During summer in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, one can expect seemingly endless periods of hot, dry weather that are more or less identical from one day to the next. Rain is rare and night-time temperatures are usually warm.
Travellers to the Middle East may also be expected, for cultural reasons, to wear full-length clothing. This means wearing, regardless of the temperature, long-sleeve shirts and trousers. For women, it could also include a head scarf.
My research into travel clothing led me to realise that understanding fabric options was a key first step to selecting the most suitable garments.
Choice of Fabrics
For travelling it is important to choose items of clothing that are lightweight and easy to pack, hard-wearing, quick-drying, can be worn without ironing and of course comfortable. For reasons that will be explained later, the fabrics that best meet these criteria tend to be synthetics or blends of natural and synthetic fibres.
Neutral fabric colours such as beige, khaki, ivory and grey are also a good idea as they tend to coordinate better and allow you to blend in more with the local culture. Lighter colours are generally better in hot climates because they absorb less heat than dark colours.
Cotton and Linen
When discussing appropriate clothing for hot climates, most fashion and style writers will suggest lightweight cotton or linen. Both are natural fibres that breathe well and feel good against the skin. They are a good choice of fabrics for casual wear, particularly for those who may be living and working in hot climates, but they are not as suitable for travelling and adventure activities.
One downside with these fabrics is that they don’t perform well when they get damp, which can happen easily from perspiration. If the temperature drops, these fabrics, when damp, will offer virtually no protection in terms of warmth. The wearer will start to feel cold and become susceptible to chills. Cotton and linen can also chafe when damp, which is particularly noticeable when carrying a backpack.
Another downside of cotton and linen, particularly if they are not part of a synthetic blend, is that they pack rather poorly. They tend to be bulkier, heavier and are far more susceptible to wrinkles that often require ironing before they are suitable to wear. They are also not great at maintaining their shape over time, particularly if they are not blended with a synthetic material. In addition and on a personal note, I have always found it more difficult to find linen clothes that I actually like. They tend to come in a relatively limited range of styles and colours, compared to cotton.
In terms of natural fibres, lightweight merino wool is one of the best options for hot weather climates. Despite the traditional association with wool and colder weather, merino wool in a lightweight fabric has proven very comfortable to wear when the temperature rises. Merino breathes well and does an excellent job at regulating body temperature. It does not lose its insulating properties when damp, so it will still keep the wearer comfortable if the temperature drops. It is naturally soft against the skin, doesn’t itch and tends to maintain its shape, even after repeated washing and general use.
Due to its anti-microbial properties, merino also has the remarkable quality of being extremely odour resistant. It is possible to wear these clothes for days or even weeks without having to wash them. They are also quick-drying and don’t require ironing. This makes them highly desirable for the traveller. Many merino garments will be blended with some type of synthetic material to improve durability or wearability, depending on the garment and their intended use. Merino tends to be a more expensive option than other fabrics, however its specific performance advantages for the traveller/adventurer will often justify the additional cost.
Synthetics and Synthetic Blends
Clothing made partially or completely of synthetic materials is the superior choice for travel and adventure clothing.
The most common synthetics used are nylon and polyester. Both have similar properties. Nylon is more commonly found in travel and adventure clothing and is stronger and more durable than polyester although the differences between them are not great. Polyester is typically found in all kinds of clothing.
Lycra (Spandex, Elastane) is another synthetic material often blended in small amounts with nylon or polyester or natural fibres like cotton and wool to provide garments with greater stretch ability.
Another synthetic material becoming popular in clothing is Tencel, which is a brand name for lyocell, a wood-based fibre that is part of the rayon family of synthetics. Tencel claims to be more absorbent than cotton, softer than silk and cooler than linen. It is also one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics and is typically blended with natural fibres like cotton and wool.
The advantages of synthetics over natural fibres are that they tend to be more durable, stain-resistant, able to stretch more easily, better at holding their shape, more water-resistant, quick-drying, less prone to wrinkling and able to incorporate beneficial enhancements like mosquito and UV protection. They are also far less likely to be damaged by moths, mould or mildew during times of extended storage.
There are also several disadvantages to synthetics. They are more likely to absorb odours than natural fibres. They tend to burn or melt more readily when exposed to high heat. This can happen surprisingly quickly when ironing a piece of synthetic clothing on the wrong temperature setting.
Synthetics are sometimes prone to building up an electrostatic charge when they rub against other clothing. Many people also say that synthetics do not ‘feel’ as nice against the skin, however I tend to think that may be more to do with the make and quality of the garment than anything else.
In addition, synthetics are non-biodegradable. However the production of synthetic clothing is said to involve a smaller carbon footprint than clothing based on natural fibres.
