Coming from tropical country in South East Asia who only knows 2 season; rainy and dry, naturally we won’t have winter clothes in our wardrobe so we do have to shop, rent or borrow. Because you probably only wear it once a year or most likely every few years you need to be smart on what to buy.
The key to dress for cold weather is to dress in layers because you can adjust by removing or adding a layer if it gets too warm or too cold and choosing the right fabric/material. When you travel to Europe for example in winter, it will be cold outside but when you go inside a building most likely it will be warm as they will have central heating on. So you can then remove your layers.
Before we go into the basics of layer we need to understand first what are the best fabrics to keep you warm. Then when you go shopping check the label inside that jacket, coat and sweater to understand what it is made of and whether those fabrics can truly keep you warm.
What fabrics are winter clothes made of
- Wool: For winter activewear, wool is the best and warmest choice. Merino wool is especially popular, as it’s very warm, softer than other types of wool and also thinner. It also wicks sweat and is particularly resistant to wear and odor, making it a good long-term option.
- Cashmere: It is usually a material for luxury items Cashmere thread is made from the underfur of mountain goats that live in the Himalayas. This fabric is expensive because the manufacturing process is very difficult. The underfur of goats is combed out during the spring and the fabric has to be produced by hand. Cashmere is warmer that wool, in fact it can retain eight times more heat than wool and it is lightweight. However the downside is the price tag.
- Silk: It’s best for use as a base layer rather than an outer one, as it wicks moisture and helps you to retain heat. It’s smooth and comfortable, but on the downside, it is more expensive.
- Polyester: It is a synthetic material made mainly from woven plastic. It’s commonly used for base layers since it provides such good insulation and also outer layer as it can also repels water and keeps out the wind. Polyester isn’t quite as odor-resistant as natural materials like wool, but it is less expensive. You can find them in many winter clothes.
- Acrylic: it is a synthetic material that serves as an affordable version of wool. Acrylic fabric contains a higher percentage of acrylonitrile monomers than other synthetic materials. Popular uses of acrylic fabric include sweaters, socks, and other cold-weather items. Acrylic fabric is made out of acrylic yarns woven or knitted into thick, warm material. This material provides incredible warmth and insulation, making it a popular choice for sweaters, coat linings, and outdoor athletic apparel. The downside of this fabric is its poor breathability meaning it can make you too hot very quickly and due to its synthetic nature, the manufacturing process creates a lot of concerns about polluting the environment.
- Nylon: Though nylon is not a particularly absorbent or warm material, it does wonders at keeping you dry. This synthetic material was designed to imitate silk, and it’s quite durable and perfect for use in both rain or snow. Wear nylon as your outer layer, and you’re guaranteed to stay dry.
- Polypropylene: it is a durable, hydrophobic material that is good for intense physical activity due to its excellent moisture-wicking abilities. It’s not terribly warm, but if you’ll be sweating a lot during your winter activity, a polypropylene base layer might be right for you. One thing to note is that it is not resistant to heat, so you’ll need to be careful around fire or when drying clothes made of this material.
- Synthetic Blends: Many base layers and other winter clothes are actually a blend of natural and synthetic materials. For example a blend of merino wool and polyester will be soft, warm, durable, moisture-wicking, and resistant to odors, whereas pure wool or polyester might just have a few of these features. This kind of blend has the benefits of natural materials without a high price tag.
- Fleece: This is one of the most versatile and dynamic materials available for making clothing, blankets, jackets, and other accessories. Fleece traps a barrier of air warmed by your own body temperature next to your skin. This means that cold air is trapped outside of the material and warm air is trapped inside. While fleece is trapping warmth close to your skin, its fibers are wicking moisture away from your skin and transferring it to the outside by a process called capillary action. That’s how fleece fabric continues to provide warmth even when it’s wet. For that reason, fleece fabric is used a lot for outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain climbing etc.
- Down: it is a natural material—the down, or feathers, of ducks and geese. The more down that’s stuffed in your coat, the warmer it will be. Typically, a down coat will have a waterproof outer layer into which the insulation is placed. Like silk, down winter clothing can be on the pricier side, as it’s a natural material. A good winter jacket/parka should have down inside which can keep you warm.
- Gore-Tex: it is a waterproof, windproof material made of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE). This material is very strong, yet warm and breathable. It’s commonly used as an outer layer for winter coats or snow pants because of its ability to keep you dry in the wettest of weather. Gore-Tex can also be used in footwear like winter boots. —if you’re tramping through the snow in boots that aren’t waterproof, your feet will undoubtedly become wet and cold quite quickly, so durable, waterproof material is important.
I hope you notice that cotton is not in there and cotton is probably the most common fabric inside your wardrobe, because they are one of the best fabric for warm humid weather. They are soft, non-itchy, breathable, and durable but it’s not the best material for base layer in winter because when cotton becomes wet from your sweat, the air pockets in the fabric fill up with moisture and can become saturated, which means you lose your insulation. Meaning cotton soaks up moisture and draws heat away from your body and can leave you cold and uncomfortable.
