with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Packing Clothing for the Road

Brent wears a hat while photographing out in the desert sun, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenFiguring out what to take in the way of clothing is one of the hardest decisions many people make. For men, it appears easy and simple, shirts, pants, underwear and socks, but it isn’t always. For women, it can be a nightmare as ego and etiquette get in the way of common sense. With all the stress associated with traveling today, choose comfortable clothing that suits your comfort needs as well as the climate and environment of your destination.

Taking your camera on the road, you need to be ready for a variety of weather conditions. On one two week trip during an extreme and unusual heat wave in Western Canada, we spent the first week suffering in tank tops and shorts, then spent the next week suffering from freezing temperatures in a freak snow storm that dropped 4 inches of snow on us. You learn to be ready for anything on the road.

Preparing for Anything

Protect The Skin
Ignored by most outdoorsy people for years, the damage the sun can do on the skin is something you live with forever. One bad sunburn can irreversibly damage the skin, even though the damage may not been seen for decades, so take care to wear sun lotion and protectants all over your body, not just on the exposed sections year around. In extreme sun conditions, the rays of the sun can pass through clothing.

According to experts, it takes 20 seconds of exposure to the sun for the damage to begin. Even in the winter you are vulnerable to the sun’s rays.

For serious protection, make sure your sun lotion or protectorant includes physical sunblocks such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide for maximum SPF ability. Take extra care to put sunscreen on your face, top of your head (if hatless), back and front of your neck, chest, arms, legs, ankles, and tops of your feet, an often overlooked and vulnerable spot.

Where are you going and what will you be doing? As you prepare your clothing choices, monitor the weather at your destination for as far in advance as possible. The Internet provides a wide range of weather stations and information easily available, and you can also monitor shortwave radio and the international news channels to get a handle on the weather there. Check on the Internet or with travel agents or through other sources to find out what the average temperatures and weather conditions should be like while you are there. Due global warming and other climatic changes, all of this information can only guide you. You still don’t know what you will find once you are there, so go for the average conditions you expect to find.

Remember, you aren’t just dressing for weather. You are also dressing for the environment.

If you are heading to Florida, you can expect to encounter warm temperatures year around. Remember you are also dressing for the environment. Certain times of the year, the mosquito population is fairly vigorous, so you also have to dress for the bugs. The same goes for certain times of the year in Alaska, where they claim the mosquitos grow the size of airplanes. Consider the environment and be prepared for the bugs you may find and protect yourself accordingly through proper protective clothing and bug repellents.

The environment you have to consider isn’t limited to bugs and other creepy crawlies. Excessive humidity and rains play havoc with glasses and camera gear, so be sure and bring hats and protective coverings for your self and your gear. Freezing temperatures require protective layering, glasses or goggles, gloves and scarves. Living in Israel, we are often affected by the blowing desert sands of the Middle East, getting grit into everything, our eyes, noses, mouth, skin, and camera gear, so protective coverings are essential as these winds can blow up with little notice, though they are getting to be more predictable with advanced weather analysis.

What will you be doing after you arrive? The answers affect your clothing choices. Even in the coldest weather, if you will be hiking, climbing, skiing, or expending a lot of physical energy, heavy cold weather clothing might keep you warm when you are sitting or standing, but it will cause you to quickly overheat with exertion. You have to find a comfortable medium.

Shorts and T-shirts might be perfect for campgrounds and beach wear, but some destinations, especially those with strong dress codes due to cultural or religious policies require more conservative clothing choices. Cruise ships and some health spas permit casual clothing for day use but more sophisticated styles in the evening. What will you be doing at your destination isn’t limited to climate and activity, it must also encompass the standards and expectations of others.


One of the best ways to insure you are ready for all kinds of weather with the least amount of specialty clothing is by layering. A T-shirt under a long sleeve shirt, followed by a sweater and a jacket can be just as warm as a single heavy coat. Add long-johns and you will be fairly warm and protected from the cold. Keeping the chest area warm is important, and two T-shirts worn together can give added warmth when long-johns are home in the closet. When working out in the cold, or on a day that starts cold and warms up, as your body temperature rises, it’s easy to shed the layers.

Nature and outdoor photography requires a lot of time hiking and working hard to get access to natural areas. It also requires a lot of time sitting still and waiting, often in extreme temperatures. Layering provides you with a way to shed the layers as you hike to your destination, and then you can add the layers back for the long sit in the snow.

There is no single right combination of clothing for the traveling photographer, but a combination of techniques to help you during the heavy activity as well as the still moments. By layering, it allows for facing a variety of conditions with lightweight and comfortable clothing and fabrics. Top off your layer with a waterproof jacket and a good hat and you’re ready to go.

