Looking for a way to endure a long car trip, epic flight or a combination of the two? You need yourself a pair of the best travel pants around. My introduction to the genre came via my friend Jane on a multi-hour road trip. We were headed across California so she could give a big, motivational-type speech—the kind that would leave her drained (hence my playing chauffeur). She needed to look sharp, so she rocked a dress, heels, the full fancy enchilada. Then, once she finished her public appearance and we were back in the car, she muttered, “you don’t mind if I change, do you?” and immediately started wriggling into a pair of elastic-waist trousers and a t-shirt. “Ah, car pants!” She enthused. “I never drive anywhere important without them.”
9 Best Travel Pants (Tested by Our Comfort-Obsessed Staff)
What Are Travel Pants, Anyway?
Whether you call them car pants, travel pants or (shudder) slacks, as my mom would say, these are trousers with a few non-ironclad attributes. (1.) They’re made of somewhat stretchy fabric. (2.) They have an elastic waist. (3.) They aren’t too thick but are still opaque. And they are able to bounce back from long stretches of butt-in-seat without their wearer rising up a wrinkled mess. And they need to have a bit of style (maybe an interesting silhouette or a bit of detailing)—anything that doesn’t scream sweats or leggings. Because while you may not need to look like a Succession cast member private-jetting to Tuscany, you do want to look vaguely reputable and solvent when you leave home, both as a kindness to whoever sees you and on the off chance you’ll get an upgraded seat, room or table with a view upon arrival.
1. athleta Brooklyn Ankle Pant
Best for Work Wear
Looking for a pant that’s incredibly comfortable yet appears totally profesh? These pants, which fashion editor Abby Hepworth wore on a three-hour car ride, yet arrived looking fresh. “I was traveling with my dad, who is of the old-school mindset that people should dress up for travel rather than wear sweatpants or leggings, and even he approved of the Brooklyn Ankle Pant,” she says. Both machine washable and dryer-safe, these come in tall and petite sizes (Hepworth says cropped pants are the bane of her existence) so you’ll get the perfect length, which saves time at the tailor and prevents the casual rolled-up hem look. “At $89 a pop, they're definitely more than I would typically spend on joggers or sweats, but because of their versatility, I say they're worth it. So much so that I am seriously considering buying another pair (or two) in a different color,” she says.
Available in sizes 00 to 26
2. Alo Airbrush High-waist Flutter Leggings
Best for Style
When is a legging not a legging? When they have a jazzy silhouette, thanks to a flared leg and front split hem that is great for ventilation as well as showing off your kicks. “I really like them when I want to be comfy but put together. I wore them on a 7-hour trip from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and there wasn't a wrinkle in sight,” says commerce editor Olivia Kappler. Kappler says the slit at the bottom of the pants really elongates the legs, but that since these leggings run a bit long, if you have short legs, consider the 7/8 length instead. They also get top marks for stretch is great, are super flattering and wash up well. “The one caveat? I traveled with my pup and his fur clings to the pants like no other, so I recommend packing a lint roller!” says Kappler.
Available in sizes XXS to L
3. vuori Women’s Ripstop Pant
Best for Active Travel
These versatile pants let you look neat in the airport security line as well as arrive dressed to go for a rock-climbing expedition. That’s because these elastic-and-drawstring waist trousers from this influencer-favorite brand are the women’s version of men’s climbing pants, aka tough fabric with a bit of give. “The two-way stretch makes these really comfy,” says senior editor Dana Dickey, who wore them on a quick plane ride from Los Angeles to Phoenix. “While I really like the slimmer profile when I took my usual size, I like a looser feel for pants I’m traveling in, so I sized up for a classic trouser look.” The mesh pockets are nicely placed so they don’t accentuate the hips, Dickey says, and the mid-thigh zip pocket is unobtrusive yet handy for secure and easy access to your driver’s license. “The only thing I’d lose is the white drawstring at the waist, since it stands out from the charcoal pants I wore, and honestly the pants fit fine without it.”
