Must-Packs for Traveling to Colder Countries

cold weather must packs

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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.

Coats

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.

Caroline in England wearing a classy pea coat
Caroline showing off her pea coat as her outer, warmer layer in England. This is great for looking nicer while traveling, but keep in mind that you will probably be carrying this coat onto the plane always. A super light/thin model might be best for travel.

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.

Cold Weather Travel - Columbia Mighty Lite Hooded Plush Jacket
The Columbia Mighty Lite Hooded Plush Jacket is made with Omni-Heat Reflective Insulation. Lightweight, but once layered can keep you toasty. See it on Amazon*.

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.

Tops

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.

Bottoms

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.

cuddl duds leggings
Cuddl Duds leggings: Left = Thermal Leggings (on Amazon*); Right = Softwear Base Layer Leggings With Stretch (on Amazon*)

Base Layers

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.

Accessories

  • 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.
A good hat and scarf can do wonders in the cold.
A good hat and scarf can do wonders in the cold.

Footwear

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.

Other Necessities

extras
Hand Warmers, Travel Mug (on Amazon*), Lotion
  • 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?

Must Packs for Cold Weather Travel

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Svenja says

    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 😉

  2. Leigh says

    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!

  3. Mary says

    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.

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