Hubbard Fellowship Post – Brandon asks, “What’s Up With Work Pants?”

This post was written by Brandon Cobb, one of our current Hubbard Fellows. Brandon came to us wanting as much land stewardship work (and other experiences) as possible to supplement what he learned during his academic career at Yale. As you’ll see in this post, he’s gotten plenty of land management experience and has the pants to prove it. – CH

Growing up, I loved playing in dirt. I remember my dad would get truckloads of dirt delivered to our house in Oklahoma and I would be the first one out of the door to play in it. Back then, what I wore didn’t matter. If I wore out a pair of pants or got them dirty, my mom would always be there to either give them a good cleaning or take me to the store to get another pair.

Those times have changed. I’m fresh out of college, and pinching pennies is my middle name. Whatever pair of pants I decide to use for working in the prairie, they’d better be able to last me at least a season. Well, let me tell you, that has been anything but the case. In one season alone, I have torn my way through three sets of work pants and am currently on my fourth. Upon hearing this statistic, Chris introduced me to another fellow Alex’s work pant themed blog post. Somehow, Alex had made it an entire season in just one pair of Dickies work pants. At the end of the blog post he says “The science is still ongoing, but if you’d like to contribute to my (very scientific) research, I’d be curious if you have any good stories about your trusty workpants!” Well Alex, I don’t know if I’d call my work pants “trusty” but I do have some ongoing (very scientific) research to add.

Work Pant 1: The ‘Ol “Reliable”

To be fair to these old Levi jeans, they had already been through hell and back when they came into my possession. They were previously owned and worn by my best friend and college roommate, Andrew. Drew is a Montana farm boy and these jeans got used plenty while working on his dad’s farm. Here’s a picture of Drew picking rocks on the farm while wearing these jeans (notice how much they’ve faded since that picture):

They were passed down to me in college, and they were the first pair of jeans I used when I got to the fellowship. They lasted me a good 3 or 4 months, but unfortunately, they met a fate that you’ll notice seems to be a reoccurring theme with these workpants, the seam rip.


Work Pant 2: The New Guy

After wearing out Drew’s old Levis, I thought it’d be best to go get myself a real pair of work pants. Our preserve manager, Cody, wears nothing but these Wrangler work pants, so I drove up to Menard’s and got myself a pair.

There are a few stains on these, but you can see they’re noticeably less worn than Drew’s old pair. That’s because within the first month or so, tragedy struck once again. Now to be fair, I’m a pretty large lad. I enjoy powerlifting outside of work, and it can be hard for me to find pants that fit both in the waist and in the thighs. That being said though, I’d expect any pair of new work pants to at least last me a season. Thanks for nothing Wrangler.


Work Pant 3: Time to get serious?

At this point, I’m reeling. Will I ever find a work pant that fits? How much money am I going to have to spend before I finally find the one? It was time to get serious, so I busted out my wallet and called up the good folks at Carhartt to send me out a pair of their finest dungarees.

Again, a few stains here and there, but you can tell that these pants haven’t seen a lot of work. Can you guess why?

That’s right, within the first couple of months, we were right back at square one.

Now I’ve only heard good things about Carhartt and I’ve worn plenty of their clothing before so I thought this was an oddity. I called them back up and they quickly gave me a refund and said “those weren’t really work pants they’re more of a “day-to-day” pant, try out our real work pants and you’ll see”. Well with a challenge like that there was no way I was going to back down. A week later it was back to testing.

Work Pant 4: The “Real” Work Pant

So here we are, the end of the line. There’s not another pair after this so these must be the ones, right? Well, sort of.

 Coming in Carhartt’s “Hamilton Brown” color, triple stitch seams all around, and with a much sturdier canvas material, these pants have lasted me a good 4 plus months now. They’ve seen me through fencing projects, oil changes, and even a bison roundup.

And just look at that, not a single sign of wear to be found. Good job Carhartt, you had me worried there for a second. Now, just because these Carhartt’s have stood the test of time so far doesn’t mean they’re perfect. The canvas material they use can be quite stiff and they still don’t quite fit my waist to thigh ratio.

So, Alex, based on my extensive research and analysis, here is my call to action. There needs to be a work pant that is just a durable as my current pair of Carhartt’s but with the added flexibility and stretchiness of an athletic fit jean. I’m sure this is a challenge from a materials and durability standpoint, but should someone figure it out, I’ll be the first in line; that’s a guaranteed $50 right there. Should anyone happen to know of that work pant floating around, please send it my way, I will be eternally grateful. But until then, I will keep testing work pants until I find the pair that truly can do it all.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

26 thoughts on “Hubbard Fellowship Post – Brandon asks, “What’s Up With Work Pants?”

    • Duluth Trading DuluthFlex Fire Hose Cargo Pants are the ticket for toughness, plus they have a pocket in the leg for your phone. They are spendy but watch for sales. I haven’t ripped them yet. I also wear their gardening vest— the pockets are amazing, it’s cool to wear, and made of steel. I know this sounds like a commercial but I spend a lot of time in the prairie, and this stuff works.

