TSA: “Your Pants, Sir, Are a Problem”

Costs a bundle, apparently can’t tell a zipper from a dangerous object.

I’ve heard some really silly stuff from TSA employees lately, but this one about my The North Face pants really takes the top prize for being ridiculous:

"These might not be the best pants to wear to the airport since they’ve got all those zippers and a lot going on."

My pants had just set off a false positive on a $150,000 millimeter wave body scanner at John Wayne Airport (which is still an outstanding airport for reasons I’ll address in the future). It thought one of my zippers was not like the others, and alerted the staff. And then the TSA employee – not rudely, or anything – blamed my pants. He was perfectly friendly, but ultimately he still blamed my pants. I think he and the rest of the TSA staff need to think about whether their scanners actually work.

This exact pair of The North Face pants have flown from Asia to the North America to Europe and back with me a few times. They have caused security officials in Asia (Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Tokyo and even Shanghai) and Europe (London, Frankfurt, Stuttgart) exactly zero problems. But they’ve stymied TSA employees in Phoenix and now Orange County.

By WPPilot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I love this airport, TSA or not. (By WPPilot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)
My friends, the problem is not the pants. It’s not the zippers. It’s an overfunded, under-moraled organization trying to expand its mission and its funding by making banking on fear and security theater.

Read this, and tell me this agency is about keeping you safe. Fly abroad and tell me TSA is about keeping you safe. (One of the most dismaying aspects of security at foreign airports is that its employees are more courteous, better trained and more articulate – in a second language! – than TSA employees in my own country.)

So what’s the point of hammering away at TSA every time its employees say or do something stupid? First off, I want people who reflexively bleat "well, if it keeps us safe --" to open their eyes. And then I want the constant stream of pressure to prompt some reform in the organization so we can also get back to the goal of improving and expanding travel – because travel is the best educational experience that a person of any age can enjoy. It sickens me that there are people so cowed by TSA that they don’t want to board a plane.

Oh, and The North Face needs to give me a ring when it’s ready to design its ultimate pair of air travel pants. In the meantime, I’ll wear the same The North Face pants for every flight because they shrug off stains, have plenty of zippable pockets and fit just right for air travel.

One more thing – I have a great story for those of you who can’t get enough of security shenanigans from TSA.


A Look at the Outdoor Products Tech Backpack

Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech packpack
The Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech backpack, ready for some action.

I have a new piece of travel gear I’m pretty excited about: the Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0. It’s a technology-oriented backpack designed to get your portable electronics – and possibly liquids and gels – through a TSA checkpoint without a fuss. It seems the "tech backpack" has become a new category of its own.

I ran across the Power Pack Glide 2.0 after a buckle on my old Patagonia backpack broke. There was no fixing this problem. And I never loved the Patagonia pack (which was not really a tech backpack). I headed to REI, where the Power Pack Glide 2.0 sells for $64.50; apparently, this is the only place you can get one of these cool tech backpacks. I’d never heard of the Outdoor Products brand -- and holy cow, is that name generic! I was mistrustful and suspicious, scrutinizing it in the same way a housecat examines just about anything new that appears in its house.

  • After all the sniffing, here are some of the interesting features I found in the Power Pack Glide 2.0 (check the video for a demonstration):
  • A cool retractable panel that secures your boarding pass – it’s far better than stashing it in a pocket.
  • A semi-hidden zippered pocket that perfect for stashing a passport or checkbook (remember those?).
  • Small internal pockets for USB drives and memory card.
  • A fleece-lined pocket for my Switch Vision sunglasses (yes, I’m very protective of them).
  • A laptop sleeve that slides out and clips to the backpack for TSA inspection; this seems like a nice concept, but it also strikes me as a feature that will confound TSA personnel. I have yet to test it. But I can see it causing consternation and confusion among the blue shirts.
  • Mesh water bottle sleeves on both sides. They could stand to be deeper. I like big bottles, and these can’t quite accommodate them.
  • A special pocket for tablet-sized items.

It has the usual inner pockets and places to stow pens and whatnot, too. Outdoor Products put more creativity into making a modern technology backpack than they did in choosing a company name. This is some good thinking.

I’ve only had the Power Pack Glide 2.0 a few weeks, and I haven’t boarded a plane with it yet. The build quality seems better than my less-versatile Patagonia pack -- which admittedly wasn’t a full on tech backpack.

The Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech backpack will be an automatic choice for my domestic flights; it probably won’t get much work on my international flights since I don’t take much technology with me. The computer stays home, and I usually just roll with a Kindle. That, and I have my big Kelty backpack with me, and just have a small daypack for short jaunts around cities or quick hikes.

If you need a tech backpack, give the Power Pack Glide 2.0 a look at an REI near you. Its features and price will be enough to make it a good choice for many travelers.


Since my first blog post, I traveled with the Power Pack Glide 2.0. It caused no fuss with TSA, even with a tablet computer, MP3 player, Kindle PaperWhite and a wealth of chargers and cables.

Also, my wife picked up a Power Pack Glide 2.0 a few weeks ago. She told me three times this morning how awesome it is. So … there you have it.

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