Traveling doesn’t have to be limited to summer or just to warm countries. There are many places with a cold climate that are worth visiting, for example Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavian Europe, or Northern Canada just to name a few. Though many of these places are cold even in summer seasons, visit those places in the winter for the ultimate experience. Many places look even more impressive and beautiful when covered in snow. To be comfortable and really enjoy your time, prepare by dressing appropriately.
When traveling to a cold country, the default is to take as much cold weather clothing with you as possible. This means your backpack can get pretty bulky pretty fast. While that is a good idea and it’s definitely important to have plenty of cold weather insulating layers, it’s much more important to pack smart instead of packing big. It’s really easy to over pack and overload your luggage, so what is really important is to have a few key pieces and build from there. Certain things you will only need to bring one of, and these are the things that will take up the most space. The key is to layer your clothing.
1. Start with the base layers
Under the weight of so many insulating layers, you may sweat when you transition from outdoor to indoor, and when the temperature or wind changes. So it’s important to have a good base layer that wicks moisture and directs it away from your skin and also dries fast.
The best fabric for this is merino wool, so we recommend taking at least a few long sleeve merino wool shirts along. These shirts also don’t retain any smells so you can wear them many times before washing. You can read more about choosing a base layer here.
2. A soft shell jacket or fleece
Next will be your mid-insulating layer. A soft shell jacket is best when you’re active and on the move but fleece works well too; fleece is simply warmer and doesn’t breathe as well. So if you have a tendency of overheating consider a soft shell jacket. A soft shell is less insulating but more breathable than fleece and also repels wind.
3. Hat and Gloves
Get a nice wool hat with a fleece lining. The fleece lining makes the hat really comfortable to wear and won’t feel scratchy on your forehead. Bring a couple of pairs of gloves, one thin pair that you can use for driving and handling things. The most comfortable are fleece or merino wool. Bring a bulkier pair for those really cold days and for extra insulation when your thin gloves aren’t enough.
4. A waterproof-breathable layer
This layer you can take off and put on as wind picks up or if it starts to rain. The best choice is a jacket made from Gore-Tex fabric, which is both breathable and waterproof, and will protect you from the wind as well. These jackets are great because they dry quickly and are breathable. If you want to spend less money, consider a good rain jacket to protect you from the wind and rain. For inspiration, check out a list of our favorite rain jackets.
5. An insulating jacket: down or synthetic fill
For the major insulating layer, you have the choice of down or synthetic insulation. Down fill will give you most of your insulating power. A down jacket is much more packable, more insulating for the weight, and lighter, but also more expensive. Down jackets also aren’t the best choice in very wet weather, so consider this if you expect lots of rain. Down jackets are also more expensive. Synthetic fill jackets aren’t as packable and are generally heavier, but are a good choice for wet climates. Read more about the benefits and disadvantages of each.
6. Good Socks
Pack some warm socks. In this case, merino wool is best. Pack a few thinner socks and a few mid-weight socks.
7. Hand Warmers
Have a tendency to get really cold, especially your extremities? Consider taking some instant hand or foot warmers with you. These little items begin to work when you open the package and just cost a few dollars. You can put them in your gloves or in your shoes to give you several hours of warmth.
8. Long Johns
The type of trip you are doing will indicate your choice of pant. If you plan to hike a lot, consider buying a pair of specific hiking pants, these are usually made from synthetic fabric for maximum breathability. Whatever type of pant you choose make sure it’s loose enough so you can layer long johns underneath. For really cold days you can layer a pair of merino wool long johns.
9. Outer pants
Lastly, bring a pair of outer shell pants, much like you would bring a shell jacket. Again, Gore-Tex pants are the best and most versatile, but most expensive, but you can also buy a pair of rain pants that won’t be as breathable, but will also keep out wind, rain and snow and will be less expensive.
10. Loose and Layered
The key here is to layer. The basic premise is your jackets and outer layers shouldn’t be too tight to allow room to put layers on and take them off. Looser is warmer.