How to stay warm and cool in any climate the world throws at you – My minimalist clothing guide for travel

minimalist clothing

The Basics

Readers keep asking me about my clothing and luggage choices, especially when going to more extreme climates. Over time, I realized a number of things about my luggage:

  • Lots of luggage slowed me down (duh!)
  • Many items in my luggage that I kept coming home with were unused, incl. many electronics, chargers, etc.
  • Less luggage felt not just lighter but also took away the effort to care about it.

I moved from a large checked bag to a Rollaboard and then recently to a small backpack. I have done this while being in some rather extreme climates, like Northern Vietnam and Taipei in summer and Yakutsk and Calgary in winter.

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I now typically pack for one week; if the trip is longer then I have to do laundry or buy items on the go. Many countries have cheap ‘laundry by the kilo’ facilities and most hotels can usually organize my laundry for under $15.

Below is my packing guide for each climate zone I will be in; the biggest challenge will be in the hottest and coldest climates in the same trip. I usually avoid such trips since it makes it impossible to wear the warm clothes – you will need to bring a big bag (or ship them via mail). If you can’t avoid this, go to the coldest place first and then either drop the warm clothes off for goodwill or ship them home if it is cheap enough.

Shoes are often the bulkiest items and I try to restrict myself to two pairs, with the bigger ones worn on travel days.

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I also started using compression bags instead of eBags since they shrink items nicely. It’s just quite a bit more work to compress it every time you take something in or out.

80-120 degrees (Fahrenheit) – Summer peak, desert summer and (sub)tropical destinations

  • One pair of sandals/flip flops and one pair of sneakers for travel days and workouts
  • Thin t-shirts/shirts aplenty incl. some Dri-Fit
  • Plenty of underwear (because of sweat!) and just a few pairs of socks (as it’s too hot to wear shoes on most days)
  • Two pairs of short pants
  • Swim suit (I prefer the European Speedo’s against the American-style for less weight and for quick drying)
  • Jeans or long pants for travel days
  • Also take mosquito repellent (under 100 ml) and sunscreen in a small, refillable bottle
  • Optional one thin down jacket or sweater for cold evenings/cold AC on planes
  • I prefer a beanie as a hat because it is light and works in the heat as well as cold temperatures
  • Sunglasses

40-80 degrees (Fahrenheit) – Moderate weather e.g. San Francisco year-round

Mt Tamalpais State Park

  • Two pairs of long pants/jeans
  • Regular underwear and socks (at least one set per day – I like the Puma and Under Armour brands)
  • One long-sleeve t-shirt and a few more short-sleeve t-shirts
  • One pair of short pants
  • Sandals or flip flops and sneakers
  • One thin down jacket and one warm sweater (for extra cold days). I like the Columbia brand a lot, for its durability and good warmth
  • My beanie hat

Zero degrees – 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) – Canada, Northern US, Russia in winter

  • Regular underwear and socks
  • Same t-shirts/shirts as base layer (simply select the slightly warmer ones)
  • One or two sets of long underwear
  • One down jacket (medium, not too thin)
  • Warm winter jacket (I like Fjällräven)
  • One or two sets of warm winter socks
  • Only sneakers (I found that some sneakers are as warm as boots as long as it is not wet or slushy but if that bothers you, take winter boots)
  • Regular jeans should be fine
  • Gloves and a (warmer) hat, though I use the same beanie and add the hood of the jacket as a source of warmth
  • I usually don’t take any sweaters, since down jackets are lighter and warmer
  • Sunglasses against the snow glare

Minus 40 degrees – Zero (Fahrenheit) – Polar Circle or further north (e.g. Yakutsk in winter)

  • Regular underwear and socks
  • Two extra layers of long, warm underwear to wear at the same time
  • Two layers of warm socks (depending on the boots, this may not be necessary)
  • Winter boost mandatory addition is my sneakers for workouts
  • Two medium down jackets or one thick one
  • Winter jacket as outer layer
  • Ski pants (no more jeans)
  • Two pairs of gloves or just one pair of warm gloves
  • A warm hat (potentially add a second layer or trade in for a fur hat)
  • Face mask (especially when it’s windy)
  • Ski goggles (especially for windy conditions)

Colder than minus 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) – Arctic/Antarctica in winter

minimalist clothing

Don’t go unless you are an expert. Exposed skin can damage in minutes and breathing cold air through your mouth can damage your lungs (as opposed to your nose). Pace yourself and have access to a warm environment (e.g. a car or building) at any time.