Traveling In a Kilt

Traveling in a Kilt Anytime, even Winter.  

I recently went to Iceland for a Winter Vacation. As with the other solo Winter trips I have taken, they revolve around some event. 

In 2014, I  went to Glasgow, Scotland, to the Celtic Connections Festival, for the Transatlantic Sessions, specifically. It was winter and quite cold, but not too much snow on the ground. As I was in Scotland, the question of whether or not I would wear a kilt was not even voiced; of course I would.  Granted, a may have a bit of an advantage in that I wear kilts *every day* and have for 12 years. So not only is kilt-wearing any sort of risk, I also have a decent selection. 

A year or so later, I was reading about the adventures of a Portland beer maker, I found out there was an Icelandic Beer Festival in Reykjavik in winter. Could there be a better event to arrange such a trip around?  I couldn’t see one. But it is Iceland.  In Winter. Almost certain to be colder than Scotland; but how would I even know? And, if I went: would it be in a Kilt?

Well, a couple of factors are in play here. I don’t think I even own a pair of decent pants anymore.  And because I wear a kilt every day in my ‘normal’, non-travel life, why should a trip be any different?

Perhaps the most important factor is this: traveling in a Utilikilt- an American Made Utility Kilt- is, hands-down, the best way to travel. They beat so-called ‘travel pants’ and jeans and even shorts. There is a very good reason why that is the case, but it means that you initially have to wear the kilt in a way you would never, EVER wear it otherwise. I will explain in a bit. 

With a fairly thick-cloth Kilt, that could conceivably stand up to most weather, your packing list becomes quite short. Because the thighs carry and circulate more blood than any other extremity, the inside of the kilt tends to get and stay warm. If the garment itself is thick enough to resist heat leakage and cold from coming in, it’s going to be warmer than a bifurcated garment.  (I briefly owned a leather kilt, and it was actually too warm for all but the most brutal winters days. I sold it.) 

Another fantastic reason to take a kilt for travel: a kilt can be worn literally every day. Unlike pants, the only part of the kilt that touches your body is the waistband. True, you can get spills and stains on the outside of the kilt. The grease mark from a roasted chicken that fell in my lap on my last trip to Paris still has a ghost remnant on the front bib; usually I am the only one who can see it.  Utilikilts come treated with a stain resistant coating, and I tend to augment that with Scotch Guard before taking it on a big trip. So, unlike pants, the kilt really does stay fresh and presentable on trips up to two weeks. Maybe they go longer; I’ve just never tested past that point. 

When I am at my destination,  the weather is warm and I am doing a lot of walking, the waistband can get sweaty. It can even happen in a place like Iceland, or Glasgow in the winter. At those times, I remove the kilt at night, completely unbutton it, so it’s an almost six-foot long one layer garment, and lay it on or either the window (if the weather is warm) or the heating element (if it’s cold outside). This will let the sweat dry naturally, and the kilt is ready to use the next morning. 

I will sometimes pack another kilt. Let me briefly touch on the different kinds of kilts I have. I won’t try to go into how many places you can get kilts. That’s what Google is for.

 I wear mostly Utilikilts. The Utilikilts Company, in Seattle, WA, makes a variety of ‘American’ kilts; no plaids. Some of them are fairly basic , and have only some outside cargo pockets.  This would be a Standard Kilt, or a Workman Kilt. The Standard is probably, at this writing, the lightest Utilikilt. (They have made a so-called ‘Sport Kilt’, which is make out of shimmery basketball-short material, but no longer make them. I own one.)  The Workman is made of a fantastic heavy cotton duck, and has not only more pockets than a Standard, but a few more accouterments more suited to someone who works a construction job (hence the name). There is a hammer loop, a keychain latch, and the heavy-duty material. The only type of pocket the Workman does not have are the slash pockets, the kind you can put your hands in as you walk along, or wait in line to get into a Museum. It has two discreet fasteners inside, near the bottom, to ‘seal’ the inside aprons. This is so that if your work takes you up a ladder, let’s say, and you don’t want anyone to see that you indeed wear your kilt in the Traditional (Regimental) manner, you can use the fasteners and no one can see up your kilt. They also are good on very windy days. 

