While planning a trip, figuring out what to wear in Korea is not likely top of mind. But once you’ve got your flights and hotels booked and your South Korea itinerary all sorted out and it’s time to pack your bags, drafting up your Korea packing list takes centre stage.
South Korea isn’t a perfect destination where the sun shines all year round. With its four-season climate, you’ll need to worry both about how good your swimsuit looks and what clothing to wear to ensure you’re not going to freeze your butt off in the dead of winter.
Don’t let the crazy weather in South Korea trip you up. Ensure your vacation goes off without a hitch with this complete South Korea clothing guide by season…
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What to wear in South Korea: Essential clothing for every season
Even if you’ve totally nailed down when to go to Korea, don’t expect that visiting will always be easy to plan for.
Koreans love the fact that their beloved country features four distinct seasons. As a traveller, you might not quite appreciate that as much since it means a slightly bigger challenge in preparing for your trip!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of what to wear in Korea in each of the seasons, here are a few general things to keep in mind:
- Koreans generally dress well. You’ll fit in much better well-groomed with sharp clothes than walking around with the (classic?) “dirty” backpacker look.
- South Korea might be more conservative than you’re used to. Practice modesty as much as possible. For women, this means avoiding low-cut tops or tank tops that expose the shoulders. Short skirts aren’t as frowned upon, but be sure to bring a silk wrap to cover your legs when seated. Men, likewise, should avoid walking around without a shirt in public. (Although, let’s be honest, the douchey shirtless backpacker look doesn’t win you awards anywhere.)
- Korean weather can change quickly. Even when you think you’ve got your times down pat, be sure to carry the proper extra gear in your travel daypack for the inevitable emergency weather situation.
In addition to packing the right clothing, outerwear, and footwear, don’t forget these other travel gear essentials:
- Backpack: As much as I’ve traveller with every type of luggage known, for quick trips abroad, I’m still partially to my backpack. My top recommendation for both men and women is the unisex Osprey Porter 46, an awesome front-loading backpack with great organizational features. (For more options check out our top pick for the best travel backpack for men and the best travel backpack for women.)
- Travel Insurance: One thing I never leave home without is travel insurance! WorldNomads.com provides cover for what’s important for travellers from 140 countries. By focusing on what you need and leaving out what you don’t, World Nomads’ prices are some of the most competitive online.
- RFID Wallet: After getting my debit card scanned and copied, I switched over to a wallet with RFID-blocker technology. A good option for travellers is the Travelambo RFID-Blocking Minimalist Wallet.
- Daypack: To carry around extra emergency travel gear while out and about, it’s always good to have a small daypack handy. For urban outings, the Osprey Daylite Plus does the trick while the Patagonia Nine Trail 20L Backpack is perfect for outdoor adventures. (For more suggestions check out our top picks for the best daypack for travel.)
- Travel Water Bottle: Although Korea tap water is generally considered safe, if you’re planning to do any hiking outside the city, the Lifestraw Go, a water bottle with a filtering straw, is a great companion.
- Travel Adapter: Get all your devices going in Korea with the Ceptics World Travel Adapter Kit, featuring two North American outlets and two USB charging ports. For non-dual-voltage devices like hairdryers, this Bestten 1875W Voltage Converter is a good choice.
- Travel Umbrella: Korea’s weather throughout the year is unpredictable to say the least. It’s always a good idea to carry a good travel umbrella around with you. The compact Repel Windproof Travel Umbrella is about the best you’ll find.
Clothing by season
There’s no doubt that spring is one of the best times of year to find yourself in Korea. After a long and cold Korean winter, things finally begin to look upwards as the days roll into March.
As the temperatures start to increase, changes are abound throughout the country.
What makes spring in Korea such an amazing time to be around isn’t just milder days, but the beauty that the season brings.
Starting near the end of March and moving into April the Korean cherry blossom season explodes the country into a sea of delicate pink blossoms.
The flowers also flourishing, blooming throughout Korea and blanketing it with bright shades and fresh smells.
Not everything is perfect in spring though.
Although average temperatures are continually rising, spring in Korea isn’t immune to cooler days and nights.
From the dry winter season, rainfall also increases throughout Korea in spring.
Clothing for Spring
For the cooler temperatures of spring, you’ll be most comfortable wearing a base layer of long-sleeve shirts, sweaters & hoodies as well as long pants throughout much of the season.
