Last Updated on June 11, 2022 by Christine Kaaloa
What was the coldest destination you’ve traveled and were you prepared for it? From subzero Arctic cold to urban winters, I’m sharing my packing list for winter travel.
I love traveling during the winter! Being an island girl, when I step into a wintery destination, the landscape is powdery and winter-white and it just feels exotic and special.
But being unprepared to experience winter weather while traveling can feel challenging and can ruin your vacation. Below-freezing weather, occasional snowstorms and if you’re spending lot of time doing outdoor activities, … it can all affect your winter travel packing list.
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Ultimate Packing List for Winter Travel
I’ve gone from living through New York winters to keeping warm through Korea’s winters to sloshing through China’s winter activities and road-tripping British Columbia to the Arctic Ocean. I’ve been both, prepared for my winter destination and not! Here’s my recommendations for winter travel essentials:
Silk Underwear or Long Johns
100% silk thermal underwear (aka long johns ) are the best investment for winter travel. They come in both, tops and bottoms. There are a variety of good ones, such as Thermasilk Pointelle Pant and Grenasilk long thermal underwear. They are super lightweight and warm undergarments that trap your body warmth in. As silk long johns are thin and sheer it decreases the bulkiness of your winter layering. Silk long johns allows you to wear skinny jeans! They sell both, tops and bottoms and one pair will last you for years.
Spandex tank top
I like packing a spandex tank top because they’re warm and fit snug to my body, not allowing any cold air or breezes in. It is also a multi-purpose item that helps allows me to use it as bedclothes, gym wear, swimwear, an evening and day accessory, and loungewear! Also, they allow me to change in public without offending anyone.
Zip-up turtle necks or hoodies.
Turtleneck sweaters and hoodies add extra warmth to your neck and head. Long turtle necks are nice because you can pull them over your nose if it gets very chilly. I take a favorite baby blue zip-up turtleneck sweater with a long neck (I bought it almost 20 years ago!). It’s ideal because I can zip them off when I go indoors where it is warm.
Read tips on packing for carryon luggage
Columbia Women’s Benton Springs is another recommended fleece zip up jacket and has rave user review ratings! Fleece is super warm and much better than cotton in that it insulates body heat well.
I also take a Women’s Sports Running Jacket which doubles as a workout top if I need. I love that it is stylishly form-fitting, has psuedo-arm warmers that slips over my hands to act like fingerless gloves and it matches a lot of sightseeing occasions. It makes me look sleek and slim. This is something I always take on trips and you’ll see me vlog with it.
The NorthFace convertible pants
The NorthFace Paramount 2.0 convertible pants are another staple of my carry on luggage bag. You’ve seen this in my packing videos and I take it on all my rugged adventures from Bornean safaris to caving in Thailand and Jilin winters, etc. It’s convertible pants that transform into shorts or capri pants. They’re super durable for snow day activities and resilient and a tad more water-repellant than denim jeans.
Thick winter socks
I don’t like endorsing animal products, but my Smartwool Trekking Heavy socks have seen many winter years, especially when I was living in New York City. I love these socks! Sometimes the socks are good enough to use singly or sometimes you might want to try and double-up with a thin sock.
A good winter jacket
You want a good winter jacket with substance and the ability to block wind and repel moisture. When you get out on those ski slopes or into the biting cold of the outdoors, you want a jacket a barrier against the wind chill.
If your legs get cold easily, go for a long jacket, which extends below the knee cap. The Eddie Bauer Women’s Lodge Down Duffle Coat is popular with travelers and has outstanding consumer reviews, with its StormRepel durable water-repellent finish that keeps moisture from soaking into the fabric. The stylish and sleek coat has a removable hood and faux fur, fleece interior cuffs to help seal out the cold weather.
For my Arctic trip, I brought a long coat but also had a North Face Thermo EcoBall TriClimate Jacket. It is a 3-in-1 jacket for serious winter chill but can also be stripped down to moderate winters. The outer shell has a hoodie and feels like a high-quality Gortex which is weatherproof to keep water out. The inner lining is a Primaloft (a kinda thin and soft down-ish jacket which you could use in 50degree Fahrenheit weather. A bit pricy but durable, and flexible and it looks good.
