Travel Tips & Resources

Packing for Cold and Windy Destinations

Packing for cold and windy destinations, Packing for Cold and Windy Destinations
By Laura Newcomer & Wanderers Compass

Whether packing for a long weekend or a 10-day excursion, stuffing a suitcase with cold-weather essentials can be challenging. Warm clothing tends to be bulky, and knowing exactly what to pack is hard. Given airplane luggage restrictions, shoving your entire closet into a bag won’t cut it.

Luckily, a little planning goes a long way. Here’s how to make intelligent packing choices to help you stay warm and comfortable at any cold, windy destination.

Packing for Cold and Windy Destinations

Use these packing tips to maximize suitcase space and ensure you stay comfortable once you’ve reached a chilly locale.

Start with base layers that wick moisture

One of the challenges with dressing for cold weather is that your body temperature fluctuates as you move between indoors and outdoors and when you exert yourself or rest. That’s where layering comes in — so you can peel off layers one at a time if you get hot and pile them back on when you’re chilly.

If you plan to be out and about, it’s helpful to start with a base layer(s) made from moisture-wicking fabrics that won’t trap sweat and lead to chills. Wool (or a wool mix) will keep you warm but not sweaty; look for smooth merino wool options if you’re worried the material will feel scratchy. Avoid cotton as it soaks up moisture and doesn’t dry quickly, which can lead to hypothermia in extreme conditions.

As you select your base layers, aim for a snug fit so the material touches your skin all over and can effectively wick moisture from your skin. Selecting the weight depending on the extremity of the cold you’ll be exposed to is a good idea. Choose heavyweight base layers for sub-freezing temps and low activity and lighter-weight options for milder temps and/or higher activity levels.

Next, pack the middle insulating layers

Layering an insulating layer(s) over a base layer will ensure your core stays warm without getting sweaty. Fleece layers work well for this task since they’re warm and cozy and tend to layer well over thinner base layers. Merino wool sweaters are another great option; they’re lightweight, warm, and can layer easily. A thin, puffy jacket that fits under a shell could also work, particularly if you anticipate exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Don’t neglect your bottom half — fleece tights or leggings will do the trick.

Planning a trip to a cold destination in Europe? Check out our Country Travel Guides
Finish off the layering system with an outer shell

To top off your layering system, bring along a windproof and waterproof shell (or at least water-resistant). This layer seals in the warmth generated by your base and insulating layers. Choose a high warmth-to-weight ratio jacket so you can stay warm without feeling burdened — so you don’t have to juggle a bulky coat in the airport. (Accurately identifying the warmth-to-weight ratio can be tricky; check out this guide to inform your search.) Consider shell pants and a jacket, so your lower half stays toasty, too.

How to Pack for a Cold and Windy Destination

Packing for cold and windy destinations, Packing for Cold and Windy Destinations
Icelands Longs Glacier

1. Start with base layers that wick moisture

Pack base layer(s) made from moisture-wicking fabrics that won’t trap sweat and lead to

  • Wool (or a wool blend) will keep you warm but not sweaty
  • Merino wool is less scratchy
  • Cotton is not a great choice because it soaks up moisture and doesn’t dry quickly

Make sure your base layers fit snuggly so the material can effectively wick moisture from
your skin.

Choose heavyweight base layers for sub-freezing temps and low activity and lighter
weight options for milder temps and/or higher activity levels.

2. Next pack middle insulating layers

Pack options like:

  • Fleece quarter or full-sip sweatshirts
  • Merino wool sweaters
  • A thin puffy jacket that fits under a shell
  • Fleece tights
  • Leggings

3. Remember sun protection

Pack sunscreen, a pair of polarized sunglasses, and lip balm that contains sunscreen.

Planning a trip to Iceland? Check out our Iceland Travel Guide

4. Keep certain items out of your suitcase

Wear your jacket on the plane and pack gloves and a hat in the pockets of the jacket.

  • Look for gloves with a waterproof outer shell and insulating material inside.
  • If you will be in extreme cold, pack well-insulated waterproof mittens instead.
  • Choose a wool or synthetic moisture-wicking hat.

Wear your boots on the plane

  • Look for waterproof, insulated boots with plenty of traction.
  • Consider boots without laces so you do not hold up security lines.
  • Make sure you break the boots in before you travel.

5. Finish off the layering system with an outer shell

Pack a shell that is windproof and waterproof (or at least water resistant).

Choose a jacket with a high warmth-to-weight ratio so you can stay warm without the

Consider shell pants as well as a jacket so your lower half stays warm and dry, too.

6. Give some thoughts to your socks

Pack thinner wool socks to hand-wash every few days.

Pack additional socks to layer over a base layer of wool socks.

Check out the Wanderers Compass Amazon Storefront to find must-have travel items and clothing for your next cold-weather destination. You can find other sites where great cold gear is available, such as Patagonia, on our Travel Resource Page.

Keep gloves and a hat in your coat pockets, and wear your coat
Packing for cold and windy destinations
Packing for cold weather in Iceland

One of the hardest parts about packing for a chilly destination? Cold-weather clothing tends to be bulky. You can save tons of room in your suitcase by wearing your coat instead of stuffing it into a checked bag or carry-on. Save even more space by tucking gloves and a hat into the coat’s pockets so you can fit other layers and accessories into your luggage. Be mindful of taking up precious overhead storage space with your jacket; it’s probably best to wear your coat on the plane and sit with it underneath you or over your lap until all passengers have boarded. Then, if there’s still room overhead, go ahead and stuff your jacket into a nearby storage bin (or use it as a blanket if the plane gets chilly).

