What to Pack for Cold-Weather Vacations (With a Packing Checklist)

Being cold is one of the toughest feelings to shake out of your bones, and frostbite is nothing to mess with. Especially if you’re from a warmer climate, taking a trip to a colder region can catch you by surprise.

The good news is that you can dress for cold climates, as long as you pack right for cold climates. The tips and cold-weather packing checklist that follow will make sure you’re cozy from head to toe from Alaska to Antarctica.

Also read: Winter Travel Insurance - How it can Help When Trips Get Rough

Cold Weather Vacation Packing Checklist

You can download our Cold Weather Vacation Packing Checklist by clicking the button below. The accessible interactive PDF can be digitally checked off using any device or easily printed for your use.


Every bit of cold-weather clothing advice starts with “wear layers,” and they’re right – to a point. You do want to pack and wear layers, but they have to be the right kind of layers.

The key is to keep moisture away from your body. Moisture cooling on your skin makes you feel colder. It’s not the only way to feel cold – simply not dressing warm enough will also do the trick – but if you’re active and generating heat and suddenly stop being active, clammy skin will quickly turn to chilly skin.

For that reason, choose a polypro or merino-wool base layer that wicks away moisture from your skin.

A cotton shirt or jacket over a moisture-wicking layer largely defeats the purpose of the wicking layer. For that reason, choose a fleece mid-layer and cover it with a Gore-Tex shell for active outdoor pursuits.

If you look at what people wear who live and work in cold climates, you’ll often find it’s insulated coveralls or snowmobile suits. These garments hold in heat over your entire body keeping vulnerable areas like your upper thighs nice and toasty. Layer bibs with an appropriate jacket and you’re set.

Finally, remember that you can always shed a layer, but it’s hard to add a layer you don’t have.

Packing For a Ski Vacation: Strategies and a Packing Checklist

Hand and foot warmers

Hands and feet are the hardest body parts to keep warm and the parts most vulnerable to frostbite.

The keys to keeping your feet warm are:

  • Moisture-wicking socks
  • High-quality insulated boots
  • No tight boots or shoes

Cold-weather socks of alpaca or merino wool are perfect. Warm, dry socks of the same materials are a luxury at the end of a cold day outside.

As for boots, you get what you pay for. Choose outdoor footwear that’s rated to -40 or lower. Don’t worry about how clumsy your feet may feel in these boots; their warmth is your payoff. (Ultra-clunky “pac” boots are recommended if you’re going to be standing or sitting in the cold – at a northern-tier outdoor football game in January, for instance.)

When it comes to your hands, the more fingers you can keep together the warmer they’ll be.

Opt for mittens with a wind-blocking outer layer, like leather-and-wool “choppers.” If you need some fingers, try a “lobster-claw” glove.

With all gloves or mittens, make sure they wick moisture away from your skin. Wet fingers quickly become cold fingers.

Handwarmers are your cheat code. The rechargeable ones are nice, but the disposable ones give you more flexibility.

Find your next trip: 6 Romantic Winter Getaways

Extreme cold

The best advice in conditions of extremely low air temperatures and/or wind chills is to stay indoors. If you can’t, try to cover all exposed skin with a scarf or face mask, and wear goggles to protect your eyes.

Exposed skin can develop frostbite in less than 10 minutes in extreme conditions.

Other items

If snowshoeing is on your itinerary, consider packing some Nordic-specific trekking poles. They’ll lessen your workload considerably.

Even if you’re just taking a few loops on some popular trails, take along a first-aid kit, extra handwarmers, Swiss Army knife or multi-tool, and some emergency matches.

Similarly, pack a swimsuit, because you never know when or where you’ll encounter a sauna or jacuzzi.

Winter driving is a whole other matter entirely. We won’t get into details other than to mention the Canadian government has some great tips on what to pack and how to prepare.

Also see: 6 Winter Activities for Non-Skiers and Where to Try Them

Travel protection

Travel protection is a must for cold-weather vacations. Choose a plan with robust coverage for emergency medical evacuation, like the travel insurance and assistance services plans offered by Generali Global Assistance.

We have plans for almost every kind of cold-weather vacation. Get a quote today and see for yourself.

Cold-weather packing checklist

Pack in your luggage

  • Bandages
  • Base layer (merino wool or polypro)
  • Belts or suspenders
  • Blow dryer/hot comb
  • Cold-weather boots
  • Contact lenses/solution
  • Copies of important papers
  • Down jacket
  • Emergency contact info (family, friends, banks, credit-card companies)
  • Emergency match
  • Extension cord and/or outlet strip
  • Face cleanser/moisturizer
  • Face mask
  • First-aid kit
  • Hygiene products
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Fleece mid-layer
  • Gloves
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Haircare items
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Handwarmers
  • Hangers
  • Hats (lined beanie, peaked ski hat and/or lumberjack-style with earflaps)
  • Hiking boots
  • Jeans (preferably flannel-lined)
  • Laundry items
  • Magnetic hooks
  • Makeup/makeup remover
  • Mittens (with a wind-blocking outer layer)
  • Outer shell (Gore-Tex or similar)
  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Warm PJs
  • Scarves
  • Ski goggles
  • Ski wear
  • Slippers
  • Sweaters/sweatshirts
  • Tennis shoes
  • Trekking poles
  • Undergarments
  • Warm socks (alpaca or merino wool, several pairs)
  • Wool or flannel shirts

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Pack in Your Carry-on or Backpack

  • Blanket and pillow
  • Camera
  • Cash
  • Cellphone
  • Changes of clothes
  • Chargers (including a power bank)
  • Chewing gum
  • Computer or tablet
  • Copies of prescriptions
  • Credit/debit cards
  • Deodorant
  • Eye mask/earplugs
  • Food
  • Headphones/earbuds
  • IDs
  • Insurance cards
  • Jewelry and other valuables
  • Tissues
  • Lip balm
  • Medications
  • Shoes
  • Water bottle


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