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What to pack for the heat

How to prepare for hot-weather travel

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14 September 2016 by Simon Langley

When travelling to an exotic location, challenging climates – both environmental and cultural – can make choosing what to pack a difficult decision. That’s why we’ve put together this unisex guide to ensure that you stay cool whether you’re camping in a rainforest or trekking through the desert, all the while staying respectful towards your host culture.

Jungle dressing

As one of the most sartorially challenging ecosystems to dress for, trips into rainforests and jungles combine the twin horrors of heat and humidity. Here, you’re looking for clothes that are both breathable and capable of wicking moisture off the skin and the surface. And, as any trailsman – or woman – will attest, it’s paramount to look after your feet, especially when contending with muddy treks. Here, you should look for a lightweight hiking shoe. Those designed for trail running or ultralight backpacking will give you the necessary support while letting your long-suffering feet breathe.

As with your t-shirt, invest in a pair of thin merino wool socks. Naturally anti-microbial, it won’t stick to your skin even when soaked in sweat or rain and will dry with alacrity. Of course, a lightweight rain jacket is invaluable and, while you might be tempted to pop a pair of shorts on in the heat, a pair of trousers – again lightweight and waterproof – will prove invaluable against cuts, scrapes and bugs. For the best of both worlds, opt for those with removable legs. For those looking for the full experience, add in a pair of swimming trunks.

Desert voyages

From one extreme to the other, deserts feature the same harsh heat but next to none of that muggy humidity. While this might sound like a blessing, the lack of moisture means that sweat can evaporate so quickly that its cooling effect is lost. In that respect, the same feature that makes cotton so bad in the rainforest – it’s absorbent and slow drying – makes it so appealing in the desert. As it inhibits evaporation, sweat is able to fulfil its normal function in keeping you cool.

Now you’ve got the material, be sure to look for clothes that are loose fitting. Think like a Bedouin with long sleeve, baggy clothes that promote cooling airflow. If in doubt, size up. They’ll also have the added benefit of warding off those harmful UV rays. It also goes without saying that a broad-brimmed hat is ideal and, if you’re planning on walking, be sure to pack boots with plenty of support. The last thing you want is to be left with a sprained ankle a half day’s walk back to the jeep. Lastly, remember that, although days are burning hot, nights will see temperatures plummet with no air moisture to trap in the heat. Be sure to pack a jacket for those cold evenings.

Conservative cultures

This altogether different kind of extreme comes with pitfalls of its very own as travellers attempt to show respectful modesty while maintaining an even temperature. Of course, it’s impossible to generalise between countries – and even destinations within them – but there are a few basic guidelines. For women, look to cover shoulders, cleavage and anything above the knee while staying cool with loose fitting classics such as cover up shirts, maxi dresses and baggy, thin trousers. Be sure to bring a cardigan as well for when you’ve reached the often-overzealous air-conditioning of your hotel lobby. Sandals are generally fine – just be sure to apply sunscreen between the straps!

In terms of dressing for a holiday to the beach, this really does vary. In Dubai or Goa, no one will look twice at a bikini, while a step off the beaten track should be made in something less revealing. Unfortunately, these customs still do tend to restrict women's clothing more than men's - but men should also be aware of walking around shirtless or in 'gym wear', as this may be seen as disrespectful. You should also take particular care with visits to religious sites. Be sure to fully cover up, with light pashminas often doubling up as an ideal wraparound or head cover. Often, you’ll find that it’s possible to borrow clothing at certain sites, as in Dubai’s mosques there are abayas for women and those signature kanduras for men, all available to loan. In fact, places of worship are one of the few areas that men’s choices are limited; it always pays to pack a collared shirt and smart pair of trousers. 

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