Minimalist travel in winter – Packing tips for traveling with only a personal item


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Those that read my blog know that I traveled to Chicago for 10 days taking only a personal item.  The trip was in the summer so packing was fairly easy.  What about winter and all the extra clothing needed for warmth?  Could I still travel using just a personal item?  The answer is yes!  I recently returned from a week long trip that involved mountain hiking, major storms, and time in the city.  I dressed appropriately for all activities, even when I ran into unexpected challenges.

Minimalist winter travel using a personal item

I love autumn but rarely get to see it where I live. I decided to head up north to Seattle and Vancouver Island so I could sate my autumn longings.  I also wanted to hike the Olympic Mountains in Olympic National Park.  The Olympics are known for their rain. October weather could bring snow. This meant that I needed good protection from the elements. I also took part in a progressive dinner in Seattle, so I needed dress items.  All of these activities created a packing challenge for travel with a personal item. In the end I was pleased with my choices. The actual trip presented several surprises that stressed my capsule wardrobe to the max.

The contents of my pack

I once again used the Patagonia travel tote as my personal item.  The main section of this pack is 16 liters.  I relied heavily on technical clothing for my winter/outdoors activities.  The pieces were light, low bulk, fast drying, and could function in both city and country.  I also relied on silk long johns for warmth.  These washed up quickly and easily and provided undetectable layers under my clothing. I layered my nano-puff jacket under my rain shell as needed.  I also included my Montbell Versalite rain pants as a precaution for hiking in rainy weather. This provided protection for all winter temperatures. I started my wardrobe with my black technical pants.  I added in a couple of 3/4 sleeve tee shirts and a light sweater for variety.  I decided on jeans as my second pair of pants.

Shoes were my greatest challenge.  I changed my mind many times on which pairs I would wear.  I finally decided on black ankle boots and my barefoot running shoes.  The ankle boots have a soft rubber sole.  They look great in the city and are comfortable for walking.  My Merrell Pace running shoes are compact and very light (11.6 oz, 328 g). They have an excellent tread and a sticky sole, making them a good choice for light hiking.

Seattle trip

Here are that clothing items that I took, minus silk long underwear, socks, and undies. I wore the jeans, stripe top, ankle boots, and rain jacket on the plane.

I decided to use a single large packing cube for this trip.  It worked better than two smaller cubes.  I bundle wrapped my clothing using my underwear as the “core” for the bundle.  I then slid the entire bundle into an Eagle Creek Spectre packing cube.  I had very few wrinkles and these fell out when I hung up my clothes.

The contents of my personal item

The contents of my personal item.
Top row, left to right: Nano-puff jacket with hat and gloves, water bottle, travel comfort kit, key chain with compass, whistle, bottle and can openers, electronics bag, rain pants, toiletry kit, ultra-sil sling bag, eyeglass holder with retainer, liquids bag, wallet.
Bottom row, left to right: packing cube with clothes, wool scarf, Timbuck2 purse, plastic zip-lock bags, makeup bag, money belt with passport, Merrell pace shoes.

I packed my jewelry in the empty space behind my sun glasses.

I packed my jewelry in the empty space behind my sun glasses.

Packed tote plus cothing worn on plane

The packed tote plus the clothes I wore on the plane.

My total pack weight came in at 6.5 kg.  This excluded my wallet and phone, which were in the pockets of my rain coat. There was no weight limit from my air carrier but it was good to know that I could easily make a strict weight limit if needed.

Here is the painstaking boring detail of my packed items:

Worn on the plane

  • jeans
  • striped tee shirt
  • ankle boots
  • bra, undies, and wool socks
  • raincoat

Packing Cube

  • black waterfall cardigan
  • red 3/4 sleeve tee shirt
  • grey mesh sweater
  • T-zip base layer top
  • black pencil pants
  • 4 pairs of underpants
  • work to workout bra
  • silk long john top
  • silk long john leggings
  • Uniqlo Airism camisole
  • 2 pair wool socks
  • silk balaclava

Electronics Bag:

  • power pack
  • mini-USB synch cord
  • Apple fire USB synch cord
  • Fitbit synch cord
  • headphones
  • dual port charger
  • headlamp
  • Conair mini-you 2-in-1 styler
  • shrieker alarm
  • Logitech Trip smartphone mount
  • dual port auto charger

Liquids bag:

  • hydrocortizone cream (allergic reactions)
  • night cream
  • day cream
  • liquid CC cream in a contacts case
  • toothpaste
  • hairspray
  • contact lens case with contacts
  • eye drops
  • contact lens solution

Stuffed here and there:

  • Patagonia nano-puff jacket
  • wool scarf
  • hat
  • gloves

The execution

Under the seat again! There’s plenty of room even though I packed winter gear.

