“Tactical pants” is a term that surely would have made 11-year-old me chuckle. It sounds like something straight out of Monty Python’s Flying Circus: A stern RAF Commander would stroll through a garden, swagger-stick in hand, explaining the history of how this particular set of trousers was optimized by the OSS for combat, covert operations, law enforcement use and other martial applications. Then someone off-camera would hit him in the face with a fish.
But “tactical pants” are very real, and if you carry a sidearm every day, you probably either wear them or have at least considered getting some.
Like with holsters, however, it can be very easy to end up with a footlocker filled to overflowing with units that only get you about 85 percent of where you’re looking to go. The holster holds the gun nice and tight, but it chafes against your side. The clips on the holster are perfect and hold better than any others you’ve ever tried, but reholstering is a two-handed affair.
It is, unfortunately, no different with carry-oriented pants.
One Leg at a Time
The general issue with any kind of trousers is that some will work well with your body and some won’t. My quads are about the size of those on marble depictions of Zeus, and as nice as it is at the beach, most clothiers don’t seem to think guys like me should even wear long pants. I’m not joking; in certain designs, the 40x34s I usually wear end up tight enough in the thighs that a casual passerby can count the number of keys on my key ring.
So I bump to a different brand of pants that will allow me a little more room in the legs, and all of a sudden the pockets disappear. I find a pair of pants where everything’s perfect, and then when I go to order more, I find out they’ve been “downspecced” — meaning they got popular enough that the company decided to cut every possible corner in order to sell as many pairs as cheaply as possible. It’s a story as old as manufactured goods, and it’s extremely common in the tactical-clothing world. As such, it is extremely important to know exactly what you prefer in a pair of carry pants in order to narrow your selection process and avoid spending unnecessary money on what you didn’t really even want in the first place.
Different designers prioritize different specific characteristics of garments, and as the pants in question get more expensive, generally the fit will improve. Allow me to explain.
I’m about 6 feet, 5 inches tall and probably weigh about 260 pounds. My shoulders are considerably larger than my waist, but like many guys who ride a desk for a living and don’t enjoy running, I’m a little heavier around the middle than I should be. My quadriceps and calves are large enough that certain brands of pants just don’t work for me, and — even worse — I have surprisingly short legs for being a rather tall man. As it turns out, these are the least of my problems.
As any large man — whether that means tall, wide or both — will tell you, the concepts of “extra large” and “extra-extra large” are entirely relative. In the least expensive of trousers, after about a waist size 36, the only factor that changes in the sizing of the pants is the waist; the distance from the beltline to the crotch seam will remain the same, the depth of the seat will remain the same, et cetera. Conversely, with higher-priced units, it is generally safe to assume that, as the size of the man who will be wearing the pants increases, so do the overall dimensions of the garment. This is, to a great extent, what you’re paying for when you buy a higher-end set of pants, but like with everything else, it pays to do a few online searches to find out what experiences other consumers have had with the product in question.
For a lot of concealed carriers, BDUstyle pants (which stands for “battle dress uniform,” which is the modern term for “military fatigues”) are go-tos for range wear and everyday use. They’re comfortable, they can hold a lot of gear, and they’re available in a multitude of colors, styles and levels of discretion. One of my favorites, the Operator Pant from LAPoliceGear.com, is basically a grand conglomeration of pockets sewn together with a zipper fly: You have two hip pockets, two back pockets, a set of slash pockets on the front of the thighs and a set of lower leg pockets that close with patches of hook-and-loop material. They’re terrific for outdoor and range use since they greatly simplify bringing a whole slew of emergency gear along for the ride, but they’re not exactly discreet, and they’re not exactly high fashion. They’re a perfect example of the kinds of compromises you’re going to have to strike in the realm of tactical pants: Are you looking to be more practical, or are you looking to be easier to ignore? Both have their place, and at times, not standing out in a crowd can be literally lifesaving, so be certain that you’re consciously choosing what you wear and when.
Get a Leg Up
What you’re looking to guarantee is that any gear you carry remains secured right where you left it. For some time, the Operator Pant from LAPoliceGear.com was one of the finest in the business for this: Each cargo pocket contained a row of smaller pockets within it that allowed very easy carry of flashlights, multi-tools, pens and anything else you wanted to keep close at hand. The design has since changed, and though the cargo pockets remain sectioned, rather than several inner units, there’s only one. This works fine for keeping your wallet separate from your trauma bandage, but it’s decidedly less handy for keeping a flashlight and a multi-tool concealed and orderly.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Tac Force Tactical Pants from Galls.com, which remain far and away my favorite set of “disposables.” Here at the USCCA’s Content Creation Center, business can get dirty: There are constant deliveries, often arriving in dirty cardboard boxes shipped from all over the country and world; there’s spray paint for the steel targets; and there’s gun cleaning chemicals and solvents and positional shooting and all kinds of other substances and situations that can be tough on your pants. As such, I’m always on the lookout for a decent pair of work pants, which around here doesn’t mean Carhartt or Dickies but rather tactical wear that I can afford to toss if it gets stained beyond use.
