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5 Winter Travel Essentials: Must-Have Items For Cold Weather Travel
As a person who is miserable being cold, it’s crazy how much winter travel I’ve ended up doing over the years. And that’s because I learned early on which winter travel essentials were going to keep me warm and toasty.
So here are five items that need to be on your cold weather clothes list, the starting point for every amazing winter vacation. Mind, it’s not literally everything you’ll need (I have links to fully comprehensive winter packing lists at the end), but you definitely need to start here!
I’m focused more on a cold weather clothes list here, from looking cute in the bone-chilling wind that whips down Chicago’s riverfront, to tramping through two feet of snow in Norway’s Arctic Circle.
These five items are a critical starting point for your winter vacation packing list, and then you can complement with additional items based on your final destination.
#1 – Fleece-lined leggings
I first discovered fleece-lined leggings preparing for my first winter trip to the Arctic Circle, and immediately fell in love. In super cold places where I’d be trudging through snow (like Tromso), I layered them under windproof or waterproof pants for warmth. For more of a cold, rainy, windy urban exploration (like Bergen in winter), I often wore them with a sweater and booties, and then my big coat over it.
But they’re not ONLY for super hardcore winter travel. They’ve actually become a cold weather staple in many areas of my life. I use them for my walks and runs throughout the fall and winter, and they come on almost every trip that will bring chilly or legit cold—from Chicago to Lisbon to Prague.
They’re also pretty lightweight and have synthetic materials so they pack easily, don’t take up too much space, and dry quickly even when they get wet. I have a more detailed post about fleece-lined leggings, why I prefer them to merino wool, and which ones are my favorite, if you’re interested.
This pair is my go-to for more everyday travel and life, from walking around cities to being on a boat in the middle of winter in Norway.
For hiking, running, and other active pursuits, this pair is a total staple, one I use almost every day during winter even when I’m not traveling. You can see from the pic that they feel a bit more activewear vs. super cute (mostly from the silver line that runs along the calf). I’ve taken them hiking in Iceland, on a Northern Lights excursion, and running in the snow in downtown Chicago.
#2 – A good coat (that’s appropriate to the weather)
What’s appropriate is going to depend on where you are and the conditions. For legit winter travel—like Arctic, Toronto during the Polar Vortex, etc.—I have what I affectionately call my “Norway coat”, which is this Helly Hansen that is AMAZING (you can find it directly on the HH site too).
I have it in bright red (though this burgundy is gorgeous), and it’s kept me warm for years on all manner of adventures, from Northern Light hunting in the Arctic Circle to a winter Norwegian fjord boat trip. I recommend it unreservedly! I’ve talked about it more in-depth in this Arctic packing list post.
For cold weather that’s not quite as intense, but also that maybe brings wetter precip (rain, especially) with wind, this North Face Thermoball Triclimate coat/jacket is a great multi-purpose option. It has both a puffy layer and a waterproof layer over that, giving you flexibility depending on the weather. It ways very little and doesn’t take up much space when packing.
This coat is perfect for Iceland in spring/summer/fall, lower Norway in winter, most urban winter destinations, and a lot more. And again, it comes in a number of colors though apparently I’m enamored of this “cabernet” color right now…
#3 – Merino wool (or silk) thermal tops
For REAL cold weather travel, good merino wool thermals are non-negotiable (this one is a bit heavier-weight, while this one is lighter). What I’ve found through trial and error, though, is that having really good merino wool versions was much more important for my top vs. bottom (where fleece-lined worked about as well and was more cost-effective).
Stylistically these aren’t my favorite thing to wear—I hate high necklines and wool tends to make me itch and irritates my skin. Thankfully high-quality merino wool doesn’t make me itch as much, and these have become a total staple in my cold weather packing wardrobe!
They’re lightweight, layer well, and I’ve worn one of them for three days/nights straight and it never got gross or stinky. They keep warmth in and wick away any sweat or other moisture so it doesn’t become an issue.
#4 – Merino wool neck gaiter
A neck gaiter (pronounced like alligator), or neck warmer, is a tube of fabric that you can pull over your head and sits loosely (and kind of scrunched up) on your neck. It can be worn around the neck to protect the neck and upper chest area (like a looser top of a turtleneck), or can be pulled up over the mouth and/or nose for extra protection from the cold (a bit like a ski mask).
I’ve got a deeper post on neck gaiters and what you’re looking for, the best fabrics, etc., so check that out. This is hands-down my favorite neck gaiter, from a brand I trust and use for many merino wool items.
It’s completely made from merino wool, which is lightweight, breathes well (doesn’t trap moisture), keeps warmth in, and is soft and comfortable. It’s not bulky, is easy to care for (machine washable!) and I’ve had mine for years and it still looks brand-new. I run in this in the winter, so don’t only use it for travel.
#5 – Warm but not bulky touchscreen gloves
I accidentally discovered these merino wool Icebreakers a while back and they’re my everyday cold weather running gloves back home. They’re fairly thin, so you can still use your hands well, including quite impressive touchscreen technology for using a phone or other touchscreen device.
You can get them directly from Icebreakers here since they often go in and out of stock on Amazon (and the price is consistently good on Icebreakers website).
Now don’t get me wrong, these gloves may not be ALL you ever need (they’re thin, so you may need a pair of mittens on top at times), but for using a phone, camera, etc. and not losing fingers to frostbite, they’re awesome. I wear them running in the winter at home all the time as well.
Bonus item that’s NOT clothing: An external battery
This always gets forgotten, so want to mention here…cold weather is a super drain on your batteries (whether phone, camera, etc.). An external battery charger is a must on any winter travel packing list, and this specific Anker one is the best I’ve found after a lot of trial and error.
It’s compact and light, charges things very quickly, and allows you to charge two devices at once. I actually have it with me 24/7 even outside of travel, for when my phone battery decides to give up the ghost midday.
This has saved my bacon multiple times on trips, as using your phone camera all the time really drains the battery and cold temps exacerbate that.
Of course these five (okay, six) items aren’t the only things that should be on your cold weather packing list, but they form a solid foundation for any winter trip.
- If you’re planning a super hardcore winter trip (e.g. Arctic Circle, Northern Lights, etc.) then I’ve got the ultimate Arctic packing guide for you.
- If it’s more of a normal cold (most cities in winter, places like Iceland in spring/summer/fall, etc.), then this packing guide has got your back.
- If you’re going somewhere cold but also more on the windy/rainy side, my Bergen in winter list is a helpful place to start.
The great thing about these winter travel essentials is that they make great investments—for the most part they’re high-quality items that will last you YEARS.
And here are some cold weather trips to inspire you!
- Blown Away By Norway’s Fjords: Norway In A Nutshell Tour In Winter
- Hiking Iceland’s Stunning Sólheimajökull Glacier
- 3 Days In Tromsø, Norway…During Polar Night
- Hiking The Hooker Valley Track On New Zealand’s South Island
- Sleeping in a Norwegian Sami Tent & Other Arctic Adventures at Camp Tamok
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