Available in sizes XXS to XXL
4. lululemon Stretch High-rise Pant
Best for Year-Round Wear
Props for Lulu’s highly engineered Luxtreme fabric (a nylon-and-lycra combo), which manages to be cooling yet substantial enough to retain its shape (as well as not wrinkle to pieces). These pants have a wide, lie-flat waistband (as well as a drawstring that can be tucked in for a sleeker look). Additionally, these pants don’t try to be cropped or pegged or pull any funny stuff, design-wise: They fall to the ankle straight from the waist band, and are roomy in the hips and thighs so you won’t be rustling around trying to get comfy while on your plane, train or automobile. And while black is our usual color of choice for traveling, the deep red mulled wine is an elegant color to liven up our neutral packing palette.
Available in sizes 0 to 20
5. tracksmith Travel Pants
Best for Rainy Destinations
These luxe, sporty elastic-waist pants were designed for sporty types to wear to and from track meets, according to their Boston-based makers. The lightweight, four-way-stretch fabric feels silky, but it is made to be water repellent, so it’s a natural fit for tromping through the slush of a hard winter storm as well as lightweight enough for cozying by the fire afterward. Little details, like a slightly tapered leg, are based on menswear styling and are great looking, and we appreciate the anti-microbial fabric treatment that keeps these fresh seemingly forever. Dickey wore these on a transatlantic flight: “They felt like jammies in-flight, but I looked sporty-chic instead of wrinkled when I checked into my hotel on arrival.”
Available in sizes XS to L
6. madewell Pull-on High-rise Straight Pants
Best for Versatility
The pair of pants you will reach for again and again in your closet, these pull-on trousers are blessedly super-basic in design. The black textured fabric looks expensive (in reality, it’s a washable poly-viscose-elastane blend), and the 21-inch leg opening is going to give you a lot of room to move around. The 30-inch inseam may be too long on some wearers (unless you’re rocking heels to the airport, in which case our hats are off to you). And the 12-inch rise? We like that you can tuck your top inside it, as well as drape that sweater after you’ve downed a burger and fries outside your airline gate.
Available in XX Small to X Large
7. everlane The Dream Pant
Best for In-Flight Snuggling
What happens when you take sweatpants fabric and create a pair of trousers? The perfect storm of stealth chic in these Everlane pants. A slightly tapered design and pintuck front detail make these appear polished, while distracting from their sweatshirt material double-knit fabrication (mmm, cotton and modal). A flat stretch waistband and 26.5-inch inseam make this look like a proper pair of stylish trousers, which we appreciate. (Almost as much as we’re going to enjoy folding our legs comfortably under us on that seat next to us to nap.) Bonus: In addition to the usual black and charcoal, these come in dark green, slate and off-white.
Available in sizes XXS to XL
8. paire Bella Lounge
Best for Jet-Set Style
Designer Eunice Cho started her indie design company five years ago with a quest to give women the perfect pair of pants. We’re thinking this style is the one for the upscale traveler, since it’s made of Italian-milled fabric that’s made of Polyamide and Lycra, so it has four-way stretch and yet feels like featherweight suiting fabric. The rear end has a hidden pocket that’s set high, which makes your butt look perkier. (Sure, that won’t be your first concern after an almost-missed rushed connection in Dallas, and yet…). A thin line of satin piping down the leg is subtly unique, creating a more polished look overall.
Available in sizes XS to XL
9. jennifer Hamdan Trouser
Best for Menswear Fans
The tab-waist closure, the luxurious-feeling, tropical weight 100 percent wool and the flattering straight leg shape: This pant can be your go-to both in transit and out for a nice dinner. (Side note: The rear-end-flattering power of these trousers is not to be underestimated, as these got attention on city streets their wearer hasn’t had in forever.) Since it’s from a small, Brooklyn-based label, the price tag is dear, but you’re supporting the independent design community and purchasing a quality garment that’s as durable as it is comfortable.
Available in sizes 0 to 10