Getting Into My Stride: A Quest For Perfect Outdoor Trousers

by Matt Batham

Outdoor trousers

Where to find rugged outdoor trousers that don't cost the earth? Photo: Paul Kirtley

The outdoor clothing market is saturated. It can be difficult and confusing to build a good base level set of clothing. Many outdoor brands and outlets would have us believe that the acquisition of kit and expensive brands will improve our skills and abilities. However, we actually need very little kit to enjoy our time in the outdoors.

Kitting Out For the Woods

Whilst working on bushcraft courses I am often asked about my outdoor equipment. It is always a good opportunity to share knowledge and to learn from others. To more widely share this experience, I have written this article. So, what do we (really) need from a pair of outdoor trousers? Most importantly trousers need to be comfortable to wear all day long; they must not rub you or cause discomfort. The effects of poor fitting trousers will be amplified whilst you are working hard and possibly wet, feeling tired and hungry. The woodland environment is tough on trousers. Undergrowth, thorns, brush, briars and all manner of obstacles such as fallen trees take their toll. Trousers must protect your knees from the forest floor and your backside from rough seating on logs and stumps. Good trousers should protect from biting insects too. Your trousers really do need to be tough. Areas that receive a lot of wear are around the knees and around the ankles. The stitching is also prone to wear. Your trousers should perform well in a broad range of weather. Your trousers should give protection from cold, wet conditions and from sun on a bright, hot day. In hot weather our legs will need to breath and be unrestricted. A build up of sweat will cause chaffing, besides the uncomfortable feeling of being too hot. You also need to be protected from UV rays. Conversely, your trousers must work with your overall clothing system to keep warm you when the temperature is low. I tend to wear thermal under trousers when the temperature is low. Dressing for truly cold weather is a different kettle of fish. Before venturing out, the possibility of wet weather should be considered. I always pack a pair of waterproof over-trousers into my rucksack. Just remember, they are no good to you nicely folded at home. Your general outdoor trousers don’t need to be waterproof. Your trousers should, however, be able to dry quickly when the opportunity arises. Choosing the right material will ensure this is possible. Cotton trousers are very hardy and are safe around a fire but dry very slowly and offer very little insulation when wet. Synthetic trousers are often lighter and give only slightly more insulation when wet but, around fires they are easily damaged. That said, synthetic materials dry very quickly given the opportunity and right conditions. As well as keeping us comfortable, warm and protecting us, our trousers need to store equipment. When working in the woods, I carry a lot of smaller items in or on my trousers. For instance I carry a small cuts kit in my thigh pocket together with an ambulance dressing, amongst other things. I also carry my knife on my belt along with my fire steel. I therefore like to have a few pockets and deep belt loops.
Close up of zipped pocket on Austrian army ripstop combat trouser

Good trouser pockets help you organise and secure items on your person. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Doesn’t High-Spec Mean High Price?

Anyone who has spoken to me about outdoors kit and clothing will know that I like a bargain. I will shop around and do my research before committing to a purchase. There is wisdom in the phrase “You get what you pay for”. Generally, quality is proportional to cost but a high price tag does not always guarantee good quality. There are a lot of good products available but there is a greater quantity of poor quality imitations. Therefore it is always worth the effort of handling the piece of equipment, inspecting it and testing is for size, before you go ahead and buy it. Early last year, I knew I’d be spending a lot of time out in the woods for the 2012 course season. I began to look for some good quality, low cost trousers. I visited country supply stores, outdoor stores and army surplus stores. It became clear that military surplus trousers would best fulfill my requirements. However I really dislike wearing camouflaged clothing, unless I have a specific need. It is generally accepted that military equipment tends to offer good value. In Ben’s article Bushcraft on a Budget: All the Kit You Need for Less Than £100 he points out that military equipment is designed to be durable. It is also worth reiterating that cheaper clothing aimed at the leisure market is often made as cheaply as possible with inexpensive materials and poor finishing. I eventually settled on a pair of Austrian army rip stop combat trousers. I have used them for the entirety of 2012, working on many Frontier Bushcraft courses as well as other activities with Scouts and my own adventures. I am therefore happy to recommend them to others. N.B. It is important to distinguish the recommended trousers from the ‘Austrian army olive combat trouser’. These are a different style of trousers. Look out for the button fly design. I do not own a pair so cannot comment on them.

