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30 Days to Packing a Better Bag – Day 6: Choose Your Travel Clothing – Layers, Layers, Layers

Day 6: Choose your travel clothing wisely. Go with layers.

Welcome to Day 6 of 30 Days to Packing a Better Bag.

When developing your packing list, choosing your travel clothing can get tricky because we want to have clothing to match all our travel activities. But packing for being active, being hot, being cold and just needing to look nice once in a while can take up a LOT of space!

Here’s an insider tip: Layers always work best.

Example 1: Did you happen to write down on your packing list that you want to bring 2 bulky sweaters on your travels? Drop that list! Instead, why not take a merino wool tank or tee layered with a lighter long-sleeved top in place of one (or both) of those bulky sweaters. Not only does this combination provide a similar level of warmth, the pieces also work on their own in warmer climates. See what we did there?

Example 2: Add color with layering tank tops. Let’s say you have a solid color v-neck top as part of a minimalist wardrobe. In order to give that top a bit of pop, why not get some bright tank tops to wear underneath (but make sure they are the long ones that will show below the top and across the v-neck, or else, what’s the point?). I love this tactic because tanks take up so much less space than multiple tops while also being a clothing option on their own. They also make great pajama tops!

colorful tanks are great for layering under basic pieces

See, layers always work best. In fact, using layers to their fullest is what sets a smart packer apart from a packing nightmare.

Start with your basic base layers and build off that so each piece is more usable and packable. The rest of this section will provide you with some good layering options to consider.

Basic Layers

Jeans: A good pair of jeans can go a long way in terms of layers. If you’re traveling in winter, layer a pair of leggings underneath for additional warmth. In the summer time, wear jeans with a tank top and light scarf.

Tank tops or camisole: Long tank tops can be worn under most shirts and are another good base layer for warmth, taking up very little room. Try one or two made from a wool to help regulate body heat and manage moisture. You can also wear them under more sheer tops for modesty.

Dress: A simple cotton dress is ideal for summer and you can layer jewelry or a denim jacket or cardigan on top of it at night. The right pair of leggings can take a simple dress from summer to winter ready.

Sweater: A basic sweater can be great for layering over a tank top on a chilly flight and is also resistant to wrinkling. We recommend going for a thinner sweater, perhaps made of merino wool for ultimate warmth and versatility in a small package.

Multi Purpose Items

Leggings: As mentioned earlier, leggings can be used in any climate, particularly to cover up in more conservative cultures. Try wearing them under a dress or tunic or under your pants if you’re spending the winter abroad. They also make good pajamas!

Blazer: A simple black blazer can be worn dozens of ways, from casual over a t-shirt and jeans to with a black pencil skirt for a more formal occasion.

Scarf: Packing a scarf is an easy way to dress up an outfit, not to mention building warmth. It can be used as a sarong, a head covering while you’re in a church or to cover your shoulders over your little black dress.

Seasonal Additions

Coat: If you’re traveling in winter, you’ll definitely need a coat, but pick something versatile with many outfits. For example, a calf length coat with a funky houndstooth print can be nice because it doesn’t look silly over dresses but can also be worn with pants and boots. For those that are traveling in and out of cold climates on an extended trip, the best bet is to trade in a chunky, puffy coat for a few good layers combined with warm hats, gloves, socks and leggings. If you’re looking to see the Northern Lights in Lapland, we’re sorry, but you will probably need to pack a chunky coat. It’s just too cold there!

Choosing Your Materials

Cotton: Just make sure your cotton layers are breathable for your chosen itinerary.

Wicking or Nylon: Choose layers that will handle sweat and heat, especially if you’ll be doing more activities like hiking or mountain biking.

Wool or Fleece: You only need one or two of these layers for additional warmth. They generally come with a price, but are well worth the investment.

We’ll talk more about technical clothing tomorrow and how those can offer durable clothing options to suit your specific travel needs. Technical clothing can be quick drying, offer sun protection, or just offer warmth with minimal space usage.

layers are better
Left: A bulky sweater is the last thing you want to pack. Not only does it waste space, it’s not versatile enough to be worn in anything but cold weather. Right: Layers work and pack better. A Silkbody Silkspun camisole, topped with a light wool cardigan and a fleece technical jacket, the Altica200, by Kathmandu. Can be worn with or without each other.

Final Things to Consider

If you are layering for warmth, you’ll want to pack differently than if you are layering for style. You should start with a base layer, which will keep your body heat contained. This should be something like a wool tank top, sweater or form fitting top. On top of that you should add a layer of insulation like a fleece or down jacket. And on top of that, you’ll want a waterproof jacket to keep you dry from snow and rain.

Take Action: Packing in Layers
Analyze your packing list and find where layers would work best for your trip, and replace. Start with basics and build from there. Update packing list.

*Big thanks to Silkbody for providing the Silkspun camisole for photos and comparisons.

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe. – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Robyn Belben says

    Hi Caroline, really enjoying this 30 days series of posts! I am a first time traveller, 21, going to fiji, nz and aus but I leave on sunday!! What are your top top top tips on packing I will be too late for? They have been so helpful thus far! Thanks! Robyn 🙂

  2. Courtney says

    The leggings thing is so true! I would never travel anywhere without them now. I just spent the summer in Hong Kong and leggings were necessary for modesty reasons- all those escalators and buses, but also to help wick sweat! I also wore leggings as pj’s in my cold dorm room. Layers help a lot in muggy climates.

  3. Judy says

    Great tips but I have to nitpick a couple. First, while I practically live in jeans while at home, I virtually never travel with them. There are far better pants to travel with that are lighter, less bulky, and that can dry overnight. There are some very cute pants made of technical fabric that can serve the place of jeans yet be more versatile. Also, with a few layers of merino wool and/or technical tops that, a small down- or polyester-filled jackets that can pack down to the size of a baseball, and a lightweight water/windproof shell, you should be able to travel in Lapland just fine without lugging around a heavy, bulky jacket. Of course, gloves, hat, wool socks, proper boots, and some long undies or leggings under your pants on the bottom are needed to make this work.

  4. Lil says

    Just found this series of posts and am loving it but now I have to know where you found that grey kimono style top you have on in so many of the pictures. Must have it!

    • Brooke says

      Hi Lil! It’s a Columbia top that I picked up at an outdoors outlet shop. I love it! It’s super lightweight, quick-drying and breathable (great in hot places) but I can also easily layer items underneath when it’s cooler.


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