I only took one pair of trousers on my four-month backpacking trip through Europe in winter – a single pair of Bluff Works travel pants. No backup pair; I wore them every single day. It was a gamble, but it paid off: the Bluff Works held up well and never wrinkled or got damaged or stained.
I have since purchased a second pair, just to have another color. This is my review of Bluff Works travel pants and my experiences with them in all kinds of settings. Plus lots of photos of my Bluff Works in the field!
(Note: This is not a paid article – I just like these pants and want to help out my fellow lightweight travelers.)
What are “Bluff Works” pants?
Bluff Works is the name of a small American company founded by one Stefan Loble. He started a Kickstarter campaign to help him design and produce “bomb-proof” travel pants that were wrinkle-free, quick-drying, breathable, and suitable for outdoors and an office environment. He seems to downplay the Kickstarter origins of Bluff Works on the official site (http://bluffworks.com) but it’s true.
Bluff Works aren’t yet available on Amazon or places like that. You’ll have to order them directly from the Bluff Works website (that’s what I did).
In preparing for my trip, I became focused on cutting down weight and bulk wherever I could. I had read some online reviews of Bluff Works travel pants by people who had used them for traveling, and their glowing endorsements made me spend far more – about $100 – than I ever had on any pair of pants. My goal was to be as light and simple as possible, and Bluff Works seemed to fit the bill.
How my Bluff Works held up in Europe
I wore my single pair of Bluff Works travel pants every single day from October until the following February in some of the coldest and driest places in Europe, then through April and beyond on a trip to America and then back to my home in Japan.
Basically, I wore them every day for half a year. And I’m still wearing them.
They perform as advertised. The synthetic material in Bluff Works pants is comfortable, they are super-quick drying, and they do not wrinkle. Mine never seemed to stain – despite my taking countless Humalog shots through them (with the occasional blood or insulin spillage), dripping Hungarian goulash on them, sitting in pigeon poo, and all the other exciting things that a diabetic traveler will experience on a long backpacking trip like I did.
That European trip has been over for several months and I still use this same pair of Bluff Works trousers, in my casual life and at work where I have to dress up.
Bluff Works travel pants: Pros
- Quick-dry – The first time I washed these pants (ever) was in a Scrubba laundry bag with Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap in my room in Tallinn, Estonia on Day 6 of the trip. As I pulled the pants from the water, I was rather shocked to find that they were dry immediately. The water just slides off the material, like it was plastic. (But when wearing them, they feel soft and not plasticky.)
An exception was the various pockets, which are nylon and not the same material as the rest. The pockets are still wet after laundry, so you have to hang the trousers to dry anyway. But even in cold weather it’s not too unpleasant to just put them on with damp pockets and let them dry throughout the day.
- Wrinkle-free – Since I wore my Bluff Works every day, I never had to pack them, but I’m sure I could have stuffed them in a bag and they would have come out looking flat and new. I sat on every train and bus in Central Europe, wore them on uncomfortable little airplane seats, climbed over old Russian forts and around ancient Roman amphitheaters. The pants never got damaged or wrinkled, no matter what I did to them.
- No stains – Shooting up insulin through your pants is not exactly recommended, but I did it quite a lot on my trip. I noticed that a lot of Humalog was dripping onto my pants after some of my shots (I learned to keep the needle in longer; it may have been damaged going through the material). I also had a couple instances of large-ish drops of blood spreading onto the pants.
In addition to getting diabetes effluvia all over my pants, I made snow angels across Europe. I walked through mud to reach a hilltop castle in Slovakia. I went ice-skating in Bratislava and fell down a thousand times. No matter what happened, the pants always quickly washed clean with a little water. They’re much easier to keep clean than regular fabrics. Bleed on denim or get cotton socks muddy and they’re ruined if you leave it a few minutes. Bluff Works presents no problem.
- The inside pocket zipper – The left front pocket has a secret second pocket under it that zips close. While traveling I always kept some spare cash and my passport in this pocket. The hard-to-reach zipper makes pickpocketing extremely unlikely. I haven’t used that pocket outside of traveling but it’s sure handy for important documents and extra money.
