How to Choose Your Tactical Pants

Tactical pants used to be part of a hiker’s gear when heading into the backcountry. Some tactical pants were famous for their unique style and name, as the most popular ones (5.11 for instance) were named on the Yosemite Decimal System, more than 25 years ago.

From tactical pants for the outdoors to tactical pants on a military mission

Some FBI agents tried the tactical pants and this is how these pants “made it” into the FBI Academy and got the attention of law enforcement officers afterwards.

Well-known brands started to combine qualities of dress and battle-ready pants in order to manufacture a new kind of casual/duty wear.

Even though tactical pants are always changing in style, some features remain stable and it’s better to keep them in mind when picking the right pants for you.

What to look when you’re looking for tactical pants?

Tactical pants need to carry their weight and a tactical vest and/or a good tactical backpack (or a daypack) as well. Therefore, a rip stop fabric gives the pants a long life, no matter if you go hiking, hunting or you’re out on a military mission.

Most popular fabrics for tactical pants combine polyester and cotton or cotton canvas. A polyester-cotton blend is fit for year-round wear and gives you freedom on the move, in a cotton-like comfortable way. Cotton canvas takes up really well any daily work and gets more and more comfortable over time.

Traditional cargo pants are behind tactical pants when it comes to versatility and streamlined looks. Most tactical pants feature two bellowed cargo pockets, along with knife and magazine pockets. These pockets need to be reinforced so that they can store your heavy gear for a long time.

Check if your tactical pants are treated for stain and soil resistance. Most pants have a DuPont Teflon finish that creates a protective barrier against oil and water stains, along with dirt and dry oil.

Look also for knee pad pockets on your tactical pants. They give you comfort and transform your pants into pants ready to take in the sharpest rocks you meet on your trail.

It’s all in the details…

Keep in mind that a good pair of tactical pants is, at the same time, tough, comfortable, lightweight, fast drying and, why not, good looking. It gives you plenty of secure zippered pockets so that you can keep your gear safe and sound.

A zippered wallet pocket in the back not only keeps your wallet riding high, but it gives also comfort when sitting down.

Some good tactical pants also feature hidden zippered pockets on the sides and small zippered ones on top of the normal cargo pockets. The latter ones should fit any smartphone, but make sure to check their size well, since smartphones grow larger and larger.

The cargo pockets from your tactical pants might also have elastic band inside so that your small items don’t wonder around.

Tactical pants need to be waterproof and to work in any cold weather just as well.

Some pants use double layered fabric on the seat and knees, which means longer lifespan, more protection against the elements, but are also more difficult to dry.

Even though practical, an elastic waistband is not the prettiest in town, so look for the tactical pants that feature a hidden elastic waistband. You won’t regret it!

Good tactical pants also give you some extra-large pockets (typically on the back) to easily fit a map or a moleskin notebook.

A final detail? Have no mercy wearing them in the dirt for the true tactical look!

Tactical pants—a detailed look

The days when you had to be a law enforcer or military officer to wear tactical pants are long gone. Nowadays, hikers, campers, and anyone interested can wear tactical pants outdoors. But are tactical pants different from other types of pants?

Even if some people use the term tactical and cargo interchangeably, cargo pants aren’t, in fact, tactical pants. It’s because, unlike cargo pants, tactical pants are made for action. They’re created to help people defend and protect, regardless of the challenges thrown at people.

Tactical pants a detailed look

What are tactical pants?

Tactical pants are made with particular alterations so that certain professionals have reliable pants to wear out on the field and at the office. Even if tactical resemble cargo pants, they typically have a solid color. Initially designed as a heavy-duty garment for outdoor activities, tactical pants today are more versatile than in the past and can be used for everyday wear.

Typically, tactical pants are made with lightweight fabrics and belt loops to support rugged utility belts. Many tactical pants feature outside knife pockets and reinforcements, such as bar tacks and gussets.

Tactical pants have reinforced knees and buttocks for excellent protection against abrasion. Some pants feature interior knee slots for neoprene knee pads (various thicknesses).

Tactical pants history

The outdoor clothier Royal Robbins was the first to make tactical pants as multifunctional hiking and climbing pants. Years later, some Colorado FBI agents (also passioned climbers) discovered that the rugged pants could be helpful for many other challenging activities. After some time, the pants became a regular option for personnel at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. The popularity of the pants grew overnight and soon enough, first responders, law enforcement, and security professionals would use them. The pants used for mountain climbing have become the no.1 choice for people in the military, law enforcement, and so forth.

