Travel jeans, my imaginary best friend

Travel Jeans

For the last decade or so, I have spent a stupid amount of time tracking down high-quality travel gear, digging through mountains of insufficient nonsense in an attempt to find suitable items for global adventures. Though each and every category of apparel results in disastrously difficult searches no matter how easy the process should be, there is perhaps no article of clothing more elusive for the discerning traveler than a decent pair of travel jeans.

What are travel jeans, you ask? Well, perhaps the better question is what travel jeans would be, if the world were not so stupid as to preclude their existence. They’d be lightweight, packable, durable, fashionable, wrinkle-free, quick-drying, breathable jeans that could accompany you on any adventure, anywhere in the world, and keep you looking good the whole damn time.

Sadly, the world is filled with 7 billion people who have failed to make such a wondrous creation in widely available numbers. And we are all the lesser for it.

…but do you really want jeans for travel anyway?

Yes, you do. They look good, right? They feel good, right? So why wouldn’t you want to look good and feel good while in Paris or Tokyo?

Ah, but wait! Jeans are thick, bulky, heavy, sweaty, and gross. Don’t you want something high-tech, breathable, packable, lightweight and low-maintenance?

Jeans vs Travel Pants
A standard pair of Levis and a pair of Bluffworks, which pack down to about half the size.

A better question is, why can’t jeans do this too?

What would travel jeans look like?

I go back and forth on what would constitute the perfect pair of travel jeans, and it hinges on the fabric: Whether to go high-performance, or merely medium-performance.

Most travelers will eventually find themselves doing a sink wash and hang dry, in which case a 100% synthetic fabric is immensely useful. If you hand-wash your clothes in the shower every time you take a shower, you can travel forever with just a few changes of clothes.

But there’s something to be said about the comforts of soft, familiar, natural fabrics as well. Though it would make sink washes somewhat more difficult, a 50/50 or so blend of natural and synthetic fabrics would offer the comforts of home, while still providing some high-tech advantages. You might not be able to wash them and hang them up to dry overnight, especially if it’s chilly (it might take 24 hours instead of 8), but you could just hold off until you get someplace where you expect to stay for a few days, and do it there. Or pay for laundry, of course.

Ideally, I’d like to see both options, with the following features:

  • High-tech fabric, whether purely synthetic or blended, for reduced weight and increased packability, and quick-dry performance.
  • At least one security pocket, for hiding a passport, or some extra cash.
  • Normal appearance! Seriously, I don’t understand why so many companies out there look at the world’s most amazing style of pants, and choose to screw it up. I certainly don’t mind a little pizzazz, but I get annoyed that we often only have pizzazz-y options from which to choose.

So let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?

May I present: The colorblind outdoor industry

It’s just a giant, simmering cesspool of wrong.

Wrong color travel jeans
I really don’t get it.

It’s not like there’s anything particularly wrong with making a pair of high-tech khakis with jeans-style pockets. I’m a big fan. I’m just left incredulous at the idea that these companies quite often only make them in dirty trail colors, instead of the reliable denim blue that is purchased by billions of people every year.

Seriously, guys. What’s the deal? Is the target market of everyone who loves jeans just too lucrative to handle? Sigh.

A few good travel jeans!

Okay, so I’ve tracked down every travel jean on the planet that I know of, and I try to keep this list updated whenever something new comes along. To qualify for this list, they have to use a technical or semi-technical fabric, have at least one zippered security pocket, and look just like jeans. Here they are:

1) Rohan Jeans Plus

Rohan Jeans Plus
Look how easy it is for things to look normal.

The UK-based Rohan is one of the very few companies out there that makes travel clothing, rather than ridiculous hiking clothing. I can’t wait for them to expand further stateside.

Made from a blend of about 2/3 cotton and 1/3 polyester, these will dry a whole lot faster than ordinary jeans, maybe even overnight (depending on the environment, of course), while still feeling pretty much just like ordinary jeans. They’re stretchy, too. The fabric is fairly thin and light, so they’d work nicely for warm or even hot weather.

