Nothing, not even living through the experience, will reconcile my mind to a summer capsule wardrobe for a February trip. That’s the reality of visiting the antipodes, however, and it was quite a treat to leave the wretched winter weather of New England for a respite in New Zealand, however brief.
Even 10 days is brief when you’ve flown 9,300 miles to get there!
I planned a wardrobe for this trip,* and then, after some reflection, cut it back further to roughly what’s shown in the first image. As I traveled with it, I realized that it was, in fact, a tiny bit larger than it needed to be. I wore all but one miniscule garment that I carried, though, and we weren’t burdened with an unmanageable amount of stuff.
Most important of all, I had what I needed to be comfortably dressed throughout the ten day trip. I’m a traveler with joint pain and an autoimmune condition who remains bound and determined to make it to more corners of the globe. Smart packing isn’t a hobby for me, it’s a necessity.
The week before we arrived, our primary destination, Christchurch, baked in 90º+ F temperatures, but we had a cooler trend and the remnants of a cyclone to deal with. What I packed would have worked for either week’s weather, so it was a solid wardrobe plan.
Whether or not you choose to carry enough to cover last week’s weather as well as the forecast temperatures is a personal choice. I’m more comfortable being over- than underprepared, especially when setting a modest pace with no special events that demand tight connections or a particularly quick turnaround between destinations.
Luggage: the things we carried
Checked bag: wheeling the wardrobe
Flying to the other side of the world, I opted to check a bag. We could have traveled without everything in it. If it had been lost, we would enjoyed our trip almost as well. This is a large rolling duffel bag that is basically one open compartment. Everything inside was organized into smaller accessory bags to make deployment, repacking, and finding what was inside easier.
So what was inside this extra or even “extraneous” bag? DH’s long, skinny camera tripod actually dictated the selection of this particular suitcase for this trip. None of our other big bags were long enough.
Aside from more clothing for both DH and myself, it held specialized insect repellent garments for each of us (sand flies!), swim wear, and lots of comfort items. These included my hot water bottle, a pair of mesh laundry bags for separating lights and darks to speed up laundry day, and a Ziploc full of hand washing laundry accessories** that could be safely checked.
We also brought a second voltage transformer and a power strip so we wouldn’t have to share, USB car charger 12V plug, and additional toiletries like sunscreen, bug spray, and extra travel sized packets of my skin care—lots of little things that could make driving in and exploring distant areas easier; things that would let us avoid picking up overpriced or hard to find replacements in tourist areas.
DH’s extra clothes and assorted odds and ends flew to New Zealand inside the Aviator bag. For the return, this would be designated as our “souvenir suitcase,” just in case we needed extra room. There would be plenty of room for all of our garments as dirty laundry in the original checked duffel with the mesh laundry bags serving as sufficient “organization.”
I don’t usually come home with enough souvenirs to warrant additional luggage, but I wanted to buy myself the option to splurge on possum merino knitwear or manuka honey if I felt the urge. Who knows if I’ll ever make it to Oceania again? The Red Oxx Aviator Kit Bag is a perfect “just in case” bag if you think you might want to check your extra baggage.
Instead of trinkets, I actually loaded up on Mint Slice (cookies) and Milo (drink powder) for my ex-pat friend who was craving a taste of home. We did manage to fit everything we carried back—save three bottles of wine we checked in a separate box—into our original, fairly lightly packed luggage.
Like all Red Oxx products, the ultra simple Aviator bag is built like a petite tank. I never hesitate to check a Red Oxx bag for fear of damage; loss is the only potential risk. At 8″ x 11″ x 15″, it’s also amazing how much this “Extra Small” bag can hold in its uncluttered rectilinear interior.
My checked bag clothing was all packed in the Rolo bag with items sorted by type. Once we’d arrived, I combined all of my garments into this one bag which made finding what I wanted really easy, and un-/re-packing a non-event as we changed hotels several times during a long weekend.
The Big Bull Roll Up held everything else that a couple might want for 10 days of automobile and train touring. Anything my husband might need from our shared luggage was organized and easily accessed with the bag hanging from a sturdy hook or closet rod. Even DH could find his Insect Shield socks, swimsuit, or a clothespin in the Big Bull Roll Up: he could see what he wanted through the sturdy mesh pockets.
Carry on choice: Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel pack
My carry on of choice for this trip was my Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45. It had room for all of my most vital clothes, plus the accoutrements I need to sleep “comfortably” *ahem* in an airline’s Economy Class seat.