In recent years, there has been something of a backlash against anything that is not natural and organic, so synthetics, despite their advantages, have received more negativity than I think they deserve. One thing is for certain though. There will be ongoing technological advancement in the field of synthetic clothing. The textile industry will continue to develop new materials and fabric combinations that enhance the performance of their clothing in an even broader range of contexts and reduce those characteristics currently considered less than desirable.
Two of the most common enhancements made to fabrics that are of interest to the warm-weather traveller are UV protection and insect-repellency.
The Skin Cancer Foundation states that suitable clothing is the best form of protection from the sun. The degree to which a particular fabric or garment provides protection from harmful UV radiation is indicated by an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). During outdoor activities in summer, it is advisable to wear clothing with a UPF of 30 or higher. This number means that only 1 in 30 units (~3.3%) of UV radiation will pass through the clothing to your skin. The highest UPF for clothing is 50, which allows only 1 in 50 units (2%) of UV radiation through. Although all clothing has some level of UV protection, synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester are said to have superior sun protection properties compared to natural fibres.
Besides protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, there may also be the annoyance of biting insects to consider. Some makes of travel and adventure clothing incorporate built-in insect-repellency into their garments. The fabrics used in these products tend to be treated with permethrin, a type of insecticide specifically engineered for fabrics that are worn against the skin. It is effective against ticks, mosquitos and many other insects and is claimed to reduce insect bites by up to 90%. When permathrin is built-in to the fabric, it is a permanent treatment that can’t be washed out and will last the life of the garment.
What To Take
In terms of quantities, I’m opting for the following: two pairs of trousers, two long sleeve shirts, two t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, a hat, sunglasses, swimming trunks, a light hooded sweater, a light rain jacket and several pairs of socks and underwear. Taking two of some items means one can be worn while the other is being washed and dried.
Regardless of cultural considerations, for truly hot weather, long-sleeve shirts are actually the preferred form of upper body clothing as they provide the best protection from the harmful rays of the sun.
For long-sleeve shirts, there are really only two options: synthetic or lightweight merino. I went for the Craghoppers NosiLife Adventure shirt, made of 100% nylon. It is light-weight, incorporates UPF50+ sun protection, insect-repellent protection, moisture-control, an extendable collar to keep sun of the neck, handy security pockets and sleeves that can be rolled up and buttoned. Craghoppers also make a chequered NosiLife long-sleeve shirt called Prospect which has similar features to the shirt mentioned above. Due to its different styling, I actually think it would be better suited for going out or casual wear.
Another option would be a light-weight merino and Tencel blended shirt like the Icebreaker Cool-lite Compass long-sleeve shirt. It has nice styling and for that reason would be more versatile than the Craghoppers shirt I have chosen.
Trousers that are actually comfortable to wear in warm weather can be hard to find. They need to be light, fit well around the waist and have freedom of movement. It should be easy to squat in a pair of trousers without them being tight and restrictive. For travel it is important to have trousers that you can sit in for extended periods of time, like an aircraft seat, but also feel comfortable walking in them over longer distances. Trousers should also come with a good selection of useful pockets. I usually always carry at least my wallet and phone in my trousers. I also like having comfortable pockets available to stick my hands into.
For this trip, I’m planning to take two pairs of trousers. My everyday pair will be Ayacucho Gruno III cargo trousers. They are made from a lightweight blend of 70% cotton and 30% nylon that feels good against the skin. They are quick-drying, incorporate UPF50+ sun protection, have articulated knees, a partially elasticated waist (no need for a belt), a good selection of pockets and are really comfortable.
My second pair are Arc’teryx A2B Commuter trousers. These are a more stylish pair of trousers than the Ayacuchos. I’m taking these because I really like wearing them and I think they’ll be perfect for nights out on the town as well as casual day wear. Arc’teryx originally designed them for cyclists and their daily commute which means they are designed to perform well during physical activity. I have been wearing them at work for several weeks now during quite warm weather and, like all Arc’teryx clothing I have tried, they have been super comfortable and an excellent fit. Made from 80% cotton, 18% polyester and 2% Lycra, they have a good amount of stretch, noticeable water-resistance, articulated knees, a neat zippered pocket on the leg for a phone and generous hand pockets. They also pack really well.
I also tried some Craghoppers NosiLife Cargo trousers which have all the features of the long-sleeve shirts mentioned above and the same sort of features as the Ayacucho trousers. They didn’t fit as well in the same size as the Ayacuchos. I would need to get a size bigger and there were just none available when I went looking for them. The hand pockets on the Craghoppers also are not as generous as the Ayacuchos which I found a bit annoying, but they do have a greater selection of cargo pockets.
