Essential Gear

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Essential Gear

I gave up being Mr. Natural years ago. I date it back to the long afternoon in France spent watching a tepid dryer swirl my cotton jeans, T-shirts, and underwear for a good two hours while I fed it very expensive coins. Synthetic travel clothes have it all over cotton and wool. First, they're half the weight and bulk of their natural counterparts. They stay wrinkle-free — not as in your father's starchy polyester, but by virtue of soft, airy fabrics (most are nylon; a few are polyester or blends) that are also amazingly durable and, yes, quick drying. If the prices make you wince a bit, just remember: You can travel for weeks with just two sets of tops and bottoms, supplemented by some judicious layering. You save a lot versus less-versatile wardrobes, and you won't be pouring francs into pathetic clothes dryers.
By Bob Howells

At the dressier end of the travel clothing spectrum are The North Face's Travel Pant ($78) and Indian Summer Shirt ($78). The smart look of the pleated polyester pant belies its technical features, which include two hidden zippered pockets, a wicking finish, and mesh-lined (easy-draining) pockets. I wore the polyester/nylon shirt as a layering piece while day hiking in Alaska last summer — I appreciated the mesh-vented back when I worked up a sweat — then rinsed, wrung, and hung it up for a couple of hours and looked snazzy in the lodge for dinner. Bonus: The crinkly material and dark plaid never show dirt or wrinkles.

My girlfriend applauds this type of outfit because she's tired of, well, looking like me when we hike together. The flap on The North Face's Tanzania Trekker's Skort ($62) gives it a feminine look — think of it as a skirt at dinner, a rugged (Cordura/ Supplex blend) short on the trail. TNF's Climbing Stretch Tank ($36) is a cool, pliant top for summer that works very well as a wicking layer under a shirt like the Women's Lavaredo ($79) — made of a meshlike nylon that's soft as flannel but stays cool and dry.

Worn solo, Patagonia's Go-T ($34) is my favorite T-shirt, particularly on a sultry day in the tropics: When pure cotton would go soggy, the 50-50 cotton/Capilene stays dry. It also plays base nicely to a midlayer like TravelSmith's Microfleece Henley Pullover ($69.50). No need to pack a bulky sweater: The Henley has cashmere good looks and touch, insulates well, and won't absorb water from within or without. It's the best midlayer around. Unless I'll be backcountry trekking, I regard Sierra Designs' Acti-vent Jacket ($159) as the ideal travel shell. It weighs just 12.7 ounces, stuffs in a fanny pack, is windproof, repels water unless absolutely drenched, and breathes like crazy, helped out by big zippered vents in front and a mesh panel in the rear.

I've worn the men's version of the Royal Robbins Passport Plaid Shirt ($65), which is mostly durable polyester but places softer mesh against back and neck — that and a wicking treatment qualify it well for trail use. The Go Everywhere Skirt ($64), made of the same soft three-ply Supplex, is obviously dressy enough for city interludes, but sources close to the author also appreciate its air-circulating abilities as an alternative to trail trousers. I own a full wardrobe of hats, but the Royal Robbins River Guide Hat ($20) is the one I travel with. It takes up no space, survives multiple pack-stuffings, and wicks perspiration — and I love its zip-away tether. Clipped to my shirt collar, it recently survived 25 knots aboard a catamaran off Maui, and the pocket is handy for holding a few bucks or a fishing license.

I've owned Ex Officio's Baja Plus shirts ($79) for six years now and never travel without one — or two. At 55 percent cotton, they're softer than other travel shirts, but nearly as quick-drying. I've worn one comfortably in steamy Grenada — with side and underarm vents open and the sleeves tabbed up — and in cold, drizzly Alaska with the vents sealed and a TravelSmith CoolMax T-shirt ($22.50) layered underneath. I also love the big-enough-for-a-notebook, Velcro-flapped pockets and the roomy, pleated back. The Ex Officio Nomad Pant ($66) has almost as broad a range: The nylon fabric is soft, tightly woven, and wind-resistant € la canvas, yet these pants are generously cut for a ventilating bellows effect. I've worn them for hiking and as my after-sunset trousers in Hawaii.

The theme and climate of my trips obviously dictate my choice of shoes. Vasque's Montreux Low oxford ($150) has good looks with its pebble-grain smooth-out Crocetta leather upper, and serious intent with a lugged Vibram sole. It's a tad warm, but a great walker that looks sharp in civilized settings. Rockport's Hydrosports XCS water shoe ($100) is my Hawaii shoe: With a mesh upper and drain ports, it's the coolest thing around — a little flimsy for serious walking, but I stick in a pair of Superfeet High Profile Footbeds ($28) for extra support. Salomon's Excentric ($75) is the best all-round travel shoe I've worn — great support from a shock-absorbing polyurethane midsole and a cool split-leather upper with airy mesh panels. I favor the Josef Seibel Advance sandal ($100) for summer city walking and dutiful museum-tromping — the nubuck leather upper is sumptuously supple and is hand stitched to a contoured polyurethane footbed. If I know I'll be trail-hiking a lot, the low-cuts get left behind and I go with a day hiker like Timberland's StrataVarious Multi-Purpose Outdoor 9000GT Mid ($100) — good ankle support from the handsome nubuck leather upper, and a cushy EVA footbed that seems to mold to my feet.

I like a travel vest for the same reason outdoor photographers do — the handiness of the pockets — but I tend to shy away from the wannabe war-correspondent look. TravelSmith's lightweight nylon Rever-sible Cargo Vest ($79) is more discreet yet still serves well, with five sealed pockets on the light-colored "field" side and two more unsealed on the black "town" side. Lowe Alpine's new Dryflo Crew T ($49) may be the best base layer I've worn. The polyester fibers, knit closer against the skin with a larger weave outside, wick like crazy. I have yet to test it in snow, but while working hard in a relentless drizzle I stayed dry and cozy. I wore these Woolrich Cargo Breakers Tradewind nylon shorts ($25) on a hike to one of those pristine rainforest waterfall pools on West Maui. While everyone else was changing, I was already swimming. The amphibious shorts have a built-in mesh brief and all the requisite hiking-short pockets.

For their two-in-one versatility, I regard convertible trousers as the keystone of travel duds, and the Supplex nylon Royal Robbins Zip 'n' Go Pant ($68) is the best I've tried. The zip-off legs effectively mean I get an extra pair of pants for just five ounces, which is what the leggings weigh, plus they're gusseted to slip over hiking boots for a quick trail switch. The Royal Robbins Expedition Long Sleeve Shirt ($60) is also made of Supplex and is almost as versatile; with a cooling mesh neck and back vent plus roll-up sleeve tabs, it's a good all-season shirt.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web