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Lightweight fabrics for travel

Thinking about packing my carry-on for our trip to the Dolomites later this month. We usually check bags so I can take my hiking poles, but this time I don’t want to chance the lost luggage. So I decided to see just how much weight and space I can save by choosing thin, lightweight fabrics for my shirts and pants, and I pulled out my kitchen scale to weigh some options. Here’s what I found:

Icebreaker Cool-Lite merino short sleeve tee: 84g; Eddie Bauer cotton/spandex SS tee: 137g. That is almost 2 ounces per Tshirt saved with the merino shirts, or half a pound (and a lot of space) for the 4 tees I need for hiking, etc.

One long sleeve merino shirt, and a dressier Carve Designs gauze long sleeve shirt for dinners—-this one only 105g.

https://www.amazon.com/CARVE-Designs-Womens-Standard-Dylan/dp/B09758WFMV/ref=sr_1_5?gclid=CjwKCAjw6MKXBhA5EiwANWLODPwwRGpV5gsJ3pcUwYE9W0TRc7sa5pNzgD4pQiyUxl9-KxEKPohVkxoCMzIQAvD_BwE&hvadid=252753129757&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9033282&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=14397913373647888354&hvtargid=kwd-391803591733&hydadcr=7441_9611281&keywords=carve+designs+dylan+gauze+shirt&qid=1659972649&sr=8-5

Banana Republic denim jeans—a whopping 555g! No way.

I did find a lighter pair at 354g, but will probably forgo the jeans this trip in favor of a lighter, and dressier, cotton/Tencel option weighing 310g to wear on the plane and then for dinners. That is the same weight as the ankle-length nylon pants I also need to take for bad-weather hiking (and doubling as dress pants for dinner).

For most hiking days I will wear Mountain Hardwear Dynama capris, which weigh in at 146-150g, depending on color. I see on the Mountain Hardwear website the newer Dynama2 capris claim only 116g. I cannot understand the difference—it can’t be size as mine are the smallest size. So maybe they have come up with much thinner fabric. I am posting the link in case anyone is interested (limited color choice).

https://www.mountainhardwear.com/p/womens-dynama%2F2-capri-1880751_S.html?dwvar_1880751_S_color=397

That’s a start. Jackets, rainwear, etc. are already determined. I will necessarily have to reduce my shoe inventory for my usual 5 pr to 3: hiking shoes, casual sneakers (Lowa suede city sneakers) and sandals.

Posted by
7352 posts

Lola thanks for doing the actual measurements to get data. That helps point out that your choices do make a significant difference.

Posted by
1696 posts

I’m sorry, did you say 5 shoes?!?!?!??! 😊

One of the first things I learned was to weigh everything. It’s amazing how the small differences add up. I had to switch from jeans to nylon pants as they weigh a lot less. Although I still bring one pair of jeans.

I would love to hear your itinerary for the dolomites. And I remember you are flying into Frankfurt. Will you be flying out of there as well?

Posted by
8900 posts

Thanks for this research! Very helpful. You can always wear your jeans on the plane!

Posted by
838 posts

Weighing items can be eye opening. I have a growing excel spreadsheet listing items I'm likely to travel with and their weight. I can then sort it by weight and make my choices from the list. I then use the spreadsheet as my packing list. With the threat this year of baggage going missing it's nice to have something to help me remember what was actually in the bag.

One thing I learned recently is a mistake I've been making wrt scarves. I have loads of lightweight rayon scarves and would bring 3-4 to dress up an outfit. Then I'd get on the tour and often not bother so I thought this time I'd take some necklaces instead (nothing valuable) so I wanted to know how much more weight I might be adding. Turned our all the necklaces I was considering weighed less than all the scarves.

Posted by
2129 posts

That's a great idea to weigh everything! I checked out the capris, and noticed that there were several complaints about the new ones; some saying they did not fit as well and were lower cut. So it's possible they used less fabric in the newer design, leading to a lower weight.

Tencel is a lovely fabric - I've sewn with it before and it drapes beautifully but is blessedly wrinkle free for the most part. I also love the rayon, nylon and spandex blend, which Chico's Travellers collection uses a lot (they also have the nylon/spandex blend like your capris).

