What to pack for Arizona in the winter was an issue I wrestled with before my first 4-day trip to Scottsdale. Well, not as much as omg you’re telling me scorpions hide in your shoes!? but still.
I had no idea what to expect as far as weather—would it be hot? It is the American Southwest after all? Or would it be chilly? I mean, it is December. If the weather gods were going to draw the line somewhere, certainly it’d be through the dirt in the desert, right?
What I found during my research (besides the fact that scorpions go into hiding during the winter months—you and me both little guy) is that what to pack for Arizona in the winter isn’t all that straightforward.
It’s indeed a little bit of everything, wrapped up in a prickly little package with a beautiful sunset on top. It’s hot and chilly and the list of activities you need to pack for is as seemingly endless as the desert itself.
This post is the result of a paid partnership between myself and Experience Scottsdale. Regardless, and as always, all opinions, content, photos, and questionable fashion advice are all mine!
What to pack for Arizona in the winter
During my first 4 days in Scottsdale, Arizona (in 2019) I did a wiiiide variety of activities that included art museums, hiking, mountain biking, hot air ballooning, dining out, a full day at a spa, guided tours, and I even drank beer at a bar that features live bull riding. And it was amateur night. (I’m referring to the bull riding, not to drinking beer in the mud at a barn party. I’m from Tennessee; that’s old news.)
My second winter trip to Arizona in December 2022 included some museum visits, a lot of time in the cities, and an outdoor graduation ceremony. For both of my unbelievably full itineraries, I needed a full a suitcase.
Seriously though, there is SO MUCH to do in Arizona, especially in the winter. To read about everything I got up to during my trip, be sure to check out my article on my 4 days in Scottsdale – it’s a jam-packed itinerary with a little bit of everything!
Tailor to your own needs
So as with all of my packing posts, I’m not going to tell you what to wear. I’m not your mommy; this is not school picture day. Not that any amount of mom’s advice would keep you from halfway ripping out your ponytail just minutes before confronting the camera.
Besides, I don’t know you or your style. It would be ridiculous for me to tell you to bring skirts and dresses if you are SO not a skirt and dress person which is yours truly like 90% of the time.
Instead, for this Arizona packing list, what I will tell you is what I packed for my winter trip to Arizona and how I think I did on a scale of 1 to freezing my ass off.
Winter in Arizona: what to expect
As you can see from this graph (*pushes up glasses*), though Arizona may be famous for its sweltering summer heat, the winters tend to still be, well, kinda wintery. My lack of knowledge regarding meteorological lingo is ever present.
What I’m saying is—sure, it can be 70°F in Arizona in the winter, but it can also be in the 30s. That’s Santa elf territory right there.
What I learned about winter weather from visiting Arizona in December is that, winter or not, it’s still always sunny. It’s warm in the sun, cool in the shade, and downright freezing at night.
It actually snowed the day I arrived in 2019. Did I almost pack it all up and bolt right then and there? Actually no, the lunch I was eating was too good. Plus, I live in Boston. The situation is never, ever better here. I experienced equally freezing temperatures when I visited in December 2022. Ok, maybe I’m the problem?
That being said, the winter months are an amazing time to visit Arizona. You’d never know it was winter just by looking at it and just about everything is more affordable, less crowded, and your chances of being bitten by a rattlesnake and stung by a scorpion are virtually non-existent. I can’t promise the hawks won’t circle you when it’s obvious this is your first time mountain biking though.
Clothes to pack for Arizona in the winter
When confronting what to pack for Arizona in the winter, you’ll need to actually pack for a little bit of spring, a little bit of fall, and a whole lotta variety. Toss aside your notions of brutal desert heat and a murderous sun and remember the official state animal of Arizona is a ring-tailed cat and even that thing wears a fur coat.
For both of my trips, the tops I packed for Arizona in the winter were:
- Handful of tank tops (both dressy and athletic ones)
- Lightweight long-sleeve tops for outdoor activities
- A couple of light sweatshirts
- Some simple t-shirts
- Couple of light jackets
- Read on for the details…
I’m a pretty simple girl. I’m also super fashion-ignorant and pretty lazy when it comes to getting dressed (when I get dressed. My cats and I do work from home after all). Therefore, my wardrobe, and especially my travel wardrobe, reflect this 100%.
When deciding what to pack for my trip to Scottsdale in the winter, I stuck with a handful of tank tops and light jackets or sweatshirts to wear over them. Simple as that. You’ll want to stick with light layers for moving between hot sun and cool shade all the live-long day. Put on. Take off. Repeat.
