Chasing Winter: Top Tips on Packing For Long Cold Trips

I pride myself on being a light packer, but that gets tricky when I’m headed out of town for more than a week. It’s even harder in winter when we need more layers. Throw in a variety of activities at my destination and I’m ready to give up and buy a bigger suitcase.

When I started packing for a trip to northern Finland in February, I challenged myself to fit everything I needed into a medium-sized suitcase, then use my Deuter Guide 35+ as my carry-on. Temperatures in Finnish Lapland in winter are usually in the single-digits, and our itinerary included a ride on an icebreaker ship, a visit to a reindeer farm, and tons of cross-country skiing.

So if I can manage to fit everything into my Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 for three weeks of backpacking, all would be well. I could do this, right? Well, here’s how I did it.


  1. No multiples. It’s tough to stick to this rule, and I’ll admit to breaking it for underwear and socks. Otherwise, I planned to do a little makeshift laundry at hotels and AirBnBs. I knew that I’d be under lots of layers, and no one would notice if I smelled like an adventurer.
  2. Everything has a purpose. And preferably more than one! I thought back to the rule an old ski guiding mentor always told me: If you’re having to think, “It only weighs X ounces” trying to justify bringing something, you don’t actually need it. This also meant not bringing more than one book, which is always a challenge for me.
  3. Stuff sacks are worth it. I usually forego stuff sacks for backpacking trips, since they add extra weight and my packing system helps me stay organized without them. But for this trip, I figured it might be harder to stay organized for two weeks abroad. Toiletries, under-layers, and ski-specific stuff (repair kit, headlamp, etc.) got their own stuff sacks.
  4. Get creative. Toiletries fit inside boots. Ditch bulky carrying cases for electronics and wrap them in your softer layers. Caveat: I only do this for fragile items I’m carrying on, since I know I can handle them carefully throughout the trip.
  5. Do a little research. I know learning the language doesn’t sound like a packing tip, but knowing how to ask where to buy toothpaste or socks can go a long way. It also enhances the travel experience to be able to interact with locals on a bit deeper level. I’m not a great Finnish conversationalist, but I can get by.

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