A Woman’s Guide to Packing

Any woman who has ever attempted to hike with her boyfriend’s pack, borrow a raincoat from a guy or stolen a brother’s shirt knows that girls like – and need – different gear than our testosterone-driven counterparts. The quest for gear that fits properly and is designed just for women can be difficult at times, which is why we’ve compiled a cheat-sheet of a few of the things women need to look for in packs, clothes and other travel gear.

Packs

Most of you girls don’t need us to tell you, but in case you haven’t heard – getting a pack that fits well is one thing you can’t really compromise on. In general, women have smaller builds than men, so it makes sense that their packs would be proportionally different. Although many women do travel with unisex packs, we’ve met plenty of female travelers who swear by their “woman-sized” packs like these.

Women’s packs generally have a smaller frame, contoured shoulder straps, and a hip belt that can be cinched more tightly than those on a unisex pack. When looking for the right pack, make sure you wear it at the store for awhile, preferably with a bowling ball or other heavy object in the bag. If it’s even slightly uncomfortable, put it back on the shelf and try again. The staff at a good store will not only be patient with this process, they’ll encourage it. Backpacks are one item that it’s not good to skimp on – paying an extra 100 bucks for a comfortable bag is worth it. Trust us.

>> For discussions about this topic, check out the BootsnAll boards for topics like backpacks for a woman’s figure, backpack fitting for women, and even one about whether women use the chest straps on their packs!

Clothing

Many traveling women over the years have asked the same question – is there a happy medium between pragmatic gear and feminine stylishness? We’re happy to say the answer is “yes” – although you may have to amend your definition of “stylish” a tad while you’re on the road.

As a general rule, when you are shopping for travel-friendly clothes you want to look for neutral colors, comfortable fit, pieces that are easily layered, breathable fabric that dries quickly, and things that will hold their shape through repeated sink washings and long train or bus rides. Here’s why:

  • Neutral Colors – By limiting your clothing color palate to a couple neutral colors that go well together, your options for mixing & matching are far greater & you’ll have more “outfits” to put together. Darker colors tend to be more travel-friendly, as they don’t show everyday dirt as easily, but this doesn’t mean you have to wear all black all the time. For a little variation, a brightly-colored scarf or two is ideal (and doesn’t take up much space).
  • Comfortable Fit – Clothes that are too tight or too loose will be restricting or get in the way, neither of which is a good thing when you’re jumping on and off trains or climbing up and down stairs. Your clothes should let you move easily and be as comfortable when you’re sitting as they are when you’re standing – or even when you’re running to make a flight.
  • Layering Pieces – You won’t have your closet at your disposal to grab a sweater in case the weather suddenly turns cold, so you’ll need to rely on layering the clothes you bring if it gets chilly. This is also important if you’re going into churches or other buildings that require more modest clothing – in those cases, a long-sleeved shirt to cover your tank-top is essential.
  • Breathable Fabric – You’re going to sweat, and there’s no getting around that. But if you’re wearing clothing that doesn’t breathe you’re going to sweat more. Fabric that breathes is most likely going to be made of natural fiber.
  • Durable Clothing – This should go without saying, but if something’s delicate & requires babying in order to keep its shape or keep from being ruined, don’t bring it. Period.

One note about the type of fabric your clothing is made of – some women prefer to travel with polyester clothing because it defies wrinkles, and depending on the kind of travel you’re doing that could be fine. But backpackers who wear mostly polyester clothing and who are physically active during their trips – epecially if they’re in even semi-warm climates – are going to smell like backpackers who wear polyester clothing after awhile. And no one wants that. Besides cotton, other natural fabrics to look for are tencel and bamboo, both of which breathe and both of which are pretty good at keeping their shape and resisting wrinkles.

It’s relatively easy to find clothes that meet all these criteria at regular department stores. Sure – if want to you can get a few items with travel brand names like Columbia or North Face on the tag, but it’s not necessary. If you’re going to be participating in any adventure sports or specialized activities, there will be specific gear requirements to consider. For example, things like rock climbing, strenuous hiking, rustic camping, long distance cycling, and mountaineering all have special gear that will be not be a part of the average backpacker’s rucksack. Depending on how much time you’ll spend doing any of these activities, it could make more sense to rent the equipment on location rather than bring your own from home.

Overall, keep in mind that the more versatile the article of clothing, the better. Rarely do travelers ever wish they brought extra clothes – and if you find that you absolutely need something you didn’t bring, you’ll have the perfect excuse to go shopping.

>> For packing suggestions, check out this article on packing light.

Shoes

We know what you’re thinking – aren’t shoes part of the clothing category? Well, yes and no. Yes, you wear them just like you wear clothing. But unlike the clothes you bring on your trip, you’re likely to wear one pair of shoes almost every day – so the question of what shoes to bring deserves special attention.

The first question is how many pairs of shoes to bring, and while lots of serious traveling women will tell you that you’ll need nothing more than a pair of hiking boots and a pair of sandals, there might be more to it than that. After all, how well do your hiking boots go with that skirt you’re planning to bring for when you go out dancing in Barcelona? And what do you think is going to happen when you try to make it past the bouncers at that hot club in Buenos Aires wearing your beat-up old flip-flops? Let’s face it – what shoes to bring on your trip is a big question, and it’s best answered by the kind of trip you’re doing.

If you’ll only be doing minimal hiking, consider swapping out the hiking boots for a pair of dark athletic-inspired casual shoes that have good foot support but can also look trendy. Ideally, these will be be versatile enough to wear with shorts when you’re trekking between the towns of the Cinque Terre and also with a nice pair of trousers and a dressy shirt for when you want to go out to dinner as well.

If you’re planning on going out dancing a lot or just want a dressier alternative to the tired flip-flop, consider bringing either a stylish pair of dark leather sandals or a dark pair of flats. Ideally, these will be nice enough to wear with a skirt or a dressier outfit when you want to go out on the town and also durable enough to wear on a warm day when you’re just walking around the city.

And if shoes are really a high priority for you, you can always bring the flip-flops and the dark flats. Just remember that flexibility is key – whatever you bring should serve more than one purpose and work with several of your outfits. Besides, shoes are heavy – don’t bring more than you really, truly need.

>> For discussions about this topic, check out the BootsnAll boards for threads like “I am a woman – I like shoes,” “What shoes???” and “What color are your main shoes?

Bras

Again, this is technically a subset of the clothing discussion, but since it’s uniquely an issue women travelers will deal with it also deserves its own section.

Some of the things you’re taking into consideration when you’re looking for travel-friendly clothing will also apply when you’re looking for travel-friendly bras – you want them to be made of breathable fabric (ideally even moisture-wicking fabric), you want them to be comfortable, and you want them to be neutral colors. In other words, don’t just grab any ol’ bras out of your lingerie drawer, and don’t bring the bras that are oh-so-cute but oh-so-uncomfortable. Every bra you bring should be wearable with just about all your clothing, so bras that are flesh tones tend to be the most versatile. (That black bra won’t look so good underneath your white T-shirt.)

And even if you’re not an athlete, you might want to bring a sports bra or two – at the very least, on travel days when you’ll deal with spending hours with a heavy pack on your back, wearing a sports bra means you won’t also be dealing with pinching underwires. Remember that if you’re bringing a two-piece swimsuit, the top can also double as a bra if you’re desperate or it’s laundry day.

>> For a discussion about this topic, see the BootsnAll boards for the thread called “I need bra advice.

Makeup & Hair Stuff

Some women have questions about what makeup and hair products to bring with them when they travel. Generally speaking, while there’s nothing wrong with bringing a bit of face paint on the road, try not to overdo it. Women who travel often tend to recommend sticking to the basics – things like lipstick, eye shadow, mascara, and blush. It’s also good to keep in mind that if you’ll be traveling in warmer climates, anything that’s wax- or cream-based could potentially melt. That means you could end up with a gooey mess instead of a tube of lipstick! Even dry makeup like pressed powder or eye shadow can crack easily. Whatever you bring, it’s best to keep it in a sealing plastic bag to avert possible disaster.

As for hair, the first thing to think about is before you leave – is your current haircut easily manageable or does it require lots of attention, time, and product? If it’s the latter, you may want to talk to your stylist about a more travel-friendly haircut. Then, when you’re packing hair supplies and space in your bag is at a premium, you can look for a combination shampoo/conditioner. It’s a space-saver, but it comes at a price – those combo deals can damage your hair in the long run, so you may want to either make room for a separate bottle of conditioner or avoid washing your hair every day. This is especially true in places where it’s salt water coming out of the tap. Bringing a hair dryer is another consideration – even the travel sized ones are bulky, and you’ll need to make sure you’ve got electric adapters and converters as well, so if you can get away without a hair dryer that’s a good thing.

>> For discussions about this topic, check out the BootsnAll boards for topics about girly stuff, what “splurge” item you can’t travel without, and some “creative” toiletries.