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What to Pack for China: Ultimate Packing List by Season & Region

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You, my friend, are lucky. Why? Not only because you’re clearly planning for a grand adventure in China (one of the world’s most interesting and rapidly developing countries), but also because you’re on the right side of sweat-wicking technology’s prevalence in our everyday lives.

Seriously.

The seasons are drastic across China, and a wise traveler knows to be prepared for any curve ball (or snowfall) mother nature throws their way. It doesn’t take a modern-day Confucius to figure out what to pack for China. Here’s everything you need to know to start the adventure from the moment you begin to pack your bags.

The Regions of China

China is anything but small. Shaped like a rooster, China’s beak to its tail feathers traverse over 13,000 miles of varied terrain and climates. Generally speaking, the north experiences four extreme seasons — cold and dry in the winter, hot and humid in the summer, with a nice reprieve for springtime and autumn. China’s south, with a subtropical climate, experiences mild winters and muggy summers. Inland or western China, such as Tibet and the Xinjiang plateau, experience much lower temperatures year round (due in large part to its dramatic mountain landscape and elevation).

From tropical to alpine, if your plan is to set foot in multiple regions of China, it is important that you pack for a variety of extremely diverse climates. We’d hate for you to show up at the Harbin ice festival with only one pair of flimsy flip flops after your cruise down the Yangtze River.

This packing list has you covered through every season and region of China. Feel free to click through to the section that applies to your trip, specifically.

Table of Contents

Basic China Packing List

No matter your preferred dumpling flavor, season of travel, or Chinese destination, your suitcase, carry on, or backpack should be filled with these essentials.

The Essentials

  • Passport copies
  • Other form of ID, such as a driver’s license
  • Guidebook
  • ATM/credit cards
  • Emergency cash
  • Travel insurance
  • Plug adaptor ( ← can buy in China but recommended prior)
  • Pen (so you’ll be extra prepared to fill out customs forms on the plane!)
  • Inflatable neck pillow + ear plugs (Optional)
  • A durable pair of chopsticks (Optional)

Be sure to read our tip on electronics below to ensure you can scale the “Great Firewall” of China — aka the difficulties in accessing some of your favorite websites.

Electronics

  • Plug adaptor
  • Convertor (for hair appliances)
  • Alarm clock — your cell phone, a watch, or an actual bedside clock will do
  • Headphones
  • All necessary chargers
  • A digital camera that can take good photos at night (Optional)
  • Portable recharger (Optional)
  • An iPhone loaded with an offline Translator App, currency converter, phrasebook, copies of passport and travel docs, insurance card, contact info for friends, etc.
  • An iPad loaded with books, magazines, games, movies, etc.

Clothing

A note on clothing before we dive into the list: Pack sweat-wicking materials whenever possible and remember that quick dry fabrics are your friends. You’ll find washers, but rarely driers in China and, depending on the climate, getting things dry can be a challenge.

  • Pants – 3 pairs of comfortable bottoms, one dressier
  • Shorts – 1-2 pairs
  • Short sleeve shirts – 3-5
  • Long sleeve Shirt – 1-2 casual or dress shirts
  • One “nice” outfit
  • Fleece jacket or hoodie
  • Underwear – 3-4 pairs, ideally travel underwear
  • Socks – 4-6 pairs
  • Jackets – 2 jackets, one fleece and one wind breaker/rain jacket
  • Sun-blocking hat (Optional)
  • Swimming gear (Optional)

Shoes

At a bare minimum, one pair of good walking shoes is a must. If these can do double duty, great. If not, then consider the following options depending on when and where you are visiting China.

  • An adventure sandal, such as Chacos or Keens
  • A comfortable, casual shoe
  • Flip flops for showers
  • Waterproof winter boots

Backpack

A backpack is the perfect type of luggage for travel in China as it allows for maximum flexibility across a wide range of modes of travel and terrain. The Outbreaker travel backpack, in either 45 or 35L capacity is travel tested in China and is made there too!

Toiletries

Try to keep the toiletries you pack to a minimum and go with dry options (which are more TSA friendly) as often as possible. Remember that you an get almost everything you need in China, unless you are brand specific or have special needs for your hair or skin type.

  • Shampoo and conditioner (the ones found in China are often specifically formulated for dark hair)
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  • Razor
  • Deodorant ( ← hard to find in China)
  • Emergency kleenex/tissue
  • Medication (i.e. ibuprofen, pepto, imodium, sleeping pills, jet lag pills, prescriptions, etc.)
  • Soap

China Packing List: Wintertime Considerations

If you are researching a winter travel to China packing list, you’ve popped by the right place. Between blazing Lunar New Year fireworks, freshly roasted chestnuts, and steaming bowls of hot pot, your snowy travels are still bound to be hot, hot, hot!

Northern China

The north might be colder than what you’re used to, but it does have one great thing going for it: Central heating. Since you probably won’t spend all of your time in your adorable tea-house hostel (visiting the Great Wall during a snowfall, anyone?), here are some extra items to stow away in your backpack.

Adjust the basic packing list like this for winter:

  • A double layer jacket: The inner fleece+outer water resistant jacket combo is hard to beat
  • A reusable water bottle that can hold heat: The Chinese loooove hot water and you will too; throw in some green tea leaves to really sip like the locals
  • Omit all shorts
  • Reduce short sleeve shirts to two for layering
  • Add a pair of long underwear pants and tops
  • Add two sweaters
  • Add two long sleeve shirts
  • Make sure socks are wool blend
  • Omit sandals and add boots
  • Omit wind breaker or rain jacket in favor of a winter jacket
  • Add winter hat, gloves, and scarf

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same. The key to packing for cold weather is layers.

Southern China

Lucky for you, winters in southern China retain mild temperatures. Snow is quite rare, but temperatures can still dip in the mornings and evenings. To that end, we recommend you pair your panda snuggles with the following edits to your packing list:

  • Add one sweater
  • Add an extra long sleeve shirt
  • Remove sandals
  • Pack a light hat, scarf, and gloves
  • Bring one pair of wool socks

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

Western China

Winters in Xinjiang and Tibet are long, with average temperatures hovering between 0-10°F. But don’t worry, butter tea and the stunning mountain vistas more than make up for the shivers.

Make the following adjustments to your packing list for winter in Western China:

  • Remove all summer gear: No shorts, sandals, or tank tops
  • Add one or two sweat-wicking or wool long sleeve shirts and pants (long underwear or otherwise)
  • Add some serious snow boots with good grip: The kind you get at REI or an equivalent store
  • Bring more sunscreen and sunglasses with legit UV protection
  • Add a warm jacket, ideally down instead of a synthetic blend; hoods recommended
  • Add two sweaters
  • Add waterproof pants: This extra layer can prove helpful if you’re hiking in deep snow
  • Add winter hat, gloves, and scarf

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

China Packing List: Springtime Considerations

While it might seem that umbrella-salespeople magically appear out of thin air at the initial downpour, you can’t always count on ‘em. Instead, bookmark this page of spring packing tips for China and make your trip prep easy as yi, er, san.

Northern China

Curious for what to pack for China in April? Don’t worry, you won’t need to remember a broom for Tomb Sweeping Day.

Make the following adjustments to the basic China packing list for spring in the north:

  • Add one pair of long underwear
  • Add a fleece: The perfect outer layer whether you’re exploring the hutongs or riding the night train to Xi’an
  • Add a face mask: Many cities across northern China experience dust storms from the spring winds sweeping across the Gobi Desert
  • Add a light hat, scarf, and gloves

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

Southern China

You must be eating your oranges and chestnuts because the original suggested China packing list above will suffice for your springtime trip to Southern China. 好极了(Hǎo jíle)!

Western China

Spring in western China is very dry, but subject to strong winds. Since your altitude doesn’t shift with the seasons, the presence of strong UV rays remain an important consideration.

Make these changes to the basic packing list for western China:

  • Add UV protective sunglasses
  • Add a thin jacket or sweater
  • Add a face mask: Though west of the Gobi, this desert area is still subject to sweeping wind storms as the temperatures rise
  • Add a light hat, scarf, and gloves
  • Remove sandals

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

Summertime Considerations

If you love green bean ice cream as much as I do, you’re going to love this packing list for China in summer!

Northern China

Summers in China are hot, sticky, and humid. You might get out of the shower and feel like you never really dry off for the rest of the day. Even still, there are many wonderful sights to experience and enjoy with those extended daylight hours.

Adjust your basic packing list as follows for the north in summer:

  • Add a small, portable umbrella: Keep this on your person at all times, as it could rain cats and (pekingese) dogs suddenly and without warning
  • Omit one pair of pants and add two shorts
  • Add baby powder: The potential to chafe with the heat and damp is no joke and no one likes sore thighs or underarms
  • Omit one long sleeve shirt and add two short sleeve, sweat-wicking shirts

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

Southern China

Men, prepare to don your best Beijing Bikini. During summer, southern China is inundated by monsoon rains sweeping in from both the Indian and Pacific oceans. It’s hot. It’s wet. It’s humid. As such, make sure your packing list for China in summer includes:

  • A heavy-duty umbrella
  • Add baby powder
  • Adventure sandals: Or trade them in for other waterproof shoes
  • A quick-dry towel: You’ll appreciate it when (the inevitable) time comes to wipe the sweat off your brow
  • Omit one pair of pants and add two shorts
  • Add two short sleeve shirts
  • Remove all but one preferred long sleeve option

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

Western China

The land of extremes never rests. Thanks to its steppe, semi-arid climate (and its proximity to Central Asia), the lowlands of western China get HOT in the summer — we’re talking 100°F+ temps. However, this is the most popular time to visit, and if you take respite in the higher mountain passes, you can still have an overall pleasant experience in Urumqi, Kashgar, Lhasa, and beyond.

