Before You Buy Those Cargo Work Pants, Consider This…


So you’re considering cargo pants or cargo shorts to use on the job. Yes, cargo pockets can be helpful when you need extra storage space for tools and other essentials.

But there are several things you will want to consider when buying cargo pants to help ensure you get the right pants for your job. What type of material do you need? Do you need a stretch fabric? Are you buying these pants for summer or for winter?

In this article let’s discuss several things you need to consider when buying cargo work pants and cargo work shorts. I will use examples of the pants that I own so you can get a better idea of what matters the most.


What To Consider When Buying Cargo Pants and Cargo Shorts for Work

Summer

When the heat sets in, you need a hot weather work pant that is durable, but let’s your legs breathe a little bit. Heavy-duty work pants and work shorts often use canvas material, which can trap extra heat.

One great option you have for summer is nylon ripstop. The nylon fabric is very lightweight and breathable, but the ripstop weave is designed in a way that discourages rips and tears.

No, this fabric won’t take a beating like heavyweight cotton duck canvas can, but nylon ripstop is a perfect compromise for summer (for comparison, visit our article ripstop vs canvas).

Here’s a close up look at the nylon ripstop fabric in a pair of cargo pants I own:

columbia-ripstop-material

If you look closely, you can see the square-shaped ripstop weave. Again, the main advantage of nylon ripstop is the lightweight design which allows some heat to escape.

These Columbia Silver Ridge Ripstop Cargo Pants I own only weigh 0.62 pounds (size 32×34):

columbia-weight

Here I am wearing these Columbia Silver Ridge summer work pants. In my experience, these fit true to size:

columbia-work-pants

These pants have a large inseam gusset so you can comfortably bend and crouch on the job:

columbia-gusset

Another bonus for comfort is these pants have side-elastic panels on the waistline:

columbia-elastic-waistband

These pants have a side cargo pocket on the right leg and also have a side-zip utility pocket on the left leg:

columbia-cargo-pocket
columbia-zip-pocket

To read more about lightweight cargo pants, including your best options, visit our article about the best cargo pants for hot weather. One additional benefit with most lightweight ripstop pants is they are moisture wicking.

A moisture wicking work pant is designed to pull sweat away from your body and disperse it on the outside of the fabric in a way that causes it to evaporate quickly. The evaporation process naturally pulls heat away from the body and helps (to a small degree) regulate your temperature in the heat.

If you think moisture wicking pants might be a good option to help control your sweating out there in the summer heat, read more here: best moisture wicking work pants. For shorts, visit our article about the best moisture wicking cargo shorts.


Winter

When winter sets in, it’s nice to have a pair of insulated work pants to turn to. You can find cargo pants in both flannel-lined and fleece-lined versions.

What’s the difference between fleece-lined pants and flannel-lined pants? Truth is, there isn’t much of a difference. Both types of pants are going to keep you warm and are suitable for outdoor winter jobs.

If you made me give you my opinion on winter cargo pants, I’d say it comes down to this:

  • Fleece-Lined Cargo Pants – Warmer. Traps in basically all of your body heat. Isn’t very breathable. Can be bulky.
  • Flannel-Lined Cargo Pants – Warm, but is a bit more breathable than fleece. Not quite as bulky.
  • Wool Cargo Pants – Very good at insulating even when wet. To read more, visit our article about wool cargo pants.

Again, that’s just a general definition, and both types of pants are very warm all things considered. I personally like flannel-lined pants a bit more for active work. Sometimes, even in the cold, I like to have some heat escape and appreciate the breathability.

Some people feel like fleece is bulkier, but I personally don’t notice much of a difference. I own both and wear both, but prefer flannel. Here’s a look at my flannel vs fleece pants:

flannel-vs-fleece-pants

It’s not hard to sweat yourself right out of a pair of insulated cargo pants if you work an active job. And to me, fleece does an awesome job of trapping in heat, but it can be almost too much if you are active on the job.

Obviously, your climate matters too. Some regions need the warmest, and if you want the warmest cargo pant option, I’d probably lean towards fleece.

And if, for example, you are an equipment operator who sits in the same position all day in sub-freezing temperatures, and you rarely build a sweat, I’d personally go with a pair of fleece-lined pants.

I like to wear the Wrangler Riggs Ranger Pants that are flannel lined. Here’s what mine look like:

wrangler-ranger-work-pants
wrangler-ranger-tool-loop

Snap button side cargo pockets give me plenty of storage space:

wrangler-ranger-cargo

These are double knee work pants, and they also have a knee pocket to take knee pad inserts if needed:

wrangler-ranger-knee-pockets

Flannel lining on the inside from top to bottom:

wrangler-ranger-flannel-lining-2
wrangler-ranger-flannel-lining

As mentioned earlier, the outer shell fabric is a durable ripstop material, and the back pockets are lined with Cordura to help them last longer:

wrangler-ranger-material
wrangler-ranger-cordura-pockets

As expected with flannel lined work pants, these pants do have some weight to them. Overall, I have found the weight not to be too bad all things considered. Here is the weight of my size 32 x 34:

wrangler-ranger-weight

One of the main reasons I turn to these cargo pants is the gusseted crotch. I prefer my work pants and work shorts to have a gusset for extra comfort and freedom of movement. These pants have a standard diamond-shaped gusset:

wrangler-ranger-gusset

Overall, these flannel-lined Wrangler Riggs Ranger Pants give me everything I’m looking for in a pair of winter cargo pants. They’re tough, roomy, and have plenty of storage from a brand I trust. To read more and see additional options, visit our article about the best cargo pants for winter.

Denim is another nice option for winter, but finding denim cargo pants and denim cargo shorts is not easy, so your options will be limited.


Rain

For a wet work environment, it’s nice to have pants that help keep you dry. But it is important to understand that water resistant cargo pants are not the same thing as waterproof cargo pants.

A water-resistant pant is built to take on light precipitation and mist. They are not built to repel heavy rain storms – for heavy rain you will need a true waterproof work pant.

But, there’s no reason to wear a heavy-duty waterproof work pant just for mist or light precipitation. If mist is what you are fighting, I personally would stick with a water-resistant cargo pant, instead of buying a full waterproof pant.

No, these pants won’t hold out 100% of moisture in a heavy rainstorm, but they will add some water repellent protection to help keep you dry in light precipitation. To read about your options, visit our article about the best water resistant cargo pants.


Flexibility & Fit

Obviously, buying loose, relaxed fit cargo pants helps provide you extra space to move comfortably on the job. But if you are trying to improve your flexibility and range of motion on the job even more, there are other things to consider also.

The first is to buy cargo pants or cargo shorts made using a stretch fabric blend. Here I am wearing my stretch work shorts:

dickies-shorts-stretch

Some stretch cargo shorts (like the LEE Swope shorts I own pictured below) also have a hidden elastic waistband that provides extra comfort and freedom of movement.

lee-swope-shorts-stretch-waistband

Both a stretch fabric blend (often cotton + spandex) and an elastic waistband can help you move freely to bend and crouch comfortably while you work. And when you crouch on the job, another thing that helps you work comfortably is a crotch gusset.

There are two main types of crotch gussets. Some gussets are smaller, diamond-shaped designs confined to the crotch area, while others are inseam gussets that run the full length of the inseam. Here’s a look at me wearing both styles:

atg-pants-gusset
cargo-carhartt-force-gusset

To read more about gusseted pants, visit our article about the best gusseted crotch work pants. For shorts, visit our article about the best gusseted shorts.


Zipper Pockets

How many pockets do you really need? Having too many pockets can be overkill and just add bulk and weight to your work shorts. That doesn’t help anyone. But not having enough pockets can be a problem too.

One work around I like is using low-profile zipper cargo pockets. This gives you the storage space you need, but these types of pockets don’t take up as much space.

I discussed this briefly earlier in the article, but my Columbia cargo pants do have a low profile zipper pocket:

columbia-zip-pocket

There are quite a few options out there if you prefer zipper pockets. To read more, visit our article about the best zipper cargo shorts.

Paul Johnson

Paul is a lead content creator for Workwear Command. He has had several blue-collar jobs which have provided him a wide range of experience with tools and gear. He also has a business degree and has spent time in business casual office settings.

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