Published Aug 24, 2022 11:00 AM
I’m trying to think back almost 50 years now … UGH! … and remember what make and model of hunting pants I wore as a kid growing up in northeast Ohio. We were rabbit hunters, my father and me, and as such, hunting britches—or as we called them, brush pants—were every bit a part of our Fall garb as were socks or clean underwear. That second one, by the way, was at the insistence of my Mother.
What I do remember about our brush pants is they were incredibly rugged, albeit tattered things. Heavy canvas material covered from thigh to ankle with tough Cordura nylon, the latter meant to protect us from the brambles and briars and hawthorn thickets the cottontails called home. They, the pants that is, were a must have; blue jeans didn’t cut it in our rabbit hunting world.
Squirrel hunting. Duck hunting. That was a different thing altogether. Gone were the heavyweight brush pants, those replaced by lightweight cotton britches—camouflage when we were chasing bushytails in the Big Woods, and double duty pants underneath chest wader for October mallards and wood ducks. Double duty? I was just into my teens back then, and thought nothing, if Mom wasn’t watching, of wearing my squirrel hunting pants to school on Monday morning. See? Double duty.
Today, the choices in terms of hunting pants seem as many as there are stars in the night sky. Insulated. Uninsulated. Camouflage, or Plain Jane. Heavy. Lightweight. High tech. Old School. They’re all out there, and this week, Field and Stream takes a look at some of the best hunting pants to be found.
Things to consider before buying hunting pants
Back in The Day, I never gave much thought to what goes into making a good decision when it came to buying hunting pants. Why not? Because Ol‘ Kris Kringle usually brought me something around about Christmas, just in time for the final two weeks of bunny season. Today, it’s a little different, as I’m not wearing ‘hunting pants,’ only for upland, but I’ve got ’em for deer, elk, doves, turkeys, waterfowl…hell, even salmon fishing. That said, here’s what I’m thinking about when it comes to buying new britches.
What am I wearing pants for, other than to maintain some semblance of public decency and decorum? Are they worn to ward off briars? Are they a light base layer under a set of chest waders? In other words, what do I want the pants to do: Protect? Insulate? Conceal? The answers all play a role in the decision.
Am I looking for a heavy canvas-Cordura combination that will protect? A cotton that will be cool during, say, an early September dove hunt? Or a mid-weight synthetic that I can wear in the squirrel woods on those cool mornings, but that aren’t so heavy as to be uncomfortable under chest-highs when I’m targeting teal? Different materials for different pursuits, different weather, different reasons.
Insulated versus Non-Insulated
Personally, I prefer non-insulated pants, something that works early but with room enough to layer once the weather turns cold. However, some folks are one or the other…or both. If you’re watching pennies, non-insulated britches are often less expensive and, I feel, more versatile over the course of the calendar. Where you live, too, makes a difference. Upper Michigan, and you might look at the insulated option; southern California or New Mexico quail, and lighter weight pants might be the ticket.
Camo versus Non-Camo
Turkeys. Squirrels. Doves, and I’m going to go with camouflage pants. Here in Washington, blacktails and elk? A Plain Jane earth tone—brown, moss, green—seems to work just fine. And under waders? Well, your pants could be Day-Glo Orange under your Sitkas, I reckon, and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. So, the equation then includes the target species.
I’ll admit it. I’m a HUGE price guy. However, when it comes to hunting pants, you absolutely get what you pay for. I’m looking for something that serves the purpose intended. Something that lasts more than a single season. That keeps me warm or cool or protected or mobile. Pants that don’t let loose of my wallet and Swiss Army knife and anything else I have in my pockets. So, I’m willing to pay a little more to have these qualities. You?
Fit and Comfort
Almost left this one out, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the, if not THE most important consideration when it comes to pants…any kind of pants…and that’s fit. Do they fit? Long enough? Roomy enough? Do they allow for a full range of motion? Are they big enough to allow for under-layers? I know it’s Old School, but unless it’s a company I’ve worn in the past and know, I sure like to try britches on before I buy them. Just to be sure.
Arborwear Original Tree Climbers’ Pants Arborwear
Why It Made the Cut: As I write this, I’m looking at a stack of Arborwear pants, all of which are pushing 20 years old and still being worn damn near daily. Nothing short of incredible britches.
- Durable 12.5 ounce pre-washed 100% cotton canvas
- Three-piece rugged gusset crotch—No more Blow Out!