Tip: Avoid buying those fashion jackets you get at Forever 21 which the cold can still permeate at 60degree Fahrenheit weather.
Best winter snow shoes: UGGs
I take my New Balance jogging shoes with me on every trip. They allow me to do a lot of walking and sports activities. However, they aren’t practical for snow. The rubber soles are not thick and the fabric isn’t only slightly water-resistant. So when your foot sinks into the snow, guess what– your shoe starts to get wet and your feet get cold. You’ll also feel the cold coming in through the bottom of your rubber soles, so if you spend anywhere from 10 minutes onwards, standing on cold concrete or snowy grounds. My feet feel like I have a mini air-conditioner in my shoe!
UGG Australia winter boots and Bearpaw winter boots cover a good chunk of the calf and leg. They are water-resistant and do not get damp so your feet remain dry even when you’re calf-deep in snow. Comparatively, it doesn’t seem like the sole is different from my runners in thickness, but the rubber sole on UGGs does not seem to allow much permeation and if it did, the warm fur-lining inside the shoe stops it immediately. Your feet remain warm and cozy in the most brutal settings!
Ethical note: Unfortunately I was not able to find a vegan or faux version of these type of boots. They are made with animal products.
Best Winter Travel Accessories for all occasions
Best All-Purpose Gloves: Thinsulate Gloves
Igloos Women’s C40 Thinsulate Fleece gloves is the brand I borrowed from a friend and I love it. It has a fleece lining for added insulation to keep the cold from coming through. It kept my hands toasty in the cold.
Ethical Note: Polar fleece (made of polyester) is cruelty-free. These days I’m shifting into looking at more synthetic fiber brands and vegan brands.
Ski gloves are bulky, but water-resistant. They are only necessary if you’ll be skiing or doing a lot of outdoor activities which involve handline snow.
Regular knit gloves are a popular and inexpensive choice, because you can buy them from almost any street vendor during wintertime. They are good up to around 30-degree Fahrenheit weather. But they won’t feel like enough when you hit zero and sub-zero weather. Your hands won’t last longer than five minutes before retreating into your jacket.
Best gloves for photographers: Fingerless gloves
If you’re planning to do a lot of photography or handling special instruments which require precision, then fingerless gloves are ideal. Hot Headz Polarex Glove Mitts have fleece and storm tech lining and a convertible mitt to offer your fingers protective warmth when you’re not operating a camera. However, if your winter environment has a mean bite of frost, fingerless gloves might not offer enough protection. When I was in Jilin and the Arctic, the fingerless gloves were necessary so that I could keep some of my hands warm, but my digits still felt it.
Read Recommended Packing List for Travel Vloggers
I’ve mentioned arm warmers on other packing posts because I adore them. They accompany me on every trip, from winter to packing for summer travel. Arm warmers keep arms warm up to the palm. In winter, they’re like fingerless gloves. They allow me to operate my mobile, photo and vlog cameras.
During summer trips, I take them as an emergency backup if the plane or overnight train’s air conditioning is too cold.
Read: Packing List for Southeast Asia and India
Legwarmers are another favorite all-purpose accessory I take on all my trips. They keep calves warm and allow you to adjust its warmth because you can remove them anytime you want.
My legwarmers are made of soft acrylic so it doesn’t itch and has stirrups. I love ones that dancers and ballerinas buy, because they need to keep their legs warm and stretched but also want to feel snug and comfy. I don’t recommend the cheap dollar store legwarmers where the fabric is either hole-y, too bulky; they don’t insulate you well. Also, cheap legwarmers itch. (Read more here)
Knit caps or a warm hat
If you keep your head warm it actually helps to keep the rest of your body warm, so it actually should be protected as well. Bringing a knit beanie cap or warm hat is ideal. I like synthetic knit caps, which tend to be as warm as wool. There are some occasions where I like to pull my hoodie over my cap as well for added protection.