In addition to the regular jeans-style five-pocket layout (three of which close with velcro), they’ve got two additional hidden pockets (one zippered and one velcro), both of which are big enough to store a passport. All in all quite a solid item. It’s just that simple to make jeans for travel.

Update: Rohan sent me a pair to try out, and they’ve been great so far. The full review is right here, but the short version is that they work great, but you’ll probably want to go a size up in the waist if possible.

US customers can get them here.

2) The “Best Travel Jeans in the World” (from Aviator USA)

Best Travel Jeans in the World
The title makes a lofty claim, but they do look quite promising.

This Kickstarter project is now in regular production, and it’s a good one.

These have the standard five-pocket style, but with two additional zippered pockets; one in the front left pocket, and one in the back right pocket. Both are concealed within the pockets, so they’re stylish and secretive at the same time. The “fifth” pocket (the tiny one that people use for coins) has been expanded, so that it’s big enough for most smartphones. They’ve also got a clip on one of the belt loops, kind of like a built-in carabiner.

The fabric is a blend of cotton, polyester, rayon, and spandex (though mostly cotton), so it’s soft, stretchy, natural-feeling, and a little hefty. This is more about soft, super-stretchy comfort than quick-drying performance, but they feel softer and more natural because of it.

They have more waist sizes than the Rohans listed above, but fewer inseam lengths (but the inseam is long, which is easier to handle than something too short). They also have slim and straight fit options, and there’s even a women’s version too.

Update: There’s now a review! Take a look here for an in-depth look at all the details.

Visit Aviator USA to see them here.

3) QOR Performance Denim Jean

QOR Performance Denim Jean
Steely blue jeans for your best Blue Steel.

QOR has a vast catalog of products, and they’ve recently introduced a pair of jeans that fit right in with this list, featuring a blend of 73% cotton and 27% stretchy polyester.

They’ve also got a zipper on the back right pocket, and although it’s not concealed, it’s right along the edge of the pocket, where it doesn’t look crazily out of place. It’s also a water-resistant zipper, and although its water resistance probably won’t be that important, it also means the zipper takes more force to open and close. If someone starts fiddling with it, you’re going to know about it. I’d prefer it to be completely concealed, but with an untucked shirt, it’ll probably be invisible anyway.

These also have reflective panels here and there, including inside the pant leg. QOR is somewhat fitness-focused, so they add athletic details like cycling reflectivity to a lot of their products. Sizes are kind of limited, but maybe they’ll add more if it gets popular.

Update: I ordered one of these, and I like them a lot. The fabric is tough and durable (but not so light, so probably more suited to cooler weather than sweltering summers), and the way they’ve integrated an elastic waistband is genius. It’s completely invisible, but feels soft and comfy, as opposed to those weird-looking elasticized pants you see in hiking stores. The only thing I’d change, aside from hiding that zippered pocket, is that the front hand pockets are pretty shallow, and they could be a few inches deeper. They’re also pretty small, so definitely size up if you’re on the fence.

Check it out here.

4) Prana Modus Climbing Jean

Prana Modus Climbing Jean
Semi-rugged, semi-casual performance from Prana.

I’m pretty sure this is already being phased out, but I’m leaving it here until it disappears from the world completely.

The Prana Modus Climbing Jean has a stretchy blend of 72.5% cotton and 27.5% polyester, with a number of climbing-specific features that characterize Prana’s semi-performance/semi-casual design philosophy.

There’s a zippered security pocket on the left thigh, and the back right pocket is zippered as well (oddly enough, with a vertical zipper, along the side of the pocket). Directly above that, there’s a semi-hidden pocket up by the waistband, which is a good place for stashing extra cash, since no one will ever think to look there.

Because of the extra seams in back, the gusseted inseam, and the semi-visible thigh pocket (the stitching that holds it in place is visible, so it’s not exactly a “hidden” pocket, although I suppose you could just unstitch it), the design has perhaps a more rugged, utilitarian look than the others listed here; it’s a little more apparent that they’re not “regular” jeans, but of course it’s up to you to decide if you like it that way or not.

Get them here.

