Whether you love or hate winter, you need to prep for it. I actually love the winter season (Snow! Cocoa! Christmas! Crackling fires! Etc!)… but my body absolutely hates it. I become sleepy, grumpy, and generally unpleasant to be around when I am the least bit chilly. I created this guide to women’s cold weather clothes, which has become about twice as long as I set out to write, for anyone who can relate!
My fingers and toes are pretty much icicles half the year, as if I’m perpetually stuck in an over-air conditioned office. Yet, I will frolic around in a blizzard until my face is basically falling off.
If these are sentiments you can relate to, and you just want to stay cozy while doing all of the above, you’ve come to the right place.
Why should you trust my women’s cold weather clothes recommendations, though?
Besides just being baseline freezing all the freakin’ time, I have pretty much only lived in places that are baseline freezing all the freakin’ time. I grew up in Michigan, went to college in Boston, and worked for years as a park ranger in North Dakota. One winter, the daily highs didn’t get above 0 for several weeks (don’t even get me started on the lows).
I now live in Gunnison, Colorado, which if you haven’t heard of it is affectionately known as “the icebox of Colorado”. What can I say, I love flirting with frostbite. It’s safe to say I’ve dabbled in the world of cold weather clothing enough to know what I like and, probably, what you’ll like!
I realize I have unwittingly become well-versed in everyday cold-weather survival. More than that, as part of my job for years I actually have to do things outside in subzero temperatures.
After some trial and error I’ve found a ton of ways to make extremely frigid temps bearable, even borderline cozy if you’re standing in the sun with no wind chill!
Basic Tips for Choosing Cold Weather Clothing
These might seem obvious to many of you, but there’s a set of operating principles I go by when selecting my cold weather clothes. Commandments, if you will.
- Wool is your friend. Let us end this myth that it’s scratchy, uncomfortable, and/or sweaty. Smartwool and wool blends in winter clothing are actually moisture-wicking and extremely comfy-cozy. If it’s good enough for a sheep, it should be good enough for you. Unless you think you’re better than sheep.
- Base layers are everything. You must never underestimate the importance of a good base layer. I will include some of my favorite products below. You can wear a tight base layer underneath your everyday outfit to stay warm no matter what you’re doing—I even wear mine under skinny jeans when out and about.
- Moisture wicking/merino wool socks. The end. I wear these year round because my toes are always cold, but they make heavy duty ones especially for winter. You know how even though your toes might be freezing, they still somehow… sweat? Enter moisture wicking fabrics, folks.
- Down (or at least, synthetic down) is worth the fuss. I know, it’s obnoxiously expensive, but if you’ve ever had a good waterproof down winter jacket, you know it’s a game changer. I’ll list some options for several budgets below.
- Speaking of expensive, if you’re gonna invest in any season’s clothing, it should probably be winter. There’s nothing worse than feeling cold and grumpy because your $15 Walmart fleece isn’t doing the trick. I am a budget travel blogger so you’re not going to find that-down-parka-brand-that-shall-not-be-named on here, but you really get what you pay for with winter clothes.
- Always buy your winter boots a size up, so you can layer your socks!
Are you also in the market for camping gear? Check out my top recommendations for big camping tents for family or group trips!
Where to Buy Winter Clothes
That’s up to you! I love REI and Moosejaw because they’re just really solid outdoor gear companies to support; they treat their employees well and care about ethical business practices. My brother worked at Moosejaw before hiking the PCT, and they supported him with some gear and awesome community—not to mention letting him miss work to hike across the country for months. REI is great because they’re always investing in sustainability for such a huge company.
That said, I’m also not going to judge anyone for choosing the convenience of Amazon, if that is what works for you. Make sure you check REI and Moosejaw where their links are included though, because I’ve noticed a few of these items on sale for cheaper than on Amazon!
Anyway, I’ve included links to all of the above, and will leave the choice up to you!
Your Must-Have Winter Clothes List
There will be some variation to this list depending on the activities you’re getting up to. For instance, if I’m hiking in the snow, I will probably layer a bunch of base layers for excellent movement and wear the tallest waterproof boots I own. If I’m brewery-hopping with friends, I care more about looking cute.
