How to lighten your load for winter travel
We’ve given you lots of tips on how to pack light for different vacations, but one of the most common questions we get asked is, “How do you pack for a winter trip?’
I’ll admit that it’s not so easy to pack light for a cold trip where you need multiple layers to keep you warm. It’s easy when you’re wearing bikinis and sundresses every day, but it gets even harder when you need chunky boots, cozy jumpers, and thick layers!
But is it possible? Can you pack light for a winter trip?
Of course you can! And I’m here to show you how it’s done.
- You need the warmest possible thermal base layer
- and a super warm coat
- Then you can fill it with thin, light fabric for the costume
Packing for winter travel with just carry on luggage
I usually only travel with the “free” under-seat luggage provided by low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet. This is a small personal bag (I use The Travel Hack Backpack). Most people think that you cannot put a lot of things in such a bag, but in fact you can!
If I have more luggage, I bring the Travel Hack Pro Cabin Case, which I can bring on board as a carry-on. In this example, I packed 12 warm, cozy, and stylish pieces of clothing inside this suitcase (with room for all the extra items!)
Last winter, I took four trips to cold vacation destinations using only the Travel Hack Backpack and was able to store everything perfectly.
Here’s how I pack for a winter trip…
Packing for winter top tips
Start with a warm base layer/ thermals / long underwear
Base layers are the key to packing light for winter travel. Thermal, base layer, long underwear, whatever you want to call it.
Thermal baselayers are essential for cold weather trips as they don’t take up much space in your luggage but keep you super warm!
flesh colored free tights
I like wearing skin-colored free tights. You may have seen it before as it becomes a hot topic on social media every winter. They look like opaque tights, but they are actually thick and fluffy. Perfect to wear under dresses and skirts. They pack smaller and lighter than bulky jeans or other warm pants. These are perfect if you want to wear cute or stylish clothes and not look too “outdoors” throughout your winter trip.
The thermal top can then be worn as a top base layer. The type of thermal top you choose is a personal preference and depends on your outfit. If possible, opt for long-sleeved thermal tops with scoop necks. It has a scoop neck so it won’t show under my “real tops” and it’s warmer with long sleeves, but that’s not always possible if you’re wearing something with short sleeves.
I have one scoop neck thermal top and several short sleeve thermal vests.
If it’s really cold, wear both thermal tops together. In most of these photos, he is wearing two thermal tops. I only have one thermal top for my short-sleeved outfits.
No matter what you wear over this warm base layer, you’ll be so warm!
Skirts, dresses, thin pants, and other clothes that you would wear in spring or fall won’t take up much space in your luggage.
The thermals I recommend…
Marks & Spencer’s Heatgen Plus thermal range is my absolute favorite. Not only are their thermals super warm and comfortable to wear, they’re also very thin so they don’t add much bulk when worn under other clothing. It’s also a very good price for the quality and I think it’s just as good as the more expensive outdoor brands.
This fleece-lined thermal top from M&S is a dream.
Same goes for fleece-lined thermal leggings!
Choose a great winter coat
The next step is to make sure you have a coat that is really warm and preferably waterproof. I have a mid-length down coat from Arket (a little pricey, but I think I’ll be wearing it for years!)
Personally, I’d rather travel in one warm coat than multiple layers.
Now is NOT the time for lots of layers
As long as you have one really warm thermal layer, it doesn’t matter what you wear over it!
If you want to pack light for a winter trip, there’s no need to pack too many layers!
Other online guides to packing for winter trips recommend bringing lots of jumpers so you can layer. Yes, in theory this is a great idea, but I don’t really like doing this (especially if you want to pack light:
- You will have to pack more clothes, which will take up more space in your luggage
- When I go from a cold outside to a warm room, I suddenly break out in a sweat and have to take off 4 layers of my jumper!
It’s much easier to just have one really warm coat and one warm base layer.
Suggestions for warm coats…
I have a new winter coat and I love it.
This is a mid-length down coat from Arket that is super cozy and warm and goes with almost everything I wear. I also like that it has a zippered pocket on the inside. It’s perfect for city holidays as it keeps your passport and money safe.
For lots of heated jacket options, we have a great post on the best heated jackets for women.