Prana also released something called the Bridger, which has a super-comfy cotton/polyester/spandex blend, but no zippered pockets. If you can do without those, it’s really great.

Wait, that’s it?

Yup! There might be more out there somewhere, but they’re hiding under a rock. It was hard enough finding jeans made with quick-drying fabric, but even harder finding some with security pockets. It’s a harsh world we live in, but at least now we have several.

I’d also recommend taking a look at soft shell jeans, which don’t look quite like regular jeans (they use solid colors, rather than the blue and white combo of regular denim) but soft shell fabrics are spectacular, particularly when it comes to durability, stretchy comfort, and wet weather performance. They’re pricey as hell, but you’ll have a hard time going back.

If you know of any others, feel free to share; but they’ve got to look like jeans, use a synthetic fabric, or a blend, and they’ve got to have a zippered pocket somewhere.

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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77 Comments on “Travel jeans, my imaginary best friend”

  1. Try looking at normal jeans with a fabric blend of cotton, polyester and spandex. My favorite travel jeans are from Forever21. I first bought their $7.80 Classic Skinny Jeans for a trip. I thought I would just throw them away after the trip, but they are so easy to care for and comfortable, with classic styling, that they are in my everyday wardrobe. If I wash in the sink, wring them out in a sarong and hang them on a hanger [bring 2 binder clips] they are dry in the morning. Inexpensive jean makers have included more polyester in jean fabrics as the price of cotton has gone up. Take a fresh look at cheap jeans.

    1. This is very true of women’s jeans, which I’ve seen include things like polyester, Tencel, and spandex, which can be quite useful in situations that require easy-care clothing, such as travel. Lucky ladies!

    1. Ah yes, those look pretty good. I had come across them before, but I was annoyed at how they don’t bother listing the percentage of polyester, because it could be 1% or 50% and there’s no way to tell. Argh.

      1. Purchased a pair from TravelSmith, they arrived in about a week. I’m between a 34 and 36 in Levis – so I got a pair of 35/32L. Seem to fit true to size, even after two washings. The makeup is 90% cotton, 9% polyester and 1% spandex. Feel good. Spacious security pocket with it’s own zipper in right rear pocket (if you are not careful and it’s open you could probably fit a wallet in it). In center belt loop on rear, there is a small hidden inner loop that would be good for attaching a caribiner (for whatever reason, I don’t know). Seem a tad lighter than Levis.

  2. I live in jeans normally, so there was no way I was going travelling without them. I think I had two dresses, one skirt and two pairs of pants – my jeans and light travel pants that zipped off into shorts.

    1. For most situations, they’re just fine, particularly if you’re bringing just one. But argh…we just need travel jeans!

  3. Finding the right jeans for travel is definitely tough. I hate looking like I’m hiking while traveling, but my two current favorite pairs of jeans are both too heavy to pack.

    Bonobos makes “travel jeans,” (http://www.bonobos.com/navy-jeans-for-men-travel-jeans-boston-navy) but the only difference is that they have some stretch to them.

    I’ve heard good things about Outlier, and they make dungarees (http://shop.outlier.cc/shop/retail/slim-dungarees.html). They’re pretty close to what you’re looking for although they cost $198. Outlier’s Nyco Slims (more of a chino) are also very popular for half the price.

    In general, I see a need for a modern and stylish line of travel clothes. Most of the stuff in TravelSmith or Magellan’s looks like it’s for old men who dress exclusively in shades of tan. Maybe it’s time for a Tortuga spinoff brand?

    1. I was thinking of what it might be like to form a coalition of all the travel gear startups that are doing travel gear better than the major players. Travel store sites already exist, but they are few and far between, and yes, they are only for old people.

      1. I don’t like characterizing unattractive travel clothing as for “old people” I’m old (62) and don’t like traveling in shades of tan. Would love a pair of classic jeans with a FRONT zippered security pocket. Perhaps “the best travel jeans…” but may need a larger size.

        Anyway, like your article but would prefer you lose the “ageism….”

