Today is the halfway point of our trip, can you believe it? What better way to celebrate than finally writing a gear-related post…something we’ve been planning on doing for, oh, the last 6 months. Enjoy!
Those who know me know that I loooove clothes. I love making them, I love wearing them, I love shopping for them, and I love putting them together in creative combinations. I think it stems out of my obsession with textiles, interesting color and texture combinations, and creative expression. So this trip presented a truly unique challenge for me: what to pack on a year-long trip with a suitcase smaller than one I would take on a week-long vacation?
Actually, I have to admit: I started getting anxious about one month before we were to leave…the thought of wearing all REI clothes for a year made me seriously depressed. Zip-off shants (short/pants) with Merrell shoes? Quick-dry button-down tops with netting in the armpits? For a whole year? REALLY?!?
Rocking our “city look” at the Rooftop Cinema, Melbourne, Australia. I’m wearing my beloved H&M organic cotton scarf with a faux leather jacket (my one “luxury” item). Jeremy in his vintage cowboy shirt.
But there was a practicality to the REI stuff that I couldn’t deny. Six months into it, I can confidently say that I think I did a decent job of packing. While my wardrobe is not as boisterous as it would be at home (the vividly patterned vintage polyester I love so much wouldn’t do so well in the sweltering subtropical humidity), I think I found the sweet spot between function and form. Note that I do have about twice as much clothing than most would bring along on a trip like this. Every around-the-world (RTW) website out there tells you to pack light! Lay all your clothes out on the bed before you pack, take half of them away, and THEN pack! Less is more!
But I think it’s worth it. After all, you want to feel good about yourself while you’re on that 24 hour bus to Hanoi. It’s the little luxuries that make all the difference.
Without further ado:
- 7 lightweight cotton t-shirts (left the house with 5, got rid of 1, and picked up 3 along the way. I’m kind of stocked up on shirts right now because 3 of them are on the verge of wearing out, but I haven’t given them The Boot yet.)
- 2 tank tops (left the house with 3, leaving 1 ill-fitting top behind in Taipei
- 1 long-sleeve cotton top (need to replace this soon as it is pilling like crazy, but it is my only long-sleeve knit top and I’m worried that I will need it unexpectedly)
- 1 three-quarter length sleeve top (not the most practical, but it’s comfy and cute)
- 1 Icebreaker long-sleeve top (merino wool)
- 2 button-up tops (1 REI-style, 1 which is more fashionable that I just bought here in Taipei)
- 1 hoodie
- 1 cardigan (dressier)
- 1 Isis Whisper down jacket (love this thing…it came with a stuff sac and packs down into nothing)
- 1 North Face Venture rain jacket
- 1 faux-leather jacket (this is my “luxury” item…for wearing around the cities so I don’t feel too much like a country bumpkin in my REI clothes)
- 1 skirt
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 1 pair of loose-fitting pants
- 1 pair of skinny jeans (broke down and bought these in Taipei)
- 1 pair cut-off jean shorts
- 1 pair exercise pants
- 1 pair running shorts
- 1 dress (homemade, looking to replace this soon)
- 2 scarves (LOVE!)
- 1 bikini
- 1 Speedo swim top (in case I wanna go for a “real” swim…can wear it with my bikini bottoms)
- 1 pair long underwear
- 2 regular bras
- 2 sports bras
- 9 pairs undies (includes 2 pairs quick-dry ExOfficio underwear—spendy, but worth it; dries so much faster than cotton)
- 9 pairs socks (4 pairs hiking socks, 3 pairs regular socks, 2 pairs peds)
- 1 pair of half-gloves (homemade)
- 1 winter hat
- 1 sun hat
- 1 pair Rainbow flip flops (I have the 4-layer wedge in all-black; the little bit of extra height keeps my bare feet out of puddles and street sludge)
- 1 pair Salomon XA Comp 3 GTX Trail-Running shoes (for hiking and running—both Jeremy and I have a thing or two to say about these—see below for our review)
- 1 pair Keen Palermo shoes (my city shoes)
Gosh, it looks like a lot when you list it all out like this! And I do have a lot more to work with than most people who do year-long trips. But if you’ve ever seen my closet, you know that this is positively monk-like for me.
A few things that I think I did right:
- Make sure everything matches. Most of my wardrobe consists of autumn colors like grey, brown, purple, dark red, etc. I didn’t want to bring a lot of black tops, since they are hot in the sun, nor a lot of white tops since they wouldn’t be white for long. This means I have A LOT of grey in my “closet.”
- Pick and choose your REI clothes. Decide when function is important and when form is important. You don’t have to wear REI tops and bottoms all the time. My t-shirts and loose-fitting pants are just fine for hiking, but they also work in the city (I love a multi-tasker!). The REI clothes that I do have (rain jacket, down jacket, wool top) are items that just need to do their job and do them well (i.e., keep me dry, keep me warm, or a combination thereof).
- Bring a lot of tops and underwear. You can go weeks without washing your jeans, but tops and underwear are a one-wear/one-wash item. More tops + more underwear = less laundry.
- Bring scarves!!! I LOVE my scarves. Both of them are from H&M and are quite large. One of them is grey knit organic cotton, which I’ve used as a shawl, a scarf, a hood, a pillowcase, a blanket, and a face towel. The other one is a black and white patterned Marimekko for H&M thin woven cotton scarf, which doubles as a sarong. Plus, this scarf can dress up an outfit like nobody’s business. Did I mention I love multitaskers?
