Work pants handle tough jobs while protecting your skin. Whether you work in carpentry or landscaping, or just need a tough coat of armor over your skin while hunting or doing home improvement projects, these are the best work pants you can find.
One weekend, you may be bushwhacking through thorny briars while trying to reach a secret trout hole. The next, you could be blowing insulation in your attic. Amazingly, work pants often do both jobs well.
When assessing work pants, we considered how well the pants do hard jobs while protecting the body. We also considered durability and how it relates to price, comfort, and overall construction.
The pants below will suit many full-time tradesmen. They will easily suffice for the weekend DIY’er or someone who needs something a bit tougher than jeans (especially those new soft, stretchy ones) but probably won’t be adding a tool belt to their ensemble.
Best Work Pants: A Note on Selections
It’s always tough to include every brand. We didn’t dive into several great brands aimed specifically at the tradesperson like Jobman Workwear, Blackrock Workwear, Walls, and Snickers Workwear. While they make excellent clothing, these don’t bridge into recreational apparel very well.
Below, we profile some top products from mainstream brands Carhartt, Dickies, and Duluth Trading Company; outdoor brands like Patagonia and Mountain Khakis; technical brands like 5.11 Tactical; and boutique brands like 1620 Workwear and Topo Design.
But we’re always keen to learn about other brands you love. Let us know in the comments below what your favorite work pants are and why. And, as always, we’ll update this article over the years as we put more pants to the test.
Best Men’s Work Pants
Across the board, I favored the pants that had a midthigh utility or cellphone pocket. My quip for most is that brands tend to place utility phone pockets on the right side. It would be nice to see a left-side phone carry pocket here and there. Even as a right-handed person, I like to use my phone with the left hand to leave my right hand free for other things. But we all have to make compromises.
For sizing notes, I’m 5 feet 11 inches tall and 170 pounds. I have a 33-inch inseam, which puts me at that awkward place of needing to get pants an inch longer than I’d like because most manufacturers only cut even-numbered lengths.
That said, as you’ll see below, some manufacturers cut their pants on the short side of 34 inches, which works better for me. All of the pants tested are size 32-inch waist and 34-inch inseam. Also, I still have an iPhone SE in a protective case. That’s a relatively small phone by today’s standards, and I suspect most bigger phones might have a hard time fitting into some of the utility pockets mentioned below.
After living and working in all of the pants below, my absolute favorites are those from 1620 Workwear. For me, the argument for these pants is they are a perfect fit: the modern cut, the waist, the legs, the length, and the feel. They easily transition from the workday to social gatherings without looking like bulky work pants.
The argument against them is they are really pricey. 1620 manufactures a few styles in a small shop in Massachuchets. And as is the case with many small, American-made brands, they cost a lot.
But let’s get to the point: These pants are tough as nails. They will last you a long time, even if you abuse the heck out of them (like I have).
I tested two models from the brand: the Double Knee and the NYCO Shop Pant. Both pants have innovative pocket designs including slanted rear pockets for easy access (especially while sitting), right-hand midthigh utility pockets, and deep (but not awkward) front hand pockets.
Within the left-hand pocket is a coin pocket that is too deep to dig coins out of — maybe it’s good for something else. All of 1620 Workwear’s pants include wide belt loops. GearJunkie covered these when they first launched in 2016.
The Double Knee, now available in an upgraded version, is a tough Cordura fabric blended with nylon and spandex. These pants will shed some light precipitation as well as certain chemicals and oils to avoid stains. The fabric is stiff enough to inspire durability confidence but is not constricting. The pants also include a vertical zipper pocket on top of the right-hand utility pocket, where I stash a lightning cable to charge my phone while out.
There’s also a small tool and pencil pocket on the left leg. I’d like to see those pockets trade sides. And the outside edges of the hand pockets are reinforced for clipping a knife or tape measure.
The NYCO Shop Pant isn’t as stiff, but the face fabric is a nice tight weave that also sheds spilled water, oil, and chemicals. The drape of the fabric and better stretch gives them a little looser feel, which is good for breathability in warmer environments. They have the same pockets as those mentioned above.
