Soft shell pants for men that look as great as they feel

Many years ago, when I was on the verge of setting forth on a nearly-year-long adventure throughout the international urban wilderness, during which I would brave everything from below-freezing winter snowstorms to body-temperature-and-beyond burning summer sunshine, I though to myself…wouldn’t it be really great to have high-tech clothing that can handle all sorts of temperature and weather fluctuations, breathe really well, dry really fast, withstand a rainstorm or two, hold up to serious abuse, and look really great, all at the same time?

Proof Nomad pant front view
Shouldn’t you look this good all the time? Yes, you should.

Yes, it totally would. Too bad it didn’t exist. The only options available were ridiculous-looking hiking gear, or cotton khakis. The world was a terrible place.

The semi-imaginary solution: Soft shell pants

What was even more annoying is that clothing like this could exist, because the fabric had already been invented, decades previously. The only remaining problem was the sheer stupidity of the human race, who insisted on making any and all high-tech clothing look as ridiculous as possible, so that it was completely out of the question to look good and feel good at the same time, and you’d have to pack twice as many things, because humans are stupid.

I have yet to fully recover from my wounds.

The world has since changed. A few small companies have figured out that all it takes to make high-tech clothing that’s snazzily fashionable is just making it that way. They build stylish outfits out of mountaineering fabrics, and the results are often the kind that will make you want to throw out the rest of your clothes, especially if you’re an ultralight travel junkie, and you need gear that’ll handle anything life can throw at you.

And when it comes to pants, one of the best fabrics around is known as a soft shell. It offers the perfect blend of comfort, durability, and weather resistance, making them about as versatile as pants can get. Let’s discuss.

What are soft shell pants?

The term “soft shell” has something of a murky definition, but it’s best understood in relation to a “hard shell,” which is a totally waterproof layer, like a rain jacket. Soft shells, by comparison, are highly water-resistant, but softer, and far more breathable.

But I mean really water resistant. Take a look at how a soft shell fabric handles a liter of water, compared to ordinary cotton:

Soft shell pant water resistance vs cotton
Incredibly useful on dark and stormy nights.

That’s technically all it takes to qualify, but it just so happens that most soft shells are also soft, strong, stretchy, comfy fabrics that look good, feel good, and can withstand just about anything, from a rock climb to spilled beer. They were initially designed for serious mountaineering, where jagged rocks and rainstorms might come thundering down at any moment, and serious climbers needed something that could hold up to the challenge.

But they’re also far comfier than you might expect. Many soft shells feature a double-sided fabric, with tough nylon on the outside, but a softer, more pleasant texture on the inside, which, along with super stretchiness, makes them feel downright luxurious. They’re also immensely breathable, and the textured inner surface reduces next-to-skin surface area contact, meaning that even a damp fabric won’t feel too clammy.

They’re most often seen in jackets, but they actually make even more sense for pants. Since your legs are usually vertical, total waterproof performance isn’t quite as important (but stretchiness is), and the soft shell tradeoff means you’ll get super tough, super comfy, super breathable pants that’ll shrug off the rain a million times better than a pair of jeans, and feel good the whole time.

In other words, they’re exactly what pants should have been in the first place, and you’ll wonder why we all bothered with khakis for so long. I have found nothing on the face of this earth more comfortable and functional in such a broad range of conditions as soft shell pants.

They do, however, have three downsides:

  1. They’re pricey…around $200 for a single pair. Since a lot of the fabric is made in Switzerland and sewn together by small companies, they’re not going to be cheap, though due to their higher durability, they can be a great long-term investment, especially for people constantly tearing holes in their pants. A couple companies have pushed the price below $100, however.
  2. They’re weak against cat claws. While soft shells are highly abrasion-resistant, they’re not as cat-claw-resistant; you know that “massage” thing they do? They dig claws in, and pull threads out; and since soft shells have stretchy threads, they’ll actually get stretched out, and can be difficult to work back in. Grab a blanket to cover your lap if the cat wants to claw-massage you.
  3. They’re usually ugly. And I mean really ugly.

This last problem, however, has recently been solved:

8 stylish soft shell pants for men, for indoors or out

I’ve rounded up a list of the best soft shell pants out there, all of which are styled to look like a perfectly ordinary pair of pants, making them equally capable of outdoorsy adventures and boardroom-appropriate professionalism. Quite a departure from the extraneous-zipper-festooned mountaineering pants of the outdoorsy crowd, but still just as functional. Since I love hidden zippered security pockets, let’s start with…


Options WITH a zippered pocket:

1) Proof Nomad Pant

Proof Nomad PantHuckberry has resurrected the Proof brand (formerly known as Proof NY), with an updated version of their Nomad Pant, designed to handle anything. Huckberry sent me a test sample, and it’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I say “soft shell pant.”

