Active Travel on a Budget: Clothing

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I’ve been trying harder and harder lately to create a capsule-style wardrobe for active travel. It’s never easy, and it’s rare that there are trips with just one activity, or just one climate. Most of the time, there’s a blend of running, hiking, cycling, swimming, and yoga, and temperature changes from 40 to 90 degrees, plus the chance of rain. So how do you pack all of that into one bag?

The biggest piece to this puzzle is fit. Travel isn’t the time to consider *maybe* fitting into those ultra-tight leggings, or embracing that massively baggy parka that is super ‘in’ at the moment. Think utilitarian (but chic!) when packing and try to focus on clothing that hits your ‘hell yes’ reflex: the stuff that you wear even when you’re not in the most body positive mood, the stuff that makes you feel like a (comfortable) rock star at all times. That’s what you want in your suitcase.

Specifically activewear

Windbreaker/rain jacket: Finding a highly foldable jacket that shrinks to nothing but can save you from wind and rain makes a huge difference when the weather gets bad, but doesn’t take up your whole pack when the weather is mild. I have a rain jacket from 7mesh that fits like a glove (not too tight, not too baggy) and is all black, so it can go pretty much anywhere.

Skip high-vis & bright patterns: this isn’t a specific piece of clothing, obviously, but for a general packing plan that saves space, this is key. Unless you really enjoy wearing high vis or really bright patterns when not working out, that is! In that case, pack away. The point is really to stick to colors/patterns that you would wear pretty much anytime, which leads to the next part of this list…

Clothes that can be worn for (almost) anything

Leggings: I love the Lululemon Align II for pretty much any activity. I’ll wear them with a nice silk blouse or cashmere sweater for almost any out-on-the-town or work occasion, but they’re great for running and yoga (of course) as well. They also don’t stretch out after one wear, and they’re totally fine to handwash if you don’t have laundry access.

A packable puffy: I cannot count the times my super cheap (think $30 from Marshalls) down jacket has saved the day. It packs to basically nothing so I can always cram it in, and under a windbreaker, it handles all but the chilliest conditions. You can ride in it in a pinch, but you can also wear it normally and not look like a total dork.

Merino wool tops: The best I’ve gotten were a long-sleeve black henley-style from MEC in Canada on the clearance rack, and a Giro sleeveless merino wool baselayer in heather gray. Both are perfect for running, but also as cycling baselayers, as regular around-town and out to lunch (or casual dinner) tops, and I’ve even worn the sleeveless one tucked into a skirt for a slightly dressier occasion. And since they’re Merino wool, they don’t hold odors so you’re OK washing and wearing.

An all-purpose hoodie: I say it constantly, but my favorite is the discontinued Chrome Pasha merino wool hoodie (bring it back, pleaaaaase!). That thing has seen me through 7 years of adventuring. And while I’ve often overpacked and brought alternate jackets and sweatshirts, this is the one I reach for most often. Look for one that’s fitted, but not so fitted that you can’t layer under it / you won’t want to wear it regularly.

Hand-washable undergarments: Underwear is the one piece of clothing that’s going to need a whole lot of rewashing while you’re gone. So having heavy-duty and handwash-friendly underwear that doesn’t stretch out and fits perfectly is the best. (I love lululemon’s underwear, personally, but I would never recommend that to anyone since how underwear fits is insanely personal!)

Cycling cap or beanie: I’m a fan of cycling caps and beanies versus run caps or trucker caps in most circumstances, simply because they pack down smaller, can get washed in the washing machine, and they look a lot cuter than your average run cap. So you can wear it while you run, and you can wear it post run if your hair is a hot, sweaty mess. And rather than looking sport-specific, I find a cycling cap or beanie looks a little more put-together.

What you can live without

Cycling-specific socks: I know this is heresy to cyclists reading this but honestly, if you’re trying to save space and you’re riding and running and doing tons of other stuff, I’m a big fan of just bringing lower socks. If I’m going for a long time and I know I’ll be riding a lot, sure, I bring a couple of cycling-specific options. But really, I prefer bringing just the one type that I can wear for anything.

Activewear you wouldn’t wear on errands: If you’re traveling and can’t bring a lot of gear with you, why would you pack anything that you wouldn’t wear in everyday life, but would wear on a run? I love a fun running top, but I’m trying to skip the big graphic ones that say stuff like “Gym and Tonic” or are bright pink in favor of more subtle ones that I can wear with regular jean shorts—or that I’m fine walking into a grocery store in post-run. I actually just got a tank from lululemon that’s a dusky gold, and it’s perfect for runs or nights out, depending on accessories!

Fancy shoes: Less about activewear, more about your clothing in general, but I’ve found that you really don’t need a ton of super fancy shoes with you. Maybe a pair of heels (if, and only if, you can guarantee you have an event to wear them to). Otherwise, a nice pair of flat sandals or ballet flats are perfectly fine for almost every occasion.

Anything that requires ironing: Skip it. Thank me later.

What are your active travel staples? Let me know in the comments!

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