Growing up in Alabama, I used to be terrified of winter travel, and subsequently winter packing. I had no idea what to wear and figured it was best to just stay indoors reading a book!
But my kids LOVE winter, as many kids do. And since we live in the San Francisco Bay Area and don’t get cold weather, we like to take at least one winter trip each year if possible. After doing this for a few years, we’ve gotten a pretty good handle on what to pack for cold weather.
Here’s our winter vacation packing list that doesn’t require us to pack multiple extra suitcases for all our stuff. I have some favorites that we’ve used for over a decade and some newer-to-us accessories that add convenience. I hope it’s helpful to your family!
How to Pack for Winter Travel
Before jumping into the winter packing list, here are some tips for packing minimally for winter travel. It can often feel like there’s so much bulk when traveling in winter, so here’s how to minimize that as much as possible:
- If you’re flying, wear all your heaviest/bulkiest clothing on your travel day. Yes, that includes your boots and jacket!
- Don’t be afraid of rewearing clothing. I’ve recommended a lot of wool below, and with good reason. Not only is it warm, but you can rewear wool clothing a number of times and it won’t smell since it has natural antibacterial properties. If you’re used to washing your clothing every day at home, I recommend extending that while traveling in winter with kids.
- Alternate clothing. While you should definitely rewear things, try to alternate days if possible and leave the other clothing to air out in the meantime.
- Pack LESS than you would for summer travel. Since the clothing is bulkier, you need to minimize the number of items. Plus, since you’ll be wearing outerwear and innerwear, your clothing can easily be reworn.
- Wear layers. Layers will be much warmer than one really warm layer because the different layers will each insulate and trap heat. On top of that, layering gives you more options for mixing and matching different warm components. It also means you can easily adapt if the weather warms up. In general in cold weather, I recommend wearing a wool base layer, a mid layer, and a down outer layer. If it’s very cold, you can add in a wool sweater for another layer.
- Use packing cubes. Whether you’re traveling by air or car, I cannot recommend packing cubes highly enough. They keep everything contained and smush the air out of some of the puffier clothing to save space.
What Do I Need to Pack for Winter? Winter Packing List For Kids
Here’s what I recommend bringing when packing for cold weather with kids:
- 2 sets of base layers
- 2-3 tops
- 2-3 pairs of pants
- 2 warm sweaters
- 2-3 pairs of wool socks
- 1 pair of waterproof socks (optional)
- 1-2 pairs of shoes
- 5-7 pairs of underwear
- 1 warm coat, preferably waterproof
- 1 pair of snow pants or bib (optional)
- 1-2 pairs of gloves (ski gloves and/or wool gloves)
- 1 warm hat
- Mitten clips
- Wool neck gaiter
- Lip balm
- Body lotion
- Hand warmers
The great thing about winter travel with kids is that you’re almost always wearing outerwear, so clothing doesn’t get very dirty. Plus, with wool base layers, you can rewear them, and then your mid layer can easily be reworn multiple times, as well. So even though the items are bulkier, you don’t need nearly as many.
I’ve given a range for the number of items because this will vary a bit with kids. If you have really young children who may have toilet accidents or may spill food on themselves, it’s better to have an extra outfit in case of an emergency.
Winter Packing List Essential #1: Base Layers
If there’s one thing that’s almost more important than the outerwear, it’s good base layers. A base layer is what might also be called thermal underwear. It’s the layer you would wear closest to the skin.
Good base layers are important when packing for a winter vacation because if you get sweaty at all under all your layers (very likely), poor base layers will simply absorb the moisture and stay wet. And when you feel wet, you feel cold. Which is very bad, including for frostbite.
Wool Base Layers for Winter Packing
I really love wool base layers for the whole family. They’re perfect for wicking moisture and staying dry, and are ultra warm.
Plus, since wool has natural cleaning properties, it rarely smells and can be worn a number of times before washing. This is super helpful when packing for cold weather because that means less laundry while on vacation! Good merino wool is also super soft, and stretches so one set lasts my kids through multiple years. (And it’s fine if the cuffs are a bit short when wearing underneath.)
Because they’re so soft and comfortable, my kids also wear them as pajamas, so we get TONS of use out of wool base layers for kids.
Synthetic Base Layers When Packing for Kids
The biggest downside to wool base layers is that they’re quite pricey – certainly way more than synthetic base layers. For this reason, we like to have a second set that are synthetic.
I’ve found that synthetic base layers tend to vary MUCH more widely in terms of quality. Some are mixed with a good bit of cotton (very bad for a base layer) and some don’t hold up at all. It’s very frustrating!
