Covering your Bottomside

Just as one’s choice of topside covers for Spring/summer travel in Israel/Palestine are dictated by nature and culture, so too, bottomside covers. What garments meet the threshold of social responsibility, yet allow for freedom of movement? In this fourth installment of our series on packing strategically we consider ways to efficiently cloak the trusses of human anatomy.

The Problem

The problem is a ticklish one. Mobility and daily function demand that the human bottomside be accessible and unencumbered. Social mores demand that it be tucked away. How can both of these demands be met?

Nothing underlines this problem as clearly as the ever-popular “squatty potty” or “Turkish toilet.” These are widespread in rural and less “western” areas of the Middle East. Performing one’s duty at this station requires balance, ingenuity, and the careful manipulation of bottomside covers (i.e., let nothing touch the floor!). Note the empty toilet paper roll on the wall. This is the default position.

The Solution

Fortunately, the evolution of technology now offers us three classes of clothing do the job: the undergarment, the trouser, and the skirt.

The Undergarment

Personal preferences steer product selection. For men and women, a bewildering array of choices and cuts present themselves. As elsewhere, hi-tech fabrics have raised the bar of travelwear by offering durable and comfortable options touted as low maintenance, moisture wicking, ecofriendly, anti-microbial, anti-radiation, mosquito-repelling, anti-rape, and quick drying (Note: one company has even inserted carbon into the fabric and claims their short to be “fart smell masking”! If true, I’m thinking this would be a superb choice in the hummus-eating culture of the Middle East.). In any event, the flight from cotton briefs has clearly begun. The quest for its successor becomes quite personal when one packs strategically and limits the number of undergarments to just two pieces.

The bewildering array of underwear choices. Image from here.

I have found ExOfficio’s “Give-N-Go” line to be an exceptional choice (See here.). After discovering these a couple of years ago, I threatened to empty my underwear drawer at home and wear nothing else (underwear-wise!). Of course, at $30 a pair (retail), my wallet was terrified. Still, if one abides by the principle of quality over quantity (and is willing to take a moment each night to wash and hang the things that need to be washed and hung), two pair are sufficient. Actually the wrapper reads, “17 countries, 6 weeks, one pair of underwear.” That would be bold, even for me.

The Trouser

Thank the horseman of the steppes for devising a bottomside cover that splits in the middle. Otherwise we all might still be wearing woolly plaid kilts.

Two pair of trousers are all you need for a two week tour. Just be sure that they are comfortable, loose fitting, and not made of cotton.

To stretch your wardrobe and avoid having to pack short pants, select zip-offs. These clever convertibles allow for the removal and reattachment of the lower leggings. This is a helpful feature over the course of a day when you need to repeatedly make the shift from trail-hike mode (immodestly bare-legged) to pious-church mode (modestly fully-legged). With zip-offs, you can do this in your bus seat. Should you just need a little venting? No problem! The leggings can be left half zipped as well.

Zip-off pants are always stylish in my universe. Left, image from here. Right, image from here.

As I write this piece, I am traveling for the entire summer with one pair of Columbia (Omni-shade) zip-offs and one pair of ExOfficio zip-offs. To date, I find the latter to offer a better fit, a softer feel, and I really like the little side zips at the ankles that allow for the easy removal of the leggings without having to take off my shoes as well.

Ankle zips make it easier to slide the leggings over shoes.

All zip-offs have large pockets, but one must be careful. Mid-thigh cargo pockets are an easy target for thieves. My ExOfficios have zippers on both of these pockets, which I believe are more secure than velcro fasteners, but I would still be careful what I put down there.

Leg detail showing zip-off join at knee and zippable cargo pocket.

Undoubtedly there are other trousers on the market, and I’m sure the fashion police would howl if they saw this recommendation. But before you listen to such people, just keep in mind that they are the same idiots who brought you other impressive designs like high heels and bow ties. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I am confident that these people will be the first to die. As for me, I can’t think of a compelling reason to look beyond zip-offs for any other trousers. They are the workhorses of bottomside covers. They dry quickly, cover what is necessary, convert when needed, and, as bonus, provide something like 50+ UPF sun protection. And of course, what earthy person can resist khaki?

Trousers are a modest choice for men and women alike. But to be inclusive, recognize that women (and some European men) have another alternative. They are called capris or “three-quarter pants.” These actually work quite well for travel in Israel/Palestine. The capri qualifies as “modest clothing” and you can get away with them in all but the most severe “Holy Places.” Therefore, I must confess that there are good reasons for a woman to go with a capri, but not for a man. Manpris? Yeah fellas, like right over your “fart smell masking carbon briefs”! Not this guy, I tell ya! Bring on the zombies!

The Skirt

Now I hesitate, unsure how to proceed. I’m told that skirts are cooler than pants. I’m guessing they are also easier to manipulate in a “squatty potty.” However apart from these two observations I have little to add, save for this modesty comment: If one chooses to go with a skirt, be sure that it brushes the knee. For whatever reason, knees seem to be the break point in the Middle East between what is modest and what is not. Cover the knee and you ought to be good to go.

If you are exclusively a skirt wearer, be sure you have one long skirt (ankle length) for super-modest applications. Remember pants will work in these situations as well.

Roll and Go

If you have been following this series, a picture should be emerging. Carry one set of clothing on your body, have another set either drying in your room or rolled tightly (not folded) in your pack. Make this behavior a habit and you will soon be a zen-master of packing strategically.

A barrel, while heavy, solves many bottomside problems. Privates are covered, yet readily accessible. Image from here.