Packing for Cold Weather in China – Carry On Edition

Packing for a trip to China’s Western Sichuan province has been challenging. Most of the trip will be at altitudes over 3000m – in mid-late October the temperatures are looking at  zero to mid teens centigrade.  Not warm at all.  Plus I want to  carry just my carry-on sized 45l backpack and a smaller day bag of electronics.

That’s not tricky – the hard bit is – 5kg carry on limit on Sichuan Airlines.  They have free checked luggage but I’d really rather not have the wait at the luggage carousel and the risk that it won’t appear .

The weather will be cold but hopefully not wet – in fact after the big Chinese National Holiday in early October this is considered a good time to travel in the region because the summer rain will be past.

Generally what I wear is somewhat similar to what I’d wear  in a warmer climate – but I add layers.

Materials are key

I used to swear by silk and cotton – but no longer. The artificial fibers are more versatile, easier to wash, and just better. Technical clothing has come a long way. In any climate I like tencel, lyocell,  or other breathable polyester. They make incredibly light clothing which is smell-resistant (need less washing), and very quick to dry (either on your body or after washing). They work in tropical climates as well as the cold. But they are not warm so I add merino. Love merino – yes wool used to be scratchy next to the skin. If  its scratchy now, you’re not paying enough for it. For once I find brand names are worth – it my current favourite is New Zealand Macpac.

Clothing for a Woman – Lightweight Travel in Cold Weather

Usual travel clothes

  • 6 pairs of underwear, 3 bras, 3 sox (not shown)
  • 3 short-sleeved quick dry tops
  • long-sleeved merino shirt – which layers over the tops if required
  • zip-through hoodie – I find the zip better for temperature regulation
  • Macabi skirt  – not pretty but has the world’s best pockets for travel and works very well if you need a  comfort stop when there is no actual  toilet…
  • Track pants with decent pockets – lycoell blend –  layers under skirt in cold weather
  • Merino track pants – mainly to layer under the skirt because they don’t have any useful pockets!

Base layer

  • Merino  singlet
  • Long-sleeved merino t-shirt
  • Merino tights

Extra warm layer

  • merino hat and gloves
  • down filled vest – packs down to tiny space
  • down filled jacket  -summer weight – combined with the vest its more flexible that a larger, warmer jacket. Also packs down to nothing
  • water proof packable shell jacket

Other stuff

  • sunhat – the sun is strong at altitude
  • tankini? Still debating this – there are hot springs in the places I’m going – but the  merino singlet and pant may work too
  • sarong – because shared bathrooms
  • buff – for dust protection mainly


  • light-weight hiking shoes – mainly for the solid, non-slip, soles
  • merino socks – 3 pairs
  • Allbirds loafers  to give my feet a break.

First Aid Kit 

First aid essentials. The reality is that you can buy anything you may need at the local market or shop, but if you’re sick somethings I’d just rather have to hand.  This tiny zipped clear bag includes sterile probes, plasters and dressings, re-hydration mixture and antibiotics for dysentery, there should be some Lopermide (Immodium) – must go and replace that, antihistamine and cortisone cream and disinfectant. Scissors, needle  and thread.  Some pocket tissues I find easier to carry than toilet paper. Antihistamines and pain relief. Some prescription medicines (not shown).  I carry a spare pair of glasses, because I’m blind without them.


With the exception high SPF suntan lotion, everything else can be replaced along the way. Soap, suntan lotion, lip balm with high SPF, comb, brush, deodorant,  some small shampoos and conditioners stolen from hotels. toothbrush and paste. Spare shoe laces (because you really can’t do without them with walking shoes!). Travel clothes line.  Pac towel because hostels don’t always have towels.


iPhone 7  –  and cable.  Double USB power adapter. Note if you want to connect in China you’re need a VPN for social media and Google. Or  roam from home. And a power bank (which will need to have  its capacity clearly stated otherwise will be confiscated by Chinese airlines).And a couple of cables because they appear to break far more easily than my generic USB cables.

Surface Pro – I have a business I can’t disappear of the face of the earth. This is the lightest laptop I’ve ever had – brilliant – doubles as a tablet.  Also needs: keyboard, charger, SD-USB adapter, USB hub, external hard drive and charger, headphones. Luckily China uses the same pugs as NZ so I don’t need a plug adapter.

Panasonic Lumix GX85 – My new toy – finally gave up on bridge (super-zoom) cameras and went mirrorless. So I also have 3 lenses, spare camera batteries (x3) camera charger (which is also USB powered yeah!), spare SD cards, camera cleaning kit.