These are our very favorite inexpensive base layers for kids and adults. They last forever and are crazy warm. Plus, they have sizes for the whole family. In unbelievably cold conditions, I’ve been known to layer my wool and synthetic base layers together – it’s very toasty and perfect for a winter holiday packing list.
Winter Packing Essential #2: Wool Socks
I’m at it with the wool again! Seriously, good wool socks are magical. Again, they’re more expensive than your average 10-pack of Hanes but good ones last so long and the difference in warmth and comfort is huge.
When buying wool socks for cold weather packing, it’s worth getting good quality ones. I tried these cheap ones out and they all had holes after about 6 months. We’ve had good quality ones for 6-7 years of regular use and they’re still going strong, and I’m slowly replacing old socks with holes with these wool ones. I’ll probably add a pair into everyone’s Easter basket. Wool socks are wonderful because they’re cool in summer and warm in winter!
There are my favorite wool socks of all time. They are unbeatably soft and have a lifetime guarantee. They will literally replace them if they EVER get a hole! It’s still a family-owned business and I love them so much.
These are some of the most popular wool socks and they’re also great, although I don’t prefer them quite as much.
Finally, these are some other wool socks that I’ve had for years and years and love!
Winter Packing List for Baby: Socks
Ah, baby socks! Almost impossible to get to stay on. I have finally found that these wool baby socks stay on relatively well and are very warm. They’re also super stretchy, so I like layering them over another pair of socks if it’s super cold.
If you know you’ll be going through a lot of wetness, I highly recommend layering a pair of waterproof socks on top of your wool socks.
Winter Packing Essential #3: Mid Layer
After your base layer, you’ll want to wear a mid layer. For this, I really love to wear a flannel button down of some sort. They’re super warm and functional, and don’t constrict with a layer under.
If it’s ultra cold, I’ll also layer a wool sweater on top. (I like this one, this one, and this one. I haven’t personally tried this one but it looks super warm and has fantastic reviews, and is on sale for less than half off.)
For my kids, I’ll also usually have them wear either a sweater or thermal-type shirt for a bit of added warmth. (Something like this or this.) Fleece is also a great option for a middle layer when packing for very cold weather – these fleece pants or this darling sherpa pullover for kids would be perfect mid layers.
Mid Layer Bottoms
Honestly, I don’t find the mid layer bottoms matter all that much since you have the base layer to keep you dry and possibly an outer layer of snow pants to keep you dry on the outside. If you aren’t wearing outwear pants, it’s a good idea to pay more attention to your bottoms. Quick dry pants like this can be great.
I personally prefer to hike and recreate in leggings (with pockets!) and this is my very favorite pair. If you won’t have an outer layer, I recommend against heavy materials like denim that will absorb moisture and stay wet. I love putting my kids in soft leggings or cozy and soft jogger style pants.
Winter Packing List Essential #4: Shoes
Shoes are definitely important to keep toes warm and dry, and to avoid frostbite when taking a winter vacation with kids. Even when hiking, I honestly prefer to just have everyone wear snow boots. It saves on the hassle of drying shoes out, and even if we don’t think they’re going to tromp through snow, somehow it always happens if snow is around.
Best Winter Snow Boots for Travel
These are some of my favorite durable, warm snow boots. (Also on Amazon.) They have great grip on them so they’re fine for hiking, too, so long as the height of the shaft doesn’t get in the way. A couple of my other favorite snow boots for kids are here and here.
We’ve also used the Cat & Jack winter boots – we found they worked fine for our young toddler who wasn’t going to be out for an extended period, but did get wet. I wouldn’t recommend them for staying out in the snow for a very long time.
For a super inexpensive option, we’ve also used these snow boots when packing for cold weather. We were actually super impressed with how waterproof and warm they were, and they are under $16!
For myself, I purchased a pair very similar to these over a decade ago and they’re still going strong!
Best Winter Travel Shoes
If it’s not going to be super snowy and wet, I love these wool sneakers that stay cool and dry. We’ve had and loved the kids ones, as well. And these are my very favorite sneakers of all time. They’re perfect for walking around town and are cute but also the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn in my life. They literally feel like you’re walking on fluffy blankets.
Winter Packing List Essential #5: Outerwear
A common misperception is you have to spend boatloads of money in order to get decent outerwear. You don’t! The great thing about more expensive/better quality outerwear is that it a) lasts longer and b) is warmer with less bulk. That means if you’re willing to spend a bit more up front, it will likely last you longer, and will also pack down smaller (helpful when traveling for a winter vacation).
That said, it’s absolutely not necessary to get everyone a $200 coat to be able to pack for cold weather. Our entire family has used these jackets for over 3 years and they’ve held up great. They’re lightweight and warm and great for packing (and we got them when they were on sale). While they’re not the very warmest jackets out there, they worked perfectly for our purposes and are great when layered.
