There is one variable of business travel that I don't believe has ever been addressed: Is there anything comfier to wear than these damn dress pants? San Francisco-based Betabrand aims to snugly fill this unheralded niche with their hybrid “dress pant sweatpants.”
How it works: Betabrand is known for mashing up finer fabrics with surprising designs (think pinstriped hoodies) and this latest offering is meant to take you from the airport to the boardroom and back, in the most relaxed of fits. They're made from super-soft French terry and are cut like dress pants, with proper belt loops and back welt pockets. To the touch, they are the ultimate pair of sweatpants, except that I'm not embarrassed to don them in front of strangers and co-workers. No doubt, I could sleep in these quite happily on the plane.
Pros and cons: These are the most comfortable pants I've ever worn in public, but how do they fare as true frequent-flier attire? You'll need to find a complementary jacket - the terrycloth pants come in four colours (grey, black, pinstripe, a pattern called grey static) and look most like wool trousers. They're breathable and work in all seasons, though you might feel a strong gust on a cold night. While no one will bat an eye in the business-class lounge, that may not be the case at, say, a client presentation, especially if you're standing at the front of the room. Sooner or later, you'll face some curious looks as clients try to decipher what's happening on your bottom half.
The verdict: Being in transit is awkward at best and these sweatpants help take the edge off - you just might want to schedule a dress change before the big meeting. $108 (U.S.), betabrand.com. Cliff Lee
Sleek and chic, Briggs & Riley’s new Torq hardside cases catch your eye on the luggage carousel. The respected New York travel-gear company even offers a lifetime guarantee for these hardside cases, and will replace or repair bags for free – even when it’s the airline’s fault. There are trips when discerning road warriors need to check a bag, Torq cases were made for them.
How it works: An outside handle means the inside is flat for (almost) wrinkle-free packing, which is made easier by two inserts – one that lets you stack items higher than the base’s edge (and protects clothing from getting caught in the zipper) and another, shirt-sized flattener that cinches to compress your stuff. The 80/20 ratio of base and lid makes living out of your luggage easier: The deeper case and thinner lid means it balances better on hotel luggage racks. Inside are multiple zippered pockets (including a secret one); the lid is a great place to stash dirty laundry. Surprisingly, the bag’s gleaming, head-turning exterior isn’t as hard as it looks: The polycarbonate shell is a bendable, high-impact plastic that reminds me a lot of a car bumper.
Pros and cons: I always wondered why some people wrap their luggage in plastic – now I know. On a recent long-haul trip my Torq endured baggage handlers 10 times in five airports, plus one invasive customs inspection. Structurally it survived perfectly – the 360-degree wheels spin, the handle is strong – but cosmetically it suffered: lots of black scuff marks, white scratches and one tiny dent. Thankfully, the TSA-friendly lock meant no zippers or latches were destroyed to open the case.
The verdict: It’s a sturdy bag that packed well and wheeled nicely. While Briggs & Riley’s guarantee doesn’t apply to cosmetic complaints, the company says Turtle Wax will buff away the marks and scratches (see what I mean about the car bumper?). But a scuffed bag makes one look well travelled; I may leave the battle scars alone. $529 (U.S.); briggs-riley.com, and many Canadian retailers. Catherine Dawson March
Baggage fees are such a handy excuse for not exercising on the road. By the time you cram all the true necessities into a carry-on bag, those awkward, bulky running shoes just won't fit. Oh well. I'm not paying $25 just to hit the hotel gym once or twice. Then again, it's easier to justify indulging in exotic cuisine (or just really good poutine in Montreal) if you're balancing things out with a sweat session. So I set out to find a suitcase-friendly sneaker. One solution: the Nike Free Flyknit, a lightweight, squishable model that features two of Nike's most popular technologies.
