I had so many questions before my recent hot air balloon ride in Scottsdale, Arizona—for instance, how high are we going to go? How many people can you fit into a basket? Is hot air ballooning safe? Where are we going to land? For the love of God how do you steer this thing?
However, the most important question of them all (okay, maybe second most important, I think “Do you have enough propane in those tanks” takes home the gold here) was about what to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride.
I mean, it’s going to be hella cold up there right? Arizona, Schmarizona, it’s still December! How big is the basket? Will it hold all my gear? Can I bring my purse? Are we trying to save weight here? Are my earrings too heavy? OMG my earrings are too heavy!
Well, lemme just say: I was blown away by how much I learned spending a morning in the sky with Hot Air Expeditions. (Actually, remind me not to say “blown away” when talking about hot air balloons.)
I learned a ton of facts about wind patterns, a lot about where not to land a balloon, a few things about jackrabbits, and, yes, much about what to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride.
Check out the video of my hot air balloon experience here:
What to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride
The great thing about what to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride is that you don’t need a whole lot. That tiny basket (which is a lot more snug than you had anticipated, by the way) doesn’t allow for a full-size carry on. It barely allows for a ca-…
However, there are eight essential items you’ll need to have with you, and on you, all of which to make your ride comfortable, carefree, and cute as hell on Instagram later. (Tag your photos with #timebudgettravel because I wanna see!)
What to wear for a hot air balloon ride in the winter
The biggest question when deciding what to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride is, naturally, what you should wear. Not “But where are the sandbags?” [insert John Travolta GIF here] That would be a crazy person’s question right? Obviously that’s not a real thing. *slowly backs out of room*
But you’re right, knowing what to wear on a hot air balloon, especially in the winter, especially in the desert in winter leaves much open to interpretation. So, I’mma break it down for you. (Add “break down” to the list of terms to avoid, mmkay?)
Guess what? It’s not all that cold in Arizona in December. Maybe you knew this, maybe you live in Massachusetts and had to slide down an ice luge to catch your ride to the airport.
However, just because this is Arizona doesn’t mean it’s stereotypically desert hot year-round either. Unlike Massachusetts, Scottsdale in the winter is not buried in mountains of snow. But unlike south Florida, you will need a coat (and pants, but we’ll get to that).
When is your balloon ride?
The main thing to keep in mind when deciding what to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride is that you’ll probably be flying at sunrise – AKA – the coldest time of the day.
On the morning of my hot air balloon flight, it was 44°F. By the time I headed back to the hotel it had risen to a wild and crazy 50°F. Those aren’t exactly mittens-and-scarf temperatures, but they aren’t sun’s-out-guns-out either.
I was concerned that since we’d be flying high into the sky in winter that the temps up there would be increasingly colder.
However, one of the things I’ve since learned is that the rule of thumb is: for every 1,000 feet you ascend, the temperature drops by just three or four degrees. So, fuggedaboutit. Plus, hot air balloons don’t fly in windy conditions so that’s one less thing to concern yourself with as well.
Don’t forget about the hot air
Also, you have to remember to leave room for the heat of the flames. Believe it or not, fire is hot. I know! Newsflash! And 20 pounds of flaming propane just a few feet away from your head puts off a ton of heat. So you’ll want to dress warm, but not too warm. Wow I am helping you out so much here. What I’m trying to say is…
I recommend wearing a few light layers so you can *carefully* strip as needed. (No one wants to lose a sweater over the highway at 5,000 feet. (Remind me to ask if anyone has ever dropped a sweater from 5,000 feet.)
Personally, I wore a tank top, under a thick cardigan-style sweater, under an ultralight down jacket, and jeans. You’ll be chilly while you wait for the crew to unravel the balloon but not a minute longer. And later when you land… well, there’s champagne so who’s even paying attention to the weather anymore?
Ultra light down jacket
This ultra light down jacket provides moderate warmth at a moderate price and can easily be rolled up into a tiny little bundle that I can easily shove into my purse when I don’t need it anymore.