        1. Okay, I take your point, but those companies definitely cater to an older demographic, with looser fits and pleats, whereas those are unheard of among more modern companies. They have some good business travel options, especially when it comes to blazers, which aren’t too common elsewhere.

  4. Hey there!
    I think I’m the one who tipped you off on the Prana Brion. Now that I own a pair, I figured I should give a report:

    1) Brown colour is meh. Khaki is on the dark side, and versatile. Got one of each for a little under half price.
    2) These buggers are actually slim fit. Flattering on us tiny folk, maybe not so much for others. It works really well with the stretch fabric and crotch gusset (also available in 28w, which is godsend).
    3) Construction is nothing special, should be reasonably durable. Prana is apparently good about warranty.
    4) No security pocket, but jeans pockets on what amount to skinny jeans is a good substitute.

    I’ve been wearing them day-to-day all the time; they’re great pants even not for travelling.

    1. Thanks for the details. Slim & stretchy manages to work pretty well. I assume it’s because they’re supposed to work as climbing pants (or they simply share a pattern with other climbing pants), and a slim fit means you don’t have to worry as much about fabric getting caught on things.

  5. I’ve been browsing your blog and I must say, as a fellow English student, I love your writing style. :)

    I disagree that it’s easier for women to find travel jeans, because unless you get lucky in a regular store and find one made of a blend, nearly all travel pants for women are hideous when it comes to fit, it’s like no-one’s ever heard of a skinny cut before.

    I’ve looked around a bit online recently, and came across this: https://www.levi.co.kr/event/2013/04/landing.asp
    Seems like Levi’s is/was experimenting with coolmax jeans. This: http://levi.com.my/my/newsevents/2013/05/levis-cool-jeans—look-cool-keep-cool.html on the English website seems to suggest it might happen this summer, though of course it’s questionable if there’ll be a women’s version too. If this is legit, I’ll be thrilled, because Levi’s are the only jeans I buy, and while they’re probably not quite as light and thin as travel pants, they’ll dry faster and be more comfortable in hot weather while looking like actual Levi’s.

    There’s also a German company called Vaude that made DryJeans with coolmax, but the only ones I found are on ebay – given that they’re selling them off for less than $20 per pair, I might just get one just to try them out…

    Let’s hope someone fills this market niche soon, and preferably someone who ships to Europe at reasonable rices, unlike sites like TravelSmith.

    1. Well, perhaps I should have specified: It’s not “easy” for women to find travel-friendly jeans, but for men, they barely exist. It is a said state of affairs.

      I kind of wonder if the problem is a matter of demand. A few companies have made travel jeans, but then they abandon them. I think it might be because people have been so trained to think 100% cotton is somehow wonderful that if they see polyester included in the fabric, they assume it means it’s low quality, and then the product fails. So few people have any idea that alternative fabrics exist (and they will ignorantly deride them, without even knowing about them at all) that it might be a long time before we see any major progress.

    1. Those looked like they might work, though I kind of assume it’s one of those products that will come in and out of production, so I wasn’t too excited about listing them, and they had no travel-specific features. They’ll work, though.

  6. While they don’t fit the description exactly, readers might want to check out Beta Brand… not only do they have innovative products, they’re entrepreneurial and actually WANT to hear what they should make next. What? That’s right, they actually are looking for great ideas!

    While this is a cool concept, I haven’t personally tried anything yet.

    Give the people stylish travel jeans.

    1. They make some pretty neat stuff, and I peruse their selection every once in a while. It’s geared toward the urban crowd rather than travelers in particular (so quick-drying fabrics aren’t so common with them), but they have a lot of quirky-but-useful features.

  7. These don’t meet your criteria but just back from travelling and they worked for me http://www.levi.com/GB/en_GB/men-jeans/p/191510005

    Although they will not pass the quick drying test (not fully sure of the drying time as I only wash my jeans about twice a year max) the lycra mix and treatment makes them much more comfortable for travelling, much less ‘smelly’ and they do offer some water resistance.

    And they are great for cycling in as well.

    They fail on security pocket but get a big tick for being normal looking jeans.

