After spending a year on the road and experiencing a variety of weather, from snow to scorching heat, I feel I now have a pretty good idea about what works, and what doesn’t for clothing. Before leaving for our around the world trip the biggest question was, “What do we bring?” Well, now I know.
Every traveler seems to have his or her own opinion on what they think are the best options, but I now disagree with a lot of the information out there. You could spend $1000’s on the latest high tech clothing that promises to do all sorts of stuff. But heed my words; do not believe what you read! Most of the high tech clothing is overpriced garbage and is not needed. We spent so many hours at REI and other high tech backpacking stores trying on clothing and then going home and researching the brand/model for the stuff we were interested in before buying it, and then to find out once we got on the road that it fails to perform like it says or does not survive the repeated washings and conditions of long-term travel.
If you are planning an extended trip or a round the world (RTW) trip like we are doing and you want to know what you should bring to survive 4-seasons, you would be surprised at how little you need. It is way too easy to over pack and that is the last thing you will want to do. We should know, as we did just that. We decided to bring just a few extra items of clothing, just in case, and have regretted it ever since. The biggest problem with starting with too much stuff is you feel bad about getting rid of unwanted items and you end up lugging them with you for far too long. The best thing you can do is start with the clothing that I list below, and if something wears out or you need an extra layer, buy it on the road. Do not worry about not being able to find clothing on the road. We have found most of the same name brands as in the United States, and some new ones that are actually better.
The secret to surviving 4-seasons with the minimal amount of clothing is layering. The colder it gets, the more layers you add.
The other thing I highly recommend is to stick with natural fabrics, like cotton and merino wool and to just wear the same clothes you wear at home. Not only is it more comfortable than the synthetic high performance clothing, but it will actually help you blend in better with the locals. Nothing screams “TOURIST” louder than looking like you are on an African safari in an urban setting. Do you dress in hiking boots and quick dry clothing with zip off convertible pants when you go to the mall? Then why start now! I know some of you may scoff at hearing me suggest wearing cotton and the old saying of “cotton kills” may come to mind. But seriously, how many people do you know who have died from wearing a cotton t-shirt and jeans? I think high performance clothing companies started that saying just to freak out the consumers! Like I said, dress how you would at home and you will thank me.
The Ultimate Packing List for 4-Seasons of Travel:
- 3 cotton or light merino wool t-shirts
- 1 short sleeve button shirt
- 1 long sleeve button shirt with button and strap for rolling up sleeves
- 1 merino wool sweater
- 2 pairs of pants/jeans
- 1 pair of shorts
- 5 pairs of merino wool socks (Smartwool or KEEN are highly recommended)
- 5 underwear
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 warm hat
- 1 pair of gloves
Beware of any rain jacket that says “breathable” as it will eventually fail. We have even found that Goretex fails eventually. Best to save your money and pick up a lightweight non-breathable rain jacket shell or poncho.
- 1 fleece or softshell jacket
- 1 light rain jacket shell or poncho
A good comfortable pair of shoes is very important, as you do a lot of walking when traveling. For 4 seasons you will need a good waterproof pair and we went with low cut waterproof hikers. Hiking shoes are great for trail and urban settings, but they do mark you as a tourist. If you are not into hiking then a pair of leather casuals like Clarks are highly recommended. Not only are they comfortable and waterproof, but they are stylish and you will fit in with the locals. The other option is a good pair of sneakers. Sneakers are everywhere and are the shoe of choice in most places. Besides shoes, a pair of sandals is nice for warmer weather. We prefer KEEN Newports.
- 1 pair of waterproof shoes
- 1 pair of sandals/flip-flops
Before You Go!
One last bit of advice that we wish someone had told us before we left. Once you get everything that you plan on taking with you, pack it up into your luggage or backpack(s) and take it for a real life spin. Walk out of your house, walk down the street with it, take it on the local bus, walk up and down some hills, and then go somewhere with 6+ flights of stairs and walk up and down with your bags. This may sound excessive, but this is exactly what we go through just about every time we move to a new location. If we would have done this before leaving I guarantee that we would have found a way to lighten our bags! When you go, travel light!!!!