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Knowing what to wear in cold weather travel can be quite daunting especially if you want to pack light. To help you make the most of your winter gear and limited luggage space, I’ve put together this guide on how to pack for cold weather!
How to Pack for Cold Weather
Table Of Contents
Start by reading these general tips on packing for winter travel:
- Capsule Wardrobe for Winter
- Cold Weather Winter Packing List
- How to Stay Warm in Cold Weather (without the bulk)
- The Best Travel Shoes for Winter
Use a Packing List
Refer to one of our international packing lists to determine how to pack for cold weather and what type of clothing you’ll need for your destination. Make sure all pieces work well for the weather and the activities you plan to be doing.
Below you’ll find a sample packing list for cold weather travel featuring clothes, shoes, and accessories.
Please note that the items shown in all of our visuals are meant to act as inspiration. We know now at women share the same body type, style preferences, or fall into the same age group so it’s up to you to tailor each guide to your specific needs. Learn more.
Packing List for One-Week Vacation in a Carry-On Only
It can be daunting to figure out what to pack for cold-weather and not end up with bulky suitcase. Without further ado, below is a packing list that can cover all your possible activities!
- Four long sleeve tops
- Three long sleeve sweaters
- One pair of jeans
- One pair of leggings
- One skirt
- One winter jacket
- One cardigan sweater
- One scarf
- One hat
- One pair of socks
- One pair of gloves
To offer more help, we put together a video on how to prepare for winter travel, which you can watch below.
Learn how to travel light and efficiently for winter travel in this video!
Below you’ll see how we mixed and matched the pieces from the above 10-piece packing list:
Our packing lists don’t count outerwear (jackets/coats), thermal underwear, or pajamas so these would be additional items in your total. However, even with these pieces you should still be able to pack carry-on only.
Learn how to pack carry-on only for every single trip!
Mix and Match
As with any travel capsule wardrobe, it’s important that all items can mix and match to make the most of your clothing. Dresses are surprisingly versatile in the winter for moderate temperatures and can be worn over tights or leggings.
Read these posts for the best clothing for winter:
- Warm Merino Wool Dresses
- Cozy Fleece Lined Leggings
- Best Winter Jackets to Tackle the Outdoors
- Readers Choice: Best Waterproof Boots for Rain and Snow
Here’s a step by step breakdown of how to choose each item of clothing. Remember, this capsule wardrobe can be used for a one week vacation or more!
7 Tops + 3 Bottoms
Tops that fall below your hips are best paired with warm winter pants, leggings or also be tucked into jeans. Choose tops you can layer if needed. Pack a dressier top to pair with a skirt for formal events. Another option is to pair your tops with cozy fleece lined leggings!
For a one-week trips, pack different tops for each day of the week. Mix and match with three bottoms to create seven unique looks or a total of twenty-on different outfits!
I like a nice, classic sweater in an ultra-warm yet travel-friendly fabric such as merino wool or cashmere. Since these items are on the pricey side, I stock up during sales and re-wear them over the years. Other fabrics can keep you warm, too. However, merino wool tends to be the best travel fabric because it’s the most functional yet it’s so lightweight and packable!
I’m obsessed with merino wool sweaters because they’re light yet incredibly warm. I’ve had them for years and they remain in good quality even though I’ve worn them repeatedly. Depending on how cold it is, I’ll layer two of them to keep me warm. They regulate body temperature to keep you warm but also keep you dry and comfy. To get a full list of choices, check out the best merino wool sweaters for women!
Or why not consider adding one of these alpaca sweaters to your winter wardrobe!
While merino wool reigns supreme for many travelers, some are allergic or don’t like wool; cashmere has always been a suitable replacement but a costly option in comparison. It seems things have now changed with new brands emerging and offering products with these natural fibers at relatively affordable price points. Readers love these cashmere sweaters for their polished and timeless look, incredible warmth, and versatility.
A merino wool sweater I’ve loved for years is the J.Crew Tippi sweater (sadly, no longer available) but read our complete review and watch the video below to find out why a merino wool sweater is amazing for winter!
Learn why merino wool sweaters work so well for winter travel in this video!
2 Pairs of Shoes
Avoid items that look overly casual. Choose a basic pair that can be dressed up or down. Choose neutral colors such as tan, brown, or black because they need to mix and match with everything and comfort is key. Three pairs is also okay if you need a little more versatility.
A sample set of travel shoes for winter would include one pair of waterproof mid-calf or tall boots (wear on plane and on travel days), one pair of ankle boots, and one pair of ballet flats. The video below gives an overview of the right shoes to help carry you through winter.
If you’re going to wear a sneaker during this time of year, consider a solid leather one. Our top sneaker is the Taos Plim Sole Lux leather sneaker. I’ve actually worn the Taos Luxe during my summer in Europe, too, and they were fantastic!
If you’re looking for a boot, avoid snow boots unless it’s definitely going to be snowing. Remember, the key thing is to always check the weather before you travel! I saw a lot of travelers during the end of November and early December in Paris wearing snow boots and they were really heavy and a bit unnecessary because there was no snow.
Figure out how to choose winter shoes in this video!
You don’t have to wear snow boots to have waterproof boots. Even the right leather boots can be waterproof. Take a look at our article on the best waterproof boots for travel! There are a variety of styles to suit your destination, activities, and personal style preferences.
If you’re expecting some rain at your destination, the Blondo Villa ankle boot takes the prize for waterproofing, comfort, and style! It offers that magical balance between form and function. It has a bit of a heel and some arch support, and the sole makes them easy to walk in on a sidewalk. Read our review of the Blondo Villa here!
Black ankle boots are simply timeless, whether it’s a Chelsea style (like in this article) or just a regular zip-up style, they’re classic. They’re also perfect if you’re traveling in the spring or fall because they strike that perfect in-between weather balance that’ll work for a range of temperatures.
