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Best Travel Clothes Faceoff: Jeans or No Jeans?


“Why do you travel with your normal clothing?” My friend said, glancing at me over the rim of her beer. “Whenever I travel, I use clothes that are perfect for traveling. You know, so if you get stuck in the rain – like you do all the time – you don’t end up a wet grumpy mess in cold jeans.”

I swatted her hand away. “I like my clothes. Why would I get new ones just for a trip? What’s wrong with my clothes?”

“Nothing. Except they’re not good for traveling in. Especially your jeans.”

“Says who? My jeans are perfect. They’re comfortable, take a beating, hide stains. All very important.”

“Except in the rain.”

“So what? Rain is just rain. That’s stupid to buy new clothes just for traveling. What’s wrong with the clothes you wear now? Are they not good enough for your travel persona?”

She laughed. “They don’t cut it. They can’t keep up with me. I want clothing that works harder than me.”

Maybe you’ve had this conversation with someone. Or maybe you’ve had it with yourself, in your mind pre-trip. Or while reading this blog.

It’s a big question in the travel community: pack your normal clothing or get new technical clothing that’s specially designed to wick sweat, wash fast, and fly through cities like Spiderman?

I’m kidding. No clothing engineered yet can let you fly. (When it does, let me know — I’d be all over that.)

In this post, we faceoff between the two types of travel clothing most hotly disputed:

  1. Pants: yea or nay on jeans?
  2. Shoes: designed for travel vs. normal everyday shoes

For, or Against, Blue Jeans?

Let’s jump into the crux of the matter. The topic of which pants to travel in divides travel enthusiasts like oil and water.

Some love their blue jeans and would never leave them behind. Other travelers opt for more technical pants.

While jeans hide stains well and give a nice solid feeling of protection, they can be super uncomfortable when wet and take a while (a.k.a. forever) to dry.

On the flip side, travel pants are designed to dry quickly and adapt to a variety of situations. But they’re prone to an unflattering fit and give off the dreaded Tourist Vibe.

So which is better for travel? This disagreement runs so deep, it spilled into the ranks of Tortuga Backpack. It has divided our team into two separate camps.

I asked Fred, our co-founder, and Jenn, our editor, to weigh in on the pros and cons of jeans as the best travel pants.

Jenn: “Jeans Are A Nightmare, Traveling.”

It’s a touchy situation to disagree with your boss, but in this instance, I have to say that I think Fred is crazy.


I can’t imagine packing around the weight of jeans or dealing with the difficulty of washing and drying them when a laundromat isn’t readily available. They take forever to hang dry. We spend much of our time outside of the first world, where hang drying is the norm.


Of course, there’s one big difference between how Fred travels, and how I travel: Fred travels alone and I travel with a husband and four kids. Six pairs of jeans are exponentially more daunting than one, and Fred probably doesn’t have the propensity for finding filth that my three sons do.


I’m a big fan of lightweight, synthetics that dry quickly, wipe clean, and roll up very tightly. Let’s just hope that as long as I can get our tribe packed into a fleet of matching Tortugas, our disagreement on the proper kind of pants to travel in won’t cost me my job!

Fred: “Wear What You Like When You Travel. I Like Jeans.”

I have zero regrets about wearing jeans when I travel or even why I fly. When I travel, I want to feel and (hopefully) look good, which means dressing like I do at home. When you travel, you should be selecting the clothing from your closet that best fits your trip, not buying a whole new wardrobe of specialized gear.


Wear what you like. Jeans are bulky, so wear them instead of packing them. The only other drawback is that if they get wet, they’re heavy and dry slowly. So don’t stand in the rain. Disaster averted.


Lighter-weight jeans (10-12oz) are better for travel. If you can find a pair with a bit of stretch to them, even better. You’ll want a bit of wiggle room when you’re squirming in your seat on a long flight. Bonobos makes travel jeans and Eytan at Snarky Nomad lists more travel-friendly options.


Jeggings sound like an abomination of fashion, but that’s how I’ve often described my Outlier Slim Dungarees (SDs). The SDs are the best travel pants that I’ve found. They’re cut slim and designed as a 5-pocket jean, though they aren’t made of denim.


