This is a story of what we wear — and how, when you pack so little, you’d better make it count.
When all your clothes need to fit into a couple of packing cubes, every item seems precious. Multi-purposed too, like a Swiss Army knife. Easily layered, sink-washed to dry overnight or even in hours, and good-looking when it needs to be. Sturdy enough to hold up through chicken bus rides and mountain summits, yet professional enough to give presentations and wear to business meetings.
Not asking much, are we?
We demand a lot from our travel gear. We wear it, we beat it up, we often wear it out. It’s through this lens that we evaluate some ExOfficio clothes through two distinctly different experiences: a presentation to an audience that included a famous political satirist and a search for tigers in the mangrove forests of Bangladesh.
ExOfficio: Good enough for P.J. O’Rourke?
Seconds before launching into a presentation at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) about our experiences in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Chief of Staff whispered in my ear: “By the way, that guy straight ahead is P.J. O’Rourke. He’s watching your presentation.”
Finding out that a famous political satirist is in the audience just minutes before giving a presentation is a great way to kick start the nerves. But for all our anxieties, our appearance and our clothes were not among them. They fit our role: adventure travelers, storytellers, professionals.
A slideshow rolled behind us as we shared stores of traveling independently across the former Soviet Union: hospitality in Georgia, living with a host family in Armenia, traversing Caspian Sea by boat, curiosity in Turkmenistan, small world experiences in Kyrgyzstan, almost dying crossing the land border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and the stunning beauty of the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan.
Every now and then during our presentation, we’d look out to O’Rourke scribbling notes. We wondered: “Is he getting fodder for his next article? Perhaps something to poke fun at?”
As we finished, we were quickly surrounded in visits and questions. O’Rourke slipped out of the room; we never did have a chance to ask him about those notes. If in his next bit of published work you find reference to CouchSurfing with KGB agents, getting lost in the Tian Shan mountains, or having to abide a slideshow dished by some well-dressed wide-eyed scrappy travelers, please let us know.
ExOfficio: Tough Enough for Bangladesh?
The real test of any travel clothes is how they hold up on the road. So how did our ExOfficio duds hold up while backpacking for more than five weeks across Bangladesh?
It was the beginning of the hot season in Bangladesh. On the street, in buses, on bicycle rickshaws and in steamy hotel rooms – we were regularly covered in sweat and lathered in filth within minutes. And since we had left a backpack behind at our friend’s house to lighten our load for public transport, we carried even fewer clothes than usual.
Virtually every night involved a brief laundry ritual, a hope of rescuing our clothes and keeping pace with the accumulation of dirt, sweat and smell from the day. Hand wash pants, shirts, underwear. Hang it all up. And every morning begin anew with freshly cleaned duds, only to devastate our clothes once we hit the streets again. Resurrect them that evening, begin the process anew.
There we were in the Sundarbans, the tiger-dotted tidal mangrove forests in southern Bangladesh on a 3-day live-aboard boat tour of the area. Days often featured forest walks and tromps in the mud. Invariably, our clothes were caked in mud.
At the end of the day, I’d strip down, determined to keep pace with my filthy clothes.
I stood at a line of sinks at the back of the boat soaking and scrubbing my ExOfficio pants (trousers, if you like) with a bar of laundry soap. One of the other passengers, a well-traveled passenger from North America asked, “Do you wash your clothes like that every day?”
“Only when I need to. It’s really not so bad.”
To wash your clothes in the sink and have them air dry in hours – that’s a luxury when you’re on the road adventuring, collecting grime and focusing on the matter at hand: travel, not laundry. It also always helps to look decent, respectful.
In just a couple of hours, my pants, shirt, underwear and socks will be ready again, fresh for another tiger search.
After a year of wearing ExOfficio through: TBEX New York, presentations and a photo shoot in Prague, 10th Anniversary trip to Tuscany, Bavarian wine harvest, Wadi Rum, Petra and Zikra Initiative visit in Jordan, tracking tigers and visiting schools in Bangladesh, climbing Mt. Batur volcano in Bali, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and The Serengeti in Tanzania.
Still going, still look good. Hard to beat that.
Our Year in ExOfficio Travel Clothes
If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you’d like to read the captions, you can view the ExOfficio travel clothes photo essay.
Audrey’s Gear: ExOfficio Travel Clothes for Women
- Women’s Nio Amphi Pants: I love these pants. They are comfortable, light, have good zipped pockets, wick moisture well (sweat, too) and they dry very quickly. I wear them all the time. For presentations and professional meetings, they look great paired with a nice top (see below).
