“In my day, you had to get dressed up all spiffy in a suit and tie to travel on an airplane.”
Yes, yes, I know, Grandpa. You’ve told me a thousand times, and I’ve seen all the movies. For better or worse, those classy days of sartorial excellence are long behind us, and most frequent travelers are piled into 29 inches of coach seat in sweatpants and trainers. We can lament the waning of the Greatest Generation’s standards, or we can simply accept it.
However, we mustn’t overlook what’s been gained with the advent of 21st-century materials (and, by extension, sartorial standards) — at least we’re comfortable on planes these days! And comfortable traveling in general, as well. Stretchable, compactable, moisture-wicking materials have made themselves known everywhere, and in the modern travel pant, we’ve finally found a comfortable outfit (or the bottom of one, at least) that can accompany us from the plane to the train to the hotel to backcountry to the…well, to just about everywhere.
We recently traveled down to Colombia with Waves for Water, an NGO that specializes in clean water solutions, along with Panerai, the Swiss-owned watch company with Italian military origins that supports Waves for Water’s mission. We packed three travel pants from 686, Roark and Fjallraven to see which best holds up to the rigors of the road, and this is what we found.
Roark Layover Pants
Lightweight, comfortable and well fitting, the Layover pant is ideal for the plane and for walking around town. Perhaps a bit less suited to serious trekking due to the build construction and light material, they nevertheless make the ideal city exploration pants (provided the zippers don’t catch).
686 Anything Pants
A highly utilitarian travel pant (just look at all those pockets!) that works equally well hanging around town or going for a hike. Seriously well thought-out, comfortable, and feature-laden, these proved to be the most versatile pants of the three pairs we tried.
Fjallraven Vidda Pro Ventilated Trousers
A serious trekking pant meant for the great outdoors. Built for heavy adventuring, these wind- and water-resistant pants are right at home in cooler climates, though they’re a bit too heavy for walking around town in a moderate environment.
The Roark Layover Stretch Travel Pants fit me well at the waist (they’re available in men’s 28-38) but also feature a drawstring for cinching a better fit — there are no belt loops, however, so if you’re not a drawstring kind of guy and the pants don’t fit you perfectly, you might be better off with a different pair. These are also a slim design, so don’t count on fitting them over your boots if you wear these loosely. But overall I found that I quite enjoyed the more tailored fit that these offered.
The 686 Men’s Anything Multi Cargo Pants that I wore were a well-fitting 30X30, but these feature both a drawstring and belt loops, which I prefer over a drawstring, personally. The 30×30 size features a 16″ leg opening, which was perfect for my hiking boots. Overall this was a very similar fit to the Roark Layover.
The Fjallraven Vidda Pro Ventilated Trousers Medium Regular didn’t fit me as well as the previous two pairs. My 30″-31″ pair were too loose, and thankfully the pants featured belt loops that I took advantage of. Though I appreciated the elastic button closure system that can be used fit the pants over various boot sizes and types, I found myself wishing for a pant that was simply slimmer through the leg that terminated in a slimmer opening. Additionally, the pants were too long for me — perhaps a result of a waist size that ranged from 30″-31″ and wasn’t designed specifically to be in proportion with a 30″ seam. Because they’re made of a thick and durable G-1000 material, I found them difficult to roll over my boots.
The Roark Layover pant is composed of 70% cotton, 26% nylon and 4% Elastane, and while the material isn’t nearly as heavy as that of the Fjallrven Vidda Pros, I found it stood up well to the plane, traveling around Medellin, and a trip out to a remote village outside the city, high in the beautiful Colombian hills. What held up less well, however, was one of the zippered pockets. I appreciate zippered pockets to no end on a pair of travel pants, as I tend to keep my wallet in my front pocket both for comfort and security. However, the zippers used on the Layover aren’t terribly robust, and one quickly became caught in its treads and I couldn’t extricate it. This proved annoying and made accessing anything in the pocket difficult.
The 686 Anything pant features zippered pockets lower down on the legs, but the zippers seem to be of slightly better quality than those used on the Roark, and didn’t cause me any trouble. The pants are made of “C6 Durable Water Repellent (DWR), Anti-Microbial Fabric,” which consists of 92% nylon and 8% Spandex Stretch Fabric with Duracore Thread. All the technical language and fabric composition aside, the material seems well made and durable, often double-stitched at key joints and but still light and breathable.