- Double layer knees
- YKK zipper
- Industrial stitching
- Utility pocket on right thigh
- ‘Boot friendly’ cuff
- Stupid tough and long-lasting
- Top-notch Ohio-based (!!) company that stands behind their product
- Good for work or a night out on the town
- Double layer knees are a Godsend
- Super comfortable; excellent range of waist/inseam sizes
- Nice selection of earth tones
- Great for all-season hunting or when worn under waders
- Quality at an affordable price
- Get ’em wet and they get a little heavy, but I’m just nit-picking here
Years ago, when Rob Paradise, now the Vice-President of Sales for Arborwear and a northeast Ohio boy like myself, asked me for a quote about the britches his company puts out, this is what I came up with: “Whenever I wear pants, I wear Arborwear.” That was a LONG time ago, but it still for the most part holds true today. Why Arborwear? First and foremost, they’re incredibly tough, the original being designed and built by professional arborist, Paul Taylor, and brought to market in the late 1990s. Somehow, I got my hands on one of Taylor’s first sets of his Tree Climbers’ Pant, and it’s been a grand adventure ever since.
Truthfully, you can’t go wrong with these britches. At $80, you’re getting the highest quality at a reasonable price. The double layer knees are spot-on; they’re saved my bacon thousands of times in the garden, on the trapline, and in the squirrel woods. I wear Arborwears under chest waders, during the Spring when chasing gobblers, and every single time I step into the field here in Washington in search of bears, blacktails, and elk. And when I do decide to get cleaned up and go across the Columbia to The Berry Patch Restaurant, the Originals make dandy ‘Sunday Go To Meet’n’ britches. Splitting firewood, decoying mallards, tracking whitetails, or calling April longbeards—if it means wearing pants, Arborwear should be there.
Gamehide Woodsman Upland Hunting Jean Gamehide
Why It Made the Cut: Gamehide makes hunting clothes. Period. They do it well at a price most outdoors enthusiasts can manage.
- Tough 100% cotton construction
- Brush-buster facing
- Water resistant
- Gussetted for maximum comfort and flexibility
- Deep pockets
- Riveted stress points; strong-stitched belt loops
- Excellent price point ($40) for a quality product
- Brush-buster fabrics wraps entirely around lower leg
- Sturdy belt loops resist ripping
- Palm-sized pockets allow easy access, without lose of ‘stuff’
- Dark brown or Realtree ‘Edge’ color/pattern options
- The facing means they’re pretty specific to upland, but nit-picking again
It’s tough to argue the fact that the folks at Gamehide make good outdoor clothing at affordable prices. We have plenty of the higher end, i.e. spendy, gear on the market, but what we hunters (and anglers) don’t have is quality and cost-savings all rolled into one. And that’s where Gamehide comes in. Nothing fancy at all about their Woodsman Upland Hunting Jean. No tricked-out retriever remote pockets. No zipper here and zipper there kind of nonsense. And no integrated GPS in the right knee that works, BUT drives the price tag into the realm of ridiculous.
No, sir. The Woodsman Jean is just Plain Jane Old School. They fit. They’re tough. They’re simple. I like the fact the brush ‘guard’ wraps around the cuff, thus delaying the inevitable fraying…which looks cool, but usually spells the beginning of the end of that set of britches. The belt loops don’t rip out on the second hunt. The pockets are deep enough that you don’t lose your change, but not so deep that you never see your change again. Good pants. Good price. Good choice.
Best Wader Pants
Chêne Gear Sherpa Fleece Wader Pant chene gear
Why It Made the Cut: I wear waders for the majority of Washington’s 107-day duck season, and these pants are designed the way I would design them, if I were king.
- Integrated adjustable belt
- Zippered rear pockets
- Stirrup bottoms
- 300-gram fleece lining
- One hundred percent polyester construction
- Elastic stirrups eliminate ‘slide up’ and need for ankle gaiters
- Snug fit, but not TOO snug as to be uncomfortable
- Traditional fleece/Sherpa fleece bond provides great warmth
- Can be worn as a base layer under heavier outer pants
- Built-in belt can’t be lost…definite plus
- Fleece can prove overly warm during the early season
- Single color (Olive) if that matters under waders. It really doesn’t
I’ll admit that I’m relatively new to Chêne Gear, having worked hands-on with what they have to offer only since May ’22, but so far, I’m impressed by what I see. Yes —Admission #2 —they do have a $1,100 pair of chest waders, but they’re more than that. Much more. Chêne’s Scout Vest and Over-and-Under Jacket; good stuff there. Well designed, and by folks who obviously have hunted a duck or two throughout their outdoor careers. My point? Chêne Gear doesn’t just call their clothing ‘waterfowl gear.’ It IS waterfowl gear.
