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Day 13: How to Pack the Right Jacket (or Coat) for Every Season

SmarterTravel

Packing Hacks is a 31-part series devoted to helping you become an expert packer! Each installment offers advice on how to get organized, pack smarter, save on bag fees, and eliminate packing stress. New to Packing Hacks? Start at the beginning.

Yesterday, we delved into the details of boosting your travel wardrobe. Today, we’re looking at how to find the perfect jacket or coat to take with you on your travels.

You’ll learn:

The single most important feature to look for in a winter jacket if space is a concern

Why a summer jacket needs to do more than just protect against the breeze

Editor-approved jacket choices for every season

Timeless Qualities

There are a few key attributes you’ll want to look for when you’re shopping for the perfect travel jacket, regardless of season. On-body storage is key when you’re mobile, so make sure it has pockets. Look for wrinkle-resistant fabrics, since your jacket will likely find itself stuffed into an overhead bin, shoved into a day bag, or wedged into luggage at some point on your travels.

Winter

Think Fabric: Performance fabrics used in skiwear and outdoorsy winter wear tend to offer serious insulation without much bulk. Even if your destination is entirely urban, it’s worthwhile to check out options from outfitters such as The North Face, L.L.Bean, Patagonia, Columbia, and REI. For a look that reads city streets rather than ski slopes, opt for black fabric.

Compress, Compress, Compress: Quilted jackets are as at home in New York City as they are on the Pacific Crest Trail. Filled with down or down alternatives, these puffy jackets keep travelers and trekkers warm in winter. And best of all for packing purposes, these types of jackets tend to compress incredibly well. Some even come with their own stuff sacks, making it possible to toss the jacket into your day bag.

Accept Defeat Warmly: If there’s one single key to choosing a winter jacket or coat for travel, it’s this: Be realistic about the lows in your destination. If you forgo warmth in favor of packing light, your chattering teeth will likely be the dominant memory of the trip. If it’s really cold where you’re headed, stop thinking about weight. Embrace the warmest, coziest option and assume that coat checks and wall hooks will keep the inconvenience factor low when you’re spending time at museums, restaurants, and other warmer indoor environments.

Editor-Tested Choices for Winter:

Spring and Fall

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold: The Goldilocks quandary is the biggest challenge in spring and fall, when temperatures are more unpredictable. In spring, rain can be an added concern, and in fall, earlier nightfall means colder evenings.

Embrace the Details: Features are everything in outerwear that is meant for the transitional seasons. Waterproof fabrics come in extra handy since they offer protection and allow you to avoid fully committing to a raincoat. Zip-out liners create jackets that can be warmer or cooler, depending on the day. And stowable hoods offer discrete rain and wind coverage on demand.

Editor-Tested Choices for Spring and Fall:

Summer

Go Wrinkle-Free: Lighter fabrics seem to be extra prone to wrinkles. And since summer jackets tend to spend much of their time stowed (only to be retrieved for chilly mornings or evenings out), it’s extra important to opt for fabrics that resist wrinkles, even when the jacket is wadded up at the bottom of a bag.

Do Double Duty: In summer, jackets protect against more than just the chill. Wind, sun, and insect protection are important factors to consider when selecting summer travel outerwear, as is protection against sudden summer rainstorms.

Editor-Tested Choices for Summer:

  • For men and women: Lands’ End’s Classic Squall Jacket for men and women, Outdoor Research’s Helium II Waterproof Jacket for men and women

Bonus Hack: On-the-Go Cleaning Tip

Jackets and coats don’t get washed as much as other clothes, but as your outermost layer, you want them to stay looking clean and smelling fresh. Keep a dryer sheet in one of the pockets to combat funky smells, and, in another pocket, keep a rolled-up eight-inch length of duct tape that you can use in a pinch as a lint grabber.

Up next: Day 14: Proven Ways to Perfectly Pack Formal Wear.

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