Updated Oct 2023
Growing up in Alabama, I used to be terrified of winter travel, and subsequently winter packing. I had no idea how to pack for cold weather 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: Winter Packing Tips
Before jumping into the winter packing list, here are some tips for lighter packing 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
- 1-2 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 (optional)
- Lip balm
- Body lotion
- Hand warmers (optional)
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.) They also make great pajamas, and I love that they serve double duty when traveling. We get a ton of use out of them both at home and while on the road.
Here are some of our favorite super soft merino wool base layer brands for the whole family:
- Smartwool base layers – we love the adult & kid options (also available on the Smartwool site)
- Iksplor base layers – these are SO thick and warm (code LOCALPASSPORTFAMILY for 10% off)
- REI Co-op merino wool base layers – not quite as thick, but a great affordable option
- Meriwool – lots of options and sizes for the whole family
- Darling merino set for babies and toddlers
Synthetic Base Layers for Winter Travel
The biggest downside to wool base layers is that they’re quite pricey – certainly way more than synthetic base layers. Synthetic sets are a more affordable option, although don’t have some of the benefits of wool (like breathability, rewearing, etc.).
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 favorite inexpensive synthetic 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 Trip Packing List Essential #2: Wool Socks
I’m at it with the wool again! Seriously, good wool socks are magical and an absolute must on your packing list for winter vacation. 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’ve tried multiple 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’ve replaced almost all our old socks with these wool ones. 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. We also love these (also available here). (They’re often on sale here.)
Winter Packing List for Baby: Socks
These are my very favorite baby socks that stay on, so I love layering wool ones over those. And these booties are fantastic for staying on and are super warm and cozy. Sadly, I’ve never been able to find wool baby socks that actually stay on, but I’ll keep looking!
Winter Packing Essential #3: Mid Layer
After your base layer, you’ll want to wear a mid layer. For this, I love to wear a flannel button down of some sort. They’re super warm and functional, and don’t constrict with a layer under so are great for your winter trip packing list.
I also really love a wool sweater for the great warmth, breathability, and being able to rewear it multiple times. Here are a few great options:
- Alpaca Crewneck
- Merino wool crewneck
- Ruffle neck merino
- Affordable merino pullover
- Merino scallop v-neck
Here are some great wool sweater options for kids:
For my kids, I’ll also usually have them wear either a sweater or thermal-type shirt for a bit of added warmth. Here’s a great merino sweater for kids.
While it’s not as eco-friendly, Fleece is also a great option for a middle layer when packing for very cold weather – this fleece set would be a perfect mid layer. (Tons of affordable fleece options HERE for the whole family.)
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, or rain pants are great for waterproofing. (Men’s, women’s, kids rain pants that we love.) Cozy and soft jogger style pants are also a great option.
Winter Trip 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. I always look for waterproof options regardless of whether there’s snow.
Best Winter Snow Boots for Travel
I often prefer using waterproof hiking boots when traveling in winter – they provide good warmth (especially when worn with wool socks), are a little less bulky and more versatile than straight up snow boots, and provide good grip when walking in slippery areas. Here are our favorites for men, women, and big kids, and little kids.
We’ve also used these affordable winter snow boots for kids with good success.
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 the ultralight jackets here for over 5 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 great jacket for your winter trip packing list. This is my personal favorite – it’s super lightweight and packable but ultra warm, so it’s great for travel. If it’s really cold, I love this one, that is basically like wearing a blanket. Here are our favorites for men, women, boys, girls, and toddlers.
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
I’ve also heard great things about these gloves. I’m planning to keep an eye on those for an end of season sale!
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. Merino beanies are also great.
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 instead of falling all over the place.
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. This is my very favorite kind for myself, but some of my kids don’t like the peppermint.
Winter Packing Essential #11: Moisturizer
Speaking of chapping, our skin also gets super dry. I have one kiddo with pretty sensitive skin that gets REALLY dry in the cold. My very favorite, obsessively good moisturizer for the whole family is this coconut oil-based one. It’s sooo gentle and moisturizing, and it smells incredible. Gentle enough even for little babies and really protective.
This stuff is also excellent – it’s all natural and perfect even for little babies, so I love that just one thing 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.