- Shirts: For men, the REI Co-op Taereen Long-Sleeve T-Shirt makes a good warm and dry casual base layer while the Arc’teryx Skyline T-Shirt is great for a more refined look. Women will love using the REI Co-op Quarter-Zip Tech or Patagonia All Weather Zip Neck as base layer.
- Hoodies: For a mid-layer, hardly anything can beat the lightweight, warm and breathable Patagonia R1 Hoodie. For women, the stylish zip-up Fjallraven Ovik Fleece Hoodie is another excellent option.
- Pants: Men can’t go wrong with the comfortable Patagonia Quandary or the value-laded prAna Brion. Women will likewise dig the tough & breathable prAna Halle Travel Pants or the lightweight and stylish Anatomie Skyler Travel Pants. Get more ideas with our guides to the best men’s and women’s travel pants here & here.
Outerwear for Spring
For travelling in Korea during spring, there’s a good chance you’ll need warm and waterproof outerwear to stay comfortable.
If you’re already wearing a decent mid-layer like a hoodie, you might be able to get away with a softshell waterproof jacket as an outer layer.
Otherwise, an insulated hybrid coat or a fleece base and rain jacket combo works wonders.
For the beginning of the spring, particularly March, you might also want to pack a knitted cap and a pair of gloves to keep your head & hands warm. This is especially important if you come from a country where sub-zero temperatures are uncommon.
The damp air of spring combined with the cooler temperatures can really chill you down to the bone!
- Softshell Jacket: As an outer layer in milder spring weather, the Columbia Men’s Ascender Softshell and Columbia Women’s Kruser Ridge Softshell provide excellent value. For more choices check out our picks for the top-rated softshell jackets for men and the top-rated softshell jackets for women.
- Insulated Hybrid Jacket: For a dash of extra warmth on your outer layer, pick up the hybrid Arc’teryx Men’s Atom LT Insulated Hoodie or Arc’teryx Women’s Atom LT Insulated Hoodie. Made from a breathable and stretchable fabric, this warm & water-resistant coat is great for active travellers in both cooler and mild temperatures.
- Fleece Jacket: As a mid-layer (or an outer layer on a mild sunny day), the Columbia Men’s Steens Mountain and Columbia Women’s Fast Trek II are warm and provide excellent value. (For more ideas, check out these guides to the best men’s fleece jackets and the best women’s fleece jackets.)
- Rain Jacket: To protect your base and/or mid-layers from the elements of spring, pack a sturdy waterproof jacket like The North Face Men’s Venture 2 and The North Face Women’s Venture 2. They’re lightweight, breathable and stylish yet durable enough to take on the Korean backcountry. For more ideas check out these top-rated men’s rain jacket reviews and top-rated women’s rain jacket reviews.
- Hats: To keep your ears warm when the spring temperatures dip, pack a toque (beanie) like the Patagonia Synchilla Alpine Hat. Made from a polyester fleece, this hat not only keeps you warm but is lightweight for excellent packability and wicks away moisture for quick drying.
- Gloves: Perfect for keeping warm on cold Korean spring days and nights, The North Face Men’s Apex+ Etip Gloves and The North Face Women’s Apex+ Etip Gloves feature an insulated softshell fabric with TNF’s e-tip technology that lets you operate your smartphone’s touchscreen without removing your gloves.
Footwear for Spring
With melting snow and increasingly wet conditions of the Korean spring, waterproof shoes will come in handy to keep your feet dry.
Since the temperatures are relatively mild, wearing insulated boots isn’t really necessary.
If you’re planning to wear regular walking shoes or hiking shoes, however, it’s a good idea to pack some warmer socks to keep your feet toasty when the temperature decides to drop.
- Walking Shoes: In fashion-conscious Korea, you’d do best to leave your scraggly gym sneakers at home. A stylish pair of waterproof walking shoes will help you fit right in. For men, the Rockport Road & Trail WP Blucher Rain Shoe is a good choice while the low-profile Ahnu Taraval Walking Shoe is a comfortable choice for women.
- Hiking Shoes: If you’re planning on hiking much, bring along a pair of Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Waterproof or Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Waterproof to stay dry on wet trails. For more options check out this guide to the best men’s hiking shoes and this guide to the best women’s hiking shoes.