Think thin
Think thin, not just in body weight, but in clothing weight. There are a variety of fabrics now available to insulate the body, whether protecting it from heat or from cold, manufactured with high-tech ultra thin materials. Microfiber fleece can be found in hats, scarves, jackets, shirts, and more. Windbreakers and jackets are available in lightweight but durable fabrics that cut the wind, insulate the body, and keep the body dry with their water resistance. For extreme heat and sun, there are many fabrics now made with special treatments to resist the rays of the sun, protecting the skin while allowing shade and cooler temperatures within. Depending upon your needs, lighten your load with the new ultra-insulating and ultra-thin products.

The hat! The hat is an all purpose, all weather protection. No matter the weather condition, a hat should be a requirement for the traveler. It must suit all the different weather conditions from extreme heat to pouring rain, or you need a specific hat for the weather conditions you will face. Some hats come with draped fabric that hangs down the back of the neck to protect it from the sun. Other hats come with roll up or down mosquito netting to protect against mosquitos. Choose an appropriate protective hat and then worry about the colors matching your outfit later. Protection first.

Here is our basic clothing inventory for our travels for each of us. So for the two of us, double the quantities.

  • 2 pair of pants
  • 3-4 shirts
  • 5-6 underwear
  • 5-6 socks
  • 1 pair comfortable tennis shoes and/or sandals
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • Spare shoe and boot strings
  • Waterproof shirt/windbreaker
  • 1 Mosquito head net
  • 1 Bathing suit
  • Polypropylene long underwear
  • Polypropylene gloves
  • Waterproof pants
  • Rain cap
  • Knit cap
  • 1 cotton dark or neutral colored large scarf
  • Microfiber Polar Fleece scarves
  • Face shields – baklava or scarves
  • Ear muffs, headbands and hankies
  • Umbrella or other waterproof Hat

The Packing List

Our friend, Leslie, loves traveling. He packs his life in a duffle bag that he has had for years and goes, trekking through India, around Europe, Africa, you name it, if the airfare is cheap enough, he has probably been there. He shared with us his famous packing list of 32 item categories and a first aid kit. The packing list can be reduced for less than seven days, but it is designed to be good for 7-21 days, doing laundry rarely. It is adjustable for various weather, but the basics stay the same. As a pharmacist, he is fairly particular about his first aid requirements, so all in all, it’s a great list.

Alarm Clock
One item often forgotten which needs to be segregated from the general packing list for the traveling photographer is the alarm clock. For a photographer on the road, this is a critical tool. graphic of an alarm clockNot only will it get us up in the morning at the pre-crack of dawn for that lovely morning light, it serves to wake us from our midday nap as well. An alarm clock is an individual purchase. You need to buy one that meets your special needs. Some people don’t mind a 5 minute snooze, others prefer 10 minutes. We prefer glow-in-the-dark numerals and hands, but others are bothered by that in the dark. We hate ones that tick, others enjoy the security of a steady noise. Whatever one you choose, make sure you carry extra batteries, and you bring it with you.
  • 2 Towels (1 face and 1 large)
  • 2 Trousers (1 slacks, 1 jeans)
  • 4 T-shirts without sleeves (undershirts)
  • 3 T-shirts with sleeves
  • 1 Short (or long) sleeve shirt
  • 7 underpants
  • 7 socks (2 thick for walking or cold)
  • 2 shorts
  • 1 swimming suit
  • 2 shoes (1 walking, 1 sandals)
  • Sleeping bag plus liner plus foam pad
  • Day Backpack
  • Toilet Bag: Shaving kit, soap, q-tips, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, scissors, Toilet paper, comb, tweezers, nail file
  • First aid kit: (some drugs have different names in different countries – these are generic terms) Iodo Mitis; Autan; thermometer; ciprogis 500mg; doxylin; protocide; imodium; sedistal; pramine; orset; moxypen 500mg; sedural; optalgin/acamol; cold/cough; bactroban; syntho 5%; otidine; plasters/pads plaster (bandaids); lariam; rubbers (condoms); nose drops; breathe-right plasters; anti-malarial – mephanquin; sanitary wipes
  • Padlocks
  • Leg wallet and money belt
  • Papers: Passports, tickets, vouchers, visas, insurance, emergency numbers, mailing addresses
  • 2 Passport photos
  • Camera and film
  • Hooded sweatshirt
  • Dried fruits
  • AMEX travelers cheques (enter numbers into file)
  • VISA
  • CASH
  • Empty nylon bags
  • Windbreaker (light coat)
  • Rain mack (nylon rain coat)
  • Torch (flashlight) and batteries
  • Radio and batteries
  • Watch and extra battery
  • Clock and extra battery
  • Water bottle

Like Leslie, make your own packing list and edit it before, during, and after each trip so you streamline the list of things you take with you when you travel. So often we pack too much, when only a little is necessary. With your own list, you can customize your packing list to your specific needs, then vary only for weather and length of time. Honestly, with a few pieces, you can mix and match and make three or four outfits become eight or more different outfits.

We’d love to hear about your tips for travel, so post a comment below and let us know how you pack less in order to get more out of your travels.


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