Lightweight travel clothing for hot climates

Somewhere in Mexico

Summer is here, and your well-deserved fun in the sun vacation is booked- Woohoo! Now all you have to do is decide on the best lightweight travel clothing, and off you go. But how do you choose? There are many options when deciding on the best lightweight travel clothing for hot climates, but it is imperative to know what to look for to avoid costly and sweaty mistakes.

You can start planning your warm-weather vacation packing list after you decide where you are going and what activities you plan to do. In this packing guide, along with plenty of suggestions, and convenient shopping links, I am sharing useful fabric knowledge to give you the tools to choose the best lightweight travel clothing for you!

How to Stay Cool in Hot Weather – Know your Fabrics

Fiber Content

When finding the best lightweight travel clothing for hot climates, it’s essential to look at the fiber content to know what to expect. All fabric is not created equal; even if two garments look (and sometimes feel) the same on the outside, their fiber content (treatment or construction) may be entirely different, which means their performance will be different. Reading the content label and understanding fabric characteristics is the best way to choose appropriate clothing for hot climates.

What is a fiber content label? A label required by law discloses the generic names and percentages by weight of the constituent fibers in the product (along with a few other things) (source). The fiber label is usually sewn into the side seam or attached to the neck label. Checking the fiber content label is a great way to be an informed consumer and means you are one step closer to choosing the best lightweight travel clothing for hot climates!

Fabric Characteristics

In addition to fiber content, understanding fabric characteristics is beneficial when choosing the best lightweight travel clothing. Below are a few graphic tables listing some popular summer fabrics and their most attractive and least desirable features. It is good to familiarize yourself with these fabric properties to help choose the best clothing for hot and humid climates.

Chart to help you learn popular summer fabric characteristics to make it easier choose the best lightweight travel clothing for hot climates
Chart to help you learn popular summer fabric characteristics to make it easier choose the best lightweight travel clothing for hot climates

You may notice absorbancy is considered an advantage and a drawback when choosing the best summer clothing for hot climates, but mainly for those planning to sweat during intense activities.

The main difference between water-absorbing (natural) and water-repelling (synthetic) fabrics is, absorbent fabrics, such as cotton, hold moisture next to your skin, making your garment wet and heavy. Excellent at cooling you down, poor at keeping you comfortable. Water repellent materials such as polyester pull moisture away from your body and trap the wetness between your skin and the garment. You will sweat more, but your shirt will stay dryer than cotton. Polyester won’t make you cold but may become clingy and smelly with excess moisture and, of course, won’t breathe as well as natural fabrics.

Although basic poly and cotton have their problems, innovative high-tech polyester and performance cotton fabrics now have moisture control and wicking properties build right in. These fabrics pull sweat to the outside of the garment, allowing it to evaporate, keeping you cooler and dryer. These innovative fabrics are a great choice when choosing lightweight clothing for hot and humid climates, especially when working up a sweat.

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Some popular performance brands:

  • Under Armour ISO Chill®– Helps disperse body heat to provide cooling power.
  • Nike AeroAdapt– Designed to help keep athletes at their optimal temperature so that sweating, overheating, or getting chilled won’t interfere with a workout.
  • Patagonia Capilene® Cool-Patagonia tech tees keep you comfortable when you’re working hard in conditions ranging from cool to hot.
  • Columbia Omni-Freeze ZERO™– Sweat-activated cooling technology to keep hot people cool.
  • Cotton Incorporated TransDRY®– Combines the comfort of cotton with moisture-wicking performance that rivals any competitive fiber in the market.

Garment Fit, Construction, and Design

In addition to fiber content and fabric characteristics, garment fit, construction, and design are important variables to pay attention to while choosing the best lightweight attire for warmer climates.

  • Fit-if you are planning to be active moisture-wicking clothing is best. Make sure it fits tight or it won’t be able to do its job. If relaxing is more your speed, choose loose-fitting clothing.
  • Construction– Breathability increases with looser weaves and open knits; while tighter knits or weaves create less breathable fabrics. Finer yarns and lighter weight fabrics also affect breathability.
  • Design– Mesh cut-outs, zippered air vents, retractable collars, and sleeves are designed into garments to improve features such as UV ray protection and breathability.

