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New York Packing List (Winter Edition): What to Wear in New York in Winter

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My first trip ever to New York City was in the winter. I had just finished my college applications and was going to New York with my dad to check out New York University (which I’d later end up attending) and Columbia University (which, LOL that I ever thought I could get in).

There are a few things I remember from that trip: staying in the world’s tiniest hotel room that my dad confided still cost a whopping $300 a night, being awed at the Columbia campus, and oh yea, the bitter f#(*ing cold. 

Growing up in California, I had no idea what to wear in New York in winter. I became obsessed with pea coats I saw on style blogs (because I was convinced that upon moving to NYC, I’d somehow become a fashion maven, even though nothing style-related ever came to me even remotely naturally back in California) and bought one to prepare for my trip.

Two years later, I’d relegate my Gossip Girl-esque pea coats to a garbage bag in the back of my closet and give them to Goodwill, having finally accepted that the only appropriate answer to “what should I wear in New York in winter?” is: everything (and then add a layer).

Jokes aside, packing for New York in winter isn’t hard at all if you’re used to cold weather. If you come from a place where snow is both mesmerizing and terrifying, like I did growing up in California, you might need a little help.

After nine years of surviving brutal New York winters, I’ve prepared this New York packing list (winter edition) to help you get through the most ‘magical time of the year’ in the Big Apple.

Clothing That Should Be On Your New York Winter Packing List

There’s no need to buy an entirely new wardrobe to pack for a winter trip to New York, especially if you come from a place that already has harsh winters. This list may seem silly for people who live in, say, the Midwest or Canada. I’ve written this from the perspective of a Californian who was super taken aback by how cold New York winters could be.

I’ve outlined a few of my favorite NYC winter product necessities below, in case you are in need of cold weather clothing recommendations. If you already have all the cold weather gear you need, feel free to skip below, where you’ll find a more general New York packing list for winter.

Best Outwear for New York in Winter

I told you my peacoat anecdote that started off this article for a reason: leave your cute jackets at home unless you check the weather right beforehand and are convinced you’ll be warm enough. Winter in New York varies greatly — I’ve seen December temperatures as high as 60°F / 16°C, and I’ve biked to work through polar vortexes in January as low as 2°F / -17°C. Climate change means that winter in New York – already capricious to being with – is volatile. So my biggest tip is to pack for the worst but hope for the best.

Realistically, a more average temperature range to help you with packing for New York in the winter months is around 32°F / 0°C, perhaps a few degrees warmer or colder.

I have two jackets that I recommend for New York winters: one thicker parka-style down jacket and one thin down jacket for layering.

My life in New York improved dramatically when I finally indulged in a proper winter jacket. I’m obsessed with this North Face parka and, while it’s pricy, it will last you a lifetime. North Face quite literally has a lifetime guarantee, which I tested when my zipper came unstitched after two years of heavy use, wearing it every day including when I was biking to work in the winter. North Face promptly fixed it up and sent it back as good as new.

I also use a small down jacket from UNIQLO – the Ultralight Down. (You can buy a knock-off version here). For me, it’s good for temperatures around  40°F / 5 °C and up. I also layer it underneath my North Face down parka on extremely cold winter days, or if I want to get away with wearing a cute coat that isn’t exactly winter-approved, like my leather jacket, I’ll wear it as a layer between my sweater and my cute jacket.

Best Shoes for New York Winters

Some people are really into snow boots and wear them all winter. Personally, I don’t really find snow boots necessary for New York. Yes, we get a few major snow storms in the winter, but they are few and far between. I find that having a proper pair of leather boots that are waterproof and have decent traction is perfectly fine for navigating New York sidewalks in the winter. I’ve occasionally used my Hunter rain boots on snowy winter days and while they are not the warmest, when they’re paired with some decent wool socks they do the trick as well.

I first bought a pair of Blondo waterproof leather boots in 2008… which means I’m celebrating my 10-year anniversary with them this year. (Is this my longest relationship?) I’ve only had to get them resoled once, which set me back about $60, but for a pair of shoes that I’m completely obsessed with and wear all the time, it was 100% worth it.

It’s been literally a decade since I bought these boots, so I’m sure the original version I bought is no longer available, butthese look exactly like the ones I have. 

Be sure to pair your winter boots with proper wool socks. No matter how insulated your shoe is, it won’t do much good if you are wearing thin, crappy cotton socks (another thing that took me several years to learn… why do I suck at winter so badly? Oh yeah, #California). I invested in these Smartwool socks after much hemming and hawing about the price and I’m so glad I did. You don’t need that many pairs because you can actually re-wear them a few times before they get smelly because wool is so odor-absorbent and magical.

Accessories for New York in Winter

This is really what makes or breaks whatever you decide to wear in New York. As long as you have a hat, gloves, and scarf, you can almost get away with wearing whatever you want. (And with the right jacket, you kind of can).

