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

SmarterTravel

The perfect travel jacket is hard to find. It needs to be light but warm, adaptable, and easy to pack. When you’re looking for that perfect jacket or coat to take with you on your adventures, there’s a lot to consider. Here are the features to look for in a winter jacket if space is a concern, plus the lowdown on why summer jackets need to do more than just protect against the breeze, and what you want to make sure to look for when you’re shopping for a travel jacket. Plus, find editor-approved jacket choices for every season.

Essential Features of Travel Jackets

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. Coats and jackets in neutral colors can often more easily be dressed up or down, which is key when you’re trying to make every packed item in your suitcase do double or triple duty.

Winter Jackets and Coats

Think Fabric: Performance fabrics used in ski wear 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 for women, men, and kids 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 temperature 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.

Jacket Choices for Winter: The perfect winter travel jacket or coat is cozy but not bulky. Here’s our annual roundup of Warm, Lightweight Jackets and Coats for Travelers.

Spring and Fall Jackets and Coats

Spring and fall jackets just may be the hardest working outwear, since they have to be adaptable to a variety of temperatures and conditions.

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. Look for waterproof or water-resistant exteriors paired with a cozy interior. Even better are zip-in liners that you can remove as temperatures get warmer.

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.

Jacket Choices for Spring and Fall: For spring and fall travel jacket inspiration, check out our annual roundup of The 9 Best Lightweight Jackets for Travelers.

Summer Jackets 

Yup, you read that right. Except in the hottest of destinations, a light summer jacket can be an essential item to pack. Summer jackets come in handy during rainstorms, cool evenings, and they protect against wind and insects.

Go Wrinkle-Free: Lighter fabrics are often more 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.

Jacket Choices for Summer: The best part about summer jackets for women and men is that they double as an accessory to an outfit rather than something that just covers it up.

How to Pack a Jacket or Coat

Nearly all the time, your best bet when traveling with a jacket or coat is to not pack it at all, but rather to wear it in transit. But realistically, that’s not always possible (or comfortable). Some suitcases (like Eagle Creek‘s Coat Keeper feature, which comes standard on many of its suitcases) have an easy way to secure a jacket to the exterior of your carry-on, which means you neither have to wear your outerwear nor make space to pack it. Your next best bet when it comes to packing a jacket is to have brought a jacket or coat that compresses easily without excessive wrinkling. Since many compression-friendly jackets come with their own stuff sack, you can simply stow your jacket in your carry-on, personal item, or checked bag. If you’re traveling with bulkier outerwear that you want to pack, however, you’re going to need a folding strategy. Fold the sleeves inward, fold the jacket in half lengthwise, and roll it up. If you want it to stay as a tidy bundle, wrap a string or rubber band around it to keep it secure.

If you’re looking to pack a suit jacket or sport coat, the stakes are higher, since any wrinkling will be more noticeable. Brooks Brothers has a handy visual guide to folding a suit. Upon arrival, the jacket will likely need a refresh. You can either assume the hotel iron is functional enough to get the job done, or you can take matters into your own hands and travel with a mini-steamer geared to travelers.

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.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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