If you’re worried about freezing your ass off in cold destinations, don’t. I’ve got you covered. Or rather…layered. This post has everything you need to know about how to layer and pack for cold destinations!
Take it from this Florida-native turned LA transplant who only saw snow for the first time when she was 28, and now runs around Antarctica and the Arctic like it’s NBD. The secret is to layer your clothing, and choose the right kinds of items and materials. Plus, I may or may not have a huge secret about a heated jacket that’s about to come out!
You may also be worried slash dreading how you’re going to pack all of that cold destination clothing. Yes, it can be difficult, but not if you know a few tricks from this full time traveling gal!
Ok enough of the third-person intro, here’s my list of layers that I wore recently in the Arctic (sub-zero temperatures), in the order that I layered them on. You’ll also find some tips to make your life easier while trying to pull on multiple snug-fitting layers! Afterwards, I’ll share my secrets for packing all of that fun bulky stuff in a suitcase that’s not the size of a small car!
Notes: The amount of layers may sound like a lot, but the point of layering is to make sure you are definitely warm, and then have the option to take layers off if you get hot. Always better to be warm than freezing. Also, most of these products are the actual ones I ordered from Amazon, and I use Amazon affiliate links so that if you buy them, I get a tiny percentage! Cough please click them cough cough.
Length of Trip I Wore Only These Items: 2 weeks
Temperatures: 0 to -6 degrees Celcius.
Dudes: I listed some similar items for you at the end, but since I’m not a dude, and haven’t worn men’s clothing, it’s mostly based on functionality, and what I think looks good on guys. 😀
Secret Weapons: If I refer to something as a “secret weapon”, that means it’s a specific item/brand I swear by and always travel with.
These layers are what I refer to as “not-cute-but-warm”. I don’t care how awkward I look in my matching grey leggings and long-sleeved crew neck top, I am WARM.
Since it’s usually not easy, practical, or socially-acceptable to take your bottoms off or put them on in public, I usually just stick with four layers. My legs don’t really ever get hot…but they definitely get cold!
The goal here is to insulate your body heat, while simultaneously absorbing potential sweat/moisture. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but geniuses have figured out how to make it happen. The secret is thin layers of fleece, wool, and “moisture wicking” materials.
Trust me, it looks way cuter on her than in real life, but you will quickly learn to love them. Pretty sure I wore the same pair for a week straight.
The difference is that these are “moisture wicking”, which means they absorb any sweat that may come from the two thermal base layers. Typically happens whenever you go inside, but again, not easy or socially acceptable to take a layer of pants off in public.
If you are seriously dreading the cold, or if you’re going to the Arctic, go ahead and swoop a pair of wool tights to go on FIRST. They’ll also give you an added layer of foot-warmth.
My secret to appearing as though I have tons of different outfits is simply alternating outer “cute layers”. As in, I wear all of the above thermal layers every day, and sometimes change up my look with a thin outer layer legging. 😉
Top layers vary slightly than bottoms because, well, you can’t layer on jackets over your leggings… I tend to wear less amounts of top layers (unless at night), since the amount of jackets I wear over them usually compensates. But to start:
The top to this lovely ensemble is usually sold as one package, but feel free to get crazy and mix and match.
I have this top (in black) and it’s been pretty convenient. It’s a bit thicker than the long underwear, and it has a half zipper to air yourself out if you get hot, thumbholes to pull your base layers through under your top layers, and a zippered pocket pouch which doubles as a built-in “hidden money belt”.
To avoid looking like a ninja at all times, and also to add extra warmth, I’ll pack one or two cute over-sized sweater tops. Don’t go crazy with these though, they’re typically the bulkiest and hardest to pack!
From my experience in the Antarctic, Arctic, and Ice Bars…the only parts of my body that ever get painfully cold, are my extremities (toes and fingers). The toes I’ve mastered, but fingers are always hard to keep warm for some reason, especially if you’re like me and insist on taking off a glove to take a photo or use your phone. I’ve done my best to solve it though:
To be completely honest, I stole a pair of these exact socks from an ex-boyfriend after he lent them to me to go snowboarding and I discovered how well they work. They work even better than the 100% wool socks I bought in Iceland, and they’re about 1/8 of the price and available online.
I wear them every day (yes sometimes they smell, but they magically dry and un-smell overnight!(?!) ) and my toes have not been cold which is shocking. Clearly the name of the brand speaks the truth.
PRO TIP: Put your socks on over your 1-3 base layers before putting on your outer “cute” layer. It will hold the bottoms of all the layers in place and prevent scrunching when you put your boots on!
