Winter Packing Tips for People Who Hate to Be Cold

Pin It

My parents live in the American South where the climate is so mild my dad can play golf year round. They have never particularly enjoyed cold weather and passed that trait onto me. Yet I often seem to find myself in frosty climes. I spent five winters in New York City shivering and bemoaning the piles of dirty snow on the sidewalk. Now I live in Riga, Latvia, a city situated so far north that its river has been known to freeze over.


Before the move I received two pieces of advice that have proven helpful and mostly true. The first is an oft-repeated quote by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a British adventurer who has climbed Mount Everest:

There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.

The second point I heard was that nowhere in Europe is especially warm in winter so I might as well embrace the cold. I thought I’d circumvent this last January with a trip to sunny Istanbul but was welcomed with a blizzard instead. And you know what? I LOVED IT! The snow-covered city was stunning and blissfully free of tourist crowds. Plus, I was toasty-warm in my winter gear.


Before I packed my bags for Latvia, with thoughts of icicles and hypothermia running through my head, I invested in some key pieces that have protected me from the elements across the continent from Norway and Estonia to Belgium and Turkey. Here are my tips for conquering the cold this winter travel season.



A good coat is the most important article of clothing you can pack. Puffy down coats will likely be warm enough, but the issue I’ve found is that they don’t stay dry. It snows and rains a lot in Europe and, even with an umbrella, you can quickly find yourself soaked to the bone. To avoid this undesirable situation, look for coats with water resistant material and a hood. I’ve been very happy with the Arctic Down Parka from the North Face.



I don’t know about you, but cold feet make me miserable. Wet feet are even worse. That’s where waterproof insulated boots come in handy. Standard Uggs are warm but can become sodden. Wellies provide excellent rain protection but tend to feel like frozen blocks of cement – even with fleece wellie socks. I’ve found that boots from LL Bean provide the perfect amount of protection. I wear the classic version paired with thick wool socks, but if you’re really worried about the cold or are heading to the Arctic, upgrade to the shearling-lined version. Whatever you do, leave the heels and dress boots at home. Those cobblestones can be treacherous!

But Heather, I hear you say, we have plans to attend the opera/ballet/theater in Europe. Won’t we want to wear fancy shoes to the performance? Yes, you will. Carry them with you and change in the coat check. Everyone will think you’re a local!



The tricky part about dressing for winter is not overdoing it on the layers. You need to strike a balance between being warm outside and not sweating to death indoors. My go-to options are a Uniqlo Heattech t-shirt and fleece-lined tights (NOT leggings – the feet are important), worn beneath jeans and a merino wool sweater. Avoid cotton undershirts as they won’t wick away perspiration.


Oslo in April

Don’t forget your sunglasses! When the sun does make an appearance, it will feel exceptionally bright.

You will want a scarf and hat, even if your coat has a hood. Wool and fleece are good materials, though you should choose whatever makes you comfortable. It’s no fun to be itchy! The item I have the most trouble with is gloves. I take a lot of photos and need my fingers, which quickly freeze when left unprotected. Last winter I bought e-tip gloves from the North Face and they worked okay, but weren’t really warm enough for lengthy periods outside. Lately I’ve been rocking fingerless Latvian mittens, but that won’t cut it once the temperature drops below zero. If anyone has a solution, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


Winter Packing Guide

Have you traveled to Europe in winter? What are your packing tips?

14 thoughts on “Winter Packing Tips for People Who Hate to Be Cold

  1. Great post, Heather! I am in total agreement with the cold and wet feet, especially after having had frost nip twice. I was so happy to find the self-heating hand and toe warmers here in Riga at Depo. I use the toe warmers in my shoes on really cold days (even when I run), and the hand warmers in my pockets to warm up my hands and fingers. Thanks for these tips!

    • Ooh, I’ll be on the lookout for those hand warmers! That could be just the trick I need to warm up my fingers after taking hundreds of photos!

  2. It sure was cold when I was in Riga last winter! My mistake was wearing one too many layers. And the wool hat I bought drove me crazy because it was so itchy. But I still had a good time! Riga is beautiful in the snow.

  3. Excellent tips! I need a new pair of boots, and had actually been considering that LLBean style – glad to hear those have worked out for you. Agreed that keeping hands warm is particularly tricky! I’ve been eyeing a pair of expensive gloves at REI – they are not pretty, but maybe they’ll do the trick.
    Daina recently posted…Washington WalkMy Profile

  4. Love this post! We have the same coat and I love it too! 🙂

    I bought felted wool shoe inserts that they sell at the markets here in Finland and put them in my rubber-soled Chelsea boots. Paired with the wool socks I bought in Riga my feet stay warm and dry! I have the same glove conundrum though. Mittens are too awkward and my gloves just don’t keep my hands warm enough when I’m outside for longer periods of time.

    • I went out yesterday without my heat-tech thermals and regretted it instantly. It’s amazing what that thin material can do!

  5. You may want to try to do as locals when it comes to gloves – my auntie swears by it and when it drops below -20°C I have to agree. Wear two pairs. First put on basic gloves with touchscreen fingertips so you can use your tech, then mittens on top. Ideally those would be the kind of mittens with a fold-over top so you can just take it off when you take photos and have your gloves under there. I think I saw some of the fold-over type mittens here in Riga’s Christmas markets but sometimes regular clothes shops will sell them too.

    • Chai, thank you (and your auntie!) for that great glove tip! I’ve been wearing mittens on top of my gloves for the past week and they have saved me from frostbite! Riga is finally having a real winter with heaps of snow and -20C temps. It’s absolutely beautiful! And now I can comfortably walk around taking photos 🙂

  6. Hello!! great article thank you for the tips!!

    In which winter month were you in Europe? I am hoping it doesnt get as cold as Canada? jeje


    • I’m happy to help! I lived in Latvia for two years and got the full winter experience. I haven’t been to Canada in winter, so I can’t make a comparison. But I can tell you that December in Tallinn is about the coldest I can remember being in my life. I’m sure Riga got just as cold, but I had the pleasure of staying inside my house there 🙂

Comments are closed.