It’s built with a super-stretchy fabric, where the vertical stretch is actually the stretchier direction (as opposed to horizontal, which is the case with most others), making these extremely stretchy, able to handle yoga, rock climbing, karate high kicks, and whatever else you might feel like doing. The horizontal stretch is still pretty significant (comparable to most others), so you really get some great mobility with these, on par with sweat pants.

They’ve got a snap closure along the waistband, which I didn’t think I would like, but it hasn’t popped open by itself yet. They also use a reinforced waistband, so it doesn’t stretch at all, meaning it doesn’t sag or get stretched out over the course of the day, meaning you can wear it without a belt, if you so choose.

The back pockets also close with a snap, which offers some extra security, although it can be a little tricky to close them, as you’re pushing directly into a soft, fleshy area. I also love the hidden zippered pocket in the front right pocket; it’s not only hidden, but uses an “invisible” zipper, for even greater safety and style. Regular zippers in this position can become visible when you sit down, when the pocket arches outward, but these stay hidden the whole time.

They’re super light, great for warmer weather, and they stretch as much as anything I’ve found. The price is about as good as it gets, too.

  • Price: $98
  • Fabric: 90% polyester, 10% Spandex.

Pick ’em up here.

2) Lululemon ABC Slim Pant

Lululemon ABC Slim Pant
The Lululemon ABC Pant (Slim)

Yes, Lululemon, the yoga company. They’ve been rather successful with their ABC pants, which stand for “anti-ball-crushing,” which I don’t think I need to explain further.

Their “slim” version, despite the name, uses a completely different pocket layout from the regular version (which uses a jean pocket layout). Really they should have been called ABC Pants and ABC Jeans, but oh well. They are in fact slim, but the waist is actually a bit looser than the non-slim jeans, just to be extra confusing. Still, these are pretty solid, and probably the easiest option to see in a retail store, as Lululemon has a retail presence that the other options here do not.

They’ve got snap-shut back pockets, and a small, zippered pocket with an on-seam zipper up at the hip. It’s not completely invisible, but it’s pretty close. That pocket, however, isn’t that big; it’s more like a change or keys pocket. It says on the site that it’ll fit a passport, but unless that’s for an updated version that hasn’t made its way into stores yet, don’t count on that.

The pants have a non-stretch, reinforced waistband, a stretchy fabric, and a light, slick feel. They do feel a little plasticky, but on the other hand, that’ll make them slide against under-layers more easily, so nothing gets pulled out of place. It’s also a single-weave fabric (as opposed to the more common double-weave soft shell fabric, which has a soft, brushed lining on the inside), so they should be nice and cool, although the slick surface and shine do convey just a bit of a “workout pant” appearance.

  • Price: $128
  • Fabric: Not listed (medium stretchiness, compared to the others on this list, and single-weave, so it’s cooler).

Check them out here.

3) Mission Workshop Division Chino

Mission Workshop Division Chino
Mission Workshop’s Division Chino.

Mission Workshop is actually more widely known for their waterproof backpacks and messenger bags than their clothes, but they’ve been adding some impressive entries into the world of functional and fashionable clothing, and this is one of them.

Ever-so-slightly more workmanlike in appearance than some of the others, the Division Chino has a semi-secret zippered thigh pocket to give you extra storage space, and a belt-loop-like attachment loop in the front pocket, for hanging things off the side.

It’s slightly less office-appropriate than the other options because of those extra features, depending on what sort of office you work in, but it has a modern aesthetic that I think looks pretty nice, and it’s certainly fine for Casual Friday, or any setting even just slightly less than formal.

They’re using a variant of Schoeller Dryskin, which is essentially “the” soft shell fabric, made in Switzerland for mountaineering, and highly versatile in weather of all kinds, though the Swiss fabric definitely moves the price up.

  • Price: $225
  • Fabric: Not listed, but it’s a variant of Schoeller Dryskin).

Get them here.

4) Seagale Active Stretch Chinos

Seagale Active Stretch Chinos
The Seagale Active Stretch Chinos

Seagale is all the way over in Europe, but if you’re over there anyway, it’ll be a lot easier to order from them than anyone else. They’ve got quite an extensive line of gear, so they’d be good to keep an eye on if you’re getting tired of international shipping fees back and forth from American companies.

