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Shopping for a pair of tactical pants can feel overwhelming because of the variety of brands and features available. With countless options, it’s hard to narrow your choice to the right pair. That’s why I put together this guide of the best tactical pants for 2022.
As a firearms instructor, I wear tactical pants designed for my needs like running, gunning, and teaching. When I buy a pair, I look for features I know I need based on my experience as well as those of other informed buyers like other instructors, shooters, hunters, and more.
Using that collective knowledge, I reviewed numerous options and examined things like materials, pockets, waterproofing, fitment, durability, and price to help you make the most informed decision you can before buying a pair of tactical pants.
The 5.11 Taclite Pros provide the best balance between cost, utility, and flexibility, but are ostensibly a pair of duty pants. In other words, they’re perfect for uniform wear rather than covert use. They came highly recommended by my friend and experienced reviewer who operates the gear blog UncleZo (and writes under the same name). His experience with these includes countless hunting trips and firearms classes taken.
The pants are rugged with extra bartacked stitching in tear-susceptible spots, extra stretch from the gusseted crotch, eight pockets, large belt loops, and the proprietary taclite ripstop material incorporated. These pants will get any job done, from long hunting trips in the bush to range courses with kneeling, prone, and movement on the range or on mission. These pants are made to fit well, with triple stitching throughout, extra flexibility in the seat and knee areas, plus a Teflon coating to keep them dry and clean all mission long.
- Cost: $55
- Material: 65% polyester, 35% cotton
- Pockets: Eight
- Sizing: 28-44 inch waist, 30-36 inch inseam
Very durable, and water-/stain-repellent
Lots of storage space and added utility
Ripstop material prevents tearing
Thin material may not be warm in colder climates
Do not blend into the office dress code well
The Wrangler Outdoor Zip Cargo Pants are value-priced, and available at your local Walmart. Simply put, they are the easy option to start with for less. They’re actually the first pair of tactical pants I bought when I began teaching firearm courses and they held up for those long summer months on the range. They’re comfortable and allow for a full range of motion.
What you get here is a no-frills option. It’s a basic seven-pocket configuration, but features a stretchy nylon and spandex mixed fabric, so it won’t impede your movement. While the blend gives you a full-range of movement, it’ll also give you durability on par with more premium options.
However, they do have some limitations. The cargo pockets are smaller than those on other options. The fabric is too thin for winter months and not as stain-resistant as treated material. And, the zippers will eventually start failing on you as they have for me after three years.
I do still wear these pants on occasion, but only when my other options are unavailable. They do make for an excellent backup choice, but they lack the number of pockets of my Vertx pants, and the durability of some more expensive options.
- Cost: $30
- Material: 96% nylon, 4% spandex
- Pockets: Seven
- Sizing: 29-50 inch waist, 29-34 inch inseam
Very cheaply priced
Lightweight, great for hot climates
Large range of motion
Available at a local store, such as Walmart
Very thin material, wears out quicker
Only two extra pockets, which aren't huge
The Vertx Cutback Technical pants are as tacticool as they come. Compared to all the other tactical pants I’ve tried, they’re my personal favorite for teaching range classes. They’re lightweight, breathable, and have more pockets than I know what to do with. I’ve pushed mine further than I’ve been able to with any other pants I’ve ever worn, and without damaging them.
They have tons of stretch, and their mobility is unmatched so far. I’ve been able to teach all day in the sun, with minimal heat retention, which makes these excellent in warm weather, and a nightmare in the winter. I still use them in the colder months with some long undergarments underneath, as they are quite water-repellent, but are not warm on their own.
- Price: $75-$90
- Material: 48% cotton, 27% polyester, 25% polyester twill
- Pockets: 14
- Sizing: 30-44 inch waist, 30-36 inch inseam
Excellent heat dissipation
Lots of storage
Large variety of colors
Not great for cold weather on their own
These pants would stand out harshly in an office environment
The Vertx Fusion Lt Stretch pants are extremely rugged, while still allowing a ton of flexibility due to the amount of stretch. The crotch section of these pants are gusseted, which means they get even more stretch to allow full range of motion, and the knee area is articulated to the same end.
These pants would definitely look at home on duty or at the range, and the vapor core fabric will also help regulate your temperature, so you’ll always be comfortable, whether patrolling a desert at night, or destroying the timed course records on a flat range.
The pocket placement and design is well thought out, with wide, low front pockets so your hands can get in, slanted rear pockets for easy access to contents, and cargo pockets which have a separator running down the middle.
- Price: $80
- Material: 40% polyester, 24% 37.5 polyester, 36% cotton
- Pockets: 14
- Sizing: Zero-18 inch waist, 30-34 inch inseam
37.5 Vapor Core tech keeps you dry and comfortable
Lots of stretch for mobility
Lightweight, with strong construction
Tons of cargo space, in a well thought out design
Fairly thin material, so less heat retention in cold
Very "tacticool" looking
The prAna Zion pants were originally built as a rock climbing pants option, which means they’re rugged and will handle abrasion, while allowing for a full range of motion. While they don’t have as many pockets and features as some other options, they also do not look like they’d be at home in a SWAT locker. So if you’re looking for more distinguished pants, without compromising on agility, these will do well.
Available in a variety of outdoorsy colors and a wide fitment, these are a great choice for outdoor activities, range use, and tactical teatime, while still maintaining their flexibility and strength. One potential issue is the warmth of the material used, which may retain too much heat in the summer, but will help keep your legs warm and dry in the winter. Not truly a con, but it does lower their viability some.
