Monday, March 7, 2011

West German Wool Army Pants

In continuing my winter gear theme I've decided to talk about pants for winter camping. Actually this is a review of a new piece of gear that I haven't really put to the test yet. I'll have to follow up some time in the future for a review of how these pants performed for me.

Back in January our local boy scout council held it's annual Klondike derby. For those who don't know what this is it's like a sled dog race where the boys are the dogs. They build sleds and pull them around a course, stopping at various stations where they must complete scouting skill-related activities. I volunteered to help at the Map&Compass station that our church congregation was in charge of. The day of the derby turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year. It was about 0F when we arrived in the morning. I was wearing two pair of long underwear under my nylon hiking pants (that I wear in all seasons). My upper body was fine because I had on many layers and a down parka. But my legs were a little cold. I mentioned it to one of my buddies who was there (who is a real outdoor expert)and he pointed out his wool pants.

Wool is great stuff as I've mentioned before. It's water and odor resistant, and has great wicking and insulating properties. Furthermore in a dense weave, such as you would have in a wool pant it is windproof. I love my merino wool tops and I've consider merino for a base layer on bottom but I had never thought about wool pants. So I set about looking for some.

The classic outdoor wool pants used to be the Malone pant made by Woolrich which is located not too far from me. However they seem not to make them any more. Or at least I couldn't find them on their website. I've found various places online where you can buy them and the going price seems to be about $90. A bit steep for a pair of pants I wasn't sure I would like.

Then I found a review of some West German wool army pants by a backpacker named pig-monkey. I hopped on eBay and soon found a pair just like he had talked about, and miraculously they were in my size. I got them for $16.



These pants are very cool. Military pants seem to be very well made. The waistband is adjustable with buttons inside and out. There are bar tacks on all the pocket seams and inside there are cloth panels over every seam as well as the crotch, waistband, and ankles.

The fly is button-up and there are lots of pockets. The knee area (from mid-thigh to mid-calf) has a double layer of wool (you can see the upper seam of the second layer in the photo to the right).




I tend to use the "cargo" aspect of my hiking pants a lot so I really like all the pockets. Each one has a button closure.

The flap on the cargo pocket is tacked down on the front so that the flap stays down even if it is unbuttoned.


Outside the cargo pocket,but still under the flap, is an extra little pocket that is just right for a small knife, or keys, or coins.

In the main compartment of the cargo pocket there are long ties to which you can tie small pieces of gear. The ties are long enough so that you can use the gear (say a knife, small flashlight, or compass) but it makes it impossible to lose by dropping. Very cool idea.




There are snaps around the ankles also so you can snap them tight to your ankles before you put your boots on. When snapped the pants can't ride up on your leg and get over the top of your boots to let snow it.

This works great with my NEOS.  I had a chance to try it this morning because strangely the biggest snow of the year just arrived last night.  I went out shoveling wearing these pants and was impressed with how well this feature works.  In the past that has always been my problem when in deep snow.

The one thing that concerned me about these pants was that the reinforced knees seemed very stiff and made a crinkly sound when I walked.  The knee area has a double layer of wool but there seemed to be some kind of papery material between the layers of wool.  I opened up the bottom seam and found the culprit.  

I imagine these pants were made back in the 60s or 70s.  This reinforcing material seems to be coated with something that has stiffened up and cracked over the years.  There was a fair amount of yellow dust on and around it.




Removing it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.  The old reinforcing material rips easily and soon came out.  I had to open one more seam to get to the part behind the cargo pocket.  Here you can see the offending material after removal.

The entire procedure took only five minutes and the resulting product is quieter and more comfortable.  






Pig-monkey recommends lanolizing your wool outer clothing. That will increase the water-resistance of the pants.

Although I think these are very cool pants I'm still not sure how I will like them for backpacking. They are rugged, water-resistant, and warm but they are heavy. I may decide that I would prefer a rain pant over a fleece layer on bottom. Rain pants have their own downsides. They tend not to be as utilitarian in terms of pockets and such and the danger of condensation is high compared to wool.

I'll have to do some more experimenting.

Postscript: Shortly after this post I went outside wearing the pants to make snowmen with my kids. I purposely spent a lot of time on my knees in the snow to see how well the wool repels water. I was really impressed. At the end of the process I stood up and dusted off the snow and the pants were dry and my legs were warm. Pretty cool.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a pair of these pants and they are exactly the same with the crinkly knees. My pair has a label in it that says:
G.Kunst
US14b158107873100211
182/78-82
12-130-5790

Wonder if yours does too? Mine doesn't have a size that I can find. They are in excellent shape.
Picked them up many years ago and it's time for them to go. Just hanging around with some vintage clothes. Your info was very helpful.
Thanks, JS

Heber said...

My label is nearly the same. It says

Bulag Munchen
US14b156107873100211
166-78-74
12-130-5776

Don't know what it means tho.

Hope you enjoy the pants!

Anonymous said...

I have had and used a pair of these for about 20-years (yes, same pair). I have used them for hiking/backpacking, skiing, digging snow caves, hunting and general outdoor winter fun. The only sign of wear is the stitching in the crotch has lost its strength (need a heavy-gage machine to sew it up again). Obviously they are cold weather gear, but I haven't ever been bothered by their weight. I find them a bit abrasive w/o some layering underneath and have a couple liners of different weight for varying conditions.

I can't begin to express how much I love these pants. I have skied in them when it was -20F and windy with my thinnest liner and not felt like my legs were cold. I've hiked in them when it was 40F and sunny and not felt overheated. I have had ice frozen to the outside and not felt wet on my legs and have always enjoyed how they don't make that "zff zff" noise when walking like sythetics. They are as close to the perfect winter shell gear as I have found. Wish i could get a comparable jacket. Hope you like yours this winter.

Heber said...

Glad to hear your experience was so good. I'm looking forward to using them this winter. I'm very encouraged by your experience. It's makes me more confident to go out in the Pennsylvania winter!

Anonymous said...

You have scored a great find at an incredible price. I consider these pants to be the Mercedes of outdoor pants. I have used a pair for over a decade in all kinds of cold conditions and they still look and function like new. I told my son this week that I want to get him a pair of these pants, which is what led me to your site. A couple years ago I commented on pig monkeys blog and still feel these are worth every penny. Rarely does a pair of pants inspire guys to get outside and DO something, but these certainly do that - especially when the weather gets extremely harsh. By the way, the crinkly thing in the knees is a vapor barrier that allows you to kneel in the snow and still stay dry. Enjoy these pants - Steve C

Anonymous said...

You have scored a great find at an incredible price. I consider these pants to be the Mercedes of outdoor pants. I have used a pair for over a decade in all kinds of cold conditions and they still look and function like new. I told my son this week that I want to get him a pair of these pants, which is what led me to your site. A couple years ago I commented on pig monkeys blog and still feel these are worth every penny. Rarely does a pair of pants inspire guys to get outside and DO something, but these certainly do that - especially when the weather gets extremely harsh. By the way, the crinkly thing in the knees is a vapor barrier that allows you to kneel in the snow and still stay dry. Enjoy these pants - Steve C

Anonymous said...

I have worn these pants for over 18 years. I've spent many winter days outside in these pants, a good winter jacket and pair of sorels without ever worrying about getting cold. They are heavy but it's a modest trