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A Winter Travel Capsule Wardrobe Based on Your Trip Length

woman wearing gloves and winter coat in snow.

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Picture this: you’re on a winter trip and look into your suitcase. You have all the clothing pieces you need and nothing you don’t. Each item plays well with the next, making it ready to style you up for any winter adventure. That’s a winter travel capsule wardrobe in a nutshell. 

As someone who tends to overpack, I can attest to the powers of a travel capsule wardrobe. That’s why I’m breaking down how to build a winter capsule and sharing 3 example wardrobes, based on trip length. 

Put down your lengthy packing list. It’s time to meet your minimalist winter travel capsule wardrobe.

WHAT IS A WINTER TRAVEL CAPSULE WARDROBE?

A winter travel capsule wardrobe is a thoughtful selection of warm clothing essentials that mix and match to create multiple flattering outfits. It contains anywhere from 10-30 pieces including sweaters, thermals, versatile bottoms, and insulated outerwear. Adopting a capsule allows you to travel light(er) without sacrificing style. To get the most out of your capsule, I recommend packing items for each level of layering – more on that in a minute. 

WHY BOTHER BUILDING A WINTER TRAVEL WARDROBE

As a frequent flier, I’m no stranger to the trials of packing. The point of a travel capsule wardrobe is to streamline the packing process so you have all the essentials for chic outfits without the overstuffed suitcase.

If you’re longing to be a carry-on-only traveler, read on. 

Benefit 1: Stress-free packing. I find packing much simpler when I have a predefined set of clothing that I know works seamlessly together. See how much faster packing goes once you have a capsule to work with. 

Benefit 2: Less luggage to carry. One of the most delightful perks of a winter travel capsule wardrobe is parting ways with bulky suitcases. Picture yourself gliding through terminals, unburdened by excess luggage. 

Benefit 3: Effortless outfit creation. When building a travel capsule, you choose each garment strategically, ensuring that, you’re dressed to kill no matter what combination you pull out. As someone who used to pack lots of clothing only to find that the pieces didn’t play well together, this is a game-changer.

See? There’s much to love about capsule wardrobes. Now let’s build yours.

HOW TO BUILD A WINTER TRAVEL CAPSULE WARDROBE

1. CHECK YOUR ITINERARY

Before you start throwing clothes into your capsule, consider the climate and the activities you have in mind. For instance, when I planned my winter trip to Whistler, Canada, I knew I needed clothes for skiing, après-ski activities, and perhaps a cozy evening by the fireplace. Certain winter destinations require thicker layers, so pull up that forecast to be sure.

2. SELECT YOUR COLOR PALETTE

Yes, even a minimalist winter travel capsule needs a color scheme that suits your style. For a winter trip, neutral tones like blacks, grays, browns, and whites are classic choices. When I prepared my Whistler wardrobe, I leaned towards whites and neutrals as they can be effortlessly mixed and matched.

Stumped during color selection? Check out 6 ways to pick a capsule color scheme here.

color palette generator showing closet and six colors

3. CREATE YOUR CORE TRAVEL CLOSET

Now for the winning formula to create a winter travel capsule wardrobe. Craft your core closet aka the foundational pieces that form the backbone of your outfits. We’ll break this down into three crucial layers: base, mid, and outerwear.

Select Base Pieces: Start with your undergarments and foundational pieces. These should keep you warm and provide comfort against the skin. Think thermal tops, long johns, and moisture-wicking materials. I typically choose thermal tops and leggings as my base layer.

Select Mid Layer Pieces: Your mid layer adds insulation and style to your ensemble. This includes sweaters, cardigans, and other items that can be paired with the base layer. Opt for versatility and warmth. I included sweaters and turtlenecks for my Whistler trip.

Select Outerwear Pieces: Outerwear provides protection from the cold, wind, and possibly rain or snow. These are your parkas, your trench coats, the heavy hitters. For Whistler, I included a waterproof ski jacket and a warm winter coat.

fall capsule wardrobe colorful

4. MIX AND MATCH

A minimalist winter travel capsule gives you the ability to create numerous outfits from a few key pieces. Pair each item with the others to ensure they all harmonize together. In Canada, I knew I could pair my thermal layers with both casual outfits and ski gear, giving me options without adding bulk.

