What to wear when you’re living in a tiny house on the road chasing outdoor adventures.
The leadup to our summer on the road was hectic. Both Cristi and I were working full time, we were trying to whip the Casita into shape, and we needed to line up all the details of moving out of our apartment and into the trailer. The nitty gritty of getting ready for a travelling wasn’t all that fun, so we made sure to schedule in some fun with friends before we hit the road.
One Saturday in May found out parked in our friends Kevin and Steph’s driveway enjoying a beer and grilling veggies and shrimp over charcoal. At some point during the evening Steph mentioned that the outdoor clothing system that I outlined on my blog sounded a lot like a capsule wardrobe.
I’d never heard of a capsule wardrobe, so Steph brought me up to speed. The capsule wardrobe is a versatile set of clothes that can be worn together in various combinations to cover any and all situations. Apparently capsule wardrobes are popular with business professionals who are constantly traveling for work. They’re also hot with minimalists: folks who are deliberately trying to simplify their lives in a variety of ways.
Cristi and I were about to go minimalist in a big way, transitioning from a 900 square foot apartment with a huge walk-in closet to a 85 square foot travel trailer. If two people were going to share this space full time we would have to figure out exactly which clothes to bring and which to leave behind.
Simple Clothing Systems
A quick Google search will bring up dozens of blogs and articles about capsule wardrobes. Most of this stuff is heavily fashion oriented and much of it is geared toward urban professionals, which isn’t us.
That said, there is something to the idea of simplifying your life and your choices. As it turns out, people who have more options aren’t necessarily happier. It’s something that I first read about in Barry Schwartz’ book The Paradox of Choice. Schwartz explained that as people’s choices expand it becomes more and more difficult to be satisfied with outcomes. There’s always something different, something that could be better. What if you bought the wrong thing? How do you know what’s best?
One of the things that Schwartz suggests as a solution to the paradox of choice is to create voluntary limits. Reduce your options on purpose. This is the idea behind the minimalist movement, tiny house living and capsule wardrobes. It’s what I set out to do in my series of posts on a Simple Outdoor Clothing System. I had a closet full of outdoor gear that I had accumulated over a 25 year career in the industry. There was a lot of money tied up in expensive clothing that didn’t get worn that much. I wanted to cut down to the essentials, simplify my choices and dump the rest on eBay.
Cutting down my outdoor closet was a complete success. I went from dozens of pieces of outdoor gear down to just a handful that would cover any conditions from summer to arctic cold. Along the way I sold off a pile of gear and used the cash to outfit our Casita for life on the road.
[If you would like to take a deep dive into the world of outdoor technical clothing, all the articles in the Simple Clothing System series can be found here].
Clothes for the Road
My success with outdoor technical gear had me excited to pare down my day-to-day clothing to the absolute minimum. To do so I would focus on three factors. My clothing would need to be compact to fit into the Casita, versatile so that it could be worn for a variety of activities, and easy to clean since we wouldn’t have regular access to laundry facilities.
For our compact outdoor closet we wouldn’t need high end fashion or corporate power clothes. Instead we would need clothes that pack down small and are easy to care for on the go. This meant lightweight, quick-dry fabrics that could be hand washed and hung out to dry. Sure, I would pack a pair of jeans, but most of the time I planned to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
One cue that I took from the capsule wardrobe approach was to make sure all of the clothes I packed worked together. All the colors were compatible. Any shirt could be worn with any pair of pants or shorts. This allowed for most versatile set of clothes possible without filling up the Casita with unnecessary junk.
I didn’t take a strict “one each” capsule approach to choosing my clothes list. Instead I doubled up or even tripled up on items that would be in heavy rotation. That way I knew I would always have something to wear while my laundry was drying on the line. I went a little heavier on socks and underwear so that I didn’t have to be washing them every day. And I packed too many t-shirts.
Here’s the list that I came up with for everyday wear:
2 Patagonia Capilene silkweight T-Shirts
3 lightweight nylon short sleeve button up shirts
3 pair Patagonia baggies shorts
1 pair quick dry casual shorts
1 pair jeans
1 flannel shirt
1 pair nylon hiking pants
1 pair Prana yoga pants
7 cotton blend t-shirts
7 pair quick-dry ExOfficio briefs
3 pair Patagonia Capilene boxers
3 pair wool hiking socks
3 pair synthetic sock liners
4 pair wool ankle socks
Our plan was to travel around in the trailer between backcountry destinations, so we needed to pack clothes for riding in the truck, kicking back at the trailer and backpacking in the mountains. I leaned heavily on the Simple Clothing System framework for these clothes, sticking to layers for summer and fall travel as outlined in this post. Here are the additional outdoor clothes that complete the system:
Silkweight Capilene top and bottom
Patagonia R1 pullover
Patagonia R1 pants
nylon wind pants
Patagonia Houdini jacket
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Fleece Jacket
Patagonia Alpha jacket
Mountain Hardwear Gore-Tex Paclite jacket
ECWCS Level 6 Gore-Tex Paclite pants
OR Shuskan waterproof shell mitts
OR Crocodiles gaiters
OR breathable low gaiters
When it came to footwear there was a little bloat. I needed a pair of hiking boots for backpacking, a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of hiking sandals. Those were minimums, but we were also going to do a little whitewater canoeing and plenty of lounging around, so I threw in a couple more items. I like Crocs for camp shoes and I figure you gotta have a pair of flip flops. Here’s the final list of footwear:
Oboz Bridger hiking boots
Altra Lone Peak running shoes
Chaco Z-1 Sandals
Chaco flip flops
Astral Rassler water shoes
NRS Boundary boots
Putting it Up
Some folks choose a capsule wardrobe to deliberately simplify their lives, or as a way to cut back on excessive shopping. We did it because we had to. There just isn’t very much room for storage in the Casita. There’s a large overhead compartment at the rear of the camper plus two shallow storage compartments on either side of the rear bed area. The hanging closet has about a foot of closet rod available. All our daily clothing would need to fit into this compact area.
The minimal space called for a few tricks. I stored my socks and underwear in mesh bags that could be crammed into the smaller cabinets. Collared shirts would hang in the closet, t-shirts, pants and shorts were folded up in my half (third) of the large overhead compartment. For insulating layers and base layers I used a trick that Cristi learned browsing the Ikea website. My Polartec Alpha puffy jacket, R1 top and pants, wind pants and silkweight base layers all went into a zippered throw pillow cover. Stuffed this way, the pillow would serve double duty: camp comfort and storage.
Footwear is bulky. Most of ours went into a Rubbermaid tub that rides under our bed in the Casita. A few lighter sandals and shoes went into a hanging shoe organizer in the wardrobe closet.
The hanging organizer was a big help. The pockets in this little shelf system also store hats, gloves, gaiters and other outdoor gear that isn’t in constant use. Unfortunately, our organizer began to self destruct after a couple days of travel. It just wasn’t up to the jarring ride of the Casita. We drove around for a while with it strapped together with a piece of accessory cord before finding a stout replacement in a thrift store in Moscow, ID. The thrift store organizer is still going strong, three months later.
After our first week on the road I decided that I’d gone too heavy on the T-shirts and too light on synthetics. The weather was humid and in the 90s. If I did a session of kettlebells and rinsed out my cotton t-shirt, it wouldn’t dry by the end of the day. The silkweight Capilene tops and Baggies dried quickly enough that they could be rinsed out and worn the next day.
Fortunately, we we spent our first week on the road near Green Bay, making a few short trips and doing a general shakedown of the Casita and our gear. That made it easy to revise my clothing list before we hit the road for good. I decided to ditch three cotton T-shirts and add another silkweight shirt and athletic shorts as dedicated training gear. I threw in another lightweight button-up shirt as well. The flannel shirt went into a Rubbermaid tub at the storage unit. It sure didn’t look like I would need it, and I had plenty of warm clothes if I needed them.
Somewhere along the road in North Dakota I decided that I needed a pair of Carhartt work pants, so I added these to my closet. Truth be told they did little but ride in the overhead compartment of the Casita, taking up space. I would have been just fine without. Jeans and hiking pants covered all the bases.
We wrapped up our Casita road trip this summer at the end of September when we arrived in Savannah, GA. Our Casita has been safely parked for about a month and we’ve moved into a little house by the coast. I’m happy to report that our travel clothes served us well for the entire trip. If anything, we went a little too heavy on warm clothing for our summer travels. The fleece jackets and wind shells came out a few times, but we never did need to layer up with more than that. We rarely used the gaiters, seldom pulled out warm hats, and didn’t need the R-1 pants until we got back to Minnesota. Most our time this summer was spent in synthetic shorts and t-shirts, which I can’t recommend highly enough.
We learned a lot of lessons this summer, but one of the biggest was just how little we needed to be comfortable and content. I’m not sure when we’ll load up the Casita again for a big trip, but I am sure that our closets won’t swell back to their former size now that we’ve taken a pause from the road. There’s something to be said for simplicity, even if you aren’t living in 85 square feet.
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