A swimsuit is the one piece of clothing that you should always pack. Well, that and underwear I guess. A swimsuit is perfect for the beach, hotel pools, Scandinavian saunas, muddy Peruvian hikes, lakes, oceans, waterfalls, break glass in case of emergency, and something to sleep in at the hostel. I always pack a bathing suit, because it’s lightweight, versatile, and missing out on a spontaneous hot tub would haunt my dreams. Forever.
After reviewing a lot of options, here’s a complete rundown of the best board shorts, bathing suits, hybrid shorts, and swimsuits for travel.
What to Look for in a Travel Swimsuit or Hybrid Short
At the end of the day, a swimsuit is anything you don’t mind getting wet. You don’t need a fancy $200 bathing suit to jump in a lake. However, it feels good to pack a pair of shorts or a swimsuit that dries quickly, fits comfortably, and looks oh so stylish. These are three things I always look for:
- Quick dry fabric
- Zipper pockets
- Comfy fit
Quick Dry Fabric
Quick dry fabric typically works by minimizing absorption. A lot of fabrics are nano-treated with a layer to keep water out, so they don’t have as much moisture to get rid of when you hang them out to dry. Look for polyester blends with nylon, or if you’re really serious about water-wicking, find a pair of shorts with PBT fabric for that really lightweight high-tech feel. Of course you’re still going to want to pack your wet/dry bag, because quick dry doesn’t mean instant, and you’ll want someplace to stash that damp suit on the run.
A pair of travel shorts is only useful if you can rely on them. I hate shorts or swim trunks that have tiny, flimsy pockets, especially at the beach. Look for a pair of shorts with at least one fully closing zipper (usually the rear pocket). Knowing that you can keep a couple of bucks for a snack or a cerveza on you at all times, even when you’re body surfing like a champ, is handy convenience.
Gone are the days of chafing from uncomfortable mesh lining. Ugh. That was the worst. Today’s swimsuits have microweave lining, nylon blends, and other high tech fabrics to make sure that you get a pair of shorts or swimsuit that fits you well. Hyperflex weaves, nylon and elastane blends, and high-fashion cuts ensure that there is a swimsuit out there that will fit you perfectly.
I wear my hybrid shorts in the pool, at the cafe, and on the mountain. And I expect to look and feel great no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
Best Men’s Hybrid Shorts and Swimsuits
Patagonia’s all-wear hybrid shorts are exactly the kind of multi-purpose shorts every traveler should look for. Made from 98% organic cotton, they’re incredibly comfortable, but also incorporate a 2% spandex weave for stretch and give when you’re on the trail or biking through a new city.
The best part is that these shorts look completely normal for wearing around town. The front fly zipper lies flat, the back pocket buttons shut, and they only weigh 8 oz so you can toss them in your bag for any occasion without adding much bulk.
RVCA is a big name in surf wear, so it’s no surprise that their hybrid Weekender Stretch Shorts keep up with the best on the market. The zippered rear pocket is a big deal (especially for surfers), and the poly/cotton/elastane blend ensures tons of stretch and a comfy fit. The cut is modern, fashionable, and discreet. There are even belt loops if you want to dress ’em up not to look like a swimsuit.
These are probably the most “board short” looking of the hybrid shorts, which is great if you’re looking for a swimsuit that can perform for the rest of the day after a dip, and not the other way around. The “hyperfreak” stretch material means you can put these shorts through the ringer because they’re hydrophobic, quick-drying, stylish, and both front pockets feature zipper closures. That’s awesome.
The more “travel short” looking hybrid option from O’Neill has made me a big fan. The stow pocket lets you stuff these shorts down to next to nothing when you’re not wearing them, but you’ll probably wear them a lot. With the same stretch material as the Insider shorts.
They’ve added a few more travel friendly features like a hidden passport pocket and an external “knife sleeve” for when you’re really getting out there. These are a great option for digital nomads with a little thirst for action because they can take a beating and still look great.
These hybrid shorts aren’t technically for swimming, but come on—they’re kind of epic. Made from a “veloce blend” fabric, the luxurious stretch knit feel of these active shorts is only matched by their functionality.
Tracksmith specializes in “techno-fabrics” and Veloce is lightweight with crazy 4-way stretch, quick-dry on the cooldown, and a stylish cut. I’d expect to pay $100 for these hybrid shorts. They’re a steal at $58.
Best Women’s Swimwear for Travel
“As carry on devotees, we knew we needed to create a multi-functional garment that packed well, is lightweight, and can withstand the wear and tear of salt, sand, sweat, and chlorine,” the founders of swimwear company, Londre, say in their company story. As fellow nomads, they know the needs of water-loving travelers — and it shows.
Take their one-piece, The Multiway. It’s designed with versatility in mind, and can be styled six different ways or, thanks to the matte finish, worn as a bodysuit. Further, the fabric has antibacterial particles that help it stay fresher longer while you’re on the road.
