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Packing light and staying warm

Trip to Germany, Austria, Paris, Amsterdam. Backpacking in November.

What do you pack to keep it light, but stay warm!!!

Posted by
2644 posts

Well, I always bring some polar fleece for that time of year. It's a little bulky but I wear it on the plane and use it as a pillow on the flight. I'm not backpacking though, so surely others will weigh in with some better tips.

Posted by
1194 posts

This depends on your activities. Will you be spending time in the outdoors?

At a minimum:
Filament weight silk long john top and/or camisole
Leggings to wear with dresses and as 2nd layer under pants. If a guy they bring silk long john pants.
I like a puff jacket like the nano puff
A packable rainproof jacket roomy enough to go over the puff jacket
Hat & gloves
Waterproof shoes and wool socks

If outdoors activities I'd take a base layer top and maybe waterproof rain pants (I have the Montbell Versalite pants)

Yoga style pants are nice sleepwear in the winter and can double as pants for athletic activities. Use the base layer top as the sleeping top.

With these extras I can do any activity in the winter including skiing etc.

Posted by
15975 posts

Filament weight silk long john top and/or camisole

Great for staying warm, and they take up little room and weigh almost nothing. They can also double as jammies.

A packable rainproof jacket roomy enough to go over the puff jacket (or fleece; see below)

Another good idea: Amsterdam, especially, is really damp.

Waterproof shoes and wool socks

Yes and yes. Keeping feet dry and warm is half the battle.

Polar fleece

I'm a big fan. It's bulky but very warm, very light, and dries quickly when wet. Wearing it on the flight is a good idea as planes can be really chilly and those cheap little blankets they give you only minimally help. As Valerie mentioned, they also make for good pillows, and I've even sat on mine when seats have been especially hard and uncomfortable. Using a good one as your outer layer can replace the puff jacket if it's not misty or which case you top it off with the waterproof shell.

Layers are key to staying warm! They trap heat between them, and you can shed however many you need to as a day warms or if you're doing museums and whatnot. Another consideration is a pair of lightweight slippers for cold tile or wood hotel-room floors. Or just use your socks.

Hat, scarf and gloves: you're set! Heck, just buy a scarf when you get there as one of your souvenirs: they'll be everywhere!

Posted by
796 posts

Although I do not backpack, I wanted to add Wright socks. They have a double layer, very little chance of blisters. I use these and Smartwool on European trips.

Layers are so important. I agree with other posters about the thin silk base layer. I have a long sleeved t from Kim Allen Silk that comes on every trip with me. Packs very light and small. I have a cheaper pair of part wool long johns from Costco that I use for evening lounging and sometimes sleeping.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
3240 posts

I think it is difficult to answer this question without knowing where you live or where the responder lives. I travel a lot in the winter and I don't consider November the winter or particularly cold. The Alps in Austria would be a different story probably, but I have not been to the Alps yet, and if you are in the Alps for just a short time, I wouldn't pack for them (supplement your wardrobe there if necessary). On my coldest travels/Dec or Jan trips, I find Europe warmer than Boston. So...November often is just a light jacket or sweater in Europe, IMO. However, I always bring leather gloves and earmuffs...even in late spring and early fall. Of course, regardless of weather I have the ubiquitous scarf. I find gloves and earmuffs (or hat, I suppose) make all the difference on the worst days. Otherwise, I prepare the same October to May. So using my 'winter' packing: I use a light qullted jacket (spring/fall jacket, lands end) or an unlined leather jacket, a normal indoor vest or sweater (sometimes a boiled wool jacket because boiled wool is the best and adapts to the temperature so you don't get too hot or cold), long sleeve cotton shirt or T. If it was an unusually cold day, I might add a regular tank top. Usually, I wear either the sweater or the jacket, rarely both. I NEVER wear long underwear, silk or not. Keep in mind you are unlikely to be sitting still outside, you are walking so I would think even people living somewhat further south would be OK, again, by just adding gloves...particularly on a rainy day, can make all the difference. That's my system for someone accustomed to New England weather. November is one of my favorite months to travel...fewer crowds.

Posted by
418 posts

I will add my vote for wool socks. I was hiking for 5 hours on a glacier in Alaska when I inadvertently stepped into a deep hole full of water. I sat down, pulled my sock off, wringed out as much water as I could and then put my wet sock back on and hiked another 2 hours. My feet never felt wet and they were dry when I finished my hike. The other great thing is the heavy wool ones last forever. I owned a garden center and wore them with a hiking shoe every day year-round. I have some socks that are 12-13 years old. They are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I also use the smart wool long john top. It is also fairly light weight. Merino wool doesn't itch. Love it!

