How to Pack for Cold Weather in a Carry On

Click to learn how to pack for cold weather in a carry on! |

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Hi, my name is Sally and I kind of despise winter.

I was born in a cold place (Ireland) but was promptly relocated to warm and sunny Southern California, where I’ve lived the majority of my life basking in the warm desert sun. There was a brief stint in my early years that include Northern California, but many people have told me that San Francisco does not constitute “real winter.” Whatever.

Needless to say, the warmest thing I owned (until very, very recently) was what a friend referred to as a “spring coat.” Coats aren’t just for winter?! My mind was blown. I lived in blissful ignorance until I went to Turkey. See how sad I look in those photos? It’s because I didn’t own any winter clothes and resorted to wearing everything in my suitcase. Just snowman Sally reporting for duty.

Click to learn how to pack for cold weather in a carry on! |


ANYWAY. I have taken it upon myself to research (and purchase) the very best winter clothes for the other people who are lacking um, winter experience. I actively choose to avoid cold places in the winter but sometimes my wanderlust gets the better of me. I do like saving money and packing lightly (or trying to, anyway) in a carry on although I’m fully aware that packing for cold weather in a carry on can seem like an impossible task.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I am snowman Sally no longer because I’ve finally learned how to pack for cold weather in a carry on. You’re welcome.


The Golden Rules:

1. Only pack for a week

Whether your trip is one week or one month, and whether you’re packing for cold weather or hot days, only bring along one week’s worth of clothing. There are laundromats and hotel sinks in every country and winter clothes are bulky enough without you trying to bring tons of outfit choices. You’re not likely to be sweating, anyway.


2. Use packing cubes to compress the life out of things

Click to learn ow to pack for cold weather in a carry on! |

Lewis N Clark Electrolight Packing Cube

Seriously guys, packing cubes are the best thing you can buy for packing. They make all your clothes way less bulky, which means more room to bring things in your suitcase! I LOVE these by Lewis N Clark that offer a 3 inch compression compartment to help consolidate everything.


3. Bring and wear layers.

Well, to a certain extent; don’t wear all the layers like I did (seriously, 3 pairs of leggings and ski pants did not a comfy outfit make). You should bring layers that are easily removable for when you’re indoors, but are still warm enough to brave the elements. Like thermal layers! Plus, you can remove your outer jacket / coat in case you don’t want to look like you wore the same outfit for the whole trip…because Instagram #priorities. A couple of scarves can also spice your outfit up, and they don’t take up much room.

Click to learn how to pack for cold weather in a carry on! |

Patagonia Women's Capilene 3 Midweight Crew

Click to learn how to pack for cold weather in a carry on! |

Icebreaker Women's Vertex Leggings

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Women's Heattech Extra Warm Crew Neck T-Shirt

Click to learn how to pack for cold weather in a carry on! |

Uniqlo Women Heattech Extra Warm Leggings

Click to shop!


4. Bring waterproof boots

Your fuzzy uggs may keep your feet warm and cozy but they can’t do their job when they’re soaking wet. Chances are high that you’ll be dealing with elements besides cold (i.e. rain and / or snow) so make sure you get a pair of boots that are both warm and waterproof. Comfortable for walking is a given.

Click to shop!


5. Wear your bulkiest items on the plane.

If you’re anything like me, this should be no problem since sitting on a plane feels like revenge of the AC. Seriously, why are planes SO cold? Forever a mystery. Either way, you aren’t going to be able to squeeze your giant boots or your winter coat into a carry on so prepare to put everything on at home, take it all of at airport security (apparently body scanners can’t handle jackets or something) then rock the winter chic look for the rest of your journey.


The final packing list (including my favorite products):


Other things to note:

  • Having multiple scarves is one of the best ways to spice up your outfit without taking up a ton of room in your suitcase.
  • You can bring a dressy pair of boots if you anticipate going out to a nice dinner, etc but I find that the right pair of boots can worn day and night.
  • I recommend bringing 1-2 heavy duty winter tops and 2-3 stylish sweaters because you gotta stay stylish!


Naturally this list doesn’t include all my girly items like toiletries, make up, electronics, etc but I’m under the assumption that those are items people bring no matter the season ;).


Have you ever packed for winter with just a carry on? What are some must-have accessories to add to this list? Share in the comments below!


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    I live in Canada and I also despise Winter so I try to avoid any cold destinations when traveling. But sometimes unexpected cold temperatures (minus the snow) can hit even a tropical destination which sucks! I also pack for about a week no matter how long I’ll be traveling for. I recently purchased some packing cubes – looking forward to trying them out on my next trip.

    • I’m basically terrified to visit Canada in the winter because I don’t think all the layers in the world could keep me warm haha! Such a baby about the cold. But yessss the packing cubes are going to change the way you pack forever. Saves “exploding suitcase syndrome” from getting TOO out of hand 🙂

  • Ivy

    Ditto what Lydia said! We’ve traveled in the cold once and that was the end of that haha. We’ve only traveled to warm destinations since, but I agree, layers are so important!

    • LOL yeah I feel you. Some places are just mean to be enjoyed in the winter but I try to avoid it as much as possible!