- Socks: For long days spent walking, there’s hardly a better travel sock than Wanderlust Air Travel Compression Socks. Not only do they prevent blood clots during air travel, they’re great for preventing blisters and providing extra support to your feet!
The summer season brings immense changes to the weather. Surprisingly, almost none of them are for the better.
To put it mildly, the summer in South Korea is unpleasant weather-wise.
Like much of East Asia, the country becomes absolutely bathed in a dense heat and humidity that seems to swallow you whole as soon as you step foot outside of an air-conditioned sanctuary.
And with the extreme heat and humidity comes the rain.
Late June to August sees the country’s highest rainfall as the monsoon swoops in. Elsewhere on the continent typhoons also begin to wreak havoc, and although Korea sees but a small portion of their wrath compared to neighbouring Japan, China, and Taiwan, the effect doesn’t go away unnoticed.
Clothing for Summer
With the extreme heat and humidity you’re going to want to go as light as possible with your clothing.
Unlike spring, you won’t need to dress in layers in summer. In fact, you’ll probably want as little clothing as possible!
Unfortunately, in conservative South Korea, you’ll still need to maintain modesty through the heat.
Your best bet is to bring along travel shirts with moisture wicking technology and quick-dry capabilities. Likewise with pants, shorts, and skirts.
You’ll also want them to be breathable and loose-fitting whenever possible.
Even swimwear is modest in Korea with shorts, t-shirts, one-piece bathing suits, and sarongs more common than bikinis.
- Shirts: While carrying along your regular short-sleeved T-shirts will be just fine, you may want to invest in some lightweight travel shirts to lighten your packing load and keep you cooler. The stylish KUHL Stealth Shirt or the ultra-casual REI Co-op Sahara T-Shirt are both lightweight, and designed to be odour-resistant and wick away sweat. For women, the Columbia PFG Tamami II Short-Sleeve Shirt and the REI Co-op Sahara Heather T-Shirt are equally up to the task.
- Pants: The lightweight, quick-dry and breathable KUHL Men’s Confidant Air and The North Face Women’s Aphrodite 2.0 Capri are great for staying cool during summer in Korea.
- Shorts: The quick-drying and moisture-wicking prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Shorts or The North Face Women’s Aphrodite Shorts are the perfect travel shorts for the hot & humid summer. Men should note that knee-length shorts are the norm in Korea; leave your European-style short shorts at home.
- Skirts: For ladies who want to bring along something a little dressier, the Royal Robbins Discovery Travel Skirt is both lightweight, quick-drying and breathable, and features convenient side-zip pocket for security.
- Hats: Protect yourself from heat stroke on sunny days with a comfortable moisture-wicking and UV-protected cap like The North Face Men’s Breakaway Hat or the Columbia Women’s Bryce Canyon Hat.
Outerwear for Summer
In the hot and sticky Korean summer you won’t need much in the way of outerwear. Just don’t forget that with the humidity comes the incessant rain storms.
You’ll definitely want to bring along a lightweight and breathable rain jacket to stuff into your daypack as an emergency shell.
- Lightweight Rain Jackets: The Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II and Outdoor Research Women’s Helium II are about as light and breathable as lightweight waterproof jackets come. They’re not perfect for the crazy Korean summer humidity, but, then again, there aren’t many things that will help you get comfortable at this time of year—other than air-conditioning!
Footwear for Summer
With the hot and wet conditions, you’ll need to rethink your regular footwear strategy a little.
There’s a trade-off between keeping your feet cool and keeping them dry: Waterproof shoes tend not to breathe while ventilated shoes will let water in. In the end, it’ll be a judgement call on your part.
For summer, you might want to consider instead packing some sandals, especially if you’re planning to spend any time on the beaches along the coast or in outlying islands like Jeju.
- Lightweight Shoes: The lightweight and breathable Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Ventilator and Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Ventilator are among the airier choices for hiking during a Korean summer. For a comfortable, more fashionable casual walking shoe, take a look at the Sketchers Men’s Go Walk 4 or the Sketchers Women’s Go Walk 4.
- Waterproof Shoes: For protection against the rain, Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Waterproof and the Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Waterproof are excellent performers. Keep in mind that these will be warm to wear in the dead heat of summer.
