Your general rule when packing might be to take a few pieces for different weather possibilities. A light rain jacket, a scarf, a pair of sandals. But what will you pack for heat and humidity that’s going to make you sweat through anything you put on? How can you plan outfits well when everything’s going to be covered with a raincoat? How will you get all of your sweaters into your backpack for that winter hiking break? Let’s look at how you can approach your packing for a few different types of extreme weather.
Let’s go from the ground up. By which I mean: feet first. When dealing with extreme cold, you don’t want to take any chances with your footwear. Go for the biggest, baddest boots you can. If you are buying something especially for the trip, head to your local outdoor store and ask for their advice. As for packing them – well, don’t. Wearing your big boots (and coat, which we’ll get to) on the plane is the best option in terms of space.
Also for your feet: socks! The thinner, insulating kind are best. Always bring more than you think you will need, as you will want to be able to swap them out of they become damp. Damp = extra cold.
For clothes, we’re looking at thinner layers instead of individual bulky items. This will be easier on both packing and laundry (the under layers will be washed more frequently) and will give you more outfit options altogether. Thermal underthings are a must. Don’t forget to include long underwear or tights, not just t-shirts and vests.
Try to avoid cotton, as it holds moisture (see above r.e. cold). Wool and silk are both great for insulation.
You will want some soft, fluffy things, of course. For packing, you might consider using packing cubes or compression bags to get them into as small compass as possible.
Down coats are usually the top recommendation for extreme cold. They are wonderfully warm and light; however, if you are also expecting wet weather, be aware that they can be difficult to dry, and wet down is very much the opposite of cozy… for rain advice, look further down in the article.
If you are concerned about appearances and styling, your best option for varying your look is going to be in the accessory department. You will need a hat, scarf, and gloves anyway, so why not get a few options that you can play with? The items don’t take up too much space, so you can bring multiples without any bother.
The best advice for dressing in the heat is to avoid heavy fabrics that will keep the heat in. Polyester and other synthetic materials, unless the item in question has been specifically designed for heat (we’ll get to that) are best avoided. However, your clothing choices for dealing with heat should also take into account whether the heat in question is dry or humid, and also how active you will be.
If you are not planning on being very active, then you should focus on long, loose fits. Loose fabric allows for air to circulate, and covering up will prevent sunburn. Mid-range colour and printed/patterned fabrics are fantastic for hiding sweat stains.
Fabrics like cotton, rayon and linen are good. (Skip the wool and silk, they tend to trap heat.) Cotton is best for dry heat, as it holds moisture. A cotton bandanna or scarf to soak in water and tie around your head or neck for cooling is also great. Cotton can work for humidity, as it is breathable, but the extra moisture might make you uncomfortable. If the place you are travelling to lacks anything in the way of breeze, try to go for as thin a fabric as possible for quicker evaporation.
If you are going to be moving around a lot – hiking or other strenuous activities – you might consider special sports gear that has been designed to “wick” away your sweat. Cotton is unlikely to be your friend, as the moisture it holds against your skin will heat up as you move, and is also likely to start chafing.
I’m going to split this into hot rainy weather and cold rainy weather, as they have very different demands and pitfalls. The only piece of advice I want to give for [all] rainy weather is: take zip-lock bags. These can carry your tickets, maps, passport and phone, as well as giving you somewhere to keep damp items away from the rest of your stuff if you have to pack it all together.
Oh – and don’t wear jeans. Jeans do not dry quickly, and they actually get irritatingly heavy when wet through.
If you are going to be outdoors and active in a cold, wet climate, don’t waste time on splash-resistant, works-for-short-showers-and-walking-to-the-office items. Go for the waterproofs. Waterproof shelled coat, trousers, and shoes. If any of your clothing has even a little absorbing power, you will find yourself cold and miserable very quickly. One of the worst feelings in the world is putting on a cold, damp coat first thing in the morning because it didn’t dry overnight.
A less active trip, maybe a city-based gallery-viewing café-hopping holiday, will probably need a different approach. You will be spending more time indoors, and may also have more of a desire to look your best. The best advice for this is to get hold of a raincoat that you absolutely love. Make it your “look” for the holiday, and co-ordinate your outfits around it (matching umbrella, anyone?) The same goes for boots. These are the pieces people will see, so lean into the opportunity they give you.
In terms of the natural-vs-synthetic question, this is definitely a case of synthetics winning. Thin, quick-drying fabrics are your best best. Make sure that none of the items you have become see-through when wet; it may be best to avoid very light colours.
From personal experience, I would also recommend that you test any brightly-dyed items to see if they will run into other items you are wearing, unless you want to put on some kind of live-action tie-dye performance art.
As great as flip-flops can be, especially in places where you are expected to remove your shoes before going indoors, wearing them in the rainy season is an accident waiting to happen. They have very little grip either to the floor or your feet. You may find them sliding off to the sides as you try to walk, or causing you to slip. If you have to make your way through a deep puddle, you might lose them altogether. Soft, quick-drying sandals that actually hold onto your feet are the way to go; rubber soles are the best way to avoid any slippery mishaps.