Taking The Perplexity Out Of Pants
My buddy, Chris Dyk, is an outdoorsman in every sense of the word. You'd be hard pressed to find him indoors in any season. From hiking, hunting, fishing and foraging, not to mention his job, he spends countless hours outside in the elements. And he doesn't go easy on his clothing. It's expected to keep up with the frenetic pace he sets. If it can't, it gets cut.
Chris and I also share a Dutch heritage. What that means, for those unversed in a culture that imagined wood as the perfect material for making shoes, is that he is cheap. Or frugal if you prefer the more polite term. And Chris is a bit of a traditionalist, choosing to pursue fish with a fly rod, game with a long bow, heat his home with wood he splits himself and espousing wool as the most ideal material for clothing. That being said, he's gear junky. I've known few people that have tested more equipment by more brands than he has. We've spent many hours discussing gear and, for this article, I've asked Chris to share a little insight into one of the more perplexing topics: hunting pants.
Here's what he had to say.
Today’s hunters have been blessed with so many advances in technical clothing that it’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming number of options in the market. And It begs the question “what does a hunter really need to be successful?”
For years, I was able to put a lot of game on the ground wearing a pair of $10 olive wool pants, and a pair of Cabela’s Microtext pants. Can you get by with something like this? In all honesty, I would say “yes”. Especially if you are hunting close to home, from heated blinds or if your hunting involves coming back to a warm/heated place for the evenings. But the features in today’s high-tech clothing will keep you more comfortable and help you stay in the field longer. And more time in the field improves success. Being the gear junkie I am, I have tried a number of different hunting pants over the years, and here is what I have found.
In 2010, with my first Alaska hunt scheduled, I needed to upgrade to something better than my $10 woolies. I pried open my “Dutch wallet” and purchased my first pair of Sitka pants (I do not remember the style nor what I paid). The hunt was brutal. 10 days of wet and cool weather. The pants performed ok when it came to drying time, however at the end of the hunt the seams had let go in multiple places and the rear pockets fallen off. I was a more than a little disappointed in my new expensive pants. Once I returned home, I contacted Sitka, and they immediately replaced them with an upgraded pair. I believe they were the Mountain pants. They were very nice, however I have never liked the digital camo, so I sold them to look for something else.
At this same time KUIU came into the market and I really liked the looks of the VIAS camo, so I used the money from the Sitka pants to purchase a pair of KUIU Attack pants in VIAS. Upon receiving them I was impressed. The Toray Primeflex polyester material stretches in every direction. And, with features like a gusseted crotch, large thigh cargo pockets, and mesh hip vents you will be hard pressed to find something more comfortable or versatile. They fit true to size, have well-placed pockets, roomy zippered hip pockets and are easy to get in/out of. They are cut nicely for adding extra layers underneath, and still not feel too tight.
I’ve been wearing my Attack pants for 10 years now on hunting trips to Alaska, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and throughout Michigan. From warm temps in the 90’s down to lows in the mid-20’s they have kept me comfortable (with proper layering). Sure, they are showing some wear, especially below the knees, and the DWR finish isn’t what it once was, but there are no holes, no tears, no seams letting go; they still have years of use left in them. I highly recommend adding a pair of these to your collection, you will not regret it. At $139 they are a great value. Watch the KUIU website, they usually feature two or three sales a year, with savings up to 40%.
The Attack pants check most of the boxes for me, however, I still needed something for late-season tree stand hunting when the temps dropped below 30. For me, this purchase required three key features: quietness, warmth and wind blocking.
After a LOT of research, I settled on the Sitka Stratus. I didn’t like the price $299, OUCH! Nor the “Smurf blue” camo. However, a trusted friend had a pair and said they were worth the money. Unlike the Attack, the Stratus pants don’t stretch, but, with the articulated cut, they are still very comfortable. Stratus pants are made with Gore-Tex Infinium with Windstopper technology, and feature a polyester knit face, and micro fleece knit interior. I don’t know what all that means, but I do know these pants are quiet, warm and 100% windproof. They have been my go-to cold weather pants for the past four seasons. The thigh cargo pockets are large, allowing easy access whether sitting or standing and come with quiet snap closures. The zipped pockets on the outside of the cargo pockets are very convenient for small items, and the zippers are quiet enough. The front hand pockets have a low fleece nap, keeping your hands warm on those cold mornings. While I have used them in single digit weather, my legs were quite cold after two to three hours. With these I have found that temperatures in the low 20s to mid-30’s are optimum for comfort. The only negative I have found is that they do not breathe particularly well. Zippered hip vents would be a nice upgrade allowing sweat to vent during the hike in and keeping me warmer on the stand.
But, as always, the gear junkie in me was always looking for “the next thing”. My eye kept coming back to KUIU Talus pants. I really wanted a solid color for late fall hunting and cross-country and downhill skiing. So, when KUIU had a sale, I bought Talus pants (retail at $219, on sale I paid around $160) in Caribou color. The Talus are a hybrid style pant featuring KUIU’s Toray Primeflex material on the upper thighs, waist and back of knees, ultrasuede waterproof kneepads, and Toray Dermizak NX waterproof paneling across the seat and lower legs. The interior is a grid fleece. I ordered these in 32 waist (like my Attack), but quickly found out they are not cut like the Attack. The size 32 waist is quite snug, however, the Primeflex fabric is stretchy, and after some wear, they stretch enough to make them comfortable even with a light pair of long johns underneath. KUIU rates these as cold weather pants and that is probably true if you are actively moving, however in a tree stand in late October these are not warm enough for me. The Talus pants breathe extremely well, and that could be part of the reason. The pants shed water very nicely, and the knee pads are very functional, and not cumbersome. The hip vents are also very nice, along with a gusseted crotch. All features that make these pants very comfortable. But the pockets stink! The rears are non-functional. I had trouble opening/closing them and they are small. The thigh cargo pockets are also too small; I can barely fit a pair of gloves inside. The flap over the zippers is always in the way, and the opening is small, making it difficult to reach a hand in/out.
