Budget Alternatives to Expensive Travel Clothing

By Shawn Forno

Truly excellent travel clothes are available for less than $50. The secret is finding boutique budget brands, shopping the sales, supplementing your packing list with a few affordable basics.

When it comes to travel clothing and gear, you really do get what you pay for. There’s a reason that “the best” travel brands like Arc’teryx and Moncler cost hundreds (or even thousands!) of dollars. That clothing is designed by experts, for experts, to perform in some of the most extreme environments and conditions on earth.

Odds are, your two-week trip to Europe won’t include sub zero alpine ascents or uncharted spelunking expeditions. So, why are you paying so much money for professional grade travel clothing and gear when you really don’t need peak performance?

I want to be super clear: I’m still a huge fan of outfitting your capsule wardrobe with a few pieces of quality gear – like merino wool. But you don’t have to break the bank to travel the world in a carry on backpack. In fact, there are some truly fantastic budget travel clothing and gear brands that make incredible stuff for your next adventure.

Here are some of the best budget alternatives to expensive travel clothing brands and a few ways you can find some awesome travel gear at a fraction of the cost of the big name brands.

Best Budget Travel Brands: Affordable Alternatives to Expensive Travel Clothing

Why are (Some) Travel Clothes so Expensive?

Before we dive into some of my favorite budget travel clothing brands, it’s worth (quickly) exploring why so much top-of-the-line travel clothing costs an arm and a leg. And before you get mad at these companies, it’s not greed. Probably. The topic is complicated, but travel clothing is usually expensive for one of these seven reasons:

  1. Smaller runs of specialty gear cost more to make – Higher volume production runs let producers lower the cost of each piece, so the more you make, the lower the price you can sell them at and still make a profit.
  2. Research and development – It takes a lot of energy to design that waterproof sock liner, bro.
  3. Premium materialsUltrafine merino and space-age polyblends aren’t cheap.
  4. Complicated sourcing – Some products have bewilderingly complex supply chains.
  5. Labor costs – Some (great) travel clothing companies pay their workers a living wage. With benefits. Shocking, I know. This is usually reflected in the final price.
  6. Import fees and tariffs – Boring and blah, blah, blah.
  7. Marketing and advertising costs – National campaigns, influencers, Instagram ads, and good old fashioned print media cost money. How else are you gonna know how dope that jacket is, huh?

The list goes on. Larger companies like Nike, or Old Navy, can absorb a lot of these costs due to their massive supply chains, storage facilities, and profit margins from other products. That’s why they can sell a five-pack of t-shirts for $3.99 and still make money. But small, niche travel companies have tiny markets (that’s fancy talk for “not that many customers”) and even smaller margins. Ice climbing and kayaking are awesome, but not super mainstream.

Bottom line, great gear usually costs a lot because it’s (usually) the best of the best. And a small subset of customers will pay for that extra smidge of lightweight/durability/quality/etc. But if you’re just sleeping in a hostel and catching a few trains, you probably don’t need an ultralight rip stop, high-tech, polar down, shell jacket that costs $700. A $39 down puffy coat that packs into a pocket is more than good enough. And once you realize how much money you can save with “good enough” you’ll never go back to the expensive brands.

Best Budget Travel Clothing Brands Under $50

Here’s a rundown of some of the best budget travel clothing brands making great travel-friendly clothing for under $50 an item.

Decathlon: Super Affordable Travel Clothing

If you’re not aware of Decathlon, you will be soon. This European travel and sporting goods retailer recently opened their first US store in San Francisco, and they’re a growing presence online.

Home of in-house brands like Quechua, Decathlon has built their business by making affordable, “good enough” travel and sports clothing and equipment to get you started with whatever it is you’ve always wanted to try.

Wanna get into hiking? Why pay $300 for ultra lightweight trail shoes when you can snag a decent pair of no-name trail shoes from them for $29. Need a solid pair of athletic shorts? They cost less than $10. Want a sweat wicking t-shirt you can travel for days without washing? Here’s one for $9.

Is Decathlon gear the best travel clothing out there? Of course not. Not even close. But a lot of it is surprisingly good (I bought a pair of $39 Quechua approach shoes to replace my hiking shoes, and they’ve already logged over 300 miles across Spain without much wear and tear). Take a browse on their site, and pick up a thing or two. While not all of it is amazing, you might score a few gems for less than $5.

Uniqlo: Budget Friendly Travel Clothing

Uniqlo is a big wheel in the fast-fashion industry, so keep that in mind, but if you need to outfit your carry on bag with a few versatile essentials that perform surprisingly well, look no further than Uniqlo. Honestly, Uniqlo’s Heattech fabrics and line of lightweight basics (t-shirts and underwear) rival some of the best travel brands in the business. I even ranked their underwear as one of my favorite travel underwear and easily the best pair you can get for less than $10.

