The following guest post has been submitted by Amy Lyons. See all packing list posts here.
Growing up in rainy damp Ireland the ultimate goal of every holiday or trip was to bask in some heat. I craved warm breezes, feeling sun on my skin, and not having to take a jacket out at night!
But what sometimes comes hand in hand with heat is the dreaded humidity! Nothing puts a dampener (literally) on your day like non-stop sweating in muggy weather.
We sweat to keep cool, but when the humidity is high, the sweat evaporates more slowly – which means we stay hotter and extremely uncomfortable!
During a recent week-long trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam the weather was predicted to stay above 30 degrees (Celsius) with 100% humidity. And as I would be based in the city I couldn’t get away with wearing a sarong and flip flops, my usual go-to outfit to cool off!
I set myself a challenge:
- pack appropriate clothing
- pack light (carry on only)
- attempt to look funky!
I’ve come a long way from lugging huge suitcases packed with clothing that never saw the light of day. I’ve learned from the items I went back to over and over again.
The main things to think about when packing for humidity:
FABRIC and FIT
For humid weather, you really want fabrics that breathe as much as possible, and natural fabrics, as opposed to synthetics, tend to do just that. Anything that locks in moisture, and without air flow, is going to make you feel quite uncomfortable in an environment where moisture doesn’t evaporate so easily to begin with.
Please see comments for more ideas on the following information:
Cotton is an excellent material for humid climates as it allows air to flow in and around the skin, creating a cooling effect. It also absorbs the sweat and moisture from your body which keeps you dry and more comfortable.
Linen is also cool, airy and absorbent… but we all know how wrinkled it gets in a bag! I packed a linen/cotton blend top on this trip which felt really nice against my skin and didn’t wrinkle too much in my backpack.
Rayon is a unique fabric since it is technically synthetically manufactured but from natural raw materials. The end result is a fabric that can feel like silk yet is similar to cotton and linen in its cool, airy construction. It does not trap body heat and absorbs moisture easily.
Silk and Wool tend to retain heat and so are not good options for a humid climate. (Actually a good merino wool might do well. A blended merino wool would do even better. Check out the Icebreaker Cool-Lite line, blended with tencel.)
>>See why you should always pack at least one outfit made of quick-dry material.
Above all else, STAY AWAY from Polyester! This fabric blocks the outward flow of moisture and heat which causes the sweat to build up, making for one very irritated traveler!
Clothing for humid climates should be loose and comfortable. This encourages air flow around the body and allows moisture and sweat to evaporate, preventing a lot of irritation!
Items that work well are:
- Loose fitting singlets that skim the body
- Loose shorts that hang at the hip
- Maxi dresses, loose and billowy, also good for the evening time when the mosquitoes come out!
Vietnam Packing List
Black shorts – Cotton – go with everything, loose fit
Patterned shorts – lots of colours- matches with everything, loose fit
White singlet – cotton/linen blend
Black singlet – cotton
Purple singlet – cotton
Green dress – cotton
Black/white maxi skirt – rayon
Black strappy top – cotton
Necklace x 2
Underwear x 5
Bra x 2
Essential oils (for perfume)
Tea tree (mosquito bites, cuts, spots – anything)
Makeup bag: foundation, mascara, bronzer, eyeliner, lip balm
Black slip ons
Black thongs (flip flops for North Americans)
>> A comfy walking sandal would be useful if sightseeing.
Small over shoulder bag for daily use
Things I didn’t need:
A scarf and cardigan that I always bring to wear on the plane – not required after I stepped off the aircraft!
To sum it all up – go loose, free and natural with your clothing and enjoy those tropical temperatures and exotic locations!
>>For more packing tips for this region, read our female packing list for Southeast Asia.
Book a Viator Tour for Your Trip to Vietnam
Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta Full Day Tour ↗
Experience two of the most popular activities in Ho Chi Minh on one convenient tour.
From Hanoi: 2-Day Overnight Sapa Tour by Luxury Van Limousine ↗
Hike for several hours each day to hill tribe villages belonging to the Black Hmong and Dzay ethnic minorities.
About the author: Amy is a twenty -something very far from home with relentless itchy feet… Having left the teeny isle of Ireland in 2009 her wanderings have brought her to the Americas, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands and beyond. She is about to launch her very first travel blog to chart her next epic travel plan – a 2-3 year adventure across Central/South America and Europe volunteering on sustainable farms and eco-retreats in order to learn how to set up one of her own! Watch this space!
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Thanks for the insight Amy! I am about to go on a two month trip to Thailand and there are definitely some helpful tips I can use (definitely need to look into this tree oil I keep hearing about!)
I originally was planning on purchasing some tan linen shorts but the wrinkle-ability makes me nervous, hoping to find a good blend such as the one you spoke of. Also starting to regret my spring scarf I just bought, I was hoping to add a pop of color but may just resort to jewelry!
Cheers and safe travels.
I wouldn’t say that Polyester is terrible, considering that a huge number of sports brands have their own line of moisture wicking clothing (Nike has “dry fit”, Adidas has “clima-lite”, etc.) and they are all made from polyester. As a sales associate at a sporting goods store, we actually advise customers to stay away from cotton, considering it dries less quickly and is heavier than polyester blends. At the end of the day, wear what works for your body.
I have to agree with Ashley on this one. I work in retail and we do sell workout wear. The new fabrics are moisture wicking. Cotton will get wet and stay wet.
Anna @ The Blonde Banana says
Love your outfit ideas! One of the things I hate about packing for humidity: usually I re-wear outfits during my trips, but once I got all sweaty in Costa Rica I couldn’t wear the same items twice without doing laundry.
I am assuming the writer of this article is going to be doing laundry in a laundromat. I have traveled extensively and in Vietnam and other tropical areas and I would never recommend cotton to someone traveling in these areas (or at all!) because unless you are planning to get all your laundry done in a laundromat cotton is horrible. It takes forever to dry, especially in humid areas, and wrinkles easily. A pair of cotton underwear could take 2 days to dry, and a cotton T-shirt may take up to 3 days.
They make clothes for world class elite athletes using all synthetic fabrics–these work well to keep the athlete cool and comfortable in all conditions, including hot and humid. They wick moisture away, are breathable, soft and comfortable. And best of all they dry quickly in your hostel/hotel room, even when it’s humid! Dri-fit, CoolMax, and most other synthetics used in quality exercise clothes work fantastic.
Go to your average running store or Athleta or Lulu or even Old Navy and you’ll find lots of cute clothes that are made of breathable, quick-drying synthetics that won’t wrinkle. Stay away from cotton unless you know for sure that you’re doing all your laundry in a laundromat.
The whole “polyester doesn’t breathe” thing is a thing of the past.
I agree. I have learned from experience that I much prefer synthetics to cotton. I need things that will dry quickly. I use a lot of exercise gear for outdoor travel. I have a polyester shirt from REI that dries faster than a swimsuit! It’s kind of amazing. The quickest drying material I’ve found is a nylon/spandex blend pair of Arcteryx pants that my husband has. He’s worn them in heat and humidity and had no problem. Also merino wool is surprisingly comfortable in the heat.
Please be aware that in a lot of Asian countries including Vietnam wearing singlets that show your shoulders is not culturally appropriate. Ab easy solution is to throw a scarf or light shirt over your shoulders.
Cotton sucks for hot, humid weather. It’s absolutely horrible and keeps your shirt wet throughout. Polyester is much better than cotton. However the best fabric is anything close to an 80/20 nylon/polyester fit. Those are absolutely the best for scorching and humid weather.
This is exactly what I needed. I wanted to pack carry on but worried about what the “essentials” are. What did you do for shampoo/conditioner? Buy it upon arrival?
It’s super easy to buy shampoo and conditioner in Asia, they have it at every corner store. But you can consider buying Dr. Bronner’s pure-castile soap (bar or liquid form), an all-in-one product that you can use for body, hair, dishes, laundry, etc. Best of all, it’s organic and environmentally friendly 🙂
It’s all very well taking all those strappy tops but when the mossies come out you MUST have a long sleeved shirt of some kind.
Great point, Maggie!
Cotton is definitely the worst you can wear!! You want a fabric that doesn’t absorb moist but exports it from your body. Cotton just holds all the moist!
I recently finished 6 months of traveling through South America and out of the 4 t shirts I brought with me, I consistently went back and could wear my 2 ice breaker (150grams I believe) t shirts over and over and over again with no odor or discomfort. For my body, these were the best comfy and reliable shirts I’ve ever worn. Always soft, repelling odor (I don’t sweat much though and would say don’t produce much odor) and the shirts dry really fast. They’re 100% merino wool and really did their job during the heat and cold. I 100% swear by them and would buy more only when these two get worn to scraps. I find myself wearing 2 for up to 1-2 weeks without needing a wash. I just wash them with hand if I wanted a quick refresher. I wear the other shirts only if I feel like changing up my outfit, but even now I don’t find myself caring too much about that while I’m abroad haha.
Shocked you are recommending cotton. Synthetics are better designed nowadays.