I’ve been asked a few times to write about winter travel wardrobes, but will admit that we usually don’t travel in the winter aside from an occasional ski week in Colorado, which requires packing mostly ski clothing and equipment. In the past I’d made a few business trips to the East Coast during the December-March months, but those were usually of short duration and required only office wear.
But what I’ve learned from skiing (which requires keeping warm in sometimes sub-zero temperatures) is that the principle of lightweight layering works in winter too. I’ve created this travel wardrobe for mostly recreational travel to a destination with moderately cold winters, and presuming a relatively urban locale. Those of you who have experience with more brutal winters (waving at my friends in Montréal) please chime in with your suggestions.
The 12-piece* travel wardrobe for winter above starts with a neutral base (I’ve gone crazy and included 4 neutrals, black, ivory, navy and grey!) and then adds color, texture and pattern. Most of the tops go with all of the bottoms, and should layer well. I’ve included a skirt rather than a dress, as I find I wear them more, but if you wear dresses, think wool and/or ponte knits and something cut long and full enough that walking will not be impeded. I’ve shown a packable down coat here as outerwear; depending on conditions you may need something heavier or lighter, or multiple options. (Please note that the pieces I’ve shown above were chosen primarily for color, fabric and style and as examples. In the widget below I’ve attempted to include items in a range of prices and sizes.)
Row 1: sweater (similar) | sweater (similar) | blouse (similar)
Row 2: sweater | jeans (similar) | tee (similar)
Row 3: pants (similar) | boots (similar) | skirt (similar)
Row 4: scarf (similar) | scarf (similar) | coat (similar, in petite and plus)
Row 5 sweater (similar) | sweater (similar)
Row 6: sweater (similar) | shirt (similar) | boots (similar)
I tend to travel with at least one pair of jeans, though some find them too heavy. I love slim black ponte knit pants for cooler months, as they are comfortable but dressy enough for evenings. If you prefer more tailored trousers, try something in a lightweight wool and wear over tights or silk long underwear if temperatures require.
Some general tips assumptions:
Layer, layer, layer. Three or four lightweight (insulating) layers will be better than one heavy, bulky one, especially going from frigid conditions outside to overheated interiors. And keeping those layers lightweight also helps with packing and schlepping luggage. For warmth, base layers are your best friends and I’ve found these long-sleeved Adea tops to be an excellent base layer option.
Core values. It’s true that keeping your “core” warm is the most important focus when it really gets cold. I’ve heard great things about the Uniqlo packable down vests for travel.
Start with shoes. My inclination would be to start with one pair of weatherproof ankle boots that can go from day to evening. If you’re anticipating a lot of snow or slush, a pair of higher weatherproof and perhaps lined boots (shearling or fleece) would be your second pair. If your winter destination will be more wet than snowy, a good-looking pair of weatherproof calf or knee-high boots may be your best choice. Always pack your lightest shoes and wear your heaviest on travel days. And whatever shoes you include should be broken in and comfortable enough for all-day walking!
Composition. I always try to pack clothing that’s washable and will dry quickly. Silk, merino wool and cashmere are the obvious choices, but don’t rule out modal and other “performance” fabrics, especially as base layers. Many of these are designed to insulate and wick away moisture. I’ve been reading a lot of good things lately about merino wool for travel, as it tends to adjust to fluctuating temperatures well, doesn’t hold odors, and is less inclined to pill than other fabrics. But I love some cashmere too for the light weight warmth and softness.
Silhouettes. For travel, I tend to stick to clothing that’s cut closer to the body. Pants that will tuck into boots are a plus, and leave any flares or pants that drag the ground at home. I’ve come to prefer either pullover sweaters or cardigans that close rather than open cardigans or jackets. When the wind whips up, you don’t want to have to hold a sweater closed! I’ve also learned that navigating turnstiles, revolving doors or public transportation in voluminous or flapping clothing is a real pain, especially when your hands are full of luggage.
Extremities. I didn’t include hats, gloves, tights or warm socks in the collages above, but of course you will bring these! I like cashmere-lined leather gloves for a polished look, and many styles now have “tech fingers” so you can use your smartphone without removing your gloves. But the coldest conditions may require heavier options. I have not yet tried cashmere socks, but have friends who recommend highly. The performance socks I wear for skiing are wool and I find they keep my feet plenty warm as well as wicking away moisture very effectively. Here are some fun patterned Smartwool socks.
Accessorize. Scarves and jewelry can add variety to a limited wardrobe. That said, I don’t usually travel with lots of jewelry, or any of great value aside from my engagement ring. A few simple pieces are all you need to dress up a basic outfit.
* I don’t count shoes, bags, outerwear, underwear (or any other base layer that I wouldn’t wear except underneath other pieces), or accessories as part of the 12 pieces.
