How to Pack for Hot & Cold Weather

Sapporo Japan Winter

Happy new year! Kicking off 2020 with a post-holiday traveling-inspired post. When it comes to traveling, I am a big fan of the carry-on-only lifestyle. I have a carry-on packing list template in Google Sheets that I duplicate and modify appropriately for any trip, whether 5 days or 3 weeks.

However, there are times that call for checked luggage – such as bringing gifts for family, going camping overseas, and in this case, preparing for both warm and freezing weather (and snowboarding!) in one trip. This was my first time packing for such varied climates, and I thought it could be interesting to document and share.

The Setting

On this trip, we were visiting family in Taiwan where it is 60 – 80 degrees F, followed by one week of snowboarding in Hokkaido, Japan where it was forecasted to be 20 – 30 degrees F. My husband and I each brought 1 backpack, 1 carry-on, and were sharing 1 30” checked luggage for our gear. This list can definitely be modified to fit into 1 carry-on if you don’t need to bring specialized gear.

How to Pack for Hot & Cold Weather 

The key for packing efficiently for two completely different temperatures is layers, layers, layers. Ideally, most of the items for warm weather can also be worn in cold weather, with sweaters, jackets, etc. on top. I really only ever bring enough clothing for 1 week if each item is worn once. But items like tops and bottoms can definitely be worn at least twice before needing a wash. We stayed at a few places that offer laundry capabilities – such as a hostel in Taipei and an Airbnb house in Niseko, and we planned to make use of those to extend the longevity of our outfits.

What I’ve learned over the years, especially when it comes to multi-climate packing:

  • Fabrics and materials matter
    • For items that will be washed more frequently (ex. underwear), choose quick drying synthetics like these or these
    • For items that will be worn multiple times, wool is your best friend. Not only is it antibacterial and antimicrobial, it tends to smell less as a result. In colder climates, wool will continue to insulate even when damp (compared to down). Lightweight wool is also great in warmer weather – it’s definitely not a winter-only material.
      • My go-tos include these ankle socks, knee socks, and this sweater. I swear, I’m not a Smartwool spokesperson! I just love their stuff, and I’ve been wearing some of their hiking socks for 10+ years now.
    • Generally, I avoid cotton except for a casual tee here and there
  • Wear more, pack less
    • Don’t be afraid of wearing things twice, or even three times. This is by far the easiest way to cut down on luggage weight. 
    • Unless you’re a style influencer traveling the world, it’s more important to pack capsule collection-like pieces that can all be mixed and matched together.
  • Ruthlessly curate your shoes
    • Aside from bulky winter coats, shoes are next in the “what is taking up so much space in my suitcase?” queue
    • I always limit myself to 3 pairs of shoes, max. Flip flops can be excluded from the count if you are staying in hostels where you will need them for showers, etc. 
    • Typically, I will pack: 1 sandal that can be dressed up / down, 1 comfortable flat like my Tieks or Rothy’s, and 1 pair of sneakers (if I am planning on hiking, these will be more functional than form).
    • For this trip, I packed: 1 pair of flip flops, 1 pair of casual sneakers and 1 pair of thermal, waterproof boots. I didn’t pack any flats since the forecast showed rain for the warmer 1st half of the trip.

What I Packed for Winter in Taiwan (Warm) & Japan (Freezing)

In total, I packed 41 items not including toiletries, electronics, underthings, my backpack & suitcase. Here is the breakdown:

By labeling items by purpose, I wanted to make sure that most of the Warm Weather items (ie. leggings, shirts) could be carried over into the Cold Weather leg of the trip. For the most part, this was the case – with 87% of those items being dual-purpose.

Excluding the Snowboarding category, which is atypical, I packed a total of 28 clothing & accessory items (again: excluding undies). With 6 different tops (1 is a cardigan, so it doesn’t count here) and 4 different bottoms (albeit mostly similar looking leggings), I can create at least 24 different “outfits” from those alone. Which was plenty enough for this 15 day trip. Most of my socks are wool, so they could be worn at least twice before needing a wash.

Full Picture List - Packing for Hot and Cold Weather in One Trip

What About With Only a Carry-On?

Fitting the essentials into a carry-on suitcase & backpack is certainly possible if snowboarding is not part of the equation. That would cut out the bulk of items that I placed in our checked luggage with the exception of my longer down coat. Thankfully, down compresses pretty easily so I would only cut out the following items to make it fit: 1 pair of leggings and 1 blouse / top. If that didn’t work, I would consider purchasing one of UNIQLO’s ultralight down coats.

MVP Items

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes like these or these. I don’t put everything into a packing cube, though I know some folks do. I only use two on a regular basis for smaller or more delicate pieces, such as tops, smaller dresses, and underwear / socks. I find that using packing cubes for every item resulst in underutilized suitcase space, such as the grooves between the handle casings. For those areas, I’ll fold leggings in half lengthwise and roll them into the spaces to create a “flat” base to lay the packing cubes.

Lo & Sons Pearl Bag

I’ve had this bag since 2016 – you can read my more detailed review here. This is still my go-to travel crossbody, as it’s perfectly sized for carrying daily essentials (including sunscreen or a small umbrella) with zippers to keep important items secure. The durable saffiano leather exterior can withstand the elements, which is great if you’re going to a rainy or snowy location.

Smartwool Socks

I’ve had some of my socks for 10+ years now and they’re still going strong. You might think that wool is too much for warmer climates, but if you go with a thinner sock it’s actually quite adaptable. I’ve never felt that my feet were too hot, and the anti-microbial (read: anti-stink) properties of wool are fantastic.

Uniqlo Heattech

These thin underlayers can make any top or sweater more appropriate for colder temperatures. As an added bonus, I don’t feel the need to wash my sweaters as frequently when paired with these layers.

Post-Trip Final Thoughts

How did this packing list end up working out?

Quite well, thankfully. I was able to wear and utilize most items as planned – with one exception. I underestimated the cold temperatures on our Japan leg, which dropped down to 5 to 15 F (or -10 to -15 C). Instead, I would have brought one extra pair of thermal or wool leggings instead of regular ones. I ended up wearing my 1 pair of thermal leggings for 4 days of sweaty snowboarding – while not the end of the world, I did worry about smell towards the end!

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