The weather was beautiful and cool when I landed on Monday morning.  I headed out to Snohomish Falls and immediately needed my rain coat! The mist from the waterfall soaked everything.  Later that day I stopped by the Museum of Flight.  It had warmed up and I was happy in my jeans and T-shirt.  That evening I headed to Port Angeles to catch the Vancouver Island ferry.  I slept in my silk long johns.

The falls are beautiful and misty! You’ll need a raincoat if you want to get closer.

The next day was near freezing and I bundled up in both of my jackets for the ferry crossing.  I left my tote back at the hotel and took my Timbuk2 purse as my day bag.  The day warmed up and I stuffed my rain coat, hat, gloves, and scarf into my purse. I also opened up my jacket. The purse absorbed a pound of souvenir maple sugar candy on top of the clothing.  I actually did a bit of sun bathing and whale watching on the ferry during the trip back to the states.

leaving port angeles

Leaving Port Angeles to Victoria BC via the ferry. The day started out near freezing but warmed up.

A warm autumn day at Butchart Gardens

Any day is a good day at Butchart Gardens! They are beautiful almost any time of year. The day warmed up so I could wear my nano-puff jacket open. The nano-puff breathes so I didn’t overheat.

Wednesday started out cold, with an incoming storm.  It also turned into a day of surprises.

weather forcast for bad weather

Checking out the weather on the night before my hike. The day starts out freezing (26F, -3C) and gradually warms up. A storm is coming in from the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon.

I planned on using my Patagonia tote as a day pack for hiking in the mountains.  I dumped all my non-hiking gear into my spare Sea to Summit bag and threw it into the trunk of my rental car.

My packable Sea to Summit ultra-sil sling bag held all of my clothes when I used my Patagonia tote as a day pack.

When morning came I headed up the mountain to Hurricane Ridge.  It was chilly starting out.  I had all my outer gear on.

All bundled up for freezing weather. It’s a beautiful, if chilly, morning.

The hike to the top was all uphill so I quickly shed my protective gear.  By the time I was at the top of Hurricane Ridge I was down to my base layer top and my black technical pants.  I wore my silk long john top and bottom under the outer layers.  I hiked in my Merrell Pace shoes.

Sole of Merrell Pace Glove shoe

The Merrell Pace Glove barefoot runners have a sticky Vibram sole with an aggressive tread. They are great for light day hiking if you have a foot that can handle barefoot running shoes.

Standing near the top of Hurricane Ridge. It was windy at the top, so a little chilly. Note that I haven’t removed my gloves. My Patagonia pack has my food, water, puff jacket, rain jacket, rain pants, balaclava, hat, headlamp, whistle, compass, and smart phone.

My hike headed into the drama zone on the way back down.  One hiker, an 88 year old man, had collapsed on the trail.  I administered aid.  It became very clear that he would need an evacuation.  It also became very apparent that I was the one person with the most wilderness first aid experience.  This is why you prepare ahead of time! It took several hours to alert the park service, and a few more for the rescue team to show up. It took all the resources of the park plus the Port Angeles fire department to evacuate the patient.  I was surprised at how few resources were available for rescue.  Olympic National Park isn’t Yosemite! In the end they took the patient down the mountain via ambulance.  It took 4-1/2 hours to evacuate someone 1 mile (1.6 km) down the trail to the parking lot.  From there it was another hour down the mountain to the hospital.

Dirty pants from the rescue.

My pants became very dirty as a result of the rescue. Fortunately, they were Royal Robbins discovery pencil pants. I took them into the shower with me that night and they washed up easily. They dried in just a few hours.

I spent the last couple of hours hiking out to Klahhane ridge.  I decided to hike back when it started to rain.  I was pretty tired from everything that went on. I also realized that I had forgotten to eat!  I made the drive back to Seattle and dropped off the car before the worst of the rain started. I would use public transit from this point on.