Chêne’s Sherpa Fleece Wader Pants, same story. With anything worn underneath chest waders, I want two things—comfortable, but not too tight; and I HATE (!!) when the bottoms roll up to my crotch when I slide into my waders. Chêne has addressed both points by creating pants that while snug aren’t constrictive, and with the addition of something as simple as elastic stirrups. Good job, Chêne Gear. Is there a downside to these britches? Teal season. Early goose season. Duck season in Florida. The fleece is gonna keep you warm, bear that in mind.
Why It Made the Cut: It wasn’t always this way, but Sitka’s now making waterfowl clothing crafted by folks who hunt waterfowl with a passion. These pants work on several levels.
- 100% polyester
- Diagonal thigh zippered pockets
- Offset waist button closure
- Tapered legs/low-profile waist for comfort
- Four-way stretch nylon
- Water resistant finish
- Low-profile belt ‘system’
- Lightweight construction weighs just 19.5 ounces
- Available in Mud (Brown), Optifade Marsh, Optifade Timber, and Sitka Black
- Dressy enough to wear outside the swamp
- Zippered pockets, when open, help with ventilation
- Can double as wader pants
- Great field duck/goose pants
- A bit spendy at $200, but you need pants…don’t you?
It’s been interesting to watch Sitka Gear transform themselves from a company that, in my opinion, felt a need to offer ’fowl clothing but didn’t know how to put it together to what they are today. Today, it’s an outfit that, with the assistance of dedicated duck and goose hunters, brings to the market clothing that truly does perform as it’s intended. I don’t mean to appear the braggart, but this will be my 48th year hunting ducks. I’ve seen a lot of so-called ‘duck gear’ come and go, and if I’m using it when I hunt for myself…well, there must be something right in the mix, eh?
I like gear that fulfills several different needs, and Sitka’s Grinder pants make that not-so-lengthy list. No stirrups, unfortunately, but with a set of neoprene ankle gaiters—$6/Mack’s Prairie Wings—you’re good to go under your chest waders. Post-hunt, lose the waders, and you’re ready for beer ‘n pizza at Johnny’s Tavern down the way. AND, you’re looking good in those Grinders. Deer, elk, squirrels, turkeys, doves; Grinders have you covered, both literally and figuratively. I’m going to say they’re a tad thin for the uplands, especially if there are briars involved, but you’re welcome to take them for a test drive.
Best Double Duty
Carhartt Double Front Work Pant Carhartt
Why It Made the Cut: Carhartt and the words ‘work clothes’ are synonymous terms. And sometimes hunting can be a whole lot of work. Play time, too.
- 12-ounce 100 percent cotton duck build
- Hammer loop
- Multiple utility pockets
- Double layer front design open top/bottom to add knee pads or clean
- Sewn-on-seam belt loops
- Reinforced back pockets
- Comfortable design and cut
- Three color options – Carhartt Brown, Dark Brown, and Black
- Company has been around since 1889, with an excellent reputation
- Unparalleled durability
- Double decker knees add to the toughness
- Great choice for work and/or play
- High ride equals comfort; loose fit enhances mobility/flexibility
- Excellent price point at $45 to $55
- Honestly, I can’t think of any
Okay, so maybe I’ll never walk the New York catwalk or have my name and the phrase “fashion guru” used in the same sentence, but Carhartt pants get featured in the online pages of Gentlemen’s Quarterly nowadays…A broken clock is right twice a day, as such, this must be my minute. What I know for certain is regardless of what you’re wearing them for—work, a night out, hunting whitetails, under waders—Carhartt has pants that will perform above and beyond your expectations. Case in point: My father bought me a set of Carhartt insulated bibs when we moved to Iowa in ’97, and, after 25 years of wild rose bushes, deer drives, snow removal, and on and on, they’re still pulling their weight. A bit tattered, yes, but nonetheless a fantastic set of britches.
Like my bibs, Carhartt’s Double Front Work Pants are the Real Deal. Again, nothing fancy here; just rugged pants designed for folks who hunt and work hard. BUT, once the game has been processed, the guns cleaned, and the dogs put to bed, the same Carhartts you wore under your chest-highs can serve double duty as…well, let’s just call them ‘dress pants.’ Five colors to choose from—Moss, Carhartt’s Brown, Dark Brown, Black, and Gravel—and the price? Can’t hardly beat it.
