, from -22 down we got them in and out quickly and below -30, particularly if there was wind we minimised time outside. They were absolutely fine and now, living in Malaysia, miss the cold and snow terribly.

      You can buy when you get there but I would mail order something in the meantime to make sure that he is warm and safe. NB in KZ many young boys wear tights under their trousers/salopettes, they are cosy, warm and practical.

  2. Can you list the names of some
    Shops in Astana to purchase clothing we possibly arrive in January and will be coming from Australia where it will be summer and 35 plus every day. Winter here does not ever get below 5 degrees at night and 15 in the day these are considered anomalies . The cold terrifies me!

    1. Hi Vanessa

      That is a big change very quickly. I bought my furs from the stores in Artyum and my hats from a place in the Khan Shatyr (Dyuma I think it was called, turn right when you enter and it is on the left hand side near an escalator). You can buy technical clothes in the sports shops in just about every mall and they will probably be on special offer in January - the same goes for fur lined outdoor shoes. If you want sheepskin the shop opposite Costa in Keruen almost always has special offers on although it is expensive for fur and you can probably buy cheaper in some of the less well known places (Artyum again).

  3. Thank you so much for responding.
    I have been reading and re reading your blog and it has some wonderful information.
    You are a very generous person to share all your knowledge.
    What did you do about a pram?
    I have a Norwegian pram a Stokke Xplory which I love as does my son I am able to purchase a winter kit to make it warmer.
    I would like to bring it so he has something familiar but my husband wants to wait until we get there.

    1. It is my pleasure. Astana is such a wonderful posting, we loved every minute there. We never used a pram in Astana, our Daughter was already 2 nearly 3 when we went so she did not really need one. I coveted an xplory for the latest baby but they were not on sale in Miri. You can buy them and the winter kit in Astana, at least they were on sale in Mothercare (Keruen near the Baiterek) last year. Whether they still have them and whether they have your preferred colour is another issue! To be honest if you have the pram and the baby still uses it I would bring it with you. I imagine the xplory deals with snow and ice well enough. Astana is a pedestrian friendly city and although there are some places where there are stairs the xplory should cope with them ok.

      If you have a car provided then you will be fine. If you are using gypsy cabs getting the pram in and out will be far more difficult, however, and you might be better off just using the pram near home and renting a pram or a cart at the mall (many of the malls have this service) for exactly this reason. Good luck!

  4. Hi! I am considering a move to Astana for a potential job.... my biggest concern is bringing my dog with us! Is your dog a local dog, or did you bring your pup with you? I'm struggling to find some first hand experience (or even third of fourth) to understand the process for him. Thanks so much! I love your blog!!

    1. Hi Mary, Bessie came with us from the UK while Perdie was adopted in KZ, they both came with us to Malaysia where they were joined by a cat, Kismet. All three joined us in KSA although that move was very hard. The move to KZ was easy. The procedure was to speak with DEFRA (or the equivalent Min of Ag in the country you are in. They will give you the export form for your own vet to fill in. They also sent us the Kazakh import certificate. WE were meant to fax both to the Kaakh ministry but their fax didn't work. We put Bessie on the plane with all the required paperwork and she was waiting in the arrivals hall for us, took her through customs with no problems and into the country. I think you may now need to register a pet with the veterinary authorities but your Kazakh vets will be able to help you with this (Zoosphera are excellent and, I think, mentioned in another post on here, if they are not try the Expat Club's webpage which has details of vets in the city. If you are really worried you can ask an agent to deal with the export for you. We have always done our own, (other than the import to KSA which was nightmarish) and it has worked out fine.

      I know friends who have imported pets into KZ from all around the world and have done so with no problems. One thing to be aware of is to make sure that you pack good sweaters and coats for the pets and foot protection, we used little disposable silicone booties that gave just enough protection to stop feet burning in the snow but still let the dog feel the ground for balance and stability. I got them on Amazon I think. Not all breeds will need them, our Kazakh girl managed without any snow wear and was quite happy but our English dog very definately needed it. Good luck.

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