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Although a bit overwhelming, choosing the best travel clothes for hot climates does not have to be hard. There are many options when choosing the best travel clothing for hot and humid climates but you’ll want to make sure you choose the right fabrics, colors and shapes for your body type, activities and destination. Breathable fabrics and garments crafted from moisture-wicking fabric are perfect for the great outdoors and active adventures but there are also stylish clothing options for less active adventures that still keep you cool in hot destinations. Knowing what to look for will help you choose the right clothing and avoid costly and sweaty mistakes.
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You can start checking off your warm weather 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’ll share useful fabric knowledge to help you choose the best lightweight travel clothing for you!
Fiber content in clothing refers to “the materials or fibers that make up the fabric or textile used to create the garment.” -The Textile Glossary
When finding the best lightweight travel clothing for hot climates, it’s essential to look at the fiber content label to know what the garment is actually made out of. Fabrics can sometimes look and feel the same on the outside, but 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. The fiber label is usually sewn into the side seam or attached to the neck label of each garment, in most countries it is required by law.
Once you know what the garment is made out of, it is important to know how that fabric preforms.
Most fabric falls under two main categories, Synthetic (man-made) or Natural. Some fabrics are a combination of both natural fibers and man-made fiber. Each type of fabric has their own advantages and disadvantages.
The Most Common Natural Fabrics
- Cotton– Breathable, lightweight and hypo allergenic. It is easy to care for but absorbs moisture easily, can loose its shape and dries slowly.
- Linen– Linen is light and airy and dries quicker than cotton. It is very breathable but does wrinkle easily. It is one of the most popular summer fabrics.
- Silk– Very lightweight and drapes easily but is delicate, hard to care for and shows sweat easily.
- Wool– Very durable and breathable and has natural moisture wicking properties. It is wrinkle and odor resistant but prone to shrinkage and can be itchy in warm weather.
Natural fabrics are great for hot summer days and casual wear outfits including breathable pants, loose fitting tops, and breezy dresses with a stylish look.
Most Common Synthetic Fabrics (Semi-Synthetic)
- Rayon- Often used to replace silk and cotton. It is lightweight and drapes well but only moderately breathable.
- Polyester– Wrinkle resistant and easy to care for but it traps moisture and is prone to odor.
- Nylon-What most bathing suits are made out of. Stretches easily, is durable and drys quickly.
Synthetic materials are great for athletic clothing and outdoor activities where you’ll be sweating. They help to pull moisture away from the skin and keep you dry. This is why if you are running or hiking in cold weather you should never wear cotton underwear or base layers. Cotton will trap body moisture and keep it close to your skin making you colder.
The Best Fabric for Hot and Humid vs Hot and Dry Climates
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.
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.
- Construction– Breathability increases with looser weaves and open knits; while tighter knits or weaves create less breathable fabrics.
- 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.
- Colors- Light-colored clothes are best in hot and humid climates. Dark colors asorbe the sun’s heat while light colors help reflect the sun’s rays.
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.
UPF Protection + Performance Clothing
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 shirts are my go-to sun-blocking and moisture-wicking shirts when spending the day outside in the hot sun, especially on a boat. 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, and short sleeve tees to long sleeve hoodies and are available for men, women, and children.
Merino-wool clothing: For really active trips or long hiking days, summer wool is becoming more and more popular. Gone are the days of merino-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 is also wrinkle resistant so it is another great option for traveling.
SmartWool and WoolX do a great job creating high-performance clothing for all seasons. Merino wool is more costly than its polyester competitor but well worth the money if you want something that works well and lasts. Wool can be itchy- it never bothers me in cold weather but make sure you get fine, high quality merino wool (like Smartwool or WoolX) to wear in warm weather.
Some popular performance brands:
- Under Armour ISO Chill®– Helps disperse body heat to provide cooling power.
- Patagonia Capilene® Cool-Patagonia tech tees keep you comfortable when you’re working hard in conditions ranging from cool to hot.
- Cotton Incorporated TransDRY®– Combines the comfort of cotton with moisture-wicking performance that rivals any competitive fiber in the market.
- WoolX- Some wool can be itchy but the wool tops I have from wool
Fashionable Clothing for Hot Climates
If you are on vacation you may want a few fashionable pieces for a day on the beach a night out.
I look for lightweight and loose-fitting pieces in breathable fabrics for these types of occasions. I prefer to allow a bit of airflow to help cool me off in hot climates and love cotton and linen blends.
Bathing Suits and Cover-Ups
Andie Swim is my new favorite bathing suit company. They have many full and moderate coverage suits that pair great with shorts making it easy to go from the beach to a restaurant.
Long sleeve suits are quickly becoming a staple in my swim draw, For one, it’s the best way to avoid using sunscreen.
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.
Hot Weather Accessories
From wide-brimmed hats to sunscreen and cooling devices consider these items when packing for hot weather to help you stay cool.
How do I avoid wrinkled clothing while packing?
- Use sheets of tissue paper between clothing and roll rather than fold or lay flat.
- Roll multiple garments together keeping the most prone to wrinkles garment on the outside
- Use Dry cleaner bags to wrap each outfit in before packing
- Once at your destination hang all clothing immediately
- Hang garments in the bathroom while taking a hot shower. Make sure doors are closed so the garment can absorb the moisture to help remove stubborn wrinkles.
- Pack a portable travel steamer with you
Pro Tip: Never fold linen! If you have to, fold it along its seams and hang as soon as possible. It will produce deep wrinkles if folded into luggage for long periods of time. Laying flat is the best option, and rolling is the 2nd best option to avoid wrinkles as best as you can.
How do I pack light
- Bring essentials and basics that can be mixed and matched to form more outfits
- Use accessories to change the look of an outfit
- Bring only a weeks worth of clothing and plan to wash it for longer trips
- Bring less shoes and wear your bulkiest pair (that goes for bulky jackets too)
How can I wash clothes on the go?
- Hand wash delicates in a sink with mild detergent
- Consider using laundry detergent sheets for easy packing and no surprise leakage
- Try using a portable wash kit like the Scrubba Wash Bag for on the go washing
What are the best fabrics for extreme heat?
- In extreme heat make sure to protect your skin from the sun. Skip the tank tops and short sleeve tops and opt for lightweight breathable long-sleeve tops instead.
- Performance material in light colors is best for active days when you may be sweating.
- For fashionable frocks, the best materials to wear in extreme heat are lightweight fabrics including cotton, silk blends and linen. Opt for lightweight pants, a loose fitting tops or a loose fitting maxi dress allowing for airflow. Pair your outfits with a wide-brimmed hat and sunnies for a complete fashionable look.
I hope this post gives you more insight on how to choose the best lightweight clothing for any hot and humid get-a-way. The biggest takeaways should be to choose the right lightweight and breathable fabrics for your preferred activities in light colors. Enjoy your vacation!
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:
The perfect Carry on Packing list- Travel Essentials Only | The Perfect Summer Iceland Packing List | 13 Practical items you don’t want to Car Camp without | 49 Essentials for a road trip packing list you shouldn’t leave home without
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