How to pack for hot and cold climates: what you need to know.
Pack and travel from hot to cold climates
'It's fine to travel with a small case just to a hot climate, but what if my visit is to a hot climate and to a cold climate?'
I get asked this a lot so I posed the same question to some seasoned travellers. How do they pack and travel for both hot and cold climates in the same trip?
Everyone has a different story and goal in travelling: business, painting, cycling, dancing or just exploring. This is what they said - and what you need to know.
Travel blogger & writer
Elisabeth Beyer Villalobos
Traveling between both hot and cold climates during the same trip can be a huge challenge, and I have definitely struggled with it for many years. But I think the answer lies somewhere in packing a limited number of layers and a few versatile pieces in one colour palette in order for all your clothes to work with one another.
Now depending on how cold the cold climate is, you may need to pack a bulky winter parka. Take it as a carry on item to save room in your bag or suitcase. If you can get by without the parka, a longer trench coat style jacket in a waterproof material should keep you warm enough on chilly days, dry on rainy days, and it can easily be rolled up to use minimal space.
In terms of clothing, pieces that work with each other are key. I would limit my packing list to one pair of long pants, two long sleeve shirts (some people swear by merino wool but I think good quality cotton shirts are great), two short sleeve shirts (or tank tops), one sweater, one or two pairs of shorts, one dress, one bathing suit, plus socks and underwear. Again, depending on how cold the cold climate is going to be, you may want to bring along a toque, gloves, and a scarf as well.
Finally, my biggest piece of advice would be to only pack items you love to wear at home. Too often have I purchased a new item for a trip, or brought something halfway around the world which I rarely wear at home and it lay unused at the bottom of my backpack. Pack what you love, but consider the versatility of each piece.
Long distance cyclist
Bobby Graham: So, I imagine if you are traveling on a bicycle that you need to be a light traveller that’s my thinking but you also have to take certain things with you. So how does it work? What did you take?
Hans-Jörg: Well of course you need to provide for a range of different conditions okay, so that starts with the kind of footwear you take you know because you want to have a footwear that’s suitable for bike riding even in wet weather, so you know and then you want to have some shoes that you can use when you are walking, maybe you are in a hotel occasionally so what you wear then? So you might already even think that you might want to take two or three pairs of shoes you know for instance.
Bobby Graham: Right, for those different requirements.
Hans-Jörg: Oh absolutely, and regarding other clothes of course you need to - well the layering is really the thing isn’t it great, people take many different layers, possible layers, and then just put them on as you need them. Of course, you need to consider packing enough warm clothes for when it gets cold and it does like we have seen in Europe just recently I mean at times we have winter here, at times my brother who is currently cycling you know, told me that he was cycling in 13 degrees and we have summer which was the same climate you have winter and so you need to provide for that gloves, you may even need a number of pairs of gloves because it might be raining.
Bobby Graham: Right you don’t want to be traveling in wet gear.
Hans-Jörg: As you develop your experience you then realize the kind of things you need to provide all sorts of different scenarios like I remember in Scandinavia when we were cycling I had bought myself dishwashing gloves. The largest size of dish washing glove I could find so that I could fit inside that with a normal pair of gloves and then the dish washing gloves are over the top so because if it rains it does rain and no matter which gloves you have they will get dirty. So you carry that.
Historian, museum specialist, writer & international traveller
Q: You recently travelled from Australia to Europe, the United Kingdom and Barbados. That's quite a range of destinations! How did you prepare and pack for that?
A: I worked out what I needed to take, in terms of the type of meetings I was attending, numbers of formal dinners etc, also the different climate zones. I tried to take clothing that was as light as possible, and kept most work on a USB stick, apart from one paper file.
Cool weather traveller
Lynda Harvey Benjamin
Firstly I have to mention that mostly I will travel April/May and Sept/Oct that is because I like cooler weather and because its the cheapest time to travel.
Besides what I wear, which is usually the heavier of the clothes I take, I pack:
- 2 denims of different colours
- 5 T-shirts if warm weather or under long sleeve if cold
- 5 long sleeve tops
- 1 cardigan of medium warmth
- 1 'down puffer' jacket - rolls up to very small. Weighs nothing and is warm.
- 2 voille scarves
- 1 warmer scarf
- 1 easy lightweight raincoat with hood
- 5 change of undies
- 5 socks/anklets
- 1 pair easy wash & dry pyjamas.
- All this well under 7kg.
- Besides the pants, I can wear each item at least twice. Being mix and match I can have a different look every day.
Oriental and Bollywood dance expert
I haven’t really done dramatically different climates in one trip - I usually only travel between one and three weeks. My first thoughts are: Layers. And shoes will be a challenge…
I do know the situation of leaving home in the middle of Winter to go to a hot place though. For instance when I went to India in February, I asked my boyfriend to drive me to the airport and let him keep my big, warm coat - and when he picked me up two weeks later he brought the coat with him.
Blogger and light traveler
Lady Light Travel
Winter travel with just a personal item was a huge goal for me. I was thrilled when I achieved it. The key to success is thin, light weight layers. Different layers combine for different temperatures. Wear a single layer when it is warm and add in more layers as the temperature drops. Each layer traps air next to your body, creating an insulation zone.
In addition to your regular clothes, you need to bring two types of layers – under-layers and over-layers.
- Under-layers: I always bring a light weight silk long underwear top that I wear under my street clothes. I also bring leggings that work under a pair of pants or a dress. In deep winter I will add in a T-zip base layer and an additional pair of long john bottoms. I can wear one or both layers under my clothes.
- Over-layers: I try to bring a cardigan that looks great with my street clothes. I also bring a puff jacket, as it is very light and packs down small. I recommend synthetic fill such as Prima-Loft. It works even when wet. Waterproof down is outrageously expensive and requires dry cleaning. Synthetics can be thrown into the wash along with the rest of your clothing.
It’s also important pack clothing that keeps you dry. Once you are wet your layers compress and no longer trap the air. This means good waterproof shoes and a good waterproof outer layer. I usually bring waterproof boots with a good tread. I always bring an unlined waterproof raincoat. The lack of lining means that the coat is light and packable. It also allows me to wear the coat over other layers, such as a puff jacket.
In short, bringing a few additional items transforms a summer wardrobe into a winter wardrobe. There is no need to bring two different wardrobes based on the season.
Environmentalist, science writer & light traveler
The Goldilocks Project
Rebecca: I travelled all over Europe and it was four seasons. So, I started in Portugal and then went to Morocco in September, which is really hot. And, so, I had swimmers and summer dress. But then, by the time I finished, it was December and it was in Paris and it was crazy. Literally close to zero degrees.
Slobodanka: And you managed with the wardrobe?
Slobodanka:There's a lot of people ask me that question, the very same question, how to manage travelling through seasons.
Slobodanka: And you did it with your layered wardrobe. So you just added layers as it got colder?
Rebecca: Yes. So, so your bottom layer is like t-shirts and your cotton leggings. And a summer dress. And then you add, fine wool is fantastic cause it's warm.
Slobodanka: Merino, it's nice.
Rebecca: Yes, yes. It's fantastic.
Slobodanka: It's fabulous.
Rebecca: Yes, and then, if it's really cold, the puffer and then your Japara or trench coat that you wear over the top. You do need hat, gloves,
Slobodanka: For the cold.
Rebecca: Yeah. And, as I said before, on your legs, you wear jeans or
Slobodanka: Leggings under the jeans if it is cold.
Rebecca: Yes. Plus knee high socks, which I discovered in London where the fantastic knee high wool socks really make a difference because they just because your jacket will often come down to your knees. But it really, so then you need something from your shoes up.
Slobodanka: Shoes, yes. So if you're wearing a coat like the one you mentioned. Not the puffer jacket. Would you take that with you on the aeroplane, so that's it's not packed into your carry on bag? Or is it part of your carry on pack?
