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When it comes to travel clothing, the fabrics you choose can make a huge difference in both your comfort and luggage size.
In certain parts of the world, you want clothing that keeps you warm, while in other places you want to stay cool. Fabric that holds up well in the long run is also a great investment because it means that you don’t have to keep buying new clothes over the course of several trips or replace clothes on one longer trip.
If you’re trying to travel carry-on only with a backpack, certain fabrics are better than others as far as the space they take up.
So what are the best fabrics for travel clothing? We’re going to fill you in on the pros and cons of the different materials for travel clothing, as well as answer all your FAQs like is viscose quick drying and what fabrics are good for hot weather travel.
Merino wool is ideal for travel. Before you cringe at the thought of grandma’s wool sweaters from when you were a child, know that merino wool is much finer, and therefore more flexible and soft, than other types of wool.
Many people who are sensitive to traditional wool garments can wear merino without irritation.
The thermoregulating properties of merino mean that you tend to stay cooler in the heat and warmer in the cold. It wicks moisture, which helps if you’re doing something active and sweating, and then brings that moisture towards the air where it can evaporate quickly and easily.
In addition to feeling better on your skin, the natural antibacterial properties mean you can wear it longer without the garment starting to smell. And when you do wash it, it dries quickly in the shade.
Merino doesn’t wrinkle easily, which is always a plus for travel. The fabric is lightweight, so it packs up small and can easily be layered for more warmth.
Many travel gear companies create garments from merino wool these days, but one of the most popular brands is Icebreaker whose entire range contains merino and merino blends. Owners of Icebreaker gear tend to be fanatics, but there are some downsides, specifically the high price. Others have mentioned that the thinner, lighter weights of fabrics wear more easily.
- Pros: Soft, thermoregulating, moisture wicking, smells less, quick-drying, lightweight, wrinkles less, many brands allow for machine washing
- Cons: Must be line dried, can be expensive, thinner versions of some merino is not as long-lasting as other fabrics
- See how merino wool helped Brooke pack for a three week trip in a 12L bag.
The Turtleneck Thermal Top from Icebreaker is a great basic that you can use for layering. It comes in black and navy, is machine washable, and is a good option for cold weather destinations. It’s the perfect insulation layer.
- For more travel dresses, check out our Top Travel Dresses for Every Trip blog post, there are lots of merino wool options there too.
- You might also enjoy this post on affordable quick-drying travel clothing.
Besides bamboo’s silky, luxurious feel, it has several properties that make the fabric a staple for any traveler’s wardrobe. Like merino, bamboo is temperature regulating, so you’ll stay cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather.
Clothing made from bamboo is great for layering, so you can pack clothing that serves multiple purposes and layer up if it’s cold. It’s not on the same level as merino, but it does do a better job than many other fabrics on the market.
Like merino wool, you can wear it several times before it starts to smell. It also won’t wrinkle easily. And, it contains natural UPF. Bamboo Body, a brand in Australia, has a tested UPF rating of 50+!
While it’s a breathable, moisture-wicking fabric that helps keep sweat off your skin, the major downside with bamboo is the fact that it doesn’t dry as quickly- sometimes it even takes longer than cotton to dry depending on the thickness of the fabric. That makes it difficult to hand-wash items as you travel, but then again, since it smells less, you might have to do it less often!
- Pros: Temperature regulating, luxurious feel and drape, smells less, natural UPF, moisture wicking, breathable
- Cons: Takes longer to dry
Nylon and Polyester
Many people shy away from these synthetic fabrics, but nylon and polyester work well for travel clothing. In fact, much of the fancy purpose-built travel clothing on the market consists of these fabrics.
Nylon and polyester wick moisture, keeping your skin dry. They’re both quick-drying fabrics, so if you have to hand wash your clothes in the sink, they shouldn’t still be wet when it’s time to pack the next morning. These two are also wrinkle-resistant and lightweight, which is always good for packing.
In terms of breathability, the design of many travel fabrics helps them to be breathable, but they are known to be less breathable than cotton, merino, and bamboo.
The major downside is that these materials might not feel as comfortable on your skin as others, and the cheaper versions of these fabrics have a tendency to hold in odor if not treated.
- Pros: Quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant, lightweight
- Cons: Not as comfortable next to the skin and may hold some odor
The Coolmax Seamless Socks are made from a combination of nylon, polyester, and spandex. They are moisture-wicking and have an anti-odor treatment, making them ideal for a long day of traveling. No one likes stinky socks on a plane.
