Categories: Travel Tips+

How to Pack Light for Winter Travels?

Many people avoid winter travel because they find it hard to pack light for winter. I used to be the same. I thought I would have to bring the thickest jacket I have at home and layer myself with woolen jumpers and funny looking ear muffs. It turns out to pack light for winter is actually easier than you think, just need to follow the following rule of thumb then you will be fine!

Packing for the ice cold weather.


Base layers are layers that are close to your skin and can remove any sweat you produced. It is one of the most essential element to pack light for winter. The two main base-layer materials are “synthetics/ polyester” or “merino“. Each has its own advantages. Synthetics are easier to dry, however they build up body odors quicker than merino wool. Merino wools are better at regulating body temperatures and they don’t smell, so they don’t need to be washed as often. However the downside is that they are slower to dry and are significantly more expensive. Both are rather light-weight and there are materials on the market that has a mixture of both such as New Balance Men’s Performance Merino Long Sleeve Top which has 65% Merino Wool/35% Polyester. One of the brands that sells very good 100% merino gears is Ice Breaker from New Zealand.

For York’s winter base layer we bought two 100% merino tops.

For base-layer bottom, I choose a pair of polyester material and a pair of 100% wool material for York. As we are travelling to Antarctica it is essential to have these bottom-base layer to keep warm. The polyester material may not be as warm as 100% wool, but it will be a good alternative for sleeping in.

The left one is polyester and the tight one is 100% merino. Merino was 5 times more expensive!

Mid Layers

The primary purpose of a mid layer is insulation, it suppose to trap as much body heat as possible. It is acceptable to wear more than one mid layer to keep yourself warm. Since we will be going to Antarctica, we packed two types of mid layer- a fleece and a down jacket.


Fleece is made of synthetic fibers which are quick dry and retains some insulation even when wet as the material repels small amount of water. The thicker the fleece the more wind-resistant they are, however the thicker the fleece the size and weight increases too so you have to compromise. Fleece is the cheapest mid-layer and I love its versatility when dressing casual!

Fleece is a perfect add-on for any plane rides, since sometimes the temperature on a flight can be a bit cold.

Down Jacket

A packable down jacket is essential for travelling light in winter as they are very warm and light-weight. “Down” is a type of fine feather which has strong insulating properties. A good down jacket can be quite expensive.There are 3 different ways to assess the quality of a down jacket:

  1. A good down jacket may contain 95% down, 5% feather. Where as cheaper down jacket may only contain 80% down and 20% feather.
  2. The “Fill Power” is a technical measurement to measure how much space it fills with a given weight, obviously the more the better and lighter the jacket is. You will need to be looking at least 600 fill power in a down jacket for it to be acceptable for cold weather.
  3. The type of feather used in a down jacket: goose is the superior option.

The Down Jacket we got for York is from New Zealand’ leading outdoor brand Macpac- Uber Light Down Jacket Mens which has fill power of 650. But if you really want to choose the most value for money down jacket, Uniqlo Down Jackets are the way to go! It’s 90% down and 10% feather with a fill power of more than 640 and usually under USD$100. However if you are looking for a good down Jacket, Berghaus Men’s Ilam Down Jacket is often rated quite high for its 850 fill power.

Down jackets are so light and packable it is a winter travel essential.

One of the disadvantages of down jacket is that once it gets wet, it looses its insulation ability and that is why it is important to wear a waterproof layer over them.

Outer Layers

The third layer to keep yourself warm in cold weather is the outer layer. Outer layer needs to be windproof or waterproof to keep your inner layers dry, especially if you are wearing a down jacket.

Waterproof Jackets & Pants

To complete the third layer for pack light in winter, one must have a waterproof layer! There are many different types of waterproof jackets. It is important to look at waterproof ratings  (mm) and breath-ability when purchasing. Can read more on “Waterproof Ratings and Breathability Guide” which I found to be very useful. Often the breath-ability of a jacket decreases as waterproof rating increases, it is important to get a garment that is well balanced.

Waterproof Rating (mm) Resistance provided What it can withstand
0-5,000 mm No resistance to some resistance to moisture Light rain, dry snow, no pressure
6,000-10,000 mm Rainproof and waterproof under light pressure Light rain, average snow, light pressure
11,000-15,000 mm Rainproof and waterproof except under high pressure Moderate rain, average snow, light pressure
16,000-20,000 mm Rainproof and waterproof under high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow, some pressure
20,000 mm+ Rainproof and waterproof under very high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow, high pressure

Personally I would get a garment that has GORE-TEX® treatment if you have the budget as it is rated to be one of the top waterproof membrane on the market. There are also other brands that sells waterproof members under trade names, it is advisable to do your research prior to purchasing.

Kathmandu Gore-tex Jacket.

We particularly like Marmot’s Precip Range, such as Marmot Men’s Precip Jacket and Marmot Women’s Precip Jacket as they are light-weight with 10000 mm waterproof-ness and can be easily stored away while maintaining a good balance of breath-ability. For York’s jacket we ended up getting him Kathmandu’s Altum Men’s GORE-TEX® 2 Layer Waterproof Jacket as it was on special.

York’s Macpac waterproof pants.

York’s sister told us we must have a good pair of waterproof pants when visiting Antarctica. As they will keep your bottom half dry and trap body heat. It is advisable to have at least 5000 mm waterproof rating on those pants. Again I really like Marmot Men’s Precip Pant and Marmot Womens PreCip Full Zip Pant range as they are very company and light.

Accessories to keep warm

  • It is important to keep your head warm with a beanie. Berghaus Men’s Spectrum Beanie are affordable and light-weight. It comes in two sizes which is great if men with larger head.
  • Hiking socks are crucial to keep your feet padded. Recommend socks such as Thorlo Men’s Coolmax Lt Hiker Crew Sock or similar.
  • Recently discovered these fleece made Fuji Convertible Gloves. By being convertible it allows you to keep your hands warm and use your fingers if you need to use technologies.
  • Scarfs are required to keep your neck warm, we planned to buy

Accessories to keep warm. A good pair of gloves, scarf and beanie!

Keys to Pack Light for Winter

  • Base Layer
  • Mid Layer
  • Outer Layer
  • Accessories to keep warm

Read more on: Winter Vacation Pack List @ Hokkaido, Japan for a girly pack list I figured out few years ago (It was definitely not a pack light for winter list).

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