How to: Pack for a snowy winter city break | The Gap Life Diaries
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How to: Pack for a snowy winter city break

I admit, I was a bit nervous about visiting Latvia in freezing February, almost exclusively for sartorial reasons.

Would my much-loved bobble hat be warm enough? Would my toes drop off if I didn’t wear 8 pairs of socks under my panic-bought €12 Ugg knock-offs? And what on earth are you supposed wear while you get pulled along behind a pack of huskies, anyway?

The weather forecast wasn’t helping – every site I checked told me something totally different, with estimated temperatures ranging between a balmy 2°C and a significantly less tolerable -20°C.

I wasn’t sure how packing for the freezing almost-Arctic was going to go – surely there was no way I could squeeze all the necessary options into my Ryanair-friendly carry-on?

But in the end, dressing for a sub-zero, Baltic weekend turned out to be a lot less complicated than anticipated.


1. Don’t be intimidated

This is going to be easier than going to the beach (no, really!)

Think about it – when you book a getaway to Northern Europe in the coldest part of the year, you knew for sure that it’s going to be chilly, and there’s no need to pack for numerous potential weather conditions “just in case” like you might if you were going to the Mediterranean in July.

There will be no summer storms, strangely overcast mornings turning into scorching afternoons and chilly, breezy evenings, and there will certainly be no unexpected heatwaves – in a Baltic winter, what you’ll be getting is pretty cold, or flipping freezing, and those are the only options you need to pack for.

In summer, you’re often inclined to take multiple outfits per day, to change into if you get sweaty, or just to look a bit dressier when you’re out for dinner in the evening. During a summer holiday, you’re probably fairly conscious of outfit repeating too. The good news is that you can relax, because not only will you be shivering rather than sweating, but 90% of people will only see your coat anyway, so you can stop caring about recycling your looks – hooray!

2. Layers are your friends

But make sure you bring the right ones.

Layering is key to staying cosy, and sports base layers are particularly useful as not only are they super warm, but they also take up very little space.

Good quality thermals (long-sleeved top and leggings) will keep you much toastier than another chunky knit or a thicker pair of trousers would, and won’t add too much bulk to your bag either. Annoyingly, how much you pay does make a bit of difference here, so go for the best base layer you can afford – I have long-sleeved Canterbury thermal tops from my rowing days, the older version of this one, and would recommend something similar.

Me, in Riga, cracking out my legwarmers for the first time since 2003 and proving that looking twice as fat as you really are doesn’t have to ruin your holiday.

Tights are great under jeans too (used in combination with thermal leggings, if necessary), and also don’t take up much space in your luggage. I like to pull up my woolly over-the-knee socks under my jeans too, for an extra toasty lower leg – yes, you will look like you ate all the pies, but when you’re this smug and warm, that won’t bother you in the slightest.

In terms of jumpers, wool and cashmere are great, but my mostly-synthetic Warehouse and Topshop numbers served me perfectly well, so don’t be scared if you too are lacking in the expensive natural fibres department.

As far as outerwear is concerned, I’d recommend a quilted jacket rather than a trendy, thinner coat (I have just been waiting to find an excuse to actually make you all buy ugly Italian puffer jackets too!). Real feather down is great, but we can’t all afford that, can we? Although a longer coat will certainly keep your bum warmer – and is what you’ll spot the locals wearing – my short Zara number, which I wear every day in Italy, was absolutely fine, so don’t go buying something you’ll never wear again just for the sake of a weekend.

3. Don’t overpack

Your first instinct when hearing “sub-zero temperatures” is probably to chuck double the usual quantity of clothes in your bag. But you don’t need to.

Considering you’ll be layering up like an onion every day, and certainly won’t be warm enough to get sweaty, your jumpers and jeans will be further away from your skin, and therefore able to be re-worn a bit more often than usual – you’ll just need to change the thinner layers closest to your body. For a long weekend, 2 jumpers and 1 pair of jeans will be enough.

If you really don’t want to look like you’re outfit repeating (even though you totally are) stick to black – nobody will ever know that that isn’t a different pair of jeans…

One great thing about winter breaks to cold places is that you’re going to want to be prepared as soon as you arrive – so wearing your chunkiest items on the plane journey isn’t going to feel like such a sacrifice, meaning you don’t need to squish as many items into your carry-on as you think you do. Trust me.

4. Warm feet are everything

Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping your feet warm. When you’re in a freezing cold place, once your feet are damp/cold, it’s game over – all you’ll want to do is run back to your apartment and lie on the floor with your toes on the radiator instead of going out and exploring, and that’s no fun at all now, is it?

In terms of clothes, with a bit of imagination, you can probably make do with what’s already in your wardrobe, but if you don’t have appropriate footwear, for heaven’s sake go out and buy some.

