Gear review: BDU pants

Most backpackers have some sort of nylon pants in their collection.

Pants that are thin, breathe reasonably well, helps protect legs from light brush, sunburns, and insects.

They work well for hiking.

What don’t they work so well for?

Arguably heavy brush and bushwhacking. And canyoneering.

But most importantly from my perspective?  They do not work well for heavy trail work.

Hiking pants can work well for this…

The type of trail work where rocks are moved, logs are set, and stair steps are built.

..but not so much this.

Trail work where you are kneeling in the dirt all day.

Working with heavy tools.

Where pants are scraped, poked and prodded.

The solution is to wear heavier work pants.

The classic work pants that are something along the lines of Carhart work pants: Durable and tough as nails.

The classic Dickies are a more budget and lighter weight (and perhaps more comfortable in hot weather) alternative.

But there is a third option that works well. Something that can sometimes be found inexpensively in your local or
 online eBay surplus store: Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) pants.


Propper BDU pants

These pants make ideal pants for outdoor activities where heavier wear and tear is expected.

These pants are typically a 65/35 polycotton blend. Much like my hiking shirt of choice, the pants breathe reasonably well and are more durable than a pair of nylon hiking pants.  They do not dry as quickly as the shirts since the pants are made of thicker fabric. But most trail work is not done in the pouring rain…at least I hope not. 😉

These pants have reinforced knees and also reinforced in other prone-to-wear places. Useful for trail work!  The ample cargo pockets are a feature many people find useful as well.

Besides trail work, these pants work well for more intense bushwhacking or where ever much abrasion is expected. Better than straight up cotton work pants since they cotton works pants get wet and stay wet. And better than most nylon hiking pants since the BDUs take more of a beating.

And comfy! Sand Dunes Nov, 2010. Great for base camping, too. Alas, after using them a bit to do trail work, work on the car, haul wood, etc. someone strongly suggested I get rid of them. They took a little too much of a beating it seems. 🙂

Various brands make the pants. Be wary of very cheap versions with suspect stitching.  A surplus store is a good place to see the pants up close and personal. If buying online from eBay surplus store or similar, I’ve had good luck with the Propper brand in the past, and they are reasonable in price.  Button fly versions tend to be less expensive than zipper versions.  

Not a fan of camo? Me neither.  The OD green look like old-school army pants. While gray and khaki look just like any other type of hiking or cargo pants. They blend in well and don’t have a military look as much.

So doing some trail work on a regular basis? Keep the nice-and-light pants for hiking. But get yourself a pair of BDUs. They are pants that are usually for a good price and can work well for outdoor activities beyond trail work.  Beat them up, thrash them, haul those rocks and move that dirt.

BDUs – They work.


3 Replies to “Gear review: BDU pants”

  1. Another well received brand is Rothco. My ecperience with them has mainly been fleece and LWCWUS underwear. One thing that I noticed in some of these listings was that the pants might be Cotton/Poly or 100% Cotton. Sometimes there was a choice, sometimes not. I would stay away from listings that don’t spell out exactly what you want. I’ve worn Cotton/Poly work clothes for a long time, mainly because they don’t catch fire as easily as pure synthetics.

  2. Check out LA Police Gear “operator pants”. They’re so much better fitting than standard GI BDU pants and just as tough. Multiple colors (personal fav is coyote). I use them car/base camping all the time. I’ve even used them for climbing in drier conditions, but typically stick to bball shorts for backpacking and climbing 14ers around these parts.

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