I brought some athletic tops—both tank tops and long sleeved—for the outdoor activities like desert hiking, yoga, mountain biking, and those pre-first time in a hot air balloon sweats. And a couple of T-shirts for sleeping in and wearing on the plane.
Yes, for much of my first trip I just wore a bathrobe. And if you’re curious as to why, check out my post on where to stay in Scottsdale, Arizona. I spent half my trip at Civana Wellness Resort & Spa and #robelife is just the way of life there.
Regardless of the fact that I was in the desert and the sun was blazing, it was never warm enough for shorts in Arizona in December. Cover your legs – great advice when deciding what to pack for Arizona in the winter but also because mucho cacti.
- Jeans – because you can’t go wrong with a simple pair of classic blue jeans
- Yoga pants for the yoga I ended up skipping in favor of sitting around in the hot tub (I regret nothing), but I also wore them for hiking and mountain biking
- Some comfortable fleece-lined stretchy black pants that I wear just about every day between September and May
- Pajama pants for sleeping
And because I still have no idea whether dresses go under ‘tops’ or ‘bottoms’ I’ve created the MISC category. So yes, also:
Some casual dresses for having dinner out, for twirling in art museums, and as my excuse to not ride a bull on amateur night. “I’m a lady and a lady doesn’t ride a bull in a dress.” That totally works with my Southern accent. PS: I get all my dresses at Lulu’s.
Something to wear under my dresses. I wear these Under Armor biking shorts when I wear dresses because I hate when my bum gets cold. But also, so I don’t flash people in restaurants when my hand gets stuck in my dress pocket when I go to wave at them. True, graphic story.
Also, I wore them over my yoga pants for extra padding when I actually did ride a bike up and down a mountain because who in God’s name invented bike seats!?
And just because this is a good example of how packing for Arizona in the winter can be a crapshoot, I’ll tell you what I wore to my outdoor grad school graduation ceremony at Arizona State University in December 2022.
That morning I put on the super cute dress and blazer I bought for the ceremony. But it turned out to be so cold that day that I actually changed into some fleece-lined leggings and a sweatshirt before my ceremony. I’d be wearing a full-length robe anyway and the extra clothes were absolutely necessary!
What to pack for Arizona in the winter: outerwear
As far as outerwear goes, I mostly stuck to simple light jackets. Even though I felt like I could have worn a full-on parka at times, the situation was never that dire.
- A cropped denim jacket for over dresses
- A cropped green jacket I got in Venezuela that’s similar to the one I just linked to
- An ultra light down jacket for early winter mornings hiking, biking, and hot air balloon riding
- A light bomber jacket that I totally-by-coincidence wore to the Air Force museum
- And a snuggly fleece jacket for cozying up in my hotel rooms and on the plane to and from the North Pole where I live
Don’t let the fact that we’re talking about Arizona… and the desert… and highs in the 70s fool you into thinking it’s not going to be teeth-chattering cold on those mornings you’re up before the sun. If you’ve got early morning hiking and/or biking or a sunrise hot air balloon ride in your plans, don’t forget the word winter is still in the title of this post.
What to pack for Arizona in the winter: shoes
I always, always, always try to pack shoes I can get the most use out of so I can bring the fewest pairs possible. I call this “shoestainable travel.” And I almost always fail at this but when deciding what to pack for Arizona in the winter, I did alright. Here’s what I brought:
- Casual boots
- Dressier boots
- Casual sneakers
- Hiking shoes
- Sandals that I never wore
- Socks to go with all of them
I wear casual boots like these all the time when the temperature drops below 75°F. They go with jeans, they go with whatever pants there are besides jeans, and they’re super comfortable. I wore these while touring the city, on both of my flights, during my hot air balloon ride, and out to dinner.
I brought these knee-high boots basically so I can still wear cute dresses and be less cold. I absolutely wore cushy knee socks under them, fashion gods be damned.
I didn’t feel the need to bring my full on hiking boots, so I just brought my low-top hiking shoes. I wore these while hiking and mountain biking and if you’ve got such activities planned for your trip, these are a must given the terrain!
I brought my trusty Chacos in case “low-70s” was warmer than I remember it being (it was not) and to wear to the spa since “rugged ol’ boots” don’t really go with #robelife. They gave me a pair of flip-flops to wear at the spa anyway, so my sandals were just a waste of suitcase space.
