I'm from central Europe and more on the pale side; I don't tan easily.

When hiking locally (Alps, etc) I usually get away just fine with short trousers/T-shirts and a panama hat (i.e., straw), but then that's only for a day apiece or so (and mostly in autumn/winter/spring anyway, so heat is not the issue). I am aware that these kind of clothes are not applicable for a desert; I am certain that I would get sunburned, quickly.

What's the best solution for very hot climates (e.g. Egypt), and 1-2 weeks, mostly being out and about? What material cools, wicks sweat away, and keeps the sun away from my skin best?

I appreciate that the locals have great solutions for that, but I would prefer something which is "culture-neutral", i.e., I don't wish to commit a faux-pas by inadvertently wearing something that may have a political meaning locally (i.e., some garb having strong connotations in some area, which I might not be aware about). And also something that does not stand out in Europe, and will be good for hiking here as well.

Is there something significantly better than just any old white/beige, well-ventilated cotton trousers? Are the more technical "outdoor" garbs much better? I don't need lots of pockets, etc.


5 Answers 5


As someone raised in the Middle East, this topic is close to heart.

General Tips:

  • Loose fitting, long sleeves and pants legs.
  • Wear an undershirt if you are like me and tend to sweat profusely.
  • Carry something warm with you, like a wrap, a front-zip hoodie (make sure its not heavy), or a windbreaker. You will often be transitioning between very cold, air conditioned environments to the direct heat. Not having yourself prepared can lead to health complications.
  • Cover your head. Not only can you get sunburned on your head, having shade over your eyes is handy.
  • Carry lots of water with you, dehydration will creep up. Don't drink very cold water if you just came in from the sun. You will be suffering for days.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, avoid open toed shoes (sand is hot). Avoid shoes with cork or other perforated soles. Moisture can collect in these, and transition from extreme cool (AC environment) to extreme heat (pavement) can cause the moisture to expand quickly and disintegrate the sole.

For the specific type of clothing, you'll note the locals will wear white in the summer and darker shades in the cooler months. White, beige, off white is the preferred colors.

For materials, avoid synthetics if you can. Natural fibers work best. Locals wear very light blends of materials. Cotton + Poly blend. Avoid leather at all costs.

Specific recommendations:

  • Cargo pants, beige or tan, full length, loose. These have more give than normal slacks, which are also good if you are comfortable in them.
  • Running / jogging shoes; avoid "boots" as these don't do well in the sand.
  • A loose fitting, long sleeve, shirt with a collar.
  • A cap or umbrella for shade protection.
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15+)
  • Water (not cold, but warm).
  • I would add that a hat also helps protect you against heat stroke - something that is probably worse than simple sunburn.
    – Peter M
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 18:03

I was surprised to discover that a long sleeved "technical" shirt with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) kept me much cooler (and reduced the amount of water I needed to drink while cycling) than a cotton T shirt. It's 100% recycled polyester, so there is more to this than just what it's made of. I tested this out cycling a specific route near my home. In a tshirt I literally had sweat running down my arms making it hard to change gears. In the tech shirt, my hands were dry and I drank about half as much water on the same route.

I got mine from Mountain Equipment Co-op, a well known Canadian brand, but I am sure there are European vendors for the same clothing manufacturers. Look for descriptions that include an SPF factor of 40 or 50, mention of words like "wicking" or "cooling", and most importantly, try one before you go. Many of them also have thumbholes which allow the shirt to cover part of your hand as well as your wrist, and keep them from riding up when you're active.

They also sell very light weight pants that stretch in the right places for climbing, paddling, or whatever but then look reasonable when you go out for dinner. The difference between the special technical pants and the regular lightweight cotton pants I could buy anywhere was noticeable, but not enormous like the shirts.

Also, don't forget a hat. Keeping the sun off your face and neck doesn't just prevent sunburn, it also keeps you cooler. Straw is hard to pack and can blow off: I'd suggest a pale fabric with an all-around brim, not a baseball cap. Ideally it would have strings to help keep it on in windy weather (you can keep them tucked up inside it in normal weather.)

