Brian and I will occasionally head out of town on a whim. We’ve ventured to areas with hot climates, cold climates, and temperatures in between. Our most recent trip brought us to Alaska.
Packing for cold weather in a single backpack has taken a little practice. We prefer to travel with carry-on only. In fact, we’re usually limited to a single “personal item” with size restrictions since we tend to fly low-cost carriers. Traveling minimally can have its challenges, especially when trying to figure out how to stay warm in the cold. However, it’s well worth it as we find it to be an uncomplicated and freeing way to spend more time in the moment.
Our backpacks have carried us through multi-week adventures across the states and over international waters. They’ve been solid investments. While it’s tricky to pack for longer trips, it’s not impossible. We took what we learned from past experiences and most recently packed up for a 10-day Alaskan getaway.
This is how we one-bag travel in cold climates.
Pack Insulating Layers
Rather than pack oversized sweaters and jackets, we bring along several moisture-wicking and insulating layers. A multi-layer system provides all-day comfort without added bulk.
- Merino wool base layers (we love the Smartwool and Icebreaker brands)
- Breathable mid-layer (cozy fleece or wool-blend long sleeve)
- Cozy wool socks, beanie, and gloves
- Packable down jacket
- Waterproof shell jacket
- Waterproof, broken-in footwear
It can be costly to acquire these items if you don’t already own them. However, it’s well worth the investment if you plan to travel minimally often. Quality apparel lasts a long time with proper care and maintenance. This is especially true for merino wool clothing, as it requires special care to maximize its lifespan. Merino wool is great for travel because it naturally resists odors and may be worn for weeks (depending on activity level) without needing to be washed.
Use Packing/Compression Cubes
I don’t personally use compression cubes, but Brian does. Packing cubes, specifically compression cubes, are separate organizers designed to compartmentalize and compress items within a piece of luggage.
These sturdy cubes pack clothes more compactly, leaving a little more room for extra layers. It’s a space-saving essential for longer trips and is great for staying organized.
Smart Plane Wear
We layer up on our plane rides. Instead of using valuable space in my backpack, I will sport my bulky boots and carry on my jacket. In fact, I’ve zipped up a couple of layers within my jacket to carry on board.
Brian is more of a tee shirt kind of guy on travel days, but I like to layer up since I get cold easily. Not only is it practical, but it’s also super helpful if my backpack is feeling a bit heavy.
As mentioned earlier, merino wool is excellent for travel due to its odor-resistance, versatility, and quick-drying properties. Clothing selections should be easy to care for on the road. We’ve had great success washing items in our hotel sink. A simple hand wash and hang dry works just fine for us!
If we have items that require a washing machine, we either stay in a location with access to one or visit a laundromat. One of the reasons we can one-bag travel so easily is that we are able to quickly wash and wear our clothes.
Less is More
I don’t like to be tied down to too many things. Less is more, particularly when it comes to possessions, obligations, or plans. One-bag travel is my favorite way to see the world. It eliminates decision fatigue, encourages sustainability, and provides extraordinary flexibility.
Carrying a single bag keeps me more present and ready for adventure. There is no fussing with extra baggage, keeping track of more “things”, or trying to accommodate different transportation. It’s a simple and beautiful way to explore. Packing for cold weather doesn’t prevent me from traveling the way I want to travel. It can be tricky to one-bag it, but it’s not impossible.
Have you ever traveled somewhere cold with only one bag?