The Right Trousers

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Overland Journal, Summer 2019.

It’s important to have field pants that cover the middle ground. We’re not talking about waxed über-cotton kit, cutting-edge combat trousers, or dedicated snow and ice outerwear. Here, we examine some of the best everyday wear trousers that are not too tactical or technical. We didn’t delve into post wash drying times, wicking après field, shrinkage specifications, or zipper versus button fly performance. Naturally, we couldn’t cover all brands or models.

Most of these trousers will thrive as a field pant and after trail dinner attire—a dual purpose travel and field destination pant. They may have various pockets, but not the billowing military- issue type, and can be worn in Egypt, Colombia, or down to the local tavern. A few hidden pockets are fine, but not so many necessitating a personal pat down to produce your passport. You won’t be conducting a winter survey of prehistoric structures in the Shetland or climbing Nepalese peaks with these. But you will be clearing airport customs, checking in at the consulate, catching a final restaurant-cooked meal, and setting up camp at a remote spot that evening, all in the same trousers.

PROMETHEUS DESIGN WERX
RAIDER 5050RS

Tailored from nylon/cotton ripstop fabric, the Raider field pant epitomizes everything you need and nothing you don’t. The tough-wearing material is the same used in certain military and public safety gear, but with nuanced tailoring and design. True to fit after the first laundry cycle, these have an unassuming, somewhat tapered leg appearance. They are cut for dynamic activities and reinforced where they need to be but don’t appear over-engineered. I appreciate the dedicated compartment within the front pocket that secures clip-retained items such as knives or flashlights and keeps the main pocket uncluttered. A hidden rear waistband pocket retains your emergency gold sovereigns. The machine mineral gray and (reviewed) dark arid earth offerings appear low profile enough. Plastic delta rings (can be cut off) and the accessory welt pocket on the thigh are useful, albeit slightly tactical in appearance. Most smartphones with weatherproof covers should fit in the side welt pockets. With “all day every day” comfort, the Raider has the best overall versatility and is one of my preferred travel and field pants. Made in USA.

$129 | PROMETHEUSDESIGNWERX.COM

ROYAL ROBBINS
ALPINE ROAD

Royal Robbins helped shape North American big wall rock climbing, and his technical publications are still essential reading. Bought at a local mountaineering store prior to a work trip, the Alpine Road’s nylon, polyester, and spandex blend initially raised an eyebrow. I chose the active fit, mid-rise style in charcoal, and the fit is snug which might not work for every- one. Yet they are extremely comfortable, have an excellent range of motion, look sharp, and repel water, snow, and mud better than most. When the going gets serious, built-in drawstrings at the cuffs keep the crud out. The thin fabric isn’t quick to wrinkle on long plane flights, and the synthetic blend keeps the dry cold out. The trim fit can print pocket essentials, especially in the khaki variant, so don’t expect thicker items to go unnoticed. Heavier clip knives will also sag the pockets. The right thigh zipper pocket secures a phone and passport. Even with a fabric blend I normally avoid, these pants are very likable. Designed with minimalist features, they are favorable in the field and coalesce mountaineering and wanderlust very well. Made in Vietnam.

$79 | ROYALROBBINS.COM

MOUNTAIN KHAKIS
ALPINE UTILITY

For years, the MK Alpine Utility pant has been my main fieldwork choice. They hold up under rugged conditions and look professional, without resembling the khaki polyester kit issued to volunteer docents at the zoo. On my MKs, cuffs have been quick to fray, but the heavy yet supple organic double-ply canvas holds up after frequent washing. Not exactly true-to-fit in the waist, they consistently tighten after the first wash, so choose your size carefully (length does not have this issue). Double fabric on the knees and seat keep cholla cactus spines from ruining your day. These reinforced areas can slightly bind during mid-to-full flexion (e.g., squatting or climbing), but the payoff is legitimate protection from the environment. The right leg utility pocket is more fashion than function—some phones fit, but rapid removal is difficult. Knife carry can be cumbersome and prone to loss in that position. Straight-handled tools fit well but aren’t secure during dynamic movements. The angled front pocket cuts and discreet full-depth pocket on the right are well executed. The pair reviewed are relaxed fit in gunmetal. Made in China.