If you live in a cold climate, it may be worth investing in a really fantastic jacket. But if you don’t live in cold weather and don’t spend that much time in it, we’ve been just fine with our jackets.
Snow Pants For Winter Travel
If we know we’ll be doing some active snow play (either jumping in it, sledding, etc.), we’ll pack snow pants for everyone. They are absolutely amazing for keeping everyone dry, warm, and happy and I 100% recommend them even if it’s just wet and cold but not snowing.
I personally prefer the bib-style snow pants for my kids. That way, even if they’re rolling around in the snow, it’s difficult for it to get into their waistbands and get them all wet. With a jacket on top, it keeps them pretty protected from the snow. These are really durable and warm, but we’ve also used this inexpensive set with success.
I and my husband prefer pants to a snow bib (and we’re less likely to be get snow all down our pants, anyway). This is my favorite brand that’s held up so well and is crazy warm. They’re reasonably priced, too!
Winter Packing List for Baby: Outerwear
I prefer a one piece outerwear for babies so it covers their bellies, and doesn’t feel as cumbersome with multiple pieces. And little snowsuits keep them so warm and cozy!
Then we have a baby snowsuit like this for when it’s a bit colder. I like this one when it’s wet because we can easily put the baby down to crawl around and it provides some water resistance. I also like that the feet and hands fold up to give a bit more growing room!
Winter Packing Essential #6: Gloves
Honestly, it’s proven difficult to find truly waterproof ski gloves for kids. I find that most of the pairs we’ve tried tend to at least become damp after a long while of snow play. We’ve had a few pairs of these and they’re fine but I find the waterproofing tends to wear off after a while.
I personally prefer having my kids wear mittens instead of gloves since it keeps their fingers warmer, but a couple of my older kids are starting to prefer gloves, which is fine. Do what works for you!
If it’s extra cold, we will layer merino wool gloves underneath warm ski gloves for double protection.
Winter Packing Essential #7: Hats
I’m not very particular about which hat, but do recommend wearing them as most of the heat is lost through the head. My baby is darling in this hat, this one is great for my preschool and early elementary kiddos, and this one is perfect for slightly older kiddos.
Winter Packing Essential #8: Mitten Clips
I also LOVE these mitten clips. The strap goes through the sleeves and clips onto the mittens so even if they remove them, they’ll stay hanging on. So much easier than keeping track of mittens!
Winter Packing Essential #9: Neck Gaiter
Speaking of convenience, when it’s cold enough for a scarf, I love doing a wool gaiter, especially for kids. Then it’s much harder to remove and leave behind, and actually stays on to keep them warm!
Winter Packing Essential #10: Lip Balm
My lips always get crazy dry in the winter, as do my kids’ lips. Out of everything, this baby staple is actually the thing that works the best to actually heal chapped lips. (Here’s a to go tube for travel.) An absolute essential for a cold weather packing list.
Winter Packing Essential #11: Body Cream
Speaking of chapping, our skin also gets super dry. I have one kiddo with pretty sensitive skin that gets REALLY dry in the cold. This stuff is like magic and is what works best on it. It’s natural and perfect even for little babies, so I love that it works for the whole family.
Winter Packing Essential #12: Hand Warmers
Finally, I always like having a few hand warmers on hand. They’re great if fingers or toes get a little too cold and work quickly and are perfect for a packing list for cold weather.
There you have it – some of the most important winter packing essentials when taking a winter vacation with kids. I hope this winter packing list for kids and adults is helpful, and I’d love to hear in the comments if you have any favorites that I missed!
Wool is going to be your best friend for winter travel with kids. It will keep you dry and warm, and can be reworn multiple times without needing to be washed. Other important things are good shoes and outerwear, and accessories like waterproof gloves.
I find that 7 days is the max amount of time I need to pack for. That is, even if I’m going on a longer trip, I pack as though I’m going on a week-long trip. In general, I recommend packing less in for winter travel with kids than summer travel, since the clothing won’t get as dirty. Just 2-3 of each item will be enough!
Wool, no question! It’s amazing at wicking moisture and keeping you dry (and thus warmer). It also insulates heat and has naturally antibacterial properties. It’s a lifesaver in winter!
The most important tips are to limit what you bring and to use packing cubes. That way, you can compress the air out of any puffy clothing. And don’t forget if you’re worried about space to wear your bulkiest clothing so you don’t need to pack it!
For extreme cold, it’s very important to layer. One ultra warm layer will never be as warm as multiple very warm layers. Wool is great for layering, as is a down outer layer. Be sure to have materials that will wick and keep out moisture, as being wet is the quickest way to get cold.
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