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The Best Men’s Travel Shirts and Jackets for One-Bag Travelers

by , February 20, 2019

Years ago, I never put much thought into the clothes I packed for a trip. I would follow the standard formula of different outfits, centered around a unique cotton t-shirt each day. I would bring nearly as many pants or shorts because I knew they couldn’t last more than a few wears. Part of that was my naiveness but it was also largely due to the state of the industry. Performance travel clothing, like travel shirts for instance, are a relatively recent phenomenon (say the last 2-3 years), but this progression has changed the landscape of travel, forever.

Purposefully designed and constructed travel clothes marry the technical advantages gleaned from sports and fitness to well designed clothes that work well in a variety of situations on your trip. Besides looking great, travel shirts are much more versatile than normal clothing. They are often constructed of merino wool or a combination of polyester, nylon, and spandex. They usually are antimicrobial (which means they don’t stink), quick drying (meaning you can wash them in the evening and they’ll be ready by breakfast), anti-wrinkle (so go ahead and fold it up in your carry-on), and they are constructed with stretch (so you can articulate all you want).

Together, this means you can pack less, without sacrificing anything. But every brand or piece in this space isn’t exceptional. So in this ‘Best Men’s Travel Shirts and Jackets’ article, I’ll be showcasing the pieces I think are, and because of that, they’ve made it into my personal packing list.

A quick note: these are all men’s shirts and tops, that I tested. Often, these brands make the same or a similar version for women, so make sure you visit their websites for more details.

What is a Travel Shirt?

You can choose to bring any shirt or top on your trip, but a travel shirt is an article of clothing that is purpose built for the voyage. Instead of merely looking good, they are usually made of technical fabrics (either man-made or natural), and have some extra features built in.

What Makes A Good Travel Shirt?

Versatility

I want to pack as few shirts as possible when I travel. That means I value shirts that look great in the city but also can pass at dinner or a meeting. I care about how I look and I want to be presentable and dress appropriately. For me, having a shirt that does not look out of place is very important. For t-shirts, I want simple designs, void of any major branding or logos or offensive imagery. For dress shirts, I’d like colors, decorative buttons, and a nice tailored fit.

High Performance

Anyone can make a shirt, but it takes some real design chops and knowledge of material and body science, to make a good travel shirt. I look for shirts that exhibit some of the following features: moisture/sweat wicking, quick drying, anti-microbial, odor resistant, wide temperature support and stain-resistant.

Quality Materials and Construction

Merino wool is the name of the game here. While not all good travel tops are made of wool, this is nature’s miracle fabric that has replaced much of my travel wardrobe. We’ve extolled the virtues of wool before, but briefly: it keeps you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot and doesn’t stink.

Here’s my list of the best shirts I’ve used and tested for the past six to twelve months. I’ve worn them on weekend trips to LA for weddings, to Portland for the holidays, to DC during a heatwave, a couple of weeks in Japan and just plain EDC to work and about town.


Best Travel T-Shirt

Western Rise Dryweight Merino Tee

I had been wearing Western Rise’s StrongCore tee for a few years but I yearned for something a little lighter and more versatile, especially for warmer summer months. The Dryweight tee is perfect and actually my go to year round, except for the coldest of climates.

What I Liked:

Instead of a 100% Merino t-shirt, the team at Telluride put in equal parts wool and Tencel. The latter is derived from Eucalyptus plants and excels at wicking and cooling, so perfect for high intensity, warm weather activity. Combining it with the natural Merino, gives the shirt super-fabric capabilities; performing better than pure Merino alone.

What I Didn’t Like:

This is my go to t-shirt so there isn’t much I don’t like. A small niggle is the $96 price tag. I received mine as a test sample and I still would buy it, especially after testing it, but I can see how it could be a hard pill to swallow for a t-shirt.

Pros:

  • -Lightweight and perfect for most climates
  • -Regulates temperature and quick wicking

Cons:

  • -May be expensive for the price sensitive

Softest Travel T-Shirt

CIVIC The Antoni Tee

CIVIC was born from Taylor Stitch, one of my favorite San Francisco brands. While TS has figured out the secret sauce and makes everything from suits to leather boots, they needed a way to design and sell an essentials line. I almost said “basics” but that does a disservice to CIVIC because they produce a cohesive collection of clothing that could serve as staples in a very impressive wardrobe.

What I Liked:

The handfeel of this shirt is amazing. It’s a heavier weight (falls sort of between the DryWeight and StrongCore shirts), yet drapes nicely and has a luxurious feeling weave. This shirt keeps you a little warmer than the DryWeight and its thickness lends itself well to wearing to a semi-nice restaurant if you needed.