Their Active Stretch Chinos use an all-purpose, light-to-mid-weight, 4-way stretch fabric, with a great slide-shut waistband button and a hidden zippered pocket in one of the hand pockets. They have a normal appearance, use casual colors, and look pretty great, just like their entire line.

Not every company lists their fabric weight, but this one does, and these pants weigh in at 230 grams per square meter. That’s right at the midpoint of weather versatility, perfect in spring or fall. The double-weave fabric is going to be warmer than a single layer, especially when you’re working up a sweat, and when combined with the mid-weight fabric, might feel a bit too warm in the summer, depending on how heat-sensitive you are. You really have to go super-thin with double-weaves in high summer heat, or just wear shorts, so keep that in mind. Also remember they’re using centimeters instead of inches, because they’re not uncultured heathens like we are.

  • Price: 120 euros
  • Fabric: 89% polyester, 11% elastane.

Get them here.


Options WITHOUT a zippered pocket:

5) Outlier New OGs

Outlier New OGs
The Outlier New OGs.

Originally envisioned as a bike-to-work pant that had to work just as well while cycling through the rain as it would in an office setting, Outlier’s original garment (thus known as the OGs) certainly started things off in style. Office-appropriate details and colors mean you could easily attend a wedding in them, and head straight to the climbing gym afterwards.

The two buttoned back pockets use a downward-facing welt, thus holding your wallet a little more securely, while still resembling an ordinary buttoned pocket. It’s a nice touch for paranoid travelers who don’t like their wallet just falling out on its own, or getting quickly pickpocketed.

They use a 4-way stretch fabric all the way from Switzerland (which is part of the reason for the price), and the super-stretchiness is great for any kind of athletic activity you might run into, from yoga to kickboxing. This is “the” soft shell fabric, as far as I’m concerned, offering a great blend of performance and versatility in all sorts of situations.

The fabric weighs in at 240 grams per square meter, putting it right in the mid-weight range (200 is light, 300 is heavy). This makes it great for all-around use, aside from high summers or deep winters, although double-weave fabrics like this one can more easily adapt to cold temperatures, since the inner lining can warm up if you’re walking or running around a lot.

  • Price: $240
  • Fabric: 80% nylon, 10% polyester, 10% elastane.

Get them here.

6) Ministry of Supply Kinetic Pant

Ministry of Supply Kinetic Pant
The Ministry of Supply Kinetic Pant

Ministry of Supply seems to have a quick product turnover, changing little details and giving products new names instead of numbers; this makes it a little tricky to know which product is the spiritual successor of which other product, but the Kinetic Pant is currently the main option.

They’ve got a standard chino/khaki pocket layout, and a hidden waistband button, giving them a nice, dressy look. They’ve also got slim and regular fit options, and office-appropriate colors. They’re one of the dressiest of the options listed here, given Ministry of Supply’s focus on professional clothing, so you can look your best while still achieving the same level of performance as the others.

And they’re actually knit, instead of woven, giving them 4-way stretch without the need for spandex. This generally allows fabrics to dry faster and last longer, all else being equal. It’s also a single-weave, or single-knit, rather (so there’s no soft, brushed interior), meaning it’ll be cooler than a double-weave of similar weight, and thus more appropriate for warmer weather, depending on level of activity and how easily you warm up in the heat.

  • Price: $145
  • Fabric: 100% polyester

Get them here.

7) Outerboro Motile Pants

Outerboro Motile Pants
Outerboro’s Motile Pants.

Perhaps the dressiest of all the options listed here, the Motile Pants come from Outerboro, a Taiwan-based newcomer who seems to be expanding quickly, adding new options all time.

The Motile Pants use classic dress-pant styling, whose tiny details (double-welted back pockets, tabbed waistband, slim fit, office-appropriate colors) all add up to give it perhaps the most formal appearance of any soft shell pants you’re likely to find, while still providing the 4-way stretch that you’d need for running and jumping around in them.

Just make sure to double-check the sizing, since they don’t necessarily use the same sizing as American companies (especially since they’re shipping all the way from Taiwan, and you don’t want to get caught sending anything back and forth). Their products tend to suit shorter people quite well, as the shorter inseam lengths on their pants and shorter sleeves on their shirts make more sense for smaller customers, especially since stretchy fabrics like these will shrink about an inch in length. Most of the others go for the tall crowd, as they’re selling primarily to an American market, and you can more easily shorten pants than lengthen them.

  • Price: $148.
  • Fabric: 63% nylon, 26% polyester, 11% elastane.

Get them here.

8) Ninox Carson Chino

Ninox Carson Chino
Ninox’s Carson Chino.