Tough But Comfortable

The rip stop combat trousers were very comfortable as soon as I tried them for size. They didn’t feel ‘flappy’, tight or rough. The sizing is well thought out. There are three variables, seat depth, inside leg and waist; something offered by few of the other trousers I investigated. As mentioned, the trousers are made of rip stop material giving them an inherent strength. They will also be easier to repair if they get torn. The knees are reinforced with a second layer of material. Unfortunately the inside of the ankles is not reinforced but the tough rip stop material will help resist abrasion. Elastic ties are provided around the ankles. I was surprised to find that they were not the irritation I suspected they might be. I have used the ties to help prevent biting insects getting onto my legs. My trousers can comfortably accommodate under-trousers in colder weather. They are not clammy or restrictive in warmer weather either. They are fast drying owing to the poly-cotton material. The mix proportion is 67% polyester and 33% cotton. I would point out that one of my pairs now has a small hole just above the ankle where an errant cinder settled down one evening. I have had no other problems around the fire and have no concerns either. While I like to be able to stow some items on my person, I don’t like too many pockets. I prefer my equipment to be in my bag when not being used. I will only keep small items on my person. These Austrian army trousers have two hip pockets and two zip-close thigh pockets. Inside the thigh pockets are smaller Velcro close pockets; useful for small, valuable items.
Close-up of inside the Austrian army combat trouser pocket

The thigh pocket arrangement allows for good organisation of small items. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The thigh pockets comfortably accommodate my note book or an OS map although they cannot be zipped up if the latter is stowed. The hip pockets are large and easily carry all the small items I need. The belt loops are 40mm (3/4”) deep; generous enough to fit my belt but not too big.
Close-up of belt loops on Austrian Army rip stop trousers

Generous belt loops accommodate a wide belt. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

All the zips come with a tab that is easy to operate when wearing gloves. Another feature of the trousers is internal waist loops that appear to accommodate braces or shoulder loops. I haven’t used them so don’t know how effective they would be. I have kept the best piece of information until last – the price. You can find them between £11 and £16 on the internet and in army surplus stores. I paid £13 each for three used pairs at grade one. I can’t stress enough that this is a superb price for the quality and functionality I get. Particularly when a desirable, branded pair of trousers can cost £100+.

A Year On: The Conclusion

So, have I been successful in my quest? I hate to say it, but yes and no. There is always room for improvement. For that reason, my quest continues. However, I do now use outdoor trousers that come very close to perfect. The Austrian army rip stop trousers are great. They have given me no problems, kept me comfortable and protected me from thorns, weather and mini-beasts. I will continue to use them throughout 2013 and recommend that anyone currently looking for a great pair of outdoor trousers, get some.
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Matt Batham is a member of the Frontier Bushcraft instructional team. His interest in the outdoors has been cultivated by an active involvement in Scouting since he was 8 years old. He is currently an Explorer Scout (14-18 year olds) Leader with a particular interest in the Duke of Edinburgh Award and camp craft skills.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve

A great article that doesn’t advocate spending a fortune – great!

This article comes at the prefect time for me as I have been hunting high and low for a good pair of suitable trousers! The prices of some that look like they’ll be good are ‘scary-expensive’ and I feel the same way about wearing camouflage as the author. I will see if my local army surplus has a pair to try on. Thanks Matt and Paul.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your comment. It’s good to hear that this article is timely.

Let us know how you get on with the trousers.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Steve,

Thank you for assessment of the article. It appears we have the same opinion of expensive gear.

Like Paul, I am glad it was timely and I hope you can find a pair that are a good fit. Let us know how you get on.

Regards,
Matt

Reply

Niels

Thanks for writing this up, it really helps.

All the best,

Niels

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Niels,

We are always glad to help. Sharing skills and knowledge is what we are all about.

Cheers,
Matt

Reply

John Clarke

Sorry,

I am not clear if you are saying that the button fly is on the “rip stop combat trousers” or the “olive combat trousers”
thanks the the article – I have found a decent pair of trousers are one of the hardest things to get for bushcrafting, without spending a fortune.

any chance of link to a website supplying them ?
John

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi John,

The button fly is found on the “olive combat trousers”. The “rip stop combat trousers” have a zip fly. I really don’t like trousers with a button fly. The buttons can be difficult to use with cold hands.

If you google “austrian army ripstop combat trousers”, you’ll find a dozen or so good links. Make sure you understand the delivery costs and return policy before you commit to the purchase.

Regards,
Matt

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David Hamilton

Nice article Matt, I always find the army surplus stores have some great bargains.