The special ‘Workcloth’ performance fabric repels water and smells, stretches where you need it, and is softer against your legs than denim. The SDs are a modern, technical reinvention of jeans. They work like technical pants but look stylish like jeans. I can walk in them all day or wear them out to a nice dinner.


If other performance clothing looked this good, I wouldn’t mock it as safari gear for grandpas.

Shoes: Normal vs. Designed For Travel?

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’re almost finished packing for a trip. All that remains is to throw the toiletries in, and you’re good to go. You should be feeling excited, except you’re sitting in front of your closet, shoes scattered across the floor in front of you.

On your feet are two mismatched shoes: one shoe is your normal everyday shoe. The one you reach for when you don’t know what else to wear. The other shoe is new, claiming easy comfort for long days walking on cobblestones.

You’re frowning, trying to foresee which shoe will make or break your trip. Which shoe to pick?

Why You’d Pick A Travel Shoe

best travel clothes

These are shoes designed for travel: many hours on your feet and crazy adventures.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Padded foot bed
  • No rough spots to rub and create blisters
  • Rounded toe bed
  • Stink-fighting properties in insole
  • Easy slip on and off for airport security
  • Leather or other material known for withstanding harsh weather

Sometimes these shoes are designed to be super lightweight or to fit into small spaces. Pick a shoe specially designed for travel so you don’t feel every, single, hard-edged cobblestone beneath your feet as you wander small Italian streets.

Here are the cons:

  • Ugly
  • They can scream “Tourist, tourist, tourist!”
  • Can be poor quality
  • Expensive due to the different, or lightweight, materials

Why You’d Bring Your Normal Shoes

new balance

These are the shoes you choose when you’re taking the dogs for a long walk. The shoes, that when you put them on, your feet sigh in welcome. The shoes you wear when you’ll be standing for long hours.

Here are some reasons why you’d bring these shoes:

  • Already broken in, so no blisters
  • Less expensive because you already have them
  • Comfortable
  • Designed to withstand the rigors of normal life — travel or no travel
  • If you bring a normal activity-related shoe made by New Balance or Nike, morning runs are suddenly an option

Travel may be rougher than your normal life, but let’s be honest. Most of what you do while traveling is exactly what you do at home: walk. Move. Wander. Run. Meander.

Why cater to the desire to buy entirely new wardrobe when your current one fulfills every need you have? Your shoes have one job: protect your feet. They perform that function very well, every day.

Here are the cons:

  • Some normal soles are thinner than comfortable to wear on cobblestone streets
  • Could break on the road since you’ve been wearing them before
  • They whisper, “I’m an American, look at my sneakers.”
  • Not very sleek or attractive and you run the risk of feeling like a slum walking the fine streets of Paris among the natives’ ballerina flats
  • Can’t dress them up

Which ones will you pack? That’s entirely up to you!


The age-old dispute of what are the best travel clothes rages on. To bring jeans or not to bring jeans? Wear your normal shoes or splurge on new travel-designed shoes?

The only right answer is the one that makes you feel comfortable. Find your best travel clothes by experimenting and discovering what works for you. Then jump in the fray and battle it out!

What do you travel with: jeans, or no jeans? Do you prefer travel shoes, or do you bring your everyday shoes when you travel?

Image: Kelly Sikkema (Stocksnap)

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessie Beck April 14, 2015 at 9:27 am

Jeggings are totally my go to. They’re a great in between, super comfy, and don’t take as long to dry. My boyfriend always packs a pair of quick dry pants (that he also bikes in every day) that were designed to look like normal slacks from Mission Workshop (pricey, but durable and fashionable).


Fred Perrotta April 15, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Leggings and tights are really an unfair advantage for women. They work in most contexts and are super light to pack. I assume you could even get ones that are quick-drying and easy to clean.


Jessie Beck April 16, 2015 at 11:19 am

True! It’s definitely an unfair advantage. Jeggings for men… the next trend in travel?? Who’s on it?!?


