Best travel pants – What we wear when traveling and why

by Aug 5, 2021Gear

The Travel Pants We Wear And Why

What makes the best travel pants for any type of traveler? Since a lot of travel also involves sitting and walking, what pants you slip on makes a big difference in your travel comfort. From decades of international travel experience, we know what to look for when it come to choosing the ideal pair of travel pants for men or women. 

Since a lot of travel also involves sitting and walking, what you pull on over your legs makes a big difference in how comfortable you will be. So what makes the best travel pants?

There are a few must-have features: Comfort (otherwise kill the deal now). Travel pants also should be wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying, durable, breathable and as lightweight as possible (winter travel has different requirements). Some stretch is also mandatory (remember the sitting and walking part of travel?). Other features to consider, depending on where your travels take you, are stain resistance, water resistance, sun protection, and insect protection. Oh, and let’s not forget pockets! The more, the deeper and the more secure, the merrier we are.

We’ve traveled in nearly every type of situation and in almost every type of weather possible, so we understand comfort and have made our share of miscalculations – like wearing cotton/canvas pants that look great and have loads of pockets, but don’t feel so good after 10 hours in an airplane seat. Or wearing lightweight nylon travel pants that may be fine when its dry, spring-like weather, but wait til you say hello to South Pacific humidity!

Michael Hodgson Therese Iknoian Puna Sign

Here is what we generally seek in any pair of travel pants we will wear:

Fabric that performs – The fabric needs to be breathable, quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant (rarely is a pant wrinkle-free, despite claims), durable, and have some stretch. Most pants will be made from nylon or polyester or a blend of the two, with a small percent of elastane or spandex (Lycra is a brand name for those) for that necessary comfort from stretch – try sitting for hours in transit without stretch! Therese has also found cotton or hemp blended with polyester has worked for lightweight, nearly wrinkle-free travel, especially in warmer climates. Heat is when pure nylon can lose its attraction.

Realize, however, the addition of cotton, hemp or wools means the fabric will not dry quite as quickly as those made with nylon or polyester. However, wool does not need to be washed as often. When we went to the South Pacific, for example, we quickly learned that natural, loose fibers are king in heat and humidity, despite their less-than-ideal lack of wrinkle resistance. Our nylon performance apparel was left lingering in the suitcase.

Nothing too garish or tight – This means we opt for neutral colors that will coordinate well with all shirts and shoes. Our styles often are a bit more relaxed in fit to not attract too much attention (although Therese finds a slightly snugger, stretchier pant  such as leggings makes airplane travel more comfortable). Darker colors like gray, black, or brown allow coordination ease and can be dressed up or down. Oh, and those colors hide stains – because dribbles happen. If shorts, then a longer length is best. For women, a capri or crop pant can be cooler without being too exposing.

Multifunctional – When you are living out of a suitcase or backpack, 2-3 pairs of pants need to do for the entire journey. Meaning those pants need to not make you look out of place in a nice restaurant or a museum, wandering city streets or along mountain paths — or sitting in business class, if you get that upgrade.

Pockets and more pockets – An absolute MUST in our books! But look for something not too baggy, lest you look like you’re headed for a safari (unless you are). Side pockets should also be large and deep enough for a smartphone and passport, and the rear and side leg pockets should have secure zipper or button closures – otherwise, don’t put anything valuable in them like a smartphone or passport. (Therese actually witnessed an American tourist’s wallet pick-pocketed from his loose, open cargo pockets on the Paris metro – so subtle and slick was the move, she didn’t even realize what had happened until the victim shrieked.)

No matter how good your travel pants are, if your undies are in a bunch, comfort will be fleeting. Be sure to read Best travel underwear – bras, briefs, boxers and socks

Disclaimer: Below we are highlighting brands we have grown to trust after years of wearing products made by them. Keep in mind that fit, comfort and style are very individual tastes, and that no one pair of travel pants or single brand will make everyone happy. The goal in providing this list below of our trusted brands is to help guide your choices. Where appropriate and if particular products we wear are still available, we will name them, too.

Michael’s picks for brands with the best travel pants

Michael Hodgson In Kuhl Travel Pants Shooting Almond Blossoms

Kuhl – Like many great travel clothing companies, Kuhl started as a mountain lifestyle brand in 1989, under the name Alfwear. It was a great brand then, and it is a great brand today. Since early 2021, Michael has been wearing a pair of the company’s Navigatr pants and despite a few grumbles he has over the snap closure (it won’t stay closed unless you wear a belt), these pants have become, hands down, his favorite pair of travel pants for every situation. The four-way stretch fabric is supremely comfy, and the odor-resistant and water-resistant treatment means he can wear them for days without washing. Stains? What stains. A hidden zip pocket for his passport, plus a zip back pocket and a zip cell phone pocket round out the travel security we all need.

