The “girly-girl’s” guide to packing for adventure travel

I’ll admit it. I’m what you would call a “girly-girl”. I like to dress up, I’m most comfortable in heels, and, ironically, I don’t feel quite myself when I’m not wearing at least a little makeup (and yes, I am fully aware of how ridiculous that is). Despite my disdain for getting wet, sweaty, stinky or dirty, I love taking part in adventure activities when I travel. I like to do things like hike, ride horses and zipline. I just like to look good (though I’ll usually settle for “not gross”) while I do them.

Aside from the obvious vanity issues, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, except that I stubbornly refuse to pack more than a carry-on for any trip, and so bulky adventure gear gets left behind to make room for yet another pair of cute high heels. This means I’ve ended up exploring a cave in Iceland in skinny jeans, knee-high boots and a wool trench coat, and have hiked in the humid Costa Rican rainforest during the muddy rainy season in jeans and running shoes with no traction. But I’ve finally figured out how I can bring both the clothes that make me feel good, and the ones that I need to survive as an active traveler. I’ve learned what I absolutely have to bring to enjoy myself on adventures, and how to fit it in my limited space along with my stylish clothes. If you’re a “girly-girl” like me but still want to get active with the boys, here’s what you need to know.

For almost any outdoor activity, you’re going to need some kind of boots. Sure, you can hike short, easy trails in tennis shoes. And technically you can ride horses in your stylish city boots. But for comfort and safety, you really need appropriate footwear -. you really don’t want to find yourself in the snow covered Andes wearing just a pair of suede ballet flats. To save room in your luggage, look for a pair of boots or shoes that can do double duty and can be worn in the city or while out having adventures.

For less strenuous hikes, you can get away with a pair of “trail running shoes”. These can be as stylish as many pairs of running shoes, but the traction is much better. If you’ll be exploring warmer climates or a tropical area, limit yourself to this pair of shoes and one or two more, one pair of flip flops and one pair of dressier sandals for nights out. If you’ll be in cooler climes, bring these to wear for activities and during the day and bring one pair of boots. Choose a pair that is flat and comfortable, but that can also be dressed up with a skirt and tights for evenings. Merrells are an excellent brand to check out. Their shoes and boots are notoriously comfortable, but attractive enough to wear around any city.

Always wear the heaver pair of boots or shoes on the plane, freeing up more space in your bag.
A Large Plastic Bag
If you’re like me, you probably travel with some of your favorite outfits. Depending on the activities you have planned for your trip, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a pile of dirty, stinky clothes to bring home with you. You really don’t want to throw all those clothes in one bag. Separate any heavily soiled clothes from the rest of your belongings and put them in a sealed plastic bag before packing them for the trip home. This will keep your other clothes clean and keep the inside of your suitcase from smelling like dirty socks.
Pack your Oldest T-Shirts
Better yet, don’t even bother to bring back the clothes you wear out mountain climbing or trekking. Pack older t-shirts and tank tops that are at the end of their lifespan and you can donate them at your destination. Your bag won’t get stinky, you won’t have to worry about doing laundry when you return, and best of all, you’ll have more room in your bag, which you can fill with clothes bought while shopping on your trip.
A Quick-Drying Towel
A small travel-sized quick-drying towel will be a life-saver if you plan on traveling to wet or humid places. You can always snag a hotel towel if you’ve got plans for an activity like to hiking to a waterfall, swimming and then hiking back, but then you’re left to carry around a heavy, sopping wet towel that will soak everything else in your bag. Use your lightweight towel to clean off and it’ll be dry in no time, making for a light pack on your return hike.
A Light, Water-Proof Windbreaker
Hiking across Icelandic lava fields in the rain in a wool trench coat is no fun. Take it from one who knows. No matter how warm your city coat is, once it’s soggy it’ll be of little help. For cold destinations, layer a waterproof windbreaker over a fleece or a wool sweater to stay warm and dry. For tropical climates, just wear the windbreaker over your t-shirt. Though the temps may not call for a jacket, you’ll be glad to have some protection from the rain if you get stuck in a rainforest downpour. When you aren’t wearing the windbreaker, it’s light and thin enough to roll up and pack in your bag without taking up too much room.
“Performance” Pants
Yes, I did recently walk into an REI and tell the salesman I needed “performance pants” because I didn’t know any better term. Luckily, he knew exactly what I meant. Basically, you want a pair of lightweight, water-resistant, quick drying pants (synthetic, not cotton). Unless you’re going to be in extremely cold climates (in which case, there are pants for that too), one pair will cover you for all occasions.
The length will protect you from bugs and scratches, but you’ll stay cool and dry thanks to the fabric’s quick-drying and water-repelling properties. Get a pair with a little extra room and some stretch to them, and if you do venture to slightly cooler climates, you can layer a pair of long underwear underneath.
Hair Accessories and Makeup
This is purely about vanity. As much as I hate to admit it, I am not one of those women who truly doesn’t care about her appearance, who can get messy and sweaty and not mind (and of course, somehow always looks good). When I start to look gross, I start to feel gross. My hair gets frizzy in high humidity, or hangs lifeless and limp after getting soaked in the rain. So when I know I’m going to be out in the elements, I’ll generally tie my hair back or wear a headband, scarf or hat to keep it under control. I don’t bring a blow dryer or any hair products so this supply of hair accessories is key.
As for makeup, while I do insist on wearing it when I go out for less physical adventures like sightseeing or shopping, I don’t bother putting any on while getting active. I know it’s just going to run down my face when I start sweating anyways. To save room in my bag though, I only bring the bare minimum. You should be able to get by with foundation (get one with SPF lotion in it to save room), powder, blush, mascara, a pencil that doubles does double duty on brows and eyes, and a single lip gloss. All of this should fit in one TSA-approved plastic bag, along with your travel shampoo and toothpaste.
Even with these supplies, you’ll have room in an average-size carry-on for enough outfits to last up to two weeks if you pack smart. Bring items that mix and match, can be dressed up or down, and can be layered for varying temps. You really don’t need to fill your bag with heavy outdoor apparel for every season. But bringing these basics along with your favorite fashionable duds will allow you to feel so good about your appearance that you can totally forget about your looks and concentrate on enjoying your adventure. And that’s the whole point.

