Yesterday evening I opened my window and was greeted by the unmistakable smell of winter in Portland. Like clockwork, winter’s arrival is marked by shorter days, colder temperatures and other challenges.
But thankfully, after 20+ years of living in Portland, I’ve learned a trick or two about surviving winter in Portland.
Because let’s get real — grey weather, constant rain, leafless trees and the finger-numbing chill are a lot to handle sometimes! Read on for my personal tips and tricks.
Winter in Portland
Portland’s winter weather typically makes a grand entrance around mid-November and lingers until mid-March (sometimes early April). The temperatures tend to range between 40 – 60 degrees, chilly enough for a cozy fall sweater and good insulated jacket.
Does it snow in Portland? Yes, but not every year — average snowfall is 4.3″ per year. In fact, snow happens so infrequently, I never put my money on it. (The exception being February 2021 — here’s some photos!)
Does it rain in Portland? Oh yes – no need to sugarcoat. Portland averages 154.5 days of rainfall per year and 36″ of rainfall.
The winter season in Portland is no joke. So many transplants move here and don’t last more than a year because winter is hard to deal with. I hope you’ll find the tips below helpful.
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Helpful Tips for Surviving Winter in Portland
#1. Get a Happy Lamp
After living in Portland for more than 20 years, I’ve found ways around the gloomy and gray winter seasons. My secret? This life-changing lamp that doesn’t leave my side for 8+ months of the year.
Seriously, during the winter months I turn it on first thing in the morning (even before coffee – which tells you everything you need to know) and keep it on until I go to bed.
It was recommended by my therapist who enlightened me that Portland has the third most depressing winters in America.
She told me to pick up a Happy Lamp in a way that seemed non-negotiable and now I can’t remember what I did before it. It’s a lifesaver while living in Portland and I’ve been using mine for the past 10 years.
What is the happy lamp? “A Happy Light brings the daylight indoors by emitting a bright, full spectrum light that safely mimics sunlight but without harmful UV rays. This is particularly powerful on rainy days when there’s not a ray of sunshine in sight.” (source)
#2. Wear bright colors
Since the grey weather reigns supreme during Portland winters, I can assure you that we have the gray color-scheme covered. And yet, most Portlanders seem to dress in dark colors during the winter season.
I say go against the grain and dress yourself in colorful (dare I say bright) attire!
I purposely buy winter staple items in bold colors because nothing boosts my mood like a colorful insulated jacket or my favorite colorful wool coat – believe me, it makes a difference!
#3. Light candles in the evening
From November to January the sky starts to turn dark around 4:30pm which is absolutely brutal.
Luckily, I’ve learned a great Danish trick – light candles, and lots of them, every evening.
The Danes call candles “living light” and consider them a superior alternative to harsh artificial light. Our home is filled with tons of unscented candles, classic tea light candles and (my personal favorite) grapefruit candles.
Friends always comment on how lovely our home smells and how cozy it feels. It’s the adult-equivalent of a gold star sticker, if you ask me.
If you love floral scents, this made-in-Portland candle is easily one of the best. But it sells out very quickly, so you may need to add yourself to the waitlist.
#4. Stock up on the Winter Wardrobe Essentials
Quality over quantity is the name of the game when shopping for winter gear. The five items listed below are a staple in ever Portland resident’s closet.
#1. High quality fleece
- Fleece is the most superior layer for staying warm. Here’s the one I’ve been using for the past 4 years (it’s on sale right now) – I practically live in it during Portland winters.
#2. High quality insulated jacket
- A good insulated jacket (for women) and (for men) will not be cheap, but it’s worth every penny. I’ve had mine for four years and my husband has had his for three. And considering we wear them daily for 6-8 months out of the year, they have held up very nicely – no complaints.
#3. High quality rain jacket
- I have two rain jackets that I love equally and will share the one my husband lives in.
- Hunter rain jacket (women) — just as good as the world-renowned rain boots they make.
- Patagonia rain jacket
#4. Good boots
- I own 4 pairs of these classic rain boots, so it goes without saying that I’m committed. These boots typically last 3-4 years even with constant wear, plus the fun colors add a nice pop to my winter wardrobe. I can’t recommend them enough!
- Here’s another fun pair for less than $70.
#5. Wool socks & a wool beanie
- The best wool socks on the market are easily Smartwool socks (there’s a reason they have a cult-like following). Likewise, a wool beanie keeps your head nice and warm (and your thoughts coherent) during winter months — never underestimate a warm wool cap.
#5. Stock up on good books (and read them)
Is there a better time than the rainy winter season in Portland to finally tackle the stack of books you’ve been meaning to get to?
