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 about 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 or 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!
Here is what we generally seek in any pair of pants we will wear when traveling:
Fabric that perform – 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 however that natural, loose fibers are king in heat and humidity. 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 (tight) 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 pant can be cooler without being too exposing.
Multifunctional – When you are living out of a suitcase or backpack, 2-3 pairs of pants needs 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 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 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 even realize what had happened until the victim shrieked.)
Michael’s picks for brands with the best travel pants
Mountain Khakis – Best known for its mountain lifestyle pants and clothing, this is a brand I’ve especially grown to love. I’m especially fond of the extremely lightweight Equatorial Shorts whenever I do pack shorts – which is anytime we are traveling where the daytime temps might go above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. No, I don’t wear the shorts out to a nice restaurant, but they are nice enough in appearance to wear to a museum and around town. The other pant I frequently pack 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 I know I am not adventuring much outside of urban areas, I’ll 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).
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 have become my defacto go-to 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.
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 my bag. I particularly like the Craghoppers NatGeo NosiLife Pro Lite Pants although they do run a tad small – size up one.
Houdini Sportswear – Another European company with its roots firmly planted in adventure, Houdini has material called Motion Light and I love its Motion Light Pants. I always pack them whenever my travels are going to see as much trail and dirt as surfaced pathways. One of the more comfortable pants I 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.
Other brands Michael has worn and trusted over the years include Mountain Hardwear and ExOfficio.
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 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 a nut for pockets.
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 does the Louisa Pant Skinny Leg (size up for comfort). She has also worn and loved the hemp Lizbeth Capri – great in warm weather because of the nearly no-wrinkle, non-nylon fabric.
Athleta – The Bettona Boyfriend Pant has been a good friend for years (three in the closet!) although it is slightly thicker and would take longer to dry, the darker colors just wear and wear, scrunching without a gripe into bags and emerging without a wrinkle. Same goes for the Wander Utility Pant – lots of pockets, super lightweight for overnight drying, and supremely packable – and the line of Highline tights. Athleta is a brand that moves styles in and out of the line a lot, so several Therese still wears are unfortunately no longer there – like the Metro Straight Capri. But it is a brand she can count on 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 incredible. Therese truly adores the MTM (“Made to Move”) Liquid Rock Pant that has been backpacking, desert trekking, and city street gandering, in and out of rain, ice and wind. It truly is “made to move!” Another favorite just like for Michael is the Motion Light Pant – these are the definition of never-wrinkle, dry-in-a-snap!
Stonewear Designs – We fell in love with this climbing company’s classic Rockin Pant, with its slightly snugger fit and an invisible side zip pocket. It is sleek enough for a fancy dinner, yet pajama-comfy enough to curl up on an airplane or train for a nap, and comfortable enough for a little yoga. Another pant we’ve worn is the Compass Pant, with cinchable legs, although best for cooler weather with its thicker material.