With tactical pants getting more and more popular, professionals have started to use them off duty. Nowadays, you can wear tactical pants in many activities, from shooting and hiking to hunting and defending people.

What types of tactical pants are there?

With so many people interested in tactical pants, it’s understandable why manufacturers started to add/remove features to create various types of tactical pants. Each kind of tactical pants is supposed to serve in specific activities. Details come next.


Overt tactical pants resemble military uniforms and have combat features such as deep-set cargo pockets for storage and easy carry of your items. They look a lot like BDU pants, the legendary battle dress uniform that professionals wore in combat until the 80s. Overt tactical pants are made for speed and the generous storage space and specialized pockets recommend them for outdoor activities, range days, and combat situations where performance is crucial.


As tactical pants became emblematic for law enforcement, users lost the tactical benefit of not being seen as a professional carrying a weapon. Undercover officers and federal agents needed to go unnoticed. Tactical manufacturers created covert pants that provide a subtle profile yet have the same features as all tactical pants.

Tactical Jeans

If going discreet is essential, you cannot go more discreet than tactical jeans. These are jeans with a tactical build and design. They’re highly versatile and can be worn on a quiet day indoors and at the range as well. They stand out with CCW functionality and a very subtle appearance.

EMS / EMT Pants

Emergency medical professionals also need pants to help them do their jobs as fast as possible. EMS pants have specialized compartments for medical equipment and various essential gear.

What features do tactical pants present?

Tactical pants make a category of their own because they have particular features that recommend them for use in combat, military, and other challenging outdoor activities.

features do tactical pants present


Pockets represent the most specific feature of tactical pants. Years of innovation led to numerous changes, so tactical pants today have all sorts of types of pockets. Here are the most common pocket designs we see in tactical pants.

Cargo pockets

Thanks to the generous storage space, these are a trademark for the genuine tactical pants and are crucial for functionality.

Knife pockets

The best tactical pants on the market will come with a pocket specially made for the knife. The knife pockets have specialized features such as a flat edge, a long narrow shape, and a reinforced bottom. Many of the knife pockets feature openings with double stitches to withstand the weight of knives with built-in clips.

Magazine pockets

Competition shooters and gun enthusiasts prefer tactical pants over any other type of pants due to the magazine pocket. Thanks to this pocket, you don’t run out of ammo because you safely and simply store them in the specialized pocket.

Hidden pockets

As more and more people got interested in tactical pants, the preference for subtle pockets grew significantly. As a result, you can find pockets inside the waistband, behind other pockets, and even inside seams so that you stow precious items without being obvious.

Media pockets

Technology has evolved tremendously and days when the tactical gear was cumbersome and difficult to carry are long gone. Nowadays, you can easily care your phone in a dedicated cell phone pocket on your pants. Such pockets will fit media devices that we use for daily activities and emergencies.

Handcuff key pockets

This type of pocket is of great help for security, law enforcement, and correction professionals. The handcuff key pockets are typically placed inside the pant legs or the waistband. They ensure a subtle way to store the key.

Symmetrical pockets

These pockets ease out the use for the left and ambidextrous professionals. The symmetrical pocket has an exact location on both right and left sides to ensure effortless access with both hands.

Slash pockets

The slanted top is the signature detail for the slash pockets. The slash pocket doesn’t have unnecessary fabric to ease out fast access to the insides of the pocket.

Knee pad pockets

The knee pad pockets are fundamental for operators. They allow you to use knee-pad inserts that improve comfort in the joints during demanding and strenuous combat scenarios.

Pocket Closure

You need to be in the military/law enforcement/etc. To understand that being able to access the items in your pocket instantly can make the difference between life and death. Pocket closure is a game-changer for tactical professionals—they don’t afford to skip the crucial details when selecting the tactical pants.

Hook and loop Velcro

It’s a very dependable choice, so it’s common for many tactical pants. This type of closure keeps the items secure and easy to fix once it wears out. The hook-and-loop Velcro has just one main downside, which is the noise. It’s rather loud and easy to recognize the sound, so you won’t be able to access your gear without being heard.


Buttons represent the most traditional and outdated type of closure for pockets on tactical pants. Buttons have a vintage feel, but they don’t offer much comfort or security. As a result, buttons are rarely used in tactical pants.


Zippers are an excellent type of closure that keeps items secure, just as Velcro does. They eliminate the problem of noise which explains why they’re widely used in pockets for tactical pants.

