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Packing for Extended Travel: Clothing

If you are packing for an extended trip like us, you’ll probably have given some consideration to what clothes you want to bring. The last thing you want is for your clothes to weigh you down either on your back or body, or make you stand out as a target in more dangerous places.

You also don’t want to be too hot or too cold, no matter where you are (and travel can take you to some really crazy places). And finally, you want to look and feel good. These are some pretty steep requirements for clothing, and it takes quite a bit of careful thought and research to find a set of clothes you are comfortable with that will tough the trip out with you.

Christina and I spent numerous months on and off researching clothing. Throughout this process, we decided first of all that we could not bring more than a week’s worth of clothes, and second upon a few criteria that we wanted in clothes that we were going to bring on a year long trip:

  • Any clothes we bring should be light weight so that they can pack down small and not weigh a lot when being carried on our backs.
  • Any clothes we bring should be quick-drying so that we could wash them in a sink at night and have them totally dry by the time we wake up in the morning, so we can pack up and go.
  • Any clothes we bring should be entirely unremarkable so that we do not stand out anywhere we go, to not look like tourists or targets in dangerous places.
  • Any clothes we bring should still be comfortable and stylish enough that we feel good wearing them over and over every week for an entire year.
  • Any clothes we bring should be tough and durable so that they can survive extensive wear across a large variety of climates, locations, and treatments.

With all this in mind, we set out on a mission to find the holy grail of travel clothes, which I can now say with confidence is incredibly expensive and difficult. While we each will soon have a gender-specific blog post that shows all of the things that we have packed if you are curious about specifics, I just want to go through a couple more general points in this post about how we went through the process of trying and picking our final batch of clothes.

Quick Dry Over Everything

My absolute first priority when looking for anything is that it will dry overnight. Why? When you are traveling, you won’t always have access to a washer and dryer, which means that you need to find another way to wash your clothes (we do this in a small bag that we put hot water and soap into and basically shake it around like a washing machine). But once you have done this and hung them up to dry, you can either stay with your clothes until they dry, which for some clothes can easily be more than 12 hours, or you can pack them up wet in a bag, which is gross and makes the clothes heavier, harder to pack, and can make them moldy and smell weird. Or you can leave your clothes out to dry and run a risk of them being gone when you get back. All of these situations massively suck, and I didn’t want to be in any of them. So quick dry it is.

When looking for quick dry clothing, you should avoid denim and cotton at all costs, and be going for things like merino, polyester, or other synthetic blends. Many outdoor/travel-centric brands will list “quick-dry” as a feature of their clothing. But make sure to also test everything! Just get it wet and hang it up overnight. If it’s dry when you wake up in the morning, you’re golden.

Layer and Layer More

For longer trips, you want to be ready for when it’s cold. At the same time, you definitely do not want to be bringing heavy and bulky jackets and scarves. So what you are looking for here is the highest warmth to weight ratio that you can find.

Spoiler alert: it’s down. So make sure to pick up a down jacket. They are big and puffy but can compress down to the size of a pair of gloves, usually folding into their own pockets. When looking at down, the warmth has a direct correlation with the “fill” number. For any down garment you’ll see something like “700 fill”. Generally 600 is on the low end and 800 is on the high end. Plan accordingly to how cold it will be in places you are going. A good down jacket will be expensive, like $200+. But remember that this is an extremely efficient garment that weighs nearly nothing, keeps you warm in the coldest weather, and will last you for a long time, assuming you take care of it, so it will pay itself off quickly.

You’ll also want to make sure to bring a shell layer. This is a thin, light, waterproof and windproof jacket. You can layer this over the top of your down jacket to essentially add waterproof and windproof to the down jacket’s capabilities, and the combination of the two make for a jacket that will keep you warm and dry in any situation. The shell can also be used as a raincoat in any other situation. On it’s own, it doesn’t keep you warm at all, so if you are just trying to stay dry even when it’s hot out, the shell won’t overheat you alone.