5. TEST YOUR CAPSULE

Before zipping up your suitcase, try on the outfits you’ve planned. If something doesn’t feel right or versatile enough, swap it out. You want to ensure each piece makes you feel confident and comfortable. This edit phase isn’t technically a must. But I highly recommend it if you’re new to travel capsule wardrobes. 

woman in shearling jacket, pink bodysuit and leather skirt

THE WEEKEND WINTER CAPSULE WARDROBE

For a short and sweet winter weekend getaway, simplicity and style are key. As a recovering overpacker, a travel capsule has made weekend trip carry-on much more manageable. Let’s build a weekend winter travel wardrobe together. 

Total Pieces: 12

Unique Outfits: With smart mixing and matching, you can create 18 unique outfits.

TOPS (5 PIECES):

2 Thermal Tops: These will form your base layer and keep you warm during the chilly days and nights.

2 Sweaters (different weights): Choose sweaters of varying thickness to layer and adapt to changing temperatures.

1 Cardigan or Hoodie: A versatile piece for layering and adding a cozy touch to your outfits.

BOTTOMS (3 PIECES):

1 Pair of Jeans: A classic choice for versatility and style. Choose blue or black depending on your color palette. 

1 Pair of Leggings: Ideal for layering under maxi skirts or wearing with longer tops for comfort and warmth.

1 Skirt or Dress:Opt for a maxi skirt or dress to for a night out or a fancy dinner.

OUTERWEAR (2 PIECES):

1 Waterproof Jacket (if needed): If your getaway involves outdoor activities, a waterproof ski jacket will keep you dry and warm.

1 Warm Winter Coat: A cozy coat to keep you snug during walks and explorations in the winter chill. A double-breasted coat often earns a spot in my rotation.

SHOES (2 PAIRS):

1 Pair of Walking Boots: Durable, comfortable boots built for walking and outdoor adventures.

1 Pair of Casual Shoes: Casual footwear for lighter activities. Trusted sneakers, you’re on deck. 

Weekend Winter Travel Capsule Wardrobe with trench coat, sweaters, and boots

WINTER WEEKEND CAPSULE PACKING LIST

Tops:

2 Thermal Tops

2 Sweaters

1 Cardigan or Hoodie

Bottoms:

1 Pair of Jeans

1 Pair of Leggings

1 Skirt or Dress

Outerwear:

1 Waterproof Ski Jacket (if needed)

1 Warm Winter Coat

Shoes:

1 Pair of Comfortable Walking Boots

1 Pair of Casual Shoes 

*Don’t forget cold climate accessories. Think gloves, hats, and a scarf or two for a coxy addition to your winter ensembles.

THE 10-DAY WINTER TRAVEL CAPSULE WARDROBE

For a 10-day winter trip, focus on versatility and multi-functional pieces. Let’s curate a minimalist winter travel capsule that ensures you have stylish outfits for each day without over-packing.

Total Pieces: 15

Unique Outfits: You can create 24 unique outfits with this winter travel capsule wardrobe.

TOPS (6 PIECES):

3 Thermal Tops: Base layers to keep you warm and cozy throughout your trip.

2 Sweaters (different weights): I suggest one thick option and one lightweight one for layering.

1 Cardigan: A perfect addition for a cozy yet stylish layer.

BOTTOMS (4 PIECES):

2 Pairs of Jeans: Ever-versatile, I usually bring one straight and one wide-leg pair. 

1 Pair of Leggings: Great for layering under pants or wearing alone on a more relaxed day.

1 Skirt or Dress: Bring one chic option for a nicer dinner or outing.

OUTERWEAR (2 PIECES):

1 Stylish Blazer or Jacket: For a sophisticated touch and to diversify your outfits.

1 Warm Winter Coat: To keep you snug during your explorations in the winter chill.

SHOES (3 PAIRS):

1 Pair of Boots: Ideal for walking and outdoor adventures.

1 Pair of Casual Shoes: For lighter activities and city exploration.

1 Pair of Dressy Shoes: Perfect for a more formal outing or a fancy dinner.

Minimalist Winter Travel Capsule Wardrobe

10-DAY WINTER CAPSULE PACKING LIST

Tops:

3 Thermal Tops

2 Sweaters

1 Cardigan

Bottoms:

2 Pairs of Jeans

1 Pair of Leggings

1 Skirt or Dress

Outerwear:

1 Waterproof Jacket (if needed)

1 Warm Winter Coat

Footwear:

1 Pair of Comfortable Walking Boots

1 Pair of Casual Shoes 

1 Pair of Dressy Shoes

2-WEEK WINTER TRAVEL CAPSULE WARDROBE

Planning a 2-week winter adventure? Maybe you need a travel capsule for a Europe trip. Below is a smart travel capsule wardrobe to keep you fashion-forward with less than 25 items. 