Posted by
10439 posts

I have done a similar down-sizing in terms of bulky fabrics and adopted wool tees fervently. We're going to buy new sticks on arrival because we won't do without. I can get by on two pairs of shoes. I found a linen-blend jeans from NYDJ two years ago that are super lightweight.

Posted by
3870 posts

Lola- Thanks for sharing your excellent research. I am liking the gauze shirts that you referenced. Great choice! I am actually wearing a gauze shirt today that I bought in Greece a few years ago. Perfect on a warm day! Also so light weight & virtually wrinkle free. Another brand that I love is Cut Loose from San Francisco. They have a cotton linen blend.

Posted by
22504 posts

I am currently traveling with a Carve Designs shirt very similar to the one linked, which I like very much. I think the only difference is the shape of the hemline. My shirt is super lightweight and dries easily overnight. Mine definitely wrinkles in the suitcase, but that's not really an issue since I can dip it in water and it will dry quickly. (I'm in Scandinavia, not Spain or Italy.)

The fabric of the shirt is very thin. It's not immodest, but if you wear a mostly-white shirt with slacks in a color nowhere near your skin tone, the top of the slacks will be visible under the shirt, as would a similarly-colored security pouch, etc.

Posted by
2162 posts

I've noticed some men's pants are now available in Tencel, but I'm not sure if they look manly enough. :-)

Posted by
1928 posts

Thanks for sharing this research. After the last trip where we saw major temperature changes, I’m re-evaluating how I choose my clothes. I like that the Cave shirt is 100% cotton. This last trip I learned the hard way the synthetics don’t always breathe. Have a great trip!

Posted by
1468 posts

Hoo boy yes, materials need to be tailored for the clime! I ended up buying a linen shirt on Milos on a 92° day this May as I had nothing that was as light.

Posted by
1190 posts

Not giving a fig about fashion myself, my travel clothing is a collection of practical gear, made of easy care fabrics, mostly from outdoor companies. Except for the few merino wool items, everything is hydrophobic. When I started looking at what the web has to say about practical travel clothing for the smartly dressed woman, I was surprised to find so many recommendations for hydrophilic fabrics like tencel, rayon, cotton, and the like. That stuff would make me nuts because I do my laundry every evening and nothing would ever get dry.

These two sites have lists of companies selling goods the authors claim to have tested for practicality, warmth, style, and ease of care. https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/travel-clothing-brands
https://www.travelandleisure.com/style/fashion/best-travel-clothes-for-women-men

Posted by
2877 posts

Last February I purchased sneakers that weighed only 9oz. They are Antonio Melani brand. When they went on sale at Dillard’s last week I purchased another color. I put them away for travel use only. My other sneakers were Rockports but the weighed too much. I’m going to start weighing my clothes now too! Every trip I try to pack lighter.

Posted by
2262 posts

If you way your clothes, you’ll be leaving those Chicos travelers cloths at home. It’s heavy, it also doesn’t breathe so it tends to start stinking. I bought it, I like the way it looked on me but after one trip it went away.

I have done very well with Eileen Fisher, but she’s not cheap. I have started buying some pieces on thredUP where I’ve gotten some great deals so if you’re open to that it’s worth looking into.

Posted by
2877 posts

My daughter got me a pair of Eileen Fisher crepe pants. I love them, they hang nice, fold up very small, and don’t wrinkle, but they are a very expensive line for me. Hopefully I’ll get another piece for Christmas,lol

Posted by
1426 posts

Great research Lola, is the goal to meet the weight requirement for carry on or for another reason? The reason I ask is I have never even thought about my bags weight, I do carry on only, and my bag is never over limit and I take whatever I want. And yes I take 5 pairs of shoes (3 open toe, 2 closed toe-wearing the heaviest booties because of the space they take up).

Posted by
1083 posts

@Barbara - re Eileen Fisher - That is pretty much all I travel with summer and winter (with silk long johns underneath), especially the crepe. Try ebay and poshmark for lower prices that people are selling onwards. Sarah Murdoch did a travel video with them in spring - or maybe it was last winter? See youtube. She also weighs all her clothes and recommends lightweight silk as an option.