Like anything else in life, the quality of zippers and button snaps vary a lot. Look for pants with YKK zippers and Prym button snaps—they are high-quality hardware that takes on a beating.


You don’t need to be in the military to buy pants that won’t tear you take them outdoors. However, durability is taken to a whole new level with tactical pants. They have reinforcements in crucial areas, so check out carefully next time you’re shopping. Good tactical pants will have reinforcements in areas such as:


You don’t want to have pants that rip after you’ve set down for hours. Manufacturers make extra stitching in the seat and crotch area to increase durability.


Law enforcement personnel will crouch, crawl, and kneel hundreds, if not thousands, of times. No one wants to have ripped pants in the knees when outfield, which is why the most reliable tactical pants feature reinforced knees along with knee pad pockets.

Belt loops

Guns, holsters, and duty belts are anything but lightweight, so tactical pants have to withstand their weight. Therefore, the tactical pants have specialized stitches that reduce the risk of belt loops sagging and ripping under the weight.

Concealed Carry (CCW)

Best manufacturers understood early that they need to make pants ready to take on the many and various challenges that come with carrying a concealed weapon. As a result, they use fabrics that prevent the weapon show through the material. The deep inset pockets are excellent at masking the guns.

If you have the patience and time to look at the difference between tactical pants and other pants, you will see that the belt loops are a tad wider and larger for tactical pants than with different pants. The extra fabric and the reinforced stitching are crucial to ensure the best support for guns and holsters.

The covert design offers you the conceal the gun and stay subtle at the same time. Tactical pants look like any other pants, but they hide your gear without people around noticing.


Every second counts when you work in the line of duty. As a first responder, the last thing you want is to worry about your pants sagging, dragging, or tearing as you try to defend someone from getting shot. Mobility is just as important as functionality and durability. Some features count for the mobility of the tactical pants:

Gusset crotch

Modern tactical pants come with a gusset an extra piece of fabric. Typically, it’s triangular or rhomboid and is sewn into the crotch. The fabric part will release tension in other areas and help you move as fast as possible.

Articulated knees

Top tactical pants have articulated knees to accommodate the joint. Thus, it eliminates the extra fabric and ensures an ergonomic fit. The streamlined build will count tremendously for a wide range of moves.

Expanding waistband/sliding elastic waistband

Features like an elastic sliding waistband or expanding waistband are great to have on tactical pants because they ensure comfort and ease movement.

What materials are used for tactical pants?

Don’t skip checking out the material for your tactical pants. You want a flexible and lightweight fabric that doesn’t overheat in hot weather and reduces the risk of crotch blowout. Learn about the fabric weight, weaves, and types to get the best tactical pants for your activities without emptying your wallet.

What materials are used for tactical pants


Ripstop is a fabric weave that stands out with durability. The checkerboard weave reduces the risk of tears and ensures protection from abrasion. The fabric does all that without heavyweight, which explains why a ripstop weave is standard for tactical pants.

Twill weave is another standard fabric that is easy to recognize with its traditional look. The parallel diagonal ribs make the twill weave heavy yet flexible, whereas the textured design makes stains and soils easy to hide. On top of everything, the high thread-count fabric doesn’t wrinkle easily.

100% cotton

Cotton tactical pants make a good choice when breathability is crucial for your needs. Cotton is a natural fabric with efficient breathability, so you will move without getting sweaty legs. The downside with cotton is that it gets heavy when wet and takes a long time to dry. Additionally, cotton does wrinkle and shrink quickly.


Modern technology helps manufacturers make fabrics that keep their shape and structure for the longest time. Check out tactical pants made with elastane, spandex, and neoprene when you want durable, flexible, and lightweight tactical pants.

Nylon/cotton blends

Similar to polyester, nylon is a widely spread fabric because it’s long-lasting and lightweight. It presents impressive resistance to both wrinkling and shrinking. Nylon blends feel soft yet take a beating.

Polyester/cotton blends

Fabrics made with polyester and cotton are lightweight and durable. Thanks to polyester, such blends have a food resistance to wrinkling, shrinking, and fading. Polyester cotton blends are standard for tactical clothing because they make the perfect balance between ups and downs for each fabric (polyester and cotton).

