What to Wear in Korea: Essential Tips for Spring, Summer, Fall & Winter

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…

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!

Autumn in Insadong

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.

Mountains in Spring

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

Spring

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.

Cherry Blossoms @ Changdeokgung Palace

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.

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.

Mountain in Spring

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!

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.

Leather Hiking Shoes

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.

Summer

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.

Pine Forest in Gyeongju

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.

Hongdae Shopping Street

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.

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.

Myeongdong

You’ll definitely want to bring along a lightweight and breathable rain jacket to stuff into your daypack as an emergency shell.

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.

Summer Sandals

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.

Autumn

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.

Autumn at Gyeongbokgung

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.

Autumn in Yeouido Park, Seoul

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.

Outerwear for Autumn

The cooler temperatures of October and November necessitate warmer outerwear.

Autumn @ Naejangsan National Park

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.

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.

Hiking Shoes Autumn

Otherwise, comfortable and stylish walking shoes will do the trick. Either way, combine your footwear with moisture-wicking wool socks for all-day comfort.

Winter

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 @ Gyeongbokgung

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.

Winter @ Gyeongbokgung Palace

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.

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.

Winter in Myeongdong

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.

Footwear for Winter

Unlike other seasons, regular hiking or walking shoes might not quite make the cut for staying comfortable in Korea in winter.

Winter Boots Snow

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.

More Asia packing tips

Ryan O'Rourke

Ryan O'Rourke is a Canadian traveller, food & drink aficionado, and the founder & editor of Treksplorer. Join Ryan as he explores the world two to three weeks at a time from his home base of Canada with Treksplorer's independent and unsponsored mid-range luxury travel guides including itineraries, things to do, where to stay, when to visit, and hiking & walking trails.

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