Hardware and Software, February 1997
Stifling heat is no excuse when you appear bare-legged at Cairo's Mohammed Ali Mosque. You either rent a ratty wraparound or remain outside. Unless, perchance, you're able to produce your own leggings, zip them to your shorts, and proceed fully garbed, and thus in proper observance of Islamic protocol, into the shrine--as I did one muggy day last fall. Afterward, the leggings came off and stayed off until the pyramids at Giza loomed just a short camel ride away. Then it was a matter not of deferring to mores but of protecting my gams from chafing against a rough saddle.
Convertible trousers are but one of the happy innovations in travel wear, which melds elements of casual clothing and technical outerwear. The story is as much about the virtues of synthetic fabrics--you'll find no all-cotton garb herein--as it is about useful designs.
If you're wont to snicker at such sartorial utility, consider the advantages: These clothes weigh little and gobble minimal pack space, yet they emerge from duffel-stuffings with nary a need for ironing. Synthetics and blends are durable and wash easily; rinse out your pants one day and they're dry for duty the next. (Ever try sink-washing a pair of Levi's?) The result is that you need to stow only a couple changes of clothes, even for an extended trip.
I've been wearing clothes like those recommended here for years now--flying, trekking, fly-fishing, bicycle touring, dining, and yes, visiting mosques and riding camels--and have found their true measure to be versatility. Indeed, I've come to rely on a travel wardrobe that metamorphoses as my itinerary does. But what I admire most about travel wear these days is that unlike their safari-couture progenitors, which seemed best suited for field scientists and banana-latitude overlords, these clothes look sharp. Wear them wherever the road takes you.
I used to wear army-surplus wool pants for heavy-duty bushwhacking, but the Tibetan Hiking Pant ($79; men's and women's styles) from The North Face has them beat. The coarse material is a blend of Cordura and Supplex nylons, doubled in the seat and knees, and likely to outlast Social Security. The crotch is gusseted, and the cuffs have internal gaiters to prevent dust or snow from billowing up your legs.
The roomy, classically stylish Ex Officio Ultimate Travel Skirt ($58) is also practical and comfortable, according to a source close to the author. Made of a soft nylon twill
Not merely a knockoff of a man's hiking shorts, the Wild Roses Short Rose ($50), made of Supplex, are cut fuller at the hips and narrower in the waist for women. They feature slider buckles on the side to cinch the waist snug and at the hem to adjust the leg length.
Helly-Hansen's Hiker Shorts ($50) are a worthy choice for trail and street alike. So soft is the Cordura in the Hiker that wearing them gives you that unencumbered feeling of silky running shorts. They feature two rear zippered pockets, one hook-and-loop pocket in front, standard side pockets, and a pleated front that give a smart look as well as a nice fit.
Even a fabric as soft as the Supplex used in L.L. Bean's SPF Tropic Wear Shirt ($48; men's and women's styles) needs help in the breathability department. Thus the mesh back vent. The fabric is also chemically treated to repel 95 to 99 percent of UVB rays, making this a great all-day-in-the-sun shirt.
I bought an Ex Officio Baja Plus Long-Sleeve Shirt ($79; men's and women's styles) years ago for sun protection, and now it's the first thing I pack for any excursion. The soft material, treated to repel both UVA and UVB rays, is woven so that cotton against the skin draws out moisture while nylon outside disperses it. Mesh ducts along the sides siphon air through, and the pleated back has an elastic band sewn inside, enabling the shirt to move with the body. Finally, there's a tab above the left pocket that's intended to stabilize a fly rod while switching from a caddis to a nymph, though I found it works even better as a conversation piece.
The Royal Robbins Go Everywhere Henley ($42), made of a polyester piqué knit with subtly positioned mesh vents under the arms, is deceptively functional. It has the natty look of casual cotton, but its wicking-enhanced chemical finish makes it as airy and quick-drying as any good travel garb.
At the dressy end of the spectrum, The North Face's Fez Striped Banded Collarless Shirt ($74) has the sheen and feel of linen, although it's actually a woven blend of rugged nylon and polyester, treated to aid in evaporation. It might look too good to take trekking, but it'll perform great on the trail--and then serve as a sharp shirt for when you go urban again.
When an airy travel top becomes too airy, The North Face's Quilted Windproof Vest ($108; men's and women's styles) can seal out a chest-chilling breeze. It sandwiches lightweight polyester insulation between tough Cordura Plus on the outside and W. L. Gore's Windstopper fleece on the inside.
TravelSmith's Microfleece Henley ($69) is the pièce de résistance of cool-weather layering. Button it up over another shirt as a jacket or slip it under a windbreaker as insulation. But feel the cashmere-meets-chamois texture and you'll be tempted to wear the Microfleece Henley all by itself, against your skin. My, how far polyester has come.
It may not be waterproof-breathable, and it may not be loaded with technical features, but neither does Patagonia's Baggies Jacket ($135) make you look like a Messner wannabe en route to Nanga Parbat. Instead, its compressible Supplex, treated for water-resistance, affords you moderately rugged yet sharp simplicity wherever else you might venture.
Ex Officio's Traveling Convertible Jacket ($138) is a coat or vest--by virtue of zip-off sleeves--for the traveler who simply must stay organized: It has more pockets than you'd ever use (15 in all), some hidden, some zippered, and some hook-and-looped for fast access. The water-resistant, nylon twill shell features a snap-off hood and a back-panel vent, and it all stuffs into its own small lumbar pack when the weather turns.
The most urbane application of waterproof-breathable technology I've yet seen, TravelSmith's City Light Jacket ($199; men's and women's styles) is a coated microfiber Supplex shell dressed up in faux-Burberry's styling. Wearing it, you could walk Uptown and keep right on going to the Adirondacks without missing a beat.
Bob Howells compiled the Outside Holiday Gift Guide, "Better Get A Big Sleigh," for the December 1996 issue.