Recommendations for dressing out of a backpack?
April 7, 2013 12:06 PM   Subscribe

For the next two months (possibly longer) I need to live/work out of one bag. I'll be traveling for most of that time, with places to stay (no need for a sleeping bag or the like). What I need to figure out is clothing. I'm bad at clothes. I know there are great wicking fabrics and lightweight travel garments out there, and that they're improving all the time. (I'm ready to do sink laundry every evening.) As of spring 2013, how can I best use my 26 liters of space to keep myself clad?

Inspired by Andrew Hyde (the "fifteen things" guy) -- and looking ahead to a period in my life with stuff in storage, no fixed address, and a constant travel schedule -- I'm trying to see how simple but functional I can get. I've got a backpack, the Goruck GR1, which holds 26 liters. I've got a very small laptop+charger, an old Kindle, a little bag of toiletries and cables and stuff. The rest of the space can be clothes (given that I'll be wearing some of them on any given day). I'm hoping to get specific recommendations -- ideally things I can mail order since right now I live well outside a city. A few details:

1. This travel is going to cover the late spring and summer only -- some of it at higher latitudes, with chilly nights, but I don't need to have a four season wardrobe in this bag.
2. I'm not anticipating any formal situations, but there will be a few meetings where I'd like to look normal-ish, and not like I just summited K2 or raided a compound in my tactical vest. Unobtrusive, I guess. (Also, I have it on the authority of a dear friend that I can't use those zip-off short/pants ("the spork of garments") or our friendship will be imperiled.)
3. I'm a tall skinny guy, if that makes any difference.

The rough list I put together: t-shirts (2?), pants, shorts, socks, underwear, longsleeve shirt (button-down?), longsleeve layer (like a sweater or something), and maybe a jacket that compresses very small. Any particular recommendations for those? Anything I'm forgetting, or that you would recommend otherwise?

Thanks so much for your help.
posted by the brave tetra-pak to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
outlier three way shorts are good for everything, including swimming.
posted by lia at 12:26 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

really really bitchin' long underwear, shirt and pants, that can double as chilly weather sleepwear and layer under EVERYTHING YOU HAVE in case of freak coldishness.

really good sink wash clothes detergent that is concentrated, kills the funk and rinses out easily. oh and one of those super small, super absorbent, super fast-dry camp towels, in addition to using as a towel they can help you squeeze and wick moisture from washed garments.

might want to have one of the short sleeve shirts be a button-down too; then both short sleeves can layer.

if you are on foot, and you have laundry that needs to finish drying, it is nice to have straps or bungees or something figured out to hang them on the exterior of your bag. if thats not practical, having to board a bus or something, a sturdy mesh bag that you can secure on the top of your bag that holds the damp stuff is the next best thing for keeping the other clothes from getting funky. if your accommodations include a fan, always aim it at the drying laundry, you will not be sorry.

posted by Rube R. Nekker at 12:51 PM on April 7, 2013

So... what are you thinking for shoes? I really recommend that you have some kind of second pair of wearable shoes (if you can wear flip flops for a full day, great, but not everyone is up for that) because otherwise your primary pair of shoes is going to get super-disgusting.

I'm a woman, so, you know, different things work for me, but I find a black or navy lightweight wool sweater to be an incredibly versatile thing to have in my travel wardrobe. It looks nice, it works as an insulating layer, but it doesn't scream "TRAVELWEAR!" And it dries reasonably quickly, though you'll want to squeeze it out in a towel. I don't know for specific recs, but this J. Crew one looks nice, and they also have v-necks and cardigans.

Also, this is probably obvious, but make sure every shirt/jacket/sweater matches both your pants and your shorts.
posted by mskyle at 1:09 PM on April 7, 2013

One Bag is a good resource. I roll everything when I travel. You can get those pants with cut off shorts which I like for travelling. They're usually lightweight. Minimize your colour palette.

I swear by Packing cubes. One for t-shirts, one for underwear/socks. Packing folders are handy for dress shirts and pants, but not as useful as cubes, I don't think. These are especially useful if you're travelling from place to place - it makes packing and moving on really quick.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:15 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

For the normal-ish side of things silk will compress down to almost nothing.
posted by XMLicious at 1:15 PM on April 7, 2013

For similar ultra-mobile excursions I usually take two undershirts, three pairs of boxer shorts, one or two shirts, one polo shirt, one merino wool cardigan, one pair of lightweight chinos, one pair of shorts, three pairs of socks, nice shoes and sandals or sneakers. You can't dress up a tee but you can certainly appear relaxed and comfortable in a dress shirt. Merino wool is both classy and well-performing and can be had on the cheap at places like HM. (There's no excuse looking like you're living out of a backpack even when you are.) Bring a jacket, base layer, gloves etc. according to the weather you're expecting and just buy extra stuff when you meet the unexpected. Your undergarments should be quick-dry (Uniqlo is great if you have access) for sink washing, for other things it doesn't matter as much. Go easy on electronics as that stuff gets heavy quickly.

