Skip to Content

5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method Explained

5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method Explained

Have you heard of the 5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method? Confused about how this can help you create the perfect travel capsule wardrobes no matter where you are traveling and in what season? In this guide we will explain how you too can use the 54321 packing method to create the perfect capsule wardrobes for travel.

Important Note: This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click through and make a purchase I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

What is the 5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method

So what exactly is the 5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method? Well it is a packing technique that aims to reduce the amount of clothing you take on a 1 week vacation.

Benefits of the 5 4 3 2 1 Packing Technique

The benefits of using the 5 4 3 2 1 packing technique are:

  • you limit the amount of clothes you pack and prevent overpacking.
  • you think about how your items work together to create a capsule wardrobe as all items have to be worn in more than 1 outfit
  • depending on how time of year you are traveling, you may be able to use the 54321 packing technique to condense your clothes to be Carry On Only (or as it is call in some circle COO).

How to Use the 5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method

The key to using the 5 4 3 2 1 packing method is consider everything you pack as part of a capsule wardrobe.

A Capsule Wardrobe, and the 54321 method embraces the philosophy of “pack less wear more” as in, pack fewer things but be able to wear them in several styles and outfits.

Therefore for putting together your 54321 packing list we recommend:

Color Pallete

Choosing a color palette and sticking to it as that way more items will go together. A lot of people think this means that you have to stick to quite a neutral or even a black and white color palette.

This can make things easier when putting your list together. However it can look a little boring in your travel photographs.

If you like monotone wardrobes or sticking with pastels or neutrals then feel free to do so., However if you like a splash of color feel free to add it carefully. Keep your bottoms plain and add a splash of color in t shirts for instance.

Don’t pack anything that you won’t wear at home because you won’t wear it on vacation

Chances are if you don’t wear an item at home that you won’t feel comfortable wearing in on vacation. Therefore stick to pieces you know you love. Otherwise you may find yourself buying items on your vacation.

Don’t pack anything that doesn’t work in at least two outfits

Everything that you pack needs to work hard i.e. it needs to work in at least out outfit combinations.

Don’t pack anything that needs a lot of care

If you have limited items in your suitcase you won’t want things that need a lot of care and attention.

For instance, although linen is lovely and great for hot weather vacations, but it takes care. For instance you need to know how to pack linen so it doesn’t crease and may need wrinkle spray or even an iron or clothes steamer at your destination.

I personally don’t want to have to iron every morning of my vacation so stick to items that don’t need a lot of care i.e. cotton.

If you do decide to pack linen be sure to check out our guide on how to pack linen to prevent wrinkles.

Bring the right weight for your travel

Be sure to remember the weather at your destination. In Summer this means packing lightweight breathable fabrics for summer for instance cottons while in Winter you will need heavier weight items.

For more travel essentials for women check out this post.

Examples of the 5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method

So how does the 5 4 3 2 1 packing method work in real life. I know when I started using the 54321 method for 1 week vacations I struggled to visual how this would translate to specific destinations.

Now obviously there are local sensibilities to consider i.e Dress codes and what not to wear items in individual places and the season.

In this section of the guide I will give examples of how I have used 5 4 3 2 1 packing methods in different scenarios i.e. Winter Travel Capsule Wardrobe, for cruises, for beach vacations and more. However feel free to tweak these lists to suit the exact weather and activities you will be doing and your personal fashion preferences.

Note: Personally I never include underwear as part of the 54321 packing technique as many of my vacation accommodations don’t have laundry. Therefore it is essential to have enough underwear for a trip.

5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method in Winter

Winter Clothes flat lay
5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method for Winter

Winter is perhaps the hardest season to pack light for. The reason for this is that the layers are thicker and chunkier to pack to begin with. However you can still pack light even in Winter.

For example this is my 54321 Winter Packing List that can be used for Winter Breaks

Note: very active vacations in Winter such as Skiing requires its own packing list so be sure to check out our skiiing packing list.

5 – Tops – a Combination of T Shirts, Blouses and Formal Tops that can be used in day to night transition pieces

4 – Sweaters / Cardigans / Top Layers – again for day to night transitions and dressed with jewelry or accessories.

3 – Pairs of Trousers / Bottoms

2 – Pairs of Shoes – for winter I would select one pair of sneakers and one pair of boots with a good sole. All shoes you pack for winter should be able to cope with cold weather, rainy weather and even ice.

1 – Winter Coat – depending on the destination will depend how thick and what level of waterproofing your will need in your top layer.

Some specific examples of Winter Packing Lists for cities include:

For information on how to pack a minimalist capsule wardrobe check out this post.

