Having travelled all around New Zealand (and the world) with a 40L pack and day bag each, we’ve learnt exactly what’s essential and what’s better left at home. This no-fuss guide will help you to pack for your travels in New Zealand too – whether you want to travel light or heavy.
Pack for New Zealand Year-Round
Packing light for different seasons in Aotearoa is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. There is some gear you’ll need regardless of the season though. We just suggest you amend this list slightly depending on your own requirements.
If you’re only travelling over the course of summer, for example, you’ll probably have a little more room in your bag. Try to resist the temptation to ft extras in just because you have the room though as it will make your travels much easier. Changes are, you really don’t need as much as you think you do.
The truth is, in my day-to-day life, I’m a bit of a hoarder. Get me out on the road though, and I’ll gladly preach the benefits of packing and travelling light.
With less gear to cart around, you’ll have much more freedom in your travels (and you’ll save on pesky baggage fees if your gear falls within carry-on limits).
Whilst travelling in New Zealand, we’d recommend travelling light – it just makes life easier.
If there’s anything you forget at home, or that you desperately need on the road, we’re equipped with lots of wonderful shops. Second-hand stores can also be a great place to pick up items that you need at affordable prices.
Pro Tip: If travelling light doesn’t interest you, this packing list can easily be adapted – just throw a few more of each item in and won’t worry about leaving your bulkier items at home.
Consider the Season
If you’re travelling outside of the summer season we suggest you include at least some items from the ‘winter’ packing list we’ve included in this article.
The weather here can be very changeable so it’s always a good idea to have a jumper or raincoat handy.
Choose Easy-Wear Clothes That You Can Layer
If you’re aiming to keep your bag light, packing multi-purpose, easy-wear clothing is essential.
Choose clothing that doesn’t easily crease (and definitely doesn’t need ironing). Ensure that all of your colours and items worth together, creating a capsule wardrobe. If there’s one item of clothing that will only work with one other, leave it at home – you want to be able to mix and match all of your gear.
By packing clothes that can be worn in layers, it’s easy to add another layer or remove one as the weather changes. This is the perfect way to dress in New Zealand, particularly during spring, autumn and winter.
Your New Zealand Packing List
Essentials: Clothing and Shoes
We use this list for our core pack. We’ll then add in items from the ‘summer’ and/or ‘winter’ list depending on the weather we’re expecting.
Keep in mind that New Zealand is known for its changeable weather, so it’s best to have a range of items regardless of the season. For example, even in the summertime, I would have a pair of jeans and a hoodie/jersey to hand for evenings and rainy days.
- 2 pairs of socks.
- 1 zip-up hoodie.
- A pair of jeans.
- 4-6 pairs of underwear (+ 1 bra and 1 sports bra for women)
- (For women), a pair of exercise tights.
- A pair of light-weight running shoes. I love Nike Freeruns as they squash down small when not being worn.
- A pair of jandals/flip-flops. Particularly if you’re staying in hostels, to wear in the shower.
- A cotton neck buff. These beauties take up no space in your packs but help keep you warm in winter and the sun off your neck in the summer.
- A lightweight towel. Some prefer sports towels but they’ve only ever shifted water around on us! We prefer Turkish cotton towels.
- Mini bottles of shampoo/conditioner/body wash and any other shower products you use (eg. moisturiser, cleanser). I love hair oil as it’s a lifesaver if I’m in and out of the ocean.
- (For women), hair ties, tampons etc.
- A bar of clothes-washing soap for handwashing in the shower/sink.
- Ziplock bags to keep everything dry and organised.
- First-aid gear. Painkillers, plasters, sleeping pills, cotton buds etc.
- Insect repellant.
Essentials: Electronics and Entertainment
- A smartphone. You can set your phone to road, or pick up a local sim card. Even if you just use your phone for the apps though (currency conversion, translation, maps and more) it’s a great help.
