Packing for Multiple Climates - A How To Guide

Packing for Multiple Climates...How to prepare for your Trip of a Lifetime

There is no question that the call of the wild is strong!  A summertime adventure vacation in the mountains or to the arctic or sub-arctic is a bucket-list trip for many. The challenge is how to pack for a trip like this when your research (or a supplied packing list) recommends being prepared for both summer and winter-like weather.  Using our simple formula, packing for multiple climates is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

Dressing in layers is key

Dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm when it's cold or when you must regulate your body temperature as weather conditions fluctuate throughout the day.  It is also the secret to creating a simple formula for packing for multiple climates that are likely on a land or water-based adventure to Alaska, Canada's North, the Arctic/Antarctic, Scandinavia, the Canadian Rockies, the Alps or any other far north or alpine environment.  The weather can fluctuate dramatically day-to-day or within a single day.  You get the idea!  

This formula is not limited to just a "hard core" adventure.  It's also suitable for use when packing for an Alaskan cruise, for example. 

When packing for multiple climates the secret is ensuring you have at least one of each of the key layers. This should guarantee you include all the required clothing items you may see listed on a packing list supplied by your tour company.

Packing for multiple climates - in action! In the photo to the right, this young lady is modelling the layering system to a "T" while on an adventure along the coast of Hudson Bay, Canada.  The trip took place in August, and packing for multiple climates was just the ticket for staying comfortable throughout the day.  In the morning, all layers were needed. By afternoon we were usually down to shirt sleeves.

A little history...

Way back in the late 1980's and early 1990's synthetic fleece stormed the market as a lighter weight and faster drying substitute for wool.  These fleeces were commonly referred to as 100, 200 and 300 weight fleeces as in, "Hey, is that a new 100 weight fleece top?  I really like it!".

The value refers to the fabric's weight in grams per square meter (ounces/sqyd) and it was a way of quickly having a reference for the warmth/thickness of the fabric/garment.  It also became a handy way to plan packing for multiple climates!

What are the layers?

  • Baselayer
  • Lightweight Midlayer - 100 weight
  • Heavier Midlayer - 200 weight
  • Heaviest Midlayer - 300 weight
  • Outer layer - to protect from wind and rain
A young girl sitting eating a cookie wearing many layers to stay warm and comfortable

Here is a little more info on each layer that makes packing for multiple climates a breeze! For more detail on layering in general, please visit our Layering 101 article!

The Baselayer

This is your t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt. Worn alone or as a first layer when it's cool. Ideally, made of moisture-wicking, fast-drying fabric.

100 Weight (aka Lighter) Midlayer

This layer adds a little warmth when your base layer alone is not enough. Fleece or merino wool fabrics weighing 100+ gsm (2.95+ oz/sqyd) are a good weight for this layer.

200 Weight (aka heavier) Midlayer

As it sounds, this layer is heavier and warmer than the 100 weight layer. Fleece or merino fabrics weighing 200+ gsm (5.9+ oz/sqyd) or even down or synthetic lightweight "puffer" fabrics are perfect for this layer. 

300 Weight (aka Heaviest) Midlayer

In our humble opinion, this layer belongs mostly in a winter or extreme cold layering system.  As the name suggests, these are fleece or merino fabrics weighing 300+ gsm (8.8 oz/sqyd) or puffy synthetic or down fabrics that have significantly more loft or fill than the lighter weight styles.

Outer Weatherproof Layer

This consists of a rain jacket and pants weather-protection layer. Waterproof breathable fabrics are good choices.  You can choose your weight/beefiness based how fierce the weather is likely to be, for how long you will be outside without shelter and what you are doing while outside.   

The Bonus Layers

These items are the extras that don't take up too much space and add value to your layering system.  

  • A vest makes a great bonus layer when packing for multiple climates, if you have the space in your suitcase or backpack or dry bag as it adds protection to your core.   
  • A super-lightweight wind jacket/pull over is another bonus that can be great to have. Often made of very lightweight windproof (but not waterproof) fabric such as Aerospace Tek or a ripstop nylon.  Often can fit into a pocket!

Four layers of clothing displayed to show a baselayer, lighter midlayer, heavier midlayer and weatherproof layer

Demonstration on Packing for Multiple Climates

Here's a  video showing a few options for each layer of the layering system when you find yourself packing for multiple climates.  Leslie and Martha discuss the reason for each item as well as potential fabrics suggestions.  Fabrics are discussed in more detail below!

Ideal Fabrics for Packing for Multiple Climates

Sewing your own clothes is not only satisfying, it can be an economical way to create many or all of the items you need when packing for multiple climates for a summer adventure in the alpine or north of 60°.  Let us guide you through our suitable fabrics! 

Detailed fabric specs can always be found under the main fabric description on our website under the heading Specs and Features.

Baselayer Fabrics

The following fabrics check the boxes of moisture-wicking and fast-drying. Some may have bonus features such as odor resistance (noted by OR in the colourway style code) or sun protection (noted by a sunshine icon on the colourway image).

100 Weight Mid Layer Fabrics

These fabrics will provide that little bit of extra warmth when shirt sleeves alone aren't quite enough.  This layer is the lighter/thinner of your two insulating layers. You will notice in the Specs and Features of each fabric that the gsm is in the one hundred range.  NOTE:  When looking through the options of Polartec Alpha Direct, choose styles 4028 (60 gsm), 4004 (90 gsm) or 4008 (120 gsm).  

200 Weight Mid Layer Fabric

This selection of mid layer fabrics are generally thicker/warmer than the 100 weight layer and provide additional insulation for cold days  north of 60° or in the alpine.  There are many options of fleece and wool blend fabrics that fit this layer.  Lightweight (thinner) puffy fabrics are also a good choice for this layer.  It's a good idea to check that this layer fits comfortably over your baselayer and 100 weight layer when  you are packing for multiple climates.  NOTE: On the Alpha Direct page, style 4024 is a good choice for this layer).

Outer / Weatherproof Layer

This collection of fabrics provides protection from rain, wind and possibly, snow.  As mentioned in the video, there is a range of fabrics that suit this layer from lightweight to more robust options depending on the activity, time spent in foul weather, and amount of space it takes up in your luggage.  These are all points to consider when packing for multiple climates.  NOTE:  When looking at Polartec Power Shield Pro & Windbloc Lightweight, style 6631 is a great choice.

The Bonus Layers

We understand that when packing for multiple climates for an adventure travel trip, packing space may be limited.  A vest and windbreaker are great add-ins if you find you have a little bit of room in your pack, luggage or dry bag.  If choosing a fabric to make a vest, fabrics already noted in the 200 Weight Heavier Midlayer section are ideal.  The following fabrics will make a super-lightweight wind jacket.  It's worth noting that the prime feature of this layer is blocking a howling wind and breathability of the fabric may be how to achieve this.

The Wrap Up

Packing for multiple climates can be a daunting task.  However, once you apply the principals of layering to your packing system and consider each layer as a gradual increase in warmth, you will discover that these few layers can be combined in many ways to tailor your outfit to each day's weather. You will easily be able to dress for a cold morning and a hot afternoon. You will be ready for a sudden downpour where the temperature drops by several degrees over a short span of time, only to heat up again once the storm system passes.

Be sure to follow the recommendations for clothing provided by your tour operator, as they are the local experts. They will have created the list to make packing for multiple climates in their region and for their specific activity. As always, please feel free to ask questions in our Facebook discussion group,