Fabric weight

Fabric weight for tactical pants ranges between 5 and 9 ounces per square foot. In the beginning, tactical pants would weigh around 7 ounces. Therefore, when you see pants labeled as “original weight,” the reference is to the original tactical pants. Since technology has improved over the last years, tactical pants have become lighter without losing durability or functionality. If you look for tactical pants to use in warm climates, opt for lightweight models that weigh less than 7 ounces.

Fabric treatments

Fabric treatments make the pants reliable for the most challenging environments and missions. You will find tactical pants with resistance to stains and water—they will have a long life span as well. Additionally, the fabric treatments stop the fabric from absorbing water. Otherwise, the pants will get wet, heavy, and downright uncomfortable. It will be a struggle to run and fight with heavy wet pants on.

As you navigate your options, you will notice names such as DuPont Teflon and Durable Water Resistant (DWR). These treatments cover the entire pants so that any liquid doesn’t stay but rolls off the surface. In time, regular washing will alter the treatments. If your wallet is thick, you should go for high-end tactical pants with water-repellant treatments. The fabric on these pants is treated for water repellency before the weaving. Therefore, the tactical pants will remain waterproof for a long time and will feel soft and comfortable too.

What kind of fit can you have with tactical pants?

The variety of models for tactical pants allows you to find pants that fit you the best way. Two types of fit are most familiar with tactical pants:

Relaxed fit

This roomy and casual fit is excellent when you need comfort more than anything else.

Slim fit

Regardless of what many people think, slim isn’t a synonym for a skinny or tight fit. Slim pants aren’t form-fitting but are cut close to the leg. This design makes the tactical pants look neet without losing functionality. A slim fit is more formal and visually appealing than a relaxed fit.

How to find your size?

To discover the proper size, you need to find your inseam measurements and your waist. Use a flexible sewing tape measure to measure your waistline and see what waist size you need for the pants. Don’t puff out nor suck in when you wrap the measuring tape around your stomach below your belly button.

The measuring tape should sit flat on your skin without flipped or twisted. Put one finger in between your skin and tape—you don’t want the pants to fit too tight. Note the number you get with the tape measure as it’s your waist size.

As for the inseam, you should use the pants that fit you the best. Place them on a flat surface and fold them in half (lengthwise). Seek that the legs are lined up equally and that you smooth out all folds. Grab the top pant leg and pull it over the waistband to easily spot the inseam. Find the area where the crotch seam meets the seam that goes down the leg; measure it to the pant’s hem.

Remember that most tactical pants sit higher on the waist than regular pants. It’s because you have to carry rugged belts and heavy gear without pants falling. Pay attention when selecting your size, as some pants run smaller/larger than the usual pants. Should that be the case, check out the product page before placing your order.

What elements do you need to check out when selecting your tactical pants?

Having so many options for tactical pants is great because finding the pair that fits your needs, preferences, and budget is relatively easy. The downside is that you can get lost with so many options on your hands. Check out the following aspects when shopping for tactical pants.


No tactical pants will be the best for you unless they have the accurate size and proper fit. For many years, manufacturers could not make fit pants for very tall and skinny people. That’s not the case anymore as reputed manufacturers make pants that cover a wide range of sizes and fits. For example, you should opt for a tad long pair of pants if you also wear gear on your ankle (an IFAK or a backup weapon)—the pants will keep your equipment concealed even when you’re sitting down.

Make sure that the pants wear comfortable when you carry your typical gear. Let’s say you put on your tactical pants and fill in the pockets with tactical gear—will the pants slide down or carry everything without dropping? Will you be able to bend over without exposing your back? Will your shirt come untucked quickly?


You want tactical pants that meet your needs and preferences the best way possible. If you typically carry a duty belt, a combat gauze, a secondary knife, a small flashlight, and even another magazine and tourniquets, you should look for pants that give you the options to carry all that and then some. They should have the proper features, such as a gusseted crotch, built-in knee pads, and wide belt loops for your tactical belt. Make sure that the pockets are smartly placed to ensure fast access without altering your comfort or free movement.


There are two main aspects to check out when it comes to the durability of your tactical pants. First, you want your pants to protect you the same from a scuffle on the sidewalk as they do when crawling through the desert. It’s the toughness that users appreciate the most. The second refers to the durability after thousands of washings; you don’t want tactical pants that wear out in a couple of months. Tactical pants that require dry cleaning to maintain their tactical properties may have to open up your wallet big. Also, examine how the pants will withstand exposure to the elements, stains, and environmental conditions. Even if your tactical pants cost you an arm and a leg, they are worth every single penny when they’re tough as nails and long-lasting.

