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Cold Weather Travel: Can You Get Sick From Being Cold? + Cold Weather Packing List

Woman seen from behind taking a walk with her dog in the snow.

Traveling to cold climates can be a truly magical experience. Whether it’s the breathtaking landscapes of snow-capped mountains or the cozy warmth of a crackling fire in a cabin, cold-weather destinations have a unique charm that can’t be found anywhere else.

However, traveling to these regions can also present unique challenges and require a bit more planning than a typical beach vacation. For example, making sure you pack the right clothing to avoid getting sick.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In today’s post we’ll share:

  • Common cold-related illnesses
  • Cold weather packing list
  • Tips to avoid getting sick during your winter travel

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Cold-Related Illnesses

Many travelers ask themselves: ‘Can you get sick from being cold?’ and the answer is yes. If you’re exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time, you can get:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite


Hypothermia develops when the core body temperature drops below 95°F (35°C). However, it can also happen in mild temperatures (around 50°F/10°C) if the person gets chilled from rain, sweat, or being in cold water.

Hypothermia first manifests as:

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Clumsiness

As the body continues to cool:

  • You may stop shivering
  • You may experience blue skin
  • Your pupils may enlarge (dilate)
  • Your breathing and pulse slow down
  • You may lose consciousness

If your body temperature falls below 95°F or you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.

However, if immediate medical attention is not available, you can treat hypothermia by:

  • Taking shelter in the warmest room you can find.
  • Taking off all wet clothing
  • Warming up the chest, neck, head, and groin.
  • Drinking a warm beverage without alcohol or caffeine. Nevertheless, if you’re trying to help an unconscious person who might be experiencing hypothermia, don’t try to give them beverages.


Frostbite happens when the skin is exposed to freezing temperatures. The skin and underlying tissues freeze, leading to damage or even death of the affected tissue.
Therefore, frostbite cases can range from mild to severe. It typically affects:

  • Ears
  • Cheeks
  • Chin
  • Nose
  • Fingers
  • Toes

Frostbite can be treated, but it can cause damage to deep layers of tissue under the skin. Early symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Pain in the most exposed areas to the cold

If you detect any of these symptoms, we suggest you seek medical attention right away. But, if medical attention is not available, you should warm up the affected area by:

  • Heading to a warmer room
  • Taking off all wet clothing
  • Soaking in warm water

Now, let’s see how to get ready for your next winter trip.

Cold Weather Packing List + Tips

Avoiding getting sick has a lot to do with bringing the right luggage. Therefore, we suggest you:

  • Dress in layers with light warm clothes
  • Take the COVID and flu shots before traveling
  • Pack SPF
  • Bring your swimsuit
  • Get heat packs

Let’s take a closer look.

Dress in Layers with Light Warm Clothes

A major disadvantage of traveling to cold-weather destinations is packing bulky clothing to stay warm. Luckily, there are some tricks you can follow to pack light and still stay warm. One effective way is to dress in layers and opt for lightweight yet high-quality warm clothing. This will help you:

  • Travel with less baggage
  • Easily adapt to any temperature condition
  • Move around comfortably

Some key items you may want to consider when packing are:

  • Thermal underwear and long-sleeved pants and shirts for your first clothing layer. You should avoid wearing cotton on clothing that touches your skin since it absorbs moisture and it will take longer to dry if you sweat or get wet.
  • Merino wool sweaters. Besides being really warm, they don’t absorb sweat and dry fast.
  • A down jacket. They’re lightweight and compress down small, plus they’re incredibly warm.
  • Waterproof clothing. We suggest you wear a rain jacket and waterproof pants as your last layer. That way, you’ll stay dry in the rain and snow.
  • Winter accessories, such as gloves, hats, and scarves.
  • Waterproof boots protect your feet from cold and moisture while being good insulators. Make sure that the soles are stable and have a good grip.

These clothing items work great for temperatures below 20s (ca. -7°C). Nonetheless, if you’re heading to a destination with lower temperatures, it might be better to pack a parka instead of a down jacket.

Additionally, we suggest you consider renting winter travel gear instead of bringing your own. This option is really convenient if you don’t have the budget for some of these items or if they are only necessary for this trip.

Take the COVID and Flu shots before traveling

We all know that winter is the season for respiratory diseases. And while traveling, your chances of catching the flu or COVID increase significantly since you’ll probably have more exposure to people.

So, if you want to avoid getting your vacations interrupted due to getting sick, we advise you to get vaccinated before traveling. Ultimately, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Bring SPF

Sunscreen might not be the first thing that comes to your mind while planning a snowy vacation. Nonetheless, if you’re planning to spend time outside, you’ll be glad you brought it with you.

The truth is that white snow can be a perfectly reflective surface for UV rays, therefore you are exposed to getting sunburned. Plus, cold weather can dry out the skin. Hence, a good SPF can be your perfect ally.

Pack Your Swimsuit

A swimsuit might be another item that didn’t cross your mind. However, the truth is that almost every winter vacation destination has some enticing attractions like hot springs or hot tub baths. Therefore, a swimsuit can be truly convenient while not taking up much space.

Get Heatpacks

Heat packs are a great option to keep you warm. Especially if you tend to have cold hands and feet regardless of how much clothing you’re wearing. They’re small, inexpensive, and easy to carry. Plus, some of them come with adhesives, so you can easily fix them onto clothing.

Key Takeaways

Winter travel can be an amazing and unforgettable experience. However, it’s important to keep in mind that cold temperatures and harsh weather conditions can pose a risk to your health if you are not properly prepared.

Hence, don’t forget to:

  • Pack good quality winter clothing
  • Get vaccinated

Want to get tested before your next adventure? Find COVID testing locations near you with our international directory.

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