The Search for the Elusive Women’s Technical Clothing

The search for the perfect travel garment is an experience fraught with sticker shock and weeding through pages of shapeless, overly pocketed clothes. For every check on the “perfect” list, there’s at least one on the “skip it” list. Found some pants are light and don’t wrinkle? They’re hot in the summer and have a pocket count to make a geologist blush. Find a shirt that’s comfortable and cool in the heat? Mark my words, it’ll wrinkle like no one’s business.

I keep searching for the perfect travel clothing. I’ve been on this mission for a while now, tweaking packing lists and combing thrift store racks for Eddie Bauer cast-offs. After lots of searching and lots of not-quite-right clothes, my checklist for these magical articles looks something like this:

-Wrinkle resistant
-Not bulky; packs light
-Cool in the summer; can layer in the winter
-Attractive enough to not embarrass myself in the Met or at an upscale restaurant
-Tough enough to withstand hiking, biking, camels, boats, etc.
-Stain resistant and/or a stain hiding color
-Comfortable enough to sleep in
-Not ridiculously expensive

Shopping with lofty ideas like these and wanting women’s cuts and sizes is despairingly difficult. A handful of companies offer clothing that hit some of these marks, mostly designed for bike commuters. Some brands, like Levi’s, have started commuter lines, to mixed reviews. Some brands make only men’s clothing (my brother recommends Ministry of Supply). This is fine, of course – not every company can do everything. What I don’t understand is the rationale of brands like Outlier, which appear to have discontinued their whole women’s line, or ProofNY, which was offline for much of 2015. There is one company that specializes in women’s technical clothing, Anatomie, but their clothing strikes me as overly stylized and exorbitantly priced for the features. If you’re looking for stylish, fashionable women’s technical clothing, you’re pretty much limited to BetaBrand, Rohan, and Nau. Many large companies still cater to the backpacking/field science crew and haven’t quite caught on to the idea that one piece of clothing can be both good looking and technical.

Yours truly living it up in the ugliest pants EMS sold.
Yours truly living it up in the ugliest pants EMS sold, circa 2012. EMS appears to have improved since then.

There really aren’t any other options, and believe me, I’ve looked. (If you know of more, please tell me in the comments!) But I have some hope, because there’s a new player on the field: Odo Jeans.

While most technical clothing companies are relatively young, Odo is practically still in the womb. As of January 4, 2016, their Kickstarter has been up for less than a month. The pants are only available to backers right now, but at a heavy discount over their planned retail price, so I shelled out some Christmas money and pre-ordered a pair.

Part of the reason I’m excited is that ODO Jeans’ women’s sizes mirror men’s sizes. You know, where pant sizes are assigned based on inseam and waist measurements instead of dark magic and bad astrology?

Yeah, so there’s that.

ODO Jeans
ODO Jeans

The pants promise a lot. Their big pitch is that you don’t have to wash them, because they don’t stain and they don’t smell. That seems like a stretch to me, but even if I have to wash them less, it’ll still be worth it. I can’t tell you if they’re the perfect pants, because they don’t ship until sometime this summer. Maybe they wrinkle easily and are as hot as wearing flannel under chain mail, but I hope not. For good or ill, expect updates this summer, when the real testing begins.

Update 1/8/16: I just received a backer email telling me that ODO has reached a stretch goal and plans on offering a light-weight version of their jeans! Another box checked, if we’re lucky!

Update 2/22/2016: Proof NY has either shut down for good or for the long run. I’m on their email list, so I’ll update if I hear anything. For now, maybe browse two other companies I’ve recently discovered: Pivotte Studio and The Willary. The former is pricey, the latter’s offerings are a little sparse, but they’re much better than nothing and I’m hopeful for their future.

Gear Round Up: Women’s Travel Pants

Ever gotten caught in a rainstorm and gotten your jeans soaked? Fought those uncomfortable creases you get when you sit in tight pants for too long? Gotten a stain you just couldn’t remove? Moaned about the tiny pockets on women’s pants?

