The Top 10 Summer Travel Dresses

Outside brings you the best adventure-specific dresses for your next late summer trip.

Patty Hodapp

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Here’s something any well-traveled adventure goddess knows: a super dress that works for every summer activity simply doesn’t exist. That quick-dry, après slip-on, that flows over your bathing suit will fail miserably in the rapidly changing weather of the Rockies. With that in mind, I hauled off on a bender searching for the perfect summer travel dresses by activity. I looked at more than 50 get ups, tested 17, and chose ten. A dress for hiking? I know—any guy worth his backcountry salt could care less about what his girlfriend is wearing. He’s probably fantasizing about Carhartts and hiking boots. Point taken. But this list wasn’t built for him.

10. Best Dress To Cover Up a Swimsuit

Lole Sunlit; $50

Lole Sunlit
(Courtesy of Lole)

Don’t worry about getting Lole’s strapless Sunlit dress wet—its lightweight cotton-poly blend fabric dries quickly. The undetailed bodice fits snugly, and slips right over athletic swimsuits and bikinis. Wear the hemline loose for lounging in the sand, or pull it tight with the drawcord for beach volleyball.

Buyer Beware: The Sunlit’s fabric is see-through, so don’t double it up as a day dress.


9. Best Packable Dinner Dress

Icebreaker Roma, $120

Icebreaker Roma
(Courtesy of Icebreaker)

Classy elbow-length sleeves and a flattering, figure-hugging A-line shape make Icebreaker’s Roma wrap an ideal dress for on-the-fly dinner plans. Draw the Roma close to your body with its wrap-through belt. Its crossover V-neck gives the dress an effortlessly elegant look, and the hidden in-seam pockets provide a convenient place to stash credit cards or a camera. The best part? Icebreaker’s Merino wool doesn’t hold moisture or odor, so with a slick of lip balm and a splash of perfume you’ll be dinner-ready.

Buyer Beware: The Roma’s wrap around style can make the V-neck slip open. Wrap it snuggly around your waist to avoid embarrassing cleavage slip ups over your entrée.


8. Best Dress for the Beach

Oakley Falling Tide; $60

Oakley Falling Tide
(Courtesy of Oakley)

Oakley’s hassle-free Falling Tide Dress buttons on like an oversized shirt after a long day paddling the surf. Its open front lets you slip right in, eliminating the need to drag it over your head (Read: no more pulling out tufts of wet hair). Just fasten the buttons on the front, cinch the belt, and you’re good to go. Front pockets provide a convenient place to stash lip balm, and the plaid design gives the dress a beach-casual summer flair.

Buyer Beware: The cotton Falling Tide doesn’t come pre-shrunk, so it’ll shrink from dress to an awkward-length shirt if you tumble dry it.


7. Best Dress for Backpacking in Europe

Eddie Bauer Crinkle; $79.95

Eddie Bauer Crinkle dress
(Courtesy of Eddie Bauer)

Leave the iron at home. Eddie Bauer’s lightweight, paper-thin cotton Crinkle dress incorporates creases into its style, so wrinkles blend right in. Wide shoulder straps protect against possible chafing from backpack straps. When you’re done wearing it, it can be crushed into a ball the size of a small grapefruit. Back at the hotel or hostel, rinse it out, hang it out to dry, and the Crinkle is ready to go again.

Buyer Beware: Don’t rely on this dress for warmth. It’s paper-thin so pack a cardigan for breezy days or a jacket for cool nights.


6. Best Dress for Hiking

Columbia Siren Splash; $58

Columbia Siren Splash
(Courtesy of Columbia)

Sure, it’s unconventional to hike in a dress, but few dresses are as sporty as Columbia’s Siren Splash. The dress’s stretchy, sweat-wicking fabric, treated with Omni-Shade UV sun protection coating, shields your skin against the sun. An internal-shelf sports bra eliminates peeking straps, while adjustable cross-back straps ensure a snug fit for shoulders. On the trail, the Siren Splash hugged our midsections, and the knee-length skirt didn’t get in the way of our stride.

Buyer Beware: The Siren Splash’s cross strap adjusters can feel uncomfortably bumpy under some heavier backpacks.


5. Best Dress for Road-Tripping

Fossil Maggie; $78

Fossil Maggie dress
(Courtesy of Fossil)

If you’re going to be spending hours in a car seat, comfort is essential. Fossil’s super-soft cotton Maggie dress is breathable and comfortable enough to stand up to even the longest trips. Vintage-style gold embellishments around the V-neck and flattering cap sleeves compensate for the dress’s simple square shape. When the air conditioning is blasting, the sleeves fit nicely under a cardigan without bunching up under your armpits. Despite the plain cut, the Maggie is easy to accessorize: pair it with a thin belt during the day or a long necklace at night.

Buyer Beware: The Maggie can’t handle a machine wash—hand wash only.


4. Best Dress for a Boat Ride

Columbia Greenway Tee; $54

Columbia Greenway Tee
(Courtesy of Columbia)

If you’re wearing a dress on a boat, the last thing you want is a gust of wind to sweep upward and…well, you get the picture. Columbia’s Greenway Tee jersey knit dress hugs the body just enough to stay put in breezy conditions without being too revealing. The four-way stretch fabric feels cozy, while the Greenway Tee’s scoop neck flatters all body types. Fitted lines hug the waist in all the right places, drawing attention away from any awkward lumps that swimsuit straps might create.

Buyer Beware: The Greenway Tee’s jersey stretch fabric doesn’t have a quick-dry feature. Avoid splashing waves, or you’ll be wet longer than normal.


3. Best Dress for a Weekend at the Lake

Patagonia Kamala; $69

Patagonia Kamala
(Courtesy of Patagonia)

Patagonia bills the Kamala as an aquatic-lifestyle dress, and it lives up to the claim. The shelf bra provides extra support, while the loose-fitted, A-line cotton and Tencel blend cinches at the waist, making it easy to slip on and off in a tent. The Kamala’s flowing skirt leaves enough room to disguise tied bikini strings, and its sturdy organic fabric provides just the right layer of warmth when you’re hanging out around a campfire at night. The dress packs up tight, so it’s portable enough to fit in an already-stuffed backpack.

Buyer Beware: The Kalama’s waist and bust fits tightly. If you’ll be moving from lakeside to campsite, and pulling it off and on over a swimsuit, buy one size bigger.


2. Best Dress for the Mountains

Lole Prominent; $70

Lole Prominent
(Courtesy of Lole)

If you’re headed to high elevations, you’ll be dealing with cooler temperatures, so a dress that’s too short or thin won’t be comfortable. Enter Lole’s floor-length Prominent dress. It’s thick enough to stand up to chillier temps, but its scoop neck and crossover straps still have that summery look. The pajama-soft fabric, a blend of Tencel and elastane, feels like fine cotton to the touch.

Buyer Beware: The Prominent cuts an elegant line, but runs long for women under 5’5’’. This dress will probably need to be tailored. 


1. Best Dress for an International Flight

Horny Toad Chaka; $76

Horny Toad Chaka
(Courtesy of Horny Toad)

With thick Samba fabric and a close-fitting crossover bodice, Horny Toad’s three-season Chaka dress is warm enough to wear in a chilly airplane. Stuck in a stuffy airport lounge? The Chaka’s flowing, breathable skirt will keep you cool, allowing just enough air in to regulate your body temperature. Pair it with a light sweater or jacket for a pulled-together look on cooler flights.

Buyer Beware: Your legs and feet can get cold with recycled airplane air whipping around them. This dress falls about knee-height, so if your legs are sensitive to the cold, shop for another.