Struggling to choose shoes? Read our guide on how to choose the best travel shoes!
1 Pair of Socks
This blend by Kirkland is amazing, too. I’ve bought a couple of these sets over the past seven years, and they’ve been great and have stayed in relatively good condition, so I really like this brand, and it’s the top brand for all the readers in the community, too!
Take look at our article on the best winter socks to get more options. The blends are great if you tend to be allergic to wool or find wool to be itchy because they’re much less scratchy.
But no matter what socks you choose, whether they’re fleece or wool, be sure to avoid cotton (and this goes for thermals, too)! When we’re walking and sightseeing, even if it’s cold, our feet will still get sweaty. Because cotton and similar fabrics like jersey or modal absorb moisture, your skin will feel cold and clammy inside of your layers. This is definitely not good from a health standpoint, especially if you’re going to spend time sightseeing outdoors.
2 Outer Layers (Warm Cardigan + Coat)
When deciding how to pack for cold weather, choose items that you can layer or wear separately, and are not too bulky. Remember thicker fabric doesn’t mean it’s warmer fabric. Find out why here. Choose a statement jacket or classic coat you love- it will be in all your trip photos!
But if it’s going to be really cold, my favorite combo by far is my waterproof Columbia Carson Pass II winter jacket with my ibex packable down jacket underneath. With the combination of these two items, you’ll be warm even if the temps get down to freezing!
One of my favorite ways to stay warm and pack relatively light in the winter is to combine a packable, hip-length jacket underneath either a wool coat or a sturdier outdoor winter jacket—depending on the destination and your activities. If you’re going to spend a lot of time sightseeing outdoors, you’ll want something that’s going to be appropriate for the elements.
A wool coat looks elegant and beautiful, but that kind of coat is best if you have tours that are going to be in a bus or a car, you won’t be spending as much time outside, or the weather will be mild. And to add a little layer of warmth, you could wear a really cute coat depending on the weather and a lightweight, packable down jacket underneath. I saw a woman doing this in Europe and thought that was a really cool hack!
Take a look at some of the most popular wool coats from the TFG community here, and some of the most recommended winter jackets here. If you’re not going to be experiencing snow, you don’t need to worry about a snow jacket, but I would recommend having a jacket that is water-repellent.
If you’re looking for down jackets, a packable option is ideal. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, and you can even use it as a pillow on the plane, but you’ll have a nice, thin but warm layer to pull out whenever you need it. Take a look at this post on our recommendations for the best packable jackets, and this post for the best down jackets for travel in general (if you’re not planning to layer them underneath another coat).
Here’s a guide on how to choose the best travel coat!
One Set of Thermals
Invest in one (or two) sets of thermals to wear underneath all your clothing. Here’s a list of our favorite thermal underwear for women. One set should do but if you’re going to an extreme cold weather destination then you can wear two sets if you plan to spend a large amount of time outside. My magic combo that worked for me during the winter in Paris when it was 3-6° C was a silk thermal, a merino wool thermal, a merino wool or cashmere sweater, and my Columbia jacket with a nice big, warm scarf on top of all that.
You can re-wear your merino wool thermals for weeks without washing them, too. That may sound strange if you’re not used to that, but merino wool is moisture-wicking and odor-repellent, which is why it’s one of the most popular fabrics for travel, especially in winter.
Wear your thermals underneath everything!
Merino wool or silk thermal underwear is the best. Find out why here!
Last but certainly not least are your stylish winter accessories. These are essential and can save you even if your clothes don’t keep you warm! Bring a warm hat, gloves, and scarf to avoid the harsh cold winter weather.
A winter hat’s, a winter hat, so it doesn’t have to be super fancy. Just a classic beanie style is timeless! Check out the many options for a warm winter hat in this article.
Gloves are everything. These are the most recommended winter styles by our readers, and this is the most popular style which, as a bonus, has touchscreen capabilities! A merino wool blend, even if it’s thin and simple, is fantastic. But definitely make sure you have something on your extremities to keep you warm because as long as your head, feet, and hands are warm, that’ll really help you insulate the rest of your body.
In the winter, a scarf is a must-have, whether it’s a neutral color blanket scarf like this one or this one, or a nice, warm, packable-friendly snood like this one. Aside from warmth, it can also add style if that’s your thing. But if not, still make sure that you bring one for warmth!
Tip: The sun might set as early as 4pm in some European destinations in the winter. Keep this in mind when you leave your accommodation for the day. Bring layers if you plan to stay out until the evening time.
Overall, it’s important to note that bulky fabrics won’t necessarily make you feel warmer! You have to choose the right cold-weather fabrics and layer your items strategically as explained in the video below.
Choosing clothing for winter just got easier—watch this video to learn more!
How to Pack for Cold Weather Travel
The best way to organize a winter wardrobe is to utilize packing cubes. While I’ve tried many brands over the years, I decided to create my own version that will take your packing to the next level: the Compass Rose Compression Packing Cubes shown above!
The 4-Piece Set of Carryon Packing Cubes are sized to fit the exact width of a carry-on suitcase and they also have a unique color-coded and numbered organization system.
We put together a five-part YouTube series showing you the different methods to use packing cubes. If you use this specific packing strategy, they can also compress your belongings. This is the secret to traveling carry-on only!
What are your tips on how to pack for cold weather travel? Share and comment below!
For more packing strategies, please read:
- Arctic Clothing: Extreme Cold Weather Gear for Women
- Long Term Travel Tips: Transitioning from Hot to Cold Weather
- The Easy Packing Solution for Trips with Cold and Warm Destinations
- Traveling from Cold to Hot Climates: My Layering Strategy
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