Pro tip: D.I.Y garment breathability test; in a well-lit room, hold the garment up and see how much light passes through. More light=more breathability.

The Best Fabrics to Wear in Hot-Humid vs Hot-Dry Climates

Generally speaking, loose-fitting clothing and breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen are the best choices for staying cool in hot, humid weather. However, when choosing apparel to wear in warm weather, it is essential to select fabrics right for the type of activity you are doing and the type of heat you are experiencing. Humidity means more sweating, so depending on your activity, you may opt for tighter fitting, wicking clothing (summer wool or tech-polys) over naturally absorbent materials. In some cases, cotton is preferred for its natural cooling abilities, although it will become wet and heavy with excess moisture and eventually make you cold.

If you are an avid hiker, you probably have heard the popular rule of thumb “Cotton Kills.” Most hikers avoid cotton because of its absorbency, slow drying, and failure to regulate body temperature. In any case, always ask a professional if you are not sure what type of active clothing to choose for hot and humid climates.

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Your fabric wearing cheat sheet for hot and humid climates:

  • Loose-fitting, breathable natural fibers keep you coolest
  • Polyester doesn’t breathe as well as cotton.
  • Linen is exceptionally breathable but is harder to care for
  • Silk is very lightweight but does not wear well in humidity
  • Loose weaves and open knits allow air to circulate keeping you cooler
  • Poly-tech fabrics are great for active sports and exercising
  • Wear tight fits in moisture-wicking garments or the technology won’t work
  • Synthetics and wool are naturally wrinkle-resistant
  • Summer wool is excellent for hiking and naturally blocks odors
  • Avoid cotton when hiking, it will make you dangerously cold
  • Avoid polyester in linings; it will make you sweat
  • Wear lighter colors that reflect heat to keep you cooler
  • Darker colors absorb heat
  • Darker colors will help conceal moisture marks on cotton

Lightweight fabrics to consider (for leisurely activities)

  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Rayon (Viscose, Modal)
  • Lyocell (similar to rayon but more environmentally friendly)
  • Seersucker (a type of cotton)
  • Chambray (similar to denim but lighter and cooler
  • Lightweight Blends (cotton + viscose(rayon) or Linen + Cotton)

Ultimately, there are many options when choosing the best lightweight travel clothing and a lot of opinions on what works best. Therefore, the only way to know what materials you prefer is to try them all and compare them.

Clothing Options for Hot Climates

strolling in Mexico in summer clothing
A favorite cover-up from Ondademar, a Columbia swimwear brand

Lightweight & Lose Fitting

Lightweight and loose-fitting are two sure things I look for when choosing warm-weather clothing. Amazon is, of course, a convenient place to shop when looking for summer clothes. However, when it comes to quality fashion pieces on Amazon, those can be challenging to find. I’ve noticed many fast fashion brands selling on Amazon, which I try to avoid, but it can be hard to tell what is what. After much trial and error, these are my favorite lightweight summer fashion finds perfect for warm-weather destinations. Most of them are still hanging in my closet, waiting for my next summer fun vacation!

Pro Tip: Lightweight dresses are great, but if they are unlined (and sometimes even if they are), you might end up showing more than you bargained for. If a slip is out of the question, try the comfortable stretchy sports shorts below as an undergarment alternative.

UPF Protection + Performance

Hot temps usually mean intense sun, which is best taken in moderation to prevent sunburn, wrinkles, and premature aging. Living in Florida, with a fair complexion and freckles, I always do my best to protect my skin from too much sun exposure. Lightweight clothing with a UPF factor is a great way to enjoy the sun while blocking UV rays. Although all fabrics have a level of UV protection, not all fabrics are UPF protectant. Elements such as weave, stretch, wetness, color, and finishes determine how well a garment will protect you from the sun.