Rebecca: Yeah, often, often I would carry that, just carry it on the plane.
Scientist & business traveller
Always remember that there are shops. You don’t need to have one of everything, you need to sort of cover you know, 60% of your expectation and if you really get caught out - miles too hot miles too cold - buy it. I was down in New Orleans in May and I was in straight from Chicago, really cold in Chicago, New Orleans was kicking mid-30s I think, it was really hot. Fine, go and buy you know, pair of shorts and light shirt and then throw it out at the end if you need it’s up to you but you know, what you don’t need to, you don’t need to pack for everything, pack a lot less and remember no matter where you are on the planet there are shops willing to sell what you don’t have.
Artist & 'en plein air' painter
Josie: Well it was called the art tour and primarily this tour focused on following the Hans Heysen Trail down through the Flinders Ranges ending up at his residence and studio in Hahndorf and so we did a bit of touring of sites as well as stopping and painting at sites.
Bobby Graham: Are you a light traveller Josie, how did you manage with the luggage, because you mentioned rolling up your artwork or putting it at the bottom of the suitcase, so was there a choice to be made between taking clothes or taking artworks, did you have a separate bag for the artworks?
Josie: Yes there were lots of choices to be made on this trip for me and I have to say that I would have spent four weeks considering all the items that I was going to take on this trip because the Oztour people like you only to carry a bag that weighs 12 kilograms. Now I myself failed because I couldn’t get down to 12, I could only get down to 19.
Bobby Graham: Why 12, why was that the magic number?
Josie: Because it had to be in a soft sided bag, 12 kilos that would stack in the back of the truck above the fridges in the . . . if you can imagine the clothes in ute, there was only a little bit of shelving above the fridges . . . there might have been a couple of luggage racks but the bags had to be stacked on top of each other (the reason for soft -sided) so not protruding wheels to damage other bags or the handler who had it down to a fine art.
Bobby Graham: So was the 12 peoples bags in one truck, or was there a range of trucks?
Josie: No one truck.
Bobby Graham: One truck and 12 people.
Josie: Well it was actually 16 bags by the time you included the hosts and the driver.
Bobby Graham: So it was quite a big group?
Bobby Graham: And what did you take with you because I remember having a previous conversation when you said it got very cold, because this was a winter tour?
Josie: It was colder than expected because we had been watching the temperatures and they had been mid-20s for the two weeks before we left and being Alice Springs in the central part of Australia you are thinking that you are heading up to a little bit of warm weather in winter but it wasn’t to be, it was the coldest start to winter that South Australia had had for some time and by the time we got to the camping part of the trip it was -4 overnight in the tent. So because we hadn’t packed for any cold weather it was basically down to putting every layer of clothing that you had brought with you on for the night.
Bobby Graham: Sounds like a military boot camp to me . . .
Josie: Some people had the forethought to bring woollen socks, wearing their hiking boots. So that saved them.
Bobby Graham: You couldn’t buy anything because you were in the bush?
Josie: That’s right, we were several, hundreds of miles away from any shops but the Oztour people did have hot water bottles on their truck.
Bobby Graham: So a little bit of comfort at night?
Get this free copy of the Planepack 10 Top Tips for hot and cold climate travel
That was fun! But if you don't have the time to read the whole post, I've summarised the 10 Top Tips for you to download as a handy one-pager.
Just fill out the form below to get a free copy of the Planepack 10 Top Tips to pack and travel across hot and cold climates - as described by these light travellers.
About the author
I'm Slobodanka Graham, extreme light traveler, blogger and digital content entrepreneur. I haven't experienced cross-climate travel as a Planepacker so it was great to learn from those travellers who have.
My cross-climate travel was way back in 1977 and I remember posting heavy jerseys back home . . . that was the trip where I started off with 14 t-shirts. Boy, have I learnt a lot since then.