- Cost: $70
- Material: 95% recycled nylon, 5% elastane
- Pockets: Five
- Sizing: 28-42 inch waist, 30-34 inch inseam
Very durable, and water-repellent
Doesn't scream "mall ninja"
Wide range of motion and stretch
Good for colder climates
Less utility pockets
May be too warm in hot climates
Fitment at ankle is smaller than most
If you need pants that will take a ridiculous amount of abuse, the Duluth Trading Company Firehose Cargo pants are the obvious choice. They were recommended to me by my brother, who is a professional gunsmith, so he works with various solvents, oils, and debris — you know, stuff that’ll destroy clothing — and his Fire Hose pants have yet to show signs of wear.
The material used in these pants are made from a cotton blend with triple-stitched seams. It’s nearly identical to the external covering used on fire hoses for decades, so they’re resistant to tearing when exposed to extreme conditions and sharp edges. The material does have an added three percent elastic for flexibility while moving about.
Deep cargo and kneepad pockets set these apart from the standard Duluth Trading Co Firehose Pants, while still retaining a fairly normal carpenter pant style and fitment.
- Price: $75
- Pockets: 11
- Material: 100% cotton
- Sizing: 28-50 inch waist, 28-36 inch inseam
Water- and stain-repellent
Available in a wide sizing range
Expensive, relative to other options
Why you should trust us
I have years of experience ruining tactical pants, from my early year’s backpacking as an Eagle Scout to patrolling battlefields in Afghanistan to teaching firearms courses through my business, Libertas Instruction. In that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about gear and developed a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve also built up a network of friends and colleagues who I rely on when I don’t know something. Their feedback helped me make sure all the right options were presented and the bad ones went unmentioned.
Types of tactical pants
The variety of options available to those looking for tactical pants is nearly limitless. They have different qualities, material blends, technologies, pocket layouts, and utility features. These options can be overwhelming to end-users, and some things are more important for different jobs.
These are the pants most folks think of when considering tactical pants. If it would look at home in a warzone or on a SWAT team, it is sure to come with lots of features, some more important than others. These are excellent when no subtlety is necessary, such as in the field, or on the range, and storage plus durability are most important.
Simply put, there are times when advertising your toolset or abilities is less advantageous. These are the times you want your pants to look fairly normal and go unnoticed. This usually means fewer pockets, more average colors, and less storage space. Maximizing their usability while remaining subtle about intentions can give you an edge up in today’s world.
Some tactical pants don’t fit neatly into either of the above categories, such as EMS pants with specific pockets for things like trauma shears, or hiking pants, which minimize excess material while maximizing comfort and heat regulation. These pants tend to focus on one specific job and do it to perfection.
Key features of tactical pants
The pockets on a pair of tactical pants either have an intended purpose or a highly developed sense of purpose. They can be specifically designed for something like a cell phone, handcuff key, pocket knife, trauma shears, and other tools, or employ organizational compartments like flaps or slots. The pockets on tactical pants are what make them tactical or assign them a specialty. The main difference between tactical pockets and cargo pockets is function.
With tactical pants, apparel makers use fabrics that strike the right balance of durability and mobility. Tactical pants need to be tough enough to endure everyday wear and activities like running, squatting, climbing, and jumping.
While they’re available in a variety of fabrics, they typically come in a polyester or nylon and cotton blend that’s been treated to resist tear and water. The synthetic fabric holds up and retains shape better than cotton, but the cotton gives the fabric more breathability. However, you may prefer (or require) 100 percent cotton blends if you have an allergy or want something much more breathable.
The final key feature in tactical pants is mobility. Apparel makers increase the mobility in their pants using two key methods. First, they’ll employ a variety of design features like a gusseted crotch, which expands the area of the crotch, to make the pants naturally more mobile. Second, they will also add an elastic fabric like spandex into the fabric or mechanically stretch it to give it that elastic feel.
Pricing considerations for tactical pants
For this article, we listed three different price ranges for tactical pants. They include:
For under $50, you can find something functional even though you’ll probably give up some qualities. Like the Wrangler Outdoor Zip, they’re a great inexpensive option even if the pockets aren’t the most useful.
Most tactical pants fall in the $50 to $100v range. Sure, tens of dollars more than a regular pair of pants, but you get so much more.
At more than $100, you’re usually buying something highly specialized like fire retardant or 100 percent waterproof pants.
FAQs on tactical pants
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q. What pants do U.S. special operations forces wear?
A: This is a tough question to answer because there are special operator units in every branch of the military. In general, military special operators will wear their battle dress uniforms, some other issued uniform, or whatever their mission requires.
Q. Are 5.11 pants good?
A: Yes. 5.11 Tactical is one of the most popular tactical apparel makers today. Overall, they make excellent pants and good-quality gear. Of course, you should always research gear items before you buy to make sure they’re adequate for your needs.
Q. What are the best combat trousers?
A: The best combat trousers are the ones that fit your body and are equipped with the features and materials best suited for your needs. If you need a specific answer, scroll up to the top of this list.
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Joel Mason did six years in the Iowa Army National Guard as an infantryman, with one tour in Afghanistan. Now he does firearms courses through his business, Libertas Instruction, as a USCCA Certified Instructor.