Re scarves and jewelry - I wear my jewelry (not much) and take a scarf. This gives me the opportunity to buy a scarf (or more) along the way. I have a nice collection that brings back fond memories.

Posted by
220 posts

This responce has nothing to do with weight just size. Having traveled thru the alps on a motorcycle and having to stuff all my clothes into 1 one-gallon size ziplock bag the best way to condence clothes is to roll and rubber band them piece by piece and stuff them into a light weight mesh bag used for laundering delicate clothes. Yes they will be a wrinkled mess! Wear layers on the plane and the heavy clothes too. I would check the hiking poles, if they don't make it then they don't make it. On a different I went to Switzerland, my clothes went to Maui and my skis went to Amsterdam, it happens so only check the stuff you can't live without. J

Posted by
234 posts

Thanks @lola
My one splurge on the trip is a pair of AS98 sandals. They are the heaviest thing I’m bringing but they are so stylish and comfortable. Great for dinner nights in Italy. Can walk all day in them if you get one that’s comfy for your feet. Love them! Get so many compliments.

Posted by
5138 posts

My husband knows I’m getting close to selecting final clothes for a trip when he sees the kitchen scale on the counter, but doesn’t smell anything baking. Instead of ingredients being weighed for some pastry baking, I have a bowl of underwear, shirts, or even toothpaste sizes!

Sarah Murdoch’s packing videos & former classes at the RS Edmonds center really helped me start getting serious about comparison weights of similar items. Glad it’s working for you, too, Lola!

Posted by
7 posts

Lola, We have always traveled with carry-on size bags with hiking poles which required us to check one bag. This year we decided not to take the poles so we wouldn't have to check anything. We are flying into Milan before starting the RS BOI tour, and on a lark, I just checked to see if I could find a store which sold hiking/trekking poles. There is a store, Decathlon in Milan, which has some starting at about Eur 10 per pole. We will use our jet-lagged first day to find the store and buy a set. I will expect them to last for the month that we are in Italy - if so, then money well spent to avoid the additional airport luggage stress. This company is very large and has a global presence. The owners of our local hiking/camping store in Franklin, NC, were familiar with the company. I am even considering leaving that 4th l/s merino wool shirt at home and buying one there based on their online prices.
Happy trails, Phil

Posted by
3 posts

I spent 3 weeks hiking in the Alps and Dolmites in June. Best advice =
1.) Pack what you can wash in a sink and dry overnight if at all possible, and as light weight as you can find, Avoid anything that wrinkles easily or makes you sweat. Pack thinking OUTFITS you can switch up using the same clothing.
2.) Surprisingly, Merino wool hiking quarter socks are comfortable, don't ever seem to smell, wash and dry very easily, are soft/comfortable, don't itch, and can be worn on hot or wet days just fine. Need 2-3 pair for entire trip.
3.) My spandex yoga type pants that I usually love due to versatility saved room but were hot as heck while hiking in the heat this year. I wound up buying a pair of lightweight zip off pants (which I never would usually wear) and I wished that is all I had brought.
4.) I only needed 2 pairs of shoes. Pack a pair of the lightest weight waterproof hiking sneakers you can find in your size, and a pair of favorite, lightweight but sturdy waterproof sandals, both of which you have worn in. I stayed in a combo of the finest castles and the cheapest rooms and they were literally all I needed. (I wore the same sandals with a dress and for walking around a hotel and in town.)
5.) Lightest lightweight backpack with a water bottle is your best friend.
6.) Don't drag your entire medicine cabinet or endless bathroom stuff with you. Those things, along with decent hiking poles can be bought once you arrive inexpensively and are kind of fun to buy overseas.
7.) If it doesn't fit in your carry on, don't fret. You likely won't need it, and if you do, it usually is no big deal to track down what you need there.
8.) The Frankfurt airport was short 2,000 employees and the lines were long, but we managed. Have patience and carry a smile instead of STUFF. Everything you pack you have to drag with you wherever you go. Pack, then dump out at least half of what you packed, do it again if possible, and then you should be good to go. Have fun! You won't if you are constantly dragging around stuff you can live without.