I’m a sneakers girl if there ever was one. (Really, this is probably the only time you’ll see pics of me wearing dresses and knee-high boots.) You can usually find me in a pair of Vans – either the classic Old Skool or Slip-Ons (in the sunflower pattern seen above) – or some original Adidas.
Don’t forget socks
Don’t forget to bring whatever socks you’ll need for whatever shoes you bring. For boots, hiking or otherwise, I can’t recommend Darn Tough socks enough. They’re the most comfortable socks I’ve ever worn, they never stretch out, and they’ll replace them for free if they ever need to be.
The red dress pictured throughout this post is the Tupelo Honey Dress from Lulu’s. It also comes other colors at different times and it’s my favorite! And it has pockets!
What to pack for Arizona in the winter: accessories
I’m not sure if “accessories” is the correct term I should be using, but just go with it. I have an uncanny ability to accidentally buy maternity clothes so you’re already rolling the dice taking my advice anyway. This is what I pack:
- Bathing suit
- Under garments
Even though this is a post on what to wear in Arizona in the winter, there will still be many opportunities for you to wear a bathing suit. Namely, if you’ll be staying at the Civana spa resort like I did. FWIW, I really like the Cupshe bathing suits.
You can wear it in one of their many heated pools, the hot tubs, the aqua therapy circuit, in the steam rooms and saunas, and then under your robe for the remainder of your time there because #robelife.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this: bring underwear. And bras. And a sports bra if you’ve also got hiking, biking, and/or amateur bull riding planned. I can’t imagine a lot of standard bras hold up against that kind of violent bucking and bronc-ing. Correct me if I’m wrong, cowgirls.
Also not suitable for bull riding, but great for fiddlin’ with while you try to decipher the pieces at the contemporary art museum. So. Confusing.
Wintertime or not, it’s still always sunny in Arizona. These fashionable polarized sunglasses will help you look really cool as you breeze through town on your golf cart tour. Plus, these are the best inexpensive sunglasses I’ve ever purchased.
What else to pack for Arizona in the winter
Next up is everything else on the list of what to pack for Arizona in the winter that doesn’t go on your body. Unless you’re using your protein bars very, very wrong. Depending on the activities on your Arizona itinerary, your list may be different. Mine looks like:
- Rich body lotion
- Refillable water bottle
- Small first aid kit for when the desert fights back
- Travel pillow
- A simple plastic bag
- Backup snacks
Because where there is sun, there are harmful UV rays. Always wear sunscreen. Your mother was not wrong.
But also, some rich body lotion because it’s still the dry desert climate + the great moisture-sucking sponge that is winter.
Refillable water bottle
I always travel with my refillable water bottle because this is something I recommend for every trip, every day of your life, no matter what. Stay hydrated! Stay refreshed! And stay away from single use plastic bottles! The one I linked to is the one I use and I love it!
Small first aid kit
Again, depending on what you have planned in Arizona and how clumsy you are during those activities, you may not need to bring a small first aid kit for bumps, bruises, scrapes, head-first crashes into desert boulders, and brushes with cacti. But I did.
Just remember! If your travel-sized first aid kit has a pair of scissors in it, you might want to leave those behind as you may not be able to pack those in your carry-on.
Because I always travel with a travel pillow, without fail, on every single trip.
Because if my jam-packed Scottsdale itinerary isn’t enough (because Arizona is a much bigger state after all), pick up an Arizona guidebook for the rest of your Arizona sightseeing and doing. (Like maybe exploring the Phoenix area’s World War II history? Just saying.)
Or similar. This is for keeping your shoes in after you’ve been in the desert. Like, after hiking, biking, and hot air ballooning, for instance.
That Arizona desert dirt does not play. It’s thick and can be wet, and when it dries you are not getting it off. I did my best to chip away at the dirt on my boots after my morning in the desert for my balloon ride and… nothing. I banged them repeatedly on the concrete balcony floor to try to loosen it… nothing.
It will only come off when it and only it damn well pleases. My only advice is just to bring a plastic bag to keep your boots in for when you have to pack them with the rest of your stuff.
Bring whatever your choice of protein/nutrition bar/snack is for those times you’re out in the desert without a clue of how to catch and cook a jackrabbit.
There are a couple more things I could recommend for packing for Arizona in the winter, especially if you’ll be taking a hot air balloon ride. In that case, check out my post on what to pack for a hot air balloon ride.