How it works: The idea of the shoe was to combine"the comfort of a sock with the performance of a traditional shoe." The knit, one-piece upper sits atop a Nike Free mid-sole with medium cushioning. (It's rated a level five; one is akin to barefoot running and 10 would be a traditional running shoe.) The Flyknit fibres around the opening are quite stretchy (so you can get your bare foot in), but the rest are stable to create a "lockdown" effect that stabilizes the foot. The platform is extremely flexible (you can almost bend the shoe in half) yet still provides good cushioning and protection.
Pros and cons: From a packing perspective, these kicks nail it. They barely add any weight, take up little space and are easily squeezed into an already jammed bag. Plus, not having to wear socks means one less thing to pack (it is recommended you wear socks the first few wears, however). At the gym, they perform equally well; I feel light and bouncy on my feet. And I am not as conscious of the shoes as I am with traditional runners - although I don't know that I would go so far as to say there was a"symbiotic relationship" between my body and the footwear, which is how Nike puts it.
Final verdict: That's it then: No more excuse not to tone up in foreign lands. Way to spoil the fun, Nike. $195, nike.com Domini Clark
“Lighter than a pair of flip-flops.” That’s exactly what a traveller wants to hear when deciding if it’s worth packing a rain coat. But at 368 grams (13 ounces), can L.L. Bean’s new NeoShell Bounder Jacket still save me from a soaking?
How it works: This waterproof layer is built for seriously outdoorsy folk, but cut so sleekly you won’t feel too out of place wearing it on a rainy day in Paris (but buy it in black). The exterior nylon fabric is soft, stretchy and moves with you, while its high-tech lining lets your body breathe so you won’t get all sweaty underneath – no matter how high you climb up the Eiffel Tower. No gust of wind will blow the hood off your head, and its stiff peak keeps downpours off your glasses. A springy drawcord pulls it nice and snug to frame your face. The hood’s stiff peak keeps downpours off your glasses.
Pros and cons: On cooler days, you will definitely need another layer under this light shell, but it’s great at blocking the wind. The jacket’s two zippered chest pockets are well placed for storing stuff – it’s so easy to reach folded maps or your phone – but it needs another set of pockets at waist level, if only as a warm spot for cold hands on a rainy day.
The verdict: This is a terrific rain jacket that packs light and doesn’t look dowdy – and that’s rare. As a bonus, L.L. Bean offers free shipping to Canada. $299 (U.S.); llbean.com Catherine Dawson March
What makes for the perfect travel bag? In my mind it should be practical, but attractive. Not too bulky, but large enough to hold everything I need handy during a flight. And in an ideal world, gender neutral – because why should the lady always be stuck carrying everything? I was beginning to think I was asking too much. Then I found the Pacsafe MetroSafe shoulder bag.
How it works: The key to its success lies in just the right number of pockets: A slim one on the back, one under the flap (with spaces for a phone, pens, etc.), and a main compartment with an interior slot that’s the perfect size for a tablet. Two exterior pouches for water bottles snap close when not in use, keeping things streamlined. But what takes the bag to another level is the security features. Much of the fabric (including the strap) is slash proof. As well, discreet clasps let you lock zippers – and secure the strap around an object (say, a chair leg at a café). Finally, the an RFID-blocking pocket provides extra protection for passport chips and credit cards.
Pros and cons: The way the strap was originally configured was awkward (the whole thing moved when opening and closing the bag), but I once rejigged it (just a matter of changing a clasp) it was smooth sailing. I managed to pack in an iPad, water bottle, wallet, passport, keys, amenity kit, notepad, pen, snacks and more on a recent flight. The Pacsafe proved equally useful back in the city while running errands on the weekend.
The verdict: This bag is pretty close to perfect for my storage needs. And while I’m not usually the paranoid type while travelling, I can appreciate the security features in certain destinations where pickpocketing – or worse – is common (I’m looking at you, Barcelona). Pacsafe Metrosafe 200 GII Shoulder Bag: $79, mec.ca Domini Clark