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Traveling and Living Lightly - My Clothing

When living out of a backpack for long periods (seven months on my most recent trip), you need to carefully consider every item of clothing which you carry.  If we give the same consideration to what we wear at home, it can save money, time, and reduce our environmental impact as well.  This is what I currently carry when I travel and why.

  In previous articles, I discussed my travel requirements and criteria for clothing selection, in this one I Casual Wear / Work ClothesCasual Wear / Work Clothes

will cover my actual clothing currently used for travel and increasingly for use at home as well.

NOTE: Where specific brands and types of clothing are listed it is not an endorsement of the product, simply reference information for those who are interested in details.

The following are what I currently carry when I travel and why (one of each unless otherwise noted):

  • Synthetic shirt, long sleeve, white, Columbia Sportswear "Titanium".
    • Sun protection rated - SPF 30
    • When clean looks okay for going out on the town.
    • Works well as an outer layer in cold weather.
    • This is the only shirt I wear while teaching cob construction, it is tough and can take the abuse of being a work shirt and harsher washing requirements of removing clay stains.
    • Retains odor, so I tend to give it a quick hand washing every day or two when working, and change out of it at the end of each work day.
    • Two front pockets with flap style snap closures which are great for pen, notepad and other items.
    • There is a strip of fabric inside each sleeve that can be buttoned over the outside of rolled up sleeves to keep them from unrolling.  This is a great concept but stupidly implemented.  The fabric strip is way too long and results in the sleeve dropping down far enough to easily get in the way.  I finally tied knots in each one in order to shorten them, though I probably should have just folded them over and sewed them in place.
    • Though it is not particularly noticeable (yet) except in good light during a close examination, the arm pit areas are discoloring, presumably a reaction to my sweat.
  • Merino wool (Smart Wool), long sleeve, tee shirt, light green
    • Strictly casual wear or as an inner layer in cold weather.
    • Holds up fine to machine washing and drying
    • Fine merino wool so it doesn't feel itchy/scratchy the way regular wool does.
    • Wicks moisture well so it's suitable for cold weather hiking and dries fairly readily.
    • It has some odor-killing capabilities, but does not seem to be as good as other merino wool clothes I have (possibly due to the way they process it to make "Smart Wool").  In any case, its odor control is sufficient that wearing it two or possibly three days in a row is generally not a problem.
    • Light weight so it's wearable in hot weather as well as cold.
    • Snags can cause the shirt to start unraveling.  I used a tiny iron-on patch on the inside of the shirt to stop the unraveling.
    • Would prefer a different color
    • Would prefer one that was designed to look more like outer wear, preferably with at least one pocket
  • Merino wool (Smart Wool), short sleeve, tee shirt, blackClothingClothing
    • Same notations as the long sleeve smart wool shirt above.
    • I wear this along with the swimming trunks for working out (running, weights, etc.)
    • Would prefer something lighter colored than black (all that was available when I bought it years ago)
  • Ice Breaker long underwear (top and bottom) black, merino wool
    • Great odor control makes wearing this shirt around town for four days in a row feasible if it is not visibly dirty.  Never tried it for longer because being black it always looked dirty by the end of the fourth day.
    • A little heavier weight than the wool shirts above.  Might have been better to go with the lighter weight rather than medium weight version of this in order to better handle hot climates.
    • Only available in black for men at the time I bought it (too hot in direct sun during summer).
    • Top looks reasonably nice and I regularly wear it as my "dress shirt".
    • Wish it had one or two pockets
    • I sometimes machine wash and dry (on low or air-dry setting) occasionally, though the machine drying is not recommended.  A little shrinkage from the drying, but not enough to cause me problems so far.
    • New product offerings from this company and others may now make it feasible to buy today items which are a little closer to what I would like i.e. something which looks a little less casual and is available in other colors.
  • Cotton boxer shorts (2 pairs) - these were just what was on hand, haven't found anything with a good price / feature trade off to my liking, so for now I use these
  • Cargo pants - Columbia Sportswear, "Titanium"
    • Synthetic, tough, light weight, reasonably quick drying
    • Two pairs purchased two years apart, one dark green, one somewhere between beige and gray in color.
    • For building work and anything likely to be damaging to clothing, I only wear the older, dark green pair of pants.  This keeps the newer pair in good condition for places where I need to wear nicer clothing.
    • Zip off / removable legs so they turn into cargo short pants when needed.
    • Would prefer if the cargo pockets all had zippers.  The velcro doesn't do a good enough job and things sometimes fall out.
  • Swimming trunks, Speedo brand, boxer style, dark green.Swimming TrunksSwimming Trunks
    • Synthetic, dries quickly
    • Regular pant style front pockets
    • One cargo pant style side pocket.
    • Good for swimming, running, and working out
    • Can be used as casual short pants or as a spare pair of underwear if needed.
  • Socks, three pairs, merino wool, medium weight, hiking socks (don't remember the brand, purchased at Costco). 
    • Great odor control and moisture wicking.  Even after wearing one pair for four or five hot days in a row, if I turn them inside out and let them air dry over night, there is no trace of odor the next day.  If only my feet worked the same way :-)
    • Gray color, goes with pretty much everything.
    • I only use two pairs of these socks, the third pair is an emergency use spare pair and used to protect another item in the back pack the rest of the time.
  • Money Belt, leather (Austin House brand) - this is not a pouch you wear under your clothes, it is an actual belt with a zipper compartment on the back side running the length of the belt.
    • Fits standard currency folded in thirds lengthwise.
    • While wearing the belt, it is not visibly distinguishable from a standard black leather belt.
    • Largest capacity belt of this type I could find, I have put over 50 bills in it at one time.  The trick to reach maximum capacity in any money belt of this style is to put the bills in groups (I do six at a time), fold them in thirds length wise as a group, then put the groups in end-to-end until it is full (some of them won't fit).  Now wear the belt for a day, this will compress the money in the belt and set the creases.  Next combine the rest of the money with the money in the belt, starting with one of the flattened groups, alternate the money from the belt with the new money, overlapping each group.
  • Bandana - generally useful item for many applications: first-aid, as a handkerchief, dipped in water to cool off in the heat, etc.