Other brands that regularly release gorgeous, yet warm and practical winter coats include:
- Super Dry
- jack wolfskin
Don’t skimp on this coat. Make sure it’s a good one that’s very warm and waterproof.
Keep your feet warm with quality boots and merino wool socks
Nothing can ruin a winter day like cold, wet feet.
If you’re exploring a new destination and your feet are cold and wet, you’re going to have a terrible time.
Invest in warm, waterproof boots and you’ll thank yourself for years to come.
I have Emu’s Okab boots, which they only sell with heels at the moment, but they’re great.
Emu has great waterproof winter boots. Or shop Dr Martens for his current 90s trend. My eyes were drawn to the one covered with fluffy sheepskin. It looks very comfortable!
You can also pair it with boots and merino wool socks they are the best! If you haven’t tried merino wool socks yet, go ahead and buy a pair and thank me later. It may seem quite expensive, but I have had two pairs of the same pair for about 10 years!
I also have some cheap thermal socks that I bought on Amazon a few weeks ago. They’re a bargain at £12 for a pack of 5, and they’re super soft and comfortable!
Add a cute hat
If you can find a cute and warm hat in your little case that goes with any outfit, you’re a winner.
The warmest hat I own is an alpaca wool beanie from Arket. For extra warmth, choose a fleece-lined beanie.
And a scarf
Scarves are useful because you can choose a stylish scarf to dress up your outfit, but you can also wrap it around your neck or face to keep you even warmer.
If you want to be totally practical, something like a fleece-lined snood will be the warmest.
However, if you’re looking for style and warmth, something like a large cashmere scarf is the way to go.
Really warm gloves
Generally, I think the warmest gloves are the ones that are snug-fitting leather.
I have small hands and it’s very difficult to find gloves that fit, so I ordered a bunch on Amazon so I could easily return gloves that didn’t fit.
What outfits should you pack for winter travel?
As long as you have a warm base layer and warm outerwear, you can wear almost anything you want. This is really useful if you want to pack light for a winter trip. Because all you have to do is add some light clothing that doesn’t take up much space in your case.
Packing list for cold weather
Here is a quick packing list for cold weather travel:
- Fleece-lined tights
- Thermal top (long sleeves are required if it doesn’t interfere with too many clothes)
- warmest possible coat
- warm waterproof boots
- cozy hat
- A simple outfit that can be layered over tights or thermal tops
What else should I pack for cold weather?
Besides clothes, is there anything else I should bring to protect against the cold?
If you need to get cold and sunny (especially if you’re going to the mountains, such as on a ski trip), you’ll also need sunscreen for your eyes and skin.
- Lip balm
You might also consider bringing an umbrella if you’re likely to get wet.
Should you use packing cubes to help pack for cold weather trips?
If you’re short on space in your luggage or just want to keep your bag organized, we highly recommend using packing cubes.
I love packing cubes!
It will help you stay organized while you’re packing and once you’ve arrived at your destination. You can also save space in your luggage by getting a clever compression cube.
You can also use vacuum bags to further compress your luggage. It may leave some wrinkles on your clothes, but it will save you a lot of space in your luggage.
Do packing cubes save space?
Use vacuum packs for travel
Can I really pack all my winter clothes in a carry on!?
If you’re thinking, “No, winter clothes are too big and bulky to carry on a plane!” then you need to read my guide to packing only a carry-on.
How to travel with only a small carry-on bag
The other factor you really need to keep in mind is what I said above about having a warm base layer and wearing light clothing over that. If you have thick fleece tights, a merino wool thermal top, warm boots and a good coat, you can easily get away with a light, sheer dress. All of these outfits take up very little space in your carry-on.
I have all 12 of these warm, cozy clothes in The Travel Hack Cabin Case, and there’s still room in the top compartment for all my toiletries, underwear, and other small items. There’s also a laptop pocket to store your laptop, tablet, and documents.
travel hack pro cabin case
flesh colored free tights
m&s fleece lined thermal top
fleece lined thermal leggings
Arket mid-length down coat
Emu’s Okab boots
cheap thermal socks on amazon
arket alpaca wool beanie hat
oversized cashmere scarf