In terms of a hat, I recommend wearing a tightly-knit hat that fits firmly on your head, covering your ears completely. Bonus points if it is lined with fleece! I lose my hats constantly so I go through several each winter, but I do recommend a beanie-style knit hat kind of like this one.

When it comes to gloves, you’re going to want something that is touchscreen compatible and warm, but you don’t need something waterproof or crazy high-tech. I recommend a simple pair of gloves like these ones. You’ll have your hands in your pockets most of the time anyway!

For scarves, I recommend the biggest, most wrappable scarf you can find. If you can tolerate wool (I can’t, except for socks, because of my ultra-sensitive skin), then get the wooliest monstrosity you can find. I tend to go for something huge, chunky, and made of acyrlic which is easier on my skin. I prefer an infinity style knit scarf for winter that I can wear super tight around my neck to keep in as much warmth as possible.

Now, I’m going to let you in on my #1 secret weapon when it comes to what to wear in New York in winter… fleece lined leggings. These leggings are magic when it comes to surviving the New York winter. Again, if you can tolerate wool, you’ll probably be even warmer with something like these merino wool leggings. But since I can’t, I substitute fleece-lined leggings like these ones. On a cold day, I typically wear them underneath a pair of jeans and I am toasty warm all day long. I prefer the ones without feet because they sag less during the day.

I think that’s pretty much it in terms of accessories. If you get cold really easily, you may want to throw in some thermal tops to wear as a base layer as well. 32 Degrees (my preference) and UNIQLO make good ones.

Clothes to Wear in New York in Winter

If you’ve followed my advice up to this point — parka, fleece-lined leggings, all the winter accessories — you can actually get away with wearing pretty much whatever you want with them. I tend to choose a lot of sweater dresses because I am lazy when I travel and don’t like to pack a lot of different things that I have to mix and match. But you can also just wear jeans and sweaters on your trip so long as you have the appropriate winter accessories, shoes, and outerwear.

One big misconception about New York is that we wear all black all the time. While certainly you won’t look out of place in all black, New Yorkers also integrate a lot of color into their wardrobes, especially with their accessories, so don’t be afraid to wear whatever colors you normally would back home.

Here’s my basic New York packing list, winter edition (enough for 1 week):

What Else Should Be On Your Winter in New York Packing List?

Once you’ve figured out what to wear in New York in winter, I’ve got a few more things you should add to your NYC packing list. Some are NYC-specific but most are related to how you’d normally travel, anyway. New York has basically everything you need, so don’t be worried if you forget anything. There is a pharmacy on virtually every city block that will have everything you need. Just pop into a Duane Reade, Walgreen’s, CVS, Rite Aid… and you’ll be well-sorted (though you’ll pay a bit for the convenience).

Toiletries:

  • Lip balm: Your lips will get more chapped in New York than you ever thought possible… going from the windy cold streets to the super-heated interiors will do a number on your lips. Be sure to bring a good quality lip balm with you – I love this Aquaphor.
  • High quality moisturizer: For the same reason as above – New York winters will do a number on your skin. I use Shiseido moisturizer on my face most of the winter.
  • Sunscreen: Don’t discount the need for sunscreen even in the winter! New York is quite sunny in the winter (and cloudy days actually require SPF, too!) despite the cold so make sure you protect your skin. I use this fancy Japanese Biore sunscreen for my face as my skin is quite sensitive and acne-prone and this is really gentle on my skin
  • Hand sanitizer: New York is a dirty city – the subway in particular is a germ war zone. I recommend traveling with hand sanitizer for when you can’t get to a bathroom quickly and touch something questionable (which is basically any surface in the city). I carry a mini bottle of Purell like this one.
  • Kleenex
  • Everyday make-up
  • Basics like shampoo, body wash, etc.
  • Deodorant (please)
  • Prescreption medicine, if you need it

Electronics:

  • High-powered portable battery pack: Your phone battery will get run down very quickly on a cold winter day in New York, so be sure to pack a portable battery charger like an Anker battery pack (this is what I swear by as a blogger who needs fully charged electronics at all times!)
  • Camera: I personally use a Sony A6000 mirrorless camera, which is the perfect travel camera for producing professional-quality photos without taking up much space or weighing too much. I have several lenses for it but most people will be fine with the kit lens. Be sure to pack several extra batteries as well, for the same reason as above (winter weather = zapped electronics)
  • Adaptor, if visiting internationally: If you are visiting from Europe or somewhere that uses different outlets than U.S. plugs, you’ll want an international adaptor for sure.
  • Phone and charger
  • Laptop or tablet and charger
  • Kindle, if you use one
  • Noise-canceling headphones, if you have them: For the subway, trust me.

Random:

  • Reusable water bottle: New York tap water is excellent quality. Save money and the environment with a reusable metal water bottle. Pretty much any café or restaurant will be happy to refill yours (I’ve never been turned down).
  • Reusable bags: The plastic bag ban is currently being battled in New York City, but please step ahead of the curve and bring your own reusable tote bags anyway.
  • Whatever else you’d normally pack for a week away from home!

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