How to Pack for a Winter Travel Destination

I am a believer in carry-on only traveling but on my recent trip to a snowy winter destination, I found myself struggling to fit all of the things that I needed into my small suitcase.

Packing for any trip can be a stressful experience, but winter destinations like Finland or Colorado, can be even more challenging to pack for, thanks to the bulkier and heavier items that are required to manage cold temperatures.

My recent trip to Finland, Denmark and Estonia was my first international winter travel destination. I spent hours researching what to pack and packing tips for this trip was a learning experience for me! Even though I am from a winter climate, traveling in winter is a totally different experience. Temperatures in Finland are regularly below freezing so good packing is the key to being comfortable throughout your trip.

In the process of packing for Finland, here is what I learned about preparing for a winter travel destination and my suggested packing list!

Plan on Packing Lots of Layers

One of the easiest ways to make the most of your limited packing space is to pack a lot of clothing layers so you can adjust to warmer or colder temperature changes as needed. This is especially important for itineraries that involve a variety of destinations, because you never know when a cold or warm spell might come through and alter your clothing needs.

Bringing a very warm outer layer will ensure that you can wear a variety of other layers underneath without being chilled to the bone. My winter coat is a heavy-duty wind poof North Face jacket that I use to bear the winters in Chicago, which was the ideal outer layer to bring to a destination like Finland.

When intentionally packing clothing layers, I like to lay out a few outfit options prior to putting them in the bag to make sure that I can have a variety of outfit combinations and the colors work together rather than clash. 

A mix of patterns, lengths and options is key for layering.  As a travel blogger, I like to make sure that my outfits will pop in my photos! I do the same thing when I pack for warm weather trips too.   

Wear Your Heaviest Items on the Plane

To help save room in your suitcase, I would recommend wearing all of your heaviest items on the plane as layers. This allows you to fit more clothes and toiletries in your suitcase while still guaranteeing that you have a sufficient amount of warm clothing.

For my flight, I wore my North Face winter coat, my Sorel winter boots, my thickest winter sweater (which was also a vintage Norwegian ski sweater!) and my heaviest jeans. Under my sweater I wore a long-sleeve shirt in case I got too warm on the plane and needed to remove a layer. Stow your winter jacket in the baggage cabin above or you can use it as a fairly comfortable pillow to sleep during the flight.

Notice the heavy sweater over a dress (and over a t-shirt) and jeans with a layer of tights underneath. I also had a scarf and my coat nearby—wearing all my layers on the plane!

Bring Versatile Shoes

Lots of winter shoes, like heavy snow boots or leather riding boots, are big and bulky making them difficult to pack. Usually having at least one pair is necessary, especially if you plan on visiting very arctic regions such as Lapland, so you need to find a way to bring them. I suggest wearing them on the plane or you can tie them to the outside of your backpack if you prefer not to wear them. 

However winter boots aren’t ideal for all activities—you might not want to walk around cities or going out for dinner in them. It is important to have alternative shoes available for your trip. The one or two other shoes you bring should be more versatile, including a pair of comfortable walking shoes and perhaps a pair of boots or dress shoes depending on your itinerary.

My Winter Destination Packing List

Regardless of which winter destination you are planning for, this winter-appropriate packing list will help get you on the right track to packing all of the necessary items. If you are planning for winter downhill or cross-country skiing trip, I have written a more specific ski packing list which includes the necessary ski equipment


Notes on Packing List Items

1 Heavy Winter Coat Should be water/wind resistant with thick lining. North Face, Canada Goose or Patagonia offer good options.
1 Heavy Sweater Wool is ideal for warmth, but blended materials are also fine as long as it is thick and warm.
1 Light Sweater Cashmere or fleece sweaters are great for layering if the temperatures aren’t as cold.
1 Cardigan  Ideal for layering or throwing on over a shirt if temperatures change rapidly. Can also be appropriate for day-to-night transition.
3-5 Long Sleeve Shirts Can be a variety of types. It is typically good idea to include one moisture wicking shirt if you are doing physical activity outside such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
2-4 Short Sleeve Shirts Easily layered under sweaters or cardigans, these are great for the end of the day when you will be inside or as loungewear.
2 Pairs of Pants Ideally 1 pair of jeans and 1 pair of other pants.
1 Pair of Leggings Sweat wicking is best if you plan to do outdoor winter sports, otherwise standard layerable leggings are fine.
1 Pair of Tights/Long Johns Can be worn under dresses or skirts for women, or layered under pants for extra warmth.
1 Winter Hat  Make sure you like it—it will be in lots of your photos!
1 Set of Winter Gloves These will likely stay on your hands all day as you explore your destination. Should be tech friendly in case you need to check your phone or camera.
1 Scarf Helps keep body temperature up and can be a nice pop of color!
5-7 Pairs of Socks SO important that they are warm and comfortable. I prefer wool blend socks that are walking appropriate.
Underwear  I always bring as many pairs of underwear as days I will be traveling in case I don’t get a chance to do laundry (nothing is worse than wearing dirty underwear….)
1 Pair Heavy Winter Boots As mentioned above, these are necessary for arctic climates. I personally love my Sorels!
1 Pair Walking Shoes Snow & rain conditions may damage your shoes from salt or sand put out to melt snow, so make sure these are shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. Or, treat leather shoes with winterizer protection prior to your trip.
1 Pair of Light Boots These can be lace up boots, short heeled boots or something that comes over your ankle as an alternative to your heavy winter boots. These are also great for going out at night as they tend to be more stylish.
1 Pair of Sunglasses The sun glare off snow can get pretty intense, so make sure to bring something to help your eyes adjust
1 Swimsuit A must-bring for your visit to the sauna or hotel hot tub! Nothing better at the end of a long, cold day :)

Did I forget any items that you’ve brought on winter trips? Comment below with your suggestions!

Packing for any trip can be a stressful experience, but winter destinations like Finland or Colorado, can be even more challenging to pack for, thanks to the bulkier and heavier items that are required to manage cold temperatures. n the process of packing for Finland, here is what I learned about preparing for a winter travel destination and my suggested packing list!


Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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