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Winter Travel Packing List: What to Pack for Outdoor Activities

Jukkasjärvi Church Winter Travel Packing List

The thing about travel is it’s constantly taking you out of your comfort zone.  Which is awesome.  But it also means that sometimes you have no idea how to best prepare for a situation.  For us, that moment came when we were preparing for our trip to Swedish Lapland.  We live in San Diego, home of some of the most beautiful and temperate weather in the United States. What did we know about winter travel to the Arctic Circle?  Not much.  We were not only planning travel to freezing temperatures, but we were also planning to spend much of our time outside enjoying winter outdoor activities.  What to wear?  It was important to get it right so we weren’t miserable.  We put together a winter travel packing list that served us well for enjoying our winter outdoor activities.

Icelandic Horseback Riding Winter Travel Packing List

The year before we went to Sweden, we took our first winter trip to Madison, Wisconsin.  Because of that trip, we had a little bit of knowledge about packing for winter travel, so some of our winter travel packing list was the same.  But traveling above the Arctic Circle to experience Swedish Lapland’s winter outdoor activities is a little more extreme. 

ICEHOTEL Winter Travel Packing List

The key to packing for winter travel is to pack lots of layers and as little cotton as possible.  Layers are important because they provide insulation and ventilation and allow you to quickly adjust to changes in temperature and activity level by adding or removing layers.  Avoiding cotton is important because cotton retains moisture and will create a chilling effect.

Reindeer Sledding  Winter Travel Packing List

The first layer is the base layer, which goes against your skin.  The base layer manages moisture by moving perspiration away from your body to the outdoor layers, allowing it to evaporate.  Do not use cotton thermals for your base layer.  Your base layer should be made out of wool or synthetic fabrics like polyester.   We wore Under Armour, which is made of synthetic fabric, and a popular wool brand is SmartWool.


The middle layer provides insulation by retaining heat and trapping warm air close to your body.  The middle layer should be made with wool, down, or fleece.  For our tops we chose fleece, which is lightweight, breathable, and can still insulate when wet.  Fleece comes in different weights depending on the weather and your needs. 


For our bottoms, jeans weren’t going to cut it.  I actually wore jeans one day in Kiruna, thinking it would be okay since we were just walking around and would be inside most of the time. That was a mistake and my legs were cold and slightly numb.  The best purchase we made for our winter travel was of Craghoppers' lined winter pants, made with polyester and cotton and lined with fleece.


The shell or outer layer protects you from the elements like wind, rain, and snow.  A good down jacket is the perfect outer layer for when you’re walking around outside in the cold and snow.  Down is lightweight and can pack very small when using space saver vacuum seal bags.  It also traps in warmth. 


For winter outdoor activities like snowmobiling and dog sledding you’ll need more.  The best item of winter clothing for winter outdoor activities is a full-body snowsuit.  Luckily this isn’t something we had to pack.  During our stay at the ICEHOTEL we were provided with a snowsuit which we were able to use for our entire stay.  Also, every tour company provided snowsuits for guest use.


It’s also important to keep your head, hands and feet warm.  Wool socks are essential, and if one pair is good, two pairs are better.  We suggest wearing thin socks with very little cotton underneath your wool socks, which help wick away moisture and protect from the wool itch.  Again, make sure not to wear mostly cotton socks.  My favorite winter boots are my lined Ugg boots, but another good option is Sorel boots.  The ICEHOTEL and tour operators provided boots, but I preferred using my own.  Make sure your boots are big enough to fit your extra thick socks.


Protect your hands with really good gloves or mittens.  It’s important for your gloves to be waterproof as you will most likely be touching snow multiple times.  It is suggested to wear mittens because the insulation works better when all your fingers are together in the same opening.  However, I really couldn’t get the hang of wearing mittens so I stuck with my gloves.  Again, the ICEHOTEL and our tour operators provided leather mittens.


To keep your head warm, pack a good knit hat.  My Under Armour hat worked spectacularly because it had an inner layer which trapped heat in.  Also pack a wool scarf to cover your face, especially when joining in fast moving outdoor winter activities.  You may even want to invest in a balaclava, especially for snowmobiling.


If you use this winter travel packing list for your next outdoor winter adventure, you’ll have a successful winter trip and be warm and toasty while outside playing in freezing temperatures.

Dog Sledding Winter Travel Packing List

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase using one of the links it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission which goes towards our travels and helps us bring you more stories.  Thank you!

Travel the World: Winter travel packing list for a vacation filled with winter outdoor activities.
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