What I Didn’t Like:

CIVIC is not the only maker affected by this but I really don’t like how the edges of the shirt, particularly at the bottom, sort of curl or roll up. This could be my drying technique (low tumble, no heat), or the fact that I don’t iron my tees, but it sort of irritates me. I don’t really think people even notice it but I know it’s there. Again, really minor issue that is entirely cosmetic.

Pros:

  • -Super soft and feels substantial to wear
  • -The cut and material means it pairs well with a nice pair of jeans for a clean, slightly dressed up look

Cons:

  • -Edges (bottom, sleeves) have a tendency to slightly curl. You may want to consider ironing after you wash

Best Basic Travel T-Shirt

Woolly Ultralight Short Sleeve V-Neck Tee

Woolly was founded by three friends in Seattle who wanted to bring Merino wool to the masses. Their garments are made from certified Australian Merino and have a satisfaction guarantee.

At $50, this is a fair price for a basic tee of this caliber. I am just using the word basic to simple in design and not lacking in features. At 150 GSM, Woolly calls this Ultralight but I’d call it “just right”. It’s actually has some heft and weight to it, which you can feel when you pick it up on the the hanger.

What I Liked:

This shirt is a wardrobe staple. The neckline is not too aggressive and it’s reinforced which means it lays better on your body instead of crinkling or curling. The weight keeps you warm but is not too heavy so it should be comfortable in everything but the hottest days.

What I Didn’t Like:

The fabric is not the softest. Certain Merino can have a slightly rough, almost cotton feel to it. The logo and wash directions are printed behind the neck where you’d normally find a tag but has a tendency is rub off after a few washes. While I appreciate minimal (and in this case, disappearing) branding, it also means I lose laundering directions with it.

Pros:

  • -Great price for an intro to the world of Merino
  • -Versatile; pack one t-shirt for your whole trip
  • -Nice weight

Cons:

  • -Hand feel is not that great; kind of rough. Feels fine when wearing though
  • -Laundry directions can rub or wash away after a few wears

Also consider:

There’s nothing more core to a travel wardrobe than the Merino tee and pretty much every company in this article will sell you their version. It’s really hard to narrow things down and at the end of the day, it just came down to personal preference, and not because of any major issues. If the Woolly doesn’t check your boxes, you can take a look at the Conyoy Tee from Olivers, and tees from Unbound Merino. Outlier’s Ultrafine line is also a staple amongst our contributors and but is in the top-tier pricetag at $110. And if you haven’t already tried shirts from heavyweights like Icebreaker and Smartwool, you really owe it to yourself to stock some of their wares in your closet. If not their basic tees, then their socks and boxers should make an appearance. They consistently make some of the best performing wool clothing.


Best Travel Henley

Olivers Convoy Henley

David Wolfe launched Olivers in 2013 after his successful Kickstarter campaign for the All Over Short. I’ve had my eye on them since after wearing a different short of theirs, The Capital. At that time, I took it all over Washington D.C. exploring the sites and trying to stay one step ahead of the July heatwave. I declared it the best travel shorts at that time, and no others have usurped it since. I’ve kept in touch with the team and in six years, they’ve grown their collection into something mature and refined, but playful and fun at the same time. Designed and manufactured in Los Angeles, I feel like Olivers has one of the more complete one-stop shops for performance everyday clothing, which happens to be perfect for travel as well.

What I Liked:

I have to admit, I wasn’t much of a henley guy until this past winter. Personally, I have issues regulating body temperature and comfort exactly and often get hot quickly if I go out in a sweater or jacket but I also have goosebumps when I am out in only a tee. What’s the solution? At least one that still looks great? The Convoy Henly is super soft, slim fitting, and has four buttons which helps you regulate your body temperature. Wear it unbuttoned for a more casual beach vibe or bundled up for a cleaner look.

What I Didn’t Like:

The price might be a little high for some but I think it’s well worth it for an item that should last years.

Pros:

  • -Excellent cut, fit, and comfortable to wear
  • -Nice variety of colors
  • -Versatile; works in casual and nicer scenarios
  • -Easy to regulate temperature with buttons; can be paired with a warm vest for core warm while keeping arms cool

Cons:

  • -Pricey

Also consider:

There are a number of brands that make excellent henleys. Another to consider is the Zaha from Civic. Imagine the soft plush Civic tee I described above but in a long sleeve form. It uses their Mercerized wool which is a treatment to remove the itch from traditional Merino. It’s one of the most comfortable pieces I own and I just love the drape and how it fits. At $125, it should definitely be on your radar.