I know, it’s winter, you’re probably totally wearing shoes on your sunrise hot air balloon ride and not flip-flops or sandals or—Heaven forbid—stilettos. But to make sure you’re wearing the right kind of shoes, listen to this…
Keep these 5 things in mind:
- You’re (most likely) going to be taking off from a grassy, dew-covered field, a rocky, cactus-filled desert, a squishy mud pit, or the like.
- Lord knows where you’ll be landing but chances are it will fall into one of the same categories.
- Climbing in and out of what’s not much more than an oversized picnic basket is not as easy as Dorothy—or Toto for that matter—makes it look.
- You’ll be standing on wicker for the entire flight
- You may have to brace for landing which—luckily I have not experienced—can sometimes be a real bitch.
Plus, Hot Air Expeditions recommends you wear closed-toed shoes anyway, so just go ahead and be one step (heh) ahead of the game. I wore a pair of sturdy, low-heeled boots similar to these:
- Billabong Dune Brown Suede Lace-Up Boots
- Skechers Dome (weird name, cute boot!)
- Propét Women’s Delaney Ankle Boot
- But with this kind of mud, I’d even recommend hiking boots, especially if you’re also hiking and biking while you’re in Arizona. I wear these Oboz Bridger boots (and Zappos has free next day delivery and free returns!)
Mostly because, if you’ve already booked a hot air balloon flight, your future is so bright. But also because sunrise + up in the sky + bright sunshiny day + no tinted windows.
Flying unshielded from the elements in a balloon when the sun is at its absolute lowest is an eye-opening, awakening, and enlightening experience. (got puns?) Even though it will be as black as the coat check rack at Ozzfest when you leave your hotel, don’t forget to bring your sunglasses!
These simple, polarized classics are the clear favorite of my readers.
And if you’re the type who’s constantly separating sunglasses from face, might I suggest some kind of sunglasses strap? Look, I think they’re ugly as sin too but your sunglasses won’t do you any good if they’re plummeting to earth as you look overboard at a passing jackrabbit.
Unless you like the feeling of your hair being set on fire while you float above the desert in a balloon, consider wearing a hat. I passed up wearing a winter hat because it wasn’t that cold out. And I passed up wearing a baseball cap because the sun wasn’t overhead.
But I did not take into consideration the one thing I know for certain about hot air balloons. The hot air part.
Admittedly, the hot flames from the propane tanks that give the balloon that whole up and down thing were pleasant but, and I don’t want to burst your bubble (*adding “burst your bubble” to the no-say list*), but that heat on the top of your head will be intense (and I’m only 5’3″).
It won’t ruin your experience or anything, but I definitely will wear a headpiece of some sort on my next hot air balloon ride. And coming from someone who’s always had long hair—the more buffers there are between my hair and fire, the better.
For a simple baseball-style cap that fits great on women’s heads, I have this one and love it!
Look, before you get all “Okay, Ashley. Thanks for telling me I have to wear pants! Psshh.” Hear me out. I know you want those cute hot air balloon pictures, but leave the skirts and dresses and [fill in the blank with whatever outlandish thing you were considering wearing] at the hotel. Wear. Pants.
Besides the fact that you’re trying to figure out what to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride (hint, hint), you’re also going to need to climb in and out of that basket. And I don’t care how big the tires are on your pickup truck—nothing can prepare you for this.
Getting in and out of that thing is going to be incredibly awkward with a healthy inclination towards wardrobe malfunction. No one wants to see your eggs and bacon first thing in the morning.
Plus—and thank baby Jesus again for not knowing what this feels like—hot air balloon landings aren’t always the perfectly smooth affair I experienced. There’s always the chance you could go ass over face. WEAR. PANTS. There are literally no other font buttons I can use to emphasize this more.
What else to bring on your hot air balloon ride
I think it goes without saying you should bring a camera with you on your hot air balloon ride. I mean, how else will you be able to make Instagram puns about your vacation really taking off or how your plans are still up in there air? Or how the end of your balloon ride was a real letdown? No? Just me?
