May Weather and Packing

Last time I went to Europe it was July and it was HOT in Italy and jacket-worthy in Paris and London. For some reason, in my head I was planning on the same weather this time around. In thinking this through I realized that it will probably be much colder since we are going this May (the whole month starting in London working through southern Germany to Italy, Swiss Alps, and ending in Paris). First question: Do any of you have experience with how chilly or warm it might be during May in these places? I'm also going to try very hard to pack light, but I'm realizing that we'll probably want parkas for the Swiss Alps in May. I was thinking that my husband and I would each bring two carry-ons (duffle or rolling small bag plus a backpack). So...Second question: Any tips for packing light even with bulkier cool weather clothing? Third question - do you think the hiking trails will even be open in May in the Alps? If not, is there sledding or something that time of year? From what I've read it seems to be a kind of in-between time. Thanks!

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9103 posts

"I'm also going to try very hard to pack light, but I'm realizing that we'll probably want parkas for the Swiss Alps in May." Not unless you plan to sleep outside on the summits of the mountains. The absolute most you may need is a sweater and jacket. It wasn't even cold enough for a parka in Grindelwald over Christmas (barring again, being at very high elevation and exposed to the wind for long periods of time). "the whole month starting in London working through southern Germany to Italy, Swiss Alps, and ending in Paris). First question: Do any of you have experience with how chilly or warm it might be during May in these places?" Yes, and it's usually quite pleasent in most of Germany. A light jacket is usually more than enough. "do you think the hiking trails will even be open in May in the Alps? If not, is there sledding or something that time of year?" At lower elevations, the trails should be open and accessible. Higher elevations, particularly around Zermatt, will likely still have significant sections of the trails still covered in wet snow. Except at some of the few high elevation locations where you can ski all year (Zermatt, again) most winter sports activities are finished by early to mid April. They usually don't maintain the sledding trails after around March. Don't overthink packing in May. You will likely find it much warmer than you have imagined. Be prepared for some rain, however.

Posted by Leigh
Missouri
188 posts

Other than the Alps at that time of year, in most areas you will probably want a light jacket which you might not use all the time. At that time of year, I have usually gone back and forth between needing a light jacket, and wearing sandals and short sleeves.

Posted by Rob D
Bad Tölz, Bayern
27 posts

You could try accuweather.com's World section, input cities along your route, and get daily average high and low temps... Could help for planning purposes.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Rachel, I was in Paris late may about 3 years ago.. FREEZING for first 5 days, then boiled for next week, lol Give up. I packed a fleece jacket, a windbreaker/rain jacket, a long sleeved shirt . I wore all three things layered, and still wished I had some thin gloves.. but I did in fact manage ok.
I personally would not pack a parka, when hiking one generally does warm up, so wearing several thin layers ( fleece warmth layer, wind/rain layer) is sufficient generally. If its really below freezing temps you will find trails closed anyways( we were in Wengen in July four years ago and the locals said many of the trails had been closed to mid june that year because they were still snow covered. I don't think you can get a concrete answer to the snow/trails think till closer to date ..

Posted by Rachel
San Diego, CA, US
31 posts

Ok, great! Thank you all for your responses! It's a relief that I shouldn't need a parka, I will just bring layers as many of you suggest. Thanks again!

Posted by Elaine
Mission Viejo, Calif., USA
773 posts

Three years ago we were in Lucerne, Bern, Lugano, and Zurich in May. It was cold. We both wore warmm jackets and were glad we did. We spent two weeks in those places.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Sometimes May can be a great month. We visited Ireland in May and had almost no rain for our entire trip (but that followed one of their wettest Aprils). Think "Four Seasons in One Day". Britain is known for it. We were in London and area in early May and experienced a wide range of weather. It can be clear sunny skies in the morning and windy, pouring rain by noon or vice versa. We also visited Spain in April, expecting at least decent weather and had freezing, rainy weather almost the whole month. The key is start with a water-proof shell, ideally it will have a hood to keep the rain off your head and be long enough to keep your rear dry in a downpour. I bring two warm layering items, that can be worn seperately, layered as an outergarment, or layered under the shell. Under your warm layer(s) bring tops that can be worn alone in nice weather, under a warm layer (e.g. sweater), when it's cool, or a couple of tops,warm layer (or two), plus your shell when it gets cold. I'd expect cold in the mountains and hope to be pleasantly surprised. I doubt there will be any serious hiking trails open in May