  • 4
    Yup. Nice effect was also that polyester dries much more easily, so if you spray water on the clothes (by accident or intentional), it vaporizes in a short time. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 12:14
  • see also travel.stackexchange.com/questions/34349/… - my answer there includes a link to the shirt I mentioned though it is no longer available, you can read the description for ideas of things to look for.) Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 12:33
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    I'd agree - I've got a couple of moisture-wicking shirts I picked up at an outdoor fair many years ago, and they're brilliant. Another advantage of a proper shirt is that you have a collar, which keeps the sun off the back of your neck.
    – Nick C
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 13:08
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    I have a lot of NIKE Dri Fit clothes and they work great. They "wick" up the sweat very fast and keep me cool and dry as I do my daily 4-6 mile runs. These can be had for as little as 7.99 all the way up to 30-40 bucks a shirt. The one I have was around 10 bucks.
    – JonH
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 19:22
  • Regarding the hats, Tilley is a globally-available brand that’s very good for travel in my experience — robust, easily packable, all-round brim, good strings, comparatively smart style, and with good all-weather and hot-climate options?
    – PLL
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 10:41

This is in effect the same answer I have given for tropical clothing during raining time.

  • Linen: If you can wear it, it has the best comfort. It absorbs sweat easily, feels very cool, repels dirt and is germicidal.

  • Hemp: Not as good as linen, but a viable alternative if you don't like to wear linen.

  • Silk: For good weather. It is one of the airiest cloth, but you should not wear it with rucksacks etc.

  • Polyester: There are many clothes in outdoor shops which are very light, easily washable and very comfortable.

The difference to heavy cotton is noticable, so give it a try.

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    Of the natural (and possibly non-SPF treated) materials it is worth noting that dark blue/indigo denim cotton tends to have the highest natural SPF, though with a downside as you noted. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 19:46
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    Why would one be unable to wear linen? Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 0:05
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    @AzorAhai Unable is too strong, I should have said "uncomfortable". Linen is anti-allergic, but it is harder than cotton (its the same material like sailcloth) and feels unusual on the skin (normally you adapt pretty quick), some people don't like the feeling. Another disadvantage is that it crumbles when you even look at it; it is the nightmare of people who want perfect optical smoothness for their outfit. Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 9:25
  • @thorsten Ah, thank you. Linen isn't too common in my part of the world so I wasn't sure if it was a religious objection or what Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 15:36
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    @AE Mistranslation, fixed. Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 18:26

It is tempting to think it's a good idea to wear short clothes in hot climates but that for me it only works up to certain heat. As an inspiration, let's look at the Bedouins who live across the middle eastern deserts (and other places)

(Photo By Nickfraser, CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Bedouins typically wear long and loose clothes that allow for air circulation - their cloths are relatively thick and the inside stays circulated and cool when they move. Their clothes are typically from wool from their herds which is counter-intuitive to some since wool is typically used in winter.

They also wear a hat that has very good coverage of their head (a quaffia).

This style of hot-weather clothing is both very functional and comfortable and provides excellent sun protection. It's still incredibly hot in the desert - but comparing using it for a few days to wearing more "western" clothing - it was a lot more comfortable to me.

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    I am definitely not going with short clothes, that's why I'm posting the question. I'll revisit my question to make that more clear.
    – AnoE
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 15:57
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    Having spent a lot of time in the Middle-East, I would say that it is usually not a good idea to wear local clothes when not being local (I agree with OP here). The outcome depends on the place and range from raised eyebrows and rolling eyes to harsh interaction (the first one being by far the most common)
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 10:18
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    I am not saying you have to wear local clothes or should - I'm saying that it makes sense to use the same techniques as local clothes (long, loose and not necessarily breathing). Then again that might just be being a local in the middle east though my family is also from Europe (Germany). Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 12:33
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    @WoJ why would anyone in the Middle East object to you wearing traditional clothing?
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 22:53
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    @JonathanReez: I am not sure how to describe this. This is probably like a foreigner wearing a kilt in Scotland, or a traditional Bavarian outfit in Munich. The message it sends is not clear: is it because he wants to tell he is one of us but obviously is not? Is it to make fun? One needs to be really into the local lfe to do this. I spent almost 10 years travelling to the Middle East (pretty much everywhere except Iran and Syria) and this is how I perceive it (and also what people were saying, again without exactly putting their finger on the why)
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 11:08

Umbrellas (or equivalent) are very popular in Asia for protecting against the sun. I doubt there are political issues with umbrellas.

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