I have worn the same hunting pants for cold-weather deer and elk stalking for the past 20-some years. They’re about 80 years old, but they’re still my favorites.
With an iconic red and black flannel plaid and a short, lace-up knicker style, these wool pants made by Woolrich (and branded Penn-Rich) look a little funny. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are the best hunting pants I’ve ever owned.
I inherited them from my grandfather, who had inherited them from my great grandfather. Maybe that makes me a little biased.
But the fact remains that these pants, made in the USA shortly before World War II, are exceptionally warm, breathable and wind and water-resistant.
Time Tested Wool
As a gear tester and editor, I work in an industry of exceptional, technologically advanced apparel. When it comes to mountaineering, skiing, running, or any of the many other activities I tackle in the mountains, there’s bound to be an incredible product with cutting edge materials that will dominate the products of yore.
But when it comes to stalking silently through a bitter cold forest, nothing I’ve used comes close to these wool pants made around the end of the prohibition era.
I spoke with Woolrich spokesman Gehron Burkholder to find out more.
“Those pants were sold in the 1930s and pretty prevalent in all the catalogues in terms of hunting apparel,” Burkholder said. “It’s a 30oz, 503 Hunt Plaid. We were doing the pant and a jacket, and the 503 Hunt Coat is still in the line today.”
I’m not the only one who thinks this wool is the perfect hunting outerwear. The look was dubbed the “Pennsylvania Tuxedo” for its popularity from the 185-year-old brand.
“In the late 1800s, leisure began in the outdoors, and Woolrich started doing garments for these activities. We made these pants through the 1950s,” Burkolder said.
With the advent of waterproof-breathable materials, the wool pant faded in popularity, he said.
Best Darned Hunting Pants
I first used these pants when I was about 15 years old. A bit big on me at the time, I synched a belt around the waist, hung a fixed blade knife on the outside, and headed into the Wisconsin winter forests for a snowy November hunt.
Sitting all day on a frozen log or stump, I would invariably marvel at my dry seat at the end of the day. This was before my first Gore-Tex pants, but as I grew and learned about gear, my wonder did not change.
Better Than Waterproof-Breathable Fabrics?
I bought my first waterproof-breathable pants, a “Triple Point Ceramic” laminate by Lowe Alpine, when I was about 20. They impressed the heck out of me for ice climbing, so I pondered wearing them deer hunting.
But walking around, hearing the loud scratchiness of the synthetic material, I fell back on my old faithful red wool pants — and I’ve never looked back.
Wearing them in all kinds of snowy, sloppy and bitter cold conditions, I have never gotten wet, even after heavy sweats from hiking over mountains in deep snow.
Better yet, they are silent.
The Silence Of Wool
There’s really nothing that compares with the silence of wool when walking through the forest. Brush against a twig and you won’t hear much more than the rustle of leaves.
I can’t say that for many fabrics. Fleece is similar, but the best fleeces are made of wool. Thus, I return to these year after year.
These things are also super water resistant, wind resistant, and with 75 years of use and still new-looking, durable as it gets.
The only drawback to these pants? They are really, really warm. If it is above freezing, I can’t even think about wearing these guys. They are best when the temps hover around 10º F and below.
Woolrich Hunting Revival
Woolrich is introducing several hunting-oriented products in the Sportsman Line this year, from a pair of full-length Wool Cargo Pants (similar but lighter than my standby oldies) to blaze-orange vests and upland game jackets.
The stuff looks nice, and it is priced squarely in the mid-upper tier of the market. Most of these new products are not USA-made, unfortunately, although Woolrich does still make many products in the States and still mills wool.
The closest product to my old knickers made today is the Malone Pant or Bib. The color is grey, and the pants are longer (actually they come unhemmed and are custom ordered), but they are made in a heavy 18-ounce wool and look like they’d do the job for cold weather hunting or work in the outdoors.
That said, if you want to get the originals for yourself, better start scouring eBay. These old-school pants still exist on the vintage market, sometimes for a good price and sometimes for an insane amount of money.
But if you can find a pair in decent shape, snatch them up. To me, they are the best hunting pants ever made.