Ideally, you’ll have a pair of comfy yet waterproof boots with a warm lining and non-slippy soles (city streets can get a bit icy in the early morning and late evening).

If you’re not 10000% sure that your boots meet this brief, take a backup pair of shoes just in case you main pair gets snow-soaked and needs to be left by the heater to dry while you’re out and about.

Avoid fabrics that’ll get ruined when wet, and use a product on your boots before leaving if you’re worried about destroying them in the snow. Uggs will be fine warmth-wise – although the damp can seep through if it’s very snowy, so beware – just don’t get upset if you spend €200 on them and they get a bit stained from the moisture.

Locals seem to swear by Sorel boots – you’ll spot them all over the place – I personally find them quite repugnant, but they do look extremely warm… swings and roundabouts, I guess.

5. If in doubt, double up

In Riga, I became almost evangelical about double gloves. My leather ones are windproof but not particularly warm, my woolly mittens are warm but not windproof. Together, they are the ultimate solution to freezing paws.

Traditional Latvian mittens – woolly and adorable, ideal as a second layer of glove, if you ask me…

When S and I went on a 2.5 hour outdoor walking tour around the city, I also went for a dual ear warming system, stuffing my fur earmuffs under my woolly hat. My hearing was reduced to about the levels of my 95 year old grandmother, but hey ho, can’t win ’em all.

Take spares of these littler items if you aren’t confident one will be enough – shoving an extra pair of gloves or a couple more pairs of socks into your luggage isn’t going to make a huge difference, and you’ll feel happier knowing that if your hands or feet are feeling chilly, you can pull an extra layer out of your backpack.

6. Style it up with accessories

If you really want to make it obvious that your photos were taken on different days, but are only taking one jacket and one pair of jeans, the only real solution is changing your scarf – take a couple with you, and wrap them around your neck twice like a proper Scandinavian, to keep extra cosy.
For the approximately 73 minutes per day that you will be in public but not wearing a coat, bring a nice necklace to liven up your woollies and make it look like you’ve made an effort. Sticking to one jumper and adding a different statement necklace each day will reduce the outfit-repeating effect as well as saving space.
Word of warning: don’t bother with dangly earrings, as you’ll get them all knotted up in your hat and scarf. Same goes for all those pretty, delicate rings you’ve got – they’ll get stuck in your gloves and might even fall off as you pull your mittens off and on. It’s not worth the hassle.


7. Don’t forget the extras

When packing for cold weather, don’t just think about how warm you’re going to feel – remember the effect the snow and the chill will have on your skin, hair, and lips too. Dry, chapped everything is not a good look.

Pack a good moisturiser, with SPF if you can – just because it’s not sunny, those pesky UV rays will still give you wrinkes! – and be prepared to use it a little more frequently than you usually would. My go-to everyday moisturisers are Pep-Start Hydrorush or Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion+, both by Clinique.

Pop a lip balm in too (the one currently hanging out in my jacket pocket is a very delicious smelling vanilla Carmex) as well as a moisturising hand cream (I’m obsessed with all of literally all the scented ones from &OtherStories), and some hydrating oil for your hair too (I use Pantene Smooth & Sleek Dry Oil with Argan Oil).

Last but not least, it’s SNOWING out there. Girls, I know you want to compensate for being 98% covered up and totally unable to express yourself through fashion, but just be careful when compensating with makeup. Your mascara needs to be waterproof, or you will turn into a cute little winter panda. And I speak from experience.

If you have any other handy packing tips for visiting really cold places, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!




  • Followingtherivera
    Posted at 10:11h, 04 March Reply

    A really useful post and perfect timing for the snowy wintry weather! I live in wool, and totally agree about keeping my feet warm. A good read!

  • Dan
    Posted at 21:10h, 04 March Reply

    Definitely useful for my female friends, would share this with them.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Anthony (One of Four Friends One World)
    Posted at 21:58h, 04 March Reply

    Great tips. It is so easy to over pack. we once spent three weeks on the road with only carry on luggage. It is possible if you plan correctly. Anyone who takes this advice will be well places to travel light and travel far.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

  • Luis Enrique
    Posted at 09:11h, 05 March Reply

    Great post. Definitely worth a lot to those intended to visit London anytime soon. It’s awash with slippery roads and layers of snow. I’m glad I made it out to Australia in time, though I do sometimes miss the cold. I’ll use this as a reminder when I head back in a few years.

  • Food and Footprints
    Posted at 17:13h, 05 March Reply

    Some great tips here! The advice on bringing lightweight warm clothing like thermals and sports based layers is particularly useful.

  • Inês Miranda
    Posted at 09:18h, 06 March Reply

    Good tips, I always follow all of them. Especially number 6 – we dont wanna look the some in all pictures! 🙂 ahah

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