So yes, you’ll desperately want to bring a camera to capture this most magical experience. And here are some things to consider:
Bring a compact, lightweight camera
Tons of weight and tons of lenses to swap out will become burdensome and distract you from the awesomeness all around you.
Personally, I use my cell phone camera (I have a Google Pixel 3 so it’s fantastic) for wide angle shots and a very lightweight 40-150mm zoom lens with my very compact mirrorless camera. (A zoom lens is great for all the stuff on the ground you’ll want to capture. And by that I obviously mean jackrabbits.)
If your style is something a little simpler, a decent point-and-shoot is great too. This one even has a fantastic zoom on it.
Make sure that sucker has a dependable neck or wrist strap. Every camera comes with one—make sure you’ve got it and have it securely attached.
The one thing I didn’t bring on my hot air balloon ride but wish I had (and that I don’t even own) is a selfie stick. Had I thought of this beforehand, you wouldn’t have to look at a thousand pictures of me that all look like this:
I promise I’m on a balloon! I promise I’m surrounded by beautiful desert scenery! Now, I will almost always preach against the use of selfie sticks but in instances like this where there is NO other way to get a photo of yourself in your surroundings, a selfie stick is essential on the list of what to pack for a winter hot air balloon ride. (Check out these hot air balloon selfies and see how much better they are!)
Just remember: you’ll want to pick up a good quality selfie stick or risk that dollar store version falling apart as you stick your $1k cell phone out over oblivion.
I don’t think a bag of rice will restore your phone after a 5,000-foot fall into a saguaro cactus. And really, the Saguaros are protected by federal law—you don’t want to risk jail time do you? Do you?!
And as always, please practice safe-selfie-ing.
Don’t sit on the edge of the balloon basket or anything else as ridiculously balloonatic. Don’t obstruct the balloon driver’s job (Is that the proper title? Hmm…) or interfere with the other people in your basket by using your selfie stick.
And if you’re worried about losing your phone but really want those sick selfies, consider a GoPro if you haven’t already. They secure to their accessories extremely well — you’d be more likely to separate your arm from your torso than you would your camera from your selfie stick. As always, use a wrist strap!
I feel like now is as good a time as any to say selfie at your own risk. I am not responsible for lost or damaged cell phones and/or cameras. The puns I’ll take responsibility for.
If photography is not really your thing but you still want to get a great look at your surroundings from the balloon, definitely bring a pair of binoculars.
Now, the fact that looking at the ground from a hot air balloon through a pair of binoculars is basically the same as being on the ground is not lost on me. But… it’s different! From up in the balloon you can get such a great sense of your surroundings, and with the binoculars you can really see what the jackrabbits are up to.
You can also check out the parks and the mountains the guide will tell you about. You’ll see the trails, the cacti, all the intricacies of the land, and even look into people’s backyards without them knowing.
You can see what the people in the other hot air balloons are doing, follow along with the chase crew, and… look, you’re standing in a basket for possibly up to two hours. What the heck else are you going to do up there?
This is the small, lightweight pair of binoculars I use and love.
What to leave behind
In addition to the 8 essential items you need to pack for your winter hot air balloon ride, there are a few you should most definitely leave behind. Such as:
A full bladder
Chances are your hot air balloon pilot will remind you of this a couple dozen times but, obviously, there’s nowhere to pee in a basket over the desert. Your magical hot air balloon ride won’t seem so magical if you’re stressing the whole time about unforeseen desert showers.
It’s true that I permanently cured my motion sickness but, regardless, hot air ballooning is not a motion sickness-inducing activity.
In fact, riding in that balloon was hands-down the smoothest ride I’ve ever taken. Because hot air balloons only fly in mild weather conditions, there’s almost zero chance of a rocking, twisting, turning, gut-churning ride.
For more information on the particular hot air balloon ride I took in the Scottsdale/Phoenix, Arizona area, check out Hot Air Expeditions and book the Shared Morning Balloon Flight.
For everything else I took to Arizona with me, check out What to Pack for Arizona in the Winter (+ What I Wish I’d Brought).
Enjoy your flight!