I feel ya, friend. There are solutions out there – four way stretch fabric that looks as nice as it feels, treatments that resist water and stains, pockets that are smart phone sized. But they’re ridiculously hard to find. Brands discontinue beloved products (see the bottom of this post for obituaries), other companies are just starting up, others bury their ideal pants in a heap of “not-quite-it” garments. It can be a real mess to sort through, so I’ve done the work for you! Below are 9 pants that fit several of my requirements for the perfect travel pant. Pants are listed from cheapest to most expensive.

Prana Meme Pant, 85 USD

 

Image is from the Fitful Focus blog. You can read her review here: https://fitfulfocus.com/fit-fashionable-friday-prana-meme-pant/

What an unfortunately named garment. (I can imagine the disastrous boardroom discussion: “what do kids like today, Harold?” “MEMES.”) Yikes
Happily, it looks like it performs better than its name would suggest.

Pros:
-Two clean patterns and two colors (including lighter colors if you’re heading into a hot climate)
DWR (durable water repelent) treated
-stretchy
-plenty of pockets!
-wrinkle resistant
-quick dry

Cons:
Not your pants if you’re looking for dressy. I’ve seen them in action and they don’t exactly pass for nice-dinner-out pants.
-DWR treatment means some limitations on washing

Options:

Prana sells another pant, the Halle, that’s a bit dressier and better-named. It comes in sizes 2-14 and five different colors, with three inseam lengths available.

Levi’s Commuters88 USD

 

Pros:
-Water resistant via ECOREPEL
-Jean feel and cut
-Multiple colors, including light ones
-Stretchy
-Extra deep pockets
-Reflective strips (for biking)

Cons:
-Mixed reviews regarding how water resistant they actually are
-Since they’re jeans, they’ll be hot in hot weather

 

BetaBrand’s Travel Cargo Pants, 98 USD

 

BetaBrand’s clothes run the gamut from “really cool” to “what the heck?” But everything they make is voted on by customers and crowd funded, which means that there’s a demand for their weirder stuff…somewhere. (These pants are 98$, but if you use this link they’ll drop to 83. When I updated this post they were on sale for 49$.)

Pros:
-Four-way stretch
-DWR
-low profile and hidden pockets
-two colors
-regular, long, and petite sizing
-BetaBrand’s sale scheme means that you essentially never have to pay the stated price.

Cons:
-Some strangely placed pockets are no doubt practical, but look a little odd
-Limited color options
-Reviews note possible issues with fit and stitching.

Dish and Du/er Pants (Example is 109 USD)

This is the only generic company post on this list. It is also the only post that doesn’t include water repellent pants, because I don’t want you to pass it up. These folks make performance denim that’s tough, wicking, and stretchy, with odor and temperature control features as well. Most of their pants have extra coverage in the back and reinforced stress points. They do carry DWR jeans, but only for men. They size by waist and inseam and have a huge variety of cuts and colors.

ODO Jeans, 115 USD

 

I backed Odo’s kickstarter, so now I’m watching them closely, a mix between an investor and a proud parent. I don’t have my jeans yet (a review is coming when I get them!), but I have high hopes for them.

Pros:
-two fits, three shades of blue plus black

-standard and light weight options
-reflectors for biking
-extra deep pockets
-impressive size range. Odo seems very focused on fit, which is great.
-water, stain, dirt resistant

Cons:
-I’m guessing they’re hot in hot weather

-Lightweight option isn’t available in black

Alchemy Equipment’s Stretch Tech Chinos, 180 NZD (~127 USD)

 

Pros:
-DWR for water and stain repelling
-Four-way stretch
-Abrasion resistant
-Dressy style
-Three colors

Cons:
-Sizes are XS-XL
-No pictures of the pants in different colors
-Several sizes are unavailable in particular colors.

Options:
-Alchemy has a sizeable women’s selection, but this seems to be the only pair of DWR pants.