Utilikilt makes a kilt called the Mocker— a take on ‘Dockers’— which is more of a traditional kilt in that in has no outside ‘cargo’ pockets. It has two huge slash pockets and two large rear pockets. It has more and deeper pleats than the other Utilikilts, and so has a ‘swing’ when you wear it closer to a standard Scottish Plaid Tartan Kilt made with the full nine yards of wool. The Mocker is a good kilt to have when one is dressing for a Wedding or Funeral or some other event, where standard kilt dress— sport coat, tie, vest, etc— might also be worn. I own three Mockers, and I have a  very nice Brown Heather one that goes extremely well with a sport coat and tie. I may someday attempt to procure the “real” Kilt Formal Dress: the kilt jacket, called a Bonnie Prince Charlie, a Vest built to wear with both, a cummerbund, and Gille Brogues, the shoes made for just such an outfit, which must be worn with Kilt Hose. I own Kilt Hose, and a ‘traditional’ wool kilt made from my Family Tartan (MacQuarrie) but they are honestly something I rarely wear. I simply do not have call to dress up so formally. 

If you would like a cheap tartan kilt, there is a company in the US called SportKilt.  They make polyester tartan kilts, and they have a very large selection of tartans. Their kilts use velcro, and there is more than one size. They will also, if so ordered,  put side slash pockets in their kilts. I believe that have some kilts with cargo pockets, but I have stayed away from that. I do own one from SportKilt, a  polyester MacQuarrie tartan kilt, and does have slash pockets, and I tend to take that one with me when I travel.  It’s about as heavy as a long-sleeve T shirt.

A tartan kilt is mostly for show. When I have worn my MacQuarrie kilt while I travel, I have been in some sort of situation where I did not necessarily need my Utilikilt with all it’s pockets.  The difference in weight and size between my MacQuarrie Sportkilt and my handmade wool MacQuarrie kilt is massive; I only travel with the light, polyester Sportkilt. I wore my Sportkilt in Scotland when I took a trip around the Highlands. I wore it in Iceland on my outdoor adventures. With merino wool tights underneath, it was definitely more of a statement than a garment as I climbed glaciers and hiked through heavy snow in the Icelandic Highlands. It served it’s purpose. Because of my merino wool tights I was never cold. And because of Sportkilt, I was never pretending to be anyone but who I am.  

The high-end of the Utilikilt line is called The Survival Kilt. This is basically the kilt that has all the features: slash pockets, cargo pockets, sewn-in carabiners, inside fasteners, etc. It is usually made of the best material and is priced accordingly; ones I purchase are around three hundred bucks. To people who say they are pricey, I say, do your jeans last for ten years? At least three of my Survival Kilts have. And because Utilikilts are never really in style, you don’t have to worry about them going out of style. 

Many years ago, Utilikilts asked the Utiliclan to make commercials for them. They got a lot of very good entries (I entered, but it didn’t turn out very well). Everyone who sent in a commercial got a specially-made Denim Survival Kilt. Utilikilts have made a Denim Kilt, but not one in the Survival pattern. 

It is a marvel: black denim, so tough and well-designed. 

However, they filled the front apron of the kilt with printed words, saying something to the effect of, the person wearing this kilt is a winner of this contest blah blah. 

I do not wish to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I was not happy with the front apron decoration. I LOVED — and still love— the kilt. So, I painted over it. I made it a Jackson Pollack Kilt. So, it really does stand out now (see pic). It’s not a subtle kilt that hides in the background. And that makes it very interesting for traveling. 

Especially traveling solo. Besides the gawking, I frequently get questions about that particular kilt, and wearing kilts in general. It helps open me up to strangers. I end up having some truly fantastic conversations. 

Utilikilts also makes less ‘showy’ kilts, if wearing a kilt is not showy enough. They now make ALL of their kilts to be adjustable. This is an incredible boon. I hope to write another post about their adjustable kilts (so far, I have three) sometime in the near future. 

I am one of those people who absolutely MUST travel light. Taking too much stuff on a trip will literally, actually ruin any sense of fun I might garner from the places I am visiting. I take one bag— the Tom Bihn Brain Bag— and then some sort of smaller bag. That might be a small travel instrument (I own a few and enjoy playing music when I can), or a bag to hold a decent camera. Any of these small bags I take must be able to multi-task and hold other items. The travel guitar and travel mandolin bag are ideal for stashing wool hats and scarves, gloves, bulky headphones or sleep pillows. I’ve even thrown the occasional Clif Bar or pre-made sandwich into them, and that works great.  The Utilikilt I wear is usually enlisted to hold a paperback or Kindle— or both— some saline nose spray, my cards and cash, handkerchief, a notebook or two, sometimes a small water bottle, and when going through TSA, it holds my watch and around-the-neck bag I use to carry my passport and boarding pass. 

Time to talk about something I mentioned earlier, about the exact *way* in which you must wear a Utilikilt when you travel. Do this, and you’ll get nothing  but smooth sailing. Don’t do this, and make sure you have allotted a few more hours when getting on a plane. 