Columbia’s PFG Tamiami and Bahama II shirts are my go-to sun-blocking and moisture-wicking shirts when spending the day outside in the hot sun. They come in so many colors, are lightweight, quick-drying, and easy to throw on when you start to feel the burn, plus they are wrinkle-resistant, which makes them great for traveling!

I am also a fan of Patagonia’s tech-tee line Capilene® Cool. This is their “most versatile performance knit for use on trails or the water.” This tech-tee provides 50+ UPF sun protection and HeiQ® Fresh durable odor control. Their styles range from tanks, short sleeve tees to long sleeve hoodies and are available for men, women, and children.

For really active trips or long hiking days, summer wool is a must! Gone are the days of wool being a cold-weather garment only. With its moisture-wicking, breathing, and odor-fighting natural properties, merino wool has now evolved into a year-round staple. Wool also resists wrinkles, so it is another great option for traveling.

Voormi and SmartWool both do a great job creating high-performance clothing, as seen in their line of Summer Weight Merino Wool Tees. Merino wool is more costly than its polyester competitor but well worth the money if you want something that works well and lasts. Shop some of their products below.

If you are looking for something a little more stylish, Coolibar® is a great option. Their tech fabric innovations offer quick dry technologies along with soft, comfortable, lightweight, and breathable styles great for a hot and sunny day at the beach.

wearing long sleeve bathing suit to keep cool at an the Underground River in Puerto Princessa Philippines
Long sleeve bathing suits work great under skirts and shorts to help protect skin from the sun while keeping you cool.

Bathing Suits and Cover-Ups

RipSkirt Hawaii is a brand I discovered after reading an article about women entrepreneurs. This water-repellent skirt allows you to cover up easily and quickly after a day on the water without the dreaded wet butt stains. They come in three lengths and a variety of colors. I just ordered my first one and can’t wait to try it!

Rip Skirt Hawaii Length 1

Rip Skirt Hawaii Length 2

Rip Skirt Hawaii Length 3

Ondademar, a Columbia Swimwear brand, is one of my favorites. I love the prints and luxurious feel of their Nylon+Spandex suits. You can sometimes find older styles discounted on Amazon in limited sizes. Trina Turk is another swimwear brand I can’t get enough of. With so many prints, colors, and styles, I often wear their suits paired with shorts or a skirt around town, not just to the pool or the beach.

Long sleeve suits are quickly becoming my new favorite thing. For one, it’s the best way to avoid using sunscreen! Rip Curl and Billabong introduce a few new styles every season and are my favorite sporty swim brands. Some of the cheaper Amazon brands don’t hold up but are great for casual wear during low-impact activities.

Pro Tip: Long sleeve bathing suits are great for wearing under a wet suit when scuba diving. They help the wetsuit glide on and off your body without riding up like a rash guard.

Travel Essentials for Hot Weather

Great for the Beach

Water Resistant large zip-up tote bag

Sand free and waterproof beach mat

Keep your water icy cool & BPA-Free

Great for Blocking Sun

Ultra Soft, quick-dry hat with removable sun shields

Super Wide Brim hat, UPF50+Waterproof

Foldable, UPF 50, wide brim beach hat. Great for traveling!

Great for Staying Cool

Fast cooling headbands

Enjoy being cool, with Chill Pal cooling towel

Keep cool outdoors in 12 different ways

Don’t Forget Sunscreen

Don’t forget your lips! I always carry SPF chapstick.

My go-to for daily sun protection + moisturizer on my face

Reef safe body sunscreen. There is a tinted version, but it sweats off brown.

If any of these products are a great fit for you, I am extremely grateful for your support by purchasing from the included links. As an Amazon Associate, my blog earns a small commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you -thank you for your support!

Additional Packing Guides:

Hi, I'm Sam

After a lay off from the corporate world I decided to SEE the world. Sharing all my bucket list experiences to help spark your wanderlust and inspire your next adventure!

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