While on the more expensive side, you can feel good about your purchase. All of their swimsuits are ethically made from recycled material.
Hurley Quick Dry Surf Bottom ($50) and Bralette ($45)
When it comes to swimwear, surf brand Hurley knows how to design bathing suits that can withstand more than just laying out on the beach. For example, their Quick Dry Surf Bottom and Bralette combo are both constructed from soft, compression fabric that’s both comfortable and — more importantly — doesn’t move around as you swim.
Whether you’re surfing in Sayulita or rafting in Laos, this swimsuit will keep you covered (literally) throughout your adventures, then dry quickly when you’re done.
The also have a cheaper, though more simple in design, hipster bottom for $35 with similar features.
If you can only pack one swimsuit for your beach vacation, but don’t want to wear the same thing every time you jump in the water, opt for a reversible swimsuit.
While there are dozens of brands making creative and stylish reversible suits, Athleta stands out because their suits are sturdy, stylish, and more affordable than boutique or high-fashion brands. Plus, their cuts tend to be more conservative, provide great coverage, and stay put while you’re wearing it.
Rest assured: no embarrassing bikini malfunctions here.
Women’s Swim Shorts and Cover Ups
Savvy travelers: you already know sarongs are one of the best and most versatile items to pack in your bag. You can use it as a towel, beach blanket, scarf, shawl, and — of course — a beach cover up. While I prefer to buy them on the road as a functional memento from my travels, sometimes you just need one before you leave.
For this, opt for a large sarong made of a cotton or another opaque material, like PrAna’s soft and sustainably made Stefy Sarong ($30), or J Crew’s handmade, Indian print sarong scarf ($50).Then, learn a few ways to tie it and get ready to hit the beach.
A must have for hikers and surfers alike, this top keeps the UV rays off your shoulders in the ocean or on the trail. This hybrid designed shirt can handle surf wax and happy hour. Perfect for long flights, long beach days, and long trails. Seriously. This shirt does it all.
This versatile top is perfect for beach volleyball or a quick surf sesh. The nylon/spandex mesh features a built-in shelf bra with removable cups for comfortable support, and the racerback design ensures you comfort and coverage under any circumstances.
Perfect for your first deep water solo climbing trip, or just a super sweaty run. The high-quality nylon/lycra fabric means these shorts will snap back like a pro and last forever. These shorts breathe and wick away sweat and moisture for comfortable all day wear.
They’re also a great option for throwing on over your regular swimsuit if you’re traveling somewhere more conservative and need a little extra coverage on the the water.
Best Budget Swimsuits
These shorts are just so danged fashionable. Quick drying nylon, hidden snap button back pocket, and chlorine resistant for hitting up a lot of rooftop hotel pools. These will easily be the coolest shorts you own. They’ll also be the cheapest.
You can’t do much better than $15 for a great pair of swimmers. Plus, the short version is stylish as hell, weighs next to nothing, and will make you look European. Once you tan your upper thigh. Choose from seven different colors.
Ladies, there’s nothing super hi-tech about these polyester boardies, but the cut is great, the coverage is ideal for surfing, and you can’t do much better for $20.
Beat these up in the ocean guilt free.
Best Surfing Swimsuit
Board shorts were designed for a specific purpose—to protect your legs from the beach. Your surfboard, surf wax, salt, and sand all rub the crap out of your legs. Seriously, it’s rough. Don’t believe me? Go surfing in a speedo. Plus, the extra length of the board shorts keeps your pasty white thighs from the sun.
These are great board shorts. O’Neill has featured heavily on this list, and it’s because they know what they’re doing. The Hyperflow cooling waistband, 4-way stretch, hydrophobic fabric, and zippered back pocket all make these a killer pair of board shorts you can wear for years.
Made from 92% recycled polyester and spandex, these shorts will move with you under any circumstances. The back pocket features a flap coverage and eyelets for drainage, and a velcro fly for security.
They’re a great budget board short option.
Getting the length right is the toughest part of designing a comfortable functional pair of women’s board shorts. Luckily Roxy nailed it. These elastane blended shorts have all the stretch you need, without coverage. Everyone who’s bought these raves about them being the “perfect length.” Just saying.
Bonobos is all about style that works on the road. These comfy boardies are made from a chambray cotton/poly blend so they’ll feel great in or out of the water. I’m a huge fan of the key catch (useful when you want to leave your valuables in the hotel room, while still bringing along your key) and these shorts have great pockets.
Super basic board shorts, but the elastane blend and solid style mean these shorts can handle years of heavy use.
A great pair of hybrid shorts or versatile swimsuit is a great way to prepare for anything you encounter on the road without packing any extra gear. Find a pair you can wear in the lake or the local watering hole and your trip just got that much more interesting.
- Hydrophobic material is a must
- Zipper pockets keep your stuff safe on the move
- Style and function can go hand in hand
- Look for elastane or 4-way stretch
Want more like this?
Get weekly gear reviews, travel hacks, and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. As an added bonus, we’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.