Okay, first off, the basics of wearing a Kilt need to be addressed. Often, a stranger— usually an older woman— will remark, “Oh, I love your skirt!” If she is with others, they will try to gently correct her, to save what they perceive must be my embarrassment. But, because anyone who wears a Kilt is an Ambassador of Wearing a Kilt, I usually try to save *her* by saying, “All kilts are skirts, but not all skirts are kilts.” Being unassailably true, this usually satisfies everyone. 

I must say, it is astounding how many people ask me what I wear under my kilt. I believe every person on every social strata has unapologetically asked me, “So, what do you wear under your kilt?” or, “Do you wear that in the ‘proper’ way? ” Nuns, Flight Attendants (male and female), Grandmas, Grandpas, GREAT Grandmas and Grandpas, Attractive Young People (usually men but occasionally women), TSA Agents, Police Officers…. I could go on. Due to my self-evident Ambassador Status, I feel it is my duty to be as diplomatic yet truthful as I can. So, my standard reply goes something like this: “All Kilts are Skirts. But the difference is, when you are wearing a Skirt, you wear something underneath it. When you are wearing a Kilt, you do not. I am wearing a Kilt.”

That is usually all I need to say.  In Iceland and Glasgow I have been asked follow-up questions about how cold it can get. That’s a whole other avenue to go down. 

So, I wear a Kilt. I wear it The Proper Way. Always have, always will. In fact, an acquaintance told me he started wearing his Utilikilt to work, but he couldn’t stop wearing underwear. I told him when he wanted to stop wearing a skirt and be a man in a Kilt, he should let me know. He wasn’t happy. 

And, as previously stated, a Utilikilt is possibly the best travel garment a man can wear. Unfortunately, TSA doesn’t think so. 

For a period of about three years, every plane trip I took resulted in me being taken into the walled-off ‘room’ and being ‘hand-searched’; it would be fondling if the location were different and I’d had a few drinks in me. 

Every. Trip. Foreign or Domestic. 

I would go through the scanner, get waved over to a special area, and then taken into a place that nobody could see into, while what was about to be done was over-explained by a TSA employee who was way more nervous than I was. 

Finally, at Newark Airport, on my way back from across the pond, the TSA agent who was *not* happy about having to put his gloved hands all the way up my crotch, told me why I was in that room with he and another male agent. He said the body scanners that the TSA uses don’t know what to do with the buttons on the front of a Utilikilt.  Most ‘American’ kilts have buttons on them, and Utilikilts makes, in my view, the only ones that fit properly. One of the reasons for this is they have a (patented) ‘V’ shaped button arrangement on the front apron. The TSA Scanners can’t properly justify the location of the buttons, so they tell the agents to strip-search you. Same thing happens sometimes with people who have metal in their joints; the scanner can’t say for certain that everything is cool, so it makes that person march into a room with an anxious employee not being paid enough to feel you up. 

The guy in Newark told me flat out: “The scanner can’t match those buttons to any pattern. Can’t you take off the kilt? Like, wear something under it?”

Ding ding ding! That was IT. I wasn’t happy about the delays, but I couldn’t figure it out. Now, I had a way to wear my beloved Utilikilts and not have to add two hours onto each Departure. 

The Way To Wear A Utilikilt When You Travel: swim trunks. I keep them at the top of my bag. When I get to the airport, I head to the bathroom and put them on underneath. I check in, get my boarding pass, then get in line for TSA. When I’m finally there, into the trays go the shoes, the backpack, the instrument, and last but not least, I shimmy out of my kilt and put it in it’s own tray. I typically say something to those around me like, “No reason to worry”, because it looks like I’m about to get naked from the waist down. I go through the scanner without issue, and they get to go through the pockets of my kilt to their hearts delight. I’ve talked to TSA agents when they ask why I do that, and they seem very grateful that I am doing something to make their job (and my trip) that much easier.  Usually, before I put my shoes back on, I slip on the Utilikilt, then slip *out* of the trunks, and put them back in my bag. Shoes go on, and I’m back to the freedom of the kilt and the wonder of modern air travel. 

(Does it need to be said? Be nice to TSA Agents. You being pissed about having to wait in a line so long, about how many questions they ask and things they make you redo, does no one any good and makes the experience intolerable. We’re all in the same boat. Take some deep breaths, unfurrow your eyebrows, and practice patience.  They’re just doing their job. Realize it’s part of travel now and accept whatever comes. I *promise* you, doing this will make your trip better.)

