Packing cold weather clothes requires a bit of skill: when space and weight are an issue, warm winter clothes can weigh a lot more than a summer halter top and shorts. They're also bulkier.
Despite the extra bulk and weight, you're still better off having warm things with you if you're heading into the cold. I'll never forget landing in South Africa one July morning in a T-shirt and shorts, blissfully unaware that the seasons were reversed in the southern hemisphere. I took a taxi straight from the airport to a sports shop for some warm thermal underwear.
The secret of cold weather clothes? Layering!
You'll typically need three layers: one to wick, one to insulate and one to protect.
Start with the lightest base layer you can find, either silk or merino wool or light polyester to wick away the sweat and smells and keep you toasty. This layer, worn against your skin, absorbs your sweat and allows it to evaporate, keeping you dry and comfortable.
Your next layer of cold weather clothes serves as insulation and should be a bit thicker, a hoodie made of wool, a fleece, a wool turtleneck or T-shirt or something synthetic. You should look for something light and warm and when you're not wearing it, ideally it should scrunch or roll up easily into a tight light sausage you can use as a pillow on those long plane, train or bus rides. This layer helps keep your natural heat trapped and the cold air out.
Finally, an outer protection shell covers both your torso and your legs. Steer clear of the heavy traditional down parkas (they're great when they're dry, but you don't want to get caught in a cold rainstorm) and choose either one of the newer lightweight fibers or the new waterproof lightweight duvet jackets (expensive but worth it!). Look for something waterproof and windproof if you're headed into miserable weather, like Gore-Tex or other synthetics. When it comes to design, look for zippered panels you can open to allow ventilation if you get too warm. A roll-up hood will be useful in wet weather, especially if you're battling driving winds.
Your cold weather clothes should also include long johns, covered by a shell that is both waterproof and breathes. Many of the cheaper synthetic brands don't breathe at all and trap sweat inside, so invest well in your outer shell.
You may not need all these cold weather clothes if you're simply headed into normal winter. But if the Himalayas, Siberia or Lapland are in your plans, make sure you take the basics with you and top your gear up with local professional accessories, which are often better up to the task.
When considering your travel packing list, here are the winter accessories you should take with you:
Lake Baikal in winter: dress warmly! (f. stroganov via Flickr CC)
This advice will work for regular travel to cold places, but if you're headed into the wilderness you'll need far more specialized advice and gear. Make sure you get it!
Warning: Hypothermia is definitely a possibility - this is what happens when your body temperature gets dangerously low - so a bit of hypothermia first aid is in order. If it occurs, get the person indoors and out of the cold, get rid of wet clothes, and cover them with blankets from head to toe. Don't massage them, and get medical attention immediately.
One last thing: what do you do with those cold weather clothes once you're headed to the beach?
Ship them home! You'll be happy to find them again when you plan that next glacier trip.
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