Travel
What to Pack for New York City During Any Season
March 2, 2017
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What to pack for New York City in any season - Winter, Spring, Summer or Autumn

Having now experienced the Big Apple’s rollercoaster of climatic conditions, I have put together a tried and true guide for what to pack in New York City at any time of year. The bonus is that these seasonal packing lists are carry-on friendly, so you can minimize your luggage and/or save space for shopping and souvenirs.

New York City’s climate

New York City’s climate is highly variable if nothing else – hot and humid in summer, freezing cold and windy in winter, wet in spring and any of the aforementioned in autumn. For this reason, it’s really hard to place packing lists in clear seasonal brackets, for example, early spring and late spring are two very different beasts. Not to put a too finer point on how erratic it can be, here are some of my experiences:

  • In the week leading up to my very first trip in early April, I was seeing reports of sunny, 25֯ C days. The 10-days I was there it barely surpassed 12֯ C maximums and drizzled rain three-quarters of the time.
  • During my May and September trips, it was around 28֯C at midnight. But during July 4 week of the same year, I was wearing jeans and a cashmere sweater in the evenings.
  • During my late autumn visit, I saw everything from fine and 17֯C, to snow and gale force winds in the space of six days.

You see what I’m saying right? Here is a snapshot of average temperatures and precipitation (rain/snow) across a typical year in the Big Apple:

JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Avg Temp High °F 39 42 50 60 71 79 85 83 76 65 54 44
Av Temp High °C 3.8 5.5 9.9 15.7 21.5 26.3 29.3 28.4 24.4 18.3 12.3 6.6
Avg Temp Low °F 26 29 35 44 55 64 70 69 61 50 41 32
Avg Temp Low °C -3.1 -1.9 1.9 6.9 12.6 17.7 21 20.3 16.3 10.1 5.1 -0.1
Avg Rainfall (inches) 3.9 2.95 4.06 3.94 4.45 3.5 4.53 4.13 3.98 3.39 3.82 3.58
Avg Rainfall (mm) 99 75 103 100 113 89 115 105 101 86 97 91

*Climate data taken from https://www.usclimatedata.com/

 

What this means to you:

  • Pack layers to ensure you can scale up or down the warm/dry factor on any given day. Sticking to a colour scheme helps layer because all items can be mixed and matched.
  • Check the weather right up to the day before you leave and adapt your packing accordingly.
New York City Autumn Packing List
Autumn in New York City

Sightseeing and experiences

New York City is a walking town with a diverse range of experiences on offer. You will be treading the pavement most of the time, because that’s the best way to see the city. You’re also likely to take part in anything from casual cycling around Central Park to dining in upscale restaurants. Therefore your packing list must balance comfort and style in the right proportions.

For our visits, I have been challenged to piece together a carry-on only wardrobe that would suit both discovering the city on foot, and fulfilling the dress code of some of New York’s finest dining establishments. Averaging 25,000 steps per day and having eaten my way through 16 Michelin stars, I truly put these packing lists to the test.

What this means to you:

  • Do NOT take your cue from Gossip Girl or Sex and the City, they are fictional television shows that in no way reflect the kind of wardrobe you are going to need.
  • Think in terms of clothes that you can dress up and down with a simple change of shoes and other accessories.
Fine dining at Del Posto
Fine dining at Del Posto
New York City summer packing list
Summer morning in July

General packing for all trips at all times

Day bag – Depending on the size of your camera, you can get away with a medium size day bag. Choose one with a crossbody strap for extra security and the convenience of being hands-free. Better still, a small to medium size backpack which I advise wearing on your front in the subway, at festivals or among other large groups of people for security purposes. Coat check backpacks in museums or security make you wear it on your front too in case you accidentally knock over a priceless piece of art.

Sunglasses – Whether it’s the sun in your eyes or the glare from a fresh drop of snow, you’re going to want to take a pair of sunglasses wherever you go.

Earplugs – If you are staying in the Midtown (Times Square) area, there is a chance your hotel will be unavoidably noisy at night.

Gadgets – Headphones, chargers, adapters, camera, batteries, SD card and phone. A portable charger/power pack may be necessary if you are using your phone as a camera, which drains the battery.

Waterless hand wash – Stay healthy while on holiday and always carry this in your day bag for when handwashing facilities aren’t available.

Waht to pack for New York City in early spring/late autumn

New York City early spring or late autumn packing list

What to pack for March/April and October/November:

Thermals/Long Johns – Whatever you want to call them. It is tough to layer your bottom half so start with full length wool or silk bottoms and singlet/short sleeved tops.

Jeans – One pair in a dark colour to wear day through night. Choose straight or wider leg jeans/pants to fit your thermals comfortably underneath.

Long pants – One pair of tailored pants that will look dressier than jeans. I wore these Everlane wool pants on the days we dined at the most upscale (2-3 Michelin star) restaurants for lunch. My husband wore a pair of Armani Exchange chinos.

Light layers – Four long sleeve tops that can be layered in combination or worn on their own. I wore a thick cotton top on warmest days and on the coldest layered cotton or silk tops over thermal underwear, topped with a cashmere sweater that doubled as a standalone garment. My husband, who is a warm body, wore similar long-sleeve cotton tops or t-shirts with a hoodie.

Coat – Two coats. One heavy coat that will provide maximum warmth. I recommend one that is long enough to reach down to your knees, and has a hood or high collar. A second lighter coat for the warmer days. Wear or carry your biggest coat separately on the plane to save space.

