Bluffworks khakis: casual style, great performance

Important update: Bluffworks has introduced a stretchy version of these pants, called the Chino, and I absolutely LOVE them. They share many of the same features as the ones reviewed here, but with a soft, somewhat-stretchy fabric, thus solving the only potential issue I had with the originals. Check out a review here.

A while back I reviewed a pair of travel pants from a startup called Bluffworks, which, in my humble opinion, put most others to shame. They looked good, they felt good, and they didn’t screw things up with silly zippers and oversized logos all over the place. I was excited to go on all sorts of adventures with them, from riding the train the wrong way to tripping over the cobblestones of adorable medieval villages.

But they’ve been updated. And the new ones might just be the best travel pants anywhere to be found at the moment.

While the original versions were intended to be low-maintenance, high-performance pants that would work in all sorts of social situations, the new version adds a number of features that will specifically appeal to the travel crowd, while maintaining the office-appropriate, casual styling. They look like ordinary pants, but they work like high-tech travel gear, which is how these things should always be.

Bluffworks recently sent me a free sample, and I’ve been enjoying them quite a bit. Take a look:

Bluffworks Khakis: A review

Bluffworks travel pants front view
Look, no silly sippers!

They look entirely normal, which is incredibly rare for travel pants. In fact I can only find a few that do this, despite my incessant digging.

I don’t know why the hell it’s so damn difficult for outdoorsy companies to realize that when high-tech clothing looks totally normal, it means you don’t also have to pack normal-looking clothing in addition to performance clothing. You can just pack a few sets of clothes that will work for any situation, from fancy operas to jungle treks. This is a huge deal.

By increasing the versatility of just a few items, you can cut the pack in half, meaning beauty is actually a performance advantage. Those ugly zippers aren’t a “feature,” but a stupid problem that forces travelers to carry double the gear.

But while outdoorsy companies stick silly zippers and weird extras all over the place, Bluffworks pants keep them entirely out of sight:

Features

As mentioned, these pants include a number of hidden details that will appeal to backpackers and other world travelers, which are basically invisible on the outside, and easily ignorable if you’re not using them.

Hidden in the right hand pocket is a small loop, to hang a set of keys, or maybe a small camera:

Bluffworks travel pants loop
Feeling loopy.

It doesn’t have its own clip, so you’ll need your own, but that way you can pick the kind you want, such as a locking carabiner, which will add even more security. There’s also a small drop-in mini-pocket in there, which basically splits the pocket into two sections, which can be handy for dividing coins from different countries.

On the left side, you’ll find a hidden zippered security pocket:

Bluffworks travel pants security pocket
Important stuff goes here.

I generally only wear pants with jeans-style pockets so that nothing falls out, so I’ve been using this pocket for coins, so I don’t lose them.

The back has three pockets; a zippered pocket, a regular pocket, and an extra, semi-hidden pocket up by the waistband:

Bluffworks travel pants back pockets
That extra pocket is actually incredibly handy.

The semi-hidden waistband pocket was designed to accommodate a smartphone (though maybe not the oversized ones that are becoming more popular; my iPhone 5S fits just fine, even with a case, but it’s almost peaking out of the top), which allows you to sit down without sitting on your electronics. But I also think it’s a nice place for spare cash, since no one is ever going to look there, and it’ll fit easily.

I’m already using each and every one of these features, even just at home, and I expect they’ll be even more useful while traveling. I’ve always wanted to ditch the money belt, and hidden zippered pockets provide enough security that I think that’s what I’ll do.

Fabric

This is 100% polyester, which means it’s naturally durable, wrinkle-resistant, stain-resistant, breathable, quick-drying, and basically shrink-proof. You can wash them in the sink, hang them up to dry, and they’ll be ready by morning. Which, if you’re on the road long enough, can be incredibly handy.

But it’s actually somewhat different from typical hiking pant fabric; it’s a bit thicker than the wispy-thin nylon that you’ve probably seen before, which makes it feel a little more familiar, like an ordinary pair of pants, which I much prefer. They’re still half the size and weight of a pair of jeans, but they’re not paper-thin, providing a nice balance, and making them work across a fairly wide range of temperatures.

