It’s the summer clothing travel dilemma: you want to have an active vacation, but you also want to look good having it.

Time was that could be a challenge. The clothes that performed well — that let you wander town in all day or hike to a local waterfall — weren’t exactly flattering. As for the flattering clothes, there wasn’t a wash cycle strong enough to revive them after a day of serious exploring. 

“That’s no longer the case,” says Chad Pickins, who runs our Chapel Hill shop. “There are several high-tech fabrics that have the look and feel of cotton, but that perform so much better. And look great!

“One line I’m especially excited about,” says Chad, “is Free Fly. It’s exciting because it’s so different. It’s what they’re doing with bamboo.”

Free Fly Women’s Bamboo Explorer Tee

Psst! Bamboo

To appreciate what’s different with Free Fly Apparel’s bamboo, we need to backtrack some 15 years, to a time when bamboo apparel was all the rage. Boosting the allure of the soft fabric was what manufacturers at the time touted as the fabric’s eco friendliness. True, bamboo grows like topsy in certain places and requires little water or attention. But some sleuthing discovered to the contrary, that the process to turn raw bamboo into clothing was, as Chad describes, “chemically caustic.” Sales plummeted.

Fast forward until not too long ago and along come Free Fly with a process that takes bamboo’s soft inner layer and mixes it with a natural solvent to create a viscose that can be spun into yarn. The resulting fabric mimics the softness of cotton and offers the quick-dry feature of synthetic clothing.

Chad likes both the Women’s Bamboo Explorer Tee ($37.95) and the long-sleeve Free Fly Bamboo Weekender ($49.95). 

Long sleeve? For summer?

Free Fly Women’s Bamboo Weekender

Long sleeve? For summer?

 “It actually keeps you cooler because it wicks the sweat from your skin, which helps the body cool itself,” says Chad (who holds a mechanical engineering degree from N.C. State). It also comes with a UPF sun protection rating of 40. “And it keeps bugs from landing on you.”

Another summer surprise? Hoodies.

“Hoodies aren’t for everyone,” Chad acknowledges. “But if you spend a lot of time on the water, they’r

e great.” The Women’s Bamboo Shade Hoody ($59.95) is lightweight and offers more comprehensive coverage and sun protection (the long-sleeve Hoody has a UPF of 50+).

One issue some women have with summer shorts is that they tend to be on the short side. “Not everyone wants a 3-inch inseam and that low-rise look,” says Chad.

For them, he recommends a pair of Royal Robbins shorts, the Backcountry Short ($55) and the Discovery Bermudas ($62).

Royal Robbins Backcountry Shorts

Long shorts … and pockets!

“The Backcountry Short provides more coverage (7-inch inseam) and you’ll feel comfortable wearing it on the Appalachian Trail and then out to dinner afterward,” says Chad. Ditto the longer (12-inch inseam) Discovery Bermuda Short. 

Also in the trail-by-day, dinner-by-night category is the Royal Robbins’ Women’s Expedition Dry Stretch, in 3/4 sleeve ($70) and long sleeve ($70). It doesn’t just have pockets (sometimes a rare commodity in women’s clothes) it has hidden pockets. Chad reveals a subtle zippered pocket above the right breast pocket: “You can put your ID, a couple of cards, your sun glasses in here and not have to worry about someone getting to them.”

Parana Celestia Skort

Skorting the issue

When the topic turns to sporty travel dresses, Chad is less confident. “Hey Johanna!” he yells to Johanna Breed, an assistant manager. “If you could only take one dress on a trip, what would it be?”

“Oh, gee,” says Johanna says, “there are so many. PrAna makes some great adventure dresses — I like the Calexico Maxi Dress, and Sherpa and Patagonia have some really nice ones. But you know, for summer adventure travel I probably wouldn’t take a dress, I’d take a skort. I really like the PrAna Celesta Skort ($69).” It’s 96 percent polyester makeup gives it comfort and durability, its remaining 4 percent spandex adds stretchiness. “They’re great for riding a bike,” says Johanna — mesh pockets help keep things cool, and the attached knit undershorts are comfy on the thighs. 

More of a pants person, are you?

Chad lives in Kuhls, so it’s no surprise that his favorite pants for women are Kuhls — the Kiliffside Jean ($79). “It feels like cotton,” says Chad, but it’s got this abrasion resistant soft-shell finish that’s abrasion resistant and dries quickly.” The Kliffside has a straight-fit leg and mesh pockets, which help with the cooling process. 

Another option: the PrAna Halle Pant ($85): the legs roll up if it gets hot, they have a hidden stash pocket, and they also have a durable and water repellant finish. The latter is especially great for travel: you spill, you wipe it off immediately, no one’s the wiser.

Finally, a word about polyester

Polyster, Chad notes, has come a long way. Once associated with disco and itching, the fabric has morphed dramatically into a versatile, durable and comfortable fabric idea for active wear. 

“It’s evolved like much of technology, but it’s not quite as sexy to talk about.”

Thus, he encourages those of us who associate polyster with leisure suits to give polyester a second look. Better yet, a second feel.

Chad pulls a Patagonia Cap Cool Trail Shirt ($39) from the rack. It’s light, it’s drapey, it looks great. “Feel it,” he urges.

Indeed, it has that coveted cotton touch when gently rubbed between thumb and index finger. “Now look at this,” he adds, displaying the garment’s tag: “100 percent polyester.”

And, as if that weren’t enough, it’s got Polygiene permanent odor control, so you can wear it more than once between washings.

Something you could never say about a leisure suit.

 * * *

Like it, Reserve it

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Men’s summer clothing?

Looking for men’s summer clothing suitable for summer adventure? Check our recommendations here.