Gloves – One light pair of gloves. I wore a pair of faux leather gloves which aren’t enough in winter but ok for these conditions.

Hat – A hat of wool or other warm material, in a style that will cover your ears. I chose a beret for a more upscale look that I felt comfortable wearing indoors and out. My husband wore nothing and complained of cold ears {insert look of wife rolling her eyes here}.

Scarf – One or two lightweight scarves. I found cotton scarves were sufficient, you don’t need to reach for the pashmina just yet. I took two in different colours, so I could change up my outfit a little.

Shoes – Two pairs of flat shoes. One that is a solid, supportive pair for walking and another lighter, prettier pair for evenings. I wore a pair of clean, leather-look Nike fashion sneakers that struck the balance between providing support and comfort for walking, but were still given a pass by Michelin-star maître d’s. I had a pair of sparkly loafers tucked in my purse in case I needed to change, but if you are going for lunch you can get away with a lot more than dinner. My husband wore his “all purpose” l black Saloman walking shoes – which somehow he got away with.

Jewellery – When you step inside, it is nice to peel off the layers and still have something left to show. I packed three chunky necklaces so that I felt “dressed” when I was inside sans coat and scarf. My top tip is, only take rings you can wear inside your gloves.

Moisturiser – For face, body and lips. The harsh winds and cool temperatures caused my skin to dry up over the first 48hrs. My face suffered the most as my only exposed body part on the worst days.

Rain gear – In spring we used our umbrellas, while in autumn the rain was light and we weren’t getting wet enough to bother. However, it doesn’t hurt to have your preferred wet weather gear on hand.

Tissues – It is inevitable when you are constantly moving to and from, from warm buildings to the cold outdoors, that you will get the sniffles. Keep a good supply of tissues accessible in your coat pockets and day bag.

What to Pack for New York City in Winter - December, January, February

New York City winter packing list

What to pack December through February. Similar to late autumn, early spring list but with the following variations:

Heavier layers – Four long sleeve tops that can be layered in combination or worn on their own preferably in cashmere, wool or another warm alternative. I generally wore my full-length thermal underwear with a cashmere sweater.

Coat – One heavy coat that will provide maximum warmth and preferably be waterproof too. Ideally it will be long enough to reach your knees, and has a hood or high collar. Again, wear or carry your coat separately on the plane to save space in your bag.

Gloves – One pair of warm gloves.

Hat – A hat made of wool or other warm material, in a style that covers your ears. I chose a beret for a dressier look that I felt comfortable wearing indoors and out. My husband wore nothing and complained of cold ears {insert wifely eye roll here}.

Scarf – One or two wool or cashmere scarves.

Shoes – Waterproof boots suitable for snow – i.e. tall boots with thick soles and good tread/grip. Having grown up in the sub-tropics of Australia, I had no idea how much difference the right shoe could make before I experienced my first Midwest winter. My snow boots are my saviour, especially because I have poor circulation and my extremities suffer in the cold.

What to pack for New York City in summer, late spring and early autumn - May, June, July, August, September

New York City summer (late spring or early autumn) packing list

Jeans or long pants – One pair in a dark colour to wear during those chilly days or evenings.

Light bottoms – Two pairs of shorts/skirts or three-quarter length pants in natural fabrics to minimize the sweat factor. I wore these Amour Vert three quarter cotton twill pants and these Grana silk ankle-length pants.

Light tops – Four tops in natural fabrics, that can be mixed and matched with your chosen bottoms.

Dresses – Ladies may like to also pack a couple of light summer dresses.

Light sweater – One light sweater for cooler days/evenings.

Light scarf – One light scarf that you can wrap around your shoulders when the air-conditioning is set to freezing.

Hat – Be sun smart and take a wide-brimmed hat for outdoor pursuits like picnic’s in Central Park and riding the Staten Island Ferry.

Shoes – Two pairs of flat shoes. One that is solid and supportive for getting around on foot and another that is more suitable for evenings. I wore simple, canvas-style sneakers during the day and my smoking slippers at night. You may choose heels, but I gave up travelling with them a long time ago as they were always left unworn in my suitcase. My husband again wore his “all-purpose” black Saloman walking shoes.

Jewellery – Take a few key costume jewellery pieces to dress up your outfits, and that don’t matter if they are lost or broken.

Sunscreen – For face, body and lips. Despite the skyscrapers, you will get some sun drinking in rooftop bars or riding atop the hop-on, hop-off bus.

NYC or anywhere

Of course, these packing lists aren’t necessarily NYC specific, they will also do for Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and other urban environments in the Mid-Atlantic and North East U.S.A that have a similar climate.

If you are heading to NYC for the first time, make sure you check out these lessons I learnt the hard way. Alternatively, see these things to do on your second (or third, or fourth….) visit to New York City.

Peace, love & inspiring travel,

Madam ZoZo

What to pack for New York City in any season - Winter, Spring, Summer or Autumn

About author

Madam ZoZo

Hi! I'm Madam ZoZo, aka Zoë, an Australian designer, creative consultant, blogger and digital nomad. I'm passionate about travel, design, dance and new experiences that fuel my creativity. I strive to travel in a style that is gentle on the earth and that contributes to the communities I visits, even if it is merely to take away a greater understanding of a different culture. Duende by Madam ZoZo, is where I share the stories of my travels and the duende (soul/inspiration) I find along the way.

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