 

Ligne 8’s Portia Classic Pant, 128 USD

Pros:
-durable, breathable stretch fabric
-water and stain resistant
-quick drying
-higher rise in the back
-grip tape at waistband
-anti-chafing gusset
-reflective binding on lower legs
-belt loops

Cons:
-Basic sizing (2,4,6 etc), no petite, tall options
-Biking features may be a bit much if you just want to travel
-Only one color available.

Options:
Ligne 8 has other, similar pants, like the Grace pant. They also have some nice DWR technical jeans.

Rohan’s Women’s Dry Roamers, 98£ (~140 USD)

 

Pic from foothills.uk.com
Pros:
-Three neutral colors
-DWR
-Moisture diffusing
-Hidden pocket
-Durable
-Quick drying
-Wrinkle resistant
-Lightweight
-Sizes up to 18, with short available

Cons:
-Nice and not too outdoors-y, but not exactly dressy
-Only sizes 8-18 available (good if you’re an 18, not so much if you’re on the smaller end)

Nau’s Device Pants, 145$

 

Pros:
-Two colors, sizes 2-14
-Zipper pockets (pro for security, con for style)
-DWR finish
-Reflective tape when pants are cuffed

Cons:
-Two-way, not four-way stretch
-No discussion of how light, wrinkle-resistant, or quick drying they are

Outerboro’s Motile Breeze Pants, 148 USD

 

Pros:
-three colors (Black, Shadow Gray, Dress Blue)
-light weight and quick dry
-DWR (stain and water resistant)
-four-way stretch fabric

Cons:
-Only 4 sizes
-As of writing, several options are out of stock

 

The Willary’s Pants, 198 USD

 

Pros:
-stain, water, abrasion resistant
-four way stretch with optimal recovery (meaning they won’t stretch out)
-hidden pocket, deep pockets
-belt loops (so many pants miss this somehow)
-made in the USA
-two fits

Cons:
-I’m not sure how well they wash, how quickly they dry, or how light they are.

Pivotte’s 24/7 Pants 220 USD

 

Pivotte’s a new kid on the block and I love their stuff. I hope they stick around because their simple-but-elegant designs and high tech fabrics are a wonderful combo. But 220 for pants? Ouch.

Pros:
-wrinkle resistant
-three colors
-hidden zippered pockets
-water, stain, dirt resistant
-4-way stretch

Cons:
-the price, as mentioned

BONUS ROUND: Bring them back, please?

Outlier Slimmer Dungarees

 

Outlier, I am hurt and betrayed. You had so much going for you – glowing reviews on page 1 of Google results! Funky color offerings! The reputation as the best women’s pants in the industry! A model doing something other than staring into the camera in a studio somewhere in San Francisco!

And then…nothing. You decided, for some reason, that it was a good time to discontinue your whole women’s line. Candidly?  That was a bad idea.

Proof NY Visser Pants

 

For women who like tech pants, Proof NY was first Outlier’s younger cousin. Then, when Outlier discontinued women’s products, they were the new go-to for women who biked to work. Proof NY has been essentially offline for about a year now. Perhaps they’ll make a return, if we’re lucky.

That’s it?

That’s it. I know. So few. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully we’ll have more options in the near future.

If you spot an error or know of another brand I should look into, please let me know in the comments.  I’m hoping to keep this list as thorough, updated, and accurate as possible. If you’ve written a review of any of these pants, I’d be happy to include a link in this post. Just hit me up here or on twitter.

 

UPDATE 6/18/16

-Switched the Ligne 8 Grace pants for Portia pants. I like the cut better, and they’re also 50$ cheaper.
-Added Alchemy, Rohan, and Nau pants.
-Added Dish and DU/ER.
-Removed Makers and Riders pants as the link was dead. They seem to have gone the way of Outlier by removing their women’s line.

UPDATE 3/6/17

Removed ODO Jeans because at worst they’re a scam and at best they’re wildly behind schedule with terrible customer service.
-Replaced pictures.
-Updated Pivotte pants to note new color available.

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