I mentioned above how our clothing selection can save us time, money and reduce our environmental impact, consider now the impact of having a few well chosen items rather than closets full of clothing:

  • Formal Wear :-)Formal Wear :-)

    Fewer items means less closet space and potentially a smaller house or apartment which can save substantial money.

  • A few multi-purpose items means less money tied up in your clothing.
  • If your clothes can be worn for multiple days without washing, it reduces the time and money spent on doing laundry as well as the environmental impact of the water usage and laundry detergent.
  • Clothes which wick moisture will dry more quickly, reducing drying time and/or eliminating the "need" for a mechanical dryer.
  • You will likely actually wear your clothes until they are worn out and need replacing, because you will be wearing them much more often.  Many people don't wear out their clothes because they have so many to choose from that any single item is worn just occasionally until it no longer fits or is out of fashion.  Once the clothes are no longer used, they might be given to a thrift store, but much of this clothing is simply shredded for use in mattresses and other types of padding, hardly an efficient use.

You might view this selection as inadequate, and it might be for some applications, however, it meets all of my requirements laid out in the start of this series.  The goal here is not to tell you what to wear, rather to show what is possible with careful selection.  In extremely cold weather I can put on literally everything and handle temperatures well below freezing, but since all the clothes are light weight I can wear any of these items in extreme heat.  The use of merino wool with its odor-killing properties means I typically need to do laundry only about once every ten days and everything easily fits in a single load (I typically wear the swimming trunks while washing everything else).  The only significant limitations I have found are that the small selection gets boring after a while, and some people might find it rather limiting if you like to dress up or go to more formal events.  I don't claim it's perfect for everyone, but it is sufficient for daily life, fairly extreme conditions, maintaining a light pack weight, and living a simpler life style with fewer possessions.


Try carrying a tiny tube of washable fabric glue.  It takes seconds to dab on just enough to set the threads in place from the wrong side of the garment (too much may darken the fabric).   Nearly invisible, nontoxic, and some of these repairs have lasted us years with regular washing.  There may be something better, but I've had the same bottle of Alene's OK To Wash It glue, available at craft and sewing stores, for ten years.  Crazy Glue might be more versatile, but also more toxic.