A Crash Course on Travel Wear

Deciding what clothing to take when backpacking can be overwhelming. It’s natural to want to bring everything you might possibly need, but this kind of thinking leads to unnecessary stress.

As an example, I once went on a trip with a friend.  When I came to pick him up to leave, he was frezzled because he couldn’t fit all his clothes into his bag.  I pulled out his clothes and found THREE sweaters for less than 2 weeks of travelling.

me: Why do you need three sweaters?

him: One if it gets cold, one in case that one gets dirty, and one just in case.

me: You just said “in case” twice. Does that mean you have TWO backup sweaters?

After talking some more, I convinced him to take a single sweater, and wear it instead of stuffing it into his bag.  He only used the single sweater, and wore it even though it got a small stain on it.  He didn’t complain about it once – he was too busy having fun on the trip.

One Simple Rule

For every item of clothing you pack, ask yourself this question:

  • will I use this item every week?

If you answer ‘No’ to this question, chances are that you don’t NEED the item.  You might be better off leaving the item at home.  In the unlikely event that you DO need the item during your trip, you can always buy a cheap version on the road.

Some Tips for Packing

Like everything else while backpacking, clothing is very personal.  That being said, there are a few things you should think about that might help you narrow down your choices:

Everything should match – don’t put yourself into a situation where you don’t want to wear an item because it doesn’t match with your only clean pair of pants.  When you get dressed, it should be effortless for you to grab any clean top and bottom combo and get out and enjoy your travel.  This might mean that you should get somewhat neutral bottoms – think grey, beige, etc.

Dress for the destination – If you scroll down to my packing list, you’ll see that I don’t bother bringing a rain jacket.  No rain jacket for a whole year of travel?  Am I NUTS?!?!

Not nuts, just prudent.  I’m travelling mainly to cities, and spending at least a month in each destination.  That means if it’s raining, I can just buy an umbrella, and ditch it before my next flight.  No big deal.

I did end up in some more rural places, but bought some cheap jeans and rain jacket from a thrift store for $10 when I got there.  I didn’t need them after, so I donated them.  This allowed me to bring clothes that I actually wanted to wear, so it was well worth the money.

Your trip, your fashion – Most backpacking sites will tell you to invest a bunch of money on merino wool t-shirts, socks and underwear and wear them every day.  Not only are those items expensive, you also end up sticking out no matter where you go.  Some people even tell you not to bother shaving while travelling to save space and money! (seriously?)  Personally, I don’t want to look like a backpacker.

Don't be this guy

Don’t be this guy

Instead, I want to fit in with the locals so I can fully experience the culture.  Wherever I go, I always meet local people and they often invite me out to their favourite spots in the city.

I’ve noticed that other backpackers don’t always get this courtesy.  Why?  Probably because they look like backpackers, and people have a preconceived notion of what kind of people backpackers are.

My advice: dress the way you dress at home.  Just because you’re travelling doesn’t make you a different person.

Get comfortable wearing the same few outfits – some people have a strong aversion to wearing the same clothes over and over as if it’s somehow dirty or beneath them (especially people from Canada and the USA).  It’s a really stressful mindset.

There’s nothing wrong with wearing the same clothes over and over.  Heck, there’s nothing wrong with wearing the same clothes two days in a row (if they aren’t dirty).  60 years ago people were lucky if they had more than 2 sets of clothes.  Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day for years.  Barack Obama has a closet full of identical suits.  You can easily get used to wearing the same few outfits every week.

So What Should I Bring?

Once again, what you bring is completely up to you, based on your personal style and destination (and making sure everything matches).  However, if you’re stuck, below is what I brought for a full year of travelling.

I typically wore the jeans and a button-down with my boots everyday.  If it was hot, I’d roll up the sleeves, put on flips flops or wear shorts.  If it was cold, I’d wear a t-shirt underneath and my fleece on top.

I did laundry usually once a week, but a couple of times I just washed my boxers and socks in the sink and didn’t do laundry for more than two weeks.  No one was the wiser.

Clothing List (men's)
6 button downs (1 short sleeve, the rest long)
2 t-shirts (1 short sleeve, 1 long)
1 golf shirt
2 pants (grey jeans+khakis)
1 pair of shorts
6 socks/boxers
1 light fleece jacket
1 pair swim trunks
1 pair of flip flops
1 pair of boots (Blundstone)
1 winter hat
1 summer hat