The Perfect Packing List for Shoulder Season

Our Backpack

Shoulder seasons are the perfect time to take a trip, whether you’re sneaking away for a long weekend or embarking on a two-week European vacation. The shoulder season refers to the weeks or months when a destination is between its peak and slow times in terms of visitors.

For many U.S. and European destinations, shoulder seasons occur during the fall and spring. During a destination’s shoulder season, expect the weather to be variable — often the peak seasons are when the weather is beautiful, while shoulder seasons tend to be more finicky. Packing for a shoulder season trip without lugging around multiple suitcases can be tricky, so here are some tips on what to bring.

A Versatile Jacket

A versatile jacket that isn’t too bulky or too thin is a must-have for shoulder season travel. Your choice will somewhat depend on your destination. If it’s likely to be rainy, you’ll want a waterproof jacket. Outdoor specialty stores such as Eddie Bauer and REI are the best places to shop. For example, Eddie Bauer sells men and women’s packable rain jackets that fold into a built-in pouch.

If you need something a little warmer than a rain jacket, consider a 3-in-1 jacket. You’ll get an outer, lightweight jacket that can be worn alone or with an inner jacket when you need the extra warmth. The inner jacket zips out and can also be worn alone. Columbia sells a line of “3-in-1 Interchange” jackets for men and women.

Versatile Travel Pants for Men and Women

You might be tempted to pack jeans, but denim isn't always the best choice when traveling. Jeans are bulky, difficult to hand wash and often become uncomfortable after sitting in a car, train or plane for long periods. A better bet is to pack lighter-weight, wrinkle-resistant pants that can be dressed up or down and hand washed and hung to dry. Aim for neutral colors such as black, gray and tan.

Athleta sells a line of women’s pants that are fashionable, comfortable, packable and hand washable. Check out their Midtown Ankle Pant, which comes in several neutral colors. Meanwhile, REI makes great convertible pants for men which can be turned into shorts depending on how the weather changes.

Leggings for Women

Leggings are also perfect travel pants for women. Leggings take up little space in a suitcase and are super comfortable for long trips. You can dress them up or down and turn a dress or skirt into a warmer outfit when the temperature drops. For the most versatility, avoid flimsy athletic styles and aim for something like this sturdy and stylish pair from Lululemon.

Travel Jeans

If you can’t imagine traveling without jeans, Aviator specializes in making jeans for men and women designed for travel. Aviator jeans have hidden zipper pockets in the back and extra deep pockets in the front that can hold a cellphone or passport. They also retain their shape even after multiple wearings.

Merino Wool Packable Tops for Men and Women

You might be thinking, “Wool? No way, too bulky and itchy.” Merino wool, however, is perfect for a multi-climate trip, particularly for long and short-sleeve tops. Merino wool is wrinkle and water-resistant, sweat-wicking in hot weather and heat-absorbing in cool weather, breathable, odor-resistant and fast-drying. And because Merino wool fibers are very fine, they don’t itch like most other wool. Check out REI's merino wool options for men and women, which can be worn on their own or as base layers under a vest, jacket or another shirt.

Travel-Friendly Dress Clothes

If you’re traveling to a destination where you need something a little more elegant, you have some options. Dresses are perfect for women because they can be dressed up or down and layered with jackets and leggings if it gets chilly. Ministry of Supply specializes in clothing they call “performance professional”, which means you can wear their clothes into a business meeting or upscale restaurant. Using innovative technologies, they’ve created a line of clothing for men and women that allows for mobility, is water and wrinkle-resistant and does not require dry cleaning.

Shoes and Socks for Shoulder-Season Travel

You need shoes that are comfortable enough to walk around in all day and versatile enough to wear with both casual and dressier outfits. Leave your athletic sneakers at home and instead bring a pair of men’s stylish, waterproof leather oxfords like these from Columbia.  

Another great brand is AllBirds, which sells lightweight, odor and water-resistant shoes made of Merino wool. And for women, instead of bringing knee-high, bulky boots, consider ankle boots like these from Blondo, which you can wear with pants, leggings and dresses.

Don’t make the mistake of buying high-quality shoes and then wearing cheap socks. If you like no-show socks but hate how they slip down into your shoes, check out Thirty 48’s no-show socks for men and women. Thirty 48 also sells compression socks that improve blood circulation during long flights.

Travel Gear

Investing in some helpful travel gear also makes packing light easier. Consider bringing a compact umbrella like this one from Amazon, for those destinations where rain is a possibility. If you haven’t tried packing cubes, you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity to reduce your luggage needs. Try these packing cubes, which come in different sizes and shapes.

Another helpful thing to bring along are foldable, reusable shopping bags. These handy bags fold down into small squares that can be shoved into a backpack or handbag. They open to full-size shopping totes perfect for carrying groceries, souvenirs or whatever treasures you find when you’re exploring your destination.

Psst! We take pride in promoting products we think you’ll like, but just so you know we use affiliate links, which means we may earn compensation for any sales generated from this page. Thanks!

Enjoy this article? Share it with a friend

Discover the World’s Best Destinations, with your free weekly travel guide sent straight to your inbox.