How to Wear the Same Clothes for a Year
[Photo: Most of the kit in Da Lat, Vietnam]
Since I began traveling full-time in mid-2011 I’ve had a simple goal: find the simplest, most functional, and lightest travel gear possible.
I figured after 2 years I had the technology part wired (more on that below), but my biggest question for this trip was clothing. Would it be possible, I wondered, to wear the same clothes for a year?
After more than 12 months outside the USA I have some answers: my wardrobe looks nearly identical to when I left. The surprising thing is how little I had to supplement the original travel kit I left with on September 7, 2013.
I use the term “on the road” loosely. These days I’m more likely to stay put in one place for a few months at a time, which gives me the opportunity to upgrade/downgrade or even buy some extra things that won’t leave with me.
In every major location where I spent more than a month I’ve bought at least a new t-shirt and pair of jeans. The t-shirt is usually destroyed by the end and the jeans I give to a friend because they tend to weigh more than the rest of my clothes combined. I also tend to end up with a yoga mat, a blender, and other knicknacks that I gift to whoever wants them.
But generally speaking, I did well right from the start. Here are the items, non-clothing items included, that went the distance.
Gear that went above-and-beyond the call of duty:
- Icebreaker/Merino wool Clothing. Can you wear the same shirt nearly every day for 1 year? The answer, astonishingly, is yes. My biggest concern about Icebreaker t-shirts was both durability and whether or not they’d be too hot, neither of which turned out to be an issue. I put the green T pictured above through the paces and it has survived everything from 36 hours of travel to sweating through tropical heat to nights out in the city. I’ve worn it at least 3 or 4 days a week for over 12 months, but even after a year of schlepping a full backpack around the only issue is a few minor holes that developed around the waist-strap buckle. They look good, never small bad, and will last longer than you think, making the price tag worth it. I now have 2 t-shirts, 2 pairs of boxers, and 1 pair of socks made by Icebreaker. Only complaints: the price tag, and they take some time to fully dry and if you pack them wet they come out smelling like what you’d expect wet wool to smell like.
- Patagonia Rock Craft Shorts. You can almost copy the paragraph above. Combine Icebreaker merino under-layers with technical fabrics on top and you can’t lose. The Rock Craft shorts are made of a thin, stretchy material made to withstand rock climbing, which means they’re comfortable and extremely durable. One of my favorite pieces of gear ever. Bonus: while the DWR coating lasts they repel water like a rain jacket.
- Inov-8 F-lite 195 running/CrossFit shoes. (above). The most comfortable shoes I’ve ever had, from walking around cities to CrossFit they’ve gone the distance. Super light, much more durable than I’ve expected (going well over a year now), and they will help fix your feet.
- My Lifeproof Nuud iPhone case. From tsunami-strength thunderstorms to general clumsiness, without it I would be on iPhone #25 at this point. It’s also kept my phone alive in humid climates where just having it in your pocket means it’s soaked after an hour. I’ve jumped into chest-deep water with this in my pocket, pitched it into traffic, and otherwise remorselessly abused it with no ill effects. A friend of mine dropped his off a 4-story building in the Philippines and it survived the fall. Gamechanger. My complaints: the screw-in cord jack is a pain in the ass and over time the camera lens/speakers/microphone get clogged with junk. What these means long-term is that it has become impossible to make calls without plugging ear-buds in.
There were a few thing I added/subtracted during the year-
Travel gear added during the last year:
- A few t-shirts
- 1 pair of long-pants from Sumatra
- 2 pairs of Icebreaker boxers and 1 pair of socks
- A thin hoody (purchased in Chiang Mai at the mall)
- A full set of climbing gear (harness, ATC, beaners, shoes, helmet, chalk bag, slings, couple quick-draws) – not something I will be hauling around much longer.
- An iPad keyboard for my laptop and an external mouse. Only way to set up a proper stand-up desk is to separate the screen from the keyboard, so I bought a mini-keyboard and set my Macbook up at eye level.
- A jump stretch band for mobility work.
Travel gear that died / was left somewhere:
- Several t-shirts
- My REI Sahara travel zip off pants, which disintegrated mid-taxi ride to an airport, but were originally purchased 2006 and went over the Andes once. RIP.
- My Marmot rain jacket, purchased in 2006. RIP.
- Several pairs of jeans
- My full surfing kit (hopefully still at the MSR office in Sumatra)
- SteriPen freedom. Turns out bottled water is available everywhere.
Travel gear that needs replacement/repair:
- My Inov-8 F-lite 195s are on their last breath. For some reason I can’t stomach buying a new pair here in Hungary where the cost is 100% higher. I’m holding out for a visit to the US.
- My Bose QC15 headphones, one of the best investments ever, simply stopped working. I think it’s the cheaply made cord that connects the headphones to output but finding that piece without Amazon.com is about as likely as finding a good burrito here.
- Both pairs of board shorts that I use for the beach, swimming, Crossfit, and surfing.
- My iPhone and MacBook Air are both maxed out on HD space with photos, etc.
- Sea2Summit Ultrasil daypack – still one of my most-loved items but after 3 years is wearing thin.
Some things I’d like to try out:
- Bose QC20 headphones. They just make more sense for what I do, but pricey and I haven’t had a chance to test them out yet.
- A decent pair of dress-casual barefoot shoes, eg. something along the lines of Vivo Barefoot Freud. After a year of wearing my Inov-8’s or going barefoot/sandals my feet have spread out and recovered from a lifetime of poor footwear. Normal stiff/padded shoes just don’t cut it anymore. Someone please develop a super-lightweight barefoot dress shoe. Please.
- An ultralight down jacket. I haven’t spent much time in cold climates in the last few years but this would be good to have.
- A new rain jacket.
A few observations about gear requirements for slow-travel
What happens when you decide to live in one place for a few months? Can a sub-15lb. carry-on kit accommodate that?
Absolutely, if you leave with the right gear it’s easy to supplement what you have. As much as I hate shopping for clothes the options are cheap and plentiful, and you can always find something that works.
The other day I went to one of several malls here in Budapest and bought about $300 worth of Banana-Republic quality clothing for $45. When I was in Chiang Mai I picked up 3-4 t-shirts for $2 each. I’m still wearing the belt I bought in Panama for $1.
The only trick here is resisting the psychological shift that drives you to start buying clothing when you want to fit in with the locals. It’s subtle, but everywhere I’ve spent a lot of time I’ve experienced this.
And then I remember: I’m not a local and I don’t want to look like everyone else. And I’m much more interested in meeting people who appreciate where I come from and what I’m doing here than those who wonder why I’m wearing the same green t-shirt again.
What is the moral of the story?
- Buy one durable, functional set of clothing and equipment.
- Save the rest of your money and use it to get the hell out of Dodge.