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How to pack like a champ for your American rail adventure, whatever the weather

Amtrak Rail
Amtrak Rail

There are few countries on this planet with a scenery and climate as diverse as that of America's. Soaring mountains tower over sprawling, endless forests, and cascading waterfalls sculpt ancient rocks into smooth stones. That's just the countryside - America is a nation of great cities, each one more historic than the last, filled with fun, excitement and a sense of adventure. 

'You're hot, then you're cold...'

Old Dinah Steam Tractor - Death Valley


Traditional market towns are scattered throughout the 50 states, together with hidden hamlets, forgotten churches and a story to tell at every turn - there's no place like America.

The United States is a very large country -  the 48 contiguous states comprise over 8 million square kilometres.

Such a vast area of the Earth is bound to be subjected to every facet of Mother Nature's weather, and this is precisely the case.

Take a look at Death Valley, California. As recently as 2001, the temperature never fell below 67.7 degrees Celsius for 154 consecutive days, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.  


The other end of the scale is equally extreme. Discounting Alaska, which is separate from the mainland and located far closer to the North Pole than the rest of the continental United States, year-round cold weather is common in North Dakota, Maine, Wyoming and Montana. Weather and science website, Current Results, mentions that these states struggle to exceed a meagre two degrees Celsius between December and January. 

Such a vast area of the Earth is bound to be subjected to every facet of Mother Nature's weather, and this is precisely the case for the USA.

America is a nation of highs and lows.

Mount Whitney -Sierra Nevada
Mount Whitney -Sierra Nevada

Even excluding the imperious Mount McKinley (America's highest point, found in Alaska), California's Mount Whitney still rises to 4,418 metres. The same state is also home to the nation's lowest point, the aforementioned Death Valley, plunging 86 metres below sea level.

It will come as no surprise then, that if you're looking to explore the USA by train with the USA Rail Pass, you should be sure to pack suitable clothing for your epic adventure.

The cold mountains of Oregon can quickly give way to the rich, baking heat of California and beyond, meaning you could be changing clothes as often as you change your socks!

Luckily, Rail Guru is on hand to guide you in the act of packing smart and selectively for your trip, so read on to find out how to put together the perfect suitcase!  


How long is your USA rail adventure set to last?

This is an important consideration. Rail Gurus' USA Rail Pass can last from a whistle-stop 15 days, right through to a 45 day journey of epic proportions. Even the shortest trip lasts a smidgeon over two weeks, which is longer than most 'regular' holidays. Take a look at the areas that you're planning to visit, and check the weather forecast.

The USA is a country of many climates.

With practicality a factor when travelling by train, it makes good sense to pack what is known as a 'capsule wardobe.' Though the term may seem technical, a capsule wardrobe is simply the bare essential items that you'll need for comfort, warmth and functionality. These clothes can be mixed and matched to form a wealth of different outfits, often for a variety of occasions. According to simple fashion website Project 333, a capsule wardrobe consists of approximately 24 items, which may not seem like much, but will serve you perfectly.

With this in mind, packing a capsule wardrobe for your American rail sojourn is a great idea. The following is a rough guide to what you should pack, clothes-wise, into your suitcase. You can deviate slightly from the list as and how you wish and, of course, there will be a bit of a difference depending on your gender:

  • 7 x underwear
  • 5 x pair of socks
  • 1 x swimwear
  • 3 x bra (women)
  • 2 x dresses (women)
  • 3 x jeans or trousers
  • 1 x shoes
  • 1 x trainers
  • 1 x thick, warm, waterproof coat 
  • 3 x t-shirts

You can add, or take off layers, depending upon the weather outside.

It's all about the money

Travelling budgets will vary from person to person. However, when it comes to certain clothing items, there are a few that you really shouldn't skimp on. A sturdy backpack or suitcase is a must - you don't want it to break halfway through your trip.

Make sure that your waterproof jacket is of good quality, as many parts of the United States are prone to terrific rainstorms that could soak you to the skin within seconds. Factor in just how cold America can get - countless hectares are often covered in swathes of snow - and you'll understand that warm, Merino wool thermals will be well worth your money.

Each of these items are built to last, and will endure many years and train adventures to come, so try to think of them as an investment, rather than a luxury purchase. 

When packing for your American adventure, nothing can help you more than common sense - but we at Rail Guru will help you out. Be sure to get in touch with us if you have any queries about the USA Rail Pass - your carriage awaits!

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