The key to traveling light and looking chic while staying warm this winter in Europe comes down to 2 things: fabrics and layers.
Instinctively we reach for thick, bulky clothes to keep us warm when the mercury drops. That worked in the old days, but now winter warmth comes with surprisingly thin layers of remarkable fabrics.
This means you can travel to really cold places with minimal luggage, and not be weighed down by heavy sweaters and coats.
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The best fabrics to keep you warm are merino (the very best), silk, cashmere and the new “warmth technology synthetics. Each of these trap warmth against the skin.
When it comes to the best fabrics for travel, merino is the champion. Although it is a wool, merino is the very softest wool, and doesn’t itch or scratch. New technologies spin it to a thin thread that is also incredibly lofty. What this means is that air gets trapped against the skin, warms up and then keeps you warm. Merino is temperature regulating too, so as the day warms up it cools you down. From sub zero temperatures to 70 degrees, merino keeps you totally comfortable.
It is super sheer, wicks moisture away from the skin (so if you perspire it lifts it away) is antibacterial and super important for travel – it takes away odors. This means it can be worn multiple times between laundering and won’t get smelly. Perfect for travel!
Silk has the best warmth to weight ratio. Not only does it feel wonderful against your skin, but it keeps you really warm too. Unlike merino silk can’t regulate temperature, so if the afternoon warms up, you will too. It does however, wear well under jeans, so if it is cold enough to need a base layer on your legs you will have an easier time sliding jeans up over silk. See Terramar Thermasilk base layers here and here
Warmth Technology Synthetics
Synthetics are now pretty high tech. The warmth technology polyesters are super sheer, wick away moisture from the skin ad trap air, making you nice and toasty when it’s cold. Some of them regulate temperature, so can cool you back down too. My only problem with the polyesters is that they trap smells, so can be pretty stinky by the end of the day.
Cashmere is a fabulous middle layer fabric. You can get base layers in cashmere but if you are prone to itching it isn’t always your best friend.
A base layer’s job is to regulate temperature, not only keeping you warm but also wicking moisture away from the skin. This is your next-to-skin layer, think of it as a foundation garment over which you can layer your mid and outer layers as needed.
Think of camisoles like this one and very lightweight, long sleeved T’s like this one from Icebreaker in the new wonder fabrics. You can also get base layer bottoms like these silk ones from Terramar that are a similar thickness to a pair of tights.
A good base layer will be really sheer. Forget about the bulky long johns and cotton thermals of old – the new base layers are really thin.
Instead of a heavy sweater you can wear a thin base layer and stay every bit as warm.
The perfect winter travel wardrobe is made up of layers of these fabrics.
What To Pack For Winter
Starting with your base layer, pack one or two long sleeved and one or two cami’s, ideally merino. I pack one silk cami and one merino cami as well as two merino long sleeves.
If you will need an extra layer for your legs look for a silk base layer that you can wash out at night or a couple of merino bottoms.
Merino Socks. Not only are thin, they keep your feet extra warm and don’t bunch up. They also don’t get stinky. See women’s merino socks here
Tights are essential if you will be wearing dresses or skirts.
Leggings: If you will be wearing leggings look for a good merino pair like these from Icebreaker. They will keep you warm, cool you down if the afternoon gets warm and sunny, wick away perspiration, and also hold their shape nicely.
Jeans and Pants: The easiest way to travel is with separates. For every two bottoms pack 4 or 5 tops. So a pair of jeans, a pair of black pants (or leggings) and 5 tops to mix and match.
Long Sleeved Tops: From long sleeved T-shirts to cashmere sweaters like this one from Nordstrom, plan 2 to 3 tops per pair of jeans/pants/leggings.
My merino dress is only slightly thicker than t-shirt fabric yet is incredibly warm. I wore it here in Barcelona 2 Decembers ago. On this day it was mildly cold in Barcelona, warm when you were in the sun, then up here in Monserrat it was absolutely freezing cold I the wind. Freezing.
A merino dress with tights and boots and a leather jacket will keep you warm when it’s glacial out, but also keep you comfortable when it is warmer.
The Outer Layer
The very best footwear for winter travelers is a good pair of boots. Boots need to be waterproof and able to hold up in snow. (Even if you are not expecting snow.)
I prefer boots that aren’t too rigid. Your boots need to flex with your feet, especially on long sightseeing days. I have been wearing shoes and boots from Sofft on all my travels over the last few years. They typically don’t need breaking in and have been extremely comfortable even on days I have had to walk more than 10 miles on cobblestoned surfaces.
A short pair of booties can be great for fall and winter travel. They don’t take up space in your suitcase, are easy to slip on and off at the airport, and look good with everything. I have the Bellis II from Sofft
If you are likely to have rain or if you want a higher boot, my current favorite winter boots are the Sharnell II from Sofft. They are waterproof, the width is adjustable if your legs swell of if you need a little extra calf room through wearing layers. Sofft’s Aqua Sofft line of boots are all waterproof.
A Puffer Jacket or Coat
A warm coat that packs down to nothing is essential for a winter traveler. Puffer coats are ideal as they both keep you warm and can fold down into a small pouch. Check to see that your puffer jacket or coat is waterproof before purchase.
I particularly like the slightly longer puffer coats. Puffer coats that reach mid-thigh will keep you much warmer on cold days. Look for a puffer coat that also has a hood, both for rain protection but also for the extra warmth they give your neck. This women’s puffer coat from Columbia is both warm and has excellent reviews. Also check out this one from Bernardo at Nordstrom if you want amore slimming line.
This one from Benia Valuker is the top selling women’s puffer coat on Amazon, with 2400 reviews – it must be good! Check out how gorgeous it is in beige!
My favorite clothing item in my closet is my red leather jacket from Jimmy’s in Florence. I only wear it when I know it’s not going to rain – I know leather is fine in the rain but I don’t want to risk ruining it in a downpour.
I normally wear some form of beanie or woolen hat for winter travel. One of my friends always looks so chic in fedora style hats, so this year I am getting one of these Lisianthus fedoras from Amazon. With more than 2000 5 star reviews I’m thinking it has to be a winner!
A Big Scarf
A warm scarf is a must for winter travel. I like to use a slightly oversized scarf or pashmina that can double as a blanket if needed on a flight. Look for something soft and gentle against the skin that is large enough to give you extra coverage over your chest and upper back when wrapped.
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