Just dress smart and don't get too hung up on ultra-performance fabrics and the like. You will be fine.
posted by Orchestra at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tynan has good suggestions for super minimal kit - you could base yours on that and add a few extras if really necessary. Have a read of the last few year's worth to get an idea of what worked well and not-so-well: 2010, 2011, & 2012. Enjoy.
posted by dirm at 1:36 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've fallen in love with Icebreaker brand merino wool tees. I own a couple of "Tech T Lites," and they are my default travel tees for any weather. If you're not experienced with these, it may be counterintuitive that merino wool and hot weather get along, but these do brilliantly. They don't hold odour (seriously - sweat all day in one of these and it doesn't smell at all the next day), they rinse out great in the sink and dry overnight, and are not at all scratchy or uncomfortable.

I've also found, as a Chicagoan with two-plus years in the Brisbane, Australia climate, that soccer jerseys with that "dri-fit" (or similar) fabric are super comfortable in the heat.

As far as packing is concerned, I am a fan of using cubes for both clothes and loose items in the bag. I have this one sitting at the top of my pack's main compartment for my passport, paper travel docs, small items (SIM cards, ear plugs, etc) and all my cash/cards that aren't staying in my wallet. What's nice about this is when you're finally to the hotel, you can grab just your laptop and this cell to throw in the safe and your possibilities of leaving an important loose end behind are minimised.
posted by GamblingBlues at 1:37 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

A long-sleeved button-down shirt can be multiply useful -- traveling by backpack in Mexico, I found a button-down in a wicking fabric to be exactly the right thing. It meant I needed less sunscreen (I wore a tank top underneath; I'm a lady), but had versatility: I could button or unbutton it depending on temperature/need for a breeze, roll the sleeves up or down as necessary, and I felt appropriately dressed basically anywhere I went. Places like Columbia make some designed for outerwear that would also be appropriate in an office environment (although I would definitely take a seam ripper to the tags).
posted by linettasky at 1:42 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

The good doctor has several excellent technical blazers from ACRONYM, Travelteq, and Arc'teryx that have taken him from the great outdoors to the dinner table with ease.
posted by evoque at 2:47 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really recommend that you have some kind of second pair of wearable shoes

Yes. I am a light packer and not much of a gear freak, and I'll wear a t-shirt for five days straight if I have to, but I am totally evangelical about changing shoes. BTW, if at all possible, spare shoes should get strapped to the outside of the pack and not stuffed into it — they can air out much better that way, and you don't end up with Vile Shoe Crud all over your clean underwear.

It's possible to keep your spare shoes stuffed in an airtight/waterproof bag, but it really defeats a lot of the purpose of having spare shoes, since letting 'em dry out and get fresh air is most of the point. (Though doing that is still better for blister-avoidance purposes than having just one pair with you, so it might still be worth it if you'll be walking a lot.)

Depending on the climate you'll be in and the amount of walking you'll be doing, you might want to consider either (a) normal shoes with a pair of rainboots strapped to your pack, or (b) normal shoes with a pair of sandals as your second pair. Sandals are really nice for resting sore/squeezed feet, and also for avoiding athletes foot and the like by getting air in between your toes. If you're gonna be exposed to cruddy public/motel-room showers, make 'em plastic sandals and use 'em for that too.

And if you'll be spending any amount of time at all outdoors — including, for instance, "waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere" or whatever as well as more hiking-type stuff — you want a hat and a couple hankies or bandanas. Sunburn sucks. So does having to wash your face or blow your nose or cover up a cut or (god forbid) wipe your ass when you're far from a bathroom. There are loads of awful situations that can be made marginally less awful by having some clean scraps of fabric around.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:40 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, especially if you'll be in a business situation: one of those teeny little sewing kits, and a stain-removing laundry pen. It sucks to have no spare changes of clothing, be on your way to a meeting, and discover that your $CLOTHING_ITEM has a small but visible $FLAW. In general, being able to repair your shit means you don't have to carry as much of it.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:50 PM on April 7, 2013

Greg Baugues has writings on this subject, including gear recommendations, that might be helpful.
posted by suprenant at 4:19 PM on April 7, 2013

If money is no object, I would recommend Travel Smith. They have a selection of clothing that works together and is specifically designed for packing/unpacking and hand washing. They have lots of extras and helpful items. But they are pricey.
posted by agatha_magatha at 5:09 PM on April 7, 2013

REI is your friend here! My favorite things there include underwear that is quick drying--easy to wash in sink and dry in your hotel room.

They also have tons of button up shirts that are performance related. I agree that sweaters/cardigans are good wrinkle proof options for dressy wear and I like to use Sperry Topsiders as a casual but dressy shoe.
posted by dottiechang at 6:48 PM on April 7, 2013

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