If you’re in the military, the odds are you’ll have to wear the standard issue ACU pants when you deploy on operations. Some units allow more freedom to select your own uniform, however, as long as the camouflage pattern matches the standard, and for contractors and law enforcement personnel there’s a much higher chance you’ll be allowed – or even required – to purchase your own uniform items. So what are you looking for when you start shopping for tactical pants?
Pattern and Color
We’ve already touched on the first point – camouflage. If you’re deploying with a unit, you need to make sure you’re choosing pants in the right pattern. Right now that’s usually going to mean UCP or (hopefully) MultiCam. Make sure you get authentic fabric, too, as copies might not be properly infrared-treated. Police will have their own uniform color requirements; contractors may have a company policy to follow, but if not, tan is the color to be seen in these days.
Look at fabric weight and blend, too. If you’ll be working in a hot climate, the last thing you want is to be sweating in heavy pants, but at the same time lightweight fabric is a lot less durable. Your best bet is a lightweight ripstop fabric. If heat is going to be a factor look for light, comfortable fabric with reinforced knees. Remember, it’s a lot easier to wear thermals under light pants than to get better ventilation with heavy ones. Poly cotton is a popular and comfortable fabric for tactical gear, but many troops and operators prefer plain old cotton. It’s slower to dry but has one big advantage – being a natural fabric, it doesn’t melt. If synthetic fabrics catch fire they can cause horrific injuries, and while some newer ones are a lot more flame resistant, cotton is still hard to beat for safety.
Think about carrying capacity. Cargo pockets are useful, but some people do find them annoying. The pleated style tend to attract a lot more pocket debris that can end up flapping round your thighs, so if you like to keep your legs unburdened, look for flat ones. They’ll still serve for holding maps – or even a couple of spare rifle magazines – but you won’t be tempted to cram as much junk in there.
Tactical pants are something that absolutely has to suit you perfectly, so it’s always a good idea to try them on before buying. If you get an uncomfortable fit, or pockets that aren’t placed where you like them, it’s pretty hard to do anything about it later. Where possible, try them on with the same basic gear – boots and belt at a minimum – you’ll be wearing on the job. That will give you an idea of any potential issues. It can be annoying to have to buy a new belt because the loops on your new pants are a quarter inch too narrow or the cuffs slip off your boots.