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5 key considerations when purchasing tactical pants

When purchasing a tactical pant, you must consider fit, durability, utility, mission applicability and, of course, comfort


Look for pants that can do what you expect and more.

Photo/Sean Curtis

Tactical apparel has to be as versatile as the personnel who wear it, offering both comfort and durability with a smart design that accommodates the needs of any mission. The ideal tactical pant enables police officers to have full range of motion to accomplish the extreme physical tasks required of law enforcement on a daily basis.

Key considerations when purchasing a tactical pant include fit, durability, utility, mission applicability and, of course, comfort. Here are five qualities to look for when purchasing your next pair of tactical pants.

1. Fit

Proper fit and correct sizing are crucial starting points. Does the company have your waist and inseam? For years the market was flooded with a poor selection of sizes; anyone very thin or very tall was left out. Now, many tactical pants come in an array of sizes: consider a slightly longer pair if you wear any kind of kit on your ankle such as a backup weapon or IFAK, which will allow the item(s) to remain mostly concealed when you are seated. Also ensure the pants wear well when you outfit them with your usual loadout. If you’re wearing a belt and fill the pockets, do the pants slide down or carry everything as intended? Do they expose your lower back when you bend over? Does your shirt easily come untucked?

2. Durability

There are two types of durability worth considering. First, think about whether the pants will protect you from a scuffle on the sidewalk, or a walk through stiff brush. This is the immediate form of toughness many people value. Next, think about pants that will hold up to a few thousand cycles through the washing machine, i.e., they should be made to withstand industrial laundering. If they require dry cleaning to be suitable for duty use, this could make them cost prohibitive. Think about how the pants hold up to environmental exposures like weather and various stains you might encounter. The qualities of toughness and longevity greatly add to the overall value.

3. Utility

Look for pants that can do what you expect and more. If your standard loadout is a duty belt, a couple of tourniquets, combat gauze, a backup knife, another magazine and a small flashlight, make sure the tactical pants you’re considering can handle that at a minimum. Think about features you need, such as built-in knee pads, a gusseted crotch and wide belt loops for your belt. Pocket placement is a critical feature. Some tactical pants have deep pockets that seem great at first blush, but sitting on your wallet is not comfortable.

4. Comfort

Tactical pants should be comfortable – not PJ comfortable – but they should not pinch you in uncomfortable ways or bind up on you when you bend at certain angles. Most folks wearing tactical pants are going to have them on for at least eight hours and sometimes more than twelve. Can you accomplish everything you might encounter in a standard tour of duty without pinching or binding? While the pants may be comfortable when you are sitting, how will they perform in a rappelling sling, climbing over a fence, or under other gear you might have to don for a different mission? Materials are evolving – it used to be cotton was the only option, but now stretch materials are helping make sure we no longer have to sacrifice comfort.

5. Mission Applicability

Do the pants meet with the expectations of your agency’s policies and procedures? Are they in accordance with allowed colors or other guidelines? Is there room to insert a seam into them if it is required? Uniformity is often crucial to hit this standard. Find out up front if the pants will blouse or taper on a boot you normally wear. When tactical pants first evolved there were limited choices, but now many varieties of styles and colors are available.

Final Thoughts

With so many options in tactical pants, there is no need to sacrifice any of the qualities listed above. You absolutely want your pants to fit and be comfortable. You also need them to carry all the gear you want and hold up for years of service. Finally, they have to fit within the uniform code of whatever agency you work for and protect you from the rigors of whatever challenges you face on a regular basis. By finding a pair of tactical pants that hit all these markers, you’ll have a solid investment that will serve you for years to come.

Sean Curtis is a law enforcement professional with over two decades of experience, serving with SWAT, diving and swift water rescue teams in Colorado. He has also served in wildland fire, search and rescue, EMS and emergency management.