And since they were originally intended to be office-appropriate, they actually have something of a visually textured surface, sort of like a pair of wool dress pants. It’s quite subtle, so they can still be casual or professional as needed.

Bluffworks travel pants side view
From the side. Obviously.

One thing I’ll mention is that they don’t come with a pre-applied DWR finish. That’s the spray-on treatment that makes hiking pants especially water-resistant (though not quite water-proof), so that lighter droplets just bounce right off. This finish eventually wears off, so you’ll have to reapply every once in a while anyway, but I thought it would be worth mentioning that these don’t include that initial treatment, so don’t be surprised if these seem to work differently from hiking pants that come with the treatment right off the shelf.

Lastly, this is not a stretch fabric. I have mixed feelings on stretchy pants, as they can sometimes turn out horribly wrong, but just keep this in mind, especially since the fit is fairly slim:

Fit

This version has a slim, modern style; I usually don’t comment too much on whether a fit is “good,” since body types and preferences vary significantly, except to say they’re a little slimmer in the legs than I’m used to, as I pretty much only ever wear relaxed fit pants. But they’re available in 1″ increments, so you can always go up and it’ll probably be just fine, and this might be a good idea; the combination of slim fit and non-stretch fabric can feel tight sometimes, like when you’re kneeling down to tie your shoes, or sitting on a plane for several hours. It’s important to get the right fit with these, to accommodate the trim fit and non-stretch fabric.

They have, however, modified the fit slightly since I got them, to make them a little roomier. They’ve also added a relaxed-fit version, and a stretchy version (and I like the stretchy version the most).

Bluffworks travel pants side view with security pocket
I made the zipper handle stick out so it would be more visible for the photo, but it can be easily concealed.

I’m not-so-secretly hoping for a matching suit jacket, because a low-maintenance business suit that you could throw into a suitcase or a laundry machine would be pretty spectacular.

Conclusions

So as you can tell, I’m quite happy with these. They look perfectly normal, they perform as well as any hiking pants I’ve found, and they’ve got travel-friendly hidden features to keep everything safe and secure. They’re basically the sort of thing all the travel clothing companies should have been doing this whole time, but so few people ever do. Morons.

It probably goes without saying from the frequent complaining I usually do, but, despite getting these for free, all opinions here are my own. I’d be shouting furiously if there were any reason to do so.

I will reiterate the caveat of the slim fit and non-stretch fabric; these might feel a little tight in certain places, depending on your particular body type and which size you pick, so keep that in mind (although the new relaxed fit version will go a long way in providing extra room). That’s the only issue I can think that people might have with them, but they’re otherwise great.

As mentioned above, you can just get the stretchy version instead. It feels great, and is my favorite of the two.

So visit Bluffworks if you’d like a few of your own, and go explore.

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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55 Comments on “Bluffworks khakis: casual style, great performance”

  1. They actually do look like a pretty nice pair of pants. That is the problem with so much of the travel gear, it looks like you are coming off a Safari and most of it does not stand up to daily wear.

  2. Hi Eytan,
    I’m really eager to get some of these pants but I’m a bit hesitant about sizing. I don’t really have a typical pant size. Most of my jeans are 31/30 though I usually cuff them. I also have khakis that fit me decently and they are 30/30. I was thinking of just going with 31/30 as I tend to prefer a bit more room as opposed to a snug fit. What do you think? Thanks!

    1. A lot of clothing manufacturers have been doing “vanity sizing” for a long time, which is why you don’t have a typical pant size. They just change the numbers sometimes so people think they’re still fitting into their normal size, instead of realizing they’ve been eating too much.

      But anyway, I think these are about the size of a regular fit, rather than a relaxed fit, so if you’re on the fence, going with the higher number is probably going to be fine, and allow for a little more room.

    2. If you click on pants photos on the front page, it takes you to the shopping page. From there, you can scroll down and it gives actual measurements of the various sizes. For example, size 30 has a 31.75″ waistline. That’s about typical, from my experience. My snug pants are size 30 and my looser pants are 31 or 32, but my actual waistline is about 31.5″.