- Sandals: For summer hiking, the KEEN Men’s Newport H2 or the KEEN Women’s Newport H2 provide excellent support and traction via a comfortable EVA footbed and lug-treaded outsole. For a more casual and fashionable look, check out the Merrell Men’s Downtown Backstrap or Merrell Women’s Around Town Backstrap.
After an intense summer of heat and humidity, the cooler temperatures of autumn in Korea is a welcome change for travellers.
With the monsoons and typhoons drifting along, rainfall throughout the peninsula decreases into October and November to deliver the driest months of the year outside of the cold winter.
Besides the sunny days, prepare to be stunned by the cavalcade of fall colours that overtake the country.
Overall, autumn might be the best time for sightseeing in South Korea. Every moment, whether it’s the gardens of Seoul’s palaces or the mountainous backdrop of Gyeonju’s temples, is better under a blanket of bright reds, oranges, and yellows.
Clothing for Autumn
The cooler temperatures of autumn bring back the need for dressing in layers. Daytime highs still peak into the twenties in September and October, so you should be able to get away with short-sleeve shirts and light pants.
In the evenings, things get a little chillier. You’ll often need to wear long-sleeve shirts or sweaters as base and mid-layers to stay comfortable, particularly as the autumn moves towards winter.
- Shirts: As a base layer, the REI Co-op Men’s Lightweight Half-Zip Top or REI Co-op Women’s Lightwight Half-Zip Top pairs well with a fleece jacket or softshell on the cooler days of fall.
- Sweaters: For a versatile sweater that’s warm enough to wear on its own milder fall days, check out The North Face Men’s Canyonlands Hoodie or The North Face Women’s Arcata Hoodie.
- Pants: For fall weather in Korea, few pants will perform better for you than the Royal Robbins Men’s Alpine Road Pants or Royal Robbins Women’s Fall Jammer Pants. Both offer SPF 50+ ultraviolet protection and are quick-dry and wrinkle-resistant.
- Hats: To keep your head and ears toasty, both men and women will love the Sherpa Adventure Gear Kirtipur Hat, handcrafted in small women’s co-ops in Nepal from lambswool with a Polarfleece lining for comfort and to wick away sweat.
- Gloves: The soft and comfortable Outdoor Research Men’s Flurry Sensor Gloves and Outdoor Reearch Women’s Flurry Sensor Gloves are the perfect for the dropping temperatures of October & November. They’ve even added silicone fingertips to keep your Instagram feed up and running without freezing your hands!
Outerwear for Autumn
The cooler temperatures of October and November necessitate warmer outerwear.
Equip yourself with a fleece jacket for dry and crisp days or otherwise consider layering a softshell jacket or regular rain jacket overtop of a warmer mid-layer like a sweater or fleece.
- Fleece Jacket: As a fall outer layer, few jackets will be more comfortable than The North Face Men’s Denali 2 Fleece or The North Face Women’s Denali 2 Fleece.
- Softshell Jacket: Layer up your sweater, hoodie or fleece and stay warm in the cool Korean autumn air with the wind- and water-resistant The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 or The North Face Women’s Apex Bionic 2.
- Rain Jacket: One of the best waterproof coats for an outer layer over a sweater or fleece is the lightweight and breathable Patagonia Men’s Torrentshell or Patagonia Women’s Torrentshell.
Footwear for Autumn
The mild temperatures and dry days of autumn give the most options for footwear.
If you’re planning for plenty of outdoor activities, including tackling some of the best hiking trails around Seoul, opt for airy lightweight hiking shoes.
Otherwise, comfortable and stylish walking shoes will do the trick. Either way, combine your footwear with moisture-wicking wool socks for all-day comfort.
- Hiking Shoes: For the cooler days of fall, the Merrell Men’s Moab Edge or Merrell Women’s Siren Edge hold up to the crisp outdoors whether you’re hiking up Namsan in Seoul or venture further into the Korean countryside.
- Walking Shoes: The comfortable and stylish Clarks Men’s Charton Mix or Ahnu Women’s Sugar Venture Lace are perfect for racking up the miles.
- Socks: Few socks perform better than the Darn Tough Men’s Micro Crew Cushion Socks and Darn Tough Women’s Stripes Micro Crew Socks. The wool/nylon/spandex combination does wonders for wicking away sweat and keeping your feet comfortable through long travel days.
Unless you’re coming from an overly frigid place like Canada, winter in Korea isn’t the most comfortable time of year for most travellers.
