The Best Travel Clothes
Travel cloths unlike normal clothes are versitile and tough clothing best suited for the travel life. Clothes such as these can be used in many situations and worn many times throughout a long vacation. The best travel clothes will fulfill three requirements; be comfortable for different environments, dry quickly, and won’t get pungent. Some travel cloths even provide the benifit of being stain and wrinkle resistance. Clothes should be the last thing you worry about when traveling so here are the best cloths you can take on your next vacation.
What should I be looking for?
Travel clothes should be versatile and have advantages other cloths normally dont. Our inner clothing is always making direct contact with our skin and absorbing sweat. This can lead to the clothing getting wet and make the body cold. This is where wicking comes into play.
Wicking is a property of the material that will collect, push away from the body, and disperse moisture so that the body can be kept warm and the clothing can dry quickly. Clothing that wicks is great for people who sweat, everyone does especially while traveling, and for that unpredictable rain that appears on what should be a sunny vacation.
An effect of a garment collecting oil and sweat is the surface then becomes a breading ground for odor producing bacteria. Simply put your cloths will stink. Clothing that is antimicrobial, usually from oleophobic (resists oil) properties, is such a huge benefit as it lets you wear them multiple times and get the most out of what you pack. The benefit from this is you can pack one shirt for a couple of days and as a result pack less. The best part of the oleophobic property is it resists getting stains as well as resisting odor producing bacteria.
Other additional, but not critical, attributes you may want to look for in travel cloths are wrinkle resistance. Removing wrinkles on a trip can be such a pain especially if you stuffed them in a small backpack like I do.
Clothes that absorb less water and wick will dry quickly. Quick drying cloths and undergarments are great for people who might need to wash cloths on vacation. A quick drying shirt or undergarment can hang dry overnight.
Shirts and upper layer
Anything but cotton and polyester
When traveling one might be walking hours on end in the hot sun, strolling through a city in the rain, or walking along a river in the cold. Conditions are not always perfect on a perfect vacation. Luckily, there are materials that will keep us favorable for our significant other. Those materials are not cotton or polyester.
In a pinch cotton is a fine material but usually after a day, or two depending on the person and conditions, a cotton shirt becomes stale. Usually for a short vacation I would pack a cotton shirt per day and maybe one more if I expect the conditions to be unfavorable, but a quality material like the ones I will talk about later will last much longer.
The worst part of cotton is when it gets wet it takes forever to dry. This is because cotton does not wick and instead absorbs all liquids and oils. This will make hot days the enemy of cotton, unless you dont mind looking like you just finished jumping in the pool.
Additionally, wearing wet cotton will drain the body of heat and bring about a cold that goes right through you. Other materials dont have this effect to the same extent.
Polyester is a great material for keeping you warm, dry, and cool through its wicking property but it quickly can become foul scented. Even for working out or hiking a polyester shirt does not last long before people can smell you a mile a way. Because the shirts becomes an optimal breeding ground for bacteria as it rubs up against the body, it transfers that bacteria and makes the wearer smell like the shirt.
Wool is an amazing material. It resists moisture, great at keeping warm, and resists getting smelly. Wool is usually a tough and itchy material but the wool that comes from the merino sheep is a fine strand that produces a soft, cotton like, material. Merino wool is a great material that obtains all the properties of wool while being as soft as cotton.
The only problem with merino wool is its price. Expect to pay $50 or more for a t-shirt. Another issue with merino wool is some shirts dont seem to last long. Polyester and a quality cotton shirt will last years but my merino wool shirts have not made it to two.
I know I said that polyester is not a great material for travel but its flaws can be combated. For one, people sometimes think polyester shirts are those shinny shirts people use for hiking, but if you look hard enough you can find a spin of polyester that is softer than cotton. Polyester can be spun to all sorts of different textures.
The feel of the material is beside the point I want to make. Polyester has one glaring weakness and that is it starts to smell quickly. Some polyester shirts are treated so that they are oleophobic (resist oil) and keeps them from smelling. Treated shirts are usually much more expensive bringing the price just under merino wool. In my experience the shirt will outlast the coating but it is still a descent option that will last years.