      1. Yeah that’s what I thought. Good to hear because I’m close to a 32″ when I measure myself and I just went ahead and ordered 31/30. Hopefully it works out. Thanks for the advice!

  3. Hey – here’s my current favorite pants for warm weather/tropical destinations; REI Adventures Pant, $49.50.
    Aside from the one discreet leg zip pocket it has everything you want and looks like a pair of pants. I have the shale.  Wash in the sink, dry in hours. They go great with my Teva Churn mesh shoes  http://www.teva.com/men-shoes/churn/4153.html  Mine are plain charcoal grey but I notice the current model has Teva in bright blue on the side. The best warm/tropical shoe I’ve ever had. Usually wear ankle high charcoal athletic socks to be fashionable but go sock less in a downpour and they dry out super fast.  My best mild/cold destination shoes are black leather from Thad Stuart. Agree with you on the leather, it feels great and looks great. Holds up to anything but a serious off-road trek.  Got them at a Walking Store.  I had occasion to wear all on a recent trip that included Paris, Amsterdam and Brugge in late Oct (43 & rain) and then 3 weeks in South Africa including J-burg, the bush and Cape Town (80+). Six flights, carry on only.

    Keep up the fight. James in Seattle

    1. I like them conceptually, but I recall the fabric seeming like it would produce a little too much friction. Some people don’t seem to mind, though.

      1. I have two pairs of the REI Adventures pants (tan & olive) and, while they’re quite a lot better than safari-style/convertible/etc pants, they don’t quite pass for office wear or for more dressy occasions. Their light weight and drape belies their origin.

        My wallet is rather upset with SnarkyNomad, but I’ve recently purchased both the Rohan Jeans Plus and the Buffworks tan slacks, and both are totally normal-looking, and I’ve been happily wearing them for my daily wear here at home in SF. If you don’t care about the somewhat dressier look, or are put off by the considerably larger price tag of either the Jeans Plus or the Buffworks, the REI Adventures are certainly worth their ~US$50 price. Of all the travel-appropriate pants I’ve had (the ones above plus ExOfficio convertible cargo pants, which I never wear due to their hideosity), the Buffworks are my favorite by far.

        BTW the Ecco Collin Nautical laceups advertised on Rohan’s site are fantastic travel shoes – a little stylish, and extremely comfy for long walks (but probably not great for any actual hiking)

  4. Clothing Arts’ Business Traveler pants are pretty sweet, although I get the feeling you wouldn’t like the antitheft straps.

    1. I like them quite a bit, though I’d like to see a version that’s 100% indistinguishable from regular clothing. They’re quite close, but they could be all the way there.

  5. Based on your earlier review, I picked up some of these pants for an upcoming trip to Europe. While I haven’t gone on the trip yet, I have already enjoyed the heck out of these pants. They look and feel great. I wear them to the office with a shirt and a tie, I’ve worn them out around town with casual shoes/shirts, and I wore them to the zoo this past weekend.

    So basically, these pants are worth the price to me because I am going to wear them regularly and not just when I’m traveling.

    Oh, and if you do dry them in a dryer, it takes maybe 15 minutes at most.

    1. Happy to get the word out. I had gotten so frustrated with so many variations of travel pants that almost looked normal that it was refreshing to find these. I’m looking forward to taking mine around the world sooner or later too.

  6. I ordered a pair of these and just got them yesterday. You aren’t kidding when you said they’re a slim fit. I normally wear about a 32/33 – 34, so I ordered myself a 34-34. They feel like they’re hugging my body everywhere, I was worried when I sat that I’d actually rip them.

    The material is great though, I hate the parachute pants feeling of most other pants. I’m torn between sending these back for a refund or exchanging them for a larger (36-36?) size and tailoring them for a more relaxed fit.

    1. They come in 1″ waist size increments, so how about a 35? Even just an inch can make a big difference.

    2. I agree that they are a tighter fit than most jeans/slacks. All my jeans/slacks are waist 33 or 34, so I ordered a 34. They are uncomfortably tight in the thigh with little room to spare in the waist (which is fine for here, but I know I’ll gain a few pounds over our 34 day trip…). I’m going to try a 36 waist as the 35 is on backorder.

