I really hate packing pants, because they are bulky and they always seem to get wrinkled — the only worse thing to pack is a cotton dress shirt. What makes pants doubly annoying is that you typically only need one pair — the pair you wear when you leave. However, then there’s the fear of a spill, or a rip, or of them not being flexible enough to cover the range of activities and situations you have planned. Can they go on that short hike and still to the five star restaurant for dinner? To the business meeting, but also everything else in between?
When I started down the path of looking at travel friendly pants I knew there were two things I really wanted to avoid: cargo pants and pants that look more like hiking pants than “regular” pants. If they have “zip-off” anything, no thanks. If they focus more on hidden pockets and insect repellent, no thanks.
I wanted something that looked sharp, but was durable enough to handle the grossness of being around kids a lot, sitting on a plane, or just accidentally touching anything in a men’s room.
Amazingly, there are a lot of companies selling pants like these for men. They all tend to run a little dressier looking than a typical pair of jeans, but that’s what you want out of a versatile pant: you can dress down dressy pants, but you can’t dress up a casual pair.
My first stop was to Icebreaker, as they are known for their Merino products. I picked up a pair of their Seeker pants which are fully Merino and feel about the same weight as a typical pair of jeans. The pant overall is mostly styled after jeans — though is does have one thigh pocket which they do their best to hide. Being a darker color than jeans make these passable in most situations where you might wear chinos or jeans.
Not the most formal of pant, but versatile. There are some comments that these pants have not held up well over time, but I can’t see how they would hold up any worse than a pair of jeans. They feel just as durable to me, but I have not had them long enough (only two months) to be able to tell you for sure.
These are more comfortable than my jeans, something I didn’t think possible. Fit wise they feel the same, but it’s in the moisture wicking where you really notice the comfort. I’ve taken quite a few walks to local coffee shops in these, and where my jeans might feel clammy after such a walk, the Seeker pants feel the same as the moment I left my house.
They have yet to really show wrinkles, though there were a couple one morning which were gone in an hour or so of wearing the pants. Even after washing and hang drying, they stayed wrinkle free. The worst you get is something more akin to ruffles in the fabric — but again they dissipate quickly.
The reason you might want Merino pants is for the same reason you want Merino anything: doesn’t collect odors, regulates body heat, and dries fast. To that last point: you wouldn’t need to wash these pants very often. If you do wash them, they dry fast.
These pants aren’t perfect though: the pockets suck. I don’t just mean that thigh level pocket, which is too small for my iPhone 6 Plus, and a little too big for my pocket knife (the knife turns sideways which is very annoying). I am talking about the two front pockets: they are very shallow. So shallow that my iPhone 6 Plus can’t fit in them. It just sticks out, which precludes me from wearing these pants when I am not carrying a bag of some sort.
If the pockets were a bit deeper, these pants would be nearly perfect for me. Unfortunately the pockets are what they are, and they are just a solid pair of pants which leave me wanting for pocket space. My current plan with these is to wear them during the colder months when I also have a jacket on.
Ministry of Supply
Ministry of Supply has been a well marketed company selling clothing made out of “modern” materials. They aren’t using Merino wool, but rather synthetics to give stretch, and moisture wicking to their products. I have two pairs of their pants: Gemini Chinos, and Aero Dress Pants.
The Aero Dress Pants are no longer sold, and the closest thing they sell is the Aviator 2 pants. These are a very synthetic pant, but I actually haven’t worn them. I bought mine in a close out sale from another site, and they are simply too small for me in the waist.
What I can say about them is that they are insanely comfortable feeling. The amount of stretch is insane and they feel more like a pair of warmup pants when you have them on than anything else. If I had to guess here, they would likely be the most comfortable pants I own, but they don’t fit me so I can’t say that for sure.
It’s not all great with these pants though, as they easily look the most travel/hiking like of all the pants listed. It’s not the sheen of the pants, but the way they drape. They don’t like like a standard fabric, they look like something synthetic. They don’t look like hiking pants, but they don’t look “normal” either. I honestly can’t say whether this is a deal breaker or not for me, I would have to wear a pair that fit me in order to tell you.
The Gemini Chino is the only pant in this post which has cotton as part of the materials in the pants, in this case that is 59% cotton. The remaining is synthetic materials to add moisture control and stretch. I’ve had these pants for quite some time now, and they have a lot of great features.
The pockets are fantastic and made of some crazy feeling polyester mesh that is awesome. One pocket has a rubber strip running vertically which does an amazing job of keeping your iPhone from sliding out.
However, these are more like a regular pant than they are a travel friendly pant. Honestly the only advantage these have over a normal chino is that they wrinkle slightly less (they still wrinkle) and that’s about it. I don’t notice the moisture wicking, or the stretch. The pockets are the only indicator to me that they are not a standard pant, and instead are something special. For $140, I don’t see the value in buying these pants, as there are far better options out there for the price.
I picked up a pair of the Heritage Original pants by Bluffworks in their classic gray. This is a pair of pants I have been wanting for a while, and at 40% off it seemed like a good time to buy. These are 100% polyester and as such I had worries they might end up looking more like the Aero’s. That worry turned out to be misplaced though, as the pants look fantastic.
In fact, these pants are nearly perfect for me. They look fantastic and hang more like a pair of wool suit pants would hang. They look sharp, and crisp. They feel smooth, though not as cozy as the Icebreakers. Unlike the others on this list, they are also insanely light. Both in how heavy they are when you hold them in your hands, and in how they wear. I don’t think these are the pants you want to be wearing in frigid weather — I’d call them more 3-season pants.
The pockets are outstanding. They have plenty of room, and two hidden zippered pockets for secure storage of stuff. There’s some nice touches like a loop to clip keys to inside the pockets as well.
I actually tested out these pants by washing my car in sunny warm weather. Typically I would be pretty sweaty and my pants wet. However with these my legs were cool, and any water that did get on my pants was dry and gone by the time I walked back inside. Comically it looked like I was working on the car in nice dress pants, but honestly it was way better wearing these pants than it would have been if I were wearing jeans.
There’s only one hiccup with these pants: they are slightly crunchy sounding. I washed them just to see if that would lessen the sound, but it did not.1 Even so, I only noticed the sound when I was alone in a dead quiet house. Otherwise, in normal scenarios, you would never be able to tell.
As I said at the outset of this post, there are many brands making pants that fit my criteria which I have yet to test (theoretically you would buy one pair of these pants and wear them for a year not needing to replace them). Here are some of the others:
- Mizzen + Main Chinos
- Bluffworks Original & Chino
- Outlier Futureworks Pants
- Makers and Riders 4-Season Wool Pant
- Ministry of Supply Aviator 2
There are more, but those are the ones which have grabbed my interest, with the Outlier pants being very high on my list.
What I Pack
I had been packing the Gemini Chinos, and then the Icebreakers when I got those. I had also been packing those while wearing my jeans on travel days. I just didn’t trust that I could dry the Gemini’s in time (they are khaki as well which makes me even more concerned about stains) and the Icebreakers were too new to me.
Going forward I will only be wearing the Bluffworks pants and won’t worry about packing up any extras. They are comfortable, durable, and they look sharp. I actually might end up wearing those more than I do my jeans, which is not something I expected to happen.
See the rest of the posts here.
I talk about washing them like that is something weird, but Bluffworks seems to discourage you washing these pants that often. ↩