Packing for cold weather travels can be tricky, especially when you want to fit everything in just a piece of carry on luggage. However, when done right, you can fit about a week's worth of base layers and cold-weather clothing into a small suitcase or bag. Pick essential basic pieces that you can wear more than once and reuse with different outfits, then choose versatile warm clothing items that you can layer on top when you step out into the cold. Make sure to fold and pack items efficiently into your carry on, and soon enough you'll be on your way to your cold-weather vacation with everything you need!
Method 1 of 4:Selecting Top Layers to Bring
1Stick to a limited color palette and pick items that combine. Choose clothing in neutral colors like black, gray, and white as well as solid accent colors. Select items that mix and match well together.
For example, a solid black shirt will combine with way more outfits than a leopard print top.
2Select 2-3 versatile T-shirts for your top base layer. Choose 2-3 long-sleeved or short-sleeved T-shirts that you'll be comfortable wearing as a base layer most days. Pick T-shirts that have neutral colors and not too much going on in the way of writing or other graphics so they will combine with multiple different outfits.
You can wear each T-shirt at least twice before washing them, so 2-3 is enough to last you a week. You don't need to wash clothes as often when the weather is cold since you won't be sweating as much as you would in hot weather.
3Pack 1-2 nice shirts or tops for classy outfits. Select 1-2 button-up tops or blouses that you will enjoy wearing out to a fancy dinner or for a night out on the town. Choose tops that will go with the layers you plan to wear on top of them.
As with T-shirts, you can wear each of your nicer shirts or tops at least twice before washing them. If you think you'll only find yourself in a situation that calls for a nice shirt once or twice a week, you probably only need 1 button-up.
4Pick a lightweight but warm long-sleeved top for a second layer. Choose a thin sweater or a long-sleeved thermal shirt to wear on top of a T-shirt. This will give you an extra layer between your base layer and other warmer top layers when it's extra cold outside.
Something like a merino wool sweater is a good option that is warm but not bulky. Don't choose any chunky wool sweaters because they take up a lot of space.
5Take a zippable fleece top to layer on top of and underneath other layers. Zippable fleece tops are lightweight, warm, and versatile. Choose a fleece top to wear alone on top of your base layer when it's not too cold outside or layer underneath jackets when it's freezing.
Popular outdoor brands like The North Face, Patagonia, and Columbia make great zippable fleece tops for travel. If you don't already have a fleece top, you can check out ones from these brands to find something you like and that goes with your other clothes.
6Bring 1 lightweight, water-resistant or waterproof jacket in case it rains. Pack a thin shell or raincoat that you will be able to wear on top of your other non-waterproof layers when it's both cold and rainy outside. Make sure it fits on top of the other layers you are bringing.
If you don't have a thin water-resistant or waterproof jacket or you don't want to bring one, an alternative is a small foldable poncho. These take up very little room, but you can easily throw them on top of any other clothing you are wearing to keep you dry when it starts pouring all of a sudden.
7Choose 1 heavy winter coat to bring for a warm outer layer. Pick out your favorite heavy winter coat, such as a peacoat, down jacket, or parka. This won't go in your carry on, so don't worry about how big it is. Pick something that you will be comfortable and confident wearing on top of all the other clothes you are bringing.
This is the warmest item you are bringing and the one you will probably wear the most, so make sure it's a coat you love. You can wear it on top of just your base layer if it's not freezing outside, or layer up and put it on top of everything if you're in sub-zero temperatures.
An alternative to a heavy winter coat is a packable down jacket. These types of down jackets can be packed into a pocket of the jacket, so you can fit it in your carry on, and are very warm despite how small they are. They are also easy to layer on top of or underneath other items.
Method 2 of 4:Choosing Bottom Layers
1Pick 2 pairs of jeans or other pants for your bottoms. Take 2 pairs of jeans if jeans are your go-to pants. Take 1 pair of jeans and a pair of leggings or chinos if you want more variety.
If you will be doing any special activities, such as hiking, you can take 1 pair of hiking pants as one of your 2 pairs of pants.
If you are bringing a pair of chinos instead of jeans, choose a pair that is made from a thick fabric or corduroy. Thin chinos won't keep you warm in cold weather.
Tip: If you are going to be doing winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, you can rent clothing like ski pants for those activities. Don't try to pack your own winter sports clothing in a carry on because it is extremely bulky.
2Bring a week's worth of underwear. Pack 7 pairs of underwear so you have a fresh pair each day for a week. Plan to do laundry once a week if you will be gone for longer than a week.
Select the warmest underwear you have. For example, underwear that is made out of cotton rather than silky or lacy underwear that won't protect you against the cold at all.
3Pack thermal underwear if you will be outdoors in extremely cold temperatures. Take an additional pair of long underwear or leggings that you can wear underneath your pants for an extra layer of insulation. This is only necessary if you will be outside in sub-zero temperatures for extended periods of time or if you just can't handle the cold.
You can order thermal underwear and base layers online or buy them at outdoor supply stores.
4Choose 3-4 pairs of long, warm socks. Pick out 3-4 pairs of socks that reach at least up to your calves. Select the longest, thickest socks you have rather than thin dress socks or ankle socks.
These don't necessarily have to be winter socks like wool socks, but the thicker and longer they are, the more warmth and protection against the cold they will provide.
Method 3 of 4:Packing Shoes, Accessories, and Toiletries
1Take 1 pair of boots suited to the environment you'll be in. Choose 1 pair of either hiking boots, insulated boots, or other comfortable boots based on the type of walking around you will be doing and what the terrain is like. Check the weather for your destination to see if there is rain or snow and think about whether you will be walking around mostly in paved environments or in nature.
