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Traveling Light: Ultimate Guide to Men's Travel Clothes

Tony doing some yoga in Yosemite wearing Prana Stretch Zion Shorts

Another pair of Prana Stretch Zion Shorts
The clothes you bring on your journey should be:
  • wrinkle resistant
  • stain resistant
  • fast drying
  • multi-functional (can you hike in your dinner pants?)
  • have large, secure pockets
  • comfortable

Why are these qualities important? 
When we travel, we don't know what we'll run into around the corner. Laundry facilities are rarely accessible, rain storms come out of nowhere, and there are always spontaneous adventures to partake in. 

You might spend a morning hiking and the afternoon sampling wine. You'll have more time to do both if you don't have to stop by your hotel room to change clothes. 

You'll be able to wash your clothes in your sink at night and they'll be dry by morning. 

You also want clothes, boxers, and socks whose smell won't induce vomiting after wearing them for two or three days. 

Raid your Closet
Before you buy anything, its time to go through your closet.You probably already have several pieces in there that would be great for travel.

Tony with a giant rooster in Thailand.
Wearing  polyester blends.
  • Polyester - 60-100% Why its awesome: It soaks up less water than cotton, and so it dries quickly. It also  continues to regulate body temperature when wet. The downside? It tends to start stinking quickly, and sometimes it is hard to get odors out. 
  • Nylon - 60-100% - It absorbs less water than polyester and dries really quickly. It is usually somewhat to totally windproof depending on the weave. The cons are that it often doesn't breathe was well and isn't as soft.
  • Merino Wool- up to 100% - This is not itchy wool. Merino is soft against the skin. It is hydrophobic and still regulates body temperature well when wet. It is anti-microbial so you can wear it for a while before it starts to smell. The only downside is it tends to be expensive.  
  • Cotton - 0-30% - Cotton feels great against the skin, but it soaks up and holds moisture, looses all temperature regulation when it is wet and starts to smell quickly. 
  • Spandex / Lycra 1-8% - A little spandex or Lycra makes clothes fit well and move with you. Keep the content low because it absorbs moisture rapidly, looses warmth when wet, dries slowly, and retains odor. 
  • Gore-Tex- Gore-Tex is a man-made waterproof breathable fabric. Breathable means that it allows the moisture from your body to escape, but doesn't let the water from the rain in, keeping your sweat from making you wet. It is more breathable and more expensive than the 'treated and printed nylon' that so many companies have their own proprietary versions of. 
  • Treated and printed nylon- North Face calls it "HyVent," Patagonia calls it "H2No" but its all the same stuff. The print on the inside of the jacket helps to distribute sweat over the surface area of the fabric to help it evaporate quickly. The treatment on the outside of the nylon makes it waterproof. 

Basic Packing List for Temperate Climate:
  • 2-3 Short Sleeve Shirts
  • 1 quick dry wrinkle resistant button up shirt (long sleeve for bug + sun protection)
  • 1-2 pair of comfortable quick dry pants you could go to dinner or hike in
  • 2 pairs of quick dry shorts (1 of which you can swim in)
  • 2 - 3 pairs boxers (No cotton!)
  • 3 pairs socks (No cotton!)
  • 1 rain jacket (+ rain pants if you're hiking a bunch or in a very rainy area)
  • 1 lightweight jacket or pullover
  • 1 Buff or quick drying bandanna 
Lay out the clothes you've found in your closet that fit these guidelines and then try everything on. Create a pile of the items that are comfortable, fit well and look decent. Now try putting together outfits. This is actually important. You don't want anything in your backpack that doesn't look good together. All your shirts should work with all your shorts and pants. If you are missing items on the list, its time to go shopping. 

What you absolutely should splurge on:
Before we begin, let me say, there are some things to absolutely spend money on. You won't find a decent rain jacket for less than $100 retail (look for end of season sales) Underwear and socks are two other items that you absolutely should not skimp on. First, because they fit sensitive areas, fit and fabric quality are very important. Secondly, these items will begin to stink first and you'll be washing them more frequently that everything else. Scroll down past the clothes for my sock and underwear suggestions. A quick dry, long sleeve button up is so useful. They provide relief from sun and bugs and dress up any pair of pants. The Tamiami II by Columbia is the best on the market. It is super thin, super soft and dries faster than anything else I own. They usually run around $50-60 but are totally worth it. 

On a budget:
For guys on a budget, you've got it a bit easier than the girls. It is SO easy to find inexpensive, multi-purpose travel clothes at places like Target. Quick dry shirts are easy to find everywhere. You get hybrid board shorts! Board shorts with real pockets! And Target sells "golf" pants! They look like expensive BetaBrand or Lululemon Ascent dress pants but they're only $30. and REI Outlet are fantastic websites to find end of season sales on name brand gear for those of you who aren't eligible for a pro-deal. Think you might be eligible? Check out my post on how to get a pro-deal. Sierra Trading Post carries both off-brand budget brands like Terramar as well as end of season stock of name brands. 