My cheerful orange Shop Bag was generally carried loose as personal item with my everyday purse—a Medium Cafe Bag—and some snacks inside, but all of this could be crammed into the Aeronaut 45 when single bag travel was more convenient.
Basically, only between the arrival car and the check in counter when there was a checked bag to manage! I reach into my purse for lip balm, tissues, etc. all the time, and that’s never really convenient for me with a travel pack on my back.
DH is entirely in charge of his own carry on baggage, so I’ll refrain from any comment about that.
But let’s bring our focus back to the wardrobe. What did I wear in New Zealand?
New Zealand summer capsule wardrobe
Here’s another picture before I describe more specifically what I packed. This first one shows every visible garment that I brought, folded up before being distributed between carry on, checked bag, and clothes I would wear on the plane.
Personal garments (not pictured)
It goes without saying that I also packed undergarments and socks. In my case, that means the standard skivvies as well as one set of silk long underwear for layering, a short rayon nightgown, and a silk caftan I use as a robe. mostly for modesty when other clothing hurts due to my chronic illness.
I carried enough personal garments for five days, assuming I would do laundry once using the motel‘s machines, which I did. The checked bag held version of things I prefer to wear, like cotton undies and wool socks, that would be manageable, but somewhat less optimal, to launder nightly if my wardrobe were more limited.
My joint problems and the legacy of a broken foot dictate my choice of footwear. Most of the time, I wear super comfortable Ahnu Sugarpine sneakers with custom orthotics to address my foot condition. I chose the grey with coral pair (front row, 2nd from right) to coordinate with this capsule wardrobe, and I wore them almost constantly.
My marginally dressier, but less comfortable, grey Propet Travelactiv Mary Janes weren’t even necessary, and I only wore them once or twice, mostly just because I’d schlepped them to New Zealand. Sneakers and the Crocs I use for house shoes/beach/pool would have been sufficient for this very casual trip.
First draft wardrobe: too many pieces
Here was my first draft when planning my New Zealand capsule wardrobe.
I absolutely did not need the second light blue Coolibar sun protective. pullover/sweatshirt I’d originally included. Frankly, I like the coral one better. It’s easier to wear over more types of trousers. The color pleases me more. I would have reached for that one first every time, so leaving the other at home was wise. I did benefit when I swapped it out for the thicker silk/wool/rayon cardigan I’ll describe below, though.
I was also bound to bring another pair of pants with me. I prefer to wear natural fiber clothing when I fly. My reason‡ for this is comfort with a side of crazy, but I invariably stick to it.
Full wardrobe: edited
Broken down into fundamental piece types, here are the tops, bottoms, and accessories I packed for New Zealand.
Add to the options for my lower half one pair of lightweight, pull on NYDJ cotton jeans. Due to their narrow leg (no extra fabric to drag on dirty floors) and thin fabric (easy to layer and comfortable in almost all climates), these are my most often packed, versatile denim pants.
These dry much faster than standard denim after washing, and I have successfully spot cleaned them in a hotel sink when traveling, though I do try to avoid thoroughly hand washing them.
Then again, that’s true of almost all pants, cotton or otherwise. They are simply too bulky for me to ever enjoy cleaning them in a sink. I think I would wear a lot more, and shorter, skirts if forced to hand launder my entire wardrobe!
Heart of the capsule wardrobe: carry on sized, and sufficient
And below is the minimal wardrobe I packed in my carry on bag. This is the most useful subset of all the clothing I packed. If I were a truly light packer, this would be everything I brought, and it fits easily into a standard carry on bag.
It consisted of:
- two tunics,
- three tanks, and
- a skirt
To this, add what I wore on the plane:
- the NYDJ jeans,
- a short sleeved black turtleneck shirt, and
- the coral cardigan sweater.
I carried an additional bra and the three pairs of socks shown, and was wearing another pair of Tilley travel socks. Three out of four of these pairs of socks are of the hand wash/dry readily overnight variety.
I also toted two pair of Ex Officio underpants. (Caution: links to an ad showing a lady wearing nothing but underpants.) I prefer cotton next to the skin, but, again, these are designed for washing and drying in a hotel sink, and, as they say, two pairs can take you around the world.
Wearability: how did the wardrobe work?
Warmth was required, even in summer
In the end, I believe that I wore either the coral sweater or the coral tunic as a layer every single day of my trip. While mostly pleasant, the weather wasn’t hot, and I always needed something for warmth and/or to block the sun.
This particular cardigan sweater by August Silk has taken a lot of trips with me. It’s lightweight and layers easily. The silk and wool (35%/10%, respectively) give it a cozy, slightly fuzzy hand and a good warmth to weight ratio while the 55% rayon keeps it from ever causing itchiness†, even on bare skin when worn with tank tops.
