The Tar Heel State spans a range of landscapes, from rolling mountains in the west to 300 miles of beachy coastline, with bustling cities in between—and that variety can make figuring out what to pack for North Carolina a bit of a challenge. After multiple trips to the state, including stops in Asheville, Wilmington, Shelby, and the Outer Banks, I’ve put together this practical packing list to help you make sure you include everything you need—and nothing you don’t.
What to Pack for North Carolina: The Suitcase
- AmazonBasics 21-Inch Softside Spinner Luggage: This no-frills carry-on fits most airlines’ size requirements and has spinner wheels for easy maneuvering.
What to Pack for North Carolina: The Personal Item
- The North Face Electra Backpack: This small, sleek backpack will fit your daily essentials without weighing you down. It has a sleeve for a tablet and a padded pocket for your smartphone and sunglasses.
What to Pack for North Carolina: In-Flight Essentials
- Earbuds or noise-canceling headphones: Minimalist packers or those on a budget can opt for cheap and easy earbuds, while those who really want to block out the world may want to invest in pricier noise-canceling headphones.
- Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask: There’s no need to spend a fortune on a sleep mask when this affordable option is so soft and comfortable.
- Tablet: Load up your tablet of choice with books, music, movies, and games to keep you entertained in flight.
- Snack bars: KIND bars are an easy in-flight snack. Pack a few extra bars to eat on your vacation as well, during hikes or on the beach.
What to Pack for North Carolina: Shoes
- Comfortable walking shoes: Whether you’re strolling around town or visiting a museum, comfy shoes are a must. Try to find a pair that works equally well for sightseeing and a nice dinner out, like the Rockport Margin for men or the Born Sebra for women.
- Hiking shoes: Outdoor adventurers will find countless trails throughout the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. Bring a sturdy pair of hiking shoes so you can enjoy them safely.
- Flip-flops: If you’ll be spending time in the Outer Banks, the Wilmington-area beaches, or any of North Carolina’s other coastal regions, you’ll want a pair of these.
What to Pack for North Carolina: The Jacket
- Interchange Jacket: The jacket you bring to North Carolina depends on where you’re traveling and the time of year. A summer beach vacation requires no more than a light windbreaker for the occasional breezy evening, while you’ll want something much warmer if you’re visiting the mountains in fall or winter. Columbia’s Interchange jackets can meet all those needs; they come with a warm fleece inner layer and a waterproof outer shell that can be worn separately or together to suit just about any climate.
What to Pack for North Carolina: Clothing
- Jeans: Bring your favorite pair to wear on the flight and for sightseeing.
- Hiking pants: Lightweight, quick-drying pants are a much better bet than jeans if you’ll be hitting the trails during your trip.
- Shorts: The weather in North Carolina is both hot and humid over the summer, so you’ll want at least one pair of shorts if you’re traveling in the warmer months.
- Dress: Depending on the type of trip you’re planning, you might want a dress or two for evenings out. An option like this wrap dress from Everlane can work equally well during the day and at night.
- Chinos: Similarly, men might want a nicer pair of pants than jeans for city sightseeing and dinners out.
- Long- and short-sleeve T-shirts: In the summer, short-sleeve T-shirts might be all you need, but in shoulder seasons (spring and fall) you’ll want a mix of options, and in winter you’ll want long-sleeve tops. Everlane has a wide variety of shirts for men and women.
- Sweater or sweatshirt: If you’re visiting North Carolina in the cooler months, you’ll want at least one heavier layer to wear over your T-shirt.
- Bathing suit: Bring at least one bathing suit if you’re headed for the shore or any of North Carolina’s many lakes.
- Beach cover-up: Headed to the beach? Don’t forget something to wear over your suit.
What to Pack for North Carolina: Toiletries
- Sunscreen: This is a must for outdoorsy trips any time of year.
- Insect repellent: Tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease are on the rise in North Carolina, so hikers especially will want to use their bug spray of choice. Mosquitoes are especially bad during the warmer months of the year.
- Over-the-counter medications: Although it’s easy enough to purchase medications as needed in North Carolina, I never leave home without a few basics, including a pain reliever, an antihistamine, and a remedy for upset stomach. Consider adding a motion sickness medication for winding mountain roads if you’re prone to carsickness.
What to Pack for North Carolina: The Purse
- Crossbody bag: I own a couple of Travelon crossbody bags in various sizes. They have anti-theft features such as locking zippers and slash-proof straps, which will keep your stuff safe when walking around towns and cities.
What to Pack for North Carolina: Gadgets
- Portable charger: Because there’s no excuse these days for your phone dying.
- Fitness tracker: North Carolina lends itself to active vacations, so give yourself credit.
What to Pack for North Carolina: Accessories
- Sunglasses: These should be on your North Carolina packing list if you’ll be spending any time outside.
- Sun hat: It’s a must for any of North Carolina’s many outdoor adventures, from hiking and boating to fly fishing.
- Travel umbrella: You’ll regret it if you don’t have it.
What to Pack for North Carolina (That I Didn’t)
- Scarf: This multi-purpose accessory can dress up an outfit, serve as an airplane blanket, and keep you warm on chilly days.
- Reusable water bottle: Cut down on plastic waste by refilling the same bottle each day for hikes, sightseeing, or an afternoon on the beach.
- Collapsible trekking pole: Some mountain hikers might want a walking stick (or two) for balance and stability.
What Not to Pack for North Carolina
- Expensive jewelry and dressy clothing: Unless you’re traveling for a wedding or other formal event, you can get by with mostly casual clothing in North Carolina.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 7 Fun Things to Do in Wilmington, NC
- How to Do a Weekend in Asheville, North Carolina
- The 10 Best U.S. Cities to Visit in 2019
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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.
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