I’d like to throw out a question which is a bit off topic if I may. I’ve been looking around for a suitable place in the South to practice bushcraft which I’ve learned on courses and in books. It’s not as easy as it seems. I understand Frontier use privately owned space with permission and I understand it may not be possible to recommend a specific location but I’d be curious for advise on things to consider when looking.

Could be the subject of your next article!?

Thanks!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi David,

I’m glad you liked Matt’s article. Thanks for the feedback.

As for your question regarding the use of land, yes it is hard to find good places.

This is a question I receive regularly and there is no easy answer. At the end of the day it’s down to individual negotiation with respective landowners.

There’s a common misconception that bushcraft schools get free access to land that others wouldn’t. This isn’t generally true. Relationships with landowners (or the land agent) are largely commercial ones. Frontier has to pay significant amounts of money for the land we use. We also have to have public liability insurance. With some landowners there is also a written contract. There is generally the necessity to liaise with the other users of the land too – gamekeepers, coppicers, farmers, forestry workers, etc. It’s a significant relationship which requires continuous work.

In some ways, it may be easier to gain access to some woodland as a private individual. You will certainly have less impact on the woods than running courses. The fundamental difficulty you have is convincing the landowner you are responsible as well as that it is worth the risk letting you on the land (or even their time considering it). There are some strategies that can help but they are no means a certainty.

It probably is worth an article and I will add it to my list! 🙂

All the best,

Paul

Reply

David Hamilton

Hi Paul,

Thank you so much for coming back to me here. I guessed this was likely the case, but you don’t know if you don’t ask.

Looks like I’m off to negotiate with land owners! 🙂
I’m keeping an eye on your 6 days courses, probably later in the year when Laura is back to come with me. Hope all is well.

Best Regards

Reply

paul nicholls

Hi Paul
Following on from your comments about speaking to landowners etc, I found that volunteering at local country parks has been extremly useful in providing contacts with land/woodland owners! Even if you cant find land to stay on,(overnight) you may find they will allow you to gather bushcraft materials
I was lucky enough to find a peice of woodland by asking freinds and family This did take 2 years of asking so its somethin worth sticking with.
Best of luck!
Paul

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Paul,

It’s good to hear from you mate. Thanks for sharing your story about finding some woodland to use. It’s a good example and goes to show that a demonstration of commitment as well as persistence does often pay off.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi David,

I’m glad you gained something from the article. Army surplus are great places to find gear at reasonable prices.

Regards,
Matt

Reply

Jules Bristow

Have you heard of Nearly Wild Camping David? http://www.nearlywildcamping.org It’s basically a scheme where landowners let you camp on their land for a small fee without having to provide campsite facilities

Reply

Richard

As already asked any chance of a link for this, having problems finding them. Cheers.

Reply

Matt Batham

Richard,

If you google “austrian army ripstop combat trousers”, you’ll find a dozen or so good links. Make sure you understand the delivery costs and return policy before you commit to the purchase.

Regards,
Matt

Reply

Dan Featherstone

Excellent blog Paul! I was looking for a decent pair of not camouflaged trousers that are tough, durable and font cost thecearth. and now I know what to get. Cheers. Hopefully i’ll have them for my overnighter this weekend.

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Dan,

It’s good to know our articles are well received and out to use.

Have you managed to order/purchase your trousers yet?

Regards,
Matt

Reply

Dave Cohen

These ripstop trousers are the same i was looking at last year at my local army surplus, at the time he didn’t have my size but on this assessment of their quality, i will chase him up again as it’s confirmed what i thought. Many thanks guys.

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Dave,

We’re glad to help out. You won’t regret it, if you get some of these trousers!

Cheers,
Matt

Reply

Dan

Definately the way to go I have had a few of the highstreet brands and though I have one well worn out pair of craghoppers from about 10 years ago that still do good service all the modern ones seem to have pockets that are designed to carry nothing more than a credit card (and even then it would probably fall out). I’ve been stitching in replacement deeper pockets to most trousers for years!! these sound great and will have to look them up at the local surplus store
Many thanks for the tip.

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Dan,

I also find that pockets are often not designed well. I have no complaints about the pockets on these Austrian trousers. The hip pockets retain all the items I put in them, even when I’m sat down.

Military kit is often robust and designed for high levels of wear and tear. However, not all military kit is well designed. It’s always worth a bit of investigation before committing to it.