Best Cold Weather
Columbia Gallatin Wool Pants Columbia
Why It Made the Cut: Minnesota. Below Zero. You’re sitting a treestand during the late buck season. Warm? You bet, thanks to the Columbia wool pants you’re wearing.
- Wool/nylon mix
- Reinforced seat and knees
- High-flex articulare knees
- Pockets, pockets, and more pockets, including cargo pockets
- Cargo pockets are a HUGE plus
- Incredibly warm, even when wet
- Great for hunting in the snow
- Longer length covers boot tops; helps keeps laces intact
- Excellent for cold-weather stands
- I find them a little ‘heavy’ if walking hard all morning, e.g. driving deer
- Some might consider them spendy at $150, but for good wool pants?
Some time back, a friend and fellow writer gave me a complete set of Columbia Gallatin wool hunting clothes—two pairs of pants and two coats. My wife, wonderful person that she is, bought me the matching vest. Dressed in such, the biggest challenge in hunting Iowa whitetails in early January was staying awake on stand. Warm? You better believe it.
First, a slight downside. I spent a lot of time in the snow in Iowa, and the Gallatins had a tendency to ‘ball up’ the white stuff from the knees down, making them heavy. However, this seems standard operating procedure with wool, regardless of the maker, and is a small—very small—price to pay for the warmth and comfort provided by these britches. If you want something for snow, get britches for snow. As for these Gallatins, they’re silent, and perfect for slow methodical still-hunting during the late season. The reinforced knees and butt are a great touch, as are the right/left cargo pockets, which feature button closures instead of zippers…a PLUS, at least to me. The only thing missing? Suspender buttons.
How I Picked ‘Em
I mentioned this earlier, but, in my honest opinion, it’s worth mentioning again. Unless I’m working with a company/brand I’m familiar with, one that I’ve worn regularly in the past, I’m partial to trying pants on before I buy. Why? Because things change, namely me. A 38” waist in some is a 36” waist in another…and trust me, y’all don’t want to see me in a 36” waist pant. Not good. My inseam gets shorter. My waist gets…well, a little bigger. And I really want pants that fit, are comfortable, AND serve the purpose for which they’re intended. To that end, I refer back to my “Things To Consider” list:
- Purpose – Do the pants serve the purpose for which they’re intended?
- Weight – Too light? Too heavy? Just right? This and Purpose go hand-in-hand.
- Insulation – Is the ‘insulation’ true to its word? Does it keep me warm?
- Camouflage – I don’t have a ‘favorite’ pattern, but is one available for Pant X?
- Price – This one’s simple…Can I afford them? Are they reasonably priced?
- Fit/Comfort – Most of all, are they comfortable?
Q: How much do hunting pants cost?
This is a tough one. You can spend $50, or you can spend $200…and both on relatively the same pant, depending on the make, model, brand, and bells ‘n whistles. A simple set of lightweight cotton camouflage britches, a set perfect for the September 1 dove opener, and you’re looking at $50 or less. Spend a pair of Franklins, and you’re getting some high-tech synthetics with zippered pockets, waterproofing, and a fit that’s not out of place on the Paris fashion runway. Maybe.
Q: How ‘long’ should hunting pants be?
It depends. Are you planning to tuck them inside your boots? Blouse them? Or pull them over your boot tops and laces? Turkey hunting and I’m wearing 16” snake boots, so I’m tucking my pants into my boots; length, then, doesn’t really matter. With shorter, e.g. 8” boots like my Danner wildland boots, I’m blousing my pants at the top of the boot; here, I’m looking for a pant that touches my foot when I’m standing bare-footed. Same when I’m going traditional, per se, and letting the cuff ride atop my boot, or a true inseam measurement. So, what are you doing?
Q: Can I wear black pants to hunt?
I reckon you can, though I wouldn’t recommend it … and particularly not during turkey season when you’re trying to eliminate the ‘gobbler colors’ of red, white, blue, and black from your wardrobe. Early season, say, a dove hunt, and black britches are going to be hot. If your plan is to wear the britches under waders…well, then, it really doesn’t matter. Bottom line, and I’d say NO to black hunting pants based on availability, versatility, and warmth. (NOTE: Not many hunting pants come in black.)
True, this wasn’t on my earlier list, but when you put everything written here in a bucket, what needs to come out is a one-word definition of what a good pair of hunting pants should be—Quality. If you’re like me, you’re going to wear the hell out of these britches, more likely than not year-round, and I don’t mind paying a premium price IF I’m going to be wearing a quality product from the waist down. They’re out there, these quality britches; but, like finding that first morel mushroom in the Spring, you may have to do some searching ’round for a set that’s just right.