These are better pants for those who may want to go from the office to the field or worksite. They look fairly professional yet have many attributes of a great work pant. They should also be a top choice of professionals like machinists who want to look snappy at work while having a tough pant with lots of pockets.
Duluth Trading Company
With an obvious tie to the Upper Midwest and the toughness it takes to survive winter in that region, Duluth Trading Co. has appropriately tough clothing. Of its 36 styles of work pants, we checked out the DuluthFlex Fire Hose Carpenter Pants.
Made of 8-ounce DuluthFlex Fire Hose cotton canvas, a 3 percent spandex blend, does give them a nice touch of stretch for comfort. The cut is a little dated but comfortable and relaxed without being baggy. The face fabric is smooth, which helps hold their stain- and water-resistant fabric finish. And the major pressure points are tacked with a metal rivet around which, in my experience with another brand, is where the fabric is prone to wear out.
The pants have standard-style, straight-across patch back pockets and angled, decently deep hand pockets. There are hammer loops on both legs with a simple handle pocket on the left and a layered set of two utility pockets on the right thigh. Imported, they are on the less expensive end of the spectrum.
Carhartt quite possibly has the best name brand recognition in the world of work pants. It has around 40 styles of non-denim men’s work pants to choose from that cover nearly every style anyone could want. I tested a few pairs, and the Loose Original Fit pair is indeed very loose — a bit on the baggy side for my taste. But the relaxed fit of the Rugged Flex Rigby Double Front Pant turned out perfect.
These are very comfortable pants made from 8-ounce fabric. They’re slightly lighter-weight compared to many in this test and composed of 98 percent cotton and 2 percent spandex canvas. The front hand pockets and rear pockets are pretty standard and a comfortable size. These pants have the only useful coin pocket of all the pants in this test because it’s not too deep to reach in with a thumb and forefinger to retrieve coins.
The left thigh has a simple and relatively skinny 3 x 6-inch utility pocket — fine for a carpenter’s pencil, a screwdriver, or a small pair of pliers. The right thigh has a pocket with a subtle but effective flap that helps keep a cellphone secure without being in the way. The double knee reaches from the upper thigh to the midshin and has a gap to insert knee pads. Priced slightly above the least expensive pair of pants in the test, the features easily make up for that extra cost. While Carhartt makes many styles in the U.S., these are imported.
It was just last year that this outdoor recreation clothing giant got into workwear. It released a full line of items to cover working men and women from head to toe. True to form, Patagonia Workwear draws on sustainable sources, which is somewhat reflected in the price. I tried two styles of the brand’s work pants.
The Iron Forge Hemp Canvas Double Knee is an extremely comfortable pair of pants. The rear pockets are unique in that they swoop down from the beltline all the way to the outer seam, much like the front pockets. This makes it easy to get in them when sitting and provides a good out-of-the-way spot for a folding knife to be clipped. There’s also a reinforced flat patch in the corners of the front pockets for those who like to carry their knife or a tape measure there.
The downsides are the hemp canvas absorbs water pretty readily, so they’re not great for wet, snowy, or spill-prone environments. Also, they lack any sort of midthigh utility pocket on either leg. They’re competitively priced considering being imported with a Fair Trade certification along with all the other great reasons Patagonia loyalists are usually ready to pay a bit more to support the brand.
The Steel Forge Denim pants are a little stiffer out of the box and have a roomier cut. They are not as comfortable as the Iron Forge Hemp Canvas pants. And they make a pretty major jump in price thanks to the brand using 8 percent blend of Dyneema in the U.S.-grown organic cotton, dyeing them with a natural indigo, and cutting and sewing them in the U.S.
Dyneema is marketed as light enough to float on water but 15 times stronger than steel, so they should be exceptionally durable. On the plus side, they have great pockets: deep drop in front hip pockets, standard patch-style rear pockets (not as nice as the Iron Forge), a right-side utility thigh pocket, and a hammer loop/pocket on the left side.
Like their nemesis, Dickies carries a huge range of styles and types of work pants including skinny, slim, regular, and relaxed. For this test, we landed on the brand’s Flex Regular Fit Straight Leg Tough Max Duck Carpenter Pants. True to the name, the cut is a simple straight leg and is a comfortable Regular Fit. The pants do flex nicely with the 2 percent elastane (Lycra) blended into the 10-ounce duck fabric consisting of 68 percent cotton and 30 percent polyester.
For my body shape, the cut around the waist is too roomy and the low-rise style is slightly awkward. Also, the front hand pockets have a large opening, but the internal space feels narrow. There’s also that odd small pocket in the right-hand pocket which I find to be too deep for coins. But it does easily accommodate a folding clip knife.
Still, I prefer to carry my knife in my back right pocket. The rear pockets are a standard straight-across patch style, and there’s a hammer loop on the left thigh. On the right thigh are what Dickes calls “dual tool pockets.” My phone fits nicely in the offset openings. For extra security, I can use the deeper pocket of the two. Dickies’ sizing runs a little short. My pair (32 x 34) actually has a 33-inch inseam, which is fine for me. Dickies keeps prices low by manufacturing offshore, and these are no exception. These pants are the least expensive pants in this test.
Based out of Jackson, Wyo., Mountain Khakis saw a need for pants that can work in the mountains or on the ranch but look good in town. Its 32-inch waist Men’s Alpine Utility Pant Relaxed Fit feels more like a Regular Fit to me. But it’s still comfortable. There’s also a Slim Fit option. The brand uses a proprietary double-weave 10.4-ounce cotton canvas that has a smooth finish. And the double-reinforced layer reaches from midthigh to just below the knee but does not provide an opening to slide in a knee pad.
The rear pockets are a standard straight-across patch style. The angled front hand pockets are pretty standard as well with the exception of an extra “hidden” seam-line right-hand pocket.
The opening of this seam pocket is a little smaller than the regular hand pockets. But it tends to gap open. I found my right hand would wedge into this pocket instead of into the full-size standard hand pockets. I might get used to this minor annoyance over time.
The right leg utility pocket easily fits my phone, and an angled top flap adds some extra protection from debris from wafting onto the phone and from it accidentally slipping out when high-stepping or kicking back.
The unique feature here is what Mountain Khakis calls the Mud Flap, a reinforced patch behind the heel. They are a little on the pricey side for imported pants.
As the company name suggests, most 5.11 pants are tactical in design. That means they carry guns and ammo well. But the Stonecutter model has a pretty clean work pant look.
The pants are comfortable. Flex-Tac mechanical stretch helps them move with you, and the fabric has a Teflon finish to ward off spills and stains. An abrasion-resistant nylon overlay starts midthigh on the front, below the knee on the back, and goes down to the cuff for a double-knee-style look and functionality.
Even though they don’t have that typical tactical look, 5.11 has still managed to include nine pockets, including two to fit an AR mag and my much-prized utility pocket on the right thigh that perfectly fits my phone. These are comfortable and lightweight pants. They are great for warmer weather, and 5.11 priced them reasonably for imported apparel.
Born in 2008 on Colorado’s Front Range, Topo Designs is based on the classic gear used by the founders when they were kids in the ‘80s. It makes a work pant from durable 12-ounce duck canvas cloth with the double layer extending from the front pockets to just below the knee where a gap allows inserting knee pads.
These have a modern slim cut. Of all the pants I tested, they were the tightest. I also found them to be a little tight in the hips. While the pant legs were not quite “skinny-jean” tight, the lack of space around the hips compounded the snug feel of the whole pant.
Sizing up may be the fix. The Topo Designs Work Pant Duck Canvas only has the standard four pockets, and they’re all a good depth. Of note is the button fly and availability in a women’s style. They carry a made-in-the-USA price. GearJunkie reviewed them in more detail in 2016.