Rayon feels smooth on your skin. It dries quickly and is another great wrinkle-resistant fabric. Unfortunately, it doesn’t wick moisture as well as the fabrics above, so it’s not the best fabric for travel clothing in warmer climates where you might sweat a lot (like when packing for Malaysia).
- Pros: Quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant
- Cons: Doesn’t wick moisture well
The Merokeety Sleeveless Dress is made from a combination of rayon and polyester and comes in multiple striped or solid colors. This casual tank dress is perfect for summer and the pockets make it a dream for travelers.
The Anrabess Palazzo Pants are made from a combination of rayon, polyester, and spandex, and with their wide leg and loose fit, they provide an oversized style that’s ideal for travel, beach cover-ups, or casual days out. They can also be dressed up for a more trendy evening look. And of course, they have pockets!
Tencel is a wood-pulp based material that is a type of rayon. It is the brand name for lyocell. It is made using an environmentally friendly process from controlled and certified sourced natural raw material wood making it sustainable and a great option for eco-friendly travelers.
Tencel is known for its comfort and has a silky soft feel. It is wrinkle-resistant, machine washable, and dries quickly making it super easy to look after.
- Pros: Wrinkle-resistant, dries quickly, silky smooth feel, lightweight, moisture-wicking, machine washable
- Cons: Can be expensive
Brooke’s favorite Splice Dubai Snap-Up Shirt is made from 100% lyocell. This reversible shirt (hello two outfit options in one!) comes in two color combination options, black to blue or white to distressed gray. It’s a great layering piece in the winter and you can use it as a cover-up to protect your skin from the harsh sun in summer.
This collage even shows how Brooke wore it on one of her trips opal mining in the Australian outback.
The Toad&Co Earthworks Pant comes in a range of colors and is a great staple piece. Dress them up or down for a day exploring the city or a night on the town. The 2% elastane in these pants makes them movable and amazing to travel in.
Fleece is super effective at trapping body heat and sustaining warmth. If you’re looking for a material for a cold-weather destination, this is it! This is a synthetic fabric made from polyester and it has all the benefits of wool. It’s a durable fabric so each piece is a travel investment.
Fleece is easy to wear as it’s extremely lightweight (this also makes it great for packing in your suitcase as it takes up hardly any space), keeps you warm, and is moisture-wicking in case things get a bit sweaty when you’re walking around checking out a new town.
There are many different types of fleece, think sherpa, polar, and micro to name a few, each with their own unique qualities over the above-mentioned ones.
- Pros: Moisture resistant, lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking
- Cons: Not waterproof, prone to pilling
The Patagonia Women’s Retro Pile Fleece Jacket has a big front pocket and a half-zip for ultimate softness and warmth when traveling. All three pockets have secure zippers making them perfect for storing valuables like your passport or keycard. Plus. it’s made in a Fair Trade Certified Factory.
The Columbia Women’s West Bend Full Zip Jacket is made from a sherpa fleece and is available in a whole range of fun colors and patterns. It has spacious hand pockets and comfortable, elasticized cuffs perfect for keeping warmth in when it’s cold.
Gore-Tex is a waterproof, and breathable fabric that can repel liquid water while allowing water vapor to pass through. This means that rain can’t get in, but perspiration can get out easily leaving you dry and comfortable all day long. It is designed to be a lightweight, waterproof fabric for all-weather use.
This high-performance fabric is perfect for active travelers who visit extreme weather destinations, BUT depending on what product you are interested in, it’s just as good for warmer destinations too as the material is breathable.
Although Gore-Tex technical travel clothing can be expensive, think of them as investment pieces because they will last for years and you are sure to get a lot of use from them both while traveling and at home.
- Pros: Waterproof, windproof, breathable, lightweight
- Cons: Can be expensive and may degrade over time, may need to reapply the water-repellent coating
The Marmot Gore-Tex Oslo Jacket is made for cold weather destinations. It’s a waterproof and windproof jacket designed for high-performance comfort. The easy-access zippered handwarmer pockets not only keep your hands toasty but they also keep your valuables safe. It’s lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking.
The Gorewear R3 Windstopper Tights are windproof, breathable, and water-resistant. While these tights are made specifically for running, they would make a great pair of traveling tights. Not only will they keep you warm, but if you spend the day hiking or walking around town, you will stay dry and fresh. Plus, there’s a back zip pocket.
You probably have a lot of cotton in your normal wardrobe – I know I do! It’s comfortable, breathable, and easy to care for.