5 4 3 2 1 Packing Technique for Summer

5 – Tops – a mix of t shirts, tank and blouses

4 – Bottoms – a mix of skirts, shorts, cotton trousers, or dresses depending on your fashion style

3 – Shoes – for summer I recommend a pair of sneakers (lightweight), sandals and flip flops if you plan to spend time on a beach or around a pool.

2 – Swimwear

1 – Beach Cover

Some examples of our specific summer packing lists include:

5 4 3 2 1 Packing Technique for Beach Vacations

I often find that beach vacations are some of the easiest to overpack for. As many of the items you are packing are lightweight and condense in a case easily it is easy to think, I can just add one more thing.

And the truth is, beach vacations are the type of vacations that I come home with most unworn stuff from.

But it can be really important to pack light for these destinations too especially if you plan on visiting more remote islands where planes to transport you have strict weight restrictions. For instance on tropical islands like Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti, the Maldives and Fiji can all have these types of restrictions.

Therefore the 54321 technique is even important for beach vacations.

For me the perfect capsule beach wardrobe would include:

5 – Tops – a mix of t shirts, tank and blouses

4 – Bottoms – a mix of skirts, shorts, cotton trousers, or dresses depending on your fashion style

3 – Shoes – for summer I recommend a pair of sneakers (lightweight), sandals and flip flops.

2 – Swimwear

1 – Beach Cover

For examples of this packing method in action check out our destination packing guides:

5 4 3 2 1 Packing Method for cruises

If any type of vacation requires you to pack light, cruises is it. The reason for this is not because of weight restrictions which are the primary concern when flying to go on vacation but because of room in your stateroom.

Cruise staterooms or cabins as they are sometimes called are notoriously very small. Therefore you don’t want to have to take up room in your stateroom to store your suitcase or struggle to pack your clothing items away.

Therefore it is really important to pack a cruise capsule wardrobe. An example of using the 5 4 3 2 1 packing method to create a cruise capsule wardrobe is:

5 – Tops / Dresses / Sweater / Cardigan

4 – 4 Bottoms and Skirts

3 – Pairs of Shoes

2 – Swimming Costume

I personally never include under wear in my 54321 packing technique. The reason for this is that I like to have fresh underwear ready for every day of my vacation without the need of doing laundry.

1 – Formal Outfit – please note that some cruises do not have a formal night. If you are traveling on a line without formal nights then this could be switched for accessories, or other statement pieces instead. To find out more about specific cruise line dress code check out these posts:.

For more specific cruise packing lists that use this technique and other capsule wardrobe techniques check out the below posts:

FAQS about 54321 Technique

Clothes Flat Lay for Travel
5 4 3 2 1 Packing Technique

Do you include underwear in the 54321 packing technique?

Also underwear takes up very little room in the suitcase or your carry on so it really doesn’t need to be restricted in the same way of other clothes.

Do you include accessories in your 54321 packing list?

Personally I do not include accessories in the 54321 packing list. I recommend trying to limit the accessories you take with you things that you can wear on you when boarding a plane, cruise or other transport method.

For example it is always a good idea to wear hats or attach them to your carry on bag to reduce the risk of it getting damage in your case.

And I always carry my pashmina with my on an airplane as it can get cold and this is a useful extra layer.

Do you include shoes in your 54321 packing list?

I always put shoes on my 54321 packing list. The reason for this is that shoes take up the largest amount of space in a case. Therefore I like to restrict the amount of shoes I take with me. Putting them into this list really helps me focus my mind on what I actually will use on my vacation.

Can you use the 54321 packing Method for longer vacations?

You can definitely use the 54321 packing method for longer vacations however this would require you having access to laundry facilities.

For instance, you can use the 54321 packing method for 1 week vacations. However to use it for a 2 week vacation you would need to do laundry at the midway point of your vacation to ensure you have enough clothes.

Do you have questions about using the 54321 Packing Method that we haven’t covered? Please leave us a comment below and we will do our best to answer it as quickly as possible.

Marcia MacLeod

Saturday 21st of October 2023

Hi I am finding your travel information very helpful. I think the 5-4-3-2-1 will work best for our trip to Ireland/Scotland My question Do you count your travel outfit in the system or is that separate


Thursday 2nd of November 2023

Hello Marcia,

Thank you for your message. Normally I do not include my travel outfit in this system. I can be quite clumsy and travel with my kids a lot so my outfit never usually makes it to a rewear.

What month you are you traveling? As the only exception to this can be in Winter as it is a good idea to wear your bulkiest items on the plane if you are trying to pack carry-on luggage.

We also have advise for Scotland packing on the blog, and I am about to write up Ireland (I'm Irish/British). :)