Don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely possible to drive around the world with a single pair of zip-off pants, a breathable shirt, and a single pair of underwear. It somewhat makes sense for backpackers—but I’ve never quite realized what coaxed overlanders into the same mindset. You see, overlanding has its inherent luxuries, and usually a motor-driven vehicle to carry your things is one of them.
Ensuring you have the proper clothing is an essential part of any successful overland trip. No matter the place or time of year, there’s always a risk for abnormal weather to happen—or worse, a surprise soirée. While I’m not suggesting to bring an 800-fill down parka to the Sahara in the middle of the summer heat, nor am I suggesting you bring a tailored Tuxedo—it might be intelligent to ensure you’re at least prepared with a rain jacket and a nice collared shirt.
Naturally, there will always be differing opinions when it comes to clothing, perhaps my kit is a bit too comprehensive, or perhaps I’m still romancing the idea of a proper expedition. One complete with visits to embassies and iconic hotels—you wouldn’t walk into the Long Bar at The Raffles, Singapore (home of the Singapore Sling) without the proper attire, would you? It is entirely possible to create a comprehensive clothing bag that prepares you for virtually any circumstance, without wasting too much of your vehicles limited volume.
The environment in which you’re traveling will tell you a lot about what to include in your clothes bag. For example, a short weekend trip to the forest in the summertime likely doesn’t necessitate much more than a single change of clothing—if that. However, someone tackling the Pan-American Highway over the course of several months will require a clothing kit with a much more refined and multi-purpose approach; as the environment they are in is quickly and potentially rapidly changing.
Again, I'm sure there are some who will baulk at me and say they could travel out of a fanny pack for a month-or-two—that the amount of clothes I bring with is insane. That's great. I’m taking a completely unabashed approach, this is the gear I really use. Keep in mind that I’m providing providing specific products as an example of what I actually use and bring with me on a trip lasting a minimum of two weeks that goes from the desert, to the mountains, to a cosmopolitan city. It doesn’t mean that my choices are the only thing that is acceptable. Also, keep in mind that I’m in my 20’s, I dress well, but I have no desire to look twice my age—brands and opinions may differ.
You need something to put your clothing inside of, I prefer a duffel as straps weigh a lot less than wheels and handles if any of your trip will involve flying. Choose something durable and unique that’s cavernous—whether it be from the thrift store or REI. Personally I use a North Face Base Camp Duffel that I've had for quite a few years—it’s seen hundreds of thousands of miles of travel and performed well but I wouldn't trust anything made by North Face these days as far as I could throw it. If I was to purchase a new duffel today, it would probably be from Simms, who makes one of the better duffel bags on the market today. Their Dry Creek Duffel is made with 420-denier double-coated polyurathane nylon and has a roll-top closure in addition to thermally welded seams to ensure water doesn't make its way into your bag.
You’ll hear it once, and you’ll hear it about seven more times in this article, multi-purpose is key. For example my Triple Aught Design jacket can be a wind-breaker, a rain-jacket, a hard shell, and a soft shell. Sure, it’s almost $500, but it’s effectively four jackets in one. Also, if you’ll be in cold weather, there’s no excuse for not having enough insulation. I suggest a down layer, they can double as a pillow and a little insulation gets you a long way. Don't forget gloves and a hat.
Note: Heavier, more insulated outerwear is required for colder environments.
Long sleeves can be rolled up when it’s hot and muggy, and rolled down when it’s arid and scorching. Short sleeves can’t. Remember you won’t be “on expedition” your entire trip—pack appropriately. By the way, most government buildings outside of the United States require you to be wearing a proper shirt upon entering the building to fill out any paperwork.
I rarely bring t-shirts with me, but if I do it’s likely my sole Lacoste v-neck, why? Because it’s a multi-function piece of clothing—high quality construction means it won’t fall apart (I’ve worn it frequently for two years now and it still looks like new) and fashionable design means it’s acceptable at a nightclub or a bar.
I usually augment my bag with flannel when I’m headed to any place where hipsters live, and a Polo Ralph Lauren oxford if I know I’ll need to look presentable—you’ll be surprised with how down-dressed you can be if there’s a good designer label your shirt.
- ExOfficio GeoTrek’r
- ExOfficio Crosswind
- Mountain Khakis Peaks Flannel
- Triple Aught Design Overland
- Polo Ralph Lauren Oxford
- Lacoste V-Neck T-Shirt
Dark colors won’t show that oil stain courtesy of a blown axle seal, nor will they show the grease you just wiped on your pants from that tasty bag of chips. Generally speaking, darker colors are always more formal. I will never wear zip-offs, I put them in the same category as jorts (jean shorts.)
Pants are also probably the heaviest and bulkiest piece of personal attire you will carry with you. I have a pair of cargo pants from ExOfficio for when I need something stylish yet utilitarian, and a pair of designer jeans for most everything else. Yes, fashionable jeans on an overlander...why I never. When a trip is long enough to justify it, I usually bring with a pair of Mountain Khakis.
Shorts are an entirely new category which often leave my pasty white legs sunburned, but they’re totally necessary. I generally wear a pair of UPF 30+ rated ExOfficio Nio Amphi shorts when the weather gets hot. Not only do they double as my swimming trunks, they’re feature packed and have a built-in belt. The perfect short to bring with if you’re not sure you will need a pair as they’re very lightweight. Mine are hand-me-down from a friend and they're still going strong.
- Earnest Sewn Selvedge Denim
- ExOfficio Terram Pant
- ExOfficio Nio Amphi Short
- Mountian Khaki's Granite Creek Pant
Boots are heavy. Really heavy. But they’re also durable and functional, pass-by the tacti-cool boots for a functional and stylish classic looking boot. It will be more accepted in a wide variety of social circles, whether it be a classy hotel or a last-minute dinner party. Don’t forget boots are hollow on the inside, they’re a great place to store socks and valuables. My Danner Mountain Lights have never let me down over the year that I’ve owned them;, fashionable brass eyelets and classic leather construction paired with Gore-Tex and a Vibram sole means they can take a beating. If I need something a bit more classy, I have a pair of Red Wing 8146’s that look equally at home under a pair of chino’s as they do a set of work pants. Both have a somewhat narrow construction that lends itself well to long-distance driving
I also always have a pair of cheap, but quality flip flops with me, and a pair of Salomon trail running shoes that apparently will not die—they’re Gore-Tex lined and have a somewhat aggressive sole if I need to use them as light-hiker.
Your mother would yell at you for wearing the same pair of underwear for a week straight, of all the things you could, is this really one you want to skimp on? It’s great hearing overlanders balk about the weight they're saving bringing 2 pairs of underwear with them...while perched upon their vintage camp chair and sipping on a bottle of pinot grigio fresh out of the refrigerator their vehicle dragged to the middle of Utah.
Sure, I know ExOfficio advertises their underwear are the greatest, and they are pretty fantastic, but I’m not someone who wants to test how long their underwear can last—they’re light, I’ll bring a few extra pairs. I also value good socks, FITS are warm and comfy, as are the Darn Tough socks. Also, base layers are important, my boss gave me a set of Arc’teryx base layers about a year ago, they’re warm, comfy, and they’re still around today.
- ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxers
- Darn Tough Socks
- FITS Socks
- Arc’teryx Base Layer Shirt
- Arc’teryx Base Layer Bottoms
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