(Out of stock, and potentially discontinued…)

Recently added to the Ninox lineup is the Carson Chino, which uses the same Schoeller Dryskin fabric as the Outlier New OGs and others, with a professional appearance for use in town, at the office, or on the trail.

These have two regular hand pockets, and two back pockets, one of which has a button, while the other is open.

The fabric is super stretchy, mid-weight, and a great all-around fabric for year-round use, except perhaps for high summers and deep winters, as is the case with the others that use this fabric. 240 grams per square meter is perfect for spring and fall, although because it’s a double-weave fabric, it can handle cold weather more easily than hot. The inner lining retains heat, meaning it’ll warm up if you run around, so it’s easier to push its performance to survive a winter than it would be for a summer.

  • Price: $219
  • Fabric: 80% nylon, 10% polyester, 10% elastane

Get them here.

Final thoughts!

As you can see, options are far more numerous than the zero I had on that extended adventure in the Dark Ages of soft shell pant absence. Nowadays it seems there are so many options to choose from that narrowing it down to just one seems like quite a challenge, particularly when it’s a long-term investment with a significant initial cost.

The good news, however, is that many of the options use the same fabrics and casually-styled features, so even if all you do is pick the one you think looks the coolest, it’s hard to go wrong.

I’m happy to see the options with hidden, zippered security pockets, which make these somewhat more suitable for adventure travel (I’ve listed examples of good travel pants here, all of which have hidden pockets, though they’re not soft shells), though buttoned pockets work quite nicely as well, and if you’re using a money belt, you don’t need to worry about it.

I’m also a huge fan of jeans-style pockets, because I can’t stand when coins and phones fall out, and I’ve drawn up a list of soft shell jeans, all of which are great.

In the meantime, go forth into the urban and/or sylvan wilderness, and adventure onward. In style.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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73 Comments on “Soft shell pants for men that look as great as they feel”

  1. I have a pair of Patagonia Simple Guide pants which I absolutely love. Last winter I wore them everywhere I could (not work) in spite of them looking too much like an outdoorsy pair of pants. As such I wore them all weekend as well as on a winter camping/snowshoe trip. I wish they made something out of the same fabric but with a more urban look. For wet and damp and cold conditions they cannot be beat.

    1. Yeah, these are all pretty much the same thing. There might be differences in fabric weight (the Patagonia sounds like it’s thinner than some of these), but otherwise they’ll all do just as good of a job filling the same role.

    1. I have an older pair of Patagonia guide pants. Love them but the Outlier Dungarees have completely replaced them. For twice the price, I get the functionality of three pants. It’s replaced my Patagonias, my jeans, and with a nice sweater or button shirt, it can be a pair of office pants. It’s also the first pair of pants I bring out for any kind of trip. I’m guilty of always wanting to wear them. Not cheap, but these pants have a lot of value for the price. I still have my guide pants, but they rarely come out to play any more and I’ll be recycling them.

      1. Yeah, that’s what happens when you find a favorite. Everything else just sits on the shelf. So imagine how great it would be if ALL your clothes were favorites…

  2. great list I love your website I keep coming back to read about everything you post and I love that we share a love for functional clothing you put my thoughts into words perfectly

    1. Very good question…the major deciding factor is the stretchiness vs the security pockets. I like Bluffworks’ hidden zippered pockets, but because it’s a non-stretchy fabric, it really needs to fit properly, whereas a stretchy soft shell will be more flexible and is more likely to fit someone, even if the fit isn’t perfect. I would therefore expect it would be more likely that the average person would probably prefer a stretchy soft shell, though of course it’s dependent on individual body type and so on. If you go with the soft shell, it’s worth thinking about jeans-style pockets or maybe buttoned back pockets for storing a wallet that can’t slip out easily.

      It all sounds rather nerdy, but it’s of course going to be a major monetary investment, so it’s worth thinking about all these things. I’d also recommend taking a look at Rohan’s trouser selection; all of their pants include hidden zippered pockets, and some of them also have stretchy fabric. That doesn’t make them officially a soft shell, but they’ll feel quite similar.

  3. Have you worn these soft shell pants in warmer weather? If yes, how warm? Were the pants still comfortable? I am trying hard to find a reason to buy the OG’s as I am really tired of the pants I wear to work.

    1. I happen to have something slightly warmer (Slim Dungarees) and slightly lighter (Futureworks), but I don’t have the actual OGs. The Dungarees I would definitely not wear in summer (anything above room temperature and I’ll probably wear something else, especially if I have to walk around a lot), but the OG fabric is a little lighter, and more like a typical pair of regular khakis in terms of warmth (though the fabric itself is probably lighter and thinner than most khakis). The Futureworks work just fine in hot weather, so I expect the OGs would occupy a good middle ground between them, and work nicely in all sorts of situations, aside from the extremes, such as freezing lows or body-temperature highs, with variations due to individual body type and level of activity.

