top of page

Stay Warm Without Over Packing: Cold Weather Packing Guide

As a perpetual traveler, I've traversed the globe in search of adventure throughout all seasons. Yes, I do prefer to chase endless summer when planning my route, but now and again I find myself traveling in cold weather. I've often found that preparing for cold weather destinations can be particularly daunting. The reason? Packing for the chill requires a certain finesse to ensure you stay cozy without lugging around a cumbersome load of winter gear.

Today, I’m sharing my packing tips to help you avoid a hefty suitcase but still stay warm while exploring this winter. Let’s dive in!

What is the 54321 Packing Method?

Having lived out of a backpack for over a decade, packing minimally has become essential. I’ve followed the 54321 packing method for many years to help simplify the packing process. This method advocates for a minimalist packing approach by suggesting specific quantities for various clothing and accessories. Essentially, it advises travelers to pack five tops, four bottoms, three dresses, three pairs of shoes, two swimsuits, two bags, and one set of a few fun accessories. Of course, depending on the location you are visiting, you may have to adjust the exact number of items while packing. However, I have found this to be a good starting point when packing my pack.

✈️ Pro Tip: Make sure to use the Jessi’s Journey Ultimate Toiletry Packing List when packing your bags for your next adventure.

Jessi's Journey traveling in snowy town
Don't let snow stop you from exploring!

How to Pack Minimally for Cold Weather?

Travel truly teaches you how little you need to be content. While I would by no means consider myself a minimalist, I have learned what is essential to bring when traveling and what can be left behind. Need help to whittle down your wardrobe while packing? The following tips can help you out.

Pack Layers, Not Bulk

The key to efficient cold weather packing is layering. Instead of stuffing your suitcase with bulky, heavy items, opt for multiple layers of lighter clothing. This not only saves space but also allows you to adjust your insulation based on the temperature, ensuring you stay comfortable throughout the day. I try to bring one heavy cardigan that can be layered on multiple looks in my bag so I can stay warm and stylish and not overfill my backpack.

Build Off of One or Two Base Looks

Plan your outfits around a few versatile base pieces, such as a pair of well-fitting jeans and a simple, neutral-colored top. From there, mix and match layers to create different looks. This approach streamlines your packing and prevents the need for numerous complete outfits.

Get a Good Jacket

Does anyone else remember hating wearing jackets as a teenager or university student? I don’t know why I was so averse to bundling up, but once I discovered the benefits of having a warm, weather-proof jacket, my cold-weather game changed. Whether you choose a down jacket for extreme cold or a waterproof shell for wet conditions, a good jacket can make all the difference. Look for one with multiple pockets to carry your essentials and keep you warm.

Jessi's Journey in heavy coat by glacier lagoon
A good jacket can make all the difference when temperatures drop.

Accessorize Smartly

Accessories can elevate your cold weather outfits while adding minimal bulk to your luggage. A cute, colorful beanie not only keeps you warm but can also be a stylish addition to your ensemble, whether you wear your coat or not. Smartly chosen scarves, gloves, or a statement belt can also enhance your look without taking up much space.

Consider Local Purchases or Rentals

If your cold weather adventure involves specialized activities like skiing or camping, consider renting equipment or purchasing what you need locally. This not only saves you from hauling gear across the globe but also ensures that you're using equipment suited to the local conditions. When I backpacked around Iceland, I rented all of my gear once I arrived so I didn’t have to worry about fitting everything I needed into my backpack.

✈️ Pro Tip: Don’t forget to pack these Medications You Should Always Pack When Traveling in your suitcase!

Jessi's Journey in Poland in the winter
Layer up for extra warmth! You can always remove layers if you overheat.

What Should You Pack for Cold Weather Travel?

Ready to pack your bags and head to a winter wonderland? Follow this packing guide to simplify the process.

2 or 3 Trousers

Choose a mix of warm and versatile pants. Consider a pair of insulated pants for extreme cold and a couple of jeans or other casual trousers for everyday wear that can be used both during the day and night.

3 Base Layers

Base layers are essential for regulating your body temperature. Merino wool shirts can help keep you warm and dry. A classic button-up is also a great base layer to build a great layered outfit over. Choose versatile colors and patterns that can be mixed and matched with your other clothing items.

2 Medium Layers

Pack items like cardigans, sweatshirts, or sweaters to add warmth without the bulk of heavy coats. I prefer to pack neutral colors that match the base layers well so I can mix and match them with different items.

1 Jacket

Invest in a high-quality, all-purpose jacket to protect you from the elements. Make sure it's versatile enough to be worn in various situations. Remember, you can always remove layers if you get toasty, but you won’t be able to get warm if you don’t have the right outerwear.

Jessi's Journey in the snow
Winter packing can be a challenging, but keeping it simple can help take up less space in your bag.

1 Pair of Boots

A pair of warm and waterproof boots is a must for cold weather travel. They'll keep your feet dry and cozy, and a good pair can be worn with a variety of outfits.

1 Pair of Sneakers

Sneakers are perfect for indoor activities or milder days. They’re also great options if you plan to do a lot of walking. Just remember to pack warm socks to keep your toes warm. I always bring a pair of plain white sneakers that can go with every outfit. I prefer AllBirds because they can be thrown into the wash if they get dirty.

3 Pairs of Socks

Cold weather demands warm feet. Bring a variety of socks, including thermal and moisture-wicking options, to ensure your feet stay comfortable and dry. I love these merino wool socks for extra warmth during my travels.

Warm Hat and Gloves

Don't forget a warm hat and gloves to protect your extremities from the cold. These small items can make a significant difference in your comfort.

Don’t Let Winter Stop You From Exploring

Packing for cold weather travel doesn't have to be a burden. By focusing on layering, versatile base looks, and smart accessories, you can stay warm and stylish while minimizing the bulk in your suitcase. With a well-thought-out packing strategy, you can conquer the chill and enjoy the beauty of cold weather destinations without being weighed down by your luggage. So, let the adventure begin, no matter the season! Bon voyage!

What are your winter must-haves when packing for an adventure? Let me know in the comments!


bottom of page