Traveling to a cold weather destination can be challenging. You are looking forward to the winter wonderland snow brings but don’t have room in your luggage for heavy coats and a bunch of warm sweaters. But don’t worry, you can still travel light if you plan your packing around layers. Investing in a few warm layers will have you ready for a long weekend of skating in NYC’s Rockefeller Center or enjoying a winter trip to a ski resort. Our winter packing list will make packing for the snow easy and efficient.
Winter Weather Challenges
- Weather conditions can change dramatically from day to day, especially in the Northeast. You may arrive to balmy weather and wake the next day to rain or a wind chill below 0° F. Check the weather forecast before you leave home, but don’t count on complete accuracy.
- No matter how cold it is outside, restaurants, shops, and lodges will be toasty warm. The cozy sweaters you’ll enjoy walking Fifth Avenue will be way too hot when you stop for lunch.
- With snow and sunshine comes slush. Wet feet can ruin your day so be prepared with waterproof shoes with a non-skid footbed.
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What to Pack for Your Next Winter Weather Trip
Learning to layer your clothing might be the best secret shared by top travelers. If you plan right, you can enjoy cold weather travel without a suitcase full of heavy clothing. Invest in a base layer of merino wool, or technical fabric, to add warmth to any outfit. Add a packable puffer coat, a wool hat, scarf, and gloves, and you’re all set.
Best part of layering is the ability to remove layers once you’re inside. Stopping for lunch in a cozy tavern is a lot more comfortable when you can ditch the outer layers!
Packing for the Snow Essentials
Merino Wool Base Layers
Base layers are the first step towards winter warmth. Fortunately for us, the unflattering long underwear of years ago has been replaced with attractive tops and leggings that can be worn alone on warmer days.
I always travel with an Icebreaker base layer top and recently had the opportunity to try Wool& Summit leggings. These are the most comfortable merino wool leggings (with pockets!) I’ve found to date. They’re high waisted and opaque so perfect to wear with a tunic on travel days.
Merino Wool Mid-layer
A full zip midlayer like the merino wool sweaters from Smartwool, or the cozy Charlie 1/4 zip from Woolx, will be perfect for layering under your waterproof outer layer but will also look great in the ski lodge.
Packable Puff Jacket
For a quick trip to a winter weather destination, you can get away with a packable puffer jacket over your layers. Stash the jacket in your carry-on and take it out before leaving the airport.
My L,L, Bean packable down jacket (similar shown) is the jacket I reach for all the time.
3-in-1 Jackets and Winter Coats
For outdoor winter sports, a Patagonia 3-in-1 jacket is a great investment. An insulated puff jacket zips into a waterproof shell to make the ultimate winter weather jacket. Or wear either piece separately! City visitors might prefer the longer length 3-in-1 winter coat (pictured).
🌿Made from recycled polyester and Fair Trade certified.
Too expensive for a rare winter getaway? Check out these more affordable 3-in-1 jackets on Amazon.
Merino Wool Accessories
- Choose gloves with a touch screen fingertip so you won’t have to be pulling them on and off when you need your phone.
- Your neck gaiter (neck warmer or turtle) can be pulled up over your nose for extra wind protection. But if you don’t anticipate a lot of outdoor activities, you can pack a warm scarf instead.
Warm Merino Socks
Wearing merino wool socks is one of the best ways to keep warm on a winter getaway. AND you’ll only need two pairs as they don’t retain odors. I alternated two pairs of Smartwool’s warm socks on a week-long bike trip without doing laundry!
If you’ll be skiing or snowboarding, packing a pair of longer wool ski socks will keep you warm and comfortable under your boots.
Big City Snow Holiday: a New York Packing List for Winter
Cities become winter wonderlands during the holiday season. We live in Boston and have family in both Chicago and New York City. I love to visit these amazing cities in the winter. It’s the perfect time for museum visits and cozy afternoon teas. But I nearly froze when visiting Chicago on one of its coldest days. There is nothing like the wind tunnels created when the cold air off Lake Michigan (or the East River in NYC) is funneled between the city buildings. There’s an art to enjoying the winter months in these cities!
For purposes of simplicity, in this post we’ll focus on the Big Apple, New York City. You’ll experience similar weather conditions in most northern cities.