- Women’s Savvy Athena Long Sleeve Shirt (White): Another piece of clothing I enjoy and wear a lot. It’s comfortable and tough enough for walks in the hot sun; it handles heat and sweat well. I love it paired with the pants above or with jeans for a presentation or special dinner out. Also, it was easy to hand wash and it dries really quickly.
- Women’s Dryflylite™ Long-Sleeve Cover (Hoodie): The Dryflylite material for this top is very thin, but it provides just enough warmth to cut a chill in the air. It’s light enough to wear when it’s hot outside and you want to cover your arms (e.g., for sun protection or to dress conservatively).
- Women’s Dryflylite Long Sleeve Shirt: Comfortable, surprisingly good in hot climates as it dries quickly. Useful for layering when it gets cold. Sleeves are a little too short for my arms, so I always wear them rolled up.
- Women’s Vent’R Capri Pant: The first pair of capri pants I’ve ever owned. I was skeptical at first, but they were perfect for European summer and year-round in Thailand.
- Nio Amphi Shorts (old style): I wore these at the beach and they were comfortable and flexible. But because I tend to dress rather conservatively when we travel, I found these to be a bit too short for my personal taste. I’ve noticed that the new ExOfficio shorts are a bit longer, which is better for travel clothes.
- ExOfficio Underwear: My relationship with ExOfficio underwear got off to a rocky start. When I first picked up a few pairs in 2006, I found the bikini undies bulky and bunchy. I got rid of them. But, in recent years the design has changed and I do really like the new models for comfort as well as the fact that they dry quicker than other undies I own. I’m currently using: Women’s Give-N-Go String Bikini, Women’s Give-N-Go Lacy Thong and Women’s Give-N-Go Lacy Low Rise Bikini. Don’t know how they did it, but the Give-N-Go Lacy line is proof that travel underwear can be sexy. Hard combination to pull off.
- Women’s Give-N-Go Shelf Bra Camisole: Great to sleep in when it’s hot, warm enough to wear as a layering option.
Note: I found that ExOfficio women’s clothes run large. I don’t consider myself particularly petite, yet I often wear ExOfficio XS or size 4. Especially if you are ordering online, take note. You may want to go to a shop first to find your correct size.
Dan’s Gear: ExOfficio Travel Clothes for Men
- Men’s Bugsaway Ziwa Convertible Pant: When I first looked at them, I thought “kinda thin.” If anything, that feature has been an aid to comfort. They are comfortable, they look great, are simple to wash and lightning fast to dry. My only beef (clothing engineers, this is a request), the pockets. This pair features one zip pocket on the left, another velcro pocket on the right. I’d love to see something more secure than the velcro and an added hidden inner zip pocket in the left pocket for keys, money, valuables. Having said that, I’ve carried scads of gear — especially in the zip pocket — without any problems.
- Men’s Bugsaway Baja Long Sleeve Shirt: If I need to look especially decent or professional for a presentation or a meeting, this is the shirt. It’s also useful for repelling mosquitos because it features a mosquito repellent embedded in the fabric (lasts for a couple dozen washes, apparently).
- Men’s Hid’n Away Short-Sleeve Shirt: Funny, when I received this shirt, I didn’t think much of it. But I began wearing it and received endless compliments on its appearance. Looks good and washes and dries quickly.
- Men’s Reef Runner Lite Long Sleeve Shirt (Blue) : If the Bugsaway pants don’t have enough pockets, this shirt certainly does. It’s like a lightweight photojournalist vest merged with an outback shirt. No matter how much dirt I throw at it, it always seems to look good. Lightning fast to dry, too.
- Men’s Nio Amphi Short (Long): I’ve trudged through mud and water, rivers and swimming pools with these. They have sort of an indestructible quality to them. Good pockets, too.
- Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer: I don’t need any other underwear on the road. Perfectly comfortable, easy-to-wash, quick drying. Sturdy. Doesn’t seem to wear out, but it does occasionally vanish while at the laundry service. An occasion for tears.
- Bugsaway Purdom Hiker Sock: If there’s any place on my body that needs protection from bugs, it’s my feet. Comfy socks that help repel mosquitos (and odor, too) is genius. (Like the pants and shirt above, the mosquito repellent is embedded in the fabric.) For having traveled so much, my feet are in exceptionally good condition. I credit that to wearing socks like these.
ExOfficio Underwear Giveaway
We have two pairs of men’s and two pairs of women’s ExOfficio underwear to give away to some lucky winners.
Like our Facebook Page and leave a comment below answering the following question before 25 September, 2011.
Where in the world would you most like to be with a pair of ExOfficio underwear? Dream big, be creative.
We’ll choose four winners (two women, two men) at random. Available only for shipment to addresses in the U.S.A.