Budget Shirts
Men's budget travel shirts
From the left:
Terramar Helix Lightweight T-shirt  $12.99 comes in several colors

Great Shirts
Men's travel shirts
From the left:
*Icebreaker Tech Short Sleeve V Shirt $65-85 - Merino wool is soft, light and doesn't stink!
*Columbia Tamiami II Button Down $35-60 - The absolute best quick dry button up on the market. Every summer kayaking guide owns one. 

Men's budget travel pants

Budget Bottoms

Top to bottom:
Mossimo Plaid Hybrid Board Shorts $25.00 (Target)
C9 Champion Men's Golf Short $25.00 (Target)
C9 by Champion Men's Golf Pant $30 (Target)

Tough and Trusted Pants and Shorts
*Prana Stretch Zion Short $69 - Tony swears by these shorts. Tough, dry quickly and stretch
Patagonia Quandry Shorts $69 - They come in a pant as well. 
*Prana Stretch Zion Pant- $75-79 Tony wears these constantly. They last forever
*Lululemon Men's Ascent Pant Black $110 - These look fabulous and fit great

Tried and True Jackets

From the left:
Marmot Minimalist Jacket $194 Gore-Tex
*The North Face Termoball Pullover - $160 Superlight, super pack-able insulated pullover, Tony and I both have the older version of this called the Zephyrus and we love it!
*Patagonia Men's R1 Full Zip Jacket $170 - Seriously fabulous and lasts forever

Underwear and Socks

For all that is good, I beg you to invest in some Smartwool socks. They are super comfortable, won't smell even after several days of wear without washing. They hold up to abuse well and retain their cushion for miles and miles. They also reduce the occurrence of blisters. I recommend the "light" level of cushion in their PhD outdoor line because it gives you enough cushion for long days of walking without making your feet hot. They come in micromini and crew heights to fit a variety of shoe and boot types. 

For underwear, fabric and fit is crucial. When buying synthetic blend underwear, I stay away from nylon blends because I feel they don't breathe as well as polyester. Keep the spandex/lycra content as low as possible so your underwear won't hold on to your sweat long after your body has stopped sweating. 
Men's wool travel underwear
 One of the best options for underwear is merino wool because it breathes well, dries fast and is anti-microbial. I know it sounds crazy, but thin merino wool underwear will not make you too hot. If you're heading to a cold climate, Smartwool does make a version of their underwear in a heavier weight wool to keel you warmer. The latest versions of merino socks and underwear can be machine dried, so you don't have to worry about shrinking. Tony loves Smartwool boxer briefs and briefs, but found that the crotch wore out after around a year of heavy use, faster than his favorite ExOfficio Give-N-Go sport boxer briefs.
From the left:
Icebreaker Anatomica Boxers retail $42, found on Amazon for $35
Icebreaker Anatomica Briefs retail $43, found on Amazon for $30
Patagonia Men's Merino Boxer Briefs $40
*SmartWool Men's NTS Micro 150 Boxer Brief $48

Men's synthetic travel underwear

Tony is absolutely obsessed with the ExOfficio Give-N-Go sport boxer brief and ExOfficio Give-N-Go brief. That is the only kind of underwear he owns. It is super lightweight, comfortable, dries really fast and doesn't retain odor. Many men swear by the Patagonia Silk weight Capilene boxers and briefs. I probably sold hundreds of pairs when I worked at Great Outdoor Provision Company
From the left:
Arc'teryx Phase SL Boxer Short  $45
Patagonia Men's Silkweight Boxers $30
Patagonia Men's Silkweight Briefs $20
*ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Boxer Brief $32 - Every male outdoor guide I know loves these and owns many pairs. Its the only underwear Tony wears.
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Brief $20-26

Men's budget travel underwear

I have linked to a few budget options for men's underwear, including some at Target, but because Tony doesn't own any, I have no idea how great or terrible they are. All of these are a third to half the cost of the real thing. If you wear them, please let me know if they're good or not. 
Budget from right:
C9 by Champion Men's Premium Boxer Briefs $23.99 for 2 pack @ Target
C9 by Champion Men's Premium Boxer Briefs $19.99 for 2 pack @
Terramar High-Performance Essentials Odor-Control Briefs Pro Mesh $8.95
Terramar High-Performance Essentials Odor-Control Boxer Briefs Pro Mesh $9.95
Terramar High-Performance Essentials Odor Control Briefs $9.95
Terramar High-Performance Essentials Odor-Control Boxer Briefs $9.95