Intro: Your pants will tell stories; they will don patches, stains and stiches – perhaps even the occasional blood stain. They must be durable enough to defend legs from rocks and thorns, yet comfortable enough to be worn many times on a single wash. This guide on how to choose the best travel and expedition pants will help you discover what salty explorers the world over already know: Good pants are the cornerstone of any respectable mobile wardrobe.
Pockets: There are two types of front and back pocket for both men and women: stitched and patched. While space depends on how the manufacturer designs the pocket, patched pockets are typically more convenient and secure when moving from sitting to standing or during athletic motions like rock climbing. A FOB pocket (for your keys) typically makes for a handy “5th” pocket that’s also good for securing big bills.
Cargo, carpenter, and other zip or mesh pockets below the crotch are particularly useful for backpackers, campers, and other wanderers who have a need to separate numerous small trinkets. There are no standards here as manufacturers continue to innovate with water draining pockets, pick-pocket-proof pockets, and even dry-bag pockets for water sports.
Fit: Manufacturer tend to size pants a bit differently from one another and sometimes differently even within their own lines. When shopping online, always look for the brand’s fit guide to see if the pants will run big or small. You can always tailor crotch to ankle and waist; belt to crotch, not so much. Key words to pay attention to are
Rise: Where the belt loop is in comparison to your belly button
Fit: Refers to how tightly each pant wraps around your leg.
Articulated knees: Knees are slightly bent
Gusseted crotch: Refers to an extra piece of fabric under the crotch so the pants don’t rip when you pull a mid-air splits move to celebrate your most recently accomplished feat.
Cotton and cotton canvas can shrink with heat so wash cold and line-dry unless you’ve lost weight. Nylon doesn’t stretch in its purest state, but is typically blended with cotton or Spandex to add some give. Even the smallest blend of Spandex materials (Lycra, Estane, Elastane) will add elasticity and comfort to your pants.
Durability: There are two numbers to pay attention to here:
Number of layers (1‑ply or 2‑ply): Layers can be patches or secondary layers over the knees or throughout the entire garment. Look for words like “reinforced” or “layered.”
Ounces per square yard: The higher the number, the tougher the pants, but also the heavier and slower to dry.
Fabric: For the most part, travel and expedition pants are cotton (and cotton canvas), nylon, or some combination of the two. Many times they are blended with some variant of Spandex (Lycra, Estane, etc.) for added stretch. Polyester is common in soft-shell pants. Many pants will include a layer of DWR for water resistance. Look for technologies such as GORE-Tex, eVent, and even Rip-Stop Nylon for full waterproofing. Abrasion resistance refers to material—mostly proprietary soft-shell type materials—that fends off gashes and cuts from rocks. UPF, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, is a rating similar to the SPF of sunscreen. The higher the number, the more sun it blocks. One more thing to look for is Permethrin treated clothing (the most popular being Insect Shield) that keeps away biting bugs.
Style: Dress codes in restaurants and clubs around the country are becoming more acceptant to casual clothing (although fighting your way through brush and scrambling up boulders is hardly casual). While outdoorsy pants are acceptable in public, they may or may not be suited for formal occasions in more rural or traditional areas. When traveling it is often a good idea to buy a style that is tough as nails but that could also pass as go-out pants should the need arise.
Convertability: Today’s adventure legwear offer a wide variety of versatility. Perhaps the most popular of these is zip-off pants and side-zip pants. Zip-off pants allow your pants to easily convert into shorts. The extra fabric can be zipped back on later. Size zip pants allow less breathable, waterproof pants (no matter how breathable the material claims to be, if it is waterproof, it will not breathe as well as say, cotton) to breathe.