“Well they tell you: never hit a man with a closed fist. But it is, on occasion, hilarious.”
by Captain Malcolm Reynolds




"walls of the city" logo conceptualized by Oleg Volk and executed by Linoge. Logo is © "walls of the city".

tactical pants, in review

Thanks to JayG pointing out the deal a few weeks back, I was able to order myself a few copies of the 5.11 Tactical Pants that L.A. Police Gear had on sale. Like I mentioned a few days ago, I had some difficulties with products being literally back-ordered into oblivion, but it was generally taken care of by a very helpful customer service representative at L.A. Police Gear, and my package arrived Thursday.

As you can probably tell from the pictures (all of which are clickable to make bigger), I picked up a pair of 5.11 “Original” Tactical Pants in Charcoal, and two pairs of the 5.11 Tactical Covert Khakis, in Birch and Walnut. The total cost came to less than $60, including shipping, thanks to the closeout sale, and that price is a hell of a lot better than I can procure Eddie Bauer or Dickies pants here, even on sale. The only question is whether or not they will hold up as well.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I have not actually worn all these pants around yet, merely tried them on. That I am writing this review without doing so amuses Better Half, but I wanted to get these pictures up, and then write up an ‘after I wear them’ post later.)


To start out with the thing everyone is interested in on these pants, 5.11 did an outstanding job integrating cargo pockets into their Covert Khakis, as is evidenced by the picture to the left, and the other to the right. My fingers point out the bottom extent of the zipper, with the zipper fob (being made by YKK, of course) showing the top of it. I do not know about the rest of you, but, personally, when zippered all the way up, those pockets pretty much disappear for me, especially given that the zipper fobs are almost perfectly color-matched to their pants, and thus could be written off as a stray thread or something.

My only real quibble with these pockets is that they are not tremendously deep. Their height is more than sufficient for you to slide in and take out a pistol magazine vertically, and the depth is sufficient to allow for a single-stack magazine (and probably a double-stack, though I do not have any on-hand to test at the moment), but not a whole lot else. Unfortunately, my phone does not fit, at all, in those pockets, especially not with its aluminum case wrapped around it – but, then, I have PPC/XV-6700, and it measures in at 4.25″x2.32″x0.93″, and there are probably smaller phones that should fit in quite nicely.

The rest of the pockets on the Covert Khakis are pretty straightforward, apart from the “covert zipper pocket” inside the right both pockets. This is something I have come to appreciate on my Eddie Bauer pants, and something I know I will use on these pants – it makes for a good spot to place your wallet, for those of us who carry them in our front pockets, and increases its security while still leaving your front right pocket available for other purposes as well (pocket pistol, anyone?). It is important to note, for those sinister-handed folks in the audience, that there is no zippered pocket on the left side. In addition to simply being additional, more-secure pockets, they both have smaller, elasticized pockets within them, perfectly sized and placed for keeping spare magazines, or similar items.

I am not going to go into full detail of the pockets available on the “original” Tactical Pants (apart from noting that their store tag claims five pockets, and I count seven), but I am going to highlight a few features that I found to be useful. To the right, you can see some reinforcement that was added to the bottom-back of the front pockets (on both sides) and the bottom-front of the back pockets – this is to keep your pants from fraying out unnecessarily due to wearing a pocket knife back there on a daily basis, and looking at my seven-year-old Dickies, I can honestly say this is a great idea.

Additionally, the “magazine/cell phone pocket” attached to the front of your front-left pocket has the expandable velcro, visible to the left, in order to allow you to stuff flush-fitting or slightly-bulgy items in it. Good attention to detail, that. Also, like the zippered pockets on the Covert Khakis, there is no twin to this pocket on the left side.


Given that the apparent tactical pants industry standard for materials is more-or-less 8.5 ounce 100% cotton (with exceptions, of course), it is somewhat surprising to see the Covert Khakis not only weigh in at 8.8 ounces, but also be wrinkle-resistant and Teflon coated for soil resistance as well. I have to admit, out of their shipping bag, they looked like they just came back from the dry cleaner’s, and, knowing me, I am sure I will have more than ample opportunities to test out the stain-resistance features in the future. What most caught me off guard, however, was the lining fabric, pictured to the right – the pants may be “covert”, but their interior… well, you can see for yourself.