  • Aubrie Engman

    This was a great article! I love the look of your blog in general, great job! I’ve always wanted to try packing cubes! I’ve heard great things about them!

    • Thank you! Oh man, I didn’t buy packing cubes until maybe 6 months ago and I promise you they are a game changer. You must get some! I recommend the compressible kind 🙂

  • Great lists of useful things to pack. I am currently struggling what to pack for a destination in Mediterranean that has temperatures from 2 to 28 degrees,

    • Thank you! Haha yeahhh I just had to pack for about 3 seasons this past week and it’s a struggle. All I can say is layers and more layers! Good luck 🙂

  • I feel this so much – reading from frigid Boston right now! I did 2 weeks in the UK/Amsterdam in my 45L – and I totally agree with your recommendations. I was reading a guide about Iceland in the winter andthey recommended a Uniqlo thermal heattech type thing. I literally live in it and it has saved me from becoming an absolutely insufferable human being haha. I also bought water-resistant, but SUPER warm Kodiak boots. They were pricey but they probably rank top 5 best adult purchases I’ve ever made (pats self on back).

    • Oh man, I don’t envy you! Boston cold is something else. Oh yes, I used the Uniqlo heat tech on my last trip (and on this one) and it’s really good! LOL it’s such a game changer, right? Ooh nice! I honestly never realized the importance of waterproof AND warm boots until I traveled through heavy snow. Such a learning process when I come from a place where winter is 50 degrees lol.

  • megan_claire

    Great tips 🙂 Layers are the best thing I’ve found work with winter destinations, because it’s usually about the windchill, so getting a first layer which is tight to your skin makes a world of difference … and they’re usually pretty light and compact enough to pack in carry on 🙂

    • Thank you! And yessss the right clothing and layers make a HUGE difference. Definitely had to learn that the hard way!

  • Excellent tips for a tricky packing problem. I’m a huge fan of packing cubes – especially when you’re on the move, living out of a case… they keep everything so organised 🙂

  • TalesOfABackpacker

    Ufff I hate cold weather too, hence moving from England to Spain lol 😀 But I still do find it hard to pack for cold weather, mainly because I’m in denial!! Great tips, will bear in mind for next time I go back to the UK or somewhere colder!

    • Hahaha girl I feel you! Where in Spain are you living? I’m heading to Madrid for a few months this spring :). LOLLL It’s so tempting to bring a larger suitcase, especially during winter but then I remind myself how many places i have to drag it around and it usually helps. :p

  • Probearoundthe Globe

    I love travelling in winter to places best experienced and/or known for their winter weather. But the packing can be a lill’ bitch indeed. As we have some pretty nasty weather here too, I do own some winter cloths but I come to experience that the stuff you advice is really the best out there. You’ll never have to purchase anything again with those winter cloths! and you’ll never be cold again so excellent tips.

    • Yes that makes total sense! I hate being cold but some places are totally worth it. And yes the right kind of clothing makes all the difference! I’m spoiled living in California so I really had to learn that the hard way haha :p

  • Live Learn Venture

    Great post. I find packing cubes save so much space — and you’re so right about only packing a few clothes (or a week’s worth). Now that I’m used to packing so little for even big trips — it’s no big deal. But people always seem amazed at how light I travel haha 🙂

    • Thank you! Yeah packing cubes are such a lifesaver! And I think it’s a learned skill to be honest. I was a such a chronic overpacked before! Glad to hear you’ve mastered the art of packing light 🙂

  • Seyi Famuyiwa

    thos compression thingies!!! I definitely could’ve used that on my trip to Canada this past holiday. I purposely under packed because I didn’t want to lug a huge suitcase…only to get there and have like two outfits I was wearing back to back ahaha. such a great post!!

    • They’re the BEST! Haha girl I feel you! I feel like I overcompensate with accessories and layers to make it look like I’m not wearing one outfit the whole trip. Such a struggle! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Great tips Sally! I am SO not winter-ready (it doesn’t get too cold in Hong Kong) but am headed to Japan to ski soon, so I’m definitely bookmarking this for my trip!

  • Very helpful! I am going to try to go to Iceland next month with a carry on but I’m skeptical it’s gonna work 😂 Mostly because of camera equipment! Love the tip about multiple scarves, that’s how I’m hoping to “keep things spicy” hehe.

    • Hehe the scarf thing is a lifesaver I tell you! I do it no matter what the season :).
      Ahh I know what you mean. Electronics add up SO fast especially if you have any kind of special equipment. Hope you have an awesome trip!!

  • Renee Hahnel

    Great post! I have been looking for compressible travel cubes so I will have to check those ones out!

  • TripGourmets

    Great article and some useful tips! I did struggle with getting everything in a carry on for the colder trips, until I discovered merino wool. Expensive but it can really cut down on packweight and it does a great job of keeping you warm! I will try the scarves tip for mixing things up though 🙂

    • Thank you! And I know what you mean. I’m not a fan of spending a ton on winter wear since I don’t make use of it in Los Angeles and frequently spend time in warmer climates. But you’re right – it totally makes a difference when it comes to packing and warmth. Worth the investment :). Thanks for reading and commenting!