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.
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.
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.
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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