Basic outfit? I had two pairs of tactical pants, and two 5.11 Tactical shirts, in navy and khaki, in medium and light weights. Under the shirt was a lightweight longsleeve REI performance T-shirt, their "Sahara" line. In hot weather I could wear the shirt open and untucked; in middling weather I had two layers of sleeves to roll up, and in cold situations I was pretty windproof. Plenty of pockets -- the pants can hold maps or a guidebook, the shirts have large internal document pockets, both top and bottom have secure passport pockets, and there was much flexibility in arranging gear. These tactical clothes can also take a few days' wear before needing to hit the laundry. Very flexible; I'm sold.
While traveling I topped this with a Filson Travel Vest. I've been using this for a few years (it's more expensive now!) and it's functional while not looking too dorky. At first I used this as my main gear-holding clothing, but when overburdened it tends to drag on the back of the neck. Now, with more pocket options in pants and shirts, I can use any of the vest's many pockets to hold whatever's convenient. Rephrased, instead of just sequentially filling empty pockets, now I'm just using pockets when I need them, and many of the pockets remain empty. Much more balanced. The zipped pockets, large map pockets, and large split front pockets make for a very secure carry. (The split front pockets are interesting... there's a patch pocket with snap cover in front of a large handwarmer pocket, but the patch pocket has a full-length divider, for a total of three storage compartments. Easy to find stuff; easy to layer things so they sit tightly and don't jumble together.) I didn't use the Filson Travel Vest for day-tripping at all this time... just for transit (handy in an airline seat!) and as an extra wind-barrier layer.
I carried four more pieces of clothing, for layering and emergency use:
- A burgundy longsleeve Feather Cloth Shirt from Filson. I brought it as emergency third shirt and as dress shirt, but it's supernatural enough to serve as everyday shirt... only downside relative to 5.11 shirts is two big pockets instead of four. This is Filson's lightest, tightest cotton -- it's a solid shirt, but it dries overnight in the shower, faster than any synthetics! I think the weave may be tight enough that water just drips out and can't stay. I'm continually amazed. Blocks wind but is very comfortable in heat, and packs up to very small size. If I had to use only one shirt for multiple days, this would be it.
- Under Armour Heatgear Compression Fit leggings: I was skeptical, but now I'm sold. These are lightweight longjohns, tight yet stretchy. They felt very weird the first few times I wore them, but after a few washings they feel much more natural. I'm not sure if this is in their catalog anymore... sorta like this or this. Served multiple purposes: extra layer of insulation for cold which was not uncomfortable when warm; great for long airplane flights for reducing pooling of blood in lower body; useful as an extra sleeping layer if needed. It dries very quickly, and holds up well between laundromat visits.
- Filson Lewiston Knit Henley: This is no longer in stock, but was selling for US$30 during closeouts. It's a very finely-knit cotton, windproof and insulating. Rolls up to an exceptionally small space. Can function as a second undershirt, or outside the overshirt as a sweater. Could be removed and stored discreetly in a Filson Travel Vest map pocket. Saved my butt more than once.
- A very lightweight pair of "convertible" pants, with zip-off knees. Useful as emergency pants, hotweather shorts, swim shorts, sleepwear, and as overpants for very cold conditions. Rarely used, but I'm glad I had them.
Two more essential pieces of clothing: A lightweight red Supplex ballcap (which could be suitcased if I met a nice hat), and a heavy 33" red-patterned cotton bandana. The bandana sounds incidental, but it was of daily use: as a scarf to block wind; as a bib when slurping noodles; as a washcloth to dry hands at a restroom (there's often no paper or heaters); tied around my head babushka-style underneath the ballcap for a high-wind hood (Yangtze River at 20 knots, baby!); as storage to hold buffet nuts and dried fruit until I could pack them for later snacking; to mop my brow; more. In the past I've used 24" bandanas, but the larger size and heft here makes a big difference. Available at Wild West Mercantile. My secret weapon against weather changes. :)
I've learned something about socks. I usually wear calf-high cotton athletics under wool socks, double-layering 'cause I walk a lot. While traveling I often add a fast-dry thin polypropylene sock liner (yes, three layers) to make the cotton last longer by avoiding skin contact. Wool just needs to air out to freshen up, but at one point I realized I was sending cotton socks to the hotel laundry even though it cost more than just buying fresh cotton socks. Future plan is to figure on buying and discarding middle-layer cotton socks through the trip, washing them only if convenient. (Those socks I discarded in Singapore this spring did indeed die a noble death.... ;-)
Anther travel tactic this trip was early mailing of guidebooks to a hotel I'd reach mid-trip, as well as mailing back guidebooks that I used on the first part of the trip... at any point I was carrying only half of my book/map load. Some downsides: it's expensive; it can be confusing to mail at book rate from a foreign country; when mailing into China the package was opened for examination, and not all that unobtrusively. But the Kindle hasn't stocked the material I need, and I'm not certain if a Nook can be turned into an effective travelguide book.