Do you travel often during winter months? Any tips or finds to share?
Affiliate links in this post may generate commissions for unefemme.net. See complete disclosure policy here.
This is a very useful template, Sue. I’m planning a trip back to Rome in January or February, and have been thinking along similar lines of what to bring — so good to have it laid out so clearly in your usual organized style. I picked up one of the packable down jackets at Uniqlo in Paris this last trip (we don’t have one anywhere nearby at home), and I’ll probably bring it AND my navy pea coat.
I second your recommendation for merino — brought a navy sweater along on our 7-week jaunt, and although I wore it 7 or 8 days over that period, I never felt I needed to wash it. There’s an anti-bacterial property in wool that means even my merino running bra doesn’t smell after a number of runs (truly! I’ve asked for objective second opinions, and it would have been in the self-interest of their noses to tell me the truth!).
Finally, if you’re in a lovely 4 or 5-star hotel, you don’t need to think about this, but if it might be cooler than you’re used to when you get back to your digs at the end of a day, I really liked having pyjamas this last trip. Even though we went in warm weather, there were many cooler days by the end of our travels, and the old pair of cotton flannel Bedheads I lugged along were well worth their valise real estate — I left them behind, making room for other purchases, as I’d planned to do all along.
Sue, these are truly perfect choices and so classically me! I love to layer and accessorize with scarves shoes and a great handbag! Thank you so much!
The Arts by Karena
Artist Lesley Schiff
I live in a winter climate, and this is all spot on. However, I get a horrible static build up when I layer silk under merino or cashmere, especially when I wear a down coat on top of it all. The wool will stick to the silk in an unflattering and uncomfortable way. I’ve found I get less static build up when my base layer is something from Cuddl Duds or the Lands’ End thermaskin line. The Lands’ End thermaskin products are very silk-like and comfy.
I can’t say enough good things about Smartwool socks. When friends from a warm climate ask me how to dress for winter weather, Smartwool socks are my first recommendation. My other keep-warm advice is to tuck your base layer top into your waistband to keep wind from blowing up your body. No matter how many layers you wear, the wind will find a way in if you don’t tuck.
I’m naturally cold-natured and when it’s really cold outside, I wear (separate) silk glove liners inside my cashmere lined leather gloves. The silk is very thin/no bulk & works well with dressy leather gloves as well as casual wool gloves.
I live in Ireland but will be travelling to Chicago in December for a birthday celebration for my husband. These recommendations are a great help as at home we do wet but not real cold. I will have a hunt on line for some warm layers. Margo
Great suggestions, Sue. I second Frances’ remark about cold hotel rooms… or cottages, in our case. I always pack a “lounging outfit” for lolling in front of the fire with a book. This usually consists of heavy socks, a sweatshirt that I will also wear during the day and my ski underwear bottoms. In fact I pack ski underwear bottoms for all of our trips… even our trip to France in May or to Australia…yep..you heard that right. They are lightweight and so comfy. You can wear them around your accommodation with a tee shirt or a heavier long top if necessary. And if the weather is cool and rainy they can be layered under your jeans. I learned this from a well-travelled friend. We had two days of heavy cool rain in Tasmania in 2003 and my ski underwear ensured that I was toasty all the time.
Such smart suggestions! Layering is absolutely crucial when travelling in cool climates – I live in a rather cold climate and wouldn’t dream of stepping out of the door in fall/winter without wearing a “base layer”! A woman in Italy once told me that Venetian women wear camisoles, (or undershirts), in fall/ winter so that they can be warm and still wear close fitting tops.
Smartwool socks are the best thing that have ever happened to my feet and are not just for hiking. Great suggestion for travel socks, Sue!
Smartwool socks have carried me through England’s Coast to Coast Path, along Ireland’s damp autumn streets and through the Roman Forum in early fall warm temperatures. They’re brilliant.
I really enjoyed these pics of looking great AND staying toasty!
My most frequent cold-weather travel is at Christmas to see family. In that more-casual setting I always take a sweater vest so if I get to cooking or washing-up that my sleeves can be rolled up and/or that layer easily washed.
If we’re staying in a motel then I bring loungewear that can go down to the pool. Just because it’s a family visit doesn’t mean you can’t have a mini-spa experience.
We usually travel from Atlanta to NYC in the winter, as the cold and snow are fun novelties for us Southerners. Because I am allergic to wool – no cozy cashmere and fun warm woolen hats for me – it really limits what I can wear, so I have to rely on a great coat, base layers, and weatherproof footwear. Thankfully, I can wear wool socks. They truly are feet-savers!
