Once upon a time, suitcase size didn’t matter much. Chronic overpacking was a cute quirk, and traveling light was mostly a backpacker preoccupation. But then along came baggage fees, and everything changed. Today, travelers try to make every item in their suitcases work harder and smarter.
Multi-Use Travel Clothes
From heated shirts to bug-fighting pants, we’ve rounded up easy-to-pack items that transcend their seams and do double (and triple) duty in your travel wardrobe.
Lugging suitcases, sprinting for planes, exploring steamy climes: Travel is consistently among the sweatiest endeavors on the planet, which is why clothing that cools is a particularly compelling packing proposition. ExOfficio’s Sol Cool line for men and women take on-body cooling to new heights. The fabric used to make the collection’s shirts, hoodies, tanks, and dresses is treated with xylitol (also found in mint gum), which cools the skin upon contact with moisture (read: sweat). Wearing Sol Cool garments is a surprisingly refreshing experience and is ideal not just for hiking or exercise but also for general warm-weather use.
Why pack three outfits when you can pack one and still get three unique looks? That’s the reasoning behind Angelrox’s The Wrap, which comes in a tasteful rainbow of colors and can transform itself (with a little help from you) into a skirt, dress, tunic, shawl, vest, or kimono top. Other similar multifunction wraps for women (sorry guys) include the Octopus Infinity Wrap Dress from Coralie Beatrix on Etsy. A word of warning: There’s a learning curve with most of these items, so you’ll need to spend some time familiarizing yourself before you commit to a travel relationship. Love origami? Then you’ll rock these wraps. Spatially challenged? Then you’ll definitely need some advance practice.
Suitcase real estate is in short supply, so you’ve got to maximize every layer when you’re packing for cold weather. Clothes that are not only warm but actually work with your body to produce or capture heat do double duty in a travel wardrobe. Uniqlo’s HEATTECH fabric creates warmth by turning body moisture into heat. The soft and durable shirts, leggings, socks, and outerwear accessories come in a range of colors and styles for women, men, and kids. And Columbia Sportswear Company has its own Omni-Heat Reflective line of base layers and outerwear geared toward winter sports.
So you’re not a baseball-hat kind of person. You prefer the whimsy of a straw hat, but you’ve learned the hard way that most aren’t the best travel companions since they take up inordinate amounts of space in your suitcase, can’t be tucked into a day bag, and tend to make it home worse for the wear. This is what makes Magellan’s Rainbow Stripe Straw Hat so impressive. The wide-brimmed hat is both chic and hardy, and it can be folded, rolled, or smushed and will still bounce back unscathed. And if colors aren’t your thing, TravelSmith has the Packable Panama Hat.
The problem with most jackets is that they hog more than their fair share of space in a suitcase. Travelers looking for both winter comfort and carry-on convenience should seriously consider compressible, lightweight jackets. A specialty of outdoor-wear and travel-gear companies, they come in a range of colors and styles for both men and women. Magellan’s men’s and women’s down-filled jackets and ExOfficio’s Storm Logic jackets and vests can even double as travel pillows when compressed into their built-in or accompanying storage sacks.
We’ve all been there: going on midnight, hunched over a hotel bathroom sink, scrubbing clean a pair of socks or underwear. Wouldn’t it be nice to fall asleep confident that you won’t wake up to cold, damp socks (or worse, underwear) the next morning? Fast-drying clothes aren’t new, but in recent years they’ve gotten a lot more comfortable and durable. Magellan’s Everywear full-cut women’s briefs are lightweight, super soft, and quick to dry. For men, the Everywear boxers offer the same quick-dry benefit.
You may not have invited them, but that’s not going to stop bugs from making a meal of you on vacation. And while insect repellent is a good idea (and sometimes a must) in buggy destinations, it’s nice to have another layer of protection as well. The clothing itself protects the skin from bites, but for more bug-busting power, there are also clothes with built-in insect repellant. Orvis’s environmentally friendly Bugsaway lines work against mosquitos, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers, and midges. The EPA-registered clothing, which contains permethrin, retains its insect-fighting power for 70 washings.
Even the traveler with the best packing technique is no match for the wrinkle-inducing power of the average suitcase. But travelers get the upper hand with the wrinkle-resistant and iron-free clothes. Companies with lines of such garments include TravelSmith, Title Nine, and Banana Republic. These shirts, pants, jackets, and dresses pack well, and even if they do get a few wrinkles along the way, a bit of hanger time when you arrive is usually enough to restore them to their wrinkle-free glory.
More From SmarterTravel:
- 9 Travel Kits That Will Make a Long Flight Bearable
- 10 Stylish Hiking Boots (That Don’t Look Like Hiking Boots)
- 15 Weird Things to Buy on Amazon (That Are Actually Perfect for Travel)
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.