But cotton doesn’t wick moisture like other fabrics do, so if you’re in a hot place, you’ll start feeling uncomfortable in that sweaty shirt. It also wrinkles easily and doesn’t dry quickly, making it a less than ideal choice for travel.
There is a time and place for cotton, though. Denim might not be the quickest drying fabric, but jeans are great on a packing list when the weather’s chilly. They’re also pretty durable and versatile- as long as you don’t need to wash them often in the sink.
- Pros: Breathable, comfortable, easy care
- Cons: Doesn’t wick moisture well, dries slowly, wrinkles easily
Linen and Silk
Linen and silk are both comfortable, lightweight, breathable fabrics that won’t take up a lot of space in your suitcase. But they are probably the most wrinkle-prone fabrics out there. If you’re staying in an apartment rental or at a hotel that provides an iron, that might be okay with you, but in general, these aren’t great fabrics for travel clothing.
- Pros: Lightweight, breathable, comfortable
- Cons: Wrinkle very easily
- Read more about how to prevent wrinkles.
Other things to look for in travel clothing fabrics
Many outdoor companies make clothing that does more than simply clothe you. Some garments are treated with insecticides to help protect you from disease-carrying bugs. Others are made with ultraviolet protection to give you an extra barrier against the sun’s rays.
Water-resistant or waterproof clothing is ideal for some situations but unnecessary in others. Though it’s always a good idea to have one quick-dry outfit (and don’t forget the fast-drying underwear), if you’re staying somewhere with a washer and dryer, or you often use laundromats, a full wardrobe of quick-drying fabrics might be a lower priority for you.
You may also want to look for garments that are wrinkle-resistant. Not only will you stay looking (and feeling) fresh at the end of a long travel day, but you can wear the same items from day to night because they will still look good. If you plan on doing washing while you travel, you’re not going to want to worry about having to find an iron once your clothes are dry.
- To learn more about washing your clothes while traveling, check out our blog post: Essential Pack Items for Hand-Washing Clothes on the Road
Some wrinkle-resistant materials include merino wool, nylon, polyester, rayon, and Tencel.
Pack clothing that works with your planned activities, and know your travel style. The best fabrics for travel clothing pack up small, dry quickly, keep you warm AND cool, and hold up well so your clothing lasts longer.
Travel Clothing Fabrics FAQs
Is viscose quick-drying?
You may be wondering if viscose is quick-drying, and the answer is yes! However, it’s often dry-clean only which doesn’t make it the best fabric for travel clothing.
What is the fastest-drying fabric?
While the quick drying capabilities of any fabric depend on the garment and the thickness of the fabric, merino wool, nylon, and polyester are some of the quickest drying materials available.
Is viscose worse than cotton for traveling?
At HPL we often don’t recommend cotton as a fabric for travel clothing because it takes so long to dry and wrinkles easily. However, there are some instances where a pair of jeans are needed. Viscose needs to be dry cleaned and can stain easily so it might not be the best fabric for your travels!
What are the disadvantages of viscose?
Viscose is not environmentally friendly, it may shrink in hot water, it is often dry-clean only, can stain easily and it is prone to stretching.
Can you put merino wool in the dryer?
Some merino wool garments can be put in the dryer however, it is recommended to air dry your merino wool on a flat surface to extend its life.
Always check the garment label before putting your merino wool in the dryer.
What’s a good alternative if you can’t wear merino wool?
If you can’t wear merino wool, Brooke loves to recommend bamboo. It’s a natural fabric, like merino, stays less smelly for longer, is temperature-regulating, and offers UPF protection. Unfortunately, it does take longer to dry (but you need to wash it less often…).
Silk blends are also a good option!
What fabrics take the longest to dry?
Cotton!!! We can’t stress this enough, cotton takes long to dry making it low on the list of our favorite fabrics for travel clothing. Other fabrics that take longer to dry are denim (a type of cotton) and bamboo.
What fabrics are good for cold-weather travel?
Some good cold-weather travel fabrics include fleece, Gore-tex, merino wool, and bamboo.
What fabrics are good for hot weather travel?
While you may not think merino wool would be good for hot weather travel, the thermoregulating properties keep you cool in warm weather. Many companies offer lightweight merino clothing for summer, some with blends of other fabrics that further enhance the item’s ability to work in hot weather.
The same thing occurs with bamboo.
Besides those, linen is a preferred summer travel fabric for many. Just be sure to hang your items in the shower to loosen up any wrinkles.
What are good natural fabrics for travel clothing?
Merino wool, bamboo, and Tencel are some of our favorite natural fabrics for travel clothing.
What do you think, what is your favorite travel fabric?