I have always favoured t-shirts in summer and on this trip I am taking two for casual use. They are both made from lightweight merino wool which I think is the best option for travelling. I could wear one of these for days, maybe even a week or more, without washing it. I have already listed all of the benefits of merino as a fabric, so I won’t restate the advantages here.
While there are several brands to choose from, I went with two Icebreaker TechLite t-shirts. Both are 150 weight (versatile all season performance) ultra-light t-shirts made from 87% wool and 13% nylon.
I am taking two pairs of shorts for casual use. The first are Ayacucho Equator Stretch Anti-Mosquito shorts, made of 96% nylon and 4% Lycra. Like the Ayacucho trousers, these are light-weight, quick drying and incorporate UPF50+ sun protection, mosquito protection, a partially elasticated waist and a good selection of pockets including an internal security pocket. These are great shorts. They look good, are easy to wear and really comfortable.
My second pair are Prana Stretch Zion shorts which I originally bought a few years ago for rock climbing. Made of 97% Nylon and 3% Lycra, they are light, durable, offer incredible freedom of movement, have a UPF50+ sun protection rating, built-in adjustable waistband system, are wrinkle-resistant and quick drying. These have been my go-to shorts for some time. Whilst they are very comfortable they are not as well tailored in terms of fit as the Ayacucho’s, however it would appear as if Prana have made adjustments to the inseam length on newer models which would rank them up there with the perfect pair of shorts.
Socks and Underwear
As is the case for t-shirts, lightweight merino and merino blends are the best choices for socks and underwear. They feel good against the skin, are resistant to chafing and itching, they breathe well, are odour resistant and they don’t need to be washed anywhere near as frequently as cotton or similar fabrics. Merino/synthetic blended socks will also be much better than cotton at reducing the likelihood of blisters developing on the feet.
I will be packing two pairs of Icebreaker Multisport Ultralight Micro socks, which are those barely visible socks runners often wear. They will work well with shorts and my trail-running shoes.
I will also take a pair of Icebreaker Multisport Light hiking socks which are longer than the micro socks and better suited to wearing with trousers.
Both types of socks are made from a blend of 63% merino, 35% nylon and 2% Lycra.
Underwear can be something of an afterthought when considering clothing for travelling or adventure activities, however for maintaining daily comfort they are of utmost importance. To invest in trousers and shorts made of high-performance synthetic fabrics and then continue wearing your regular cotton underwear can prove to be an oversight that leads to considerable discomfort, particularly on longer trips in less favourable climates.
For this trip I am taking two pairs of underwear I have had for some time. They are Earth Sea Sky merino boxer shorts, made of 95% superfine merino and 5% Lycra. They are incredibly comfortable and suitable for both cold and hot and humid environments. Other brands like Icebreaker that specialise in merino products for travel/adventure make similar types of underwear and would be just as suitable.
For those slightly cooler summer evenings, after the sun goes down, an extra layer can be crucial. For this reason, I am taking the Craghoppers NosiLife Avila hooded jacket. It is light and airy and made of a soft blend of 65% polyester and 35% Cotton. It also has built-in mosquito protection which will undoubtably prove useful after the sun has gone down and the mosquitos begin to appear in droves. In the unlikely event that nights are extra cold I may also take my tried and trusted Arc’teryx Atom hooded jacket.
In Australia, hats during summer are virtually mandatory. Spending a day in the sun can be fatiguing and potentially dangerous without a hat so I consider it essential for summer travel. It is important to choose a hat that packs well and is comfortable to wear all day.
I am taking a hat that has been a favourite of mine for many years now. The Outdoor Research Helios hat made of 97% nylon and 3% Lycra. It is a floppy, easy to pack hat with a wide brim and a comfortable fit that can be worn all day. It incorporates UPF30+ sun protection, is rain-resistant and quick-drying. The current model Helios is made with a slightly different combination of synthetic materials and has UPF50+ sun protection.
It may never rain at all on our trip and if it does it is likely to be minimal. There is also I guess the chance there could be a sudden but short lived downpour. I wanted a lightweight, packable and relatively inexpensive (compared to Gore-Tex) rain jacket. The one I chose was the Outdoor Research Helium II. It is made of 100% nylon (Pertex Sheild), is totally waterproof, and for a jacket in this category is relatively breathable. It has an adjustable hood that fits really well, a zippered chest pocket and an internal pocket that doubles as a stuff stack for storing the jacket. It compresses down into a very compact parcel which makes it the perfect rain jacket for travelling.
I am also taking two running shirts and two pairs of running shorts. The shirts are Nike Dri-Fit shirts made of a blend of 60% nylon and 40% polyester. They are nice to wear for hot and strenuous activity. The shorts are Nike Dri-Fit made of 100% polyester. Although these garments are designed for running, they would work equally well for other activities like yoga or hiking.
Next >> Footwear