I scored several pairs of pants from Galls at no more than about $20 per pair on sale, but they’re not perfect. Though they fit well enough and they’ve lasted like champions, the insides of the cargo pockets have nothing but a strip of elastic sewn to the in-board side. That works well enough for securing my Kel-Tec CL-42 or even a multi-tool, but as the pockets aren’t sectioned, carrying more than one item can be pretty hard on the item that is made of the softer material. I once managed to almost wear out an aluminum flashlight in a little over a year carrying it in a pair of those pants next to a stainless-steel Leatherman tool.
The general issue with any kind of trousers is that some will work well with your body and some won’t.
When it comes to the cargo pockets on the sides of the legs, you’re going to want to list out everything you intend to carry with you and then move forward from there. If you know, deep down, that you will never carry a trauma bandage, then don’t demand a pocket for it. (We can talk about why I think you’re wrong for thinking that way later; right now, let’s stick to pants.) You need to select and procure the pants that will work best for what you know you’ll be doing, so if a $20 set of pants like those from Galls is more than enough for your needs, don’t buy any higher than that unless buying clothes is a hobby you enjoy.
Pockets on the fronts and sides of the legs are often referred to as “magazine pockets,” but that’s generally used in an emergency-responder context. They’re often on the front of the legs, and it’s where you would stash a charged rifle or pistol magazine were you dashing out the door of your squad car to join a firefight in progress or respond to a rapid mass murderer. More apropos of range work and training, you only have to crouch down once with a charged AR magazine in a pocket like the one shown in the previous image. If you do, one of two things will likely happen: You will stab yourself in the thigh with the base of the magazine or you will stab yourself in the groin with the top of the magazine. Though these pockets work wonders for stowing spare magazines during drills, they are poor substitutes for magazine carriers for any extended type of use. Such pockets are often far better suited to business cards, sunglasses, cigarettes, cans of dip and the like; keep your magazines on your belt in magazine carriers like God intended.
Small Gun, Right Pocket
Pocket carry’s exploded over the last few years, and there’s a good reason for it: There exists no other way to carry a small pistol or revolver that is as simple or as convenient. That said, not all pockets even come close to being created equal.
If possible, bring your unloaded EDC pocket gun in its holster with you to the store’s dressing room and — again, with the pistol or revolver unloaded — see how well it and the new pants in question interact. Practice a draw or two. The handgun should remain in a consistent position when you move, and you should ideally be able to get a firing grip on the gun before you draw. If you’re ordering from an online retailer, make sure it has a solid return policy before ordering. Atop that, run a quick Google search of the brand of the pants and the words “concealed carry pocket carry.” You may not be the first person to consider employing them as part of your EDC, and reading some reports from other concealed carriers may well save you a good deal of time and trouble.
Loop Yourself In
If you already have a preferred style of belt, you’re going to want to be certain that the belt loops on your new pants are compatible. Over the last decade, it’s become less and less likely that your belt will be too wide for the pants you prefer; it’s now almost as common that the belt loops on your pants will be too large. As the “rigger’s belt” units with enormous Cobra-style buckles become more popular in the tactical sports world, you can end up with loops that are as oversized for your 2-inch Instructor belt as the loops on your jeans are for your dress belt. Measure twice, buy once.
Put It All Together
Not only can it be difficult to find a single set of pants that best addresses all of your EDC needs, it’s basically impossible. The pants that work best with your pocket holster will almost assuredly not be as appealing when it comes to how well they facilitate flashlight carry. The pair that fits the best will probably not have pockets that work best for your pocket holster. These are realities that you’ll have to mitigate, and you may even want to isolate the single issue that is most important to you and then modify your EDC from there. You may end up moving to an IWB holster so you can avail yourself of the pants that make it easiest to carry a flashlight, reload and trauma bandage. You may have to find a quality belt-mounted flashlight and magazine carrier in order to continue pocket carrying. Only you will be able to make such decisions.
However you decide, just remember to take it nice and easy. Unless you really enjoy buying new clothes, take it slow and do your best to cover as many bases as you can. There’s nothing wrong with a set of $20 units from Galls, and a $200 pair from a borderline-custom tactical tailor can make as much sense depending on the circumstance. Like I so often say here in CCM, the key is to think about this kind of thing now, before you have to make the decision, in order to maximize your chances of choosing wisely. No one wins when decisions get rushed, and like with your holster, I’d rather you be able to buy once and not cry at all.