Should you travel with jeans?

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.

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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41 Comments on “Should you travel with jeans?”

    1. I usually try to travel with much nicer shoes, but all these photos were from a trip where I had ugly ones. Next time I’ll be handsome and presentable.

  1. Good writing!
    There are no travel jeans b/c jeans means “ready for anything” – business, nightlife, travel…
    Depending on the trip I may take jeans with me. I take mine mostly to any trip to Europe. And I didn’t take to any trips to Asia. It is more about comfort (not weight). In India I feel more comfortable in light shorts.

  2. I only wore my jeans when I was in a large city like Buenos Aires or Santiago where I actually cared about what I looked like (i.e. didn’t want to look like a backpacker). Therefore… worth carrying them in my backpack for 20 months. I fully admit it’s the most useless thing in my backpack though.

    1. Definitely changes based on the type of trip. Tour of European capitals? Yes. Mountaineering in monsoon season? No. But sooner or later someone will actually make something that can do both.

  3. We always pack jeans, but agree that they are useless in hot climates. We usually travel in Spring so find them useful. One really great thing about them is they look good without ironing and you don’t have to wash them that often. :)

  4. I took jeans travelling for the first time last year – for 7 months in S America, and I wore them loads. They were warm when I was in the Andes, and they looked smarter than my other clothes when I was in the cities. I was really glad. I guess it depends on your destination. LOVE the idea of travel jeans though. Perhaps you should start up your own little business…

  5. Personally I don’t recommend jeans on my own blog, and don’t normally take them for precisely the reasons you outline. However, I have brought a pair along on this trip. One, because they are black (and therefore look a little dressier), secondly, because they are a lighter weight denim so not so heavy to wear and pack, then lastly because they are a stretch denim, so more comfortable. If you choose the right pair they can be a good choice.

    1. I think the ladies have at least a few more options when it comes to lightweight and stretchy versions, especially now that jeggings are a thing.

  6. Nice one! I also have a love and hate relationship with jeans, but the real deal is i just find it bulky and it occupies space in my luggage (so just wear it! hehe). I bring at least one black or dark blue jeans with me just in case I need to wear something a little bit formal.

  7. I’m so fashion challenged that II never even knew there was a difference between jeans & khakis for years, pants were pants to me. And what the heck are hiker pants? Is that what they’re called? Anyway, I guess I typically rock the khakis in different shades, (or are they the hiker pants.) Darker the better to lessen the washes.

  8. another con? if you’re the hubs, you rip an embarrassing hole in an embarrassing place on, like, day three of a five month trip. he’s refusing to throw them away, i’m refusing to walk next to him in public while he gallivants about in such a manner.

  9. It all depends on a personal travelling style and the destination. While in hot climates it’s harder to advocate carrying jeans in colder ones it’s perfectly normal. Also, most of the backpackers I met were behaving like long-term holiday makers, going everywhere by taxi / tuk tuk and staying in good hotels. Good party was more important than meeting locals. For them, I’d say it makes no difference what they carry, they won’t walk a mile anyway.

  10. Hi
    Great post but you have missed a quite large travel/adventure clothing company that make great jeans deigned to be lightweight quick drying etc. That is Rohan, uk based but I am pretty sure they are available worldwide.
    Cheers

    Kevin

    1. Yup, I definitely missed them, as they seem to be nonexistent over in the States. Looks like I’ll be shopping there someday.

  11. Ha, you crack me up! This is so on point. I have often debated over this. This trip I did pack a pair of jeans and will say that I have only worn them once in the past two months… and it was on the day that everything else I had was dirty. I usually wear yoga pants or white linen pants at night in the Caribbean when the mosquitos or sand fleas are vicious. Just can’t get on the “travel pants” bandwagon…

  12. I think it completely depends on where you’re going. In Southeast Asia, I can’t imagine it. I look at people sweating in jeans while I’m smiling in my hippie pants and am happy that I didn’t bring any.

    1. This is why I like to complain incessantly about travel clothing companies not exploiting the very easy invention of travel jeans. If I shame them publicly with enough ferocity, SOMEONE will do it correctly eventually.

  13. I have a pair of dash hemp jeans and debated only over the weight issue, I chose to keep them for many reasons, such as:
    •Hemp basically eliminates the heat issue, I hiked comfortably in 80 degrees
    •Natural materials, Synthetics are nice but I’m not tryin to look like Turbo boy every damn day, besides they don’t hold smell like synths do
    •Durable as as mutha, nough said…
    •HEMP! anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-this, anti-that..
    •again aesthetically pleasing, I also have an external frame back, I go for the oldschool way of life, nothing says “pioneer” like a good pair of denim.

    Just a few reasons, they are heavy, they take awhile to dry, hard to compress but the pros outweigh the cons, if it wasn’t hemp though I would NOT be wearing cotton out there. I also own a 100% hemp Tshirt, button down, hat, and belt. Its an amazing material and it getting quite popular. Good merchants (I purchased from) include
    rawganique.com (amazing quality)
    hempest.com (good stuff, Hardy button Downs)

    1. Thanks for the tips. Good to get first-hand experiences since I haven’t made the leap of buying some yet.

      1. Thanks for the article, don’t think anyone could of tackled the issue better! You can swim through websites for hours and not come across a single pair of denim, or hemp for that matter.

    1. Haha. I think if you have access to laundry and the weather is mild, the downsides are pretty darn slim. And since most hostels have laundry facilities, well then, the debate becomes increasingly settled.

  14. I traveled for 13 months with 2 pairs of jeans with me at all times. Would never travel without them. When I gained a little weight, they still fit (unlike my hiking pants) due to the stretchiness of denim. I never had a pair take more than 24 hours to dry and because I had 2 pairs, I always had one to wear while I was washing the other. They were much warmer in the cold climates than khakis would’ve been. More than anything, in the places I visited (Russia, Eastern Europe), everyone wore jeans so I didn’t stand out as a tourist. I have never seen a pair of travel pants for women that look normal enough that they don’t scream “I’m a tourist.”

    The only time I didn’t wear jeans was 3 months in Central Asia when it was regularly over 100 F. Then the skirts came out. But as soon as I got to Almaty, Kazakhstan, my first stop was at the Gap to buy 2 new pairs of jeans. :)

    1. I’ve been relaxing my ultralight rules lately, since laundry facilities are more and more common than they were back when I was traveling around obscure places. I wish there were some sort of solution, such as quick-drying synthetic jeans or natural fabrics that work better than cotton, but options are so few and far between if you literally want JEANS that it’s almost not worth looking. I hope to find a solution at some point, but in the meantime I think it’s perfectly reasonable to bring a pair or two of regular jeans.

  15. I honestly hate wearing jeans while traveling, but it is true that they are really practical. I still think travel pants have an advantage over jeans though. I totally agree that travel gear companies should make travel jeans.

  16. Hey there ARE travel jeans. Has anyone seen the ridiculous “pajama jeans” advertised on tv! I always take 1 pair of jeans with me, they do come in varying bulkiness and I try to choose a “thinner” pair that I could hike in or dress up.

  17. Ha! This post really gives me the giggles!
    I’m a jeans girl whatever the weather. I take two pairs: I wear the rugged you-can-do-whatever jeans and a “nicer” pair for evenings.
    I don’t do baggy pants. I’m a petite woman and baggy pants swamp me so that I look like a Hobbit. As for shorts, I do like them but I look like a little girl with a husband and son almost as tall as I am: pretty disturbing so jeans it is!

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