      Personally I get overheated no matter what I’m wearing, but if you’re heading into an air-conditioned office, I expect the temperature controls will pretty much solve the issue. If you’re in a situation where you’re comfortable wearing a pair of Dockers, then soft shells will feel just fine, except for the winter-weight kind, which would be more comparable to wearing a pair of heavyweight jeans.

  4. Love your site. Your recommendations are good. Only problem is that these pants are all for slim people. Most only go up to size 36. If you have a slimmer waist and large thighs, you cannot even get these on. I have tried most of what you recommend, but none of them fit. Are there any so called “athletic fit” pants out there?

    1. Hmm…I know Outlier did a pair of pants like that known as the Keirin Cuts, but they’ve been discontinued, as it’s apparently not a common enough body type. There aren’t that many people doing these things, so they can’t cater to everyone…how about taking them to a tailor and adding a strip of elastic in the waistband somewhere? Maybe not the best solution in the world, but it’ll do the trick.

      1. Yes, I know the companies are small and can only make so much. But there is a market out there. Have you checked out Ibex? They make some great stuff in the USA. Pants have the Swiss outer with a very light wool inside. Works very well in the cold. Also, Kuhl makes really nice light, tough and easily washable pants. Only two problem, first, they are made in China and second they are hiking pants first.

        1. Yeah, I have an old Ibex sweater that I like a lot, though they mostly have the outdoorsy look. Kuhl is also nice, though their pant fabrics are mostly cotton, though they generally have some synthetic stuff too.

          A couple potential options come to mind; first is the Lunis Apollo (still in preorder). If you compare the measurements to the Outlier OGs, the Apollo pants have a slightly wider thigh, then narrow more significantly towards the ankle. It’s not a hugely different thigh measurement, but it might be enough. I know Ledge Pants did custom orders for their Kickstarter, though I don’t know if they still do that. Both pants use the same fabric as the OGs, which I’m pretty sure is my favorite pant fabric.

          1. At the moment, REI has a pair of Ibex softshell pants on clearance, I just bought a pair and really like them. This model has more of a town look versus hiker look, though you could easily use the pants for both.

          2. Yes, it is a great fabric. You can find the Schoeller fabric being used in all sorts of things, mostly ski pants and jackets. The pants you have recommended, as well as others I have found online, are all sold out in large sizes. Maybe companies will notice this. Love your research. Keep up the good work.

  5. Certainly not in the same league (or price) as the pants you listed.
    But I find these to be a good travel pants.

    Hidden pockets galore, water/stain resistant, cool in the summer, faster drying than cotton.
    Dressier, and tougher than many travel specific pants.
    And for those that like them, they can also be purchased in a cargo pocket style. :)

  6. I have a couple of pairs of Ministry of Supply Aviators and really like them (the Aero were a little too lightweight/clingy). How would you compare the Outlier Futureworks and/or the NY Nomad Proofs to them. My my main concerns are breathability in warmer weather and comfort (i.e. stretch)… I only need them to be mildy waterproof (i.e. spill a cup of water on myself, not biking through the rain water resistant).


    1. I haven’t tried each and every one so far, as I’m just trying to keep track of who’s offering what, but without accumulating many dozens of items (my closet is tiny!); however, I do know that the Proof NY Nomad is made from the same Dryskin fabric as the Outlier OG (240 grams per square meter), which is thicker and heavier than the Futureworks (200 grams per square meter). I have the Futureworks, and they’re appropriate for warmer weather, though I’ve worn them in light rain in cool weather and they worked nicely, though they get chilly in heavy jacket weather. I’m not sure how that compares to the Aviators, but hopefully that’s helpful. The Aviators have 4-way stretch, though, whereas the Futureworks only have 2-way. Still good, but not quite as flexible as 4-way.

      1. Hmm, I might just have to order a pair of Futureworks and try them out. Is there a breathable 4-way stretch you recommend? What about the Makers and Rider’s 3-season commuter pants made from Polartec Neoshell?

        1. I’ve seen a couple Makers & Riders items in person, and they look and feel great, but I don’t have experience wearing them. Neoshell is supposedly quite breathable, promising hard shell rain protection with soft shell comfort, but that’s as much as I know. The Futureworks are good for warm weather, but if you want the 4-way stretch instead, which I certainly love, then the Outlier New OGs (and anything made with the same fabric, of which there are quite a few options, including some listed here) feel great. That fabric has a really great “just right” weight and feel, and it’s probably my favorite that I’ve found so far, though it’s slightly thicker than the Futureworks fabric. A few other options with jeans-style pockets, which I prefer, can be found here, several of which use that same fabric.

