How to Avoid the Worst Cold-Weather Packing Mistakes

Caroline Morse, January 26, 2016
Fares from Washington DC:

    Yes, you can definitely blame the bulk of winter layers for your overstuffed suitcase. After all, warm clothing takes up a lot more room than summer T-shirts and shorts. To complicate things further, you've got to pack for overheated restaurants and frigid outdoor conditions. But we're here to help—here are nine winter-packing mistakes we learned the hard way, and the tips you need to pack like a sub-zero pro.

    Packing the Wrong Materials

    We love cotton for travel most times of the year because it's lightweight and breathable, but it's a terrible choice for the winter. Instead of wicking away moisture and sweat, it absorbs it, which will make you cold and keep you freezing. Opt for warmer materials like fleece, Thinsulate, or wool. Merino wool is one of the best choices for travel, as it's naturally odor-resistant and breathable, plus is less itchy than regular wool. The Icebreaker 260 Vertex sweatshirt is an example of a good layering piece made out of merino wool, and it has a secure zip pocket on the arm to stash your cash or keys.

    Forgoing a hat

    Yes, we've all experienced the dreaded hat hair, but if you leave your hat behind, you're not only exposing your ears to frostbite, you're also losing significant body heat through your uncovered head. Voormi's thermal beanie is made from a moisture-wicking thermal wool that will prevent sweaty hair and keep you toasty. Throw in a pocket-sized folding hair brush with a mirror if you're concerned about hat head ruining your look.

    Not Bringing Medicine

    Cold and flu cases spike during the winter, and while you definitely don't plan on getting sick while traveling, you should be prepared in case it does happen. Make sure you've packed medication for upset stomach, fever relief, body aches, and congestion. You don't have to travel with the whole medicine cabinet though—just get travel-sized versions of your go-to drugs.

    Packing the Wrong Type of Gloves

    Gloves aren't going to keep your hands warm if you keep taking them off to use your phone. Get a pair that's touchscreen compatible, like the Saloman Discovery. We like these because they have a built-in finger cover that turns these gloves into mittens for extra warmth, but gives you the mobility of gloves when you need to snap a photo or send a text.

    Leaving Behind Sunglasses

    Since you're not headed to the beach, you might forget to pack your sunglasses. The sun can shine brightly on freezing days too though, so be sure to pack yours. (Throw some sunscreen in there while you're at it, as you can get sunburned in winter, especially where there's snow on the ground.) These sunglasses fold down small, so that they're easy to pack and hard to break.

    Not Bringing Multi-Use Items

    Warm clothing tends to be bulkier than summertime items, so maximize your space by bringing pieces that will pull double duty. Bring items that you can wear more than once without washing (like jeans and sweatshirts), as well as clothes that can be worn in different ways. These leggings from Clever Travel Companion can be worn alone as pants or under a dress for warmth. Plus, they let you leave the money belt behind, as they have two hidden pockets to hold your passport, money, or other essentials.

    Not Bringing Layers

    When the temperatures are really low and the winds are really high, one layer of clothing just isn't going to cut it. Ideally, your outfit will include a base layer (to wick away moisture and keep you dry), an insulating layer (to trap warmth), and an outer layer (to stay wind- and water-proof). Our tip: Wear fleece-lined leggings or thermal long johns under pants, with a heat-trapping shirt and a merino wool sweater plus a synthetic down jacket, and you'll be good to go on even the coldest days. (You'll want to choose synthetic insulation over down, because real down is basically useless if it gets wet.)

    Wearing the Wrong Shoes

    Your shoes face a big challenge in the winter. They need to be: insulated, waterproof, and warm; provide great traction in case of ice; be able to withstand salt; and be comfortable to walk in. So, your sneakers aren't going to cut it. Men, these boots from London Fog fit the bill and offer a basic black design that won't stand out as snow shoes. For women, we like the Sorel Waterfalls, which are toasty-warm and supportive. Just remember to wear your heavier snow boots on the plane; otherwise, they'll take up half your suitcase space.

    Choosing the Wrong Coat for Your Destination

    Before you pack, think about what exactly you'll be doing on your trip. If you're taking advantage of great off-season rates in Europe, how cold will it really get? If it's not going to be freezing, you may get overheated, especially if you'll be doing a lot of walking, which will warm you up. (There's nothing worse than sweating through your coat when you go from cold temperatures outside to an overheated subway train.) Consider a lighter weight, packable winter coat instead, like this one for women, or this one for men.

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    Read the original story: How to Avoid the Worst Cold-Weather Packing Mistakes by Caroline Morse, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

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