      A big note is that you have to pay your own shipping for exchanges. For a $93 pant that doesn’t have a ‘typical’ fit I’d think they would have free exchanges. Or maybe I’m just spoiled by REI/Zappos/Amazon.

      You are right though. These pants look great.

  7. After reading your blog I ordered a pair. They arrived yesterday (only the brown available now in my size). I tossed them for a quick wash and dry, put them on this morning for work (with a new pair of underwear – you MADE ME BUY) and these things are nice and far cooler than my normal cotton (canvas) pants that I like to wear.

    I contacted them today and will be ordering more (they are currently on back order and next shipment is for 7/25) – but if you order now you can get $5 off.

    Also – good news – they will have Navy Blue offered this fall.

    Thanks again…..

    Now I am waiting for my Rohan Plus Jeans….

    Darn SnarkyNomad is making me broke…will have no money for my trip this July… :-p

  8. These pants were awesome on my trip. I didn’t bother to wash them, but despite being packed and repacked several times as we relocated around Europe, I had no issues with wrinkles. The zippered pockets were great in Paris where I had some pickpocket concerns, though I never actually felt threatened.

    But I will say that all of the talk about what to wear or not wear in Europe seems to be useless advice. Wear whatever you want. That’s what everybody else does.

    1. Haha. Yeah, there’s no “correct” answer, and no one’s going to get upset if you’re wearing jeans or khakis or shorts or whatever. I just love efficiency and the ability to handle all sorts of weather.

      1. Yeah, unfortunately, we caught a heat wave after leaving Normandy. Luckily, it cooled down at night fairly quickly so sleeping without a/c wasn’t much of an issue, but I wish I had taken a pair of shorts.

        And to think I was worried about being chilly!

        But these pants are really great so no regrets about buying them.

  9. We’re going hiking in the Wyoming Rockies late this summer, and I am in charge of gear procurement. I would likely face a nasty divorce if I got my husband zip-off cargo pants… so thank you for saving my marriage with this post. Kudos.

  10. They sounded pretty good, up to the point where you put “$88” in front of a guy who paid nine dollars total for his last three pairs of pants.

  11. I’m not a big traveler, but I’ve stumbled upon your site researching the tom bihn synapse. But all your minimalist packing kinda has me wanting to take a trip. And these pants actually look like something I could wear daily to work (very casual, I wear jeans daily, heh). They look even better for the few times I have a photo gig (though, charcoal doesn’t look dark enough).

  12. Hey Eytan,

    Loving the minimalist articles mate! I have also been looking for some better travel pants than my $8 Primark chinos and stumbled across your site with tons of tips. Thanks!

    I was wondering if you have read the following website about Rolf Potts and how he traveled around the world for 6 weeks with no baggage. ( http://www.rtwblog.com/ )

    From memory he was using a Scottevest which has more pockets than countries to visit. OK, slight exaggeration but you may find their stuff interesting as they certainly tick the box for security and ultimately it would be up to your personal taste if they tick the box for style and functionality.
    ( http://www.scottevest.com/ )

    Cheers,

    1. They have some neat gear and millions of pockets, though I can’t quite imagine what I would do with all of them. Some of their jackets have 23 pockets, and I don’t carry 23 things around every day. I expect that for certain people, like photographers who have all sorts of little items, it might be quite helpful. I like how they try to make normal-looking clothing though. There’s usually no hiker aesthetic to their gear.

      And I’ve heard of the luggage-less travel fiasco (and Rolf Pott’s book, Vagabonding, is really great), which sounded like an interesting adventure, though I wonder if carrying a jacket that stuffed would be any better than carrying the same amount of gear in a small backpack, but I think it’s still neat that he did it.

    1. The problem is far more common in t-shirts and underwear, since they’re right next to the most offensively smelly parts of the human body. Imagine, for example, if you’ve ever had a fleece jacket that smelled bad, compared to polyester t-shirts; the jacket is usually just fine, even after weeks of use, whereas the shirt might start smelling bad by the end of a long day. I haven’t had any issues with pants either, including these. I usually wash them after wearing them maybe 4 or 5 times, but there’s still no smell.

  13. What temperature ranges have you used these pants in? I’m going on a trip where the temps will be ~20F at night to 45F during the day so I’m trying to decide if these are any better / warmer than a pair of Prana Stretch Zions which I already have.

    1. These aren’t supposed to be warm, so they’re about the same as a typical pair of khakis or office dress pants, or the Zions. I don’t recommend getting warm pants, though. They usually cost quite a bit, and can only be worn during the really cold months of the year. I would recommend using long underwear instead, worn underneath whichever pants you like. Cheap polyester long underwear might cost you $20-30 per pair (I just got some from Uniqlo for $20), and they’ll keep you nice and warm, and it’s likely to be a more affordable investment than buying 2 or 3 different pairs of winter pants. Plus you can get long underwear in your favorite color, and pretend you’re a superhero.

      1. Thanks, that helps – the Zions have some ventilation holes which may be a little uncomfortable when it’s windy. I’ll look into some other equivalent-weight pants at the local REI. Probably will add another pair of long underwear so I can wash and wear, and maybe some kind of lightweight rain pants for if it gets really cold.

  14. We’re approaching the one year mark on this review. Do you still consider these pants to be the best travel Pants or had something else overtaken them?

    1. Excellent question. I still think the feature set is ideal, and the only potential caveat is the lack of stretch fabric, and the lack of a water repellent finish (which you can spray on). If the non-stretch is a deal breaker, I’d recommend taking a look at the pants on this list, or take a look at soft shell pants, which are even pricier, but utterly wonderful.

  15. Hi Eytan,

    I love your reviews. Inspired by them I got some Bluffworks in blue today. They have great features as you’ve pointed out.

    But to me they look like polyester pants – they have that polyester sheen about them and surprisingly aren’t very soft. The fit is great and I’m sure they would be very functional. They don’t feel too hot temperature-wise either which is nice. But I’m returning them because of the look and the feel.

    My favorites are still the REI Adventures pants – half the cost, great pockets, quick drying, durable enough, passable for various occasions, though you’re right they don’t pass as well at an office as the Bluffworks. But I took them around the world and they did well. I wore them with a sport coat going out in Tokyo and London and hiked in rural China with them. They don’t come in blue, though, and could be slightly better in drape and material. They’re quite close though.
    cheers and thanks again!

    1. I understand. I do think the brown has a very casual look, whereas the navy and khaki might look shinier and dressier, so I grab the brown one I have a lot more often than the khaki. Glad you found something you like, though.

  16. Thanks for the great recommendation on the Bluffworks. Like you recommended, sized up a bit and love the fit, and most importantly the fact I can wear them to work (I got the grey color.) I also got a pair of the Mission Workshop chinos which have the DWR and the stretch and are probably the most comfortable pants I have ever worn. These are now the only pants I travel with, the Bluffs to be a little dressier, and the MW softshells if I need something more “active.” The only problem is now I don’t want to wear anything else in my closet and it seems like a waste. Now I just need to splurge on the merino wool dress shirt!

    1. A lot of people get apprehensive about spending significant amounts of money on high-tech gear, but if they can replace multiple existing items in your closet, it’s not really an added expense. If they last longer, it’s even better. This is also why I get so adamant about items that blend performance with style, because if they can do both jobs, you only need half as many things. I’d be overjoyed if 100% of my gear functioned this way, and I’m gradually working my way toward it.

  17. Curious on which you would prefer for traveling – Bluffworks or Outlier? Have you ever tried any of the “Dri-Fit” chino options from Hurley/Nike? Thanks!

    1. When I say “travel,” I usually mean travel to places with potential pickpockets, which is why I prefer zippered pockets somewhere. If you lose your credit card at home, it’s a problem, but if you lose your card in Uzbekistan, it’s going to be far more serious. It just depends on what kind of travel you’re doing, though. However, now that Bluffworks has a stretch version of their pants, I think the case is even stronger for Bluffworks. I like Outlier’s stuff too, but it doesn’t have the specialty feature of hidden pockets. I still like Outlier’s OG fabric quite a bit (known as Schoeller Dryskin), which is great.

      Nike Dri-Fit pants would work well too, though might not last as long, but they’re certainly fine if you can manage to take good care of them.

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