Mission applicability

Will your tactical pants meet the requirements and regulations of your agency’s policies? What colors can your tactical pants have? Do they meet all guidelines? Do they have room to insert a seam, if asked? Uniformity is essential with law enforcement, first responders, police and fire department, etc.

You also need to see if you can blouse or taper the pants on your tactical boots. Nowadays, you have many options, styles, and colors to choose from.


You want your tactical pants to be comfortable but not as comfortable as yoga pants. You don’t want your tactical pants to pinch you or be uncomfortable and binding upon your as you bend or make various moves. Most users will wear the tactical pants for at least eight hours and sometimes even over 12 hours. Will you be able to do everything that you need to do without feeling any binding or pinching?

Even if the pants are comfortable when you sit down, you still need to see how they do when you climb over a fence, rappel sling, or carry the heavyweight gear you need afield. Don’t forget to check out the materials. Cotton is no longer the only option, as newer and softer and more durable fabrics (stretch materials, polyester, nylon, etc.) have emerged and taken the market by the storm.

Do you have to tuck in your tactical pants?

Buying a good pair of tactical pants isn’t enough, as you still need to tuck them into the boots for maximum performance properly. Here’s how to tuck in your tactical pants depending on the activity you involve in.

Do you have to tuck in your tactical pants

Day to day use

You don’t need to be in the military to buy and use tactical pants. These pants are tough and comfortable to use for your daily yet strenuous activities. You don’t necessarily need to tuck in your pants for everyday use, but you will discover it’s more efficient than not tucking them in.

Outdoor activities

Should you plan to use tactical pants in outdoor activities, you need to tuck them in. The more challenging the activity will be, the bigger the necessity to tuck the pants in. Learn about blousing the pants (go up) to keep wet dirt, bugs, and poisonous plants away from the inside of your boots and pants.

Blousing the pants will also protect your legs from scrapes and cuts.

Police and military activities

Military personnel will tuck in their pants for the same reasons hikers/campers/outdoor enthusiasts will keep dirt, bugs, and other creatures and things away from their legs and feet. Tucking in the pants has become the norm amongst the military, law enforcement, first responders, professionals in the first line of duty, etc. Blousing the pants is the most efficient method to achieve a secure fit and a polished streamlined look.

Some tactical pants feature built-in blousing straps, but elastic blouse bands are also typical.

How to tuck your pants in

You don’t always need to use straps or bands to tuck your pants in. Flatten the fabric around your ankles and fold the extra in the back. It will be easy to put on your boots, but you won’t have a tight seal against debris.

Blousing the tactical pants

If you’re a first responder, law enforcement, military personnel, you don’t need us to tell you how to wear your tactical pants. That doesn’t mean we cannot offer a few tips about how to blouse, depending on your activity.

Blousing tactical pants with elastic blouse bands

When you tuck in the pants into boots with elastic blouse bands, follow these steps:

Put the socks on

You shouldn’t start blousing the pants without having your socks on.

Slide the bands up over the feet

You need to take the bands up to secure the entire foot. If you have bands with Velcro, you should tie the bands around your ankle.

Put the pants on and tuck them in

Seek that the bottoms of the leg properly fit inside the elastic bands.

Fold the remaining fabric over the bands

You have to do the folding to obtain the bloused appearance. Pull the fabric down, so your socks don’t show.

Put your boots on

To complete the tucking in, you have to put your boots on. The only downside with this method is that the bands tend to become uncomfortable after many hours.

Blousing tactical pants with straps

You can also use straps to blouse your tactical pants, even if they require a bit more effort than with elastic bands.

Put your pants and socks on

You also start by putting your pants and socks on.

Tuck the pant’s bottoms

Bring the pants up and use the blousing strap to fasten it around the top of your tactical boots.

Bring the pants’ leg down

Continue with bringing the pants down over the strap to tuck the pants into the boots properly.

Fold the bottom of the pants up

You have to secure the pants by bringing the strap up.

Put the boots on

This method doesn’t balloon the tactical pants and keeps them nice and secure. It feels more comfortable than the bands, but some discomfort will occur after several hours. Also, the risk for debris to get inside the pants isn’t null.

Robert Dwayne

Robert Dwayne

To say that I am an outdoors enthusiast is probably an understatement. I am hyper passionate about everything outdoors: hiking, survival, hunting. On this website I am sharing my stories and experiences, and I hope you'll find inspiration to take up your own adventures!