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How to Pack Lightly for a Winter Trip

12/4/17 by Emma Walker

You’ve got packing light down to a science. In fact, you can’t even remember the last time you had to check a bag - it’s all carry-on, all the time. That’s great during the warmer months or when you’re traveling to temperate climates, but during the winter months, light packing is a whole different ballgame. When your destination will be chilly, packing appropriately means striking a balance, because being left without a layer you need could land you in serious trouble. When the mercury drops, you want to be warm because you’re well prepared, not because you’re lugging around a gigantic, overstuffed duffel bag.

Follow these tips so that you don’t overpack for your next winter excursion.

Use compression sacks

For a cold-weather trip, a few lightweight stuff sacks in your luggage can make all the difference. Lots of cold weather gear looks bulky (like those puffy jackets and ski pants), but can actually pack down to be super small.

Pack like items in small sacks to stay organized, then compress them so they’re taking up as little room as possible. If you’ve got bulky items that can’t be compressed, consider layering up and wearing them as you’re traveling so you don’t have to stuff them into your luggage.

Bring versatile layers

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Choosing items that layer well is the key to packing lightly for a winter trip. Marmot / Jonathan Selkowitz

For a winter trip, you’ll need to start with the basics: long underwear, for example. Your top and bottom baselayers should be comfortable enough to wear under everything else you’re bringing, probably for days in a row.

This means you’ll want a comfy, non-itchy fabric. Synthetics can be great, but tend to hold odor. Wool has come a long way from the itchy ski sweaters of your youth and it also doesn’t get smelly. Wool also has the advantage of looking nice enough to wear to dinner or some other indoor activity when you pair it with a vest or scarf. Choose colors that go with everything (neutral tones, particularly black) so you’re not tempted to take up space with a bunch of different color or pattern options.

Pack a few fun accessories

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Accessories can easily change an outfit and they’re easy to pack, too! Marmot / Adam McKibben

When you’re traveling for weeks at a time, especially if you’re spending some time in cities, it’s easy to get sick of wearing the same old outfit for days on end. Alleviate this by packing a few fun and lightweight accessories to change up your outfit. A cute hat, for example, takes up almost no room in your pack (pick something without puffballs or ear flaps to save even more space).

Scarves and lightweight vests pair well with baselayers. They require virtually no extra room and can completely change the look of an outfit.

Consider the warmth-for-weight ratio

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Puffy coats can usually be squished down to almost nothing. Marmot / Ryan Cleary

When you’re laying out all your options to pack for your trip, choose fabrics with a good warmth-for-weight ratio. In other words, you’re looking for items that will insulate well and keep you warm, and that aren’t too bulky and heavy.

Materials like down, fleece, and Merino wool have great warmth-to-weight ratios: they tend to be really light, compressible enough to pack down to almost nothing, and are super-insulators. Of course, if you’re heading somewhere that will likely be wet, down isn’t the best choice (it loses its insulative properties when wet), so consider a synthetic puffy for those destinations.

Stick with boots

It’s tempting to bring a few pairs of shoes for various activities, but for the most part, boots are your best friend for winter traveling. Not only are they warmer, but good quality boots will also have excellent traction and keep you from sliding around on ice and snow. (This also eliminates the need to pack additional traction, like micro-spikes.)

Consider a pair of boots you genuinely like the look of (lots of brands have perfected the art of stylish boots) and that are easy to pull on and off when necessary. If you’ll be spending enough time indoors to need a single pair of indoor shoes, bring along something versatile and lightweight, like trail runners. Otherwise, stick with light, packable down booties.

Figure out what you can rent

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Don’t worry about traveling with your equipment unless you can’t live without it - you can probably rent what you need at your destination. Marmot / Jonathan Selkowitz

When you’ve got multiple activities on the docket, pack space disappears quickly, and we all know outdoor gear can be difficult (and expensive) to pack and fly. Fortunately, lots of winter destinations are prepared with plenty of rental options, so figure out what gear you can easily rent once you’ve reached your adventure base camp.

Of course, if you’ll be making the best turns of your life, it’s appealing to bring along your beloved skis, but consider that many ski areas demo high-quality skis for not much more than their run-of-the-mill models. Lots of winter spots also rent snowshoes, fat bikes, and the accompanying cold-weather gear, too, so you can save room in your pack and have the added bonus of not lugging your skis through the airport.

When it comes down to it, "Do I really need this?" should be your winter packing mantra. By all means, bring a first aid kit if that’s part of your travel regimen, and don’t forget to toss in some chapstick and lotion. They’re two cold-weather luxuries you won’t want to be caught without. When the weather and climate will be colder, especially if you’ll be spending much of your trip outside, it’s easy to want to make contingency plans and pack more than you think you’ll need.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.