Recently, we heard from a traveler who was starting her trip in Pennsylvania, going to warm and sunny Florida for a few days, then boarding a cruise ship that would take her through the Panama Canal and deposit her in San Diego. After spending some time in San Diego with friends, this traveler planned to fly to Colorado to do some hiking and later head home. The entire trip would last a little less than four weeks.
This traveler’s trip was scheduled for spring, which meant they would be leaving in cold, possibly snowy weather, going to a warmer climate, back to a chilly climate, and then to warm again. She would be traveling in both very high and very low elevations and, of course, there’s no predicting the weather patterns she could encounter along the way. After all, it can get downright chilly in the upper elevations and out on the water on a cruise ship even in the best of weather.
One of the most difficult challenges of packing light occurs when you’re required to pack for multiple climates. Yet some travelers claim they can pack for any type of weather in just a single bag. So we decided to research the expert recommendations and discover the best tricks for packing for multiple climates in a single bag.
1. Start with a packing list
Lots of frequent travelers have these, but even those travelers who take just one trip a year have some experience putting together a packing list. After all, there are those items that you must have: prescriptions, reading glasses, for example, and there are those items that make you more comfortable along on your trip, like an e-reader, for example.
Ultimately, you want to plan and pack for the ideal, best-case scenario and then purchase your way out of a jam when you have to. If all the layers in your bag just won’t keep you warm in a freak snowstorm, for example, then buy a coat.
Think in terms of what you cannot do without and not what would be handy on your trip. After all, they have stores in other countries too and just imagine the fun of exploring a foreign supermarket on a rainy afternoon!
2. Handle the warmest climate first, then the coldest
Start with the warmest climate you’ll encounter and determine what you’ll wear there. These items may include shorts, a swimsuit, light t-shirts, etc. These become one layer of your clothing strategy. Make sure each piece of clothing can be worn alone and that each piece is also thin enough to add extra warmth when paired with other pieces, which you’ll be adding next.
With your warm-weather pile established, tackle the colder climate. A light fleece adds warmth but it’s no match against wind or rain. A light fleece sweater layered over your warm-weather tank top and under a light rain-proof jacket not only looks good, but is warm and comfy in the wind and rain.
3. Think layers and double duty
Wearing layers of clothing is the only way a traveler can effectively pack for both warm and cold weather, dry and damp conditions. The layers trap heat against the body – keeping you warm – and the outer layers can be removed as the heat builds up and you need to cool down.
Clothing items that work double-duty are the best. Think:
Light jackets with thumb holes – almost like gloves, hands stay warm
Ballet flats – work for day and night and great for walking
Silk underwear – great for warmth under other layers and thin, thin, thin
Fine gauge sweaters in silk, merino, and cashmere – easy layering and they don’t hold odor the same way synthetics do (easier to wash too!)
Tights or leggings – work great to keep warm under pants and skirts and great for light wear too (get the ones that don’t cling to other clothing)
Once you’ve got both your warm and cold weather clothing choices in a pile, it’s time to edit.
4. Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate
Now, it’s time to edit ruthlessly. Any item that is edgy or on the cusp – and you know you may not wear it – gets eliminated. Only those items that can be used many times and with many other items go in the suitcase. If necessary, put the outfits together and see how they work with each other.
These items take too much space in your bag and should be eliminated at all costs:
We recognize that many of these are simply go-to staples in the typical American wardrobe. No problem – wear them on the plane instead of packing them and you’ve got the best of both worlds.
You may not need shampoo, conditioner, body wash or a range of other items if you’re traveling to a hotel that provides them and you aren’t too picky. Eliminate them. No need for a hair dryer either – even cruise ships have these. You don’t need towels either – if where you are going doesn’t have them, why are you staying there?
Note: If you really have to have your own towel (perhaps you’re camping for days or on a cruise ship that’s lost power), try some of the high-tech, quick-drying towels on this site.
5. Identify and control the space hogs
What are the space hogs in any suitcase or bag? It’s your shoes and your electronics. After all, they don’t squish as well as a t-shirt does.
When it comes to shoes, the fewer pairs you take, the better. Ask yourself these questions before choosing a pair of shoes for your trip:
Is this pair of shoes necessary?
Does this pair of shoes go well with most of my clothing?
Should I wear these on the plane to save packing space?
Any pair of shoes that ends up in your bag should be used to secure other items so you aren’t wasting the space where your foot normally goes. That’s valuable real estate in a tight market.
When it comes to electronics, separate the cords and chargers and put them into a separate drawstring bag or plastic zipper bags – squeeze out the air to save more space.
Taking extra batteries? See how to safely transport spare lithium batteries.
6. Wash as you go
You can easily wash clothes in the hotel room sink or find a laundry once a week or so to get things really clean. Use a biodegradable soap that is friendly to the environment especially since some areas require it. You can even use shampoo to clean your clothes and you know it will be easy to wash out and not ruin the color – after all, you’re using it on your hair as the perfect testing ground.
Look into taking a packable clothesline on which to hang your washed clothing or simply use the clothes hangers in the hotel closet and the shower bar!
7. Toss along the way
We’ve heard of travelers who swear by this trick. They pack and wear their oldest clothes – especially those ratty t-shirts that are great for sleeping in and take the place of having to pack pajamas – on their trips and simply toss them as they go.
Think about it: these travelers get to go shopping in a new place and fill their bags with lovely fresh items. It’s a great way to recycle your wardrobe and not draw too much attention to yourself as a ‘rich American’ at the same time.