Best Fabrics for Travel Clothing

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Fabrics for Travel

Traveling involves a myriad of decisions, from selecting destinations to planning itineraries. Among these considerations is choosing the right clothing, particularly fabrics that offer comfort, durability, and versatility. Whether you're embarking on a tropical getaway or a rugged outdoor adventure, your choice of travel fabric can significantly impact your travel experience. This guide explores the factors to consider when selecting travel fabrics, essential items to pack, and our recommendations of fabrics that will be as functional as possible. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing Travel Fabrics

Climate and Temperature

The climate and temperature of your destination play a crucial role in determining the most suitable fabrics for your travel wardrobe. For hot and humid climates, lightweight breathable fabrics are essential to keep you cool and comfortable. In contrast, colder destinations call for insulating and moisture-wicking materials to retain warmth and prevent moisture buildup.

Activities and Terrain

Consider the activities you'll be engaging in during your trip. If you're embarking on outdoor adventures such as hiking or camping, opt for fabrics that offer durability, flexibility, and weather resistance. For urban exploration or leisurely strolls, prioritize fabrics that strike a balance between style and functionality.

Luggage Restrictions

If you're traveling with only carry-on luggage, it's essential to pack strategically and prioritize versatile clothing items. Choose fabrics that are lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, and easily compressible to maximize space and minimize the need for extensive packing.

How to stay cool and dry when travelling in warm climates.

When travelling in warm climates, what you choose depends on what activities you will be doing.

Tee Shirts and Tank Tops

If you are lounging in the shade or taking it easy, natural fabrics such as Bamboo Cotton Jersey and Bamboo Stretch Jersey are lovely and make excellent tops. But even if you are enjoying a relaxing day, you may want to consider some of the high performance travel fabrics mentioned below. Some offer additional benefits such as sun protection. Chitosante Interlock Jersey is one example.

If you are doing more strenuous activities such as hiking, you’ll want the benefits of highly technical synthetic fabrics that are lightweight and dry fast. Additionally, you may want to choose styles that offer both sun protection and an antimicrobial treatment, so your clothes stay fresher. One of the best fast-drying fabrics is Polartec Power Dry. The lightweight styles are cool and not only keep you dryer, but also dry extremely fast after washing, so you can take fewer garments. Look for styles of Power Dry that have OR in the style number, as this indicates they are treated with Odor Resist, a highly effective, eco-friendly antimicrobial treatment. Also check for styles that offer high UPF sun protection. This is noted in the Specs and Features tab of each product page.

Don’t forget that even in warm climates you may need some long sleeve shirts for added warmth in cooler evenings, and for times when you may be in air-conditioned rooms. Unexpected weather changes can occur even in warm climates so it’s important to be prepared. Also, having a warmer lightweight layer when on a plane is helpful. Merino Wool is a great choice. It’s naturally antimicrobial and has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Polartec Power Wool offers the benefits of Merino, with some added performance features. It dries much faster and is more durable. We recommend Power Wool Silkweight as it packs easily and is perfect year round in any climate  

Sun Protection

If you are sensitive to the sun, or if you plan on being in the sun for extended periods you need to consider having a fabric that will protect you from burning. You can choose select styles of Polartec Power Dry or Polartec Delta that have high UPF protection. This will be indicated in the Specs and Features tab on those pages. Or choose the lovely Sun Lite Jersey, which offers min 50 UPF. Another choice for lightweight, sun protective tops is Chitosante Jersey which in addition to being highly sun protective also offers the antimicrobial benefit of Chitosan,  an eco-friendly treatment that utilizes ocean biomass.

Staying Cool

The trick to staying cool is combining a lightweight fabric that integrates evaporative cooling technology which uses your own sweat to keep you cool. If you are not sweating a lot, then simply wear any of the fabrics above in the lightest weights. But if you are prone to sweating then use that to your advantage to stay cool. Polartec Delta is a unique fabric that combines the moisture-wicking qualities of Power Dry with a natural Lyocell outer layer, to keep you dry but trigger slow, cooling natural evaporation. Delta is perfect for cycling, pickleball, tennis, running or any high aerobic activity. It enhances the body’s ability to stay cool and offers reduced friction against the skin.