- Make sure you LOVE what you are bringing. Seriously. At home, you probably wear the average top in your closet at most, about once a month. On the road, you wear those tops every 3-7 days, whether you like it or not (cuz that’s all you have!). Before we left, I made note of those tops that I always reach for on vacations or weekends—you know, the ones that are cute (enough), comfortable, and that aren’t a nuisance when you’re just lounging around—and those are the ones I threw in my suitcase. I packed one top just because I liked the fabric (very lightweight), but I wasn’t in love with the fit. Guess which item never got worn (and therefore left behind in Cambodia)?
And, a few things that I didn’t do so well:
- Tank tops are unitaskers. No matter how hot it is where you’re going, consider leaving the tank tops at home. Especially tops with spaghetti straps or deep necklines. People in Asia just do not wear tank tops; in most temples, baring your shoulders is considered disrespectful, so you have to bring a scarf or jacket to cover up before entering. A t-shirt is just as cool and you won’t stick out like a sore thumb for being the only person in a 20 mile radius wearing a tank top.
- If you are an off size, pack hard-to-fit items—don’t expect to get them on the road. Particularly if you are traveling in Asia, you’ll want to bring pants, swimsuits, etc. from home. The women here are literally about half my size, both length- and widthwise. I wear a size 8 in the US, and I am an XL here in Taiwan. I have been looking for a new bathing suit all over Asia, and found one in Vietnam that looked like it *might* fit me. It was a size XXL. A lot of clothes at the night markets are one-size fits all (should actually be “one size fits size 2″) and it is difficult to try stuff on (or impossible—they straight-up don’t let you try stuff on in Hong Kong), so bring those items that might be hard to find from home.
Jeremy, a direct recipient of The Great Gear-Collecting Legacy of the Hermanns, favors the function side a little heavier than the form. But I have to say, despite the fact that most of his clothes are of the REI persuasion, he still manages to cut a convincing city style…it seems that men’s clothing bridges that sporty/city gap a little more effectively than women’s clothing can.
- 2 merino wool t-shirts (one from Icebreakers, one from Kathmandu)
- 1 poly-pro t-shirt (impregnated with silver ions for odor control!)
- 3 cotton t-shirts
- 1 quick-dry REI travel shirt
- 1 vintage perm-press cowboy shirt
- 2 merino wool turtlenecks (one Icebreakers 260, one Icebreakers 200)
- 1 H&M cotton short-sleeve button-down shirt
- 1 Marmot rain shell
- 1 Patagonia fleece vest
- 1 REI lightweight jacket (fleece with shell)
- 1 lightweight fleece hat
- 1 sun hat
- 1 pair jeans
- 1 pair quick-dry travel pants (can be rolled up to make shorts…no zip off legs!)
- 1 Patagonia capilene long-underwear bottoms
- 1 pair cotton shorts (unfortunately, these are plaid, so I can’t wear with 2 of my tops)
- 1 pair quick-dry surf shorts
- 1 pair running shorts
- 2 pairs thin wool/bamboo socks (crew cut)
- 2 pairs thick wool/bamboo socks (crew cut)
- 1 pair thick wool socks (full length)
- 1 pair cotton running socks
- 7 pairs underwear (5 cotton, 1 Icebreakers merino wool, 1 quick-dry ExOfficio)
- 1 pair Speedos
- 1 belt
- 1 pair Yoko cross-country ski gloves (great for hiking in cool weather and riding motorcycles/scooters)
- Reef flip-flops
- Salomon XA Comp 3 GTX Trail-Running shoes (yes, the same pair that Hope has)
- Keen Ashland shoes
Jeremy really only has one thing to add to the commentary here, which is:
- Wool rules, cotton dools!!! The man cannot get enough of the new fancy merino wool sportswear. He should go to work for Icebreakers when we get back, given how much of a believer he is. It can be difficult to please a Hermann in the gear department, so the Hermann Stamp of Approval really means something. If I complain that I’m hot, it’s because I’m wearing cotton. If I’m too cold, it’s the cotton’s fault too. The infuriating thing is, he’s kind of right…for whatever reason, the merino wool wicks moisture away from your body when you’re hot and sweaty, but keeps you insulated when it’s cold out. Plus, it is odor-resistant…J has worn his wool t-shirts in sweaty SE Asia for 3 or 4 days straight without any odor issues whatsoever. Damn those Hermanns and their being-right-all-the-time-ness!
We both want to add one more thing: a short review about our trail running shoes (yes, I am referring to the His and Hers Salomons). The shoes are GREAT performance-wise, except for one situation: when we’re climbing on slippery rocks. Then the shoes are terrible! You slip and slide all over the place. This has been an issue in Taiwan since most of the trails here are stone-paved. And, we can’t forget to mention…the shoelaces! Ugh! If you are interested, follow the His and Hers links to see a photo of the shoes and the fancy Kevlar laces. If the laces go, the shoes are DONE. There is a serious design flaw with the lacing mechanism because the laces wore out on both J’s and my shoes. Thank goodness we had friends and family visiting from the States who could bring us replacement laces from REI. The re-lacing process is another matter altogether…which seems to require a PhD in Lace-ology or you know, Quantum Physics (check the reviews here…one guy outlined SEVENTEEN steps in order to re-lace the shoes).
We’ll follow up with more posts covering the rest of our gear: electronics, suitcases, and other marginalia. Hopefully it won’t take us another 6 months to finish the next gear post!