Posted by
237 posts

We carryon, and I really like David Cline V neck 3/4 length sleeve tops for travel. They wash beautifully, dry quickly and are just 4.2 oz. They are perfect for layering and can be dressed up or look great with jeans. I found the first at a Sundance brick and mortar store 4-5 years ago (still looks great), but I’ve now bought three more on the David Cline website (they look a bit weird online, but it’s the photography, I think!). A bit expensive, but if you get on their mailing list, their prices are almost constantly 25% off. If you hesitate to buy clothing online, I’m 5’3” 125 lbs and order medium from DC.

Posted by
285 posts

Ladies-have you tried Athleta Brooklyn Ankle Pants? They come in regular or jogger style. They fold up small, do not wrinkle, and they look great with sandals, flats, tennies, or heels. I'm 5'4" and wear the petite, making them a true ankle pant on me.
https://athleta.gap.com/browse/product.do?pid=1986710020003&cid=1059471&pcid=1059471&vid=1&nav=meganav%3ABottoms%3ACATEGORIES%3APants&cpos=0&cexp=2702&kcid=CategoryIDs%3D1059471&cvar=23170&ctype=Listing&cpid=res22080905811529119411264&ccam=14263#pdp-page-content

Posted by
915 posts

Lola--You had me as soon as I read Lowa's! Those are my all time favorite hiking boots, and I have one pair of low hikers. I of course had to go look at their website and found a great pair of sneakers that I think I need;)

Posted by
2181 posts

I used to like "Zippy" pants (zip off leg ones), but can't seem to find them nowadays in slim leg format.
They all seem to be too baggy.
I found my best travel pants yet at Marshall's here in Canada.
They are made by RBX, whom I had never heard of.
I haven't used them for travel yet, but they are very lightweight and cool in the heat, not clingy,and wash well.
They even have pockets!
If I find another pair I'll get them.

https://www.rbxactive.com/en-ca/collections/womens-pants/products/everyday-ribbed-ankle-pant

Posted by
103 posts

Some inexpensive alternatives:

Old Navy xxl t-shirt relaxed fit 100% cotton: 4.2 oz

32 Cool xl t-shirt 60% cotton : 3.9 oz

Time and Tru xl jeggings 56% cotton: 11.4 oz

Faded Glory xxl jeggings 56% cotton: 11.9 oz

Posted by
13841 posts

Just a follow-up on some of the products mentioned here. I ordered the Athleta Brooklyn ankle pants mentioned above. It turns out I had tried them before, about 3 months ago, and they didn’t fit ( too loose). And I did not care much for the stripe of different fabric down the side of each leg. But this time, without realizing I was trying the same style, I used their Fit Guide. And the pants that arrived are a permit fit, and the fabric is indeed very lightweight, but not at all clingy or slinky. nd I don’t object to the stripe down the leg. So these are keepers, Nd I am grateful for the recommendation, as I need a pair of black dressy pants for the trip.

Then I ordered an Icebreaker tee saw on sale at REI:

https://www.rei.com/product/203076/icebreaker-sphere-ii-scoop-t-shirt-womens

It too is a keeper. The fabric is Tencel and merino, very lightweight but substantial, and the cut is flattering and dressier than a crew neck. Unfortunately they only have size XS left in the color shown ( which is more like dusty rose than “grape”, but the light aqua color, also on sale, is also available in larger sizes. This fabric is much more travel-friendly than pure cotton, as it is just as breathable but dries much more quickly when hand-washed.

I will be back with a suggestion for men ( something I bought for my husband) but it is time for dinner here. . . .

Posted by
20 posts

For a recent mid-summer trip to Hungary, Austria and Germany I replaced all of my cotton underwear with synthetic Hanes Cool-Dri products. They did a great job wicking away sweat during the day and when I needed to hand wash them they dried quickly.

Posted by
8152 posts

Fyi, not that it matters, but just for info, Decathlon is a French company - you will find them all over France and Italy, and further afield like Vietnam. All those French people you see wearing Quechua gear or backpacks ? That is the main Decathlon house brand.

Posted by
40 posts

For those of you who wear nylon or nylon/spandex pants, do you find that they go "swish, swish, swish" as you walk?
I bought a pair with travel in mind that I want to like. They fit beautifully; the pockets zip closed; they have zip off legs for those who like that; they are lightweight. BUT the "swish, swish, swish"! They are 90/10 nylon/spandex. Will the noise be less after laundering?
Or do all the lightweight, quick-dry tourists just go "swish, swish, swish"?