Posted by
1194 posts

I would advise against heavy wool socks. Take 2 pairs of lighter wool socks instead. You'll get the same warmth when layered but 2 thinner socks will dry more quickly when washed. In the winter it takes longer to dry things and I've found heavy socks do not dry overnight.

I use the nano puff jacket as a substitute for the fleece. It packs down smaller and is lighter. It provides the same level of warmth as fleece. I have found that a sweater + puff + rain jacket works in 20-30 degree weather just fine. In warmer weather I'll drop layers as needed (sweater or puff).

The only time a fleece is superior to a puff jacket is when you are hiking outdoors for days at a time in heavy rain. Under those conditions a puff jacket will slowly gain moisture and lose its loft. Then it loses its ability to stay warm.

The major advantage to silk and puffs is that they breathe very well. They adjust well to any activity. A silk worn under a regular shirt is undetectable and great for cold damp rooms.

Lots of thin layers is key. Adjust for various temperatures and you can go from hot and sunny to cold a snowy with just s few key items of clothing.

Posted by
6360 posts

Silk long underwear. You can get it from Land's End. I just love mine. We live in a 90+ year old house without central heating, and yes, it does get cold in Oklahoma.

And I took my silk longies to London in February last year, and was never uncomfortable.

Layers are the secret. I had my longies, a cardigan, and a nylon windbreaker. Once when it was blustery and rainy I added another layer, a long sleeved top. It was fine, and not too bulky. The silk longies scrunch down into almost nothing in your bags; you can fit them into a tiny corner or stuff them into your shoes.

Posted by
5837 posts

As others note, November is a fall/autumn month and countries/cities noted are middle Europe not northern Europe. Also as others note, the staying warm and dry strategy is layering - base moisture control layer, middle insulation layer and a wind/rain shell.

Fleece materials come in a range of thicknesses/"weights". Malden Mills' Polartec fleeces come in multiple weights":

Insulation fabrics

These fleece fabrics are designed to provide warmth without weight.
They are easy to care for, do not pill or shrink and dry quickly. They
come in a wide variety of weights, widths, color and finishes.

Polartec® Classic 100 - Lightweight warmth with next-to-skin comfort
and perspiration management is the hallmark of the 100 series. These
fabrics are ideal as fall and spring pullovers.

Polartec® Classic 200 - This is the fabric that started the fleece
revolution and remains Polartec®'s core product. Replacing traditional
sweater constructions, this easy care, non-pill, colorfast, midweight
fleece provides an all-purpose insulating layer. It is available in a
variety of textures, finishes, colors and widths.

Polartec® Classic 300 - The heaviest of their thermal products, these
fabrics provide all-purpose insulation and breathability required for
cold-weather wear.

Posted by
4132 posts

Some useful layers that may not occur to you right away:

1) A wool cap
2) long underwear, of the "wicking" (ultra lightweight) variety adds warmth but can be worn indoors comfortably
3) A rain shell, repels water but also is a windbreaking layer

That's not a complete list but these lightweight layers will extend the range of other layers you bring.

PS I assume when you say "backpacking" but then list a bunch of cities that you just mean that your bags have shoulder straps on them. Not that you will be spending most of your time hiking outdoors and possibly tenting.

Posted by
630 posts

(Polar Fleece) I've even sat on mine when seats have been especially hard and

Kathy, that's a great idea.

Posted by
10330 posts

You have received great advice. I'm not sure what you mean exactly by "backpacking." Do you mean that your luggage will be something you wear on your back or something else? If it's just a matter of transporting your belongings between cities you would pack the same things you would pack in any type of luggage.

Posted by
82 posts

For packing light and staying warm, my recommendation is the same--layer with merino wool. Merino is expensive but you can wear it for days without washing because of the natural properties will keep it (and you) from stinking, wick away any moisture, and can be worn in any temperature. Merino wool is not scratchy for those who think it might be. I wear it here in middle Tennessee even in the 98 degree heat with high humidity (short sleeves, of course), but then, I can take that short sleeve top and add a merino cardigan with some merino slacks and wear that on a cool fall evening. Icebreaker, Smart Wool and Ibex all make wonderful merino wool products and have their own websites, but you can find Icebreaker and Smart Wool products at REI and Backcountry as well. Sadly, Ibex can only be found at Ibex stores or online. I also recommend merino wool socks (take at least 3 pairs and be prepared to wash them out in the sink at night). I wash all of my merino wool items in cold and hang them to dry overnight so if you are handwashing on your trip and you roll them in a towel to get out most of the moisture, they should dry in your room--but you can wear them for 3 or 4 days before you have to wash them. I would not take big, bulky sweaters because they take up too much room. Merino wool tops can be rolled extremely small. Pair them with a merino wool cardigan and your choice of light jacket (depending on the outside temperature) and scarf/hat/gloves. I promise you will not be disappointed in merino wool. Try one and you probably won't wear anything else you take with you.