Bluff Works travel pants: Cons
- Things fall out of the pockets – The front pockets’ opening is sloped down, not straight across horizontal. Coins and room keys would fall out of my pocket every time I sat down or shifted in my seat on a bus or in a cafe somewhere. It was a major annoyance, and I finally resorted to not putting coins in there at all. (My travel partner Masayo kept all the coins in her little purse.) Paper money, at least, did not ever fall out of the pocket.
I should say that after my European trip, I bought a second pair of Bluff Works that were a little tighter on me (the ones I took to Europe were a size too big, I think). Things don’t seem to fall out of these as easily. Choosing the right size Bluff Works travel pants may fix this problem.
- Worn knees – Both my pairs are exhibiting a very slight discoloration around the knees. I’m not sure why; it’s more pronounced on the older charcoal grey ones than the newer navy blue ones, but it’s there on both. However, this effect is subtle enough that I still wear both pairs, even when my job is standing in full view of a room full of people to teach English here in Japan. The fabric looks nice enough that the knees probably look like a trick of the light if anything; I’m sure nobody has ever even noticed so I don’t worry about it.
- They’re expensive – I’m a guy who thinks $30 is over the top for a pair of pants of any description. But my quest to simplify my trip led me to pay the $100 for the Bluff Works. I think they were worth the price, but it still seems rather high to me. (I mean, I bought a second pair, but still…!)
Bluff Works pants sizing
I guessed my waist size on my first pair of Bluff Works travel pants, converting from the centimeters I use to buy my pants in Japan. They seemed to fit fine, except for that problem of coins (and hotel keys) falling out of the pockets.
When I returned to Japan I bought a second pair (navy blue) but chose a waist one size smaller. These slimmer pants fit better and made me realize that the charcoal grey Bluff Works I’d taken to Europe were probably a size too big, even if they worked fine.
For both pairs I got much longer legs than I needed and had them adjusted. I figured that was a better way to get the cut I wanted rather than hoping to hit a bull’s eye with the numbers.
Bluff Works pants weight
My 34-inch waist pair of Bluff Works are 406g, which is 14.3 ounces – less than a pound. My second pair with a 33-inch waist weighs 384g, only 13.5 ounces. I wore mine all the time but it’s safe to say that if you want a second pair to stow in your bag, Bluff Works travel pants are about as lightweight as you could find.
Are Bluff Works pants warm in winter?
Bluff Works’ own website says that the material in the trousers is light, and so the trousers are of best use in warmer months. However, I wore mine in Europe in winter – and now in Japan in winter – and they are fine. I’m sure there are warmer pants out there, much warmer, but I just put on a pair of long underwear underneath the trousers. On especially cold days in Europe, I’d put on both my pairs of long underwear, plus my Bluff Works. I never felt cold, and would recommend Bluff Works even in winter.
Are Bluff Works pants cool in summer?
These pants do indeed work well in summer. They are light and breathe well, and the official website goes on about how you only need to wash them every five days. I’m not sure how they arrived at that number, but that’s roughly how often I washed mine in summer (less often in winter) and there was never any smell or unpleasant mustiness. I’d recommend them for any season.
Where to buy Bluff Works
As far as I know you have to order your pair(s) directly from bluffworks.com. They have free shipping in the United States but can ship around the globe too. You just choose your style and color, plus the waist and length you want, and order. It’s very easy and no-hassle.
It’s worth investing in a pair of pants you can travel easily with. I’d wear Bluff Works in any season in any country – especially since shorts look stupid on every male on the planet, and thick, heavy jeans are not a great choice for, say, Thailand, where they’re too hot, or Europe in winter, where they’ll take days to dry after laundry.
Get Bluff Works – they are durable and versatile, and require virtually no care at all. Perfect for a traveler who wants to travel, not get psychologically bogged down in the possessions he or she is lugging around.
Update August 2016: No chinos review
In response to this review, I got a nice email from Bluff Works founder Stefan Loble offering to send me a pair of pants from their new line of chinos. I accepted, but never received any package or any further emails. So I’d like to post a review of the newest pants they have but it doesn’t look like I can for now. Still wearing the old ones though!
Alternatives to Bluff Works
I’d love to know if you have used another brand of travel pants for your excursions. Let me know your thoughts about the best pants for traveling. Is there something better than Bluff Works?
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