The cardigan’s bracelet length sleeves can even be coaxed into working with the 3/4 length sleeves of my ExOfficio seersucker tunic underneath, though that piece’s one drawback is the slight funkiness of layering a loose, 3/4 length sleeve.
Least useful for New Zealand: fancier accessories
My least useful items followed directly from the same climatic fact. They were the two floral silk layers. These add color or cover body parts I’d prefer to see skimmed over than highlighted, but they don’t do much to warm up a chilly body. I could have left both of these at home without really missing them, though they do pack down to almost nothing being 100% lightweight silk.
Itinerary matters: some items could go either way
If pressed, I could have deleted one pair of bottoms, too. The lower body garments I reached for least often were my Coolibar Summer Capri** leggings. They proved less stylistically flexible than the wide legged pants or the jeans, and less cool than the knee length skirt. I wore them, but noted that I could have made do without them on this trip.
They were great to wear on days we spent doing a lot of driving, so I’ll keep them in mind for future summer road trips since they offer great UPF.. Yes, you are being exposed to skin damaging UV radiation inside a car, through the glass! We just didn’t do all the much driving on our fairly brief New Zealand adventure, and the cooler summer weather made me happier to cover more of my legs.
Normal long pants proved sufficient to avoid bites from the annoying sand flies during casual time spent outdoors. Insect repellent garments (e.g., BuzzOff, Insect Shield or BugsAway) might be useful for hard core hikers tramping through New Zealand, but I could have left mine at home. The Summer Capris and my knee length skirt were a liability when we stopped at the numerous gorgeous natural areas along the alpine highway. The little pests had too much access to my tasty skin, though DH seemed to suffer more from their bites.
Thoughts for planning your wardrobe
There are a few common themes when researching what to wear in New Zealand. My top tips definitely agree:
- Bring rain gear
- Expect to dress casually most of the time
- Layers are your friend
- Remember the sun protection
Rain gear required
Rain gear is pretty self explanatory: bring what you would wear if spending time outdoors in rainy weather at home. My REI Gore-tex jacket is decades old, and I sometimes wished it was of a lighter weight, but it kept me dry from head to hips. Ponchos are cheap and lightweight, but won’t work as well in windy weather.
Umbrellas would have been destroyed by the winds we got, but we did experience an actual cyclone hitting the South Island. Rain boots weren’t necessary for a city trip, and I did fine even though I came with mesh instead of waterproof sneakers. I was glad to have a second, dry pair of shoes when the weather got bad, though.
Layers define flexible wardrobes
As for layering, I’m of the opinion that this is always the best option for traveling. I did wear my silk base layers on multiple occasions, though generally one piece at a time as this was a summer trip. Even more important than packing long underwear specifically was being able to peel off different lightweight pieces as chilly mornings warmed to sunny afternoons, or exposed coastline was replaced by tree-buffered forest.
New Zealand has a changeable climate, moderated by the ever nearby sea. The official weather service even gives advice on “number of layers” to wear alongside the forecast! You’ll want to load the MetService app on your phone before you go, and you’d be wise to check the latest updates more than once a day during your visit, especially if you’re in the mountains, hiking, or boating.
Accessorize as needed, for fashion or function
The floral silk layers that I didn’t really need are more suitable for “dress up” occasions. I could easily have brought only casual clothes on this trip.
We were entertained by DH’s colleagues on multiple occasions, but none required anything remotely formal. I like to wear silk, scarves, and accessories; if I didn’t, I could’ve foregone every accessory that I packed for this trip.
Everything, that is, except for my oversized sun hat (Coolibar Beach Hat, $49.50.) I bought this packable, large brimmed white hat specifically for this trip, and it was a really good choice.
I often avoid white because it is bound to get grungy, but I was even more worried about searing temperatures when I selected this one. Also, I knew it would be easy to wear with any wardrobe, and I chose the hat before planning for the rest of this trip. It is washable, and I plan to keep this one set aside for travel wear only, so perhaps I can keep its color pristine.
Most important of all, there is an internal, adjustable cord on the Beach Hat for a perfect fit. Without it, or a far less attractive chin strap, it would have blown away during many of our days in New Zealand. It wasn’t just the cyclone, either. At the beach, and in Christchurch’s Hagley Park, I was grateful to have a hat with a firm grip on my head.
If you never wear hats, you may not start just because you visit New Zealand, but it’s worth considering for anyone fair skinned. Even an occasional donner of chapeaux should find it easy to accept the good sense of wearing one here, where there is less protective ozone to absorb radiation, and the Earth comes closer to the source (the sun) in summer.
