I was in need of some new gear for a trip to southeast Asia earlier this year, and on SnarkyNomad's advice I invested in one pair of Rohan Travel Jeans and one pair of Bluffworks Travel Khakis. These pants are by far the best travel pants I have ever owned. All of my previous travel pants were zip-off quick-dry pants, which, aside from looking absurd, are terrible for traveling internationally as they effectively announce that "you aren't from around here." Zip-offs are good for adventures into the wilderness, but not much else. Thankfully, as SnarkyNomad describes, you can finally find versatile and stylish travel pants, and Rohan and Bluffworks are in the business of making them.
Update: Bluffworks has released a travel blazer, as well. You can find my review, here.
Both the Rohan and Bluffworks pants are excellent, but for different reasons, and I unfortunately can't categorically recommend either for every scenario. So, here's a breakdown of what's good and what's bad (but don't worry, nothing is 'zip-off ugly').
On the left is a pair of the Bluffworks Velvet Brown Travel Pants, and on the right is pair of the Rohan Jeans Plus. Since taking these to Asia, I have continued to use both for various treks. You can see me wearing the Rohan jeans in my post on Mount Talloc, and the Bluffworks khakis in my post on Mount Diablo.
Comfort & Fit
I ordered the same size (waist & inseam) from both Rohan and Bluffworks, and was surprised to discover that the Bluffworks khakis fit significantly better than the Rohan jeans. The Rohan jeans are tight around my waist - so much so, actually, that I was worried I would be uncomfortable wearing them. Despite having the same waist measurement, the Bluffworks pants had extra space in the waist, and are significantly more comfortable to wear.
Rohan is a British company, so perhaps their expectations are simply different. Thankfully, after wearing the pants for a while, I found that the tight waistband wasn't uncomfortable enough to make them unusable, and I stopped noticing them for the most part. It's sort of like breathing, though - as soon as I think about it, I become conscious of the fact that my pants are too damned tight, and it drives me crazy.
Anyway, I recommend ordering an inch or two bigger in the waistband than you normally do when buying from Rohan. You have been warned.
As anyone that has done extensive traveling can tell you, pockets are a big deal in travel pants. There are few things more unsettling than putting your passport and wallet into your pockets and realizing:
- You can clearly make out the obvious outline of a passport in your pocket.
- Your pockets are so loose a pick-pocket could make a lift blind-folded.
- Or both of these, in which case you might as well notify your local consulate that you are going to need a replacement passport before the day is up.
It's obvious that both Rohan and Bluffworks put some thought into this. In addition to having the usual two front pockets, both of them have a security pocket inside of the left front pocket:
In addition, each of them have a trick up their sleeve for the rear pockets. The Bluffworks pants have one zippered back pocket, and an extra waist-line pocket:
And the Rohan jeans have a secret pocket that is so well hidden I didn't even realize it was there until after having worn the pants for several days:
Both of them also provide a loop in one of the pockets:
Unfortunately, neither Rohan nor Bluffworks got the pockets totally right. Rohan made the inexcusable decision to use velcro for all of their pockets except the secret one. Even the rear pockets have a strip of velcro to hold them shut. There isn't much that will make you feel like an eight-year old more than saying, "Hold on, let me get my wallet," and then un-velcroing your pants. Not to mention the fact that there are some quality issues with the velcro itself. Observe the velcro ripping itself off of the fabric:
That said, the pockets in the Rohan jeans are nice and deep, and you can comfortably carry quite a lot if you need to. I really appreciate the pocket space that Rohan provides, despite the terrible decision to use velcro to seal them.
On the Bluffworks side, the pockets are simply too small. You really just can't fit much in them before the outline of whatever is in your pockets is immediately obvious. They also aren't very deep, and on several occasions I found that I had trouble keeping things from falling out of my front pockets when I sat down, which is a huge problem for obvious reasons.
The pocket design is really the biggest problem for both Rohan and Bluffworks. If one of them had done this better, I would probably feel comfortable recommending them as the best option. As it is, both failed to make a compelling design, here.
I have been impressed with both the Bluffworks khakis and the Rohan jeans when it comes to versatility. Both companies really nailed it when it comes to designing travel pants that are versatile, rugged, and still look like a normal pair of pants.
The khakis actually look like nice pants. They look so nice, actually, that I've worn them on work travel on several occasions. When I was getting my freedom massage from the TSA, the TSA officer even commented on how nice my pants were. Admittedly, that was sort of weird, since his hand had just "met my resistance", but it was a nice compliment, none-the-less.
The Bluffworks khaki material is also fairly high-quality, and far more rugged than it first appears. There have been several instances where I've run up against things that I thought would have cut or scraped them up, and they have come away unscathed.
The Rohan jeans also look great - so good, actually, that my wife comments on them each time I wear them. The material in the jeans is noticeably more rugged than the khakis (i.e., they are more 'jean-like'), and it seems to me that they could put up with more abuse. They also keep you a bit warmer, and so are appropriate for cooler weather (see, again, me wearing them to the Mount Talloc Summit).
Both pairs of pants do well, here, and you'll probably find yourself wearing both of these outside of just traveling.
Cleaning & Dry Time
The Bluffworks khakis beat out the Rohan jeans when it comes to dry-time, but they are both good enough that you'll probably be happy with either.
If you are wondering why there is an entire section devoted to cleaning and drying time, I'll take a shot in the dark and guess you've never had to do your laundry in the sink of a hotel room with detergent that you are pretty sure is for clothes, not dishes, and a drying rack that is actually a TV. Also, you know, it's just nice to not be wet for eight hours after splashing through a stream on a hike, or getting caught in the rain while touring a city.
The first time I sink-washed the Bluffworks pants, they smelled so bad I was actually concerned I may not be able to recover them. I had worn them on three different plane trips over two days, and then the next day took them hiking, rode a public bus, and climbed Wat Tham Sua. I was elated to find that after a simple sink-wash and a few hours of drying, though, they smelled like new. Oh, and they really do dry fast. From soaked to bone-dry in just a couple of hours at room temperature.
SnarkyNomad's post on the Rohan jeans does a thorough job of covering dry time and water retention, so head there for more detail. The short of it, though, is that they are easily cleanable, and dry reasonably fast for a pair of jeans (less than a day). If you get lightly splashed, they won't hold water for the rest of the day, but if you get soaked, you'll want to let them dry for a bit.
Overall, I am happy with both the Bluffworks khakis and the Rohan jeans. The khakis are great for warmer weather, dual-purpose wear for occasions when you need to look a bit nicer, and anytime you think you might encounter some water or rain. The Rohan jeans are great for more rugged terrain, cooler weather, and anytime you need to carry a bit more on your person.
If either Rohan were to revise the jeans and address the fit and velcro, or Bluffworks circled back and enlarged the pockets, we would have a serious winner. As it stands now, I'm calling it an even tie - if you have a pair of each, you'll find occasion to use both pretty regularly.
Here's where you can find them: