Topo Work Pants: Burly, Made In USA

At $150 a pair, made-in-Colorado Topo Designs competes against industry giant Carhartt. We tested them to see if they’re worth the extra bucks.

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I’m always on the lookout for high-quality domestic apparel and gear. So when I learned that Topo Designs, a brand known for tough, American-made backpacks, also makes work pants, I was stoked.

The revelation happened while on tour of the Topo sew shop in Longmont, Colo. Topo Co-founder Mark Hansen’s pants looked like Carhartts, but with a slimmer fit. Heavy duck canvas, double front panels, triple stitches: These things looked bomber.

Review: Topo Designs Work Pants

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To get the elephant out of the room, these cost $150 a pair. That’s a lot of scratch for pants – three times the price of the competition. This is going to be a sticking point for many consumers, and I don’t blame them.

But if you don’t mind the sticker shock, they’re great pants. Read on.

To really thrash these pants, I took them pheasant hunting for five days in eastern Colorado. This meant long days kicking through heavy brush, briars, and thistles. It’s a serious workout for gear that has shredded lesser pants and worn boots badly in a single day. Using GPS, we tracked our daily hikes to more than 20 miles.

These pants held up. After five days and an estimated 100 miles of heavy bushwhacking, they’re still solid, although they do show signs of wear.

Topo Designs Work Pants initial takeaways:

Comfort/Fit: The pants fit a little tighter than some others I’ve tested, especially in the thighs. In retrospect, I’d wear one size larger. Due to the skinny-jean fit, they are a little more restrictive than I’d like when making big steps over logs or climbing into a tall pickup.

Protection: The American-sourced 12-ounce duck canvas is tough as heck. I pushed through nasty patches of briars and thorns for days and didn’t get so much as a scratch. These things are tough, and I appreciate the double-front panel.

Pockets: With no fifth pocket to clip a knife, and no small “change pocket” in the front, it comes up a little short compared with Carhartt Dungarees. The two hip pockets and two back pockets are deep and secure though, and I had no problem stowing gear for long hikes. These also lack a hammer loop, which workers may find frustrating.

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Some wear spots show after five hard days and two washes

Durability: These are tough pants. My testing was enough to shred many lesser materials. But after big hikes and two washings (to remove blood and mud), they’re showing some signs of wear—like light, bleached creases in the canvas. Though they did well against nasty brush, washing seems to have removed some color. I washed according to instructions.

Compared With Carhartt

Topo Designs is a cool brand that supports jobs in Colorado and California. I visited the Colorado factory and saw the workers skillfully sewing at stations in a nice, clean environment.

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So it feels good to support the brand and know right where these products come from.

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My test pair after five heavy uses and two washes

But at $150, these pants are costly compared with Carhartt, which also has a large made-in-USA collection. The closest product from Carhartt is the Men’s Firm Duck Double-Front Work Dungaree ($50).

Carhartt Dungarees are terrific pants, too. I’ve used them landscaping, ice climbing, hiking, and more. My last pair was in use, either by myself or my father (who nabbed mine), for about 15 straight years before dying.

If Topo wants to attract a more blue-collar, or simply broader crowd, the price needs to come down. What you get with the Topos are USA-sourced materials and a slimmer, possibly more stylish fit. It’s also a small brand, and all its products are 100-percent USA-made. Is this enough to justify a $100 premium? That is up to the individual consumer, but it’s a tough sell.

However, Topos are a very nice, solid pant. For hiking, work around the house, splitting firewood, or bushwhacking 100 miles over five days, they’re tough and offer excellent protection from rough terrain. I expect to be thrashing the thickets with these for years to come.

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Managing Editor Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in Denver, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.

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