Travel jeans are a bit of an oxymoron. Denim is famously durable but it’s a terrible fabric for hot weather destinations—sticky in Bangkok scooter traffic; slow to dry if you spill on the plane or get caught in equatorial rain. But that never stopped me from dragging my Levi’s on nearly every trip I’ve ever taken. In recent years, the options improved for travel pants, with miraculous materials that wick, breathe, stretch and endure, even if the designs weren’t always that fashionable.
Aviator changes the game on travel pants. The Los Angeles-based boutique brand founded by Colby Kane, a former art director for Macy’s, makes super-soft, slightly stretchy, impossibly comfortable jeans that actually keep you stylish in brutal tropical heat. I say this because I just experienced it. Last month in Vietnam, I alternated days between Aviator’s Concord Black jeans and their classic medium Dark Indigos, and I barely knew I was wearing jeans. This was Vietnam—in summer!
Aviators are breathable like athleisurewear with fabric that’s a mix of cotton and intelligent synthetics. My black jeans, with medium stretch, are 53 percent cotton, 37 percent lyocell, 8 percent rayon and 2 percent spandex. That’s a bit more cotton than true “performance” pants but I love that Aviators look and feel like actual denim: soft against the skin and strong enough to protect you from sun or in scratchy jungle grass. The design is where they really impress. There’s no goofy zippers at the knees or clown-sized pockets or logos that scream “Pickpocket me! I’m a tourist!” Aviators are discreet and the stitching will be familiar to loyalists of Lucky or Levi’s. Aviator’s seven pockets are positioned in the normal places you’d expect to find them in jeans. Two pockets are zippered and all are deep enough to fit a passport or an iPhone.
The fit is just right for long-haul flights or, say, a late-night ride on a Vespa in Saigon. Aviators come in slim and straight, with an extra-long inseam (Aviator will hem them for free if you give them your measurements). The website touts the pants as “the best travel jeans in the world,” and I’m not going to argue with that claim. Two weeks in Southeast Asia in midsummer and I’m still a fan.
Kane runs the brand from a clean bright showroom space downtown Los Angeles, near where the jeans are manufactured. Making them locally lets him oversee production in a way that’s just not possible if you’re churning out product in, well, Vietnam. I love Kane’s commitment and style and the fact that he’s laser-focused on jeans (though the company’s quick-dry Merino wool travel tee is also a must for sweltering destinations). Kane self-funded the project through Kickstarter, with a $45,000 drive in 2016. That keeps production small but, again, lets him pay attention to quality and service rather than fulfilling massive orders. Best travel jeans in the world? It’s a big claim—but these are the pants that I’ll keep taking around the globe.