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I’m a warm climate girl. A lot of the time when I was growing up, winter’s chill sent me right back indoors whenever I considered doing an outdoor activity. There was the occasional snow day, and that one time that our high school band marched for hours at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I made it work. But other than that, I avoided the cold.
But the opportunity for a trip of a lifetime made me rethink my warm weather habits. Sure, I could skip the cold and miss the magic of the holiday season in Europe. But I decided that instead, I would finally learn a better way to dress for the cold and be comfortable in 30-degree weather. And it changed my life.
So if your family is warm-weather only, there’s help! Whether you want to experience the holidays in New York or deal with the colder months in your own area, here’s the right gear you need for cold weather.
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The Under Layer
Yes, long underwear really is that important on a cold day. When you’re taking a walking tour of a northern city, you’ll appreciate those protective layers as the wind picks up. Thermal underwear made of moisture-wicking material will provide the best warmth and comfort, but you can also use regular leggings and plain, long-sleeve shirts as your base layer. Be sure to take two full sets of base layers so you can wash one or let it air out on alternate days.
The Outer Layer
Unless you’re going skiing (which is a whole other packing list), most adults will want to wear street clothes over their thermal layers. For kids, however, I recommend looking at more durable, weatherproof clothing options. We picked this idea up from family members in Germany, where young children often wear “mudsuits.” They’re just how the name sounds — like a snowsuit, but made to go over clothes to keep kids dry and warm on cold, rainy days. A similar option for older kids would be a pair of fleece-lined, water-resistant pants for when the family soccer games get a little too muddy.
A Good Coat
When I invested in a good winter coat, it changed how I viewed the cold. Previously, my winter coats had been either frumpy wool dress coats, bomber jackets, or the short puffer coats everybody wears in Old Navy commercials. Once I tried a warm, insulated, well-fitting coat that was truly made for outdoor adventure, I actually looked forward to going out in the cold because I felt like I was wrapped in a warm blanket the whole time. I’ll add that length is an important factor when coat shopping — having a coat that went down to my knees kept all of me protected from the cold. Spend the money on a good coat, and give yourself the gift of warmth.
If you’re going to be wandering around in sub-freezing temperatures, you’ll want to double up on socks to prevent cold feet. However, not just any socks will fit the bill. For starters, make sure they’re the right size — you don’t want them to slip down into your shoes and cause blisters. Next, make sure they are tall socks. Those tiny, no-show socks will not keep you warm. Finally, make sure your socks are made of quality materials. Consider insulated ski socks or merino wool socks that are made to protect against the cold. Crazy-patterned socks also make extra cozy gifts to stuff in stockings. (Oh, and if your kids are old enough to pack their own suitcases, do a quick sock investigation to make sure they’re not taking hole-filled pairs on the trip. Otherwise, you might find yourself running from gift ship to gift shop, trying to remember the German word for “socks.” Speaking hypothetically, of course.)
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If you’re traveling to a cold climate, you’re going to want waterproof shoes. Now friends, I know we all love our Hunter boots and wellies. But let’s be honest — they take up way too much room in a suitcase. Instead, see if you can find some shoes that will do double duty as rain boots and daily walking shoes. Dock boots and all-weather Chelsea boots are good choices. My kids found insulated winter boots that were reasonable to pack and comfortable to wear throughout the day. Be sure each family member wears their shoes for a full-day before your trip to make sure they fit well.
Here’s what I’m going to say about gloves and kids: mittens. Mittens are the key. If you try to put your preschooler’s fingers into gloves, you both will be frustrated after five minutes and no closer to leaving your hotel room. Instead, go with mittens to make everyone happy. For adults, I’m always a fan of tech gloves that allow smartphone usage. I mean, if we didn’t take family selfies on vacation, did it really happen? If you’re expecting to be out in the rain or snow, consider layering your tech gloves with a waterproof layer that you can remove when it’s picture time.
A Versatile Scarf
I’m a big advocate of keeping a good scarf around (this might be why I have 30 in my closet). If you’re walking around a city on a windy day, a scarf is great to tuck in all those places around your face that your coat misses. Heck, I’ve even wrapped a scarf over my face on particularly chilly nights. But a scarf’s greatest advantage is that it can serve as an extra layer or wearable blanket for the small people in your group. When your kids start to feel a bit cold, hand off a scarf — pre-warmed by the body heat of you, their loving parent — to keep them going for that extra mile.
A Warm Hat
Why, you may be thinking, does our family need hats if our coats have hoods? Let’s go back to our first principle of layers. A knit hat plus a coat hood can help you make it through an entire holiday parade, no matter the wind chill. A hat without a hood leaves your neck vulnerable to the low temps, and a hood without a hat leaves you with the option of battling the wind or cinching the hood tightly around your face. But both together? Voila! Just the extra warmth you need.
The Extra Details
If you’re traveling with little ones, I recommend picking one of two options: 1) color coordinate hats, gloves, and even coats so everyone knows which items are theirs OR 2) buy everything the same color so nobody fights over anything. Either way, consider taking extras of easily lost items like gloves and socks. If you have room in your purse or backpack, think about adding a compact, warm blanket for any time you are sitting outside. And don’t forget, there’s truly no better way to stay warm than hot chocolate or hot coffee.
If your family is warm-weather only, there’s help! Whether you want to experience the holidays in New York or deal with the colder months in your own area, here’s the right gear you need for cold weather.
My favorite thing about learning to dress for cold weather is the fact that I can now face the winter months head on, wherever I am. My kids want to play outside with friends in the snow? The once-tedious ordeal of suiting everyone up is now a no-brainer. A friend wants to go for a walk when it’s 37 degrees Fahrenheit? Sure, I’m ready! And as we look to future cold-weather vacations, the investments we’ve made will continue to pay off.
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