The “original” Tactical Pants opted for a somewhat more-standard white lining fabric, and, honestly, I am not too broken up about that. These come in the aforementioned 8.5 ounce cotton canvas, and definitely come off as being very similar to standard military BDUs, complete with the necessary upkeep to ensure they look presentable.

(For those curious, fabric weight basically amounts to how much a square yard of the cloth in question weighs – for “tactical” applications, heavier is probably better (at least when it comes to cotton), but the trade-off is stiffness and overall mass of the garment.)

Coming from a family where my mother taught me a fair bit about knitting, sewing, and weaving, little things on the clothes I buy stand out – I will be damned if I can remember the specific terminology to go along with them, but I know how to point them out. That is one of the reasons I stuck to Dickies for as long as I did, simply because triple stitching, medium- and heavy-weight fabrics, and other features are good things in my book. 5.11 did a fairly decent job with their pants, but slipped up on a few of the details. To begin with, the terminations of their sewing runs, pictured to the right and below to the left, could do with a lot of work.

Basically, those little fiddly bits of string should not be poking out like that. Lots of different companies have found lots of different ways to tend to this problem (most just put the termination on the inside of the pant, where no one notices or cares), but loose strings have an annoying tendency of turning into problems. In this case, the double-stitching over the seam and the presence of a few check stitches should hold everything in place, but, in that case, that little protruding thread should not be there, if only for finishing’s sake.

Likewise, their leg seam choices seem somewhat odd… The Covert Khakis are billed as a “pair of casual pants with some hidden solutions to all of the gear needed for undercover work or the day to day accessories of life,” which would lead one to believe that they are meant to hold up to much the same rigors and stresses that the rest of the 5.11 line is designed for. However, in the picture to the right, you can see where the inside leg seem is triple-stitched, while the outside leg seam is only double-stitched (and, really, the two sides of the seam are only single-stitched together). To be fair, it is very rare for pants’ seams to fail on me, and, in this case, the choice was made to keep the outside seam looking flatter and “neater” in keeping with the “covert” nature of the pants, but I honestly have to wonder if it was worth it.

And speaking of stitching, if you take a look at the button holes to the left, you will see some pretty significant fraying on the both of them. When it comes to holes in fabric, you are left with the alternative of simply accepting the fraying as a reality and stitching around the hole to keep the fraying in check (the cheaper alternative), or actually stitching over and around and wrapping up the fraying, creating a thread-lined button hole (the more expensive alternative). The latter definitely looks better in my opinion, and tends to hold up better to boot, though it can yield stiff button holes.

The standard pants seem to suffer from much the same hole-handling methodology.

One other thing that I do not have a good picture of is that the “original” Tactical Pants have reinforced knees, in the form of an additional layer of the same fabric attached over the main pants leg. However, if you reach up inside the leg, you will find that one can actually slip some manner of kneepad inbetween the two layers, just in case your profession or hobbies involve you taking a knee more often than most folks.


Aside from the previously mentioned YKK zippers (which are also used for the flies on both pants), Prym snaps are used on the “original” Tactical Pants, and the Covert Khakis use relatively normal buttons (spares of both the waist button and the back pocket button are provided attached to the interior lining).

The “standards” have relatively obvious bartacks in predictable high-stress locations) ends of pockets, upper corners of cargo pockets, belt loops, etc.), and the count supposedly comes in at 59, though I admit to not counting them all. The Khakis feature similar stitching in useful locations too, though they are, of course, smaller, less obvious, and less easily photographed.


Technically speaking, mens’ pants sizes should describe the circumference of their waist, and the distance from their inseam (the seam beneath their crotch) to the bottom of their pants’ legs. Ideally, that sizing arrangement should preclude any possibility of variation between manufacturers, models, and whatever the hell else. In practice, this is far from the case.