Christina and I ended up settling on Arc'teryx jackets for both down and shell after quite a bit of research. Read more about this in my packing list (coming soon).

You also want to be able to layer your other clothing if you need. That means you need some long sleeve shirts, some short sleeve shirts, some long underwear, etc. Overall, rather than bringing weather-specific garments, you just want to bring versatile pieces that layer on top of each other to be able to adapt to any weather you’re in.

Be Prepared to Spend Money

When you are only going to be bringing less than a weeks worth of clothing for an entire year, you want to make sure that you have nice clothes that will last. Cheap clothes will fall apart under this amount of wear, then you will need to replace locally and likely not have clothes that dry quickly, which is bad news as we have discussed above.

I am definitely not a fashionista and don’t typically pick up really expensive clothes, so it was sort of a shock for me to be picking up tee shirts that were more than $50 and other price boosts at that level. But one thing we were absolutely sure of is that we were paying extra for quality, not for brand or looks. In fact, not having a recognizable brand or standing out in any way are part of the requirements for our clothing. Do your research, make sure you are getting well-made quality stuff, and don’t be afraid to spend a little more on extra quality, since you won’t have much quantity.

Tone Down Your Colors

For long-term travel, standing out or being noticeable is not really what you want. Being different, or looking like a tourist will invite nothing but disdain or danger, especially when you are an American (unfortunately we don’t have the best perception overseas). So flashiness, bright colors, jewelry, etc. are all things you should avoid. You can blend in much more easily with neutral, unbranded or minimally branded earthy tones, and these are the kinds of colors we chose across our wardrobes.

Look Good, Feel Good

As is the case with any of your clothing, you also want to look good! It’s easy to get caught up in all the technical requirements you have for your clothing and forget about this. The last thing you want is to feel like a loser that’s wearing weird clothes, or stand out because of this. Make sure that you are able to roughly stick to your personal style and that your clothes fit well. If they don’t, head to a tailor and get them adjusted. I did this for a couple of my button-down shirts that I felt were a little too boxy, and one pair of pants I felt was too baggy. It was definitely worth it.

Also, make sure you can fit into a variety of situations. If there’s a somewhat more formal event or a nice restaurant or something you are headed to, you want to be able to be prepared for this. Certainly don’t bring a suit or fancy dress, but make sure you have at least one article of clothing that you feel could fit into a slightly more dressed up situation.

Favorite Brands and Stores

After searching for a while, we settled on a couple brands and stores that we particularly enjoyed, and that made up a decent quantity of our wardrobes, listed below:

  • Arc'teryx: Pricey, but extremely high quality stuff. Attention to detail is paramount to this company. They are particularly strong in outerwear. Anything you pick up from Arc'teryx is without a doubt going to be a quality piece that lasts for many years. They even have a lifetime warranty.
  • Smartwool: Everything they make is merino wool, which is just about the best material to make anything out of. Unfortunately it is fairly expensive, but it’s truly amazing. They are well known for their socks, but also make really excellent clothing.
  • Patagonia: A lot of my shirts in particular are from Patagonia, I found that they have really nice, comfortable, good-looking fabric, and they fit really well. They make a bunch of other outdoor gear that is probably worth checking out as well.
  • Eagle Creek: This company makes really great small travel utility items and packing helpers. Stuff like compression bags, toiletry bags, and travel-size squeeze bottles are their specialty. We have a few items from them, and have really enjoyed them so far. If you’re trying to fill in the gaps or efficiently pack your bag, make sure to check out Eagle Creek’s stuff.
  • REI: Great outdoor/travel-focused store, many physical locations that you can head to and try on clothes if you want. They have more or less everything you need and we picked up a lot of out clothing and supplies there. Pretty good prices as well.

That’s about it for now! Of course this will be updated throughout the year as we learn and adapt. For more granular detail, I’ll link our specific packing lists here shortly after they are posted!