Kindle Because the battery lasts forever. And uses the same cable as the camera charger.

Garmin Tracking Watch Because its my watch – but it does mean a special charging cable!

How to Pack a Carry on Bag

Now the above is ALL the clothes I take.  Normally I’m wearing some of them! For the plane I  wear the heaviest – so that’s the track pants, merino shirt, a short-sleeved top,  hoodie and the hiking shoes and down jacket.

I roll  not fold my clothes, if they get creased they are not travel clothes!  I’ve never found packing cubes useful because without them I use the clothes to pad and fill in small spaces.  My spare shoes go in a plastic bag – usually at the bottom of the bag. My underwear go in another bag to keep them contained.  The liquids go in a resealable plastic bag for the flights only – otherwise they are in the toiletry or first aid bag (I’ve had the little zipped bag for years, no idea where it  came from). The yellow square is a pack cover in its own bag – that goes in the external mesh pocket – access is worth more than security  My raincoat an hat go in the top pocket for access (and again I don’t lock it because who is going to steal them.

Into my small  bag – which although a backpack and masqueradeds as a briefcase with the straps hidden goes everything valuable. Everything electronic and my prescription meds – and all liquids for the flights.  The camera goes into a Tenba 7 insert which holds the camera and 2 lenses. The white L’Occitane case was a present – they hand them out on China Air Business Class if you want one. It happens to be exactly the right size for my hard drive and everything else in the picture. A rigid 12″ case holds the surface Pro securely and a couple of random cables.  The laptop’s power cable and the Kindle (in its own case) travel  naked in the bag.  With a phone in my pocket and passport, cards and cash in pockets and a money belt – nothing in my larger bag is terribly valuable and I’m happy to stow it in luggage compartments anywhere – or leave it unsecured in a hostel dorm.

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  1. Kris on October 9, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    I would never have thought of spare shoelaces!

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on October 9, 2019 at 5:14 pm

      Haha – you don’t need them until you burn a hole in one and can’t tie your boots up for days on end! Yes it happened – been carrying them ever since. Incredibly hard to find when you must have them NOW, in most of the world!

  2. Jo on October 9, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    This is such a great packing list. I love the detailed way you’ve laid it out and the photos. I’m going to Pin this post and refer back to it for my next trip. I’m always looking for great tips and packing ideas, and you’ve covered them all. 🙂

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on October 9, 2019 at 9:57 pm

      Thanks Jo – yup I’ve been developing packing lists for quite a few years now!

  3. Suzanne Fluhr on October 10, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    Layers for colder temps are definitely key. Like you, although I’d love to be an Earth Mother, for travel, I prefer low wrinkle, quick dry synthetics. I’m not a roller nor a packing cube person. I find I can pack a lot and keep things relatively free of wrinkles and even have them look kind of ironed if I lay them flat and fold as necessary and then tie everything down firmly. I do usually check a bag because I messed up my shoulders hoisting a suitcase into an overhead bin. (Too proud or stupid or something to ask for help.) However, my 20 inch roller bag does qualify for carrying on.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on October 12, 2019 at 3:50 pm

      Yes sometimes I do check my carry on bag- particularly on homeward legs when I don’t care which plane it takes. But at the start of the trip I like it to come along with me 🙂

  4. Cathy Sweeney on October 12, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    Great detailed tips for packing for cold weather pretty much anywhere. Seems no matter how much I travel, packing can still be stressfull. I just recently discovered tencel garments — they’re great for traveling.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on October 12, 2019 at 3:51 pm

      The only issue I have with Tencel is it’s price. I haunt the sales for it! You can dress it up too – I’d happy ily wear my tops on a fancy cruise as well as wild west Sichaun LOL

  5. Carole Terwilliger Meyers on October 14, 2019 at 6:42 am

    Great check list. I plan to use it for my trip to Japan in December. Amazing you can get all that into a small carry-on suitcase.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on October 14, 2019 at 10:31 am

      Yes that would work in Japan in December too – unless you are skiing! That gear is so bulky!

  6. Nina E. Fitzgerald on October 27, 2019 at 11:36 am

    This is a great detailed list for packing in cold weather. I live in Utah USA and will be traveling to Scotland in June 2020 (Edinburgh and the Orkney Islands). The plan is to just bring a carry-on and a small backpack to fit under the seat. It can be done! The trick is to balance warmth (layers) and weight (yikes!) and also include a spare pair of glasses. I will refer many times to this list before I travel from hot & dry to cold & wet.

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