Think of these products like your winter gear “capsule wardrobe”—essentials that can be mixed and matched to your preferences!
Best all-around base layers: Smartwool Merino 250 Crew
As I mentioned about, if you don’t already have some solid base layers you really should consider stocking up. You can wear them under almost any outfit (obviously plunging tops will be tricky, which is why I say almost). If you’re doing any sort of outdoor activity in freezing temps, a good base layer will mean the difference between bone chilling and fairly comfortable. The Smartwool brand is something of an ol’ reliable for me when it comes to base layers, especially their 250 merino wool base layers.
Both the Smartwool base layers and REI base layers I discuss below have tops, and bottoms. I have both. You can decide which is more of a priority for you, but once you feel the difference you’ll probably end up going for a set!
Best budget base layers: REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer
While this is not a merino wool base layer, I’ve tried it myself and I can attest to its quality. If a merino wool base layer is outside your budget, REI’s house brand makes an excellent polyester blend base layer. It has a brushed interior and moisture-wicking fabric so you stay 1) warm and 2) dry. It’s mid weight, which is the best for layering in chilly conditions for folks who run cold.
If you’re perpetually cold and haven’t tried a parka… oh, my goodness, get yourself a parka. My first parka was a hand-me-down I received in my senior year of college, and it blew my mind how much warmer it made me. I wore it until it was shedding feathers just about everywhere, at which point I upgraded to the Fjallraven below. I’ve included that parka, another budget option, and two excellent-non park winter coats below if that floats your boat more.
Best all-around winter parka: the Fjallraven Nuuk
I can’t properly express how excellent a winter coat the Fjallraven Nuuk truly is. It stands next to and arguably exceeds parkas several hundred dollars more expensive in quality. Still, it’s certainly a splurge for most people—myself included! I hope Fjallraven never stops making this jacket, because if I ever lose mine (because it’s several years old and shows no signs of wearing out, that’s the only way we’ll be parted!) I’ll be first in line for a new one.
Best budget-friendly parka: Columbia Peak to Park
Columbia, as you’ll see again in the footwear section, is great when it comes to budget choices for respectable gear. They’re comfortably mid-range, with better than midrange performance.
You can buy the Columbia Peak to Park jacket from Amazon!
Best winter jacket (non-parka): Arc’teryx Thorium
Arc’teryx is an extremely popular brand with outdoor lovers, and this is one of their most popular jackets. The Thorium jacket is made from high-quality down and water repellent fabric, and has a flattering slim fit. My brother is one of the biggest outdoorsy dirtbags you’ll ever meet (i.e. he doesn’t splurge on… pretty much anything) and he is still “obsessed” with Arc’teryx.
Best budget winter jacket: the REI Co-op 650
Obviously, this one will just be available from REI, but you should still be able to get free shipping. I’ve really enjoyed REI’s brand whenever I’ve bought from them. They make AMAZING base layers and accessories, in addition to offering pretty sweet down jackets at the sub-$100 price point. One review called this jacket “warmer than a hot toddy!” which, I mean, do we even need to hear any more?! Buy it from REI here!
Best all-around winter boot: the Sorel Joan of Arctic
Chances are, you’ve seen this boot around. I think I saw it in five different colors just waiting in line at the Coors brewery last winter (it was a 45 minute wait in frigid temps and thoroughly worth it). There’s a reason this boot is so popular, and it’s not just because of Sorel’s awesome reputation in the outdoor footwear sphere. The Sorel Joan of Arctic is cute, functional, comfortable, and crazy warm.
Damp toes are no fun, especially when it’s in the single digits outside. I wear an older version of the Joan of Arctics, and they’ve kept my feel warm since 2017 and are still going strong. Check out the specs and buy the Joan of Arctic boots at Amazon (click here), REI (click here), or Moosejaw (click here).
Best winter boot runner-up: the North Face Shellista boots
By all accounts, the Shellista is just as solid a choice for a winter boot as the Joan of Arctic. I just personally haven’t owned a pair. However, I’ve received countless recommendations for the Shellistas and done enough online research to have their name pop up many (many) times. North Face has earned a lot of name recognition, too, so if you’re already familiar with their standard quality you know you can expect that!