I carried an extensive medical/toiletry kit. I used an Eagle Creek bag, maybe this one, used as a belt pouch while walking around, and inside the maps pocket of the Filson Travel Vest while in transit. Held rare stuff like bandaids, aspirin, vitamins, toothpicks and earplugs and such, but was regularly used for Chapstick, Purell, and Ayr Saline Nasal Mist. I suspect the latter is very important when traveling in areas of high particulate matter, or when confined in an airplane -- salt may deactivate many pathogens, but moisture helps keep your nasal cavity at its strongest. Anyway, this Eagle Creek belt pouch of health supplies was again very useful.
I didn't carry any melatonin for jetlag this time... wish I had, but couldn't buy it in time. I regularly use Walgreen's sleeping pills on a plane, and rely on their caffeine pills for tough mornings without a coffeepot. I carry laxatives and anti-diarrheal pills... glad I've never needed the latter, but I should pack a light laxative to use at the end of the outbound airline trip. I carried four tubes of Airborne but was short, and managed to eke out the extra Vitamin C tablets... multivitamins I averaged at 1.5 a day. Three small Purell containers. I carried one ounce-sized toothpaste tube and relied on hotels for the rest, but wish I had a backup of my own stuff. I did not carry any skin-moisturizer (other than Chapstick), but needed the hotels' supplies to avoid breaks in dry skin.
New, and a winner: "Smells Be Gone", a 4oz. spray bottle. Haven't tested it conclusively, but so far it has seemed to help hotel-sink washing and packing dirty laundry. Not as objectionable as some of the wintergreen deodorizers. Will be buying more and trying it in different situations.Pocket tools were few. I packed and carried my usual beltpouch of nailclippers, tweezers, magnifying glass, marker pen, safety pins and so on, but instead of my daily vintage Leatherman I used a Leatherman Micra tied by 8" cord to a flat compass. If I needed strong pliers I would have failed, but the Micra's tweezers can function as an eyeglass screendriver, so I came out ahead. (A compass is necessary, even if only for figuring out directions while in an underground mall... GPS/maps is promising, but still seems a hassle in many locations.) I carried one 10' length of paracord, but should have carried two... I tied a bunch of canes together and then lacked a spare cord for emergencies. But bottom line on pocket tools: nothing got confiscated at airports this time! :)
Flashlight shoutout: Streamlight Stylus Pro, bright and durable, clips in a pocket like a pen. I wrapped some flat paracord around it to make a finger loop for open-hand carry. My daily savior.
Computer was a 10" Dell netbook... only three hours on battery, but good connectivity with few hassles, and a keyboard that became more workable with time. Camera was a nice Nikon Powershot, but I didn't use it enough to justify it... too busy looking directly at things. Also brought a transistor radio, but rarely thought to use it this time... would have been interesting to turn the dial up and down in West China and on the Yangtze.
I used two pairs of shoes, some great LL Bean slip-ons (now discontinued) for hardcore walking, and some lightweight slip-ons for airplanes or hotel. I didn't carry an extra daybag or bookbelt... this trip was mainly supported by pockets, very comfortable. For electronics it was just chargers for camera and computer, and a Radio Shack transformer, no socket adapters necessary in the PRC (wall outlets supported the China-style 3-prong as well as cylindrical 2-prong).
The suitcase pack has slowly improved. My old Filson Wheeled Carry-On is getting beat up by unnatural airline damage, but it's still sturdy, presentable, and tight. Bottom layer holds shoebag, shavebag, gearbags, pipes, books... above that go two shallow layers of Eagle Creek packing cubes for clothes. Took me awhile to figure out how to use it.
I need to improve my passport carry. I need a small flexible container which will lock out moisture and prevent crushing, and which will fit in any of several secure pockets.
Wallets included a zipped pocketsafe tied to a beltloop for ID, credit cards and reserve cash... a slim nylon billfold for spending money and receipts... a change purse for coins, which seems pretty much a necessity throughout Asia. Made it easy for a quick pat to ensure that everything's where it should be.
Summary: This trip I improved my layering strategies, and succeeded in shaving ounces and inches in enough small ways to make a big total difference. I can live out of a carry-on and daybag for weeks at a time.