How to Pack for Cold Weather Travel in a Backpack (Women’s Winter Packing Tips)

Six tips to pack for a cold weather trip in just a personal item like a backpack, specifically for women travelers.

If you’ve read my master carry-on packing method, you already know how to pack carry-on only in winter. But what about winter travel with just a personal item? Yes, it can be done! I know because I recently did just that on a transatlantic trip to Berlin in snowy January.

Admittedly, warm weather capsule wardrobes are much easier. But you can still make it happen for a trip with a forecast of cold, even snowy conditions. Let me teach you how!

Table of Contents

Jazzmine standing on bridge in Banff, Alberta with a heavy coat and backpack on.

Why would you pack just a backpack?

Firstly, the benefits of traveling light even in wintertime include saving money. If you’re traveling on a budget or a la carte airline where everything is extra, you can skip baggage fees by bringing just a backpack, aka personal item. Save on travel expenses with this tip.

This isn’t just how to get away with just a backpack on a budget airline like Spirit or Frontier. With so many recent flight cancellations, lost luggage, and stolen bag horror stories, packing light has many upsides. You also save time and can breeze through the airport like a carefree toddler.

unzipped travel backpack with gloves and hat sticking out and passport laying on top.

Start with a solid backpack.

I recommend picking a sturdy travel backpack in the largest possible size that will fit under the seat in front of you. In the right backpack, you’ll be able to fit not only your wardrobe but also cosmetics, toiletries, and essential items like a power bank and an eye mask for a long flight. Check your airline luggage guidelines and specifications to be sure.

My personal item backpack meets even the strictest airline measurements, looks polished, and is roomy with endless compartments. The viral Target backpack also has lots of room and rave reviews. At an even lower price point, I’ve used this Amazon backpack for shorter, warmer trips.

clothing and accessories organized on a clothing rack to visualize for packing.

Plan outfits in advance.

Here’s how to outfit plan for a cold weather trip and put together what you’ll wear ahead of time.

Less can be more so pack warm base layers that will keep you cozy without taking up much space. I highly recommend fleece lined tights and/or thermals. This is what to wear under your clothes to keep warm on a winter vacation.

Edit your winter travel wardrobe to include only items you know you will wear because they fit, you look and feel good in them, and they work for the activities you have planned. Try everything on.

Prioritize cozy natural fabrics like wool and silk. These will keep you warmer in cold weather than cotton or synthetic fabrics.

Lastly, pick versatile pieces you can wear in a variety of ways. This is key to winter weather capsule wardrobe packing! Need outfit inspiration? Check out my Alaska style guide.

Jazzmine taking a mirror self before cold weather travel in all her heaviest clothing, including timberland boots, and long sweater dress, and coat.

Wear your heaviest items on the plane.

This means your coat, scarf, and boots or bulky sneakers. The beauty of a good winter coat for travel is that it doubles as a warm blanket during the flight or stows easily if you want it out of the way. If you need an additional pair of shoes, make sure they fold flat to pack in your backpack easily.

On a sneaky note, wearing your coat means you can easily wear a small crossbody bag or fanny pack underneath no problem. This is the type of bag I recommend women tourists carry anyway. And make sure it’s neutral and versatile to work with multiple outfits.

open compression bag with a chunky sweater, jeans, jumpsuit, and turtleneck tops folded inside.

Use a compression bag.

How do you pack a backpack for 4 days in the winter? The answer is with a compression bag or packing cube! One of my top backpack packing tips for women travelers.

Put your bulkiest clothes–or all clothes that will fit–into a compression bag to create more space in the backpack. Roll the items instead of folding, especially for winter weekend getaway packing. This technique is tried and true and even used by the military.

How many outfits do I need for a long weekend winter trip? For a trip of this length, you can get away with one pair of jeans, a unit like a dress or jumpsuit, and a thinner bottom like leggings to be worn over your base layer. Add a long-sleeve shirt for each day and maybe a sweater, and your winter travel capsule wardrobe is set!

packing travel sized beauty products into a backpack pocket.

Only pack travel-sized toiletries.

Minimal, multi-use products are your best friend when packing light for winter. Think moisturizer/sunscreen combo and clean girl aesthetic makeup. As a Black woman traveling with braids, I often only need edge control, a baby hair brush, and a bonnet for my haircare products.

Here are my hard-working travel sized faves.

Also, check the forecast and skip what you don’t need. For example, you won’t need sunglasses or body glitter when it’s overcast and freezing.

Jazzmine wearing a black sweater dress, small crossbody bag, and fully packed travel backpack.

When traveling light might not work

I would be remiss not to mention that traveling with just a backpack in January won’t work for every person or every situation. If you have a larger body and/or you’re traveling with young children or medical supplies, you might need more luggage. My cold weather travel packing tips and carry-on packing method will probably serve you better!

If you’re ready to plan a minimalist winter trip, check out my Paris guide for inspiration. And sharing is caring, so be sure to pin this winter backpack packing guide for later and follow me over on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!

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