So you need some work pants. Real work pants. Not just workwear-inspired designs that don't take actual labor into account. Yeah, overengineered, heritage-revivalist dungarees made by Japanese artisans have us wading in a puddle of our own saliva, but they're kind of like using a Chrome Hearts plunger to unclog a toilet. (Kudos to commenter, rsi8395, who says they've used the Chrome Hearts plunger to unplug a toilet. You're cool.)
If you're on the lookout for a pair of pants that can do some serious work, here's what to look for and the best options to consider.
What to Look For
Peter Zottolo, a union worker and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers says that the most important thing to consider is fabric. "You want something that will hold up to crawling around on concrete, rebar, and tie wire," he says. "Double or triple stitching is good to have as well, but everyone from the cheapest to the most expensive has this. Really, the fabric is everything, with comfort right behind." Most work pants will use thick duck canvas or heavy denim which are both known for their durability. Ripstop is also a great option that tends to be lighter weight and well-suited for warmer climates.
Knee protection is also important. Most often, that means some kind of fabric reinforcement or sewn-in knee pads. Many manufacturers offer pants with double fronts that allow you to insert your own knee pads.
Pockets shouldn't skimp out on carry capacity. Utility pockets should be roomy enough to carry your tools and there should be enough of them for the kind of job you're working. Cargo pockets are great for smaller items if you're not lugging a toolbox with you. If you need to wear a tool belt, pants with more and wider belt loops are better for durability.
What to Avoid
You might think that ultra-heavy fabric would be the play. But fabrics heavier than 14 ounces can cause you to overheat, especially if you live in milder climates. Instead, most good work pants use fabrics in the range of 10 to 14 ounces.
As far as fit is concerned, much of that is left to preference. Pants that are too slim can limit your range of motion and aren't as comfortable to wear when the job requires maneuvering tight spots. On the other hand, if you get pants that are too baggy, the extra fabric can get caught in machinery.
Fits to avoid? "High rises," Zottolo says, "unless you actually wear your pants at your navel. Otherwise, a high rise worn low makes working, crawling, bending over a nuisance."
Filson opts for 12 oz cotton duck for their CCF Utility Canvas Pants, which come with triple reinforced stitching and double knees. Plus, the knees come with openings to accommodate pads.
Grease Point Workwear was founded upon this style, the Work Jean. It's cut from 15 oz unbleached selvedge denim, reinforced at the knees and seams, and finished with several pockets, both on the front and back and the sides. Every pair is designed, cut, sewn, and finished and the brand's Portland workshop.
Riveted reinforcements, double-knee panels, triple-needle stitching and heavy-duty starch-stiff 12-ounce cotton duck canvas are all the reasons these pants have been a top contender ever since its introduction in 1939. They come with a grip of utility pockets including a hammer loop and are still made in the USA.
Lined with flannel for added warmth, Madewell's Workwear Pants come constructed from 11 oz cotton canvas and with plenty of pockets. Plus, these come in a trio of vintage-tinged colors.
Like Patagonia's work pant, Taylor Stitch's Chore Pants use the power of industrial hemp to get the job done. The brand's tough Boss Duck canvas mixes it with polyester, organic cotton and a hint of stretch to balance braun and comfort. They come with double knee panels, each with its own pen slot, rear patch pockets, slanted front pockets, copper button fly. Plus, the double-needle stitching and bartack reinforcement makes sure you'll have them for the long haul. They're a touch slim compared to most work pants, which may turn some off. But they're still roomy enough to fit over work boots and the added stretch is there to compensate.
Caterpillar's popular work pants are a go-to option for carpenters and construction workers. They're made from a durable poly-cotton duck canvas and is replete with cargo pockets and utility pockets. The thoughtful construction includes a gusseted crotch, articulated knees and 900D reinforced trim at the knees and other areas of wear like the pockets and hems. At just above 50 bucks, it offers a hell of a lot more than many options on the market.
For a work pant that can stand up to jobsite rigors and more formal business meetings, this pair of pants from Dickies can handle both. It uses a 8.5 ounce sturdy poly-cotton twill fabric that's wrinkle-resistant and tough as hell (which has been well-documented through the 874's long history) and the permanent center crease make it appropriate for dressier situations. Though the pant is bare bones, the belt loops are wide enough to take tool belts.
Dawson Denim's Deck Pants are based on "classic work pants worn by the US Navy from the 1930's to the 1940's." As such, they have a smart look to them, but they're totally functional, too. They're reinforced at the pockets, are made from a one-piece panel, and are wider through the legs to accommodate the wearer no matter what they're doing. Plus, these indigo-dyed pants will break in nicely with even minimal wear.
Remember what our expert, Peter Zottolo, said? "Ripstop is also a great option that tends to be lighter weight and well-suited for warmer climates." Carhartt WIP's Aviation Pants are made from 6.5 oz Columbia Ripstop with two pockets on the back, two on the front, and two on the side. They're what WIP calls "slim fit," albeit, I'd say, more straight than skinny, and come reinforced at the knees.
Duluth confirms these are... "Work pants built tougher than a giant angry beaver's teeth!" Will you ever run into one in the wild? Unlikely? But, the hyperbole proves a point. They're hard-wearing as hell. They're made from 11.5 oz Fire Hose canvas, come pre-washed, and are finished with a stain and water repellant coating.
Using a lightweight cotton ripstop fabric, these pants are great for warmer climates without compromising on durability. The knees are doubled and can accomodate knee pads, while the rear pockets are lined with 1000D Cordura for longevity and the pockets are reinforced, making it a great option for clipping knives and measuring tapes. Speaking of pockets, it's got plenty of them. They're extra comfortable thanks to the gusseted crotch, deep pockets and relaxed fit.
At nearly 13 ounces, the fabric on these is already fairly weighty. But the calculated concoction of hemp, recycled polyester and organic cotton makes it more resistant to abrasion than the usual cotton canvas. Much of that is the hemp's doing. Plus hemp makes these pants extra breathable, which is a godsend during grueling projects. They've got plenty of cargo space for tools and the dual layers of fabrics at major areas of wear.