$95 | MOUNTAINKHAKIS.COM

KÜHL
RYDR

The Kühl Rydr was my staple client/field meeting pant when I knew serious labor was not scheduled. Rydrs are at ease, look sharp, present the wearer as field ready, and come in muted earth tones that match other attire. Their medium-weight combed cotton fits true to size after washing. They are comfortable on vehicle-borne road trips, long plane flights, or at the field desk. The right side “drop-in” pocket secures most phones well, especially when the wearer is seated or clambering around. The generous crotch gusset and jointed tailoring at the knees facilitate full range of motion. Fading dyes, which make for unique patinas over time, do not trouble me. However, in legitimate field contexts, I have experienced some foibles worth noting with the Rydr. The articulated knee stitching and cuff edges are quick to fray from vigorous fieldwork or even just a few washes. The pocket edge quickly chafes from clip knives, pens, or other pocket essentials. Some favor this tattered appearance. The zipper fly has never failed, but the snap closure (used in lieu of a button) does wear out over time. While not deal breakers, these aspects do make for premature attrition of your kit. The pair reviewed is full seat and thigh wide through the lower leg in deadwood. Made in China.

$85/FULL | KUHL.COM

VERTX
HYDE LT

The Vertx Hyde LT is made from a lightweight (5 ounces) proprietary cotton and polyester blend. True to fit, they have multiple design features and lean toward low-profile, everyday professional wear. If anything, they take the middle ground between travel and tactical. The belt loops are well located. Rivets reinforce all the front, rear, and hip pockets. The coin pocket is deep enough for small pocketknives or single-cell flashlights. When things heat up, vent the legs via discreet zipper pockets along the seams. Side dump pockets are there when needed. Rough or angular objects can snag on the ventilated interior pocket material. Larger clip knives print more than expected, and heavier ones can cause the outer pocket fabric to bunch. Lightweight, low-profile carry gear will maximize this trouser design. Not surprisingly, the LT has proven excellent for travel. They are wrinkle resistant, allow for practical storage of en route necessities, and match well with other garments, particularly in the griffin color reviewed. They dress up and handle light to medium field abuse. The handcuff key utility stash in the cuffs is an interesting touch. Made in Bangladesh.

$90 | VERTX.COM

FJÄLLRÄVEN
TROUSERS NO. 26

Overland Journal Publisher Scott Brady issued me the Fjällräven Trousers No. 26 en route to Nairobi. Initially, they appeared niche specific, as if the lone thigh pocket was intended for a train conductor’s ticket book. I’ve since worn them on countless field projects and overseas trips. They’ve outlasted all my other daily wear trousers, and the khaki-colored fabric still isn’t frayed. The proprietary element resistant material, which can be impregnated with Fjällräven’s Greenland Wax for greater water and wind resistance, looks fitted but feels roomy. Legs are straight cut, and the fabric drapes well over boots. They have a classic button fly, a crotch gusset, triple stitching on the back seams, and appear slightly upscale. The right thigh has that large map pocket containing a smaller, interior compartment. Around town, it’s perfect for a phone and ideal for passports. In remote settings, I have carried maps, a signal mirror, and fire starter there. When wearing a clip pocketknife, extracting deeper items from the corresponding front pocket can be challenging. Trousers No. 26 have an uncomplicated trekking design that functions well in other capacities. Made in Sweden.

$200 | FJALLRAVEN.COM

BEYOND CLOTHING
K5 VELOX

This light softshell offering is the most technical pant in this review. True to fit and very flexible, they are specifically designed for active use in warmer climes. The K5 Velox also repels water and wind extremely well. I assessed them in foul winter weather to establish baseline capabilities. The real test came after spilling a mug of coffee on them. They hosed off with nary a water or java bead remaining. The cuffs fit snugly over hiking boots, and if the river rises, cinch the built-in gaiters. Surprisingly, the hand, thigh, and side pocket interiors all overlap. With pockets full, it’s then difficult to extract items without some fidgeting about. Gravity dictates that something in one pocket will weigh down and then partially cover the interior of the other. With no external provision for securing a clip knife, it must also go inside one of these pockets, where the perforated lining then presents a noticeable snag hazard. These look like travel pants but are best reserved for serious day-hikes where conditions may vary. If you can weather the price and specific design oversights, then use the pockets sparingly. The color reviewed is khaki. Made in Taiwan.