Adjust your basic packing list to include the following:

  • Those shades: UV-protective only
  • Add baby powder: Especially if you like to wear skirts
  • Add one pair of shorts
  • Add one-two short sleeve shirts
  • Remove one-two long sleeve shirt options

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

China Packing List: Autumn Considerations

Hooray! We’ve crossed the dragon boat race finish line, spotted tigers in Liaoning, and eaten cotton candy while strolling along West Lake. Time to prepare for the Moon Festival and my favorite time of the year to visit China. Here’s what to pack for China in September and beyond:

Northern China

Autumn is brief in the north but pairs exceptionally well with late-night lamb 串儿 (chuanr). As the leaves shift and swirl, here are the necessary adjustments to the basic packing list:

  • A thermal jacket: It’s best to just bypass the summer → winter transition with a warmer jacket to prep you for colder temps
  • Light hat, gloves, and scarf
  • Add one-two pairs of wool socks
  • Add a fleece
  • Pants a size larger; just in case you fall in love with/eat too many Autumn Festival mooncakes like I tend to do

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

Southern China

In case you’re heading to southern China in late fall, here are our ideas for what to pack for China in October. Be sure to squeeze everything on the above suggested China packing list into your backpack, but make the following adjustments:

  • A warm jacket: Thermal isn’t necessary, but it’s better to beat the cold when you can
  • A pair of wool socks
  • Omit the adventure sandals

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

Western China

As fast as that thermometer zipped to three digits in the summer, Western China just as quickly plummets in the autumn. Here’s what to add to our China packing list for fall in Xinjiang and Tibet:

  • Add UV protective sunglasses
  • Add a thick jacket or sweater
  • Add a winter hat, scarf, and gloves
  • Remove sandals and all warm weather gear

All other clothes and shoes should stay the same.

General Tips: What to Pack for China

Whether you seek the jagged crags of Tiger Leaping Gorge, the depths of Heavenly Lake, a serene boat ride in elegant Suzhou, or the energy of Shanghai’s most exclusive nightclubs, keep these tips handy as you craft your China packing list.

Tip #1: Cover Up

To be fair, the Chinese locals do not stake a claim to modesty for their reasoning behind showing so little skin. In Chinese culture, lighter skin is considered more beautiful, so many Chinese men and women are conscious of their exposure to the sun. Sometimes this means long pants on hot days, and sometimes it simply means walking around with an umbrella (even when there’s no rain). To fit in more seamlessly with the locals, opt out of tanning.

Major metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Hong Kong are very fashionable and westernized when it comes to dress. However, you should still plan to leave your short-shorts and revealing tops back home. Keep this tip in mind even moreso if you are traveling to inner-China or the countryside.

Tip #2: Dryers Are Rare

While washing machines can easily be found, the same cannot be said for driers. Instead of waiting around for those final drips to dry, preempt the battle by investing in clothing made of sweat wicking and quick dry materials (like nylon and polyester instead of cotton).

Tip #3: Hit the (Digital) Ground Running

The Great Firewall of China is no joke; wise-travelers know to download a VPN prior to entering the country. You can find different versions of apps and proxy maskers, both paid and free, with a quick Google search. Downloading these outside of China is easier than from within, so be sure to tack this on your pre-departure packing list.

Another checklist item prior to arrival might be to download Weixin, or WeChat. The de facto text-message-turned-life-assistant-app-that-you-didn’t-know-you-could-live without-and-now-you-can’t, WeChat is the easiest way to make (and keep) new pengyou (friends) once you’re traveling in China.

If you’re not fluent in Mandarin, fill your smart phone device with translation apps, as well as offline maps or city guides. These can (SERIOUSLY) help in a pinch and make downtime on your short train ride from Shanghai to idyllic Suzhou both productive and entertaining.