Best Long Sleeve Travel Crew

Unbound Merino Long Sleeve Crew

Similar to Woolly, Unbound Merino was also founded by three friends. They followed a rock band around the country, and found a passion for living abroad. Constant travel and minimal packing is the perfect use case for Merino and Unbound is perfectly suited to create solutions based on their experience in this arena. If you are looking for a long sleeve crew that is a little more basic and less frills than a henley, this might be the perfect top.

At 190 g/m2, Unbound considers their long sleeve crew ultralight. This is certainly the case and unless you’re in temperate conditions, I’d use this only as a baselayer, with at least something light on top or a vest. The material is ultra soft, maybe among the softest and most comfortable of all base tops I’ve worn but it is certainly light. Holding it up to the light, you can see the silhouette of your hand through one layer.

What I Liked:

The construction is no-frills but well done with reinforced stitching at critical areas. It naturally is moisture-wicking, antibacterial and anti-wrinkle. I found the fit to be slim but not limiting and the simple colors, black and navy, make it a no-brainer to pack on a trip.

What I Didn’t Like:

I found the sleeves to be a bit too narrow but of course, your mileage (and build) my vary. I don’t mind form fitting clothes but, in my case, it took about twenty minutes to get used to.

Pros:

  • -Each product comes with a little booklet with care instruction
  • -Super soft and luxurious feeling, 100% Merino
  • -Flattering cut

Cons:

  • -Depending on your build, arms may be a bit slim

Also consider:

Wool & Prince also offers a long sleeve crew neck and it works a treat. This is truly a no frills shirt and won’t win any fashion awards but as a baselayer or paired with a vest or sweater, it does quite well. It’s 160gsm Merino with about a quarter nylon blend for an excellent drape and handfeel. I love the deep blue in my navy sample and it’s a staple for me during fall and winter months.

Also Duckworth’s Comet Crew is super solid.


Best Travel Polo

Wool&Prince Polo

Wool&Prince are no strangers to wool but whereas some companies above are focused on the basics market, Wool&Prince have their sites more upmarket, targeting someone who is regularly dressing up, for work or play, but wants the benefits of technical fabrics. While they are mostly known for their wool dress shirts, the item that find myself always grabbing from my closet, is their polo.

I received a polo in Heather Gray for testing and it’s my go to piece. I know that for some men, polos are relegated to the golf course or seem like a lazy way to look presentable when you were in grade school, but hear me out: I think that anytime you have a collared shirt, you are already showing some amount of effort. And while short sleeves often designate a casual look, having that collar paired with buttons and a clean, modern cut, makes for a convincing outfit for a nice lunch or even an early dinner.

What I Liked:

The heather gray color of my sample is so non-polarizing which makes it versatile. I loved the 205 g/m2 weight which is a tad heavier than some baselayers listed above, but gives enough coverage and warmth without being sweater-like. They also designed the collars to stay upright more for a more modern look. The best thing I like about the Wool&Prince polo is they managed to get it as comfortable as a t-shirt but while ticking off some of the formal boxes.

What I Didn’t Like:

After a couple of wears, the button holes in my shirt are showing wear. This is true of most polos and in this case they do look reinforced. I think that it may be a con of Merino to not be rigid enough to handle repeated stretching that comes with operating buttons.

Pros:

  • -Great construction and comfortable
  • -Easy solution to look dressed up without much effort
  • -Just the right weight
  • -Priced under $100

Cons:

  • -Button holes show wear easily. Be careful when operating

Also consider:

If you are into polos, and want a more slim, perhaps more minimal look, check out what Woolly has to offer. I often wear one in black and I just love it. It’s closer to a t-shirt – a bit slimmer, feels a bit lighter weight, and more form fitting. It’s extremely comfortable and works best untucked and unbuttoned (at least the top one) due to how the collar rests. At just over $50, it’s a downright bargain.


Best Formal Button-Up Travel Shirt

Mizzen+Main Leeward

Mizzen+Main is a brand after my own heart. They were started when the founder saw a D.C. staffer run up the hill is a sweaty, wrinkled shirt. So he sought out to combine the advances in athletic wear with custom dress shirts. While we often think of Merino as nature’s super-fabric, there have been many advances in man-made technical fabrics and the Leeward is an example that leverages this.

I received a Hampton (in the Leeward collection) in Blue Check and it is a great all around shirt, but I primarily focused on using it during the summer. It’s constructed of a mix of 85% polyester and 15% spandex. You may have seen similar compositions before, especially in travel pants. The advantages are clear – four-way stretch, moisture-wicking, machine washable, and anti-wrinkle.