If you are going to be hiking, take a pair of hiking boots.
If you are going to be somewhere with snow and mud, some rubber boots with insulation are ideal.
If it's cold outside but you're just going to be walking around on city streets, and don't anticipate any snow or mud, something like desert boots or Doc Martens will work.
2Choose a second pair of shoes based on other activities you plan to do. Pick 1 pair of casual shoes, running shoes, or dressier shoes. Consider the activities you plan on doing the most and make sure the second pair of shoes you bring is suited to those activities or versatile.
For example, if you plan to go out to nice restaurants or bars, you might want a pair of black or brown leather shoes that match with your nice tops.
If you plan on going to a gym or going for runs, take some running shoes.
Converse or Vans are good versatile casual shoes that you can use to walk around in when it's not freezing out or that you can dress up with a nicer outfit.
3Add a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf for cold weather accessories. Choose a warm hat like a beanie, a set of lightweight wool gloves, and a warm scarf that isn't too bulky. Make sure they go with your winter coat and other items you plan to wear them with.
If you aren't sure what hat, scarf, and gloves to bring, just pick some that are a neutral color like black or gray. These will go with everything.
If you don't have these winter clothing items, you can always buy them when you get to your destination. You can usually even find most of these items at the airport when you get off the plane.
Tip: The kinds of gloves that are fingerless but have an attached mitten that you can put on and off to cover your fingertips are ideal. That way, you can uncover your fingers to use your phone or do something else without exposing your whole hands to the cold.
4Pack travel-sized, TSA-approved toiletries. Make sure any liquids you bring are no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 mL) so you are allowed to take them through airport security. Buy travel-sized solid toiletries, like a fold-up toothbrush and mini deodorant stick, to ensure they take up as little room as possible.Trustworthy SourceU.S. Transportation Security AdministrationU.S. government agency responsible for ensuring safety by setting and enforcing travel protocolsGo to source
You can purchase empty travel-sized bottles and containers for liquids, then squeeze things like shampoo and conditioner into them from larger bottles you have at home.
Make sure to take only the essentials. Remember you can get basic things like soap when you get to your destination, either from your hotel or other accommodations or at an inexpensive market.
5Bring important cold weather toiletries. Pack lip balm or petroleum jelly for your lips if they are prone to getting dry and cracked in the cold. Take hand lotion and body moisturizer for your skin if it tends to dry out in the cold. Remember sunscreen or makeup with SPF to prevent sunburns, especially if you will be spending a lot of time outdoors or doing something like skiing.
Other cold-weather toiletries you could consider are oil for your hair or beard and face cream.
Method 4 of 4:Maximizing Space in Your Carry on
1Wear the bulkiest clothing items to the airport to save space. Wear a pair of jeans, your biggest pair of shoes, and your heaviest jacket as part of your travel outfit. This will free up space in your carry on for the more packable items.
If you don't want to wear your heavy coat, or it's too hot where you are traveling from to do so, you can carry it in your arms while you travel and put it on when you land at your destination.
2Roll clothing up tightly so items stand up rather than lie flat. Fold items up into neat squares and rectangles as if you were going to put them in a drawer or your closet. Roll the folded clothing up into neat little bundles and place them standing next to each other.
Using this method ensures that the clothing items take up as little space as possible. The rolled items are easier to pack efficiently and you'll also be able to find and unpack items to wear more easily.
3Pack clothing into packing cubes or compression sacks to compress items. Put your folded and rolled clothing items into zippable packing cubes or compression sacks. Pack similar items together until each packing cube or compression sack is full, then close it, compress it, and put it in your carry on.
For example, pack all your T-shirts, nicer tops, and other top layers together in a single cube or sack. Put your jeans and other pants along with underwear and extra socks in another cube or sack.
If you don't have packing cubes or compression sacks, you could use large zip-top plastic bags instead. Make sure to squeeze out all the air and compress the items as much as possible before sealing the bags.
Put the packed clothing into your luggage before everything else, then you can fit everything else around it.
Tip: You can leave larger rolled items, such as a fleece or a rain jacket, out of the cubes or sacks and pack them in on top of or around everything else.
4Stuff socks inside your extra pair of shoes. Fit as many pairs of socks as you can inside your second pair of shoes that you will pack. This will ensure you're filling as much empty space inside your carry on as possible.
Try to fit your thickest socks inside the shoes first. For instance, if you have a pair of thick wool socks, put these in first. If there is any room left, then you can put more socks inside the shoes, or just pack the extra socks with other clothing items.
5Put your extra shoes inside a bag to separate them from other items. Place the shoes in a shoe bag or any other spare bag you have lying around. This will keep them from getting anything else in your suitcase dirty.
A shoe bag is a small, padded rectangular bag specifically designed to fit 1-2 pairs of shoes. You can use one of these or just use a shoe-sized packing cube or other bag that you are willing to dedicate to your shoes.
You can fit the bagged shoes on top of all the other clothing or squeeze them into any spaces at the top, bottom, or sides of the luggage.
6Split toiletries up into small bags so they fit into corners and small spaces. Place your toiletries in 2-3 small toiletry bags or other zip-top bags to organize the items. Squeeze these bags into the corners of your carry on, between other items, or lay them flat on top of everything at the end.
This is much more efficient than using 1 large toiletry bag or shaving kit to hold all your toiletries.
Try to group similar items together. For example, put your toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss in 1 bag. Put soap, shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant in another bag. Put any shaving supplies in another bag.