THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO LAYERING FOR winter travel
Pack for winter travel like a pro! Using a functional layering method you will stay warm and stylish and still pack everything you need for your trip in carry-on luggage. You might think that bulky layers are the way to go, but I’m here to give you another method for packing for cold weather travel. Layering for winter travel not only helps you stay warm, but it also allows you to adapt to changing temperatures and activities during your trip. Strategically packing for cold weather travel using functional layering allows you to still travel with only carry-on luggage.
PACK LIGHT AND FUNCTIONAL LAYERS for winter travel
Instead of relying on bulky clothing to keep you warm you will instead pack light layers for warmth. Functional layers will add up to warmth and wearing light layers of clothing provides just as much warmth as bulky layers. These layering principles are taken from backpackers and hikers but they can be applied to travelers as well. Understanding these ideas will not only help you pack light but also stay warm even in cold weather. (I’ve written a blog post about this before, this is an update to that post.)
Your winter travel outfits will consist of a base layer, a mid and/or insulating layer and finally your weatherproof outer layer. It’s a simple system and every item should be chosen with functionality first in mind and style second.
In terms of travel style considerations, only your outermost layers will be visible. That means that your coat will be your most visible item and if style is important then choose a coat that is functional and stylish. Then consider each subsequent layer accordingly because it may not always be visible.
1. START WITH A BASE LAYER FOR WINTER TRAVEL
When packing for cold weather it’s all about that base, layer that is. The base layer gives you the most bang for your buck in your winter travel capsule. It is the most functional layer in your cold weather travel toolbox.
A base layer is just that, it’s the first layer that is worn closest to the skin, almost like a second skin. A proper base layer will keep you warm and wick moisture away from your body and still be dry to the touch. By drawing perspiration from your body the base layer helps maintain and regulate your body temperature by keeping you dry.
Believe it or not, even in winter your body will perspire and produce humidity and if you wear bulky layers that heat and moisture will be trapped and have nowhere to go. Additionally, a base layer will help you regulate your body temperature so that you don’t overheat. Bulky layers are great until the weather warms or you are inside then you can heat up fast, a base layer will help avoid overheating.You may also want to consider wearing a wicking sports bra as part of your base layer as well. I will admit that base layers aren’t created with style in mind, but they will not be visible with your other layers on top.
MERINO WOOL BASE LAYER
The gold standard of base layers is merino wool. A merino wool base layer consists of a very thin and fine blend of wool that has the feel and weight of a tee shirt. Merino wool has the advantages of being naturally breathable, lightweight and odor resistant. A few brands to look for are Icebreaker, Ibex and Smartwool. Choose the “weight” of the base layer based on the expected temperatures of your destination.
BASE LAYER ALTERNATIVES
However, merino wool base layers may not be for everyone and there are other alternatives. Polypropylene and Capilene are very lightweight “synthetic” base layers that are slightly lighter and less expensive than wool. Silk base layers, while comfortable, offer less of the warmth and durability than merino wool or synthetic base layers. If traveling in extreme cold temperatures I would not recommend silk. You can choose to wear just a top base layer or just a bottom base layer or both. It all depends on the weather of your destination and your travel activities.
If you are traveling to an extremely cold destination your base layer should be a thick blend or what’s generally referred to as “heavy weight” or “expedition weight”. However, for more typically cold conditions, a silkweight, lightweight or midweight base layer will prove more versatile.
AVOID COTTON AS A BASELAYER
The one fabric to stay away from as a base layer is cotton or cotton blend base layers because they will not wick away moisture, instead they will hold moisture in making you clammy and cold and they are bulkier than synthetics or wool.
2. ADD MID-LAYER AND/OR FASHION LAYER AND/OR INSULATING LAYER
Your next layers in your layering system are mid and/or fashion layers and/or insulating layers. These layers are sandwiched between your base and outer layers. If you are inside in a restaurant or museum you will most likely take off your outer layer and your mid-layer will be visible so that’s why you may want to consider an item more on the fashion vs the functional spectrum.
A long sleeve blouse, tee shirt, button down or sweater can serve as a fashion mid-layer. On the functional end of the style spectrum, I’d recommend a lightweight flannel, a turtleneck, sweater or long sleeve shirt made of a synthetic blend (like lyocell, not cotton). The mid-layer is worn over the base layer so choose a mid-layer that easily layers on top.
In extremely cold temperatures an additional mid-layer with insulating properties is recommended. Something like a functional fleece or packable-puffer worn under your outer layer. Remember all the layers are light so you will NOT feel like the Michelin Man with all these layers. Additionally, a packable-puffer can be worn on its own (without the outer layer) if the weather and activities allow for it. This adds to winter travel outfit options.
3. FINISH WITH A WEATHER-PROOF OUTER LAYER
Finally, your weatherproof outer layer protects you from weather elements like rain and wind and is the final barrier of protection against the cold. A classic wool coat can get you through most travel situations. In order to pack light and travel with only a carry-on for winter, wear your bulkiest items like a coat and sweater during transit.
If you are traveling somewhere rainy or snowy, outerwear should be water resistant or repellent. Synthetic down jackets present an affordable option and the benefits of being able to withstand getting wet and drying quickly. I recommend choosing a longer coat for maximum coverage.
4. WEATHERPROOF SHOES for winter travel
Shoes are one of the hardest working travel items. For travel in winter, it’s vital to have a comfortable pair that will also keep your feet warm and dry. Snowy conditions mean slippery sidewalks and a lug sole shoe/boot is highly recommended or anything else with a gripping tread. Rainy and snowy conditions require a travel shoe that is waterproof. In extremely cold weather you may also want to choose shoes that have extra insulation as well.
5. WOOL SOCKS
Socks are the unsung hero for travelers. We all know we need great shoes for travel but if you’ve got the wrong socks your feet may still be cold and even worse you could end up with a blister. The same principles that make a great base layer can also be applied to socks. The most important feature to look for in a sock is moisture wicking properties. Once again, wool reigns supreme. No other fabric can beat wool’s ability to wick away moisture while keeping you warm and dry with odor resisting properties. Choose wool socks or synthetic socks with similar properties and avoid cotton socks for winter travel.
6. PACK COLD WEATHER ACCESSORIES
Hats, gloves and scarves are the finishing touches for any winter travel outfit and they keep you warm as well. In extreme cold weather make sure there’s plenty of functionality in your accessories like wind-proofing.
7. PLAN AND PACK A WINTER CARRY-ON CAPSULE
Packing a carry-on capsule will ensure that you can travel out of a carry-on even during winter travel. Winterize your travel capsule by adding base layers, insulating mid-layers and of course a weatherproof jacket/coat. Most of the time your clothes will be obscured by your coat, but you can still make sure your other layers are stylish. Every item in your capsule must be chosen with the weather in mind.
Layering your clothing is a vital aspect of staying warm and comfortable while traveling during the winter months. By considering factors such as your destination, activities, and personal preferences, you can choose the right layering strategy for your needs. Whether you opt for light layers or bulky winter layers, the key is to find a balance between staying warm, being stylish and maintaining mobility. With these tips in mind, you’ll be on your way to enjoying your winter travels in style and comfort.