“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:
- Pants: yea or nay on jeans?
- 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
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:
- 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
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
- 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)