Button-down Shirts

Opt for wrinkle-resistant Stretch Woven for a polished look that transitions seamlessly from day to night. This is a wonderful slightly stretchy travel fabric which adds a small amount of ease making the garment more comfortable with movement, but not so much that it changes the size you make when the pattern calls for non-stretch woven. In addition, the water-repellency makes it less prone to stains which is important when travelling, as the garment stays cleaner. Water repellency does not affect the breathability of the shirt!

For a lightweight shirt, we recommend Sunpro Stretch Woven. In addition to the benefits mentioned, it is also highly sun protective, with minimum 50 UPF!

Pants and Shorts

Depending on activity, there are a couple of best choices. For hiking, consider Adventure styles of Stretch Woven. They are slightly heavier, but still fine for summer. Adventure Stretch Woven offers a more durable fabric that is perfect for cargo pants or shorts but can also be used for dressier styles. This fabric is certainly not limited to pants, but it is a staff favorite for hiking or travel pants. For a lighter weight, consider Sunpro Stretch Woven. The Sunpro prints, while great for shirts or lined dresses are not completely opaque. So for pants you might want to choose a darker color solid which is not see-through.

Surfer Styles of Stretch Woven are slightly heavier than Sunpro, and make fabulous board shorts, skirts as well as lightweight pants.

Adventure, Sunpro and Surfer are all styles of Stretch Woven.

You can also choose a natural knit such as Bamboo French Terry or lighter weight Bamboo Stretch Jersey for shorts. If you prefer a yoga-style, you'll want a moisture-wicking athletic fabric such as Yoga Stretch, Solar Stretch or Breathe Tek.

Solar Stretch and Breathe Tek both offer 50+ UPF protection.


While leggings and warm weather don’t always go together, I still prefer to take a pair that I can wear during the plane trip, and for cool or rainy days. Solar Stretch and Breathe Tek athletic are wonderful, and so soft and comfy to wear. Yoga Stretch is also a staff favorite. It has a cottony feel and is moisture-wicking.

Dresses and Skirts

Depending on pattern requirements, you may wish to use Bamboo Stretch Jersey for tank dresses, or Chitosante Interlock Jersey. Both are breathable, however Chitosante will dry faster. Surfer Stretch Woven is a great choice for beach wrap skirts as well as dress patterns that recommend a woven fabric.


Lightweight Merino Wool or Silkweight Power Wool are both a great choice for a pullover. For a dressy but lightweight cardigan natural Micro Modal Jersey Sweater Knit is luxurious, soft, and warm. Both are perfect for layering.

One sweater fabric that can’t be ignored is Polartec Alpha Direct. This is a highly technical ultralight fabric that needs to be seen to be believed (or worn to be appreciated)! It was developed for the military, and is the mainstay of any serious backpacker’s gear it is ridiculously light and unbelievably warm. Whether you make a hoodie, a sweater or a jacket this is one travel fabric you can’t do without.

Susan Low, an avid sewist and gear expert said the following about Alpha Direct…

“While Alpha Direct is delightfully warm, it isn’t stifling. It allows your body to regulate the heat so you’re not going to find yourself desperately needing to peel off the layers like you might with a different fabric. I’ve never regretted having an Alpha Direct layer available and it packs very small compared to other fabrics that could provide similar thermal benefits.”


Chlorine-resistant fabric is recommended. Special chlorine-resistant Lycra helps retain shape and lasts much longer than other swim fabrics.

If you are sensitive to the sun or will be snorkeling, you may also want to consider a sun hoodie. For those you can either use swim fabric, or Sun Lite Jersey.


There are many fabrics suitable for underwear, and many are perfect for travel. For this reason we offer a Panty Pack and a Boxer Pack which have a selection of both natural as well as synthetic fabrics. Micro Modal Jersey is a soft luxurious fabric used by a famous menswear brand. Bamboo Stretch Jersey is also a lovely choice. However, for the fastest drying, you can’t beat Yoga Lining for panties. It is both incredibly light as well as moisture wicking and breathable. So is Polartec Power Stretch Jersey in the lightest weights.

Most people choose to buy ready-to-wear socks as opposed to making their own, at least for warm weather travel. We like moisture-wicking synthetic blends for comfort. Cotton can also be comfortable but as it retains moisture, it can cause friction as well as odor issues.

Socks and Hats

When choosing a hat, always select one with a wide brim to shield your eyes from the sun.


We always recommend a highly water wind repellent shell, such as Polartec Neoshell or Polartec Power Shield Pro. They take little room to pack in your carry-on. These shells are both wind and water repellent. You will stay dry and comfortable even in the pouring rain. Both styles are highly breathable. For warmth, rely on your base and mid layers.

Other must-have fabrics for warm weather travel

Cooling towels

A great way to stay cool is with a cooling towel. Cooling Microfiber fabric is highly specialized. You simply wet it, wring it out and “snap” it to activate the moisture molecules. They begin the evaporation process causing the towel to get cold. When worn around the neck, it offers instant relief. Once you feel the towel getting warmer from your body heat, simply remove it, snap it again, and place it back around the neck. It’s quite amazing and completely natural! Towels are very easy to sew using this fabric. You can make several from one yard of fabric, and the towels can easily be hemmed using a straight stitch machine. If you care to know more about the Microfiber Cooling Towel fabric, watch it on our Youtube channel (and don't forget to subscribe!)


For many years we manufactured Swim and Travel Towels which you can purchase ready made. Those of you who sew can make your own as we sell the fabric by the yard. You can choose from either Midweight Quick Wick or Lightweight Quick Wick

The advantages of such a lightweight travel towel are

  • Less room to pack
  • Can double as beach coverup
  • Dries fast for reuse or when washing
  • Stays fresher than cotton

Additional Considerations for Travel Clothing

Sun Protection

When traveling to sunny destinations, prioritize clothing with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings to shield your skin from harmful UV rays. Look for fabrics treated with UV-blocking agents or naturally sun-protective materials like tightly woven cotton or synthetic blends.

Water Repellency

For outdoor adventures or rainy climates, consider clothing treated with water-repellent finishes or constructed from hydrophobic fabrics like nylon or polyester. These garments will keep you dry and comfortable even in wet conditions.


If you'll be traveling to windy destinations or engaging in activities exposed to strong gusts, invest in windproof outer layers made from tightly woven fabrics like polyester or specialized wind-blocking materials. These garments provide an additional barrier against chilly winds.

For travel fabric suitable for cooler climates refer to our Blog Layering 101 or ask in our Facebook discussion group.  

Ask for Advice!


There are so many personal considerations when choosing the right fabrics for travel. Choosing appropriate travel clothes depends on many factors. We love to help, which is why we have a Facebook Group. If you ask in our group, be specific about where you are going (climate), what you will be doing and if you plan on packing with carry-on only.  We will try to make suggestions that will fit your trip. We are always happy to chat in the group, where others can learn from the answers! Our Facebook group is Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics. Join us! 

Shortlisting Clothing Items for Carry-On Luggage

When packing with only carry-on luggage, prioritize versatile clothing items that can be mixed and matched to create multiple outfits. Choose fabrics that are lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, and easily layerable to adapt to changing weather conditions. Consider multi-functional garments like convertible pants or reversible jackets to maximize space without sacrificing style or functionality.

In conclusion, selecting the best fabrics for travel involves considering the climate, activities, and luggage restrictions of your destination. Whether you prefer natural fabrics for their breathability and timeless appeal or synthetic fabrics for their durability and performance features, there are options to suit every traveler's needs. By packing strategically and prioritizing versatile clothing items, you can embark on your adventures with confidence and comfort, ready to explore the world in style.

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