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One of the questions I get asked all the time is what gear I used while traveling. Now with 2.5 years of travel under my belt, I think I can address what worked and what didn’t. While I didn’t carry a lot, when you don’t have much, every item has exaggerated importance.
I can only address what worked and what didn’t work for me. I began my travels with certain assumptions, some of which were proven to be true and some of which weren’t. All the items I will talk about in this series were items purchased by myself. No one sponsored any of my equipment. I say this only because I’ve been contacted by gear manufacturers and I might be doing reviews of gear provided by them in the future. If and when I start doing that, I’ll give plenty of disclosure.
Travel Clothes Philosophy
When I was getting ready to leave back in 2007 I ended up buying all new clothes for the trip. There were several things I looked for in the clothes I wanted to pack:
- It should be lightweight
- It should be easy to clean
- It should be easy to dry
- If possible, it should have more than one use
The result of this was that I didn’t pack a single item of cotton clothing. None. No cotton underwear, no cotton socks, no jeans, no cotton t-shirts. The result of this decision was mixed. Cotton clothing takes much longer to dry. When you don’t have a lot of clothes, you have to do laundry more frequently. Drying times becomes very important. Also, if you are in tropical climates, a cotton shirt will absorb more sweat and stink much faster. On the other hand, cotton clothing is more comfortable. There were times I wish I had a pair of jeans I could wear and laundry wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I only wore them one or two days a week. Likewise, a cotton, button up shirt would have been worth bringing if only to wear occasionally.
In two and a half years I wore a total of three pair of pants. Two of them I purchased at the start of the trip and the third I purchased in Sydney, Australia. (In fact I wrote an article in Australia about getting a new pair of pants). All of the pants I wore had zip off legs and converted to shorts, meeting the more than one use criteria I had. I have heard some people dis on these pants, but after wearing them for over two years, I have no problems and would buy them again. Depending on where I was and the time of year, I would take the legs on or off.
Two of the three pair were from North Face and the other pair was from Mountain Hardwear. Both of the North Face pants ended up ripping in the crotch. The Mountain Hardwear had some rips in the pockets (which I always had filled with stuff) but otherwise stayed totally intact. The Mountain Hardware pants also were more comfortable as they had a felt layer inside around the waist. The Mountain Hardware pants were more expensive, but in the end it was well worth it. I’ll be buying another pair of Mountain Hardwear pants and I will not buy North Face pants again.
People don’t like to talk about it, but underwear is a critical item. One could make an argument that they are among the most important items you pack. If there is one item I recommend more than any other it is ExOfficio underwear. I had four pair of ExOfficio boxer briefs and they held up just fine. I’m still wearing them (as I type this in fact). They are lightweight, odor resistant, quick drying and I even used them as my swimming trunks for the entire trip. When I went SCUBA diving, I just stripped down to my underwear and jumped in the water. At $25 per pair, they are more expensive than most underwear, but they last forever and are the perfect travel clothing.
I purchased several t-shirts and button up shirts and ended up sending several of them back home because I brought too many. In the end, I had 3 short sleeve t-shirts, 1 long sleeve t-shirt, 2 short sleeve button-up shirts, and 1 long sleeve button-up shirt. There was nothing special about any of the shirts. I have some North Face, Mountain Hardwear, and Colombia brand shirts, but none of them were so great as to stick out in my mind. In the future, I’ll throw a cotton shirt into the mix so I can wear something different once in a while. The most useful item was probably the long sleeve t-shirt, which was perfect for cool weather.
The biggest problem I had was with cold weather. I experienced cold weather several times on my trip to Tasmania, New Zealand, Egypt and South Korea. I didn’t plan for cold weather, so when I encountered it, I had to throw on everything I owned. I had one sweat-shirt in addition to what I listed above and a rain jacket. Bringing a bright orange sweat-shirt was a HUGE mistake. I would have been better off with a sweater or a neutral colored sweatshirt. I really stood out when I wore it, and you don’t really want to stand out. I will be leaving it at home on my future travels.
Next: Part 2, shoes and accessories