Packing Light: Helsinki & Tallinn in Winter

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At the end of December, immediately following our week in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Dave and I were off to explore two of Europe’s northern most capitals: Helsinki and Tallinn.

From +20°C to -20°C in a matter of days; it was a shock to say the least.

The temperatures throughout our five day trip ranged from 0°C when we arrived to -20°C the day we explored Tallinn. Although there was quite the difference, it was all just varying degrees of cold.

About Helsinki

Finland’s capital city is situated on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. It has a humid continental climate and temperatures in winter are much higher than the northern location might suggest (source). Temperatures in January/February average -5°C, and the snow season is much shorter than in the north.

Our trip to Helsinki was definitely not average: temperatures reached -10°C and we were treated to snow each and every day.

About Tallinn

80km south of Helsinki, across the Gulf of Finland lies Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Just like Helsinki, Tallinn enjoys a humid continental climate. The winters are cold but mild for its northern latitude, thanks to its coastal location. During the winter months, temperatures tend to hover around the freezing mark and are characterized by low amounts of sunshine (source).

Again, our time in Tallinn was anything but average: Temperatures never rose above -15°C, but the days were very sunny (between December and March, sunshine hours usually range from 0.5 to 4.1 hours, so this was quite a treat).

When preparing to explore in sub-zero temperatures it’s easy to want to throw on everything you own, but I’ve found with a few key pieces and strategic layering you can ensure you’ll stay toasty warm even when the air around you is anything but.

Here’s how I packed for a week with just a carry-on:

Tops

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sweater  – Aritzia (photo source); cardigan – Old Navy (similar: photo source); shirts – Old Navy & Primark (photo source, similar: photo source); camisoles (similar: photo source)

Layering is key when trying to stay warm when the weather is anything but. It’s easy to go overboard and throw on everything you own, but really with just a few strategic pieces you can stay warm while exploring a very cold city.

I like to start by throwing on a camisole as a base layer. This layer sets the foundation and hugs close keeping the skin warm (instead of transferring the heat to another layer of clothing). From there, I add a long sleeve top and wool sweater. In mild temperatures, this combination can be overwhelmingly warm, but for Helsinki and Tallinn it was perfect.

While any cardigan or sweater will do, I like to wear wool because it breathes but keeps the warmth is–this means that despite being oh-so-warm, you won’t get sweaty.

Bottoms

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jeans – Primark (photo source, photo source); fleece lined tights – Primark (photo source); thermal socks – Primark (similar: photo source)

Honestly, ski or snow pants would be the best choice in these extreme temperatures, but those were the first item of clothing I packed when we decided to move to Madrid. Since I didn’t want to buy a new pair just for this trip, I improvised–and layered like I’ve never layered before.

As with my tops, I start with my base layer: a pair of fleece lined tights. These are an absolutely amazing product. They keep your legs warm without adding a ton of extra bulk (who wants leg bulk anyways?!).

Before slipping on my jeans, I throw a pair of thermal socks on top of my tights. For me, one of the keys to staying warm is keeping my feet warm. If my toes start to get cold, I’m a goner.

Although there are significantly fewer layers on my lower body, I find that the jeans-fleece tights-thermal socks combination is more than enough to keep me warm.

Outerwear

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toque – Old Navy (photo source); scarf – gift (photo source); purse – London Fog via Winners (photo source); coat – Talula Babaton via Aritzia (photo source); boots – Primark (photo source).

Alright, you’ve put on all your clothes, layer by layer, and your top and bottom half are warm. Now, it’s time to add the finishing touches: the pieces that will keep all the warmth in and all the cold air out.

One of the key ways to stay warm is to keep the wind out. I do this with my cashmere wool blend coat. It’s heavy and dense enough that I am protected from the elements, but it’s light enough that I don’t feel like I’m being weighed down by fabric. It also has a nice high collar which can be buttoned all the way up to protect my face if the wind starts to blow a little too much.

As I mentioned above, keeping my feet warm is goal #1 in cold weather, so I opt for a pair of fleece lined boots. These boots add warmth without feeling overly bulky, and the sole kept me from slipping and sliding on the snow covered sidewalks of Tallinn (Helsinki’s sidewalks are heated so this wasn’t a problem in the Finnish capital).

Thrown on a knit cap (or toque), gloves and a scarf and you’re ready to hit the pavement and see everything that these beautiful cities has to offer.

Everything in action

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FULL BREAKDOWN OF WHAT I PACKED:

  • Camisoles: 4
  • Long-sleeved t-shirt: 4
  • Sweaters: 2 (1 wool, 1 cotton)
  • Thermal tights: 2 pairs
  • Socks: 4 pairs of thermal socks
  • Jeans: 2 pairs
  • Coat: 1
  • Boots: 1 pair
  • Scarf: 1
  • Toque: 1
  • Gloves: 2 pairs (brought 1 pair, bought a second, better pair)
  • Undergarments: enough for each day

For more travel fashion or packing tips and lists, following my Adventure Fashions Pinterest board.

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All thoughts, feelings and opinions shared on this blog and in this post are my own.

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