There is really only one other tip for the Kilted Winter Traveler: thigh-high socks. Let’s touch on socks in general. 

If you are someone who wears kilts once or twice a year, you probably just wear the same ol’ socks you wear when wearing one of the monstrous bifurcated garments called pants.  Maybe they stand out a bit from your other socks, or sometimes you just don’t care. You don’t care because you think it doesn’t matter. 

Well, it does. You need some socks that look like they belong with a kilt. 

You’ll probably only need one, maybe two pairs. And they typically aren’t something you can buy at JC Penny or Target. You’re going to have go a bit far afield, but you don’t have to spend much money. 

I’m sure there are other brick-and-mortar or online stores, but I can’t find one better than sockdreams.com. (They also have an actual store in Portland, where I live, but I didn’t know that until I had purchased many things from them.)  As you might expect, Sock Dreams carries a very wide variety of socks, and their website is a searchable marvel. You can search for Thigh Highs and Mens, you can search by fabric, by color; the list goes on. And a decent pair of kilt-friendly socks usually runs you under ten bucks. Oh, and they ship for free! They can’t be beat. 

If you decide that you are going to travel in the winter, do a search for thigh-highs, and get yourself a great pair of mostly wool socks made with multi-colored yarn, or even single color socks made of rayon. I have about six pairs of thigh-highs, and they were all I needed for a week in Iceland. I’ve worn them during the winter when I wasn’t traveling as well; but that’s because I wear kilts year-round. 

The thigh-highs solve the problem of wearing a heavy kilt when it’s really cold. A kilt make of something like denim or cotton duck will stay pretty stiff, especially in the cold. (A wool tartan kilt is usually not stiff, but they have no pockets. ) 

So that leaves a two-to-three-inch band of exposed skin. Yep; right above the knee. That’s usually the point that the warm air in your kilt (see above) can escape, especially if you move at a decent clip. A thigh-high sock can fill the gap perfectly. 

Good shoes are obviously important, and not just when traveling in a kilt. As anyone who has taken any sort of trip knows, you had better take the shoes that will be the nicest to your feet. I have solved that problem by paying a premium for the only shoes my feet won’t complain about if I wear them all day: Ecco. 

My own tastes lead me to want to wear boots with kilts. It’s just the look I happen to like. I feel like, as long as you have socks that were meant to be seen and not live under a pant leg, any shoe works.  As long as you like it and feel comfortable in it. 

Ecco makes a hiking boot that I like so much, after I wore them for a day  I immediately bought another pair. It’s part of their Biom line, and it’s a half-boot, but I wear them pretty much all the time except for the dead of summer. I am on my feet literally all day in my job, so those, or the Ecco Tracks, are the only shoes I can wear all day long. I think Doc Martens makes a boot that look AMAZING with kilts, but I can no longer get away with wearing those all day. I have, in the past, and my feet have paid for it. Even when I’ve put orthotics in them. I still think that Docs are great, but my experience leads me to believe that they are for people under 55 who will pay the fashion price, if necessary. I thankfully am not a member of that club any more. 

I didn’t wear those particular Eccos on this Iceland trip, though I could have. I purchased a pair of Biom Hiking Boots from Ecco that were made specifically for colder weather. They are taller, more like full boots, but offer the same support and all-day comfort. I was able to fit them with crampons for glacier hiking, and they looked great at a nice restaurant in Reykjavik. They were pricey- just over three hundred bucks- but to my mind they have already paid for themselves, with numerous trips to snow in the US and my two winter trips to cold climes abroad. 

Although I seem fairly adamant about wearing kilts wherever I am, I’m not an idiot about it.  That’s probably due to the fact that, the first city I lived in besides my home town of Los Angeles was Minneapolis. In LA, the weather rarely stops you from doing anything. In Minneapolis, the weather can *kill* you. In fact, in the middle of winter, the weather forecast will often include how much time it will take for your exposed skin to freeze, in SECONDS. You don’t mess around with extreme weather. 

So I purchased a pair of wool tights from a company called Qor. They make many types of ‘workout tights’; these were over 90% Merino Wool but not itchy.  Without those on the glaciers, or standing at the black sand beaches of Southern Iceland where the temp was 30 degrees and the winds were 50 mph (and blowing snow), I am very glad that I was not stubborn about wearing a kilt ‘properly’. Nothing froze off, and I made it back home to tell my tale. 

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So, there it is. The way to travel in a kilt, no matter the season. Get a Survival Kilt from Utilikilts and go on a trip. Be an Ambassador. Love your Freedom.