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The Best Cargo Pants Help You Carry More (and Look Good Doing It)

Original to the military, the style's now an essential character in the menswear canon.

cargo pants for men
Gear Patrol

Truthfully, I turn to cargo pants and chore coats for the pockets primarily. Stuffing them with my wallet, keys, phone and any more EDC I need is easier than carrying a bag, I'd argue. But plenty of people turn to the style simply for its aesthetics — rugged, hard-wearing and, oftentimes, rather traditional.

What Are Cargo Pants?

Like many men's garments, cargo pants derive from the military. First, they were a part of the British army's official Battle Dress uniform. Dubbed the Battle Dress Trousers, they featured a large front pocket for maps or other paperwork and a tinier hip pocket for finer items. They were an upgrade on the original outfit because pockets and belts and straps created cohesion between the soldiers' tops and bottoms. The makeover also improved the standard-issue pant's functionality, tying a thread back to the armed forces' fit-for-purpose focus.

Later, the US adopted a similar design. Lieutenant General William P. Yarborough, who served from 1931 through to 1971, created a jumper covered in pockets. Known as the M42 Jump Uniform, it debuted during WWII and set the standard for separates, known as the M-65 Field Jacket and, yes, you guessed it, Cargo Pants, to come. Cargo was a reference to the more than 100 lbs of equipment American paratroopers jumped from planes with, which was originally strapped to their backs exclusively but eventually distributed across the body (hence all of the pockets) with the introduction of Yarborough's Jump Uniform.

How to Style Cargo Pants

Nowadays, the best cargo pants for men exist in both tactical and fashion contexts. There's overlap between the two, but you can tell a lot about a pair of pants by how many pockets it has — and whether or not those pockets are specialized. We're avoiding iterations that have add-ons designed to accommodate weapons or anything beyond your usual EDC. TLDR: we're talking about fashion-focused pairs only, not tactical gear, because the category is rife with issues, including overstep into the civilian realm.

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