Throughout the entire country, you’ll find average low temperatures that dip into the single digits and often even below zero degree celsius.
That’s not to say that the Korean winter is all bad news.
Winter is the driest time of year in Korea. More often than not, you’ll be met with sunny skies that will brighten up your days. Plus, under a light blanket of snow, you’ll also get to see Korea among its most beautiful!
Of all the seasons, packing for winter is most important.
To stay comfortable, you’ll need to plan ahead by bringing along warm base and mid-layers along with good outerwear including an insulated jacket, winter hats, and gloves.
Clothing for Winter
Winter’s not a time of year when you’ll want to go light with your clothing. To keep yourself toasty, you’ll need to dress in layers on most days.
T-shirts are generally only useful to wear as a base under a warmer mid-layer such as a sweater or a hoodie.
Even then, you may want to keep some midweight underwear handy if you’re not used to the cooler temperatures.
- Underwear: For particularly cold days, the REI Co-op Men’s Merino Midweight Base Layer Bottoms or the REI Co-op Women’s Merino Midweight Base Layer Tights will keep your legs warm while wicking away sweat and odours should your travels push you into active territory.
- Shirts: Keep your body warm in the Korean winter with the moisture-wicking REI Co-op Men’s Midweight Base Layer Crew Top or REI Co-op Women’s Midweight Base Layer Crew Top.
- Sweaters: The comfortable Patagonia Men’s Better Sweater 1/4-Zip Fleece and Patagonia Women’s Better Sweater 1/4-Zip Fleece is one of the best mid-layers you’ll find anywhere.
- Pants: Paired with an underwear layer, the Patagonia Men’s Performance Jeans and Patagonia Men’s Regular Fit Cords or the Patagonia Women’s Performance Jeans and Patagonia Women’s Regular Corduroy Pants are excellent mid-weight pant options that will keep your legs warm in the cooler temperatures.
Outerwear for Winter
Winter is not a time to start skimping on packing for your Korea trip! The chilly temperatures of winter in Korea necessitate picking the proper outerwear.
A simple fleece or softshell jacket probably won’t cut it on most days as single digit temperatures on either side of 0ºC are common.
A well-insulated hardshell jacket, especially when combined with warm base & mid-layers, is your best line of defence against the Korean winter chill.
You’ll also want to keep other winter essentials like a scarf, toque, and gloves handy.
- Insulated Jacket: The Patagonia Men’s Nano-Air Hoody or Patagonia Women’s Nano-Air Hoody is both warm and breathable, taking you from the streets of Seoul to more active pursuits in style without blinking an eye.
- Hat: Keep your head and ears toasty with the unisex Sherpa Adventure Gear Renzing Hat, handmade in Nepal from lambswool with a soft moisture-wicking Polarfleece lining.
- Scarf: For a simple solution that’s both warm and super comfortable, both men and women will love the Patagonia Synchilla Fleece Scarf.
- Gloves: The 300-weight The North Face Men’s Denali Etip Gloves or The North Face Women’s Denali Etip Gloves will keep your hands from freezing in Korea’s chilly winter temperatures. The silicone fingertips allow you to use your touchscreen devices without removing your gloves.
Footwear for Winter
Unlike other seasons, regular hiking or walking shoes might not quite make the cut for staying comfortable in Korea in winter.
You’ll want to find footwear that’s insulated for warmth and waterproof to tackle snowfall should you encounter it. Pairing your winter shoes or boots with moisture-wicking and odour-resistant socks is a great idea.
- Shoes: For winter in Korea, the Merrell Men’s Coldpack Ice+ Moc Waterproof or Merrell Women’s Coldpack Ice+ Moc Waterproof are warm slip-on shoes featuring Vibram Arctic Grip soles for excellent traction in slippery conditions.
- Boots: If you want something with a tad more coverage and support, the Merrell Men’s Coldpack Ice+ Mid Polar Waterproof or Merrell Women’s Aurora 6 Ice+ Waterproof both perform well in the cold and icy days of winter.
- Socks: To keep your feet dry and warm, try the Smartwool Men’s PhD Ski Medium Socks or the Smartwool Women’s PhD Ski Medium Pattern Socks. Although they’re designed for skiers, these socks provide extra cushioning and breathability that make them a perfect addition to a traveller’s winter gear collection.