Cheers,
Matt

Reply

Dave

Great artical Paul.

I have a a pair of ” CARHARTT ” outdoor work pants.
They are very comfortable rip stop fabric, many pockets, reinforced crotch, double layer on the knee’s.
Cordura main pockets. These are not ” Bushpants ” but they are great tough pants for spending time in the Woods for days / weeks. They are similar to the ” Swedish work pants ”

Cheers Paul.

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Dave,

Thank you for pointing out another option. There is always more than one solution to a problem, or in this case, many designs of trousers that fit our requirements as people who enjoy the great outdoors.

It’s important to note that these Austrian trousers suit me and my requirements almost perfectly. It is quite possible that another person will not get on with them at all. This concept extends to all kit that you that may need. Endorsement by one person or company is not a guarantee that it will work for you.

All the best,
Matt

Reply

Dave Smith

Cheers Matt.

So true when it comes to clothes or tools.
What works really well for 1 person, some one else my question it for themselfs ?”
But having great guys like yourself pointing people in the right direction sure helps select the better choice.

Like guys saying that GB axes are the best, id say the Hults Bruks is #1 lol
There both top kit to have. Its that ” mines better thing ” 😉
And that argument can go on until the end of time.

Cheers,
Dave.

Reply

Duane Yates

Hi Matt
Great article, I have found army surplus is usualy the best quality and cheapest prices. My personal preference has been the british army lightweight trousers, plain olive green, quick drying, large hip pockets and a really good size leg pocket, they have adjustment on the waiste so you can tighten them up and good size belt loops. I always used them for work untill they supplied us with uniform and despite the fact they have no extra strengthening i got 2-3 years wear out of each pair. I have always found them exceptional value for money and swear by them, but i will certainly consider these australian ones next time 🙂

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Duane,

Thanks for your comments about the British Army Lightweights. I had always used them in the past because, like you point out, they are good value for money. In the recent past however, I had found them to be a little uncomfortable in warm weather. I also found the hip pockets a little small and there is only one thigh pocket. I’m not sure if it’s me or the trousers, but I always managed to tear them some how, e.g. ripping a hip pocket off. However, the waist adjustment on the lightweights are a very good feature.

The Austrian Army Ripstops solve my problems with the lightweights, but like I’ve said elsewhere, everyone will find a piece of kit that’s suits them. It appears that the British Army Lightweights are that piece of kit for you! Whichever pair are used, they are both good value for money and, in my eyes, win hands down compared to the commercial brands.

All the best,
Matt

Reply

Duane Yates

I think with the big names you pay 80% for the name 20% for the quality of the item. In a lot of cases thats being generous. Army Surplus first stop every time! 🙂

Reply

Kirkland Baptie

Well done Matt, nice article, I hope you find that the Austrian trousers work out for you. My personal favourites are the Harkilla pro shooter breeks, expensive -ish but very hard wearing, packed with fixtures and fittings and very comfy.

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Kirkland,

I’m glad you enjoyed the article. We’ve had some great comments and suggested alternatives.

I can confirm that the Austrian Army trousers are still working well for me. I’ve recently spent two weeks out in the East Sussex woods and the abnormal spring weather. My only adjustment was to wear wool base layers to counteract the low temperatures this spring.

I also noted that the trousers are somewhat wind resistant and blocked the cold northerly winds very well.

Regards,
Matt

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Marcus Eistert

I want to tell you about an alternativ solution.
6 month ago I bought a pair of Decathlon Hunting Trousers.
Oliv green, 65 % cotton, 35% polyester, that means not so fast drying like Fällräven or this austrian military trousers but more spark resistent.

I fixed the first day the button, because I know, that Decathlon trousers often have problems with the buttons.
I used them every day, walking every day around 20 kilometers.
I washed them in the evenings if necessary and put them on each morning, if I did not sleep in them, what I often use to do.
I used them in garden, field and forest.
They are looking nearly like new after 6 month of continuous use.
They are drying in whet winter weather fast enough on the legs.
The Price is around 15,- € (Fifteen Euro)
They are more than ok for that price, if you think about, that a pair of Jeans from Primark costs 12 €.
The Decathlon hunting trousers are playing in a totaly other league!
Marcus

Reply

Marcus Eistert

I forgot to write, that I did not tread them with any wax.
I guess, if you tread them with Fällräven wax or something like this, they would become better for your rainforest island. I am living in Germany, and we do not really need waxed trousers here.

Reply

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