If you need a new lightweight travel jacket, stretchy travel pants, or a few simple staples to round out your packing list, head to Uniqlo and at least price out a few pieces of clothing vs the other brands. You might be surprised.

Huckberry: A Fresh Take on Budget Travel Clothing

I signed up for the Huckberry newsletter a few years ago, and while it can be a bit much (maybe just sign up for once a week), the amount of great affordable travel clothing from fresh new companies is impressive.

No, Huckberry isn’t technically a “travel clothing brand,” but this platform has exposed me to dozens of my favorite pieces of gear. Be warned, not everything on their site is budget-friendly, but you can find plenty of pieces of super stylish, dapper as heck, travel-friendly clothing for less than $50.

American Outdoorsman: Fishing Gear Makes Great Travel Clothing (No, Really) 

A few years ago I stumbled onto some incredible travel clothing – mainly long sleeve shirts and travel pants – from a so-called “sportsman” retailer called The American Outdoorsman

These smaller hunting and fishing clothing companies have been making dependable and specialized travel clothing since before it was cool. And the best part is that much of the clothing from outdoor retailers can cost less than $50.

That’s right, you can get waterproof, seam-sealed jackets, rugged water-wicking shirts (with actually useful chest pockets), durable travel pants, and some of the most comfortable and dependable travel shoes and boots around for less than “real” travel companies.

If you’re someone who likes to put their travel clothing through the wringer (like me) it pays to have at least one or two shirts or travel pants that you can just destroy on the road. Heck, I’m writing this article from a tree house in Spain while wearing a very comfy yet durable long sleeve fishing shirt to keep the mosquitos away from my delicate neck and arms.

The Brazos fishing shirt has been my go-to “evening shirt” for the past four weeks. And I’ve only washed it three times so far. Not bad for $59. And the short sleeve (super stylish) fishing shirts are around $35. 

H&M: Chic Style for Savvy Travelers

While H&M doesn’t tick quite as many travel boxes as Uniqlo (there’s not a ton of “sweat wicking” fabrics in their line-up), it’s a little more chic, has a wider range of looks, and if you hit it during the right sales, can be a steal with many awesome travel friendly items under $20 or $30.

Much like Uniqlo, H&M has quietly been making some very stylish travel-friendly clothing for the past few years. Their pants are lightweight, colorful, fit well, and can take a pretty good beating – and for less than $40, you’re going to look good in just about any city you land in. 

Next Level Tees: Amazon is the Place for Great Basics

Sometimes all you need is something basic. Literally. For t-shirts and even travel underwear, Fred Perrotta, one of Tortuga’s co-founders, swears by Next Level Tees (they are $1.99 on Amazon) and Terramar Silkskins underwear. According to Fred, “You can get 3 pairs for $15 on Amazon, which is hard to beat.”

Unbound Merino & Wooly: Affordable Merino Travel Clothes

I’m addicted to merino wool. It’s all I pack these days, but merino wool can be expensive. However, you can get a few pieces of merino for around $50 from Unbound.

The merino tank top makes a great base layer for summer and winter, and the multi packs of shirts and undies are a great way to save some cash on top-quality gear that will last for years

Jessie Beck, another Tortuga writer, put a Wooly merino tank top in her go-to capsule wardrobe. For a piece of clothing to make the cut for your capsule wardrobe (usually only 10 items or less) it has to be pretty solid.

Everlane: Affordable, Fashionable Travel Clothing for Women

Several of the women on the Tortuga team gave Everlane a shoutout for their line of fashionable, yet reasonably priced, basics.

Taylor Coil always packs an Everlane black cotton crew shirt ($18) because it “doesn’t show sweat.” She also likes Everlane’s cheeky straight denim ($78) since they don’t shrink in the wash and are a cheaper option than Madewell or other designer jeans.

And if you want to bring along a little bling for those (rare) fancy travel occasions, Taylor recommends BaubleBar earrings.

Mid-Tier Travel Clothing: Premium Performance Under $100

Public Rec, Bluffworks, Wool & Prince, Western Rise, and Olivers Apparel (their travel shorts are incredible!) each make some of my favorite travel clothes. And while, yes, most of their clothing isn’t technically under $50, I still heartily recommend their stylish and supremely travel-friendly shirts, pants, and shorts as part of your travel kit. 

Most of the gear from these brands is well under $100 and very much worth the upgrade. Sure, Uniqlo and H&M will always be cheaper, but if you want to supplement your travel wardrobe with a few quality pieces, these brands are well worth a look. Ultimately, the higher quality clothes will last longer, which saves you money in the long run. Just saying.