I'm generally a cotton/poly blend or 100% cotton person. But drying takes longer with cotton even in a dryer.

I want lightweight, long pants with straight legs. Everything seems to be leggings, jeggings, joggers, ankle pants, tapered, cropped. And don't get me started on plus-size. Pants I've worn for years are now made for an apple on toothpicks. Same brand, same style, same size is way too big in the waist and hips and the legs are so tight I can't bend my knees to sit down.

Posted by
1190 posts

For those of you who wear nylon or nylon/spandex pants, do you find that they go "swish, swish, swish" as you walk?

Can't be helped I most situations with most synthetics. However, my Royal Robbins travelers do not make much noise, fabric is light, stretchy, quiet. They're having a sale at the moment, too, won't last long, 30% off many products.

Posted by
2181 posts

https://www.amazon.com/RBX-Womens-Active-Fashion-Pockets/dp/B09RGRRZT1/ref=sr_1_5?crid=17JUOT9M69WQV&keywords=rbx+activewear+womens&qid=1661799237&sprefix=RbX%2Caps%2C140&sr=8-5

Sorry the link is so long!
I bought these in black for my upcoming trip.
They are very light, not hot at all (I wore them in a heatwave we had recently), and they don't "swish".
They've got pockets, and they look like pants , not like joggers, so you could wear them with a dressier top.

Posted by
3870 posts

I will add to the Costco recommendation- I recently discovered a lightweight cotton slub t-shirt. A travel friend bought these shirts for an upcoming trip to Egypt. https://www.costco.com/kirkland-signature-ladies'-slub-tee%2c-2-pack.product.100670508.html
I went directly to our nearby Costco and purchased 4 @$ 9.99 each. They are wonderful! Wash well & comfortable in the warm weather. The colors that were available were white, teal, gray and orange.

Posted by
234 posts

Just want to mention- leaving for RS “”best of Italy” tomorrow. I had asked a question on the website just earlier about “irons in the hotel room” for my dressy cotton T shirts. I’m a horrible packer and using packing cubes. Just don’t want to look a mess. I have a little travel iron so can bring that- but it weighs a little over one pound so not very practical.
I just bookmarked this excellent thread for all of the suggestions on packing clothes.. thank you everyone- next time- I’ve travelled so much and always a horrible packer. Need to make this a priority for future trips!

Posted by
13841 posts

Reporting back. Our September trip to Italy was 3.5 weeks, and included ten days of hiking in the Dolomites, a few days at Lago di Garda, plus “city time” in Milan, Bologna, and London.

My lightweight fabric selections allowed me to take 12 (yes, 12) shirts, packed into two small packing cubes that fit side by side in my 21” carry-on bag. They included long-and short-sleeved Merino tees for hiking, a button-down sun shirt (also for hiking), thin cotton tees in long and short sleeves for casual wear, two nice shirts for “dress up” (one was the Carve Designs Dylan gauze shirt I mentioned above), a long cardigan and a nice long-sleeve Merino V-neck sweater for cooler evenings. I sink-washed the hiking shirts after each wearing and they dried by the next morning.

For warmth and wet I had a black stretchy Prana zip-up jacket and a Patagonia Torrentshell rain jacket. Both got a lot of use!

Pants—2 pair of Prana Halle pants did double duty for hiking and casual wear. The stretch Zion fabric is slightly textured, like Oxford cloth, and not slinky or “swishy” (to answer Bogisan’s question above). Prana makes a mens’ pant in the same fabric and that is all my husband wears these days. Both the mens’ and womens’ are straight cut and minimalist—-no cargo pockets to make them look like Safari clothing. The mens’ have a flat zippered pocket on the thigh; the womens’ have a flat pocket with an invisible zipper in the side seam.

Mountain Hardwear “Dynama” capris were my usual hiking wear. These are pull-on style and pack very small (having no upper helps with that).

I also had a pair of Athlete “Brooklyn” ankle pants in Black, very thin fabric but styled for dressier occasions. And I confess to taking one pair of cotton-Tencel-spandex jeans (also black) for wearing on planes and trains. Mine are Uniqlo and nice thin denim, but it appears they do not make that style/fabric any longer.