How to layer for cold weather
You need to follow a few rules to stay warm and enjoy the outdoors during winter. The first rule is you have to layer your clothes. I’ve learned the hard way about how to layer properly from many many winter trips here’s my sharing on layering tips. It’s easier than you think.
First is choosing your base layers. These are the layer of clothing closest to your skin, and they help regulate your temperature. They’re designed to keep heat in while wicking sweat away from your skin to keep you comfortable and warm when you’re switching between hot indoor spaces and cold outside climates, or doing outdoor winter activities. Base layers come in both tops and bottoms, and are meant to be fitted close to your skin.
Not all base layers are equal. They can be made with various materials and offer different degree of warmth. The common material for base layers are merino wool, silk, synthetic (some sort of polyester or polyester blend) and bamboo. Bamboo material is fairly new and not super common. It comes from bamboo extracts blended with other fabrics to enhance the fit and soften up rougher materials (like wool). It has a lot of features seen in other base layers, such as antibacterial and moisture wicking, but it tends to be a little more friendly to sensitive skin.
Merino wool is regarded as one of the best base layer for being the warmest and also lightweight. However if you have dry and sensitive skin, wearing merino wool directly to the skin can be itchy. I cannot wear merino wool as I have atopic dermatitis so I chose the synthetic one.
Where you can buy base layers:
- Outdoor Winter Gear stores such as North Face and Columbia will have base layers. For more affordable options you can buy at Decathlon or Mountain Warehouse (if you’re based in the UK). Their base layer is especially good if you are into outdoor activities.
- Cold Wear Stores (if you are based in Indonesia and Singapore). I come across Cold Wear when I searched for winter clothes to go to Iceland for my daughter (she was 5 at that time). It was not easy to find winter clothes for young children and it was them who need it the most. Cold Wear is a Singapore-based company which carries a wide collection of winter jackets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves as well as travel-related accessories and they have stores in some of the Malls in Jakarta. You can find them in Central Park, Lotte, Pondok Indah Mall 1, Summarecon and Puri Indah Mall. Cold Wear has a fine merino wool base layer for children and adult.
- Uniqlo. These are the easiest option if you are based in Asia. They have three types of base layers from regular Heattech, Extra Warm and Ultra Warm. As per the naming, Ultra Warm is their warmest base layers. It is said to be1.5 times warmer than Heattech Extra Warm and about 2.25 times warmer than regular Heattech. Heattech employs a special thread structure to trap warm air and increase heat retention as more air is stored. Uniqlo uses special knit design for Ultra Warm line which thickens the fabric and lengthens the fibers of the brushed lining. Because of my sensitive skin I buy my base layers from Uniqlo as my skin cannot stand direct touching with wool.
- Marks and Spencer. They have various base layers from merino wool to synthetic fabrics. I got the boys their base layer made from merino wool here when they were on sale.
Mid layers mean what you wear in between base layer and outer layer. So you can wear 1, 2, 3 or even 5 tops depending on how cold it is outside and whether they can still fit in nicely after you put on your outer layer. You can wear any fabric for your mid layers and most likely you will already have them in your wardrobe e.g. the warm knit sweater you wear when your office aircon is cold. My favourite fabrics for mid layers are merino wool, wool (pure and blended), cashmere and fleece.
Having the right outer layer helps to protect you from the harsh elements like rain, wind, and snow. With the proper layers worn underneath, this top-layer jacket keeps the wind from robbing you of heat. Remember that all of your layers should be breathable for the layering system to work. The bulkier it is not always the better.
The most common outer layers are puffer jacket and coat. Puffer jacket in general is much warmer Vs coat and they offer protection from rain and wind. It is also lighter weight and takes up less space in your suitcase vs coat. The disadvantage is puffer jacket is less fashionable vs coat.
Choosing what outer layers to have also depends on where your destination is. I like wearing coats when I go to cities such as Paris, Rome, London etc and I switch to puffer jacket when I go outside big cities such as Scotland highland, Lake District, etc. If you plan to see aurora in the arctic circle read our post here.
Choose material for your puffer jacket and coat properly. A good and warm puffer jacket will have at least 90% down as its filling, and the outer should be made from water repellent material. The same goes with coat. Not all coats are equal. A good winter coat should have at least 50% wool if you want them to do its duty to keep you warm. Winter coat will mostly made from wool, cashmere, acrylic and polyester.
Where you can buy Outer Layers:
- Cold Wear Stores (if you are based in Indonesia and Singapore). Cold Wear is a Singapore-based company which carries a wide collection of winter jackets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves as well as travel-related accessories and they have stores in some of the Malls in Jakarta. You can find them in Central Park, Lotte, Pondok Indah Mall 1, Summarecon and Puri Indah Mall.
- Marks and Spencer. They have various Jackets and coats from various material.
- Uniqlo. They have various puffer/down jacket
- Outdoor Winter Gear stores such as North Face and Columbia. For more affordable options you can buy at Decathlon or Mountain Warehouse (if you’re based in the UK)
- Other Fashion stores such as Zara, Mango, Pull and Bear etc will have jackets and coats in their winter collection. But check the label to see the material. Most often they use combination of polyester and nylon. These brands are more into fashionable look vs keeping warm.