          1. Hi, so I tried the New OG, Climbers, Futureworks, Slim Dungarees from Outlier. The 4-way stretch made the new OG and Climbers far more comfortable than the other two for me (I think I have odd hig/thigh proportions). Despite the name, the Climbers were slimmer in the thigh than the New OGs (the website actually says something to that effect). I’m keeping the New OG for a few more weeks to try out.

            I also tried the Surface and Nomad pants from Proof NY, but the cut made them much tighter in the crotch area in a way I didn’t like (I never liked wearing slim jeans which I think it is designed to match).

            I’m looking to try the Maker and Riders Jeans next.

          2. Makers & Riders make something with Neoshell, which as far as I have read, is a heavy-duty waterproof fabric with the breathability of a soft shell. But they also make something that’s half wool and half polyester, so it looks almost like a pair of dress pants, and it’ll be nice and breathable. Probably not as tough and weather-protective as the others, but quite nice.

  7. Here in the UK the Rohan brand is easy to get hold of. I have just bought a pair of outsiders just for every day wear. They look just like normal trousers and are very comfortable, at the same time I bought a pair of striders, which are basically the same trouser but with a more outdoors design. These also will be worn for casual use. The Rohans are quite pricy, with the two pairs costing nearly £150 in the winter sale. Some of my previous Rohan trousers have give more than 15 of service (the old get what you pay for scenario).
    In the UK is a brand called Regatta, it’s great gear but doesn’t have the high price tag that often goes with this type of clothing. I have two pairs of their Geo Softshell trousers (around £30 mostly) and these would be my first choice when heading out to the hills on a wet and windy day.

  8. I live in LA so I was able to go to a Mission Workshop store to try on their Division Chinos. Definitely pricey but without doubt the most comfortable pants I have ever worn and to me worth the price tag. The zipper on the leg makes them a little less a traditional office-wear type of chino, but my workplace is fairly relaxed so that was not an issue for me, but could be for others. (Also, having that extra pocket can be a nice touch for traveling.) These pants are pretty narrow around the ankles so if you prefer a more normal or wider opening they might not be for you, but to me they look and work great. This is a fairly small company so when I emailed them for some guidance prior to going to the store, they responded quickly and were really helpful so customer service is personal and informal and it felt good to deal with a small, USA company. It would probably be possible to travel for three weeks with just one pair of these things and you could do everything from going to a nice restaurant to hiking in the mountains, no problem. My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe this year, with our daughter who will be 1, and we are going to do it with just one eBags carry-on back pack and my old REI backpack (about 40L) that is also a carry-on, (Europe standards). (And this includes packing diapers!) I have already “pre-packed” to make sure everything would work and we actually have plenty of extra room (for whenever my wife wants to buy some fancy Italian designer bag or something similar I just don’t understand). Easy to do with gear like these chinos! I really don’t get people with those 65L packs unless they are planning an ascent of Nanga Parbat or something. MW had a lot of other items I would love to get, if I could afford it, not least of which is their merino henley which felt awesome!

    It might be worthwhile to check out the site as they have a lot of brands that make technical, office-appropriate clothes. I have seen ProofNY, Outerboro, Ministry of Supply, Mission Workshop, Parker Drusseau, etc on there at a decent discount, although they don’t have every size and/or color available, so it is a little hit or miss.

  9. Hi,
    Thanks for all the info. Thanks to you I have the outlier slims and the ministry of supply chinos. Both great. Can you tell me why you note that the mos chinos are not technically soft shells?

    1. Soft shell is a fairly vague term, and all sorts of different things are labelled “soft shell,” though it usually means a highly water resistant, stretchy, breathable, strong, soft fabric, usually nylon or polyester. Some manufacturers will only claim something is a soft shell if it has a certain amount of water resistance, or a certain amount of stretch, or a certain amount of warmth, and so on.

      So a lot of things should qualify, and I’m pretty sure the MOS Chinos might as well be included, but soft shells were originally developed for mountaineering, and scraping against rock faces in cold weather, and I think the MOS Chinos are designed more for warm weather, and thus are lighter and thinner than what some might consider an “official” soft shell. But people need lightweight gear when it’s hot outside, so I included it. How do you feel it compares to the Dungarees?