Total Pieces: 22

Unique Outfits: This powerhouse of a travel capsule lets you create 80 unique outfits (not even including shoes in the calculation).

TOPS (8 PIECES):

3 Thermal Tops: Base layers for warmth throughout the day.

3 Sweaters (different weights): Pack one light, medium, and heavy option. Merino wool or cashmere are great light options. Wool and cable knit lean more medium to heavy. 

2 Blouses: I love having a couple of dressy top options for added elegance. A silk high neck or velvet variety are winter favorites.

BOTTOMS (6 PIECES):

2 Pairs of Jeans: Take it from me, you won’t regret packing a couple of flattering pairs of denim. 

1 Pair of Trousers: For an elevated look, bring wide-leg or tapered trousers along. 

1 Pair of Leggings: Leggings feature heavily in my athleisure capsule but their draw extends to travel as well. Because they take up little space, you can get away with bringing more than one pair. 

1 Skirt: Bring at least one skirt to add variety. I can confirm that maxis pair beautifully with turtlenecks. 

1 Dress: A chic, all-in-one option for a formal outing.

OUTERWEAR (4 PIECES):

1 Waterproof Jacket: Ideal for outdoor activities and protection against the elements.

1 Warm Winter Coat: A pea coat or trench coat are timeless options.

1 Stylish Blazer: If structured blazers aren’t your thing, try a soft wool variety sans buttons. 

1 Vest: Adds a layer of warmth without bulk.

SHOES (4 PAIRS):

1 Pair of Walking Boots: Look for a water-resistant pair so you can navigate the elements with ease. 

1 Pair of Casual Shoes: I lean towards sneakers since they look equally chic with trousers, jeans, and skirts. 

1 Pair of Dressy Shoes: Pack these for formal outings.

1 Pair of Slippers: Yes, you could snag these at the hotel. But there’s something about having your own cozy pair after a travel day. If you know, you know. 

2 Week Winter Travel Capsule Wardrobe featuring winter packing list

2-WEEK WINTER CAPSULE PACKING LIST

Tops:

3 Thermal Tops

3 Sweaters

2 Blouses or Dressy Tops

Bottoms:

2 Pairs of Jeans

1 Pair of Leggings

1 Pair of Trousers

1 Skirt

Dresses

1 Sweater Dress

Outerwear:

1 Waterproof Jacket

1 Warm Winter Coat

1 Stylish Blazer or Jacket

1 Vest

Shoes:

1 Pair of Comfortable Walking Boots

1 Pair of Casual Shoes 

1 Pair of Dressy Shoes 

1 Pair of Comfy Slippers

WINTER TRAVEL CAPSULE WARDROBE ESSENTIALS

When curating your winter travel capsule wardrobe, having the right clothing essentials can make all the difference.  I broke this packing list into four crucial categories: base layers, mid layers, outerwear, and accessories.

BASE LAYERS

Insulated Thermal Tops and Bottoms: Essential for trapping body heat and keeping you warm as your first layer of defense against the cold.

Moisture-Wicking Underwear and Bras: Ensures comfort by keeping moisture away from the skin, a fundamental part of your base layer.

Wool or Thermal Socks: Providing insulation and keeping your feet cozy, these are a must for any winter trip.

MID LAYERS

Fitted Turtleneck: A versatile and warm mid layer that adds style and additional insulation.

Silk Blouse: Stylish and cozy, silk blouses offer a luxurious mid-layer option for various occasions during your trip.

Wrap Sweater: A fashionable mid-layer option that can be dressed up or down for different looks.

Fleece-Lined Leggings: A comfortable and warm option to layer under skirts or pants, adding an extra barrier against the cold.

Tailored Trousers: Versatile pants that can be paired with various tops for different occasions during your trip.

OUTERWEAR

Quality Winter Coat: Your primary defense against winter elements; make sure it’s warm, insulated, and preferably waterproof.

Trench Coat: A stylish option for milder winter days, providing both warmth and a classic look.

Parka: Ideal for extreme cold and snowy conditions, offering maximum insulation and protection.

ACCESSORIES

Scarves, Hats, and Gloves: Crucial for protecting your neck, head, and ears from cold winds. Also an arguably low-effort way to weave in some color, if that’s your thing.

