Updated on February 12th, 2019
“You like the cold.” This was an actual statement made to me on my recent trip up to Churchill, Canada. I was instantly incredulous. Only insane people like being cold. But I allowed the statement to sink in.
This was my second trip to the sub-arctic in as many years. Gasp! Who am I??
Okay fine, maybe they had a point, but there is a difference between being IN the cold and BEING cold. In repeatedly traveling to and playing in sub-arctic destinations, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to pack for winter adventures. As the adage about no bad weather goes, being cold is usually a result of inappropriate clothing.
To Check Baggage or Carry-on?
There are strong arguments on either side including additional checked baggage fees and the possibility of losing your luggage. Some people treat carrying on as proof of their traveling superiority, but whatever. Do what’s best for you.
While I am a firm abider of the “every ounce counts” rule, I make baggage decisions based on the following factors:
- I’m heading somewhere with very few transfers
- I’m staying somewhere with bell captains or my husband
- My transportation is private or a car rental
- I’m doing a big arctic trip and my clothes are bulkier
- I’m already carrying on a backpack AND more camera gear than usual
- I’m bringing wine (this happens more than you think. At least for me.)
- I’m lugging my own bags to multiple destinations along the route
- I’m using trains or other public transportation the whole trip
- I’m heading somewhere warm and my clothes are light
- I’m keeping my camera gear to a bare minimum
- I have easy access to laundry machines and have the time to do it
If you’re reading this and thinking that I could still do a trip without checking bags, you’re right, of course I can. But sometimes I don’t want to wear the same three outfits or wash my underwear in the sink every fifth night. Plus, I fly so much that I have free checked baggage. You pack your bags however you like, these are just my rough guidelines.
Tip: Packing cubes and compression bags are the key to everything. They are easily purchased online. I personally love my Flight 001 packing cubes. They are super durable and I’ve been using the same two cubes for the last five years and they’re still going strong.
Layers: Bundle up without looking like the kid from Christmas Story
A major component to this one is the TYPE of fabric you layer. Cotton is no go. I don’t even bother with chunky sweaters or big loose pants. In fact, my long underwear is so thin, I can fit them under skinny jeans, so miracles can happen.
Tip: Go for wool. SmartWool is my go-to brand. They make sweaters, hats, socks (I LOVE their socks), base and mid layers, even dresses. Their wool is thin, keeps you warm, keeps you dry, and smells fresher longer.
For my long underwear, I have a heavyweight, snug pair from Obermeyer that I don’t think they make anymore. However, look for Merino wool layers like this – it’s so warm, breathable and keeps odor at bay so you don’t have to stop and do laundry all the time.
I also adore my wildly thin, super warm pair of long underwear made of modal from Cuddl Duds. They are crazy soft, to boot.
Likely you’re familiar with the big outdoor brands of North Face and Patagonia, so here are a few other brands to check out if you’re looking to add to your travel wardrobe: Prana, Royal Robbins, Icebreaker, Columbia, UnderArmour, ExOfficio and REI.
Fleece is another cozy layer, but use sparingly as it’s on the bulkier side. I also have a Nano Puff insulated jacket that folds into itself to become a pillow. It’s my favorite thin layer and it keeps loads of heat in.
Winter Travel Packing List
Here’s what I pack for my near-arctic adventures. These items are more geared toward time spent dog sledding, glacier hiking, polar bear watching, etc. I do usually pack at least one or two outfits that can double as city wear when you’re in say, Reykjavik or Winnipeg, so I’ll note that as well.
*This is for a 7-10 day trip, so adjust according to your trip length and access to laundry facilities.
Base Layers – Everything Starts Here
- 2 pairs of long underwear: 1 super thin for under jeans, 1 medium to heavy weight for under insulated pants
- 4-5 pairs of wool socks: you’ll need both thin liner pairs and super thick heavy weight socks so you can layer here, too.
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 2 sweaters: try wool, they’re thinner, warmer and easier to pack
- 1 medium weight pullover. I love mine – it has thumbholes and zips up to my neck.
- 1 vest. This piece is one of my favorite things in the whole world and I bring it almost everywhere, every trip because it’s a perfect layer to keep warm winter, spring and fall. While they don’t make the EXACT ones I wear all the time anymore, this is a pretty close approximation. I like the kind of vests that are snuggly and can double as a fashion layer rather than the puffy outerwear style.
- 2-3 shirts for hanging at the lodge, a city day or travel
- 1-2 pairs of jeans
- 1 pair of fleece pants (the warmest layer ever!) I tried to do the legwork (ha HA) for you, but I couldn’t find a similar pair on Amazon. These are fleece through and through and are a warming layer, not necessarily an outdoor layer as they are not water resistant. This is the pair I have, which I bought at REI.
- 1 set of pajamas
- 1 swimsuit for hot tubbing or geothermal pools (pack in a plastic bag or in case you need to transport while it’s damp)
- 1 heavy weight ¾ or longer water-resistant, hooded insulated coat
- 1 insulated ski-jacket (optional, depending on activities. I wear the bulkiest one on the flight and squash the other one flat in a compression bag.)
Bottom – I alternate between my insulated snow pants and the fleece + top layer combo
- 1 pair of heavy weight insulated snow or ski pants/overalls. (Mine are DC, but there are lots of great brands out there to suit your fit and budget.)
- 1 pair of water-resistant, breathable, snow pants for nice days (these can go over your fleece pants)
- 1 pair of waterproof, windproof pants. These are looser and can go over your top layer of jeans or other pants in case of a surprise rain or snowstorm, or super windy conditions. They’re great to just have on hand in case the weather goes sideways.
- 1-2 fleece or wool beanies/ear warmers
- 1-2 fleece gaiters/fleece Turtle Fur for your neck and face. If you’re going somewhere crazy cold grab a balaclava.
- 1 pair of wool liner gloves. Get them with “smart” fingers so you can use your phone without taking off your gloves.
- 1 pair of waterproof mittens
- Hand/foot warmers to put inside socks or gloves in extreme temperatures (optional)
- 1 pair of insulated waterproof boots (I personally love my Sorels)
- 1 pair of rubber soled “city” boots – in case it’s icy in the city. I have a groovy pair of Jambu boots that are fashionable and warm that have grippy soles. I also really like my Sorel wedge boots as well, they have a great tread and a built-in heel, but they are better when the temperature doesn’t drop below 0°.)
- 1 pair of warm slippers with soles for around the lodge
- 1 pair of flip flops – these are great for the aforementioned hot tubbing, as well as shared showers.
- Sunglasses – snow blindness is real.
- Foldable daypack. Something I never travel without. My current favorite is the Venture Pal Water Resistant Travel daypack that zips into itself.
Do you have any other winter packing tips? Is there anything you won’t travel without?
Note: All brands mentioned in this post are my personal recommendations and have been tested/worn during my travels. I have not received any products in exchange for a mention, nor compensation for inclusion. As an Amazon Affiliate, I do receive commission on anything your purchase from these links.