I take my green pashmina scarf on virtually every trip, because it’s large enough to be a lightweight blanket, I can bundle it around me as a shawl and it’s soft and warm. A pricier but warmer fashion alternative are merino wool scarves ; they’re snug, soft and thin. I try to avoid cheap and large, bulky 6″ width scarves at all costs. They do little other than create bulk around you as a windbreaker. large what you can wrap around you.
Heat Packs & Hand Warmers
Heat packs or hand warmers are a good and inexpensive investment for very cold winter destinations like Korea and China. They last around 10 hours but I’ve experienced it lasting up to 14 hours. You’ll be glad you bought them as they are great to leave in your jacket pocket and will thaw out your winter-bitten fingers.
Face mask or Buff
Face masks (or sick masks) you can find anywhere in Asia and Southeast Asia. Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Nepal… face masks are often used when you’re sick or when there’s too much pollution in the air. It’s polite to wear a mask. Face masks are protective if you want to cover your face to keep it from getting frostbite when the wind blows against it. I discovered this when I was sick with a cold and wearing a sick mask, while walking to work in the Korean cold. It kept my face warm.
The greater equivalent is ski masks that you see criminals portrayed in films. It covers the entire head with only a slit for the eyes.
Buff Adult Polar neckwarmer is a warm alternative as they are made with fleece.
Packing Tips for Winter Travel Essential
Avoid packing bulky sweaters
The bite of winter can feel harsh, but so are excessive luggage fees. I prefer carryon luggage. In order to keep my luggage to a carry-on, I reduce the bulky sweaters. I pick medium to thin bulk sweaters. I like form-fit ones a lot because my winter jacket still needs to go on and it’s not my core body that gets cold a lot but my extremities (aka thighs, feet, hands, head).
Layer your clothes and winter accessories
I don’t have a lot of winter apparel and I want to avoid packing bulky items like thick sweaters. So I layer the clothes I have, like light-weight long-sleeved shirts. Basically, I wear around three pieces of clothes under my winter jacket!
How to layer your tops
Layering is essential to winter travel. You want to stay super warm for the closest environments, but you also want the flexibility of removing layers if you get too warm. They say heat expands outwards so if your core is warm, it will keep your body warm (unless you’re like me who has poor circulation and needs additional accessories). So my winter top layering goes like this..
- tank top or silk camisole
- silk undershirt or long johns top
- insulated winter jacket
- arm warmers
How to layer bottoms
Depending upon the type of activities you’ll be engaged in, you might take your bottoms to heart. If you’re skiing, then the ruggedness and waterproof ability of snow pants will be a better strategy than cotton or lycra leggings.
- silk long johns
- pants- jeans, leggings, snow pants
Cream vs lotion
During the winter, your skin gets dry and can tear easily. The simple act of reaching into your purse/bag for a wallet or camera is frictive and can lead to knuckle scrapes, which hurt. Moisturizing cream helps. Creams are more buttery and thicker (I’m using Nature Republic hand cream), so they moisturize better and longer against the dry cold. The lotions you get complimentary from your hotel is okay but as it’s very watery, you’ll need to reapply generously throughout the day.
Best Travel Insurance for Winter Travel
If you’re looking to participate in winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding or anything that entails risk or maybe you’re just uncertain of the weather, it’s advised to get travel insurance which covers sports and risky activities. Winter and winter sports can tempt accidents- ski accidents, slippery roads for travel, unpredictable weather. Despite the fact I was on a press trip, we were still taken to a mountain to see a waterfall, whereupon I got stuck in a snowstorm. It could’ve ended badly; luckily it didn’t. But I was insured for that trip with World Nomads.
Have you traveled for winter? What’s on your packing list for winter travel essentials!
More Packing List for Travel
The Ultimate Packing Tips for Carry on Luggage
Packing Essentials for a Liveaboard Vacation
Packing List for Summer & Beach Travel
Packing Tips for India & Southeast Asia