Winter may now already be on its way out, but if this one’s for anyone already thinking of next season. A couple of months ago, in preparation for a whirl through the winter wonderland above Norway’s Arctic Circle, I realized that the usual winter togs that serve me well enough in Spain just weren’t going to cut it in serious snow, ice, and temperatures forecasted to drop as low as 5⁼ Fahrenheit (-15⁼ Celsius). So I educated myself about what new cold-weather clothes gear I would need and what I´d need from them, then off a-shopping I went. Because cold-weather travel can actually be downright enjoyable when you´ve got the right stuff to keep you warm, comfy, and safe.
An Insulated Winter Jacket
Top of the list, of course! Look for garments with down or synthetic fill, which provide a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Check for features like a windproof and waterproof exterior, sealed seams, and adjustable hoods, which all enhance protection against harsh winter conditions. Some you’ll also find rated for comfort in certain temperatures. Brands like Arc'teryx, The North Face, and Patagonia are especially well known for their durable and high-performance winter jackets, suitable for both urban explorations and outback adventures. These can get rather pricey, but they don´t have to be – in our case, we found fairly sleek, well fitting house-brand jackets at a local branch of the France-based outdoor/sporting goods retailer Decathlon rated for 14⁼ F (-10⁼ C) for just 80 euros (just over $86), and they both did the job perfectly in the Arctic yet are also light enough to do quite nicely in the less extreme chill of wintertime Madrid.
Thermal Base Layers
Regardless of your outerwear, keeping warm in winter is still all about layers - starting with thermal underwear - which help in retaining body heat and wicking away moisture to keep you dry. Merino wool is a popular material for its warmth, breathability, and odor resistance. Outdoor-oriented brands such as Danish Endurance, Icebreaker, and Smartwool sell a range of thermal tops and bottoms which provide warmth without the bulk, making them perfect for layering. We did quite well, though, with a cotton-synthetic blend (again, from Decathlon) which was both light and insulating.
These Boots Are Made for Winter
Keeping your feet warm and dry is crucial in winter conditions, and doughty, waterproof winter boots with good insulation and a grippy outsole provide the necessary warmth, protection, and traction on snow and ice. Look features like thermal lining, waterproof membranes (for example GORE-TEX), and sturdy construction. Outdoor-oriented Columbia Sportswear, Merrell, and Sorel have a variety of styles which balance functionality and fashion for winter travel (for example, my handsome new blue Quechua boots - a Decathlon brand - also have served me quite well both providing ample protection in the frigid tundra and slushy streets of the Arctic, yet also light and attractive enough to wear on the streets of Madrid).
Get a Grip on Gloves
When it comes to this also crucial item, it helps to have a sense of what you’ll be doing, where, and how low the temps are likely to drop in the places you’ll be visiting. Basically it boils down to two choices. Mittens keep your finger together; typically providing more warmth but less dexterity; and come in a variety of materials, from wool to leather to synthetics. We certainly found them preferable while snowmobiling in Kirkenes, for eaxmple. In addition to various of the other manufacturers I´ve mentioned above, other mitten-makers to particularly look out for include Backcountry, Black Diamond, and Give´R.
If being able to use your digits is especially important to you, there are also fingered gloves which are extra warm and insulated, from many of the companies listed above plus others such as Carhartt, which specializes in heavy-duty work and outdoor wear, and Outdoor Research, a British company whose thing is in lightweight outerwear. Other specialized versions of these include gloves designed for skiing/snowboarding and even winter cycling.
Finally, there are also a couple of further twists. One is heated gloves – powered by rechargable batteries and obviously a bit pricier – from heated-outerwear specialists such as Savoir Heat; if you don´t want to go that route all the way, you can opt for chemical or rechargeable-battery powered heat packs that slip into regular gloves or mittens. The other final twist is gloves designed to be warm yet unlike most others to be usable with smartphone screens, from brands like Moshi, The North Face and Outdoor Research.
A Charger on the Go
I can personally attest that chilly weather can fast sap the battery life of your phone and other gadgets, so be sure to bring along a high-capacity power bank, and one that´s lightweight, durable, and has enough capacity to charge your devices multiple times. Top picks suitable for travelers here include Anker, the CHAMP series from Nimble, and RAVPower.
Lip Balm and Skincare
This one I'm especially well acquainted with, because regardless of weather my husband is addicted to lip balm. And cold, dry winter air can be harsh on your skin and lips, making moisturisers essential. Look for products with high moisturising properties and SPF protection to shield your skin from the cold and sun exposure, which can be especially intense in snowy environments.
A Winterproof Travel Backpack or Bag
Features to look for include water-resistant materials, multiple compartments for organisation, and ergonomic designs that distribute weight evenly. Brands like Osprey, Patagonia, and Thule are among the top go-tos for travel bags and backpacks designed to withstand the rigors of winter travel while keeping your stuff both secure and accessible.
Get a Grip on Cleats?
This is a more specialized item, of course, for open spaces where you need traction on snow and ice, as well as even some cities and towns which don´t clear all their sidewalks – which is the case in the Arctic and even in larger cities including Oslo. So in Tromso we dutifully shelled out kroner equivalent of around $25 for a pair of cleats (though you can find cheapos online for as little as $8, while higher-end, high-performance versions can easily set you back $80 or more). Then as it turned out, we used them exactly once, because they are admittedly a bit of a hassle to slip on each time we needed them, and the sidewalks weren´t all that tough to navigate anyway (hey, anybody want to buy a couple of nearly new cleats for cheap?). So if you´re unsure, it might be worth checking out travel boards for comments to see if they might be worth buying for your destination.