As you can tell from the pictures above, I ordered 34×34 for all of the pants. The Covert Khakis use a “tuxedo-style” form of elastic waistbanding, pictured to the left, which makes it basically impossible to tell that the pants can actually expand to allow for IWB holsters, increased weight, or whatever else, especially when your belt is on. That said, at a 34″ waist, I had somewhere around two inches of clearance without stretching the fabric at all, and the leg hems were easily .5″ past my barefooted heels.

On the other hand, the “standard” Tactical Pants have the more-traditional elastic waist (not pictured), and even though they were supposedly the same size, the elastic held the pants pretty much snug to my waist, and the hems came to just barely below my barefooted heels. When stretched out, they offered about the same amount of clearance as the fully-expanded coverts.

In short, the “originals” wear a little smaller than the Coverts, though none of my current pants are sufficiently new for me to feel comfortable comparing them against the 5.11 products.

Unrelated to waists and lengths, however, the “original” Tactical Pants also feature holes in their leg hems, pictured to the right, to allow you to thread through a cord to blouse out your pants over your boots, should you be so inclined.

And on a purely subjective note, I often find that dress pants, whether they are pleated-fronted or flat-fronted (though the former are generally a worse offender), tend to bulge out around the hips and tops of one’s thighs – in reality, it is just a matter of construction, and to allow for pockets and you sitting down, but I still find it somewhat annoying. Unfortunately, the Covert Khakis seem to suffer from the same balooning, though not nearly as bad as some pants I have worn. Of course, all of those “hidden” pockets, and all of the things you can stuff in them, have to go somewhere, so I guess it makes sense.

Equally subjectively, Better Half and I both agree that we prefer the “standard” pants’ fit over the “covert” variants, though that is entirely dependent upon the construction, height/weight, and fitness of the person wearing the pants in question.

Both pants’ belt loops can accomodate all 5.11 belts, which basically boils down to anything less than 1.75″ in width and about .25″ in thickness (some of their belts use two layers of leather with one layer of kydex reinforcement in the middle, so they are not lightweights).

Overall Impression:

So are these pants worth the < $20 price of admission? Well, without actually wearing them around for a few days, I cannot honestly give you a solid verdict. However, examining them closely, looking at all of the available features, and trying them on, I definitely would have walked home with them from a physical store, and that is about anything anyone can ask for at this point. Are the pants worth the "standard" $50+ pricetag? Not unless I really missed something, but that is why sales are good things. Speaking of, LA Police Gear still has more than a few 5.11 products on clearance, though their pants sizes are rapidly dwindling, so head on over and get yourself a good deal while they are still available.

Important note: Covert Khakis are not the same as Covert Cargos, and the former appears to have been discontinued in favor of the latter. This should address my concerns regarding the size of the side pockets, but those pockets are now significantly more obvious, and thus less suited for workplace wear. Likewise, anything I said about the Khakis may not, and probably does not, apply to the Cargos.

Also, if you have actually managed to read this far, you must be into this kind of attire, so if you are not aware of it already, there is an outstanding guide to tactical pants over at the appropriately-named TacticalPants.com. They get a bit farther into the weeds than I do on specific topics, which might be useful for the attention-to-detail types out there. Additionally, the originator of all of this fun, Jay G., has a full write-up of his experiences with the “covert” khakis, as well as another review of some straightfromLA-Police-Gear offerings. It is a good thing that I believe there is no such thing as too much information, nyet?

11 comments to tactical pants, in review

  • Heh. Glad I could give you some blog fodder.

    I’ve worn the Covert Tactical pants a couple of times now (first time – at the NRA convention, how mall ninja is THAT?). They hold up well to transport, wearing, and washing; I can stuff all of my gear in them with room to spare, and they don’t scream MALL NINJA like some of the other tactical offerings.

    For $17 (plus a free belt, I got in on that deal before it sold out!), it’s one hell of a bargain!

  • Great review – I picked up some of the originals and really like them – hell of a deal too!

  • Excellent review, Linoge. I grabbed three pairs of the tactical covert khakis in oak and received my shipment a couple of days ago. I’ve worn them to work the last two nights and am extremely happy with them. They’re incredibly comfortable and I have plenty of pocket room for my personal stuff as well as the extra junk that I have to have with me at work (box cutter…bottle of drinking water…that sort of thing).