Warm Headband or Ear Muffs: An alternative to hats, providing warmth and style without flattening your hair. This goes out to my fellow curly girls who can’t stuff their tresses under a beanie.

HOW TO PACK FOR A WINTER TRIP IN A CARRY-ON

If fitting all those cozy wonders into a humble carry-on sounds daunting, don’t worry. A streamlined winter travel capsule wardrobe is the solution. Let’s master the art of minimalist packing.

STEP 1: PLAN YOUR ACTIVITIES, NOT JUST THE DAYS

Begin with a clear understanding of the activities and events you’ll partake in during your trip. This will dictate the variety of outfits you need. From exploring the snowy mountains to sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace, plan for each scenario.

STEP 2: BUILD YOUR CORE CLOSET

Want to pack with purpose? Here’s a formula for your core closet:

Base Layers (Pack 3): These are your foundational pieces, like thermal tops and leggings. Choose ones that mix and match well.

Mid Layers (Pack 4): Think sweaters, blouses, and casual tops. Aim for versatility; each piece should pair with multiple bottoms.

Outerwear (Pack 2): Include a waterproof jacket and a warm winter coat. If lighter layers are in order, pull in a stylish blazer and a vest that complement your mid layers.

Bottoms (Pack 4): Opt for a mix of jeans, leggings, and a skirt or dress. Ensure they go well with all your tops.

Shoes (Pack 3): Walking boots, a pair of sneakers, and dressy shoes.

winter snowy hike outfits sedona

For a weekend trip to Sedona, we packed winter hiking clothes.

STEP 3: CREATE LAYER LEVELS

To maximize space, plan a three-tier layering system:

  • Base Level: Thermal tops and leggings.
  • Mid Level: Sweaters, blouses, and tops.
  • Outerwear: Coats, vests, and jackets.

STEP 4: ROLL, DON’T FOLD

Rolling your clothes rather than folding them saves space. And, as I have been reliably informed by travel enthusiasts, rolling also reduces wrinkles in your fabrics. Another pro tip- place heavier items at the bottom near the wheels, and lighter ones on top.

STEP 5: MINIMIZE BULKY ITEMS

Winter packing comes with the attendant bulky items. Fortunately, we can tackle the trouble in two ways. First, make friends with a good vacuum-sealed bag. I keep a few of these in my carry-on and use them to suck all the puff out of my parkas before packing. Just make sure you’ll have access to a vacuum when it’s time to repack.

Second, wear your bulky items to the airport. The chunky boots or long down coat may be a pain to take off through TSA, but keeping them outside of your luggage frees up valuable space. 

winter outfit skiing in whistler canada

My bulky parka is a prime airport wear to free up space.

WHAT SHOULD BE ON A WINTER TRIP PACKING LIST?

Clothing

❄️ Base Layers

❄️ Thermal Tops

❄️ Sweaters

❄️ Pants (insulated)

❄️ Waterproof Jacket

❄️ Warm Socks

❄️ Boots (Waterproof)

❄️ Winter Coats

Accessories

❄️ Scarves

❄️ Gloves

❄️ Beanies

❄️ Ear Muffs

❄️ Sunglasses

❄️ Neck Gaiter

❄️ Umbrella

❄️ Hand Gloves

Must-Have Items

❄️ Thermal Flask

❄️ Hand Warmers

❄️ Portable Charger

❄️ Medications

❄️ Travel-Sized Toiletries

❄️ Snacks

❄️ Travel Pillow

❄️ Chapstick

HOW MANY PIECES SHOULD BE IN A WINTER TRAVEL WARDROBE?

For a weekend getaway, a slim winter travel capsule wardrobe of 10-15 pieces works wonders. For a 10-day trip, aim for a capsule of 15-20 pieces, striking a balance between variety and compactness. Now, if you’re embarking on a two-week adventure, aim for a range of 20-25 pieces. This accommodates the longer duration while still staying within the confines of a carry-on.

On my recent weeklong jaunt to Whistler, Canada I brought about 20 pieces including snow pants, turtlenecks, trousers, and cozy sweaters. 

MINIMALIST PACKING, MAXIMUM STYLE.

If you’ve enjoyed simplifying your winter travel wardrobe, you’ll love delving deeper into the realms of capsule wardrobes.

For those in need of travel capsules for more destinations: The ultimate travel capsule wardrobe guide.

For those seeking everyday simplicity and timeless fashion: Guide to building an everyday capsule wardrobe.

UNTIL NEXT TIME, HAPPY TRAVELS.

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