Travel in style with these national parks packing essentials

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Finding fine form, even in the wilderness

We don’t often associate packing for a national park with polish. The minute we think of the outdoors, visions of polar fleece and leggings under shorts dance in our heads. 

Growing up at the base of a mountain only 10 minutes from the city of Vancouver, Canada, I learned quickly that style and a trip into “the sticks” can commingle. Because in my neck of the woods, the art of activity (and what to wear) is almost a religion with outfitters such as lululemon, RYU, Native Shoes, and Herschel Supply Co. designed on home soil.

With this play hard (and look good doing it) mantra, when I set off on a four-day jaunt into Zion National Park, I packed a sleek set of getups for the great outdoors, and somehow fit it all in a carry-on—including my hiking shoes!

Without further adieu, here are my fashion-meets-function fundamentals for your spring, summer, or fall trip into the woodsy wild.

Hat

A hat (read: ball cap) always comes in handy when exploring. If it rains the brim keeps the mist off your face, and if it’s sunny your peepers stay protected. Plus, there’s also the warmth- and sweat-catching factors associated with something covering your head.

Depending on the season, bring two hats: One ball cap, and one woven beanie (big enough to shield your ears from the cold).

Up the fashion factor: Avoid hats with logos. When you’re in a national park, you want photos of you and the outdoors, not you, the outdoors, and the Yankees.

Tops

The old adage of layer, layer, and layer some more still rings true with tops and tackling the outdoors. After all, you can always subtract a shirt, but when you’re freezing at the edge of a cliff, you can’t add one.

Case in point: One cool morning in Zion, I’m pretty sure I wore six layers over my core, and by the end of the day when the sun was shining and my heart was racing, I peeled off everything but my tank top.

As for layering, start with a technical tank or moisture-wicking top at your core. From here, add warmth with wool, polyester, or other sport-designed threads. And, don’t forget about the wonders of a hood—astute at keeping your head dry and your neck warm.

Up the fashion factor: Technical wear has come a long way in the past 10 years, so head to your nearest lululemon or major outdoor shop to find the right fabrics, fit, and form for your adventure.

packing for a trip to a US national park

Outerwear

When I write style articles about cosmopolitan or tropical travel, I always sing the praises of outerwear—it’s essential for setting your style’s tone. The same rule rings true for wilderness explorations. Beyond keeping you warm and dry, the right jacket or vest should pull your look together.

For example, whether I’m trekking to Machu Picchu or hiking up Angels Landing in Zion National Park, I typically bring two coats (again, go with layers)—something waterproof and something fitted with a touch of warmth. If you only have space for one jacket, many puffer coats are now made with water-resistant fabrics, and come in a variety of weights.

Up the fashion factor: If you’re going to splurge on one thing other than shoes, it’s outerwear. To make the purchase worth your while, select a coat(s) that can be worn in multiple environments—rural, urban, cold, and warm.

Viewfinder Tip: For the greatest packing efficiency, check and re-check the weather before doing a final edit of your national park essentials.

Pants

When in the wild, I generally recommend pants for guys or leggings for ladies. Shorts are great, but don’t guard against bramble, ticks, or anything else hanging out in the elements.

Any time my husband and I trek to coordinates such as Kenya’s Maasai Mara or one of Utah’s five national parks, my husband favors his khaki pants with a few strategic pockets to store his GoPro or protein bar in a pinch. Moi? I’m a fan of leggings since they adapt to numerous temperatures and pack light.

Up the fashion factor: Forget the traditional baggy cargo pant à la 1990s. Today’s version is slim-fitting and functional.
 how to pack for a US national park trip

Shoes

As for shoes, go with a comfortable pair that jive with the environment and terrain you’re about to take on. For this, chat with an expert at your local adventure outfitting store like REI who will be able to match your soles with the soil you step into.

And, always break your shoes in on a few excursions before you set out on a long journey.

Up the fashion factor: Hiking boots have made an everyday fashion comeback, so consider brands like Danner or POLER x NIKE. Otherwise, hybrid running/hiking shoes are a good bet and pack small.

What clothes do you swear by when adventuring in the wild?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

This author has either a relationship with, or received other compensation (which may include monetary or in-kind compensation) from, the product or service providers that are the subject of this post.

Trip Styler

Trish Friesen chose an unlikely profession given her fear of flying and propensity toward car, air, boat, train, and chairlift sickness. Thanks to Gravol, Sea-Bands, and cruise ship stabilizers, the reluctant—yet enthusiastic—jetsetter packs her bag once every two weeks to swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or to sample the latest libation in Portland. Trish unpacks her suitcase in Vancouver, Canada, Eh! where she’s the editor-in-chief of TripStyler.com, a travel lifestyle website for aspiring jetsetters. Find her moonlighting on Expedia, Fodor's, Jetsetter, and as a travel expert on TV while circumventing the globe with her entourage: a MacBook Air, an Olympus camera, and the biggest carry-on she can fit on the plane.

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