The Fjallraven Vidda Pro Ventilated is composed of G-1000, which is 65% polyester and 35% cotton. This material, according to the brand, is “breathable, windproof, water-resistant, quick-drying, keeps out mosquitoes, durable and adaptable.” I doubt none of this — the material feels bulletproof. I’m less certain about the zippers used on these pants, as both at the fly and on the side vents, fairly small zippers are utilized, which, as you can read above, tend to catch under hard wear. (However, those on the Fjallraven didn’t actually catch, in my experience — I was simply wary of them.)
Given the composition of the Roark Layover (70% cotton, 26% nylon and 4% Elastane), it wasn’t surprising that they featured a ton of give and were extremely comfortable. I appreciated the fitted, slimmer profile and the back yoke vented mesh panel above the waist, which reduced sweatiness. These were extremely comfortable to wear on the plane, and comfortable to wear around town as well.
The 686 Anything Pant is composed of 92% nylon and 8% Spandex stretch fabric with Duracore thread. It featured a similarly comfortable feel, though the build was slightly roomier than that of the Roark Layover. They’re extremely stretchy and fit easily over boots without being too baggy, which I appreciated. Overall, I didn’t notice a significant difference in comfort between the 686s and the Roarks.
The Fjallraven Vidda Pro Ventilated’s 65% polyester and 35% cotton provided a different feel to the other two pairs of travel pants. This material is noticeably heavier than that of the Roarks or the 686s, and though while not unbearably hot in a warmer climate, wasn’t an ideal material choice when compared to the two lighter pairs when simply walking around the city. However, the Vidda Pro Ventilated is a trekking pant, and when out in the field, I appreciated the heavier material for its ability to stand up to wear. I could easily see this material as the basis for a military trouser — though it would be uncomfortably hot in desert environments, I would imagine it would be difficult to tear (I admittedly didn’t have an opportunity to test it to its breaking point on this trip).
While I loved the comfort of the Roark Layover, the utility value was minimal compared to the other two pairs we reviewed. Once the zipper become stuck on one of the front pockets, I could no longer use it at all, let alone use it to protect valuables. And though a phone storage pocket above one of the back buttoned pockets is a nice touch, I would likely simply use the button pocket for the same purpose.
The material used, while incredibly comfortable, is suitable to the plane and to walking around, but less suitable to trekking, so that’s something to consider. To me, the Layover is mostly a slightly tailored pair of sweatpants rather than a dedicated travel pant, though for the traveler who doesn’t want to attract attention to himself, this may be the perfect solution.
The 686 Men’s Anything Multi-Cargo Pant was my favorite pair of the three with respect to utility. In addition to the comfort they provide, there are so many specialized pockets, reinforced gussets and specialty attachment points that 686 provides an illustrated graphic on their product page in order to explain it all.
The downside here is that you’re going to be highly visible as a tourist whenever you put these on, but the upside is that it’s going to be difficult to steal from you, given all the specially designed closures. This is what I expect in a dedicated travel pant — I generally have a ton of stuff on my person when I travel, and the last thing I want is to run out of room to hold it all. The 686 provides dedicated, well-thought out solutions to just about every pant-related problem.
The Fjallraven Vidda Pro Ventilated Trousers were similarly chock full of utility with respect to storage and build quality — hell, there’s even a dedicated axe pocket! Elastic strap adjustments as well as press buttons on the leg endings accommodate different types of boots, and there’s even an opening for optional kneepads.
The wind-proof and water-proof qualities of the G1000 material make these ideal trekking pants, but they’re better suited to slightly cooler environments. If you’re planning on walking around a city with a moderate climate (let along doing some serious trekking), be cognizant of the fact that you’re going to warm up pretty quickly.
Verdict: To my mind, the Roark Layover is best suited to the plane and to walking around town; the Fjallraven Vida Pro Ventilated is an ideal trekking pant for cooler environments; and the 686 is the most versatile: I would wear these on the plane, walk around a foreign city in them all day, and do some light hiking. The catchy zipper aside, the Layover is probably the most comfortable pair of the three, with the 686 a close second the Fjallraven third. However, when it comes to pure toughness, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Fjallraven.
Whatever your travel needs, one of these three should have you covered, provided you’re not going to be doing any serious mountain climbing in cold environments.
Roark, 686 and Fjallraven provided these products for review.
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