    1. Yeah, I think they’re catering to the bikers who need a little rain protection, which is nice. Elastic helps everything stay the same shape, too.

  8. Travel jeans,

    Being a cyclist, and backpacker, kind of after the same needs.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/recreational-cycling/10446824/Cycling-jeans-five-of-the-best.html

    I own and use as my everyday wear Swrve jeans, they are Cordera, 4 way stretch, and relatively quick drying. Pricing not brilliantly cheap, but otherwise ok for what I want.

    Other options, I’ve been looking into ‘tactical’ pants, such as http://www.511tactical.com/511-taclite-jean-cut-pant.html they have the extra pockets, are for the most part 60/30 on cotton/poly for quick dry. Definitely ticking some required boxes.

    1. Thanks for the tips. This is confirming my hypothesis that publicly complaining about not being able to find anything will get me faster results than actually looking for them. It’s crowdsourcing at its laziest!

  9. Hi,
    Vigilante seem to have a good range of both womens and mens travel jeans. Am off to try a pair today so will be interesting to see how they go.

    1. I’d happily give them an honorable mention for having the right fabrics (particularly with the inclusion of Cordura, which will toughen them up), though without the security pockets. That might be fine for all sorts of trips, so they’d definitely be a good choice in any country except the pickpocket-filled ones.

      1. I got the Marmot Agate jeans just the other day, because I could not get the Jeans Plus in my size (28″). They are very comfy and stretchy.

        So I did some science and put them through a drying test (inspired by the tests you made). I completely soaked them, then I hung them to dry without any wringing. After 10 hours they were dry enough to where I would probably just put them on and and let them dry on my body if I had to. After 14 hours they were completely dry.

        Although this was in Sweden so it’s not very humid.

        1. That’s pretty impressive if they’re still dripping. Was that in the sun? I don’t have a place in my apartment that gets sunshine, so it was all in the shade, which is why it took a while.

          1. The pants were drying in my bathroom without any sunshine. I do think I want to do another test though…it felt like there was a certain water repelling finish to the pants and I don’t know if it will last or not.

            The legs dried very fast, it’s mostly the cotton pockets and lining on the waist that seems to slow the whole thing down. I will try turning them inside out and wringing them and see what happens.

  10. hy,
    very good article, this everyday problematic makes me crazy !
    I’ve a new pair of Swrve, cotton-cordura blended, it’s light and tough. hope that it will dry fast, never test. Outlier seem’s to be the best option (schoeller fabric), but very expensive.
    what about Levi’s for cycling (water repelant) or skateboarding (cordura), more easy to buy online if you know your levi’s waist ?
    I want to test the Marmot jeans… are they water repelant ?

    1. I don’t think the Marmot jeans are water repellant, but they dry faster after a rainstorm, because of the polyester. All the Levi’s “cycling” jeans I’ve seen have been almost pure cotton…if there’s something else I haven’t come across, then it’s worth giving it a try. Water-repellant cotton can be fine in the rain, but not necessarily for a sink wash. That might not matter to most people, in which case it can work. I just prefer the polyester blends because they’re also lighter.

  11. I bought the Tilley (Tencel) Jeans last november, and they quickly became my favorite pair of pants!
    They’re very comfortable, breathable, quick drying and don’t wrinkle. And, on top of that, they look amazing!
    Not cheap, of course, but worth the price!
    Just wish they had more color options! And smaller sizes (I’m a thin guy)

    I just ordered some Makers & Riders 4-season wool pants, after reading your “cycling clothing” post. They seem nice, too. Hope to try them soon!

    1. Tilley has sent me a pair, and I’ll be reviewing them at some point, though I think that because they’re lighter and more summer-appropriate, it’ll be good to wear them in warm weather so I can include that sort of info in a review. But yup, they look and feel great, although the fit is a little unusual when compared to slim, low-rise styles that are in vogue nowadays. Not necessarily good or bad, but different.

  12. Surprised no mention of the Proof NY Blueprint jeans: 50/30/18/2 cotton/nylon/poly/elastane. Wouldn’t pay sticker (or anything like it), but happy with mine so far.
    P.S., keep up the great work. This blog is like the last 15 years of me grinding my teeth together translated into beautiful prose.