What I Liked:

Whenever I find a company that is making dress clothes with technical fabrics, I am usually weary that they are an athletic company trying to break into fashion. It’s never a good look. What I like about Mizzen+Main is they are a dress-shirt maker first, and they were able to apply that knowledge and construction using non-traditional fabrics. They added features that you’d find in traditional dress shirt makers like darts for a slimmer fit, contrast stitching button holes, optional magnetic collar stays, and a spread collar.

What I Didn’t Like:

At first, polyester dress shirts always take some time getting used to, especially if you’ve gone all your life wearing traditional materials. I also wish they included metal collar stays.

Pros:

  • -Beautifully tailored modern dress shirts with great features
  • -Three different fits available means there’s probably something that works for everyone
  • -Plenty of pattern choices
  • -Fairly priced for a shirt that is no hassle and so versatile (does great in wet weather, stretch for comfort, washes easily and doesn’t wrinkle)

Cons:

  • -Plastic collar stays
  • -Polyester may not be for everyone

Also consider:

I only brought one dress shirt with me on my honeymoon and it was from Wool&Prince. Their button-downs are 100% Merino but look and feel just a tailored shirt. If you have any experience with Merino, you know there are limitations of how you can cut and sew it but somehow Wool&Prince cracked the code. Their shirts are super comfortable, are offered in over a dozen styles and prints, and three fits. I went with the regular but I think I’ll try slim next time for a more modern look.

Ministry of Supply also has a number of shirts on offer, but I am really drawn towards their Apollo 3 Dress Shirt. It was one of their first offerings and it takes its name from the fact that it’s made of the same material that NASA invented to keep astronaut body temperatures regulated.  It’s reportedly 19x more breathable than comparable cotton shirts. And last, but not least, how can we forget about Bluffworks? I  have their first Meridian Dress shirt in blue check and I’ve worn it to many a meeting and, of course, on trips. The 2% spandex added helps with stretch and it maintains all the key features you want: quick drying, doesn’t wrinkle, cool in all temps, and antimicrobial.


Best Casual Button-Up Travel Shirt

CIVIC The Jack

Purposely or not, performance clothing companies tend to slot themselves into certain categories. You have Mizzen+Main which prefers to use polyester and spandex paired with traditional shirtmaking to up the performance while giving wearers the same good looks they expect. And you have some other companies that focus on the basics of a wardrobe (simple tees, henleys, boxers, maybe a polo). CIVIC is one of my favorite companies because they lie somewhere in between. Merino wool is their weapon of choice but they have some great design chops as well; not surprising given their heritage from Taylor Stitch.

The Jack has become one of my favorite pieces to pack on a trip. In fact, I did just that when I visited some friends in Portland a few weeks ago. It uses their blend of 70% Merino and 30% Sorona, a plant-based fiber which gives increased strength and movement. The result is a perfectly balanced 220 gsm that provides both warmth and structure. It’s difficult to make certain types of clothing out of 100% wool. It’s a naturally soft material so you cannot get that crisp look that people expect from certain items (like dress shirts). The buttons are high quality and the construction is great.

What I Liked:

First and foremost, I love the fit of The Jack. I think the chest, shoulders, and waist are perfect. It’s a slim fit which is usually flattering, but not too tight as to restrict movement. It looks great tucked or not, so it’s perfect for many different occasions. I paired it with a jacket for a meal at an upscale sushi restaurant and it definitely filled the role.

What I Didn’t Like:

On me, the arms are a little long and this picture exaggerates it a bit. In practice, I don’t feel the bagginess at all but as always, your mileage may vary.

Pros:

  • -Perfect construction; great trim fit.
  • -Blend of Merino and Sorona is just right to give softness while maintaining some crispiness you expect from a dress shirt
  • -Great everyday shirt

Cons:

  • -Arms may be a bit baggy

Also consider:

If you are traveling for business, especially in less secure areas of the world, check out the Clothing Arts Pick-Pocket Proof Business Travel Shirt. While being a mouthful to say, it’s a shirt built from the ground up with travel and security in mind. It features UPF 30+ sun protection, quick dry for easy travel laundry, and a combination of hidden and secure pockets so you can rest assured you’ll be able to access your passport or emergency cash if you do get targeted. The look is a little less fashion forward compared to The Jack, but the cut and materials are more suited for warmer weather (even tropical) while looking perfectly passable for business casual.