      1. Okay, I get it now. Yes, the MOS chinos are pretty light. Thanks for the info. As to how the two compare. I don’t see them in the same (sub?) category. The Outlier slims is definitely a jeans replacement as you rightly say. It’s a little thicker and a different kind of weave that’s more jeans-like. I feel more comfortable wearing the MOS chinos when I go to work or a meeting. But I travel with both no matter what.
        I live in Canada and I can really feel the cold through the chinos, but not so much through the slims. But the price was a big factor and I I very happy with it. Shipping and customs very often add about $75 to the price. For some reason, I don’t pay customs when I order from MOS. I’ve also been extremely impressed with their customer service. I didn’t like the colour of the chinos I ordered (and hemmed), they sent me a gift certificate immediately and asked that I post the pants back whenever I could. My second purchase was a dress shirt and it’s equally impressive.
        Anyway, I could go on and on. What pants would you recommend as a third purchase after the two I have? I figure three is all I need.
        And thanks again for all your great info.

        1. Nice info. As for getting a 3rd pair…hmmm. It seems like you have all your needs covered, by having one for casual use, and one for slightly dressier use; and you also have one that’s warm, and one that’s cool. I suppose that if you like traveling in warm weather, get another light one, and if you like traveling in cold weather, get another warm one. Or maybe one in between (like the New OGs, or anything using that same fabric, or something close to its weight).

    1. They have the same exact fabric, so the Climbers are just a whole lot slimmer (nearly skin-tight), and they have jeans-style pockets. Also, the back of the Climbers have something called a “vertical yoke” that makes it look sort of like a bike riding pant. To me they’re more about functionality, whether that’s biking or climbing, whereas the OGs are more presentable in social settings, though that’s just my opinion regarding the aesthetics.

    2. I recently ordered the New OG and the Climbers (and the Futureworks and the Slim Dungarees) in 32W. I can confirm the Climbers are skin tight in the thighs. Personally, I feel like when it is that tight it restricts hip flexion so it less comfortable and less functional, but maybe that’s just me (I have big quads compared to my relatively narrow waist).

  10. I’m sorry, I have another stupid question. In a different post you said the Bluffworks is the best travel pants. What sets it apart from the soft-shell pants above?

    1. I like the zippered pockets and other hidden features, which are incredibly useful in countries known for pickpockets. Bluffworks are also half the price, so I think they provide a great balance between value and features. Soft shells provide the advantage of feeling comfy and stretchy, and are usually more weather-resistant, but at $200 each and with no security pockets, it just seemed like the Bluffworks were a better all-around choice. Also, the non-stretch fabric of the Bluffworks is a lot tougher against thorns and cat claws and other snaggy things, which is the weakness of soft shells. It’s a pro & con tradeoff, though, so there’s no “correct” answer, so if you prefer stretchiness instead of hidden zippered pockets, then a soft shell would work better.

  11. Hi,

    Great info… being frequent traveler with a need for light weight packing… I start to be good at it but pants are still THE issues for me. Too ‘hicking’ or too classy.
    But I am adding another constraint. Working in hot/tropical/desert environment, it is difficult to get the right pair of pants. Jeans are out, not comfy when traveling and too hot. Khakis in cotton are usually ok but most materials are too heavy cotton (not easy to find light coton… and then hello the spronkles).
    Sooo, does these soft-shell offer a good value in hot or humid climates? And what about the Blssfworks (seems to be for European level weather)…. Always a bit worry with synthetic materials in hot/humid envirnment.

    Otherwise, great posts


    1. Soft shells are usually too warm for summer, except for really light fabrics. Soft shells were invented for cold-weather mountaineering, so they’re usually thicker than regular hiking pants. There’ll probably be better alternatives on this page of travel pants, most of which are fairly light. Among soft shells and almost-soft-shells, the Ministry of Supply Aviators and Prana Brion would work quite nicely.

  12. You mentioned you had both the Outlier slim dungareea and the Outlier futureworks.
    The website lists the waist opening to be different for the same size. (17.5 top opening for the size 34 in the dungarees, and 17.75 top opening for the size 34 in futureworks).
    Do you wear the same size in both?

    1. Yes, this is true; I wear the same size in both, and the Slim Dungarees just fit a little lower, so they have to be a little wider, whereas the Futureworks fit a little higher up on the waist. I would say get the same size, but just know they’re supposed to fit a bit differently. One is supposed to be a dress/casual pant, and the other is supposed to be a slightly-low-fitting pair of jeans.

  13. For something in between a softshell and an all out nylong hiking\travel pant I really like the Duluth trading nylon pants. They make ones with and without a 4 way stretch and with and without cargo pockets.

