The Best Winter Layers for Your Holiday Travel

The season’s best travel layers that we’re wearing, gifting, or day-dreaming about

December 14, 2023 10:45 am
a collage of the best travel layers on a black background
With holiday trips in your immediate future, now is the time to stock up on travel layers to keep you comfortable and warm.
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As we make the turn into the full-on winter season, inevitably our minds start mulling over seasonal travel. Whether it’s an escape to a warmer climate or making the trek to see friends and family over the holidays, the task of climbing on board a plane — or perhaps preparing for a long car ride — lies ahead for many of us in the coming months. Winter can mean tiring, dark nights traversing strange airports, chilly long-haul flights (spoiler alert: travel layers are going to help), and landing in drastically different weather conditions than those you left behind.

It’s not uncommon in my career to leave my home climate of Montana in wintertime and land somewhere warm, humid, and downright sticky. Even if I’m heading to a destination which is also in winter, the odds are the weather I’m leaving behind in Missoula in January is a little less forgiving than the winter at my arrival destination. Layering up for any travel is key, but the requirements up-level in the cold months when I’m leaving snow, wind, and ice behind (hopefully!) at the local airport, and often need to arrive at my destination looking professional and ready to work, sometimes without a stop at the hotel for an outfit change.

Solid, high-performing layers are a traveler’s best friends. Here are some of my favorites for men and women that can help you remain comfortable, accommodate to various climates easily, and look passably decent traversing airport lounges.

Basics for Both Men and Women

The name “Patagonia” has become synonymous with quality outdoor-wear and layering pieces, and the brand’s R1 collection is so famous, it even had a song written about it (well played, Patagonia marketing team). True to form, the R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody brings the technical features one would expect in a mountain-ready piece, but it turns out those same features make it a pretty solid travel layer. Lightweight, quick-drying, and very breathable, the technical fleece’s slim fit means it layers well under jackets and also stands nicely on its own without looking too bulky or sloppy. The hood snugs up nicely and stays put during long red-eye flights, and while the hoody body is cut to allow full range of movement for climbers, we found that it’s a pretty useful design for comfort during long travel days as well.

Icebreaker has long been one of my go-to brands for both travel and home. The company’s New Zealand merino regulates temperature, is soft on skin, and washes well. This base layer set, available in both men’s and women’s models, is a new cold-season favorite—if I’m heading to a cold climate (or at home in the chilly months) this is being worn on repeat. Heavyweight merino wool is designed to help regulate body temperature during high-output activities (this includes sprints through airports) and the brand’s 260 ZoneKnit™ technology provides zone-based insulation to help eliminate bulk, making it ideal for layering under other pieces. The set packs down remarkably small, too, considering the warmth it brings.

We’ve all heard travelers extoll the virtues of compressions socks. Less swelling. Fresher legs and feet. Reduced chance of blood clots. I do feel like my legs are just generally happier when I gear up for long-haul flights with compression socks and—as an added bonus for the cold months—the extra height and support is warm and cozy. These merino compression socks from Bombas are comfortable and resist travel funk, and come in a woman’s version as well. As an added bonus, for every pair of socks sold, Bombas donates one pair of socks to homeless shelters.

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The women’s version of this jacket (the Stina) has been my travel go-to for five continents now, and is about to head to its sixth. And I always—always—get compliments on it in airports. Crafted from the Swedish brand’s durable yet lightweight cotton / polyester fabric, the jackets are both cut for a timeless, hooded, trim silhouette which goes from “outdoor adventurer” to “business casual” with ease. Both models have two side pockets, a fixed hood, well-contoured sleeves, and a main zipper with an inner flap to help prevent catching inner layers. Heading somewhere really cold and damp? The jackets can be treated with wax for added protection from wind and rain. Hands-down, one of my favorite travel pieces of all time. 

Men’s Favorites

The Men’s Zion Pant was a model that helped climbing-heritage brand prAna break into the mainstream market. The pants could dress up for a casual business meeting, then turn around and hit the trail without nary a worry. Now they’re back and arguably better than ever: stretchy, abrasion- and water-resistant, and durable… ideal for long days navigating airports, or exploring destinations once you’ve landed. Plenty of pockets allow you to securely store earbuds, money, hotel room keys, or whatever else you might need to hide away, and a ventilated inseam gusset keeps things nicely breezy in warm climates. These pants are a well-traveled man’s classic for a reason.

Anyone in the know, knows about TENCEL Modal. Made from beech tree pulp, the fibers are now in fabrics from sleepwear to tees to… underwear. Bombas combined Modal with a bit of Spandex to create uber-soft boxers with plenty of stretch. The fabric is silky yet wicking, stretchy yet supportive—everything you need for support and comfort on long travel days. A thick, comfortable waistband got two thumbs-up from our tester, and the minimal seams (and no tags!) helped limit the “restless itchies” on overnight flights. 

Austin-based brand Howler Brothers has become a bit of a cult favorite in the fishing and outdoor spaces. Known for their quirky, retro-inspired designs and comfortable, go-play-on-the-water clothing, Howler has added a bit of its signature attitude to the grid-fleece hoodies many of us reach for when the temperature drops. Soft and comfy, the hoodie has an actual-functioning (roomy enough to provide some privacy on flights) hood and a big kangaroo pocket to warm chilly hands. It’s thin enough to layer nicely but cut well enough to fare just fine on its own.

It’s hard to beat the comfort and layer-ability of a classic tee. This mega-soft, sueded tri-blend jersey tee from athletic lifestyle brand AloYoga levels up the basic every man should have in his closet. The Triumph is tailored well for a tee, helping you look put-together even when you shed layers in hot airport hallways thanks to the relaxed slim fit and classic crewneck design. It’s trim enough to layer smoothly under mid and outer layers and is a classic base worthy of serving as “ground zero” for your travel wardrobe.

Women’s Favorites

A solid gifting-season choice for the traveling lady in your life (or the lady who merely wants to relax at home in style), these 100% linen wide-leg pants can be dressed up or down. The softly-textured bottoms are naturally cooling—ideal for warm-weather escapes—and drape elegantly thanks to a high-rise fit and wide, relaxed legs. The pull-on style is effortless and easy for airplane rides or chill dinners with friends.

Ever wanted to wear your slippers through the airport, but didn’t dare do it? The thick and fluffy shearling in Olukai’s Mālua Hulu will make you think you’ve done just that. Waterproof nubuck leather protects the outside of the low, pull-on boots, while the inside helps your feet make believe they’re still chilling at home even as you wait in line to board that eleven-hour flight. Non-marketing rubber soles help you keep your feet on slick airport hallways and icy city streets alike.

Olukai has a solid line of boots for men as well, but the shearling lining looks like it’s reserved for the ladies only at this point. Anything from the brand is definitely a go-to gift item for friends and family, and two pairs of their shoes (sandals and sneakers) are currently sitting in my duffel bag for travel to Bolivia in a few days. 


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