If you are traveling in a climate or season that requires some warm clothes, I still think a light-weight down jacket is your best option. They are packable and light while blocking wind and layering well. When I can afford it, I buy Patagonia. Over many years of experience with the company, I have confidence in their product, their customer service and their mission as a company. They are pricey, but I think worth it. If you are considering a down jacket for a trip I recommend a full zip for maximum flexibility in terms of temperature regulation. I would also recommend against a hood unless you need clothes for technical use like mountaineering. A hat is a better idea both for packing and wearing. Patagonia’s down sweater is a great option as it’s light-midweight. Layered with a synthetic T, my merino long sleeve and my Torrentshell I have been comfortable at below freezing temperatures for extended periods. This down sweater also packs into its own zippered internal pocket which makes packing a breeze. The only advantage a fleece jacket holds over down in my opinion is ease of washing. I can hand wash the down jacket but dry cleaning is the most effective option and also the most difficult to do on the road.
Fleece is another great option for an insulating layer. It's significantly cheaper than down and function's over a broader range of temps than my down jacket. It's bulkier to pack and weightier than down, but easier to lounge in, quieter to wear and far easier to wash. Jess would recommend that you not buy it in white, no matter how cute you think it looks.
I think the quality of fabric and construction is a strong factor in whether or not merino wool gear is worthwhile. This shirt is an example of high quality materials, design and construction. I think its absolutely worth the premium price. Though the material creates temperature limitations (I don’t wear this shirt over about 70’ F) it remains my single favorite travel shirt. Its incredibly comfortable even against bare skin and layers well for insulation in colder environments. Unlike my Patagonia Merino Wool T-Shirt it has not pilled even after several months of consistent wear. It doesn’t stain, strongly resists odor and looks great in a variety of contexts from formal to casual. It dries over night and even after months of use shows no signs of wear around shoulders, buttons or collar. Finally, this shirt is just incredibly comfortable. The fabric has a decent weight and the cut drapes in a way that makes it a pleasure to wear. I love this shirt.
It appears that they have stopped making this shirt, which is a shame. The closest I can see now is the Icebreaker Compass shirt.
This wrap sweater can be worn a couple of different ways, from warm to casual to a sort of formal. Its essentially the ladies version of my merion wool button down. I bought it used on eBay for Jess on a trip back to the states to do some work for a client. It shares many characteristics with my shirt: great temperature regulation, dries quick, doesn't smell, wrinkle or need frequent washing. Highly recommended.
Overall, I was very pleased with this shirt. It’s better for warm to cool climates: I wouldn’t wear it in temps above about 70’ F. It does everything merino is reputed to do: dries quick, resists odor, regulates temperature well. The cut of this shirt is flattering and comfortable. Reviews I’ve read suggest that machine washing or drying can quickly destroy these type of items, but that’s something I can’t speak to as we hand wash just about everything and haven’t come across a clothes drying machine since we left the states. My only complaint about the shirt is the pilling. Overall it seems more a symptom of wearing than washing since its most evident where the shirt rubs against itself like near the armpit. I haven’t seen pilling on my Icebreaker long sleeve Merino shirt but can’t tell if that’s due to the thicker fabric or some pattern of use. If you are traveling to a non-tropcial climate and want to minimize the need to wash clothes frequently, I think this tee is a great option. I can't find Patagonia's version anymore but there are a number of good merino manufacturers on Amazon.
I already posted a video review of these rather pricey pants that I managed to acquire during an internet misprice episode. That said, after many months of use, I still think these are the best travel pants I’ve ever used. Technically, they perform as advertised. They dry quick, wash easily and resist stains. The fabric is durable and the construction solid. The design is great. The hip located cell phone pocket and numerous zippered pockets are fantastic for travel. Finally, they look great. Despite these being essentially updated polyester pants, the fabric and cut looks modern, young and refined. The only limitation I think worth noting is temperature. These pants are great up to about 75’ F but I wouldn’t use them above that. The fabric is light but not as breathable as natural fibers like linen or cotton. If you are spending your time primarily at equatorial regions or high temps, you are probably going to find these too warm for daily wear.
The more modular your wardrobe the better. That's why we prefer hats over hoods and pants over footie pajamas. If we had any complaints about the warm hats we bought, it was probably that they were often too warm. That really depends on where you are going though. We seldom spend time in temps below 40'F/5'C so we don't need full weight winter hats. I think a great option is to consider hats made for cycling. They have minimal bulk (as to fit under a helmet) and aren't overly warm (as you are intended to wear them while exercising. This is Jess's hat.
I was really happy when I found this hat. It satisfies my predilection for natural fibers, clean design in loud colors. Again, probably too warm a hat for where we were traveling, but I fantasize that the wool means this hat regulates temperature better than Jess' fleece hat. The few times - like while camping in Bolivia - that we needed hats, we REALLY needed them and having these was really important to our comfort.
Darn Tough has lived up to their reputation. I’ve rotated between three pairs of these merino wool ankle socks for months and they look and feel as good as when I bought them. In fact, they feel better as they were uncomfortably warm the first few times I wore them.
They are wearable even in hot environments, but if you are heat sensitive, have overly sweaty feet or just know you’ll be in a hot environment for the length of your trip, you should consider Darn Tough’s ultra-light merinos.
As I’ve said before, in my experience, merino pretty much lives up to the will-never-smell hype. The only complaint with these thicker mid-weight socks is that on occasion they will fail to dry overnight. Of course, you can still wear them damp.
For the weight and packing space, I think a light pair of liner gloves are a great little extra to carry. You probably know if you are someone who gets cold hands and feet. If you are, you can drastically increase your comfort with a minimal effect on your pack weight and size. These are Mountain Hardware I had lying around when we left but overall I think wool ones are more durable than fleece.