Posted by Marlene
Easton, Pennsylvan, United States
5 posts

Rachel, I have traveled throughout all the regions you mentioned in May. It can be rainy and cool in Paris, London, and Germany. Now it can be quite warm as well in Paris and Germany. The Alps you will definitely need layers. Not a Winter parker. Think layers. A synthetic jacket, a nylon long sleeve shirt (washes easily), blouse, wind-jacket, couple of tops, rain poncho...good walking shoes, and loose pants should be fine for alps. HOWEVER, weather can change easily in the ALPS. So always make sure you check the forecast...even if the skies are clear. There are plenty of lower alps trails that you will be able to use in May both in the Bernese Oberland and Zermatt. NORMALLY, THE HIGH PASSES ARE BLOCKED BY SNOW IN MAY AND MANY OF THE LIFTS ARE NOT OPEN UNTIL LATE IN JUNE.
NO matter, there are wonderful low hiking trails that you can access with wonderful views! Have a great trip! Marbar

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

I'd take a set of thermals, tops and bottoms, for outdoor days. Also a combination of a light windbreaker and a fleece jacket will keep you warmer and be more versatile. (I mean wearing one over the other - I don't mean some kind of combination jacket.) You could use vaccum travel bags for bulky items, wool, fleece, thick socks, etc., but not down.

Posted by Betty
Missouri City
201 posts

I recommend silk longjohns for those cooler temps. They are lightweight and pack small. I strongly recommend NOT bringing two carry-ons per person. That's just too much luggage to be hauling around in and out of the car (or on and off the train). Take your jacket on board with you and just do layers as others have suggested.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9103 posts

Thermal underwear... for May?! You will sweat unformfortably, even in the Alps, especially if you do any hiking.

Posted by Elaine
Woodinville
4 posts

If weather is questionable, I always bring silk undies-very light and warm. Have traveled with down parka in winter and used compression bag to squish it down to a small size. But if I were you I would bring a light weight coat or jacket and use layers. I would also just bring one bag a person and a day pack or, if you are going to be hiking from hotel to hotel, I have used Rick Steve's original bag for this kind of hike in China in December. For hiking, the right shoes and socks are important. I like Thorlos-they dry faster than wool. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by Dina
Fontainebleau, France
893 posts

I'd advise you pack "one of everything" - one sweater, one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve, etc. and do as others have suggested - put on and take off layers as needed. You just don't know what the weather is going to be like. Keep in mind for hiking that May is non-season. Skiing finishes up usually in the beginning of April and summer season doesn't start until sometime in June. If you were hoping to do any hiking with ski lifts (like in summer season) double-check that they will be operating when you are there. The place we hiked last summer does not operate lifts during May. We wanted to go for a long holiday weekend this May, but realized it wouldn't be possible.

Posted by Paul
Morrilton, AR, US
56 posts

we always travel europe in May----we carry a set of silks---long sleve shirt--longjohn pant--glove liner and sock liner perfect for layering and packs to nothing---weighs almost nothing---half the time it never gets worn in entirity-----what;s great is its small enough tp carry in a day bag sure beats carrying an extra bag----outerwear consists of a fleese and a waterproof
windbreaker (lite weight) Paul

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9103 posts

Because this thread started three months ago, we should probably provide a weather update. Although this winter was about average for temperatures and snowfall, spring so far has remained much colder than normal. Many of the ski resorts that would have closed for the season by now still remain open. The colder temperatures over the past month have delayed the start of the seasonl Alpine snow melt. Barring a sudden change to much higher than normal temperatures throughout April, I doubt you'll be able to accomplish much hiking at all in the Swiss Alps in May.
I would expect that by the time you arrive, though, temperatures will have returned to their usual, mild seasonal mean. That won't be enough to sufficiently melt the snow, but you won't have to pack too heavily. Check back in a month...

Posted by Bev
Decorah, Iowa, USA
250 posts

I remember in 2010, we were in Paris and it was COLD. I was glad for my jacket, long sleeved shirt, sweater, hat and gloves! I even used one of my shawls for extra warmth. However, I am now wondering about this year. In two weeks, we leave for southern France and then start working our way into the Luberon, Burgundy, Normandy, and into Belgium and Germany. Can anyone who is currently in southern France, morthern France and Germany give some updates as to weather? Thanks!

Posted by Cindy
San Jose
36 posts

Late reply, but better late than never, eh? Layer, layer, layer is the key. So bring things that layer well to control temperature. I like a 3/4 sleeve scoop neck silk underwear shirt that is fine gauge. That can be worn under street clothes. Also bring either tights or leggings for under pants and skirts/dresses. Next for layering is a fleece or sweater. I think a merino sweater has greater range - can be worn in the city or on the mountain. Really expecting cold temperatures? How about a packable down/prima-loft sweater? Top off with a light waterproof shell. I like waterproof trench coats like the Marmot "Elan".
Add a scarf, windproof gloves, and a hat.