To be fair these pants are not designed for the tree stand hunter. They are built for the more active hunter. If you were to use these out west chasing elk or deer in October or November, they would work nicely. If you are an upland bird hunter these pants would be ideal. Their breathability, zippered hip vents, and waterproof material used on the front would be fantastic in the upland woods. Just don’t plan on carrying many items in the pockets!
The Talus pants are a well-designed pants, but just not for my needs, so I decided to sell them and look for something else more suited for my needs. You might be noticing a trend.
My searching didn’t take long when I found a pair of Sitka Timberline pants in solid color on sale for $200 on Amazon. It’s hard to find a bad review on the Timberline pants and there’s a reason. The Timberlines feature a nylon ripstop reinforced seat and knees and removeable kneepads. Articulated patterning, tapered legs, and four-way stretch polyester make these the most comfortable pants I’ve ever owned. I put them to work throughout December deer hunting, and in January, coyote hunting with temps in the mid 20’s to mid 30’s and I am amazed at their warmth. The thigh cargo pockets are very roomy, have good stretch, and provide easy access. So, I can (and do) jam them full of extra hats, gloves, or whatever else I need. And the buttons open and close silently. The zippered outside pocket is perfect for small items like phones and wind checkers. They breathe nicely, but not too much, and still do a nice job of blocking wind. In the short time I have owned them, I would say they are almost as warm as my Sitka Stratus, but more comfortable, due to how much they stretch. I hope Sitka plans to offer these in more solid colors in the future. If they do, I will be buying more! I am excited to try these out on the ski slopes soon!
A couple additional thoughts:
Puffy pants. All I can say is “buy some!" I have a pair from Sitka, but a lot of other companies (hunting and non-hunting) make them. They are game changers for static activities when the temps drop to sub 20 degrees. These beloved additions are light, packable, fully windproof, and feature full leg zips, making them easy to get on and off. It is literally like sitting in your sleeping bag. One word of caution though; be careful with these pants, they tear very easily. Also, always throw some tenacious tape in your pack in case you do tear them. Personally, I stuff mine into my pack, then once I am in my stand, I put them on. I do not wear them climbing up and down because it’s too risky to get a tear from a branch, screw-in step, or climbing stick. With full leg zippers, it’s quite easy to get them on/off even in the tree stand.
Think outside traditional hunting brands. I prefer to purchase hunting clothing from companies that support hunting, however there are several companies, like Kuhl, Marmot, North Face, Arcteryx, etc. that sell good gear. One set of pants I highly recommend are the Eddie Bauer Guide pants. You can usually find these for around $50 on sale (EB always has sales). I wear a pair of these pants almost every day from business meetings to church, cross-country skiing, wood cutting and hunting. They are a fantastic value with lots of stretch, a great pocket layout and rugged durability. Through years of tough wear, I have had only two issues with these pants: zippers coming off, and thread in the pockets coming undone. However, EB has always 100% replaced these items. They also sell these pants in a lined version, I personally have not tested them, but a trusted friend swears by them for his cool/cold weather hunting and other outdoor endeavors.
While investing in more expensive gear won’t necessarily make you a better hunter, it can keep you more comfortable and “on stand” longer, improving your chances. But, if you are anything like me with a family, a mortgage and all kinds of other responsibilities, these expenses can be a hard pill to swallow. Fortunately, I have found that with a little leg work and patience the perfect pants don’t have to break the bank.
Here are a few tips I have learned over the years:
1. Watch for sales. In the spring many retailers and brands have last season’s inventories they want to move out before new shipments arrive. This is a great time to score a bargain. Many of these brands also have “black Friday” and other sales throughout the year and offer discounts for signing up for joining their email list. Be patient and check often.
2. Check discount websites: Mountain Steals (https://www.mountainsteals.com) and Steep and Cheap (https://www.steepandcheap.com) offer great prices on outdoor gear although not typically hunting specific. Sierra Trading Post (https://www.sierra.com) is another good one for outdoor clothing and they do feature some premium hunting brands. Camofire (https://www.camofire.com), Hunt of the Day (https://www.huntoftheday.com), and DVOR (https://www.dvor.com) are more hunting specific and also worth checking.
3. Don’t be afraid to buy used. Clothing from these companies is durable, and most hunters do not use them to their full potential. Thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and ebay can all be places that hold hidden gems. I’ve also had some luck on the Rokslide Classifieds (https://www.rokslide.com/forums/forums/rokslide-classifieds.88/)
4. You might be able to score discounts. There are a few websites out there that offer substantial discounts to users depending on your expertise, profession or service with a Conservation or other non-profit organization. Two worth checking out are Expert Voice (https://www.expertvoice.com) and GOVX (https://www.govx.com).