What to pack for Arizona in the winter was an issue I wrestled with before my recent 4 days in 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 is 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.
What to pack for Arizona in the winter
During my 4 days in Scottsdale, Arizona I did a wiiiide variety of activities—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. (Referring to the the bull riding, not to Ashley drinking beer in the mud at a barn party. I’m from Tennessee–that’s old news.)
Because of my unbelievably full itinerary, I was going to need just as full a suitcase.
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 the night before 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. (Just check out my yearbooks. Actually no please don’t do that!)
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, 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. Did I almost pack it all up and bolt right then and there? Actually no, the pizza I was eating was too good. Plus, I live in Boston. The situation is never, ever better here.
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.
What to pack for Arizona in the winter: apparel
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 sucker wears a fur coat.
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 my travel wardrobe especially, 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 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. 👏🏼👏🏼 (If you understand that reference, it means you also need to pack your night cream.)
I brought some athletic tops—both tank tops and long sleeved—for the livelier 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.
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 for 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 ol’ jeans
- Yoga pants for the yoga I ended up skipping in favor of sitting around in the hot tub (I regret nothing), but also for the hiking and mountain biking
- Some comfortable stretchy black pants not intended for yoga that I wear when I fly.
- 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:
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. 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!?
What to pack for Arizona in the winter: outerwear
As far as outerwear goes, I mostly stuck to the two light jackets I brought to wear over my tank tops (a denim jacket for dresses and another thin, green jacket I don’t have a descriptive term for) and an ultra light down jacket for early winter mornings hiking, biking, and hot air balloon riding.
Also, 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.” 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:
I wear these boots 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 comfortable.
I wore these while touring the city, on both of my flights, during my hot air balloon ride, out to dinner, and eventually I’ll wear them to the dry cleaner because sloppy eater is not a look I’m going for.
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 these, 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—yes there’s a difference! I wore these while hiking and mountain biking and if you’ve got such activities planned for your trip, these are a must!
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” doesn’t really go with #robelife.
After entering the spa I was given a pair of flip flops anyway, so bringing these—for the first time ever—was a waste of suitcase space. I guess I’ll have to smuggle home a ringtail cat next time.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
Because where there is sun, there are harmful UV rays. Always wear sunscreen. Your mother was not wrong.
But also, body lotion because it is still the dry desert climate + the great moisture-sucking sponge that is winter.
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.
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 have 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.
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.
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.
My go-to is my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with a 12-40mm lens and a 40-150mm lens, aaaand my Google Pixel 3. This camera is such a great size and weight and I can even just toss it into my purse while I’m hiking. (*rolls eyes*)
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 teeny tiny 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!
And don’t forget the obvious things
…like your cell phone + charger, your camera charger, your Fitbit… 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.
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.