In the matter of just a week, I received two separate emails regarding what to pack for a trip to Bhutan from readers (thanks to you both! It’s nice to know someone reads my posts on Bhutan, too).
Packing for Bhutan is tough. I also found it really hard to find packing advice I could relate to: the “hiking boots and convertible pants for every occasion” is not really for me. Yes, I have tech gear. No, I don’t enjoy looking like I’m about to go hike when I sit down at dinner. Yes, I know that is petty. And I’m not particularly sorry I’m not sorry–I still like to look nice (and be comfortable, who am I kidding), even if I am in one of the most remote countries on earth.
And we don’t check luggage, so while I don’t have to be 100% right about what I want to wear, I have to be at least 75% in order to have enough clothes/plan for laundry.
So here goes my answers to their great questions:
1. Did you need the Patagonia Better Sweater?
Yes and no. I wore it on the plane both directions, and also the night I got sick. For everyday wear, I didn’t touch it. If you are traveling July-September, I think you could get away without it. Beyond those months, I’d take it, just in case. I’d also take it if you are venturing to higher altitudes for an extended period or to the northern part of the country.
2. How do you dress appropriately for temples/culture when it is so hot outside for hiking?
This is a tough one. My preferred solution, usually, was to put on a cool, wicking UPF shirt, hoody, or cardigan over a tank top. This meant I was protected from the sun (which is quite strong at high altitudes), but also meant I was sufficiently covered for temples and general walking. While I think I could have gotten away with wearing a tank top while hiking to temples, I don’t think it would have been overly appropriate and I definitely would have been self-conscious in the countryside. If you prefer to hike in a t-shirt/tech shirt and throw a long-sleeve shirt on when you reach a temple, that is fine as well. I just wanted to carry less and not have to re-apply sunscreen when I was already drenched in sweat.
Here are some good options for UPF (SPF for clothing) clothes, depending on your style. I always opt for white or a light color so it matches pretty much anything and doesn’t attract sun/heat.
- Ex Officio Zip Hoody
- Coolibar Cardigan
- Lululemon Half Zip (on sale!)
- Patagonia Sunshade Hoody
- Mott 50 Swing Top (tons of stylish UPF options)
- Patagonia Long Sleeve (love the blue gingham)
3. Do temperatures vary a lot during the day? I.e. is dressing in layers always needed?
As with many high altitude locations, yes. When the sun comes out, it can get hot and steamy quite quickly. When the sun goes down, well, the heat goes away. However, this happens very, very quickly. So often by the time that you drive somewhere, it’s warm enough to peel off any heavier layer you had on. Typically this was my rain coat and scarf–which isn’t that heavy to begin with. I also always had a tank on underneath a sun shirt so I could wear that on the car ride home or at the hotel if I really overheated. Now this applies for the summer months–for all the other seasons, I’d plan on a heavier layer as I said before.
4. Pants are always hot…are there alternatives to zip on and zip offs (i.e., hiker pants) for hiking then visiting temples?
Sigh. I’m in the camp that refuses to wear zip-offs. Sorry ya’ll. What I have found, though, is pants that snap up so you can at least have breeze around your ankles (you may need to put them down for temples, still). Your other option is to wear shorts (length appropriate, obviously) and then carry a lightweight pair of pants that easily slip on and off over your shoes. I still just wear lightweight pants much of the time. I did not think running tights or super tight yoga pants were appropriate in Bhutan. Here are some options:
- Slip over: Mott 50 Beach Pant
- Slip over & cinch up: Lululemon Studio Pant
- Lightweight: Patagonia Away from Home Pant
- Lightweight, cinch & slip!: Athleta La Viva (have these, love these)
- Lightweight & slip: Athleta Midtown Trouser
- Lightweight: Anatomie Paola Pants (love these too but they are $$$$$)
Just as a side note: I have clothes from Lululemon, Athleta, Patagonia, and Anatomie (nope, I’m not paid to advertise either). I’ve been dying to try Mott 50, so if you give them a shot, I’d love to know what you think! I love the liberal return policy of Athleta and Patagonia’s absolute guarantee of their products for life. Both are really important to me, and I’ve had great experiences with both companies. Anatomie pants have held up well, and I love my Lululemon, even when it’s not practical…and certainly not cheap.
5. What item of clothing was most useful?
This question was way harder than I was expecting. I definitely think simple tank tops with built in bras in neutral colors were the most useful. I could hike in them (with the aforementioned UPF sunshirt over) or wear them to dinner with a scarf, cardigan, and maxi skirt or pants. Plus, super useful for Thailand for the same reasons–easy to layer, easily dressed up, avoids having to pack bras + shirts, can be washed in a sink, etc. I’ve even slept in mine. I know they don’t work for everyone but if they do, I think they are a great choice. Athleta, Lululemon, Patagonia all have great options depending on your size/style preferences.
As for accessories, a scarf! Definitely one that is big enough to be warm, pretty enough to add something to fun to any outfit, and durable enough to not pull on zippers or velcro.
6. How technical does clothing need to be? Does everything have to be breathable/wicking/tech-like?
What you wear during the day–if you are going to moving/hiking–should probably be wicking/breathable. But not everything has to be “tech”: I think some of the links above are some good more fashionable options that also will keep you relatively cool and comfortable. Now, I’m never a huge proponent of traveling with sweatshirts, multiple pairs of jeans, or lots of cotton–while clothes don’t need to be techie, I do think packed items should be packable, non-wrinkling, and easy to wash/dry. I love technical fabrics in less technical styles.
7. Are nicer hotels places where you dress “up” for dinner?
No, generally not. I don’t even remember seeing skirts or dresses at all. Most people just had comfortable pants and and a classic or fashionable shirt. I took a maxi skirt (Athleta has some good sale options!), which was really useful, and two scarfs, so I always had something just a little bit ‘dressier. I also remember wearing some tights with a long tunic, too. From my impressions, Bhutan is not somewhere “resort” wear is appropriate: heels are silly, skimpy dresses are out of place, and looking neat, relaxed, and comfortable is the way to go. I generally wore my Ipanema sandals, that aren’t ‘dressy’ but aren’t Tevas or sneakers either. They were comfortable and easy to slip on.
Bhutan is absolutely incredible and a wonderful experience. Enjoy!!