Check out the North Face Shellistas at Amazon (click here) or Moosejaw (click here)! REI does have the mid-height version available at a discount currently, though they don’t have the taller height which is preferable in a winter boot if snow is involved!
Best budget winter boot option: the Columbia Ice Maiden
For a sub-$100 winter boot the Columbia Ice Maiden is an absolutely stellar choice. It boasts glowing reviews on every single site it’s sold on. It also appears to be available in the widest range of colors!
There are only two names that matter in winter socks: Darn Tough and SmartWool. I said it. If you stick with these two, you will never be let astray. Both brands are proudly made in the USA from top quality, moisture-wicking merino wool.
I will say, Darn Tough edges out Smartwool by a hair for two reasons. One, their lifetime warranty is much beloved and famous in the outdoor gear industry. They have a no questions asked 100% lifetime satisfaction guarantee, which is pretty cool for socks.
Two, I just think their designs are a bit cuter/more fun. Smartwool has definitely stepped up their aesthetic, though; I noticed a few cool new patterns when writing this post alone!
Hats and Headwear
I say hats and headwear because, for those super windy days, I am not above a thermal balaclava. They’re hardcore, and low key make you look like a bank robber, but they’re sort of like down parkas… once you wear one on a horrendous day, it’s hard to go back! If they’re not your thing (don’t knock ’em til you try ’em!) keep scrolling to the cute, normal hats.
Best thermal balaclava: REI Co-op Power Wool Balaclava
Great price, for a great product. For walking your dog on a chilly morning, hiking in inclement weather, or honestly just shoveling the driveway, it keeps that horrible stinging feeling off your face quite nicely. Buy the balaclava at REI here!
Best winter hats: North Face’s entire line!
You cannot go wrong with a North Face beanie. They come in approximately one million colors and styles and they’re all very cozy. I’ve owned a few North Face winter beanies and the best way I can describe them is… do you know when someone has a jacket with a really soft fleece sleeve, and they make you stick your hand in the sleeve so you can feel how ridiculously soft it is? That’s basically a North Face beanie.
Gloves and Mittens
Best overall winter gloves: Columbia Heavenly Glove
Don’t you love winter gear names? Most are tough, like “Ice Maiden” or “Joan of Arctic”… and then we have Heavenly. Love it. These gloves are 100% polyester with a faux fur cuff and tech-compatible finger pad (AKA you can use your smartphone while wearing them). The insulation is all fleece, so your fingers will be plenty toasty—and stylish—for casual winter wear.
Best waterproof winter gloves: Mountain Hardwear FireFall
These gloves are not messing around. If you’re having a snowball fight or spending significant time out in the elements, they’re a great choice because they are waterproof. They’re not is “cute” as the Columbias above, but it’s hard for a thick, GoreTex, heavily lined glove to look sleek. And really, that’s not the point. The point is, your fingers will stay as warm and dry as if you were inside.
Best mittens: North Face Fair Isle Mitten
How stinkin’ cute are these mittens? They’re made from the softest knit in the most adorable patterns—there are even different patterns available from Amazon and Moosejaw! I personally prefer Moosejaw’s patterns, but honestly they’re all cute and it’s taking all the self control I have not to buy them in several colors. They’re not just a pretty mitten, though; the Fair Isle mitten is made out of the coziest fleece lining and yours forever under North Face’s lifetime warranty!
The first rule of winter: never underestimate winter!
I know, a lot of this seems like common sense, but even the most subzero temp-hardened folks are guilty of underestimating winter! I definitely have. The best piece of advice I would give them, myself, anyone: however cold you think you’ll be, assume you’ll be colder. You can always take stuff off, but being cold all day will make you grumpy and sad.
As always, if you found this helpful, own any of these items, or ended up trying out any of these items, PLEASE holla at me in the comments!
*This post contains affiliate links, which mean if you choose to buy any of these rad products I’ve recommended, I get a small commission. And you get to be cozy af.