Gloves are a little trickier because fingers are the easiest things to become frozen (figuratively). They’re also easiest to lose, and easiest to decide you want to take off because you get frustrated with not being able to function. To attempt solving this, go with a pair that are smart-wool, and also have built in touchscreen technology. Also, feel free to just keep your phone in your pocket and enjoy the moments.
Words cannot describe how much I love this exact scarf. It was given to me as a gift by one of my IG followers who thought I’d like it, and to this day, I’m attached to it like a child is to a blanket. Not only is it warm and stylish, but super versatile, and often doubles as a black out curtain for me on long flights. If you end up getting one and posting a photo with it, tag me so I can virtually high five you!
Originally my thoughts on beanies were that they were a good way to change up my outfit looks, but then I realized you actually do need to keep your head warm. I have this one but in hot pink and also a plain white one, and have noticed that those furry pom-poms are all the rage right now!
I don’t have this beanie, but I’m predicting that this will be the next trend. Especially with top-knots and man buns. You heard it here first folks!
Outer wear has its pros and cons…The pros being it keeps you warm and can be super cute; and the cons being they get really warm inside, they’re hard to pack/carry, and you can’t really change them up. If you’re not worried about photos or appearing to be wearing something different every few day, ignore what I’m saying and go with one big outer coat.
But if you’d like to appear as if you have different outfits, use my trick of wearing one secret weapon jacket underneath, and a couple less-warm versatile options over it. Like so:
Yup! That’s right! The unicorn of cold destinations outer wear exists!!! This revolutionary product caught my extreme #technerd attention right away, and after testing it out in the Arctic, I am pleased to say that it works! It’s called the 8K Flexwarm and it uses high tech, flexible wiring to heat certain areas of the jacket that you can choose through the app. You can also control the temperature!
For all of you realists like me already bubbling with tons of questions; the jacket is also functional via buttons on the outer pocket (see badass photo above), and the whole thing is powered by re-chargeable, long-lasting batteries.
I wore the 8K Flexwarm on its own (ninja style), and also as an undercoat when I wanted to wear a thinner “cute” jacket over it.
This is a brand new product, but you can get more info and order one from the Flexwarm website…I may also be coming out with my very own design of one soon!
Having one nice, thin, outer jacket can take your layered outfit (and self esteem) from uncomfortable, to confident. I know some people like to say “real travelers aren’t worried about their outfits or looking cute”, but I say to each their own.
I’m pretty sure I live out of a suitcase and have been to 76 countries…and still prefer to look presentable rather than like I’ve been backpacking for a week…even if I really have been.
These lightweight, fun-colored puff jackets squish and fold down to the size of your palm! They’re perfect for added heat, or more realistically…to change up the same outfit you’ve been wearing every day.
If you’re going to cold destinations, there’s a really good chance there’s going to be snow. Just in case you didn’t already know…snow is wet. If you’re going to be outside for a while, or doing any fun activities that may involve you sitting, kneeling, or falling, definitely wear a pair of snow pants. They’re usually pretty warm since they’re typically fleece lined, but the more important function is to not get wet.
Wearing five layers of clothing and having the mobility of the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters can make you feel a little blah. To fix that, get yourself some fun yet warm accessories!
These are a few of my new most favorite things in the world:
I found one in Tromsø, Norway (AKA the Arctic) and have been so obsessed with it because it turns any top or jacket into a cute furry hoodie. It also keeps my head super warm!
The only reason why I know what a balaclava is (and can actually pronounce it instead of saying “baclava”) is because it was on the required packing list for Kilimanjaro. Not wanting to look like a complete ninja, I did a little more searching online and found this gem that makes me look like a leopard! They also have tons of cat and scary-face options!
I mean…it’s a beanie with cat ears. Enough said.
You’re probably going to want something durable and functional for cold weather destinations, unless you don’t have that much to carry. Usually I pack a few cameras, my laptop (unless I leave it in the hotel), chargers, sometimes my drone, and my important documents, so I always use a safe bag when I’m out and about.
This bag is made out of seatbelts, which means not only is it durable, but also slashproof and waterproof. I’ve taken this bag around the world with me and it still looks exactly the same as when I first got it. They’re a bit pricey, but it’s worth it for how long they last!
If you’re bringing a lot of camera equipment and/or a drone, I’d recommend getting the GoPro Seeker backpack. It doesn’t have a TON of room, but it’s super sturdy, and has really good compartmentalization. There’s even a padded pocket on the back for a laptop, and a structured case up top for spare cameras.
Again, I’m not a guy, and I’ve never worn guy clothes, so these are merely just my guess-recommendations. They’re pretty much the same items and materials as what I’ve listed above, and in styles that I think would look good on a guy!
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