Though I wore my rain coat for some part of almost every day, I usually combined it with my sun hat. Most days offered at least some clear skies and sun, even when showers or the wind made my jacket a good idea when leaving the hotel.
I did borrow DH’s ugly—but waterproof—Frogg Toggs tyvek number for my long rainy walk to the Botanic Gardens at the tail end of Cyclone Gita. Fortunately, I’m unaware of any photographic evidence of the fact.
Costing less then $10 each, these are a perfect choice for those who “don’t wear hats” but feel they ought to have one on hand, just in case. We bought two from Amazon for our 2016 Alaska trip, and now they tend to live in the trunks of our cars. DH doesn’t usually like hats, but he will plop this on to protect against extended hours beneath either sun or rain.
I’d like to point out now that most of my wardrobe for this trip was made by Coolibar, a company that specializes in UPF 50+ sun protective clothing. All of my lower body garments** except the jeans were made by Coolibar; three of the five upper body pieces** that I packed in my carry on bag were, too.
My sensitive skin doesn’t react well to sunscreen creams or lotions. I have yet to find one that doesn’t trigger at least a little redness after the fact, even when I use mineral based products. Covering myself with high UPF clothing is easier for me, and results in a lot less itching.
Don’t count on a cyclone passing through to lower New Zealand’s UV index to a safe level for hours of exposure: pack sun protective clothing or re-apply sunscreen/sun cream religiously to avoid skin damage. You need more product than you think enough to fill a shot glass each and every time, and you must put it on more frequently than you’ll wish to do so every two hours.
I’ve been advised to avoid the sun due to my condition/medications, and I remained quite comfortable and free of sunburn in New Zealand in the summer almost exclusively through the wearing of high UPF clothing. Coolibar and Solumbra by Sun Precautions are two brands that I trust who tend to offer at least a few styles that appeal to me, with many other well known outdoor gear brands like Ex Officio and Columbia Sportswear offering similar products in a sportier vein. Check out Sierra Trading Post for discounted products usually last season’s styles that function equally well at a lower price.
*I snipped photos to create a visual aid of my New Zealand wardrobe, in part because it was a big event for me so I spent more hours than usual on blissful anticipation and planning. The kids would have done this using Polyvore, but too many of my pieces are no longer available for sale so required searching for “similar” items to use the site. Meh. I simply cut and pasted pictures into a document, combining the visuals with my updated version of my usual packing list.
**Only a small bottle of unscented detergent was carried in my 3-1-1 liquids bag. Other useful stuff, like clothespins and an inflatable hanger, make hand washing and air drying easier, but aren’t absolutely required to get clothes clean and dry.
‡It’s paranoia, because my rationale comes from an interview with a plane crash investigator that I saw on television once. Basically, the only thing you can do to improve your odds should you live through a plane crash—all of these events being very long odds!—is to avoid wearing synthetic clothing which might melt into your probable burns and impede healing.
†Even fine merino wool, cashmere, or alpaca makes me itch when worn on the bare skin near my neck and upper arms. I can tolerate those fibers fairly well (in increasing percentages according to the order I listed them) on less sensitive areas such as wrists and ankles. It seems to me that the further from my core I wear woollens, the less itchy they become. Does anyone else have a similar experience?
**Coolibar Summer Capris, $45. These are a mid-weight,Spandex heavy, “supportive” capri that feel more like athletic gear than their more cottony, relaxed Beach Capris, $69.50, which I’ve mentioned in other capsule wardrobe posts.
Coolibar Wide Leg Pant, $79.50. Made of the more traditional, silky polyester sun protection fabric, I find these very versatile to wear, but ultimately less to my liking than the more cottony Zno knits. Reviews tell me that some women love this fabric and find it cooler/more comfy than the thicker Zno knit.
Coolibar knee length Zno knit skirt, bought several years ago. It’s a shame they discontinued this super practical, basic style. It’s my go to black travel skirt for warm weather.
Coolibar Swing Tank Top, $59.50. I bought these in Black and White. They’re easier to travel with than my favorite Duluth Trading Co. cotton knits because they dry overnight after hand washing without wrinkles, and the loose fit makes them suitable to wear with knit pants. The extended hem at the back covers your bum. These are made of the same silky polyester fabric as the Wide Leg Pant.
Coolibar Beach Cover Up Dress, $79.50. Mine is in a discontinued Coral color that I love for spring and summer. Zno fabric is super soft and comfortable, and the easy fit works as a cover up/robe or as a tunic with pants.