Best Travel Blazer or Travel Jacket

Ministry of Supply Kinetic Blazer

Ministry of Supply is a company that is rooted in Boston and got its start on Kickstarter. After numerous successful campaigns, they now operate multiple stores, as well as a modern online presence. Aman and his team really fancy themselves clothing scientists, studying pressure, doing temperature scans, poring over stretch details and surveying users. I view them as the Tesla of the clothing world, up there with brands like Nike and Lululemon which operate performance labs, except they may be the only ones doing it for the performance fashion sector and not sports.

What I Liked:

My Kinetic Blazer is a beautiful navy and the texture reminds me a bit of an old jacket a professor or your father might have worn. It’s made with a Japanese warp-knit Kinetic fabric which gives it four-way stretch, great wrinkle resistance, and quick-dry features. What I like most though is it looks and performs just like a regular blazer and fits like a glove.

What I Didn’t Like:

It’s not the cheapest jacket, weighing in at just over $300 but I think it’s worth it. It is a more considered blazer than one you’d find off the rack with performance features built in.

Pros:

  • -Japanese Kinetic fabric has four way stretch, dries quickly, and is less likely to be wrinkled when you arrive to your destination
  • -Comfortable and fits well; pairs with any dress shirt and slacks
  • -Fabric has a great feel and looks different depending on lighting

Cons:

  • -Pricey

Also consider:

When I think of performance travel blazer, the first thing that comes to mind is the Bluffworks Gramercy Blazer. I met Stefan at OR a few years after I had already been testing his clothing; first with his pants then later shirt and blazer. It has been amazing to see a small company tackle one item at a time and work with factories and fabric companies to get it just right. The Gramercy Blazer uses 100% polyester that is engineered for stretch, breatheability, machine-washable, and most importantly, looks great. I’ve seen plenty of polyester clothing but when you feel the Gramercy Blazer, you’d swear it’s a natural material. Besides the performance features, Bluffworks knocks it out of the park by adding in 10 pockets (many hidden) to make the jacket a perfect travel companion.


Best Travel Jacket For Wet Weather

Clothing Arts Cubed Travel Jacket

I’ve gotten to know Adam from Clothing Arts and through our months of communicating, you can tell that he is one passionate traveler and maker. Like others on this list, he found a need and a market that was not being addressed and he started Clothing Arts to tackle the problem of how to travel safely, anywhere in the world. Their clothing has stopped over 70 pickpocket attempts worldwide, with more stories coming in all the time.

What I Liked:

The first Clothing Arts sample I was sent was the big daddy, their flagship, the Cubed Travel Jacket. This thing is a beast, featuring an eVent DVStorm Membrane, innovative pocketing, and 4 season versatility. The jacket is waterproof and windproof while maintaining breathability. It weighs 1lb 11 oz so it’s not exactly lightweight but you get loads of performance in return. Luckily, it folds down quite nicely and can easily be stowed in a packing cube.

What I Didn’t Like:

Depending on your torso height, when it’s fully zipped, the jacket can encroach on the neck and lower half of your face. This is not unlike other shells but I found the upper part of the jacket/hood to be somewhat stiff and I didn’t like having it fully zipped at all times. This is rarely an issue since the hood is so easily removed and you’ll most often be wearing it unattached.

Pros:

  • -Top in class rain and wind protection from eVent DVStorm fabric
  • -Quick-attach hood system
  • -Multiple security pockets
  • -Cinch pulls, waterproof zippers, velcro closures – all make for great protection against the elements

Cons:

  • -Neck and hood area stiff and can get uncomfortable if fully zipped
  • -Pricey

Also consider:

On the surface, this is a purely technical jacket. It uses eVent which is a high performing wind and water resistant fabric. If you’re just looking for a shell, you have a lot of choices including offerings from Patagonia and Arcteryx, they’re classic and awesome. The difference is Clothing Arts is a travel and security focused company so they put in a bunch of security and hidden pockets. If that’s not vital to you then any good technical shell would work great for travel.

Summing up

I tested over a dozen tees, henleys, button-downs, and jackets to find what would work best for traveling. We are big proponents of packing not just minimally but intelligently and the only way to do that effectively is to ask more from our clothing. Companies like Western Rise, Civic, Wool&Prince, etc are taking modern fabrics and pairing it with research and adding in clever features, to make clothing that looks great and performs even better. I don’t expect you to mimic my choices exactly here. Instead, I hope that by giving you information about the brands and products, you can start thinking about what features you need and want in travel shirts and this article can serve as a guide to help you when you’re packing for your next trip.


Liked this article? Why not check out these too:

The Best Travel Pants for One-Bag Travelers

The Best Backpacks for One Bag Travel

The Best Travel Shoes for Every Type of Traveler

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