Klahhane Ridge trail

Storm coming in! A view from the Klahhane Ridge trail.

Weather alerts filled the next day.  There were high wind warnings and flood warnings.  The wind was pretty amazing.  There were gusts up to 60 mph (96 kmph).  I watched one tiny lady get picked up and slammed into a lamp pole.  I was almost knocked over from the gusts.

Bad weather on the way.

I had booked a tour of Seattle and I was going on it!  I wore my nano-puff jacket under my raincoat.  I also packed my rain pants in my purse.  I wore my jeans and tee shirt as my clothing, with the Uniqulo airism tank top underneath.  I spent the morning on the tour.  After that I used public transit to go to various museums.  It was a rainy soggy day.

raincoats let you continue on your travels.

No, the weather isn’t stopping me! That’s what rain coats are for.

The next day was windier than the previous one.  Accidents and weather delayed most of the public transit. I decided it would be faster to walk to my destinations.  I walked to the Museum of History and Industry for the morning. I signed up for a dressy progressive dinner in the afternoon.  I wore my black technical pants with my grey mesh sweater.  I added my Uniqlo airism tank underneath for warmth. I used my rain pants to stay dry.

My rain pants were small enough to carry in my purse. They were available when I needed them.

I swung by my hotel to pick up my luggage prior to dinner.   I planned to go directly to the airport after dessert.  My pack was so small that no one noticed that I had my luggage with me. Several of my dinner partners complained that they had spent the afternoon in their hotel rooms because of the weather.  It made me sad because they had clearly brought the wrong clothing for their trip.  While they were changing out of soggy clothing I was walking around enjoying Seattle!

When I arrived at the airport my airline was asking people to check their carry on bags.  I had to tell them no, because I didn’t have a carry on bag!  I wasn’t a part of their problem, but I was definitely a part of their solution.  I left the overhead bin clear.

The weather impacted public transit.

Soggy in Seattle. The public transit was running 15-30 minutes late so I decided to walk to my destinations. My rain pants kept me dry.

Time for reflection

In retrospect, I was thrilled with how everything worked out. I had all the clothing I needed, even for unexpected events. Near freezing rain is one of the biggest packing challenges and I was warm and dry the entire trip. I experienced warm days, cold wet nights, soggy storms and high winds.  I had packed everything I needed.

This trip would have been impossible without technical clothing.  The black technical pants let me go from trail to dinner.  The silk thermal underwear kept me warm.  My base layer t-zip top provided coverage and warmth while hiking. The nano-puff jacket, high quality waterproof rain coat, and rain pants all protected me from the elements.  Stylish high performance clothing is worth the investment!

Here are some more thoughts about my selections:

Most valuable item: My raincoat, followed by my nano-puff  jacket.

Things I didn’t use: My silk balaclava and my red drop earrings.  That’s it!

What I slept in: My silk long johns.  I added my black waterfall cardigan when I was reading in bed.  I used my raincoat as a “bathrobe” when I used the toilet down the hall.

What I wish I had packed: My leggings.  The heat went out in my hotel room one night and the extra leggings would have been nice.  I could have put my jeans on if I wasn’t too lazy to get out of bed.

What about dressing up? I could have added some black tights and a black pencil skirt for more formal occasions. There was extra room in my packing cube. There was also room for a light “grand foulard” scarf.

What if this were a trip in deep winter? I would have changed out my shoes.  I would have worn knee high dress snow boots and packed ballet flats with a slight heel. I also would have added an extra pair of outer gloves or mittens. I might have added an extra Airism shirt.

What if this were a multi-week trip? I would have added one extra top in addition to my tights, skirt, and scarf.  I might have switched out my jeans for another pair of technical pants.  Grey pants would fit in nicely.  The extra weight would probably put me past the 7 kg mark.  I probably would stuff my pockets with electronics.  Then again, the airline might not weigh a personal item.

Seattle Add ons

Want to take this wardrobe on a multi-week trip? Swap out jeans for grey travel pants. Add in one extra top, a skirt, tights, and a “grand foulard” scarf.

So there you have it. A working minimalist wardrobe that fits in a personal item.  Yes, you can do it even in the winter!