$125 | BEYONDCLOTHING.COM

CARHARTT
RELAXED FIT HOLTER DOUBLE FRONT DUNGAREE JEAN

Another trouser worn over years of pick-and-shovel archaeology, these are the sleeper agent of field and work utility jeans. These double fronts are affordable, comfortable, and durable. With reinforced stitching like your life may depend on it, they also fade and take on that classic worn denim look. When the first layer of the double front gets a hole, it exposes the darker blue denim below. What’s not to like? This is unique. This is style. The side utility pockets hold most smartphones, and the depth of the coin pocket will let you berth a two-cell flashlight there. The front pockets are downright cavernous, and the reinforced rear patch pockets patina ever so well. I usually cut the denim hammer loop off; others prefer the look. Lighter weight than the Logger and lacking rivets, the Holter Double Front is comfortable in transit and excels in the field. To convert to casual clam diggers at a spontaneous beach party, turn the bottom cuffs up to the lower edge of your faded and abraded double front denim. Replace boots with flip- -flops, and enjoy. Made in Mexico.

$45 | CARHARTT.COM

OFF THE GRID
TRAILBLAZER 2.0

Expedition Portal Editor Chris Cordes has been field bound with the OTG Trailblazer 2.0 almost every day since October 2018. OTG is a newcomer to the utility trousers scene, but clearly, their design team has been around the crags. The 2.0 are fairly true to fit and have a more athletic look than similar pants. Made of stretch cotton canvas, the Trailblazer has a traditional look and feel. Cordes trains at the rock climbing gym and then charges off for grub still sporting the 2.0. Some users reported pocket rivets producing sharp edges over time. OTG listened; these will be removed on the 3.0. Two discrete seam stashes and doubled pocket fabric for clip knives are excellent design qualities. Front and rear pockets are generous, as are the de rigueur hip pockets, but the thigh pocket may be tight for larger smartphones. OTG goes to great lengths to inform purchasers about fit and shrinkage, and they aren’t shy about fixing aspects that don’t function as expected. This up-and-coming brand seems set on raising the bar. The color reviewed is coyote. Made in China.

$69 | OFFTHEGRIDSURPLUS.COM

5.11 TACTICAL
DEFENDER-FLEX STRAIGHT JEAN

With its fashionable stonewashed denim, stylish rear pocket design, and slightly upscale look, the Defender-Flex is a practical offering from a maker of tactical gear. It’s not James Dean old school, and definitely not trades-work denim. The straight-leg cut (available in slim fit) and stretchy denim promote dynamic movements. My favorite feature isn’t the two generous yet inconspicuous hip pockets above the rear pockets, or the tapered cuts by the fly button—it’s the extra deep coin pocket. Plunging about two-thirds the depth of the main pocket, it easily conceals my favorite Victorinox 108 Trooper, yet still allows a hand to slip through and extract larger items from the main pocket. I’m not sure if this was intended, but the pre-fade wash also breaks up printing from larger items carried in pocket. Smooth items stashed in the rear patch pockets such as a smartphone tend to slide out when seated. The zipper functions, albeit a heavier-duty variant would be more appropriate for this application. These pants fit slightly large to size, so if your intention is to run minimal pocket or belt accoutrements, one size down might be better. The color on the pair reviewed is dark wash indigo. Made in Cambodia.

$70 | 511TACTICAL.COM


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For Bryon, overland travel is often vocational necessity rather than a purely adventurous pursuit. To accomplish field research for a PhD in archaeology, he frequently rode a gear-laden BMW R100GS/PD roundtrip from Scotland to Croatia. He then worked as a contract archaeologist, taught field survey and excavation, and collaborated with the Department of Pre-and Protohistory, University of Zürich, before starting a consulting company. Work has led him to the Middle East, South Pacific, Americas, Africa, and Europe. Bryon is a photographer, scuba instructor, pilot, wilderness EMT, and certified public safety off-pavement vehicle operations instructor. He also conducts specialized safety courses for workforce members deployed to adverse locations, is on a search and rescue team, and serves in a law enforcement diving unit.