What to pack for Arizona in the winter: electronics
There’s so much to do in Arizona’s great outdoors and so much to see in the city that you won’t need a whole lot of electronics. However, pics or it didn’t happen, right?
Camera + lenses
Arizona is unbelievably beautiful—especially when it comes to the sunsets. When coming up with what to pack for Arizona in the winter, make sure to bring a good camera and some great lenses to go with it.
For this Arizona trip I used my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with a 12-40mm lens and a 40-150mm lens, aaaand my Google Pixel. This camera is such a great size and weight and I can even just toss it into my bag while I’m hiking.
It’s dust-proof, freeze-proof, and even shock-proof for all the mountain bike bouncing and landing a hot air balloon. And make sure you have some solid SD cards.
Teeny tiny tripod
And when I know I’m going to be using my Google Pixel to take some photos, I always bring along my travel tripod. You can use this little thing almost anywhere. Even in your hotel room to take even more pictures of yourself in a bathrobe.
I love mine but didn’t bring it… but my friend behind me on the mountain biking trails did. The footage she has of me: coming soon to an episode of Funniest Home Videos near you.
Whatever hair tools you prefer
This is Arizona in the winter—ain’t a drop of humidity! Ladies with hair, rejoice! I typically always pack a simple curling iron just to add some oomph to my otherwise super straight hair.
Don’t forget all the other important things you always travel with either:
- your cell phone + charger
- your camera charger
- your Fitbit
- All your toiletries and cosmetics
- …but mostly the phone charger thing.
What I wish I would’ve packed for Arizona in the winter
There are only a handful of things I wish I’d brought with me when choosing what to pack for Arizona in the winter. Nothing to make or break my trip, but definitely a couple things to make life a little less painful on the boobs.
When I take bigger hiking trips, I always bring a hiking day pack. However, for my winter trip to Arizona, the thought totally slipped my mind. I think it was shoved back there behind rattlesnakes and scorpions and just totally got missed.
Instead, I had to go hiking with my purse. If you want to look completely out of your element, take an oversized purse on a hiking trip.
In your day pack you can keep your water and snacks, whatever you need in the realm of first aid (there isn’t a purse big enough for me I’m afraid), and you can use it to hold extra clothing (or when you take some of yours off).
I also could’ve really used one while mountain biking. Instead, I had to wear my camera around my neck while I mountain biked. I spent three hours biking through the desert with my camera bouncing on my boobs nonstop.
I say this every time. I always mean to bring a hat and I never, ever do. Primarily, my baseball cap for hiking and biking, a winter hat for hot air ballooning and early mornings, and, dammit, I really wish I’d had a cowboy hat on so many occasions
A splendidly retro outfit
For wearing around the Hotel Valley Ho and all its mid-century modern glory. This hotel… it’s amazing. It’s a Mad Men dream and I only wish I’d brought an appropriate outfit for dinner in their restaurant Zuzu or just for sipping cocktails and fake smoking candy cigarettes in the lobby.
(I spent the other half of my trip at the iconic Hotel Valley Ho, read more about it and my experience in my post on where to stay in Scottsdale.)
What I should have left behind
While there were a few things I wish I’d brought, there are also a couple of things I should have left behind. Mostly:
- My sandals – I never wore them; the spa gave me flip-flops; it was just too cold. Even if it had warmed up, I would have been fine with the shoes I already had.
- White sneakers – I love my white sneakers but… like I mentioned, the Arizona dirt doesn’t play. I did venture out into the desert a little bit with them on. That was not smart. Desert dirt + white sneakers do not mix.
- The super cute dress for graduation – I had too high of hopes for my graduation photos. Thank goodness for the full-length robe (I’d actually been mocking for weeks)!
How to pack for Arizona in the winter
Now that we’ve covered what to pack for Arizona in the winter, let’s cover how to pack. And by that I mean, why haven’t you picked up any packing cubes yet? Huh?
Packing Cubes are really the best thing to happen to travel since they put wheels on suitcases. Plus, they’re super affordable and you can use them a million times. I use this 5-piece set of packing cubes and I will never go back.
More info for your winter Arizona trip
- Heading to Arizona? Read hotel reviews and book your room here!
- But where do I personally recommend? The hip Hotel Valley Ho or the relaxing Civana Resort
- Need to rent a car? Check out the best Arizona deals here.
- Don’t forget to pick up an Arizona guidebook for more cool Arizona experiences!
- Like this post? Have questions? Reach out on Instagram
What activities will you be packing for in Arizona?
Let me know below!
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