If you read travel publications and trawl the web for packing tips, you can find millions of words of sometimes commonsensical, sometimes scolding, and generally somewhat vague advice on how to pack for a winter vacation. Don’t pack too much stuff, dress in layers, pack a hat and gloves—but you know all that stuff already.
To help convert general packing advice into a usable packing list, I have some tricks you can use to help figure out where to start. We’re not talking about packing for a ski trip—that is its own special challenge—but most travelers should find these winter travel packing tactics simple, straightforward, and useful for a more general vacation.
Hats—the Secret to Staying Warm
Back when I used to go to concerts that weren’t scheduled on Saturday mornings at 11:00 a.m., I went to a lot of concerts, year-round, mostly in the northeastern U.S. Wearing bulky clothes into a music bar, concert hall, or jazz club isn’t that different than doing the same on an airplane. I learned that a light fleece and a warm hat were all I needed to get from car to club, through the line, and back again without freezing on a city street in February—the same goes for sprints through airports, short walks for breakfast in the morning cold, and more. If you don’t want to freeze your bum off, wear a good hat.
Requirements for a good travel hat:
- Covers your ears
- At least partly covers the back of your neck
- Has no flaps, fluffballs, or other wasted mass
- Is made of thin, modern materials for maximum warmth
Shoes—Your One Heavy Item
Given that your feet are on the front line of most weather you will encounter, this is the one area that I recommend you be unafraid to go big. A solid, decent-looking pair of low-frills winter boots that you wear right onto the airplane will come through for you again and again during a winter trip.
Requirements for good winter travel shoes:
- Weatherproof—Gore-Tex gear can be pretty styling these days
- Light on lacing—you still need to get through security, so a pair of shoes or boots that can be worn loosely and don’t require a lot of tying and untying will help
- Dark, so they won’t show stains from mud, slush, or getting thrown on filthy security belts
Gloves—Thin, Light, Breathable, and Waterproof
The days of massive mittens and wool gloves are gone, at least for smart travelers; you can get a great pair of warm, waterproof, yet very thin gloves that weigh only a few ounces and take up only a few square inches of your luggage. The breathability makes them wearable across a wide temperature range, the waterproofing makes them useful in the worst weather, and the tight packaging makes them very low impact both when packing and when carrying them around.
Requirements for travel gloves:
- Extremely light and low bulk
- Have some type of grip
Clothing—Morning Paper Trick for Layering Up
Almost every collection of tips on how to dress/pack/stay warm/etc. in winter includes advice to dress in layers—which sounds great, but how do you go about it? Where do you start, and where do you stop? Without a plan, you could layer yourself up until you look like the Michelin man. To get a handle on how to pick and choose from the clothes you already own, try this trick.