Fred Perrotta April 17, 2015 at 12:15 am
LadyLightTravel April 17, 2015 at 9:31 am

Fred – I like my jeggings loose so that they look like normal jeans. My trick is to go 1-2 sizes up (for a looser fit) and then get the shorter length so that the legs are the correct length.
For example: a woman buying an 8 average would buy a 10 short.
I suspect you can do that with men’s jeggings too. And men’s jeans are more likely to come in lengths, yes?


elliot April 14, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Jeans are a no go! I have traveled several times with them. They are hot in a hot climate and cold in a cold climate. They are difficult to hand wash and, as said, they take forever to dry. If you have to carry them, they are heavy. Leave them at home! and spend a few bucks for a good pair of travel pants.
Shoes: White sneaks scream “AMERICAN.” I think a versatile travel shoe that can be walked for hours and also look good in a fine hotel (with your travel pants) are the way to go. Also hard to find.


LauraLopuch April 15, 2015 at 8:46 pm

@elliot – so true that jeans are hard to hand wash and take forever to dry! (Side note: I just found out that Lucky jeans will dry completely overnight: soaking wet to dry in less than 8 hrs… If you have 8 hrs to spare.) And finding a great versatile travel shoe, it’s almost akin to finding the holy grail! 🙂

@Jessie – you sold me on jeggings. They sound wonderful!


Diane April 16, 2015 at 9:37 am

Seriously, it depends on the jeans! I have light-weight stretch jeans that are comfortable, stretchy, cool enough for warm climates in which you would wear any long pants. They can be hand washed & will overnight. Of course these are women’s jeans… not sure that something equivalent is available in mens.


LadyLightTravel April 16, 2015 at 12:04 am

The answer for jeans or no jeans is “it depends”. Are you going to a hot and humid place where you’ll sweat a lot? Travel pants. How about an outdoor adventure where you’ll get wet and possibly cold? Travel pants. An urban adventure in a moderate climate? Jeans. Young person traveling around Europe? Jeans.
The same is true for shoes. A true hiking boot is rarely needed unless you’re going off trail with a heavy pack. Many good looking shoes have excellent soles/traction so make great hiking shoes. This isn’t an either/or option. Find a good looking shoe with a great footbed and a great sole and you’re set.
So many times I see people taking an either/or approach with travel clothes and shoes. It’s as though you can only have one OR the other. And that’s a lie. Many regular clothes work fine for travel. Many travel clothes look like regular clothes and work fine for life. Personally, I have found that the most powerful travel wardrobes have both kinds of clothing in them.


Fred Perrotta April 17, 2015 at 12:19 am

I like the idea of having a “core” travel wardrobe with stuff you’ll bring on nearly every trip. Around 2/3 of your bag will probably fall into this category. The rest varies from trip-to-trip. If I had the money for it, I would keep my Air semi-packed with duplicates of everything in my core wardrobe.


LadyLightTravel April 17, 2015 at 9:25 am

My own capsules almost always revolve around a core. The core is made up of travel clothing Vs regular clothing. Only travel clothing has the range for most situations – quick dry for outdoors activities and hand washing, light weight for ultra-light travel, multi-functional (roll up sleeves and legs) for multiple temperatures. Good travel clothing looks like street clothing so it is good for the city too. Most outdoors retailers don’t carry a range of fashionable clothing – you’ll have to use the internet to get the nice styles.
If you invest in a “core” of pants, shirt, jacket then the rest of the wardrobe works off of that. If I’m taking an adventure trip I’ll lean toward more travel clothing. If I’m taking a city trip I’ll lean toward regular clothing.


LauraLopuch April 17, 2015 at 11:11 am

So true that you need to pack for the adventure you’re taking! That alone can change the whole scope of what clothes you’re packing and how you’ll be using them.


Richard Colfer May 4, 2015 at 11:25 am

When I travel I wear a pair of jeans and pack a pair of cargo pants (nylon or light weight cotton) with legs that unzip above the knee. These then double as shorts when appropriate. The also dry very fast in the sun. I wear jeans mostly for flights, trains, urban nights. They just more comfortable. I have a pair of jeans with cargo pockets that are great for carrying stuff


LauraLopuch May 5, 2015 at 11:08 am

That’s smart to wear the jeans (the bulkier item) and pack the cargo pants! Agreed — I also find jeans are more comfortable on transportation. Thanks for reading!


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