    Either way they all have a security pocket inside the right side hand pocket and it’s large and deep enough for even the largest smartphone or cash.

    The ones with stretch (duluthflex) have a fleece\tricot inner lining. The non stretch do not. So they have a little bit of warmth to them.

    They’re very cheap compared to some of the softshell pants on the list (I have had some of those as well). They have a lifetime warranty, no questions asked. And they are available in ther than trail colors.

    I must have 6 or 7 different pairs.

    Duluth makes like 100 different types of pants, to help narrow it down click “wicking” in the search field on the left side of the page.

  14. I hate when I wear a thin pair of pants and the pockets are “floppy”. When I carry my cell phone and my knife, I can feel the pockets flopping around. Especially when riding a bike. Can you recommend a pair that are good for humid weather that don’t flop around with weight in the pockets?

    1. Generally thicker fabrics help with this, and a belt, but thicker fabrics have their own problems. For me, a phone works fine in all of these, but adding a few extra things might weigh it down a bit. Belts help, though.

  15. What do you think about what Eddie Bauer has to offer? The have an outlet store near me and I was able to pick up some Men’s Horizon Guide Chino Pants for about 20 bucks. I don’t have a bunch of experience buying these kinds of clothes but for that little I figured I’d take a chance.

    1. Those will very likely work extremely well, though with a few differences; the Eddie Bauer pants, and many others like this, have 2-way stretch, meaning they stretch either horizontally or vertically (usually horizontally), but not both. Stand up and bring one of your knees up to your chest, and you’ll notice that the pants slide up your leg. With 4-way stretch, they won’t slide; they’ll stretch right along with you, and it’s especially nice when you’re leaning down to tie your shoes, sitting in a cramped space, and other situations like that. It’s not a necessity, but it’s nice and comfy, with no restrictive sensations at all.

      Cheaper versions are generally, though not always, somewhat thinner, and not likely to last as long as Swiss-made fabric from Schoeller, though if you manage to look after it well enough, you’ll be just fine. I consider 4-way stretch soft shell pants to be the perfect Holy Grail of travel/trail pant fabrics, but 2-way stretch fabrics will offer nearly the same level of comfort and performance at a significantly lower price. Also, the ones featured on this list are pretty much the only ones that look totally normal, whereas most of the cheaper stretch fabrics happen to be used by mass-produced outdoorsy companies, and sometimes look a little too outdoorsy for me. Nothing wrong with that, but I like when my clothes look like normal clothes.

        1. Hmm…both of those would work, but the Nomad pants have 4-way stretch instead of 2-way and look more formal; the Aegis has better security options. Seems like those are the issues to think about.

  16. I just wanted to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for the fantastically obsessive reviews and musings. We are a family of 4, leaving in a few months for an 8 month RTW type trip (although we are not really going all the way RTW!) and plan to pack light. I have been obsessing over exactly the same things as you do in your posts – I have an old MEC travel pack from um, 20 years ago, that has been awesome, but it is starting to fail so we need to replace and there is no way that I am willing to start lugging a backpacking pack around the world! + since none of us (kids included) would be caught dead in convertible pants or anything of their ilk. I am just incredibly grateful for your research and am now completely enthralled with the Outlier shop…I just wish that somewhere, SOMEWHERE I could find similar things for kids. I have no idea why manufacturers think that all kids want to wear pants with a million pockets or wild colors and ugly graphics. Sigh. And I wish that these websites offered more for women too.

    I also wanted to point out though that if you sign up for the Proof NY mailing list, they give you a one-time15% off discount!

    1. For women, I’ve heard good things about Anatomie, Nau, and a startup called Pivotte. Visit Travel Fashion Girl and Her Packing List for writers who write about women’s travel gear. For kids…I think you’re out of luck. Kids grow out of things pretty quickly, so it’s hard to justify anything expensive, and major hiking brands like Columbia have plenty of kids’ gear, but they have the hiker look. I think it’s probably hopeless. Maybe just bring a mix of regular clothing too, and try to find a laundry machine every once in a while.

      1. Thanks! I will definitely check those tips out. And I totally agree about the kids stuff being hopeless – Smartwool and Icebreaker make a couple of wool pieces for kids that aren’t horrible and aren’t massively expensive. Ibex used to make a few really nice versions of their adult stuff, but at the time I too couldn’t swallow the price tags – for this trip though I would have bought them a few things! Pants are definitely harder, and I think I will just have to try to find him lightweight jeans, which as a self conscious 13 year old he will feel way more comfortable in than in dorky hiking pants. Anyway, thanks again – so much. I love, love, love your site!

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