Tip #4: Don’t Expect Central Heat

Central heating does not exist outside of Northern China. While temperatures Shanghai and further south might be more mild compared to the North, China’s southern region does not benefit from housing that is equipped with central heating. Be sure to pack warm pajamas or, instead, make like the locals and snuggle at night with a hot water bottle. If you’re traveling outside of summer, special considerations must be made to pack and prepare for the inevitable chill.

Wait to Buy in China

The perks of a hearty workforce mean cheap consumer goods for the budget-conscious traveler. Here are some items you can wait to buy until you enter China.

  • Toilet paper: You’ll want to keep a healthy supply of toilet paper with you at all times, as most toilets are not regularly serviced or equipped
  • A SIM card: If your phone is unlocked, you can easily purchase a “pay-as-you-go” SIM card from newspaper stands, convenience stores, or the airport; the word for this is easy: SIM卡 (SIM kǎ).
  • Your train tickets: Train tickets are typically only released 10 days prior to travel; instead of paying exorbitant upfront fees to secure your spot, ask your hostel or hotel to help coordinate purchases after you’ve arrived
  • A hot water bottle: The Chinese were carrying water bottles before it was cool; you can find an array of inexpensive options quickly and easily in China

Items such as suitcases, backpacks, shoes, scarves, hats, and more are also easily acquired. However, keep in mind that these aren’t always reliable in quality, and that size availability in China can be tough for a big-boned westerner. I’ll never forget when the sales person at the market shouted across the way: “Friend, do you have the LARGEST SIZE POSSIBLE in shoes?!”

Mind you, I’m a size eight in the USA. Not that large, people! But even my small American friends eat a slice of humble pie when purchasing tops in China, as they are usually a size L or XL.

What to Buy Before Traveling to China

Well, for one, your visa is a necessary pre-departure purchase. If possible, get a multiple entry visa for the max allotted days (typically 90 for U.S. citizens). Budget for this as it can run you more than $100USD.

As mentioned previously — but to stress the point so that you can make all of your friends jealous of your epic adventures — buy your VPN prior to travel. The Great Firewall can be notoriously difficult to scale, so do yourself a favor and coordinate it prior to your arrival.

If you have a weak stomach, I recommend purchasing some emergency supplies of digestive medication to add to your first aid kit before crossing the Pacific. This can range from homeopathic solutions like Arsenicum to good ol’ Imodium. Consider also packing oils/tablets such as DigestZen for those less-than-serious-but-still-uncomfortable stomach knots.

Buy any fancy-materials or name brand items in advance. If you love having high-quality gear, I recommend purchasing it back home instead of relying on scarce availability in China. Not only can it be hard to come by outside of the major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but it’s also generally more expensive.

While you could make your way to an electronics market first thing, we reckon this detour will be a bummer when all you really want is to eat some pipin’ hot 小笼包 (xiaolongbao). Instead, buy your converter and adaptors ahead of time. You’ll be rocking 100% charge in no time.

Any Special Tips for the Ladies?

Women travelers can find the majority of their feminine hygiene products in China; however, be warned that they may look a little different than you’re used to. For instance, pads tend to be thicker and lack wings. If you should need to re-stock while there, here’s a handy list of Chinese terms for female products:

  • 卫生护垫 Wèishēng hù diàn — pads
  • 棉球 Mián qiú — tampon
  • 灌洗 Guàn xǐ — douche
  • 事后避孕药 Shì hòu bì yùn yào — morning after pill
  • 避孕套 Bìyùn tào — condoms
  • 节制生育 Jíe zhì shēng yù — a general term for birth control
  • 巧克力 Qiǎokèlì — chocolate

If you feel uncomfortable leaving your supply of these items up to chance, we recommend making an action plan with your doctor to meet your needs. Further, you might consider purchasing a Diva Cup in advance of your travels to forego the need (and the accompanying waste!) from using tampons and pads.

We also want to reiterate our previous point about modesty in dress while traveling in China. Observe the local styles to find what kinds of outfits meet that sweet spot of comfort, fashion, and respect.

TL;DR

Remember, if all else fails and you need more space to pack those souvenirs home, you can find inexpensive luggage in China!

Despite its worldly charms, China remains intimate and cultural, as it still retains a fascinating mix of East and West. Many cities in China have grown from modest port villages to some of the world’s largest banking and financial centers. Other areas maintain their old world charm and historic elegance. China is vibrant, manic, opulent at times — proud, humble, and ambitious. Visiting the Middle Kingdom is a great first step in familiarizing yourself with Chinese culture as a humble traveler.

Adjust our basic China packing list by season and you’ll be good to go.

Whether by taking in a scenic view of the historic riverside Bund or exploring the imperial gardens, China will not be soon forgotten. Tell us what we missed in our roundup on what to pack for China below!

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