Other Winter Accessories:
You feet and hand will feel the cold so your choice of shoes+socks and gloves is important
For your feet:
- Footwear: the ideal choice is Boots that can keep you warm and comfortable for long walking. Remember that you are going to walk outdoors also so your boots have to be comfortable instead of only nice looking. Remember to get one size up as you need to wear wool socks inside your boots. If there is no snow and rain, and temperature above 5 Celcius, you can actually still wear your running shoes or kets as long as you put on wool or wool blended socks. But don’t wear your regular light walking kets with thin sole like onitsuka as your feet will freeze if you wear them in the cold. Wear running shoes with tick sole.
- Socks: Always goes for wool socks and for temperature below 2C or sub zero go for thick wool socks.
For your hands:
- Gloves – get the one with a tip for touch screen phone and for sub zero temperature double with wool mitten
- Heat pack. I didn’t know this until I went to Iceland during winter and get introduced with hot hands which helped keeping my hands warm during northern light hunting. Recently I found out Koreans also use heat pack a lot and you can buy them in any convenience store. Inside a hot pack is a mixture of metals and other compounds. Once the hot pack has been activated the different metals attract each other, in turn this movement causes friction and finally heat. Once the metals stop moving then the bag cools down and cannot be used again.
For your neck, face, ear and head:
- Scarves from wool or cashmere for your neck and can also be used to cover your face
- Wool knit hats or ear muff to cover your ears as they get cold easily
Where to shop for winter accessories
Regular Walking Boots
It is easier to shop for boots during winter season in your destination country. I was happy with my Clarks boots until Hubbie introduced me with Mephisto. Not only they are uber comfortable but they also nice looking. Other brands I like are UGG boots, Ecco shoes and . If you think you won’t have time to shop when you arrive, Marks and Spencer has a good collection of boots which you can get. A friend also told me that leather boots made locally in Bandung also have good quality and theirs are custom made. A word of warning about boots: I know those knee length boots which comes with heels look pretty and fashionable. But if you are not not used to walking all day outdoors with heels opt for the flat one so you are not sorry later when you have blisters and sore feet.
I got mine from Columbia. North Face also has good hiking boots. If you are buying hiking boots, get the ankle boots and waterproof one. For more affordable boots you can go to Decathlon and Mountain Warehouse. I get boots for my kids from Decathlon as their feet are still growing, I don’t want to spend a fortune when I know in my one year their feet will outgrow their boots.
I bought mine online from Ali Express. It’s not easy to find 100% wool socks in Jakarta, but you can get the blended wool and heattech version from Uniqlo, Marks and Spencer, Pull and Bear etc.
For others like scarves, hat, ear muff and gloves you can buy them from Uniqlo, Marks and Spencer, Pull and Bear etc.
How to fit all these in your suitcase?
With everything that you need to bring and not to mention winter clothes are bulky how are you going to fit them all without bringing so many suitcases.
- Don’t bring too many base layers. If you go for a week you can just bring 2-3 top base layers and just 1-2 bottom layers. and one more if you go up to 2 weeks. You hardly sweat in winter unless you’re exercising.
- Don’t bring too many outer layers. If you go for a week, 2 outer layers are the maximum. For 2 weeks, 3 is the maximum, but I always aim only 2 unless I go for business trip and extended with holiday.
- Wash your clothes! Plan where and when you can wash and dry your clothes. When I travel for more than 1 week I combine in staying in Hotel with Apartment and I chose apartment which has a washing and drying machine or has a DIY laundry facility (Laundromat). If I only stay in Hotel, I search online where is the nearest Laundromat. Worst to worst when my agenda is tight and I stayed in the same Hotel for 2nights only, I use Hotel’s laundry to wash base layers.
- Buy Vaccum Bag with its electric pump. There is a certain skill set necessary for packing and there are some great packing hacks to make it even easier. One of it is using vacuum bags. There are many vacuum bags on the market to choose from, so picking the right size is important. Ideally the vacuum bags should fit nicely into your suitcase without wasting any extra space. Here’s some sizing suggestions:
20” suitcase – vacuum bag size 50 cm x 50 cm
24” suitcase – vacuum bag size 50 cm x 70 cm
28” suitcase – vacuum bag size 60 cm x 80 cm
32” suitcase – vacuum bag size 60 cm x 80 cm
The number of vacuum bags you’ll need for your trip depends on how many people you’re traveling with and how many bags you’re packing. Typically, one 50 cm x 50 cm vacuum bag can carry enough for a four-day trip for 1 person. Bring at least two vacuum bags, one for your clean clothes and another for your dirty clothes so you can separate your clothes ahead of time. The vacuum bags also work to seal in any odor from your dirty vacation clothes.
- If you go holiday in big cities famous for shopping and you like shopping, only bring 1/3 to half of what you need because there is 99% possibility you are going to shop and keep empty space in your suitcase or bring extra suitcase. Remember to check how many suitcases and maximum weight requirement from your airlines.
Do share if you have additional tips on how to dress for winter and where did you shop 😄