If you’re visiting NYC in the winter months, you’re probably hoping to see a Broadway show, do some shopping, and enjoy New York’s wonderful museums. And don’t skip Central Park. You’ll discover how real New Yorkers live when you see kids sledding and families building snowmen on the Great Lawn. All wonderful and fun IF you’re prepared.
In January New York City’s average temperatures are a high of 39°F and a low of 26°F. Add to that the wind chill factor and you can expect very cold days. Your best defense against the winter chill is a warm scarf, gloves, and a longer winter coat for wind protection. (Your usual short puffer jacket will not cut it against the city wind tunnels.) Add a hat and waterproof shoes or boots and you’re good to go.
A simple wardrobe will be fine once you’re indoors. Consult the winter capsule list below for a detailed list.
Ultimate Ski Trip Packing List
One perk of living in Boston is having so many winter destinations within a few hours’ drive. We can ski the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire or enjoy a cozy winter getaway in Massachusetts’ Berkshires. But even if we stay home and enjoy a day sledding, snowshoeing, or building snow structures, New Englanders know how to pack for the snow.
Snow and ski gear
- Skis, snowboard, poles, boots, etc. (can be rented locally if you don’t have your own)
- Ski helmet
- Goggles (make sure these off some sun protection)
- Waterproof ski jackets
- Snow boots
- Snow pants, waterproof
- Hand warmers – great for the chair lift on extra chilly days
At the Lodge
Once the day on the mountain is done you’ve earned a cozy evening in the ski lodge. Warm sweaters, and fleece lined leggings are the go-to après ski attire in most ski resorts, but feel free to bring along a nicer outfit if you’d like. And don’t forget a swimsuit and cover-up for the lodge’s hot tub. Consult the winter capsule list below for a detailed packing list.
On Every Packing List
Clothing for snowy destinations
Create a capsule wardrobe -A capsule travel wardrobe is a small collection of clothing that travels well and combines to create many different outfits. By curating your travel clothing into a capsule wardrobe you’ve created a base for your trip. You can add more items, but if you’ve planned well, you don’t need to.
- Base layer – at minimum one base layer long-sleeved top, but pack extra layers if you’ll be doing a lot of outdoor sports.
- 3-6 pairs of socks – Pack fewer by packing merino wool.
- 5 tops – a turtle neck long-sleeved top will add some extra warmth. I’ve invested in a cozy merino tunic dress which I can wear as a mid layer outdoors AND with leggings for dinners.
- 2-3 bottoms – fleece-lined leggings are a great option for under business clothes.
- Sweaters – a lightweight sweater for wearing indoors and a denser one as a middle layer for under your jacket.
- Large warm scarf or shawl
- 1 pair of shoes, 1 pair of boots (preferably waterproof)
- [optional] Swimsuit
- [optional] skirt or dress (or do like me and pack a merino wool tunic dress!)
- [optional] workout clothing
Essential items and optional travel gear
- ID, driver’s license, or passport
- Credit cards
- Tickets, itineraries, etc.
- Prescription medications
- Small amount of cash
- Pen and notebook
- Cell phone and charger
- Tablet and/or eReader and charger
- Earbuds (noise canceling if flying)
- Portable charger
- Toiletries including lip balm
- Mini first aid kit
- Reusable water bottle
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Wet wipes, tissues
Packing for the Snow Travel Tips
If you’re traveling with skis, snowboards, or other winter sports equipment you’ll need to check them to your destination. Save space in your luggage by stashing gloves, hats, etc., in your ski bag. If you’ve packed efficiently, you might be able to fit the rest of your things in your carry-on and airline personal item.
Wear your heavy clothing on the flight – Always wear your heaviest shoes/boots on the flight and any bulky clothing you’re bringing. Carry your outerwear onboard. You can stow these outer layers under the seat in front of you for the flight.
Packing cubes – as always, these are great for saving space and keeping you organized. I use compression cubes to minimize the space my bulkiest winter gear takes up. Amazing how small a down vest is when it’s compressed!
I rarely travel with a pair of jeans, as they are heavy and slow to dry. If you want to bring jeans, wear them on the flight.
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