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How to Pack for a Cold, Windy Destination

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By Laura Newcomer on June 7, 2021 in Travel

Whether you're packing for a long weekend or a 10-day excursion, stuffing a suitcase with cold-weather essentials can be a challenging ordeal. Warm clothing tends to be bulky, and it’s hard to know exactly what to pack. Given airplane luggage restrictions, shoving your entire closet into a bag won’t cut it.

Luckily, a little planning goes a long way. Here's how to make smart packing choices that will help you stay warm and comfortable at any cold, windy destination.

How to Pack for a Cold, Windy Destination

Use these packing tips to maximize suitcase space and ensure you stay comfortable once you’ve reached a chilly locale.

Start with base layers that wick moisture

One of the challenges with dressing for cold weather is that your body temperature fluctuates as you move between indoors and outdoors, and when you exert yourself or rest. That’s where layering comes in — so you can peel off layers one at a time if you get hot and pile them back on when you’re chilly.

If you plan to be out and about, it's helpful to start with a base layer(s) made from moisture-wicking fabrics that won't trap sweat and lead to chills. Wool (or a wool mix) will keep you warm but not sweaty; look for smooth merino wool options if you're worried the material will feel scratchy. Avoid cotton as it soaks up moisture and doesn't dry quickly, which can lead to hypothermia in extreme conditions.

As you select your base layers, aim for a snug fit so the material touches your skin all over and can effectively wick moisture from your skin. It’s a good idea to select the weight depending on the extremity of the cold you'll be exposed to: Choose heavyweight base layers for sub-freezing temps and low activity and lighter-weight options for milder temps and/or higher activity levels.

Next, pack middle insulating layers

Layering an insulating layer(s) over a base layer will ensure your core stays warm without getting sweaty. Fleece layers work well for this task since they're warm and cozy and tend to layer well over thinner base layers. Merino wool sweaters make for another great option; they're lightweight and warm and can layer easily. A thin, puffy jacket that fits under a shell could also work, particularly if you anticipate exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Don't neglect your bottom half — fleece tights or leggings will do the trick.

Finish off the layering system with an outer shell

To top off your layering system, bring along a shell that's windproof and waterproof (or at least water resistant). This layer seals in the warmth generated by your base and insulating layers. Choose a jacket with a high warmth-to-weight ratio so you can stay warm without feeling burdened — and so you don’t have to juggle a bulky jacket in the airport. (Accurately identifying warmth-to-weight ratio can be tricky; check out this guide to inform your search.) Consider shell pants as well as a jacket so your lower half stays toasty, too.

Pack gloves and a hat in your coat pockets and wear your coat

One of the hardest parts about packing for a chilly destination? Cold-weather clothing tends to be bulky. You can save tons of room in your suitcase by wearing your coat instead of stuffing it into a checked bag or carry-on. Save even more space by tucking gloves and a hat into the coat's pockets so you can fit other layers and accessories into your luggage. Be mindful of taking up precious overhead storage space with your jacket; it’s probably best to wear your coat on the plane and sit with it underneath you or over your lap until all passengers have boarded. Then, if there’s still room overhead, go ahead and stuff your jacket into a nearby storage bin (or use it as a blanket if the plane gets chilly).

While selecting a hat, look for a wool or synthetic beanie that's designed to wick moisture and features some insulation (such as fleece) on the inside. Pack gloves with a waterproof outer shell and an insulating material on the inside. If you'll be in extreme cold, opt for mittens over gloves since they allow fingers to feed off each other's warmth.

Give some thought to your socks

Socks may not occupy much of your headspace on a normal day, but give them your attention while packing for a cold, windy destination. Bring along thinner wool socks, which won't take up much suitcase space. You can hand-wash them every few days, and they'll dry quickly. Plan to layer a second pair of socks over a base layer of wool socks so you can re-wear the top layer without having to wash them. Again, avoid cotton as this material traps moisture and can lead to chills. Better options include IsoWool, shearling, fleece, or other synthetic materials that are designed to wick moisture.

Wear your boots on the plane

Like a winter jacket, boots are bulky and take up tons of real estate in a suitcase, so pack them on your feet instead! If you're worried about hassles at the airport, consider boots without laces so you don't hold up security lines. Look for waterproof, insulated boots that offer traction so you can keep your footing on snow or ice. Make sure these boots are comfortable and at least slightly broken in before you depart to prevent painful blisters.

Remember sun protection

Many of us associate the need for sun protection with warm-weather destinations such as the beach. However, sun damage should be top of mind in any locale. In fact, sunlight reflecting off snow can tax eyes and burn skin. To protect yourself from the sun, pack sunscreen, a pair of polarized sunglasses, and lip balm that contains sunscreen. While you're at it, bring along some moisturizer to soothe sunburned or wind-chapped skin.


By layering strategically, choosing fabrics carefully, and wearing your bulkiest items onto the plane, you can show up to any cold, windy destination properly outfitted for indoor and outdoor activities. Bonus? You’ll do it without having to pay for multiple checked bags.

Laura Newcomer is a consultant for Say Insurance. She is a writer, editor, and educator with multiple years of experience working in the environmental and personal wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura now lives and works in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. An avid outdoorswoman, she can often be found hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and tending to her garden.