- Your Netflix subscription. With the ability to download series and movies onto your phone/iPad, it’s a subscription that really does pay for itself on long bus/plane rides.
- Travel power adaptors. Find out about the power plugs we use in New Zealand.
- An amazing pack to put everything in! We love our Osprey Farpoint 40L packs – they’re hands-down the best bags out there if you ask us. Some may even prefer a slightly larger carry-on bag like the Osprey Porter 46L – we wouldn’t suggest going any larger though, unless you’re really giving up on the pack-light mentality. We love the hand’s free nature of a pack, but wheeled suitcases work well too.
- Packing cubes. These are invaluable if you’re planning to be in New Zealand for a longer period or for multi-season travel. #1, they allow you to fit more into your pack by compacting your gear down and #2, you can pack anything you don’t need for a while into specific cubes and hide them down the bottom of your pack.
- A day bag so you’re not left carting everything around on day trips. Again we love Osprey for this; we have a Tempest 20 and a Talon 22.
Essentials: Travel Gear
- Your passport and an understanding of visa requirements.
- A small wallet.
- Two different credit cards or travel cards. Most shops in New Zealand will happily accept cards, but we also suggest you get some cash out of the ATM when you arrive.
- An eReader or old-fashioned book.
- Better quality camera gear. Your average traveller might be happy with a cell phone camera but unsurprisingly, we wanted more. We took our Fuji X-T20 (which we adore) and also our DJI Mavic drone (which we sent home about three months in).
- A laptop. For us, these were essential (as we were working and blogging on the road) but probably wouldn’t be for many.
- Cutlery and a drink bottle.
- If you’re planning on lots of hiking, hiking poles.
- Hiking boots.
Summer really is the best season to test out your carry-on only skills. With warm weather, light clothing and the ability to get things dried quickly, challenge yourself to leave excess clothing behind. As long as you can wash your clothes in the shower or basin as you go, you really won’t need as much as you’d think.
- 2-3 t-shirts. We prefer the quick-dry sports tops as they tend to stay looking nice for longer, are easy to wash, quick to dry and take up very little space.
- 1 pair of cotton shorts.
- 1 pair of quick-dry nylon shorts. Great for aquatic activities and to wear on washing days.
- Swimming togs.
- A cap or hat.
- A long-sleeve rash top. Ones that zip open at the front are ideal, as they offer more flexibility in different temperatures.
- Keens or water shoes/sandals. These are great for rafting, canyoning and general water adventures.
Winter Packing for New Zealand
With cold weather comes a few more pack-light challenges. There’s no doubt, winter gear takes up more room and quality items are often expensive to replace (so you probably won’t want to buy them as you go).
With a few quality pieces though, it is possible to keep your weight down and your winter clothing to a minimum. Layers are key so don’t be afraid to put your summer gear to use to help keep yourself warm.
- 1-2 merino/thermal long-sleeve tops.
- 1-2 pairs of merino/thermal long-johns.
- 1 pair of track pants or hiking pants.
- A packable jacket that is both waterproof and warm. We love the Kathmandu XT driFILL down jacket.
- A snuggly beanie.
- 2 pairs of merino hiking socks.
- Gloves. If you feel the cold, light-weight gloves can be a great addition to your pack.
- A thick scarf. If you’ve got room, a square one will double as an extra blanket in a squeeze.
How Easy is it to Travel Light?
All in all, you’ll probably be surprised by how easy it is it pack a capsule wardrobe and cut down on the amount you pack.
It’s really important that packing light works for you, not against.
If you fall in love with something, don’t be afraid to buy it. If it doesn’t fit into our pack, it’s easy enough to pick up a cheap duffle bag.
Is that ideal? No.
Would we do it anyway? Absolutely!
As we look around our home, we have all sorts of awesome reminders of our travels that just wouldn’t have been possible had we held firm to our ‘pack light’ ideals.
After all, travel’s meant to be a pleasure, not a chore.