When visiting countries where you’ll need to dress warmly, packing can feel like a struggle. How are you supposed to pack light for cold weather travel when you need so many items to keep you toasty?
Don’t fret over trying to fit your puffy jacket into your carry on bag. It is possible to both pack light and be prepared for cold weather, whether you’re going to Russia, Antarctica or Chicago in the winter. We’ll show you how!
The Key to Packing Light
Think pieces that can all be worn together when cold, but can also be mixed and matched, as well as worn individually- for differing temperatures and weather conditions, as well as different activities.
One massive jacket can only be worn in one condition: when it’s really cold. Any other weather conditions or activities will render it a useless, heavy, and bulky ankle weight.
If you choose your layers well, you’ll have less bulk, more outfit options, and be just as warm.
Packing Your Tops in Layers
1. Start with your base layers.
We love camisoles and tank tops because they can be worn under virtually anything for added warmth, and adding a couple to your packing list adds very little weight and space. The bonus about tanks and camisoles is that you can also wear them later on your trip, in warmer weather, for exercise, or to sleep in.
Another base layer option is a thin, short or long-sleeve shirt, preferably made of merino wool if you feel like investing. This kind of top is best in a solid color that can be worn under other “normal” tops, or that can be worn as a top all its own.
The goal here is to have something that keeps your core warm. Once you have something that acts as your core, you can move onto your presentation layers.
2. Add your presentation layers.
Presentation layers tend to be what people will see you in when you’re indoors. These can be cute cardigans, thin sweaters and tunics, just to name a few. Tunics are a great layerable option here as they cover more of your body. My Shirtigan and Chica Cool Hoody*, both by ExOfficio, are what I typically wear.
*Please note this post contains affiliate links, denoted with an asterisk. See our disclosure here.
3. Seal it in with your jacket layer.
Depending on the weather at your destination, and the weight of your previous layers, this may or may not be your final layer. For this layer, I recommend a denim jacket, a nice zip-up fleece, or an insulated jacket like the ExOfficio Storm Logic Sweater Jacket– which also folds into a travel pillow. It’s fleece on the inside and has a hood, but doesn’t do much in terms of wind protection, so keep that in mind.
4. Add extra weather protection.
From there, add a light coat or jacket that you can carry on board the plane. This layer may just be to add extra warmth, or it can be to block cold wind or repel water.
The Mountain Hardwear Typhoon and North Face Triclimate are two great jackets to try as they have zip off interiors and are water resistant. A solid, lightweight peacoat is another good choice for those wanting to look a bit nicer while traveling in colder climates.
Packing Your Bottoms in Layers
When it comes to pants, I always bring jeans for cold weather. They may not be practical on all trips, but they are easy to layer when the weather is especially cold. Corduroy pants are another good option because of the additional fabric. Whatever pants you bring, you can layer them by wearing a pair of long underwear, leggings or tights underneath.
The brilliant part about leggings is that you can also wear them on their own under long tops, or as pajama bottoms meaning you have more outfit options in addition to added warmth layers!
Is there anything worse than cold feet when you’re walking around a new place? Whichever shoes you decide to bring should keep out water at the very minimum since cold weather also has a tendency to bring rain or snow, so those athletic shoes that have breathable panels aren’t the best. Boots will both keep your feet warm, especially when paired with wool socks, and look great.
Just make sure to wear them on the plane to avoid having to find space in your luggage (and to avoid them being counted against any weight restrictions). If you do pack them, fill them up with items to save on space.
Accessorizing in Cold Weather
If all of your clothing items are in neutral or solid colors, it’s easier to mix and match them. Use your accessories as a way to change up outfits from day to day. It may be the same coat every day, but you can wear different hats, scarves and gloves to change up your look. It’s much easier to pack lighter with multiple hats and scarves rather than multiple coats.
Packing It All Up
Save luggage space and weight by wearing as much onto the plane as possible.
Now before you cringe and say we’re crazy, you don’t have to go overboard to the point where you’re about to pass out (like this guy). It’s all about choosing your heaviest and/or bulkiest layers and items- like your boots, jeans and bulkiest top- and making sure those are worn onto the plane.
Take this into account when initially packing as well, because knowing that those items won’t be counted against you at check-in can put a mind at ease.
For space concerns, pack items in compression sacks and cubes that can help to minimize space by removing air from your luggage.
And of course, it’s always helpful to ask yourself: What travel gear do I need? If something isn’t vital, then leave it behind!
Do you have any packing light for cold weather tips?
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In this graphic: Icebreaker Everyday Cami*, Exofficio Cafenista Tunic*, The North Face Mezzaluna Hoodie*, Columbia W’s Flashback Windbreaker Long*, Icebreaker Women’s Everyday Long Sleeve Crewe*, Long Sleeve Button Down Plaid Flannel Tunic*, Long Sleeve Drop Pocket Boyfriend Cardigan*, Short Sleeve Comfy Loose Fit Long Tunic*