Imagine this, you’re in the comfort of your warm home, covered in an abundance of cozy blankets and your favorite warm sweater while it pours outside. You have a great book in hand and not a care in the world. What a simple joy – the epitome of freedom!
#6. Move your body!
This might seem like a counterintuitive winter tip for Portland but bear with me. We all know that exercise is good for your health (and mood).
Start the morning with a quick walk (to your favorite cafe) or make time to loop the block during lunch. As you probably know well, exercise makes all the difference in the gloomy winter months.
And believe me when I tell you that I dread leaving the house for exercise during winter as much as the next guy. My trick? I started to re-think the way I approach exercise.
I now think of these 30-minutes as personal time and allow my mind to wander and use it to reflect. Exercising during winter is essential to my mental health – the hardest step is getting out the door.
#7. Have good quality tea at the ready
Life is too short to drink bad tea. There’s such a big difference in aroma and taste between Smith Tea (my all time favorite) and the other stuff.
And yes, loose leaf tea does make a difference.
Local’s Tip: New Seasons has a week-long tea sale towards the end of October where ALL tea is 50% off. I stock up every single year – seriously, I buy 20+ boxes every time.
#8. Take advantage of indoor activities
Perhaps there’s a museum you’ve been itching to try? Well, what better time to give it a go than during winter?
Portland has a lot of great indoor activities, such as: exploring Powell’s Books (the largest independent bookstore in the world), finding a new exhibit at OMSI, wandering through plant stores (mood lifter extraordinary), catch a movie at an independent movie theater or read a good book at a cozy cafe.
#9. Embrace winter sports at Mt. Hood
The secret to enjoying winter sports is being prepared with proper gear — read: insulated jackets and snow pants.
Mt Hood is a great place to snowboard, ski, or (my favorite) snowshoe. Pack your friends in a car and head to the mountain – spend the day embracing a true winter wonderland and end your day with hot chocolate at the iconic Timberline Lodge.
#10. Plan a trip to a sunnier place
This is obviously my favorite tip – ha! But every February, like clockwork, we schedule a trip to a sunnier place. We look for cheap flights and don’t feel guilty about leaving town.
Having a trip to look forward to in the dead of winter is so helpful. It doesn’t have to be super expensive either, we normally road trip to California.
And you know what they say – sometimes planning is just as enjoyable as the trip itself. It’s nice to take your mind off the winter weather by picturing a beach full of palm trees – works like a charm!
Read: Things to do in Virgin Islands National Park.
Portland Winter Events
Here’s a helpful guide to winter events in Portland.
Final thoughts on winter in Portland
In sum, here are 10 helpful tips for surviving winter in Portland.
- Have the 5 winter essentials
- Wear bright colors
- Light candles in the evening
- Get a Happy Lamp
- Stock up on good books (and read them)
- Move your body!
- Have good quality tea at the ready
- Take advantage of indoor activities
- Embrace winter sports at Mt. Hood
- Plan a trip to a sunnier place
Winter in Portland isn’t my favorite season, but it’s manageable with the right gear and tools. The danish have a similar climate to ours and they not only accept the gray months, but embrace them.
There’s beauty in everything. The winter seasons are slower, I actively use the time to relax and move slower than usual. Because what’s the rush anyway?
I hope you enjoyed these tips!
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Until next time,
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As a native Portlander, I want to thank you for this list! It’s spot on. I especially love your tip about candles, they make such a difference.
Love your blog, thanks for sharing your life in Portland. This was a fun read.
Chris Aarseth says
Or how about just leave this hell hole! That’s my plan to getting away from the new burning Man fest in Portland and rioting! Going to the Sunshine State!
Antonina Pattiz says
Enjoy Florida — I enjoy Portland 🙂
I love all your great tips about Portland Antonina!
Just be ready for all the rain! The panhandle gets twice the annual rainfall in inches compared to Portland. Also when it rains, it POURS.
I go bar hopping in different districts. Keeps the flavor alive with different social clubs and pools. Also plan on holiday events with friends if you are a lone wolf because holidays in Portland can be depressing. Don’t wait last minute. Take advantage of the coast in the winter to enjoy great open beaches to explore on. I try to avoid Hood at all costs on the weekends so try to get time your days off during the week. And lastly don’t forget to support your local strip clubs, always fun and open for any soul looking to bright up their day.
Antonette Kimia says
I will be moving to Beaverton /Portland on November 26th to live with my daughter, I have had some injuries and replacements of parts. THANK YOU For THE TIPS. I have lived in the bay Area since I was 25. I hope to be mobile soon and enjoy all of the beauty of Oregon. I grew up in Chicago I can handle the cold.
Joe Woofarino says
Damn.. I thought I was reading tips for Portland MAINE this whole article!