Should you travel with jeans?

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Ah, the eternal question, the inquiry that has sparked vicious debate since time immemorial amongst the jet-setting travel junkies the world over. Is it a good idea to travel with jeans? Are they suitable for round-the-world wild and crazy adventures? Is there a reasonably functional alternative? Are they worth taking anyway, despite their shortcomings? How else will I look sexy whilst attempting to impress the ocean of foreign ladies at my disposal at each and every international turn?

Mostar, Bosnia
“These zip-offs are my Adventure Pants. As in, let’s zip them off and have an Adventure. Wink wink.”

Jeans are perhaps the greatest article of clothing humanity has thus far invented. Go ahead, name a better one. Jeans look good. They feel good. They are suitable for any and all social occasions. They’re everyone’s favorite go-to pair of pants, and if we didn’t have to be fancy at work sometimes, we’d probably never venture elsewhere in the world of leg apparel.

But are jeans good for travel?

This debate gets as vicious as any hot-button political issue you’ve ever known, and each side swears by its judgment to the bitter end. Even long-term, experienced backpackers have wildly differing opinions on the subject, indicating there may in fact be no correct answer. But that won’t stop us from having a good old fashioned heated argument respectful debate!

And we begin: Jeans vs. Travel Pants, the Ultimate Showdown!

Con: Don’t travel with jeans

Jeans are an oversized monstrosity the likes of which have no place in the wonderful world of ultralight backpacking. You want to be mobile, comfortable, adaptable, and unhindered. Jeans will hold you back, just like a shitty boyfriend.

You should never travel with jeans because:

  • They’re heavy. Jeans weigh twice as much as travel pants, and if you’re running to catch the very last train of the day, extra weight is your arch nemesis.
  • They’re bulky. Trying to pack these things down into a reasonably-sized pack is like watching an obese American enjoying an all-you-can-eat special right smack in the middle of an Oliver Twist-style orphanage.
  • They’re burning hot. Try sauntering around in body-temperature weather and 100% humidity in burly denim and you’ll want to strip naked in public more than you care to avoid the subsequent legal fiasco that shall quickly ensue.
  • They hold buckets of water. Ever get caught wearing jeans in a rainstorm? Those babies will stay wet until the sun sheds its last photon. Walking through puddles is even worse. Once that moisture seeps up to your socks and down into your shoes, your day will be ruined. Ruined I say!
But this guy is.
Bask in the sexiness that is a khaki-clad gentleman of sophistication and style.

Ignore the opposition because:

  • Travel pants don’t have to look awful. Khakis are the other “do it all” pants, casual enough for your beer-swilling pub crawl with your scruffy backpacker buddies, and classy enough for a visit to the world’s most revered temples. They’re classier than jeans, hands down. And travel pants, quite often, resemble khakis. Just find some without cargo pockets and you’re good to go. Like these.
  • You’ll do a sink wash eventually. Sooner or later, someone is going to expel his ill-digested dinner all over you, and the laundry machine will be broken or shut down for the day, and washing jeans in the sink is like painting a house with a toothbrush.
  • No one is going to sleep with you anyway. Come on, you’re not fooling anyone. Let’s not kid ourselves here.

Pro: Travel with jeans

Those idiots don’t know what they’re talking about. Jeans are comfortable, functional travel pants that’ll keep you comfortable and stylish a good 90% of the time. They won’t handle a rainstorm, but then again, neither will your hiking pants, and as long as you pack a pair of those as well, you’ll be just fine. Here’s why:

You should travel with jeans because:

  • They’re comfortable. Walking around in hiking pants is going to feel weird, and eventually you’ll yearn for the comfort of a nice pair of relaxed fit jeans to keep you comfy and cozy all day long.
  • They’re stylish. Show me another pair of pants that’ll cradle your exquisite lower physique in a more lady-impressing flattering manner. You need at least one decent-looking outfit, and it’s tough to find travel pants that don’t look like safari expedition gear.
  • They’re durable. No amount of sleeping on concrete floors is going to do a single speck of damage to these babies.
  • They have impregnable pockets. Have you ever had pants with vertical slash pockets? You might as well just throw your keys and camera and fancy smartphone right into a gutter. Or, you could just wear jeans. The front pockets might as well be a money belt.
Scaling mountains literal and metaphorical in Slovakia.
“I’d rather just not hang out with anyone than do laundry again.”

Ignore the opposition because:

  • You’ll never wash them anyway. Ignore the sink-laundering enthusiasts that tell you that you can’t sink-wash a pair of jeans. Who washes jeans anyway? Besides, you can haul around a pair of dirty jeans for a few extra days until you get to the next place with free laundry services.
  • No pants are good in a rainstorm. Sure, they’ll get soaked if you’re out in the rain for too long, but hiking pants will get soaked too. They’ll work better than jeans, but chances are you’ll run for shelter either way.
  • They’re not THAT hot. If you’re venturing into body-temperature climates, you’ll probably be wearing shorts all day anyway. Besides, if you wear your jeans only in the evening as part of your “nice” outfit, this becomes a non-issue.
  • The extra weight isn’t going to kill you. So jeans weigh twice as much as hiking pants. So what? That’s like an extra sweater or so. You can handle it. And if you’re swapping out a different pair of pants, rather than just adding more, you’ll be fine. Besides, you’re only bringing one. It’s tough enough to last.

The Verdict?

Sadly, there is no definitive answer here. Neither side is objectively correct, and each faction has some strong arguments. It mostly comes down to preference. However, if you’re thinking of packing jeans, you’ll also want a pair of lightweight hiking pants, which you can get dirty and gross and not feel bad about. If you wear your hiking pants during the day, and your sexy jeans in the evening, it’ll probably be okay. Just keep the grand total number of items down to a functional, efficient minimum.

However, this raises a different, and altogether more important issue. For we should not be squabbling over such petty issues, when bigger stakes are at play. The real issue is much larger. The powers that be have played us for fools. The real lesson to be learned here is that…

The travel apparel industry is incredibly stupid for not making travel jeans

There, I said it. Morons, all of them. Idiots!

I have complained about this incessantly for years. Literally years. There is no company on the planet that makes truly travel-worthy jeans, and they’re all incredibly stupid for failing to capitalize on the untapped potential of tens, or even hundreds of thousands of backpackers that, each and every year, wonder if they should bring a pair of jeans.

Pula amphitheater, Croatia
“Maybe I’d have more friends if I had cooler clothes.”

Thus begging the question…why are there no travel jeans?

It’s not difficult. In fact, making travel jeans is incredibly easy. Plenty of variations of nylon and polyester exist that would make perfectly functional denim-like fabric that could look, feel, and function much like ordinary jeans, but would shed rain and could be washed in the sink and hung up to dry overnight, regulate temperature more effectively, and resist wrinkles and look brand new every time. Certain natural fabrics such as hemp or lyocell would function partially the same way, but these options remain stunningly rare.

Travel apparel companies simply choose not to do this, and it remains an insufferable crime against humanity.

Travel jeans: The shortlist of sort-of contenders

I have seen worthy contenders, which I’ve rounded up here (from Rohan and Tilley, both of whom offer some good travel-friendly outfits that still look normal), which represent some of the few that don’t come in flat grey or khaki colors. If you don’t mind those solid colors, soft shell jeans are a spectacular option, if you can afford the sticker shock.

I hesitate to recommend any in particular, since more often than not, specific options cease to exist, and they’re only partially travel-worthy jeans anyway, though my incessant fury has gradually cooled as I see more options available here and there.

I hope to alter the content of this post one day to “…and here they are: Perfection itself.” But we shall see.

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