Winter Packing Guide: Our Cold Weather Essentials

Planning a trip to cold destinations this winter? Are you unsure what you’ll need to pack in order to stay warm and comfortable? Well, read on for our essentials to pack for cold weather.


As a girl who was born and raised in Southern California, is it any surprise that up until I turned 30, I had never actually witnessed snowfall or experienced freezing cold temperatures? So it was with a healthy mix of excitement and dread that I agreed to spend an entire winter traveling through some of Europe's coldest destinations (I'm looking at you Switzerland, Estonia and Finland!). So when it came to time pack for our winter in Europe, I was pretty much in the dark about what to pack.

When I tried to imagine what to bring, visions of me being layered up to the point of looking like a stuffed penguin wading through the snow filed my mind. However, to be fair, images of me curled up and cozy on a bear skin rug in front of a roaring fire in a Swiss chalet were also floating around in my head -- so it wasn't all bad. But the bottom line was that, I didn't know what to expect, and had even less of an idea as to what I needed to pack. So like any good traveler, I turned to the internet to try and figure out what to pack for sub-zero temperatures. As I read, I kept finding a common theme in the advice; 1) layers are your friend, 2) down-filling and fleece are best, and 3) don't skimp when it comes to quality and durability. 

Since this was the first trip where we'd be spending substantial time in cold weather, we really were starting from zero. We had to get everything from base layers, to boots, gloves, and even heavy jackets. Our goal was to find clothing that not only allowed us to be active, but also looked nice enough to wear out to dinners in the evening, and while lounging around our hotel.  After a quick trip down to a local sports store to check out our options, we decided to give Columbia a try. They had a great mix of items that not only seemed to be really functional, but that also looked stylish. In addition, the clothing from Columbia was far less bulky than other brands we saw, which was an important consideration for us since we had limited space in our luggage. 

So after a massive online shopping spree (I think that aside from travel, shopping my just be my favorite thing to do), both Chris and I we're fully outfitted for winter. We both picked up all of the essential items to keep us comfortable while indoors (vests, fleece jackets, and thermals), as well as cold weather gear like waterproof boots, insulated pants, gloves, and coats. It was pretty much our entire winter wardrobe in one go, and it worked out perfectly! Keep reading for a more detailed look at the various items we packed for our winter in Europe. 


The first thing we learned was that good boots are critical to keeping warm in cold weather. Without the right footwear, walking through ice and snow can be a very slippery, dangerous and toe numbing experience. So our investment in high quality waterproof, insulated and warm boots paid off well. We our boots not only looked nice as we walked around the streets of Helsinki, but they served us well as we trudged through the beautiful swiss village of Verbier after a heavy snowfall. 

Women's Snow Boots  |  Men's Snow Boots 


Over my lifetime, i've owned many pairs of leggings, but never considered them a cold weather essential. However, after discover the joy of fleece-lined leggings, I don't think i'll ever go anywhere cold without them! I would wear leggings under my snow pants (just another layer of insulation) and Chris would do the same. Plus they’re great for lounging around a fire, in case you don't need to layer up!  

Women's Fleece Leggings 


While in Vienna a few years back both Chris and I picked up some nice cashmere lined leather gloves. And while these looked stylish, they weren't water proof, and honestly not particularly insulated. As we would be spending considerable about of time outdoors (and even on the ski slopes) we really wanted gloves that would keep us warm dry. The ones we settled on had a waterproof nylon outer shell, and removable fleece glove liner. A huge bonus was that the fleece liners even worked with our iPhone, so we didn't need to remove our gloves to snap a quick photo, or use the GPS.

Women's Snow Gloves  |  Men's Snow Gloves 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to pack for cold weather; but for us these are our go-to winter essentials. 

Down Filled Puffer Vest
I've always been a big fan of puffer vests. They are one of my go-to items for when the weather isn’t too cold, or when I just needed an extra layer. We found ourselves wearing vests mostly inside at the hotel, or while out at restaurants and cafes. This is actually one of the only pieces we continue to wear almost year round, especially during the fall. It’s a great transitional piece! 

Women's Down Puffer Vest  |  Men's Down Puffer Vest 


Down Filled Puffer Jacket
Both Chris and I had winter coats, but they were pretty bulky, and difficult to pack into our suitcases. So for this trip we wanted to try getting a down filled puffer jacket. When we saw the jackets, we initially thought that something so light and thin could never keep us warm as they honestly looked more like windbreakers than cold weather gear. However, we could not have been more wrong. The Turbodown jackets from Columbia not only kept us warm, but was also easy to travel with as it was so lightweight, and could be packed into the smallest of spaces, making it perfect for our nomadic lifestyle. This has probably turned out to be the most used piece of clothing we both wore, as it kept us really warm, in very cold temperatures without making us feel like giant marshmallows. 

Women's Winter Puffer Jacket  |  Men's Winter Puffer Jacket 


Snow Jacket
Another item I'd recommend picking up is a proper snow jacket. Something that can fully zip and button, goes up to your neck, is waterproof and preferably has a hood. I selected one that was filled with 80% duck down, which made it very lightweight and added lots of insulation. I'd wear this when I wanted something a little less "sporty", especially for in the evenings when we were heading out to dinners. If you have a great, high quality coat, you'll stay warm, dry, and not feel bogged down by too much weight. 

Women's Snow Jacket  

Snow Pants
We got the snow pants specifically for skiing -- which you will have to have. Trust us, you won't want to fall and get wet with snow in something that isn't waterproof. And fall we did. We spent a week in the Swiss Alps learning how to ski, and these pants kept us completely dry and comfortable while out on the mountain. And with our fleece lined leggings underneath, we were warm enough to be out all day without being cold. 

Women's Snow Pants  |  Men's Snow Pants 


So, after much needless worry, our first real "winter" turned out to be quite a success. We managed to stay warm, dry, and comfortable -- and didn't look bad doing it! We couldn't have been more please with our decision to try out Columbia, and will definitely choose them again if we ever need to pick up additional winter gear -- which will likely be again soon as we kinda got a little addicted to skiing!