    1. I think that one looks great, and is one of the few that looks completely normal, but on this list I only wanted to include the ones that had security pockets too. But if you’re traveling someplace without pickpockets, I expect they’d be perfect.

      1. Frankly, even the regular pockets kind of suck- the front ones are weirdly shallow. I’ve noticed this is a theme with the new fashion techwear companies. Great concepts, poorly thought-out details.
        On the plus side, the size and shape of the back pockets lend themselves to closures, so I’ll probably add an invisible zipper before my next trip.

        1. Hmm…that’s too bad. The Prana Brion got an update to make the front pockets so tiny that my phone is almost peeking out. Tiny pockets are weird.

  13. Thought I’d add a couple stats on the Blueprints:
    Front pockets: 5.5 inches deep.
    Added a zipper to one back pocket. Completely invisible and a ton of secure space, but not an easy project.
    Material too heavy for humid summer, but great otherwise.
    Time to hang dry after washing machine: 6.5 hrs in cool, dark room (!).
    Customer service: poor. E-mailed them more than a week ago to ask about aftermarket DWR, no reply.
    Cut similar to 513s.

    1. There’s a hidden zippered pocket? Huh. Seems like the type of thing they could mention on the product page. That’s even more of a reason for travelers to like it.

        1. Aaaah I get it. You added that. My mistake. That’s why I like Thunderbolt Jeans. There’s a zippered back pocket, and that’s exactly where my wallet would go.

  14. Hi Eytan,
    You originally wrote this post 18 months ago. Are the 3 travel jeans you discussed above still the only ones you know of. Was curious to learn if any others had come on the market. Or should I just buy one of these. Thanks.

    1. There are plenty that do either one or the other of the requirements, but not all of them at once; for example, there are jeans that are made from cotton/polyester but have no security pockets, or regular cotton jeans that do have security pockets, or soft shell jeans that don’t look like regular jeans. The ones on this list are still the only three on the planet that I know of that do everything. I like the Rohan Jeans Plus the best, but I’d recommend getting a size or two bigger than normal.

        1. Not such a fan of the visible zippered pockets, but they’d probably work fine. I’m really pushing everyone toward soft shells, though; I think the fabric is about as objectively perfect as it gets. Check out soft shell pants and soft shell jeans. In terms of comfort and performance, I’ve never encountered anything better. The Thunderbolt Jean in particular looks really great, as it’s one of the only ones with a hidden zippered pocket.

  15. Not a fan of the visible zippered pocket either …tbh. But was looking to replace my entire wardrobe with just 2-3 high quality items. My biggest concern with jeans has always been the heat esp in summer. And its why Ive mostly always worn military style cargo pants even when not travelling.
    Do you know if the Thunderbolt Jeans are available anywhere in the UK?

    1. I don’t think they have them over there, and shipping is going to be annoying, especially if it’s the wrong size. The Rohan jeans are rather light, though. Much more summer-appropriate than ordinary jeans.

  16. I picked up a pair of the ladies Jeans Plus from Rohan this lunchtime – I am relatively close to the Central London shop. Could have ordered online but wanted to try on – just as well, since I had to go down a size from 12 to 10. 10 is a little snug, but 12 was huge. The jeans are quite high cut so they do give a little bit of a ‘mom jeans’ look and given I’m not in the best of shape, there is a bit of muffin top going on, but once my t-shirt is down over them you can’t tell. The denim appears lightweight and comfy, and even with a bit of muffin top, they don’t cut in and I can squat down comfortably in them – my way of testing the thigh stretchiness for on the bike.

    I’m hoping to wear these on my bicycle, with the intent of seeing how quick drying they are – I had considered the Levi Commuter Skinnys for ladies, but they only come in too long a leg as their shortest, and are hard to find. They also don’t have the cycling specific gusset area that the mens version have, so I figured I’d just go for the quick dry theory (Rohan), rather than the cycling bit.

    The Levis are £85.00 and the Rohans are £75.00.

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