Mountain Khakis – Best known for its mountain lifestyle pants and clothing, this is a brand Michael has especially grown to love. He’s especially fond of the extremely lightweight Equatorial Shorts whenever he does pack shorts – which is anytime we are traveling where the daytime temps might go above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. No, doesn’t wear the shorts out to a nice restaurant or in countries where they are frowned upon, but they are nice enough in appearance to wear to a museum and around many towns. The other pant he frequently packs along is the Trail Creek Pant. Its stretch makes it super comfy.

Prana – This is a company that knows how to blend function with style so very effectively. The Stretch Zion pant, originally designed with climbers in mind, is stretchy, durable and stylish and, it has a stain-resistant finish. For those trips when he knows he is not adventuring much outside of urban areas, Michael will often pack along the Bronson which is more stylish, although without zip- or snap-closure pockets (thus, it is not for trips where security is even a passing concern).

Prana Stretch Zion Pants in Hamburg 20014

Wandering the streets and canals of Hamburg wearing my Prana Stretch Zion pants and feeling downright comfy.

Arborwear – This is a brand best known for making durable clothing meant for hardcore outdoor work – like tree trimming — hence the name. But the company’s Canopy Pants are a frequent choice when Michael needs a pant for all-around travel. In black, they are at home in the high desert, on a mountain trail, strolling Berlin parkways, or sitting down to dinner in Paris. Durable, stretchy, comfortable, versatile with a Teflon fabric coating that helps keep them clean for days on end.

Arborwear Canopy pants close detail showing pockets and fit.

Craghoppers – A British company with a long heritage of making clothing for adventure travelers, its pants are all function, all the time. For those trips where my travel is more adventure than urban — and biting insects might be lurking — these are typically in Michael’s luggage. He particularly likes the Craghoppers NatGeo NosiLife Pro Lite Pants although they do run a tad small – size up one.

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Houdini Sportswear – Another European company with its roots firmly planted in adventure, Houdini has material called Motion Light and Michael loves its Motion Light Pants. He always packs them whenever his travels are going to see as much trail and dirt as surfaced pathways. One of the more comfortable pants he have ever worn, though with a styling (jogger-like with elastic ankles with a zip) that might look just slightly out of place in a fancy restaurant, they do crossover well for wandering city streets.


Therese’s picks for brands with the best travel pants

Aside from the features we name above, Therese has two more items on her wish list for best travel pants: no front zipper and no belt loops, if at all possible. Front zippers and buttons can pinch (and break!), while being required to wear a belt if there are loops is just one more thing to pack (and can bunch when sitting). Plus, those features add more fabric layers, which again will limit drying ability. Oh, and she is truly a nut for pockets being purse-adverse.

Therese Iknoian Wearing Kuhl Pants At The Airport

Kühl – This brand that specializes in pants that fit everybody with all kinds of fits and lengths has become one of Therese’s faves of late too – despite a few sizing issues. She has tried the FreeFlex, the Hörizn Skinny, and the Kultivator Kargo Crop, with the FreeFlex and the Hörizn now ending up in every suitcase. They fit and stretch great, wear for days on end, and wash and dry well (The Kultivator is thicker and perhaps less ideal for travel). She too finds the snap closure pops open, thus mandating the built-in tie and a belt – a bit annoying. And although Michael’s pockets fit phones well, the women’s pants pockets are not deep enough for a phone, sadly. Kühl has so many other tights and pants with pockets, she can’t wait to try more.

Mountain Khakis – In the past, many MK pants were a bit too thick and without pockets for Therese. But then along came the Calamity Cargo. And it was love at first sight. Granted, the pockets still aren’t deep enough (and this is a complaint Therese continues to take up with most brands making women’s pants so don’t get her started), but the comfort is supreme as well as the travelability.

Prana – At birth, Prana was a climbing and yoga brand but it has expanded greatly over the years into superior stylish crossover wear. Thus, stretch and fit are part of its DNA. Therese has found that many of Prana’s pants work great for travel – from hemp/polyester blends, to cargo pants or jeans with elastane for stretch, or even casual yoga pants. The Meme Pant fits the bill, as do  most pants made of Prana’s Zion fabric (beware, however, if they are tight, they will not be so comfy on a hot or humid day). She has also worn and loved the hemp Lizbeth Capri – great in warm weather because of the nearly no-wrinkle, non-nylon fabric.

Athleta – Athleta is a brand that moves styles in and out of the line a lot, so several styles that Therese still wears are unfortunately no longer available – like the Metro Straight Capri or the Bettona Boyfriend Pant. But Athleta is still a brand she can turn to with its roots in athletic wear with style.

Houdini Sportswear – Many of the Houdini Sportswear pants from the Swedish brand are so durable and multifunctional, it’s  hard to believe. Therese truly adores the companies lightweight “motion” pants that have been backpacking, desert trekking, and city street gandering, in and out of rain, ice and wind. These are all the definition of never-wrinkle, dry-in-a-snap, go-anywhere pants!

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