New York City Packing List

Shawn Forno

My apartment buzzer jolts me from my desk. It’s loud, and it squawks that my AirBnB guest is downstairs. I let them into the building and wait for them to climb the stairs to my fourth floor walk-up (that’s NY for, “no elevator”).

I buzz people into my building all the time – FedEx guys, pizza delivery, friends, and now AirBnB guests. I’ve got the timing down to a science: 30 seconds for a package. 45 seconds for a pizza. 4 minutes for an AirBnB guest from buzzer to knock. Why the huge jump with out-of-towners? Simple: They pack too much stuff.

I get it. New York is difficult to pack for. How do you create a packing list for a city with 80 degree seasonal swings, world-class opera & gritty music festivals, Michelin stars & $1 hot dogs, parks, museums, rooftops, dive bars, speakeasies, beaches, hikes, bikes, cabs, boats, and horse-drawn carriages? It’s overwhelming.

But that’s exactly why millions of people visit (and live) in New York City. They want to be overwhelmed.

Being overwhelmed, means letting go. Here’s a tip: you will never be prepared for New York City. So stop trying to pack for every possible scenario. It won’t work. Instead, pack for the right season (more on that at the end), and think hard about what you want to do. The good news is that you can pack in only a carry on for NYC any time of year. The Outbreaker is the perfect balance of clean lines, sleek city styling, and smart packing space design. The packing cubes will keep your bag organized. The daypack is absolutely essential for carrying your daily necessities around the city once you get settled. You definitely want a light sleek daypack on the subway! Here are a few essentials and insider tips you’ll need year-round:

Comfortable Shoes

New Yorkers walk. A lot. We walk so much we don’t even think about it until a friend comes to visit and passes out on Broadway.

The sentence, “Oh it’s just a few blocks,” could mean anything from a quick two street block jaunt (“street” blocks are the short East/West ones), to a 30-minute hike across town over eight avenue blocks (“avenues” are the long North/South blocks). If you’re wearing kitten heels that make your calves look amazing, but mash your toes til they bleed, you’re gonna have a rough night. Or pay tons of money for cabs.

A nice pair of boat shoes solves this problem for guys. They’re comfortable enough for a day of sightseeing, but also look great in nearly any setting. If that’s not your style, pack a pair of comfy sneaks for the day and change into something sleek at night. Same goes for the ladies. You won’t get cool points for wearing designer kicks in the line at the Empire State Building.

Easy Access Wallet

NYC in the 70’s and 80’s was terrifying. People got robbed, stabbed, and shot twice a day. New York is not still like this. It’s actually disappointingly safe. I’ve traveled to 40+ countries, and the only time I was ever robbed was in Los Angeles. My home town.

Don’t be scared here.

Seriously. New Yorkers are beyond friendly and helpful, we just need you to play by our rules a little bit. That means being prepared ahead of time, especially in line.

  • Get your ID out and ready for the bouncer. You’ve been in line for 30 minutes. You have no excuse.
  • Have your card out at the cash register. Again, no excuse.
  • Get.Your.Subway.Card.Ready.Before.You.Stand.At.The.Turnstile.

Visitors to NYC are so afraid of being robbed that they hide their wallets and cards in intricate Russian dolls within their bags. All that does is slow you down and make you stick out like a sore thumb. Nothing will make you more of a target for thieves than looking like a tourist who has something valuable on them.

The solution is to carry a thin wallet, card sleeve, or just rubberband a few common items like a debit card, your ID, and a metro pass together and then keep it handy in your front pocket. Nothing makes you feel like a “real New Yorker” more than whiz past frustrated tourists.

A Good Daypack

I’ll go on the record here: I use my Tortuga Daypack more in NYC than when I travel.

A good daypack is the difference between a rough outing that exhausts you, and an adventurous excursion that leaves you energized for the night’s festivities. The Tortuga Daypack is perfect, and I use it every day here when I bike to the climbing gym, or meet friends at the park. But whatever you use, make sure it’s light, weather-resistant, padded, and has a few divided sections for keeping snacks and drinks separate from your camera.

NYC Demands Layers

The weather is fickle in New York City. In 2014, the hottest day of the year was in September. The only way to be prepared and still pack light is to layer. As a local I’ll tell you what I wear everyday, all year long:

Tank Top + T-Shirt + Light Jacket/Ironic Sweater

That’s the secret. No matter what I’m doing – meeting friends in the park, biking to Midtown, visiting a museum – I wear a tank top, then a shirt, then something else like a sweater or lighter button up shirt. If I get hot, I remove layers until I’m cool. If it’s windy, I’m prepared. Don’t reinvent the wheel – this formula works. If you’re in Brooklyn, sub the jacket for a Rasta Reindeer sweater. You’re welcome.

NYC Weather is Crazy

And now, the weather. Below is a detailed seasonal rundown of what to bring (and not bring) for your trip to New York City, because nothing impacts your trip to the city more than when you visit.

Summer is Awesome, But Gross

May – August is tourist season in New York – and AirBnB’s “peak season” in NYC – and it’s no wonder. Governor’s Island Music Festival. Coney Island hot dog eating contest. Central Park’s Great Lawn Summer Concert Series. Rooftop slip n slide parties. Summer is the best, so come hang out. But realize that it’s going to be gross.

“June Gloom” can be cloudy, rainy, and windy. Mid-July is disgusting. August is a swamp. 98% humidity and triple-digit temperatures mean you will peel your shirt from your sweat soaked back at least twice a day. Grime sticks to your feet and exposed skin if you spend the whole day out, so get cozy with your shower.