While selecting a hat, look for wool or synthetic beanies designed to wick moisture and feature insulation (such as fleece) inside. Pack gloves with a waterproof outer shell and an insulating material inside. If you’ll be in extreme cold, opt for mittens over gloves since they allow fingers to feed off each other’s warmth.

Interested in visiting a really cold destination? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Iceland’s Glacier Lagoons article
Give some thought to your socks

Socks may not occupy much of your headspace on a typical day, but give them your attention while packing for a cold, windy destination. Bring thinner wool socks, which won’t take up much suitcase space. You can hand-wash them every few days, and they’ll dry quickly. Plan to layer a second pair of socks over a base layer of wool socks so you can re-wear the top layer without having to wash them. Again, avoid cotton, as this material traps moisture and can lead to chills. Better options include IsoWool, shearling, fleece, or other synthetic materials that wick moisture.

Packing for cold and windy destinations, Packing for Cold and Windy Destinations
Siglufjörður, Iceland
Wear your boots on the plane

Like a winter jacket, boots are bulky and take up tons of real estate in a suitcase, so pack them on your feet instead! If you’re worried about hassles at the airport, consider boots without laces, so you don’t hold up security lines. Look for waterproof, insulated boots that offer traction to keep your footing on snow or ice. Ensure these boots are comfortable and at least slightly broken in before you depart to prevent painful blisters.

Staying healthy while traveling is especially important in a cold climate. Check out our article on How to Stay Healthy During Travel
Remember sun protection

Many of us associate the need for sun protection with warm-weather destinations such as the beach. However, sun damage should be top of mind in any locale. In fact, sunlight reflecting off snow can tax eyes and burn skin. Pack sunscreen, a pair of polarized sunglasses, and a lip balm containing sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. While you’re at it, bring along some moisturizer to soothe sunburned or wind-chapped skin.


By layering strategically, choosing fabrics carefully, and wearing your bulkiest items onto the plane, you can show up to any cold, windy destination properly outfitted for indoor and outdoor activities. Bonus? You’ll do it without having to pay for multiple checked bags.

© 2024 Wanderers Compass All Rights Reserved

About the Guest Author

Laura Newcomer is a writer, editor, and educator with multiple years of experience working in the environmental and personal wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura now lives and works in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published in Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. An avid outdoorswoman, she can often be found hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and tending to her garden.

Want to learn about Wanderers Compass?

Travel Insurance

Our favorite travel insurance site!

We could not be stronger advocates of being well-insured—not just for the little stuff but for the big things like medical emergencies. We never leave home without it. Our go-to place is Squaremouth.com. It does a fantastic job with its user-friendly interface and uses top-rated and reputable insurance carriers. They also mediate on your behalf if you have problems.

To empower you as a consumer, we suggest you read our blog post on the importance of travel insurance and how to get the best coverage from top-rated companies for an affordable price.

Medical transport back home from anywhere in the world

They are the premier global air medical transport. One caveat to travel insurance is that medical evacuation usually gets you to the closest facility to care for you. Medjet gets you back to the U.S. to the hospital of your choice once you are stable enough to fly. A Medjet membership is only for medical transport. Medjet Horizon offers expanded coverage. They have individual trip policies starting at $99 and annual policies for around $300. Most of their policies limit the age to 74.

To learn more about how Medical Evacuation membership with Medjet Assist works, check out our blog post for a more detailed review.  

Accommodations & Experiences

Expedia.com and VRBO
Hotels, home rentals, BNBs, flights, and other transportation & tours 

Expedia is a US-based company whose mission is to power global travel for everyone and everywhere. Wanderers Compass focuses on independent travel, and using sites like Expedia makes that possible. Every aspect of travel you need, from airfare, accommodations, rental car, and cruises to activities to do at your destination, can be booked on Expedia.  

Hotels, Home rentals, BNBs, Flights, and other Transportation & Tours 

Booking.com connects millions of travelers to memorable experiences, various transportation options, and incredible places to stay – from homes to hotels and much more. It is one of the world’s largest travel marketplaces for established brands and entrepreneurs of all sizes. It is our preferred booking site.

The leading marketplace for travel experiences

Viator believes that making memories is what travel is all about. And with 300,000+ experiences to explore—everything from simple tours to extreme adventures (and all the niche, interesting stuff in between)—making memories that will last a lifetime has never been easier. We use them often during our travels and love their liberal cancellation policy.


Wanderers Compass Amazon Storefront
An excellent source for all travel essentials and guides

Amazon is one of the most comprehensive online shopping sources in the world. Teams worldwide provide lower prices, better selection, and rapid delivery on behalf of customers. They offer a vast inventory, and their 1.7 million small and medium businesses worldwide selling on Amazon.com offer extensive options to customers.


This is not your ordinary drinkware company. The HYDAWAY difference is what their products do when you’re not using them. Practical and portable, HYDAWAY doesn’t take up unnecessary space in your already-packed life or pile up in landfills. We have used their collapsible water bottle, carrying case for the water bottle, and collapsible insulated drink tumbler. They are all lightweight and durable. This is a conservation-focused product you can be proud to buy.

Use our Promo Code. WANCOM15, at checkout for 15% off your Hydaway order

This article contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Do you have a question for us or have a comment?

Copyright 2023 Shelter General Insurance Company, 1817 W. Broadway, Columbia, MO 65218

Packing for cold and windy destinations

No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    IMG 8134 scaled

    Passionate about travel? Subscribe to our Wanderers Compass Community

    Our quarterly newsletters will inspire your wanderlust

    No spam, unsubscribe at any time, no more than one email a month