  • Excellent rundown. Love the pictures! I still have yet to try the women’s 5.11s … maybe one day 😀

  • I don’t know if you got a different version than I did, but I’m wearing my “walnut” colored Covert pants right now and they have “covert” zippered pockets inside both front pockets, not just the right side.

    And inside those zippered pockets are two (on each side) elasticized small pockets that are sized and positioned to accept spare pistol magazines and hold them in the perfect place for quick extraction.

    Actually, because their sizes were limited, I had to buy some that were too long and hem them. I just got around to hemming them last weekend so this is the first time I’ve worn mine for work and they are awesome.

    I really didn’t think much of them when I saw them advertised, but considering that I can’t by a “normal” pair of business casual pants for that price, I decided to give them a try. I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised that I like them as well as I do.

    Not many sizes left, but they still have some available.

  • Linoge,

    I also picked up 3 pairs of the same ones SailorCurt did. I have been very pleased with them on the 3 different occasions, I’ve worn them. In fact I have a pair of them on now — I’m not like Robb, I do wear pants to work.

    The comfort is fantastic and construction is well done.

    Well worth the $60 – shipping included – for 3 pair.
    I didn’t think of the elastic pockets inside the zipper for magazines, I’ll have to try that once I get home.

  • @Jay G. – No worries! The pants are not half bad either ;). Thanks again for pointing out the sale… I definitely needed some replacements for my seven-year-old Dickies (and people wonder why I like that brand).

    The charcoal-colored “originals” were surprisingly toned-down – the stitching matches the pants pretty closely, and all said and done, they do not scream TACTICOOL like a lot of heavy-cargo-pants do. That said, the “coverts” are definitely more… well… covert, I just wish the zippered side pockets were a little larger.

    @Jason – Thanks! At that price, as long as they hold up, you really cannot beat them.

    @Sarah – Thanks! Small side pockets or not, the coverts definitely have all the space you might need to kit yourself out appropriately, especially for hand-tools and the like. Assuming their stain-resistance holds up (though their wrinkle-reistance is just that – resistance, not proofness), they might not make bad, higher-class replacements for the ubiquitous “carpenter pants”.

    @Jeanette K. – Thanks! You might want to get in touch with Sarah up there and see how hers are faring, before leaping off the treacherous cliff of mail-order women’s pants yourself ;).

    @Sailorcurt – Yeah… I realized, walking to the office this morning, that there is, indeed, a zippered pocket inside the left hand pocket, and I was really, really hoping that I would be able to get home and correct that error before anyone noticed or cared.

    Curse you ;).

    Those little elastic pockets do seem exactly perfect for reloads, but I will probably be multitasking them to something else – none of my other pants have that kind of feature, and I like keeping things as consistent as I possibly can.

    Likewise, based off my experiences with a set of 5.11’s $10 gloves, I was not really holding my breath as to the quality and value of these pants (and, realistically, at full price, you are totally overpaying for them), but now that I have worn a pair of the coverts and my pair of the “standards” (this post was mostly written last week), I have to say I am somewhat impressed. Long-term wearing and lifespan will be the clincher for me, so I guess we will just have to see.

    @Bob S. – Yup, wore a pair of Coverts to work myself today, and while they wear tremendously differently from the “standards”, they are still quite comfortable, blend in seamlessly with the corporate environment, and still allow you to carry around far more than regular slacks. And at these sale prices, you just cannot beat them. Well, you can, but that would just be rude…

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  • William Ranglin

    Have you seen the new Propper Genuine Gear Tactical pants? I am seeing them now on copquest.com and predatorbdu.com any feedback on these yet?

  • Sadly, I lack the discretionary income to just randomly buy tactical pants for review purposes – these were purchased for actual use at work, and the review was just a secondary benefit for my readers :).

    If, however, you have an in at Propper or those webpages, and can convince any of them to send me an evaluation pair or two, I would be more than happy to review them at least as well as I did the 5.11 stuff.