I’m also stunned by how many people don’t pack swim gear when they visit New York. Yes, NYC is a major urban area, but it’s also on the water, and while the East River is so toxic you’ll get superpowers after a dip, there are tons of aquatic activities that demand the swimmers. Ride the subway to Rockaway Beach. Swim in a hotel pool (it’s easier than you think). Did I mention the rooftop slip n slide parties?!

Summer NYC Packing List (7-10 days)

Ladies: sub “pants” for dress/skirt and you’re golden

  • 3 x shorts
  • 1 x bathing suit
  • 2 x pants (For going out)
  • All.The.Tank.Tops. (Sun’s out, guns out. Plus, great for layering on freak cold days)
  • 3 x t-shirts
  • 2 x button up short sleeve shirts
  • 1 x boat shoes (…and no socks!)
  • 4 x underwear
  • Bathroom stuff
  • 1 x ironic sweater / light jacket (Just in case you go to Brooklyn)

Don’t Bring:

  • Sandals – You will get stepped on. No one here wears them, and your feet will be gross.
  • Uggs – Everyone will laugh at you.
  • Umbrella – Umbrellas are everywhere here and cost $1. Just take them from restaurants.
  • Sunglasses – They sell awesome knock-offs on the street for $5

Fall (Autumn if you’re fancy)

Fall is the best season in NYC. When that first chill breeze sweeps through the canyon streets of Manhattan, the frantic pace of summer fades like an early sunset as we gather our collars close, savoring the last warmth we’ll feel for six long months. Plus…all the leaves.

From September – November the weather is pretty mild – low 50’s (fahrenheit) – but it fluctuates. Fall is probably the hardest season in NYC to pack for, so really push your wardrobe to be multi-purpose:

Fall NYC Packing List (7-10 Days)

  • 1 x shorts
  • 1 x bathing suit (Go to the Russian baths)
  • 3 x tank tops (Your bread n’ butter for layering, and a savior on hot days)
  • 3 x pants (Jeggings if you dare)
  • 3 x t-shirts
  • 3 x button up shirts
  • 4 x underwear
  • Bathroom stuff
  • 1 x sweater (If you’re going to Brooklyn, wear something ridiculous)
  • 1 x coat (I wear a peacoat, but whatever is practical. Wear it on the plane)
  • 1 x wool cap
  • 1 x boat shoes

Don’t Bring:

  • Long Johns (it’s not that cold yet)
  • A big puffy coat (it’s really not that cold yet)

Winter is Coming

Winter in NYC is soul-crushing. You can almost feel the panic on Tinder as single people scramble for a cuddle buddy to stay in and watch Netflix with. It’s like adult musical chairs.

2014 was one of the worst winters in recorded history, and if you came to visit, odds are you got your ass handed to you by storms with names like “Thor.” But it’s not all bad. Packing for just the cold street weather will leave you looking like a dork in a bar or cafe. Even the subway is a muggy monster during winter, so you’ll want to stick with your layering strategy so you can strip down when the heat is blasting.

Winter NYC Packing List (7-10 days)

  • 1 x bathing suit (you might meet someone with a hot tub/they’re great to sleep in)
  • 2 x tank tops (Still great for layering)
  • 4 x pants (Jeggings if you dare)
  • 3 x t-shirts
  • 3 x button up shirts
  • 4 x underwear
  • Bathroom stuff (Leave the razor at home and grow a beard)
  • 1 x sweater (If you’re going to Brooklyn, wear something ridiculous)
  • 1 x coat (I wear a peacoat, but whatever’s practical. Wear it on the plane)
  • 1 x wool cap
  • 1 x boots (think lumberjack, not hiking)
  • 1 x pair of gloves (these are a must)
  • 1 x chapstick (keep those lips kissably soft)
  • 1 x Scarf (to support your favorite European soccer team that no one cares about)

Don’t Bring:

  • Too much – Honestly, winter is cold, but if you layer, and have a decent coat/sweater/scarf combo you’ll be fine. It’s not Antarctica, and you’ll spend a lot of time indoors.

Spring into Spring (Get it?)

Spring is just as fickle as Fall, but the consequences aren’t as bad. It rarely gets above 80 degrees fahrenheit, and while there are occasional showers, getting caught in the rain is a good New York story. Basically, pack for summer with a little chill.

Spring NYC Packing List (7-10 Days)

  • 2 x shorts
  • 1 x bathing suit
  • 3 x pants (For going out)
  • 3 x tank tops (Perfect for layering on freak cold days)
  • 3 x t-shirts
  • 2 x button up short sleeve shirts
  • 1 x Boat shoes (…and no socks!)
  • 4 x underwear
  • Bathroom stuff
  • 1 x ironic sweater / light jacket (Just in case…you go to Brooklyn)
  • 1 x pashmina
  • 1 x wool cap (keep it in your stretchy belt)

Don’t Bring:

  • Sandals – You will get stepped on. No one here wears them, and your feet will be gross.
  • Uggs – Everyone will laugh at you.
  • Umbrella – Umbrellas are everywhere here and cost $1. Just take them from restaurants.

TL;DR

New York is awesome, and nothing you do will prepare you for it (that’s a good thing). So pack light, stay nimble, and have the time of your life. If you make it to New York, look me up for more packing tips and New York specific advice, and I’m always around if you need a place to stay. Remember:

  • Summer is awesome, but gross
  • Fall is the best
  • Wear layers year round
  • Bathing suit is a must
  • Remember, you can always buy it here