If you are looking for cute lightweight fabric cotton tees, I just found a very nice thin one in the World Wildlife Fund gift catalogue. The tees come in mens and womens style, and the cotton/bamboo fabric is very smooth and comfortable. The designs all feature wildlife or nature—-I like the hummingbird/flower one. They are spendy, but the $60 cost is deemed a charitable donation and the organization is a respected one in the area of conservation and fighting climate change.

https://gifts.worldwildlife.org/gift-center/gifts.aspx?attrName=trending&sortorder=popularity

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks for reporting back! So helpful to hear about how packing strategies worked.

Posted by
150 posts

My Columbia capris, one black and another tan pair, are 5 ounces each. They dry quickly which I found out after being soaked in a rainstorm in Padua. They were dry in an hour. (The umbrella sure didn’t help much.) My favorite pair of Athleta jeans are 1 lb but I wear them on the plane. I got all of them, except the umbrella, on ThredUP.

Posted by
25 posts

I will add yet another endorsement for the Athleta Brooklyn ankle pants. Comfortable, great looking, easy to wash and light to pack. Wore mine a ton in Italy last month and buying a second pair so I can wear every day on my next trip. Can layer tights underneath for warmth on a chilly day. For cold I like skinny jeans, even if they are a bit heavy.

For warmer weather I like my Eddie Bauer Departure dress and an Ex Officio skort.

For tops I like EB departure tees and EB voyager blazer. For cooler weather layer with Uniqlo merino. Also Orvis tech chambray or river guide gingham are handy for all weather and sun protection.

Posted by
3870 posts

Thanks Lola for coming back with your “tried an true” lightweight fabric brands. For years I have worn Columbia “Just Right” lightweight long straight pants and capri’s. I don’t believe they offer this style anymore. I still have them and they have always been my go-to for warm weather. I am under 5’2 & wear a 0-2 so they were perfect. I am intrigued by the Athleta “Brooklyn” ankle pants. I prefer pull on styles for comfort. So these might work. I think my husband would like a straight or slim leg pant without cargo pockets. The Prana Halle may work well for him. I read that they are water-repellent. We walk everyday and we’re wondering how they hold up in our WA rain? Thanks to all who have shared their favorite brands!

Posted by
13841 posts

Janis—-Halle is the Prana women’s pant, in the same stretch Zion fabric. The mens’s are just called “Men’s Stretch Zion Pnat, with slim or straight added for the trimmer cut. The fabric is slightly water repellent—-I wore mine on our walk the other day and we were caught out in an unexpected downpour of hail then rain. My light sage-green Halle pants appeared to be getting wet,as they showed dark water spots, but my legs did not feel like they were getting wet, and as soon as we got out of the rain and into the grocery store they dried right away. I would not intentionally wear them hiking on a rainy day without my waterproof rain pants, but they did hold up well to the unexpected.

One thing about the Athleta Brooklyn ankle pants: they have a stripe of a different fabric going down the side of each leg, like a tuxedo pant stripe but not shiny, and wider. It is subtle and hard to see in the photos unless you are looking for it. But it was the reason I rejected these the first time I tried them ( that and the fit, which was a bit loose). Then I saw some on sale in size 0 and bought another pair without realizing that they were the same style I already rejected. The smaller size fit perfectly, and the pants seemed both so packable and versatile that I decided to overlook the stripe and take them on our trip. Turns out that was a great choice and I never noticed the stripe while wearing them. On sale they were a good buy, but I wouldn’t want to pay full price for them.

https://athleta.gap.com/browse/product.do?pid=198671112&vid=1#pdp-page-content

Based on your height, I would say the 0 might work best for you as well, unless you like a looser fit. I am 5’2 and slender, and the 0 fits like a nice trouser, as the Brits would say—definitely not clingy or form-fitting like leggings. And the pull-on style makes for a nice flat front.

Posted by
3870 posts

Thanks Lola. Very helpful. Since you mentioned rain pants. What brand do you recommend?
Sounds like you had a nice trip! I may look at the Lowa sneakers as well. I need shoes that I can add my super feet inserts. (Fussy feet!).