Thank you, Sue, you are the best! I just returned from my Germany trip. I was so happy to utilize many of your great suggestions! We experience cool weather, every day in the 60 degrees F. Of course, the EF silk under layers were great. I wore long and short cap-sleeved EF white silk tees under my sweaters almost daily and washed them out so easily in sink at night. My various black and charcoal EF silk camisoles got a lot of use too, and kept me warm and so comfortable all day and night, too! I did pack one open-front EF black merino cardigan; I never wore it for daytime site-seeing, but was very happy to have this slightly dressier style sweater for dinners and nights out. I wore it a lot with long tassel necklaces and felt ideally dressed. I do agree the button- front traditional or boyfriend cardigans are great for active daytime wear and for me are always a favorite for long cool season airline flights. And thank you, too, for the Briggs & Riley suitcase suggestions! I loved my new international carry-on! I bought the one with the stretchy outside pocket to hold my memory foam neck pillow – it worked perfectly; the wheels and zippers operate so smoothly, too! I paired it with a Briggs and Riley attachable tote for my “personal item”. This was a highly functional combo and enabled me to independently and swiftly hoist my suitcase up and down stairs, difficult train entrances, and lofty luggage racks. Oh, and one more thing, the German shops were showing lots of this pretty soft dusty pink look you are featuring in this post. While there, I bought a greige wool Betty Barclay sweater, paired with a taupe down vest. Along with a new charcoal, taupe and pink scarf – well it’s just so cute! And only a couple of packing regrets – I should have packed one pair of grey skinny jeans – a big trend in Europe now, too, instead of two pairs of dark blue jeans. And next time I’ll leave home the “travel fabric” pants and blazer. I never wore either.
I forgot to say, my very favorite travel item was the AG “The Prima” mid-rise cigarette jeans. These were incredibly comfortable for travel; I wore them on the long flights to and from Europe, and almost daily for long site-seeing tours. They were just so great, I came home and ordered another identical pair from Nordstrom. Thank you for this recommendation!
I love the outfits you made with your 12-piece capsule. That general casual style is the way I dress all the time and you’re right, layers do help!
I saw you on Visible Monday but could not get that link to load and found this post, instead. Happy to have seen it, too.
Here’s my Visible Monday post…
Have a great day!
Here’s a cold weather tip for silk lovers. On a recent trip, I packed the silk modal knit pajamas from WinterSilks. (60% silk, 40% modal knit). They took very little room in my suitcase and were warm, comfy and breathable. Just what I was looking for!
I love the longish grey tunic sweater. Very pretty.
Thank you so much for this wardrobe. We are heading to Canada late February for 3 weeks to ski so I will need this and the ski clothes.
Another vote for the SmartWool socks. Once you try them you’ll never look back.
Think twice about packing modal. Like rayon, it’s a form of cellulose – soft but really absorbent. It’s slow to dry, even in the dryer. I love it but I leave it at home when I travel. Merino is the way to go if you need your clothes to dry overnight. Or Lands End Thermaskins for a warm silky layer.
You do such a great job with travel packing. I have learned so much from you!
I packed a very similar suitcase for the UK in January last year, and it worked very well. I would like to plug uniqlo’s base layers. I think the bottoms are actually billed as leggings, but they are very lightweight and warm, and I think they would work pretty well as substitutes for real leggings or tights when worn with tall boots. I didn’t need anything too dressy, so subbed waxed black jeans for the slacks and didn’t bring a skirt at all (though ended up finding one there). Leather chuck taylors with an orthotic insert were also plenty warm and dry.
Actually, you’d be surprised at how few layers you need with a high quality, full length down parka. I’m in Canada where we get brutal winters, and I get hot and sweaty under my parka if I’m wearing too much clothing, even in the dead of winter! With a good coat, boots and hat/scarf/mittens, you can wear nearly anything underneath and manage just fine, unless you’re planning on being outside for hours and hours.
I typically spend winters in Sweden, and I have packed for this next trip. The only thing I would say is that snow is wet, cold, and melts into low boots way too easily. Tall waterproof (not just water resistant–tried it, doesn’t work)–boots are crucial. Also, unless you fall into the snow or get wet due to rain, you don’t need anywhere near as many clothes as you would during warmer times of year. I *always* overpack! A waterproof coat is best in rainy climates. I personally take a crushable puffer coat and for this trip, will also need a boiled wool jacket, since I’m gone for months. I would not bother with cotton-based jeans. Ponte knits travel best and dry fastest, keep you warmer than jeans. I think the list of clothes and accessories you’ve included is perfect. The key is not to overpack, and if you’re going somewhere really cold for more than a few days, layers are so important. It’s better to have three thin layers than one bulky sweater.
Could you suggest a similar travel wardrobe for men? We’re flying to Rome in a few weeks with carry on luggage only. My husband usually wears a middle aged dad uniform of jeans, t shirts, and sneakers. At least I was able to get him a dark rinse!