The wicking property and polyesters ability to absorb little water means shirts will dry quickly. I washed polyester shirts in sinks when through hiking and hung them over night in a dark hostile only to wake up to a completely dry shirts. I had soaking wet shirts completely dry while wearing them in a couple of hours.
While I haven't found nylon t-shirts that dont make you look like Robocop’s doppelgänger, button down shirts made of nylon have a more sophisticated look to them. Nylon is a great material because it is oleophobic which makes it antimicrobial so it will resist getting pungent, resist stains, and retain all the properties of polyester such as wicking and quick drying.
A button down shirt is such a versatile garment. It can be buttoned up for a formal look, lose buttoned with sleeve rolled up for a casual look, or opened up and rolled back for those hot days. Nylon button downs are even better than cotton ones as they resist stains and wrinkles making them amazing travel shirts.
I can not speak too much on this topic as I dont have much experience with them but there are blends of fabrics such as Eudae that resist odor. As these blends increase the amount of cotton or polyester, the shirts will start to lose their odor resistant attribute.
I have found 0 merino wool shirts to not hold up very well, but when blended with nylon the fabric can be tough and still retain its antimicrobial properties. Be on the look out for merino nylon blends.
What else should I know
We recommend you buy dark colors for t-shirts as stains will not show well on them. A good quality merino wool shirt or %100 nylon shirt can go days or even weeks without washing. Just dont forget to take a shower.
Pants and Lower body
Even though jeans are made of cotton I do not have a problem with them as travel wear. They are strong and usually dont smell as fast as a shirt. Travel pants can get expensive so if you have a good pair of stylish jeans then dont be afraid to travel with them.
These pants are usually made of a combination of polyester, nylon, and cotton and will have that khaki look. Some come as convertible so that you can peel away the bottom half of the pants leg and turn them into shorts. We recommend khakis because the color hides stains well and it matches with a variety of clothing.
Nylon shorts have the same great properties of nylon shirts. Casual looking nylon shorts like the DIA shorts by Spuds, Proof Highline shorts by Huckberry, Momentum shorts 2.0 by Myles, or any nylon travel shorts will last many days of use. Nylon shorts are versatile as they can be used as casual shorts or as swim shorts.
I can not speak strongly on this type of clothing since I dont wear them but dresses are versatile travel cloths. A light dress can be great in hot weather and can be worn as casual or formal clothing. A thin dress takes up little room in a pack and so makes them great travel clothes.
Since hats, gloves, socks, buffs, and scarfs make direct contact with your skin and are usually bombarded with snow and rain on days with bad weather, they should be made from one or a blend of the materials listed above. I find wool, merino wool, and acrylic gloves, hats, and scarfs to work well and resist odor.
Wool socks are great especially if you will be walking a lot. Merino is thin enough for hot days and normal wool is thick enough for colder days. I recommend darn tough socks. Their lifetime guarantee is no joke.
Outer layer and Jackets
Since jackets dont make direct contact to the skin, properties such as oleophobic are not essential. I will not go too deep into jackets since I covered this topic in depth in our layering guide article. Our layering guide covers different materials and options for thermal layers and water resistant jackets.
What I can say is things like odor resistance and wrinkle resistance are not critical here. You should bring what you need for the weather. Bring a water resistant jacket if there is any chance of rain.
Reduce the amount of clothing you travel with.
Once you own travel clothes you can significantly reduce the amount of clothes you travel with. You can pack for a couple of weeks with the same amount of clothes you would have packed for a long weekend. There is just a few things, obvious or not, you should keep in mind.
First off you should pack outfits. The best way to get the most out of all your clothes is make sure all your shirts go with all your pants. You can come to any sort of situation where you need to rely on a few shirts for whatever reason so make sure all your shirts match all your pants.
Pack cloths with multiple purposes. Take for example nylon button down shirts, these shirts can be worn casually or formally. I own a buff that I sometimes use as a light scarf. Maybe you buy a good pair of travel shoes that are formal enough to wear at a nice restaurant. Multipurpose clothes are great for reducing the amount of stuff you ravel with.
Once I experienced the joy of one bag travel I latched onto these amazing travel cloths. I can fit everything I need for an extended trip on a carry on size backpack. There is a freedom to this that must be experienced to understand. Happy travels.