  1. my partner has a similar thigh problem, and works on adventure ropes course construction, and he buys Duluth relaxed-fit pants work pants. Also their “firehose” pants are flexible/stretchy. They still usually only make it through one work season (they used to have a lifetime guarantee so he could get replacements, but no longer :( ).

  2. Red Ants Pants are the best work pants I’ve owned.
    In addition to making great pants that are made in the USA from start to finish, they’re a pay-it-forward business that gives back by supporting women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities.
    They’re especially great work pants for women, but guys fit into them too. I’ve had a pair for years.

  3. Well, then there’s the genuine work pants…BIBS…. Thighs usually more generous. Waist? Immaterial. You’ve got shoulder straps. Oops? I’m from the wrong generation?
    Mostly I’m impressed with your willingness to accept physical work. And to wish you a successful carrier!

  4. Chris, ask Brandon if he keeps his pants pulled up. My husband’s pants tear like that, I believe it’s from wearing them too low, the crotch area rubs between upper thighs and wears through, then when they squat with legs spread, rip…… could be operator error. Thanks for all you do the keep us informed and entertained. Roxanne

  5. If i were you i would send your article to Deluth Trading and see if they can hook you up with a pair of their work pants, they always advertise how tough they are and how they have flexible gussets

  6. I taught myself how to use a sewing machine and use it to patch up my torn jeans. Am able to buy used jeans at Goodwill and use for repair material or cut them down for shorts.

    • Brandon, I used to mend pants for a guy with a good-sized derriere and thighs who wore out his pants in the same place as you do. If you really want to save money, cut a 6+ inch patch from an old pair of jeans, place it over the intersection of the trunk and leg seams, and sew down the edges.
      Then you can cut out the area underneath the patch and have a more comfortable pair of pants without those seams.

  7. You can tell Brandon that I swear by the Dickies DU250 pants. They’re a lightweight version of their cotton duck. Much more comfortable in the summer heat. Just order a size up and add long johns in the winter. I purchase them 3 or more at a time usually directly from Dickies. That’s pretty much the only pants I wear for work, play or leisure anymore…

  8. Duluth Trading Company – DuluthFlex Fire Hose Standard Fit Cargo Work Pants (perhaps relaxed fit will suit your waist to thigh ratio) – another recommendation from a satisfied user.

  9. Worked many years in the field. Have my own ecological restoration business. Have humped a lot of multi flora rose. The best pants I have found is Dickies double front pants. They have out lasted every other pair I have tried, and they are usually less than $30 a pair. No pants last a whole season if you are doing this kind of work 5 days a week.

  10. I love my Carhartt insulated overalls and I love my Duluth Trading Company pants. But…..I don’t work quite as hard as you do. I work outside on our 40 acres, and I have a garden center job, but I’m sure your britches take more abuse than mine do.

  11. I’m glad to see that the research is ongoing! Great article, Brandon. Love the story about the Levi’s. One detail that I appreciate about my Carhartt Full Swing jacket are the gussets under the arms for more movement. Gramicci makes pants called the Tough Guy pants with a similar gusset and articulated knee. We can add this pair of pants to the list of upcoming studies!

  12. Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for all of your advice! Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me. From the sound of it, I should check out a good pair of Dickies or Duluth pants, or just suck it up and learn how to sew.

    Again, thanks for all of your advice, keep it coming!

  13. My solution after 2 decades in the field – suspenders coupled with loose fitting pants, as in will likely fall off without them. This does several things. I’m in Texas so the loose fit creates air flow – natural “AC”. The suspenders prevent the inevitable hoisting of pants which is problematic with all the Poisson Ivy around me and also eliminates the crotch slouch which is a pants demise, especial when sweat soaked. This also allows for being able to be successful at finding 2nd hand jeans, size is less critical. I have also learned that all suspenders are not created equal. Clips are doomed to failure, get ones with latch hooks. I also pair this with a double layer shirt, tucked in A-style t-shirt and then long sleeved shirt over. This helps prevent chaffing, hides the suspenders, adds to the natural “AC” effect, prevents sunburn, prevents insect bites, more Poisson Ivy protection and all this looseness gives chiggers almost no tight places to call home.

    Good luck!

  14. While stretchiness would be nice in work pants, it indicates synthetic materials that you cannot wear while conducting burns! So scratch that idea. I too have trouble with the waist to thigh ratio (though probably on a smaller scale than you). Two years ago I tried a pair of all-cotton overalls from Duluth Trading Company, and I will never go back to pants.

  15. Dickies 874 for summer & shoulder season restoration work. Low price, can’t wear them out, never had a rip. If working in thorny stuff, add Dan’s Hunting Gear High-N-Dry Chaps. During winter, cotton/poly coveralls are the way to go but wearing chaps with them is a pain, requiring that belt loops be sewn on or the use of suspenders. I bought Dickies coveralls but I’m guessing Red Kap, Walls and Carhartt are also good quality.


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