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One of the most stressful times in a traveler’s life is preparing for the winter holiday season and packing for cold weather travel. It seems almost impossible to travel light under these circumstances since our initial response is to pack and wear as many heavy things as possible.
But a little extra planning and research can help you decide what’s actually necessary for keeping you warm and not packing everything in your winter wardrobe.
Cold Weather Travel Clothing
We’ve covered how to layer properly to keep warm and wear items multiple ways in the past, so this post will mostly cover what types of items to pack rather than how to dress warmly.
As someone who frequently travels during the winter, either for work or to save money by traveling in the off-season, it can be difficult to pack a coat for travel. It’s difficult to choose one, as you’ll likely be wearing it every day, in every photo. Plus it’s bulky and takes up a lot of room.
For casual trips, I recommend packing a classic looking coat, like a pea coat, in a solid color like black. Carry it onto the plane with you so that you don’t have to save room in your bag. Look for one that covers your neck and torso as well as down to your calves for full warmth. Lined pockets and water resistant fabric are also great features, especially in case of snow. When dressing for the day, you can switch up your accessories to make each outfit different.
You can also skip the winter coat entirely and opt for a sports windbreaker with fleece or wool layers underneath. This option is great for people who are traveling to several climates on one trip, or for those packing extra light.
A lot of people are really enjoying the Omni-Heat Reflective gear* that Columbia makes, for example. The reflective layer locks in your body heat, so these light jackets and coats can be excellent additions to a layered winter packing list.
Pack tops that can be layered, including tee shirts and long sleeved shirts. Bulky sweaters can also be cozy, but take up precious space in your bag. Look for technical travel gear items like fleece vests, Merino wool tops or light jackets to put on top of one another to keep your core warm. Wear underneath your coat or main layer to seal in your body heat.
While many travelers advocate against packing jeans for travel, you can’t deny their ability to keep your legs warm, especially when paired with tights or leggings. Corduroys and wool pants are another good alternative, as they have more substance than a thin pair of pants. Bring something to wear underneath such as wool tights, fleece leggings or thermal underwear. I travel with Cuddl Duds, which makes base layers for cold weather travel.
>> You might also be interested in our post dissecting what makes great travel pants.
We mention it briefly above, but having some good base layer gear will make a huge difference in keeping warm. Think things like “long johns”, leggings, and tights for bottoms, and long sleeve or tank tops made of a good, warming fabric.
Karina, an #HPLWorld member, recommended the following when it comes to cold weather base layers:
Merino, bamboo or polypropolene are all good. Bamboo feels gorgeous on your skin. Silk is good too but they dont hold up to rough travel or hand washing – mine got holes super fast – whereas the bamboo has lasted many trips.
Another #HPLWorld member, Leanne, also commented on the matter:
Bamboo is amazing! And not that expensive compared to silk. I find polypropylene gets whiffy quicker than the others but is very light and warm though.
- Hats or some sort of head coverage is the most important, as you lose most body heat through your head. I tend to wear more headband-style hats and ear muffs because of my short hair.
- Scarves fill in the extra spaces between your neck and face and are also a chance to change up your look. Infinity scarves can be worn many ways and wool versions keep you cozy. Pashminas can cover your head and neck.
- Last but not least is gloves and mittens, which you shouldn’t forget if you want to avoid frostbite.
When it comes to cold weather shoes, I don’t pack many pairs since I’m not wearing enough outfits for it to matter. Tall boots are nice to have, but take up a lot of room. I recommend bringing them only if you wear them every day of your trip.
Otherwise, ankle-length boots and water resistant athletic shoes should be sufficient. Pair with your shoes thick socks or tights that will keep your feet warm. I’m a fan of Smartwool socks, but compression socks can also do the job.
- Hand Warmers: After spending three winters working in New York City, not to mention traveling to Ireland and France in January, I have come to love hand warmers, which you can pick up at any outdoors store and also on Amazon. The small packets are rubbed to become warmer. I like to stick one in each pocket and sometimes even put them in my shoes as they last for a few hours.
- Travel Mug: Another item I pack is a travel mug so that I can fill it with my favorite hot beverage (tea, in my case) and walk around with it. Any travel water bottle that holds hot beverages is a bonus in cold weather.
- Lotion: Last but not least is lotion to keep my skin from getting chafed by the wind. Lip balm goes hand in hand with this.
What do you pack for cold weather travel?
My absolute cold-weather must-packs are a Buff (I don’t really like scarves but adore my trusty little Buffs), Smartwool socks, merino base layers, and my Northface Thermoball jacket.
All those items pack down pretty small, keep me toasty – and, added bonus, the merino stuff doesn’t get stinky at all, so no worries if you get a bit sweaty in overheated public transport 😉
That’s always the case, isn’t it Svenja! Have to dress to stay toasty outside but die once you get into public transport 😉
Great tips – especially the lotion, for dry air! I wonder if anyone has tried those travel humidifiers? Some Colorado hotels have a humidifier in the room, which is a god-send in winter when it’s so dry your nose will bleed!
My travel partner and I both wore similar colombia jackets in London and Paris. I was cold, but she was fine. I was also wearing layers of wool.
It was December 2014. All of our travel destinations were warmer than our home city. I wished I had brought my real winter parka from home.