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"walls of the city" will be ceasing operations as of 01JUN15. Please see this post for more details.
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
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,
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.
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).
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 straight-from-LA-Police-Gear offerings. It is a good thing that I believe there is no such thing as too much information, nyet?
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