How to Find Budget Travel Clothing Deals 

You can spend all day looking for affordable travel brands. But that’s only half of the battle. Knowing where (and when!) to shop is the other way to score quality affordable travel clothing for less than $50. Here’s how to find the best deals on travel clothing.

Shop Semi-Annual Sales: Seasonal Travel Clothing Deals 

You know what’s the absolute best budget alternative to expensive travel gear? Expensive travel gear on sale.

If you shop semi-annual sales and seasonal closeout sales at outdoor retailers, like REI, North Face, and EMS, you can get all the travel clothing you’ve always wanted. The trick is buying clothing when it’s out of season.

The best time to buy shorts is in the beginning of Fall. The best time to find a cheap coat is late spring. Timing is everything when it comes to getting the best deals on formerly full priced travel gear, but you can use the seasons to your advantage because you’re traveling.

Pro Tip: When it’s summer in the US, it’s winter in Australia and Argentina. And vice versa. If you’re traveling to another hemisphere, you’re already ahead of the curve and can usually outfit yourself for your trip at a fraction of the cost. 

Shop for Travel Gear in January

Post Christmas sales can also be a goldmine of savings. You know how candy is always super cheap on November 1st? Well, that’s what most retailers look like in January. If you got some cash for Christmas and you need gear, wait a few weeks and you’ll find tons of discounts. And if you got clothing you didn’t want from your aunt and uncle, thank them for the thought and return it for store credit.

Look for Small, “Single Gear” Travel Brands

It can be time consuming searching for the perfect travel hat or best pair of travel shoes, but often times affordable travel clothing doesn’t come from a massive brand. There are some great, affordable travel brands that only make a few items, or maybe even just one.

Tillak is a great example of a camping company that makes a few pieces of camping gear, including my new all-time favorite hat – the Wallowa Trail Hat. This hat is breathable, lightweight, water-resistant, and more importantly stylish as all heck.

It’s become my new “adventure bonnet” and it only costs $23. That’s nothing for a hat that looks good and keeps the sun off my face while I’m hiking, floating downriver, or walking the chic streets of Rome. Look for smaller, boutique, one-off travel brands for some surprisingly affordable, quality gear.

Best Budget Boutique Travel Brands

Best Used Travel Gear Sites

You can get decent used gear on sites like Craigslist and eBay. It is possible. But, it’s tough. You’ll usually have better luck finding your size or style on Amazon. If you don’t like buying knock-off brands from the big, bad, online wolf, there are a few good alternative travel clothing and gear sites you can use to find some sweet deals on quality travel clothing.

Here’s to a circular economy. 

  • Gear Trade – A huge selection of adventure travel gear.
  • REI co-Op/“Garage” – Home of some of the best used gear around; a lot of this stuff has been worn once and returned. Enjoy!
  • Backcountry – Get on this site. You’ll dig it.
  • Altrec/The House – Used retailer Altrec was bought by The House back in 2018. But they still offer great deals on used travel clothing as well as gear.

Ask Your Friends & Parents

I’m always amazed how much sweet crap is in people’s garage/storage unit/attic. Before you go buying all this crazy expensive gear raid your dad’s closet. Beg your mom for her old (and probably awesome) jacket. Odds are, you can outfit your next adventure without buying a single thing. 

Army/Navy Surplus Stores: A Very Specific Travel Clothing Gold Mine

If you crave that rugged aesthetic, get to the army navy surplus store. True, these places can be tough to navigate, and finding your exact size can be a challenge, but I’ve found some surprisingly useful odds and ends over the years including jackets, pants, and especially wool socks in surplus stores. 

Embrace a little history and travel like your grandpa did when he was “backpacking” across Europe during dubble-ya dubble-ya two. 

Best Budget Travel Brands 

This is good time to be a traveler. The rise of sites like Kickstarter and other e-commerce accelerators has led to a flood of affordable, competitive travel clothing brands. You can get truly excellent travel clothes for less than $50. The secret is finding boutique budget brands, shopping the sales, supplementing your packing list with a few affordable basics, and realizing that you might not need the that ultra super duper performance fabric (even though it looks sweet). 

Start your search with used retail sites, find one or two solid pieces of gear, and you’ll be packed and ready for your next adventure without breaking the bank. 

  • Uniqlo and H&M make great affordable travel clothing; just don’t buy everything there.
  • Support boutique brands that do one thing well; a good hat or belt is easy to find at the right price when it’s all they make.
  • Shop annual sales and off-season clearance for the best brands at the lowest prices.
  • Embrace the used travel retail market; it takes a minute to navigate but there are some steals in the secondhand market.