Gadling Gear Extravaganza: The Ultimate Travel Clothes

I’m all for fancy gizmos and high tech electronics. It’s my bread and butter. But what really makes the difference when traveling, a lot of the time, are the simple essentials that you deal with every day.

Clothes, for example. The right clothes can lighten your pack, keep you dryer, warmer, cooler, and happier. Believe me.

Today’s Mega Gadling Gear Extravaganza is going to cover all of the clothes I own, which are actually so few that they fit in a single Aloksak plastic bag.

… Okay, I just got a tux made here in Bangkok too (who can resist?), but I’m having it shipped back, so it doesn’t count.

All of this gear has been tested personally by me on a crazy around the world trip that I’m five months into, and most of it was being pre-tested in Austin, Texas before I left.
Icebreaker Superfine Wool Shirts

I was initially going to write this article only about these shirts. They’re good enough that if I thought people would read it, I would write a three part series about them.

Serously, I love these things.

I started out with just one, but after two months of traveling I threw my other shirts away (capilene and another brand’s wool shirt) and bought more Icebreaker. That means that for the past five countries in four months, I have worn only three Icebreaker shirts.

Wool is an amazing material, and icebreaker uses ultra high quality wool. The best of the best.

First of all, wool is very odor resistant. On many occasions I’ve worn a shirt to work out in the Panama heat, let it air out while taking a shower, and after getting out of the shower realized that even upon very close olfactory inspection, it didn’t smell at all.


I get some of the lightest weight shirts (the 150 series), which are perfectly fine for hot climates. They’ve withstood the rigors of Thailand and Panama summers. In the cold they offer a little more warmth than a cotton t-shirt, but nothing to write home about. If you’re going somewhere cold, they have much heavier shirts you can wear.

Perhaps the best property of the shirts is the way they handle water. They dry VERY quickly. On the island of Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, we twice got stuck in flash storms while running to Karaoke at night. After an hour or two of singing I was almost perfectly dry. My friends with cotton shirts were freezing and cold.

Speaking of which, did you know that, like a wetsuit, wool keeps you warm even when it’s wet? It’s eerie.

Last, but certainly important if these are the only shirts in your wardrobe, icebreaker has very fashionable styles of shirts. I found that other brands are either too scrubby looking or too athletic looking. Icebreaker shirts are cool enough that I’ve been able to wear them to fairly fashionable clubs without any problems.

They are hard to find because they’re so in demand. Try Amazon, or your local outdoor gear store.

Cloudveil Cool Convertible Pants

I love these pants almost as much as I love my shirts.

They’re made of brushed nylon, which is a great material for pants. These pants are super rugged, my one pair clocking in with nine months of daily use and not a single scratch, rip, or stain.

I’ve worn them exploring the jungle, on planes, to dinner, and even swimming. The key feature is that the pant legs zip off near the knees, converting them instantly into shorts. I love this feature to death. Start hiking in the morning when it’s cold, and then as it gets warmer you just zip off the legs. Perfect.

I picked these particular pants because the fabric doesn’t have that sheen and swishing noise that nylon pants usually have. In fact, they look a lot like cotton. They’re also relatively slim fitting, which is good. Most convertible pants I tried on looked like Hammer pants.

As a little bonus, the velcro pockets on the thighs are the perfect size to hold a passport. I’ll mention this because I’m a stickler for things like this – the pockets aren’t cargo pockets like most brands put in, so they are nice and flat.

Get them at Amazon.

Ex-Officio Give-N-Go Underwear

For months now the most common question we’ve received here at Gadling is, “Can you PLEASE share the details of Tynan’s underwear situation?”

The wait is over – I’m ready to reveal all.

I’m pretty into underwear. Not to the level that girls are into underwear, but enough that I once had an “underwear shootout” which involved me ordering five different kinds online and then testing them for a couple weeks before buying many pairs of the winning pair.

When I was faced with the prospect of getting travel underwear, I was concerned that I may not be able to find a pair that could stack up with the shootout winners.

Ex-Officio pulled through for me.

They have a few different styles. I went with the below the belt sport briefs. Normally I go for the boxer brief, but I’m nuts about light packing and so I opted for less fabric. Also, their version of a brief was so huge that it could probably double as a tent in a pinch.

The draw of the Ex Officios is that they dry fast. Really fast. So fast that when I demonstrated them to a couple of strippers in an all night diner before leaving for my trip, even they were impressed. Strippers are really into underwear, so I consider their approval to be a strong selling point.

Get them at Amazon.

And that’s it!

That’s all the clothing (besides outerwear) that I pack. I got rid of my shoes in favor of some that don’t require socks, but the best socks are SmartWool socks. I love them so much that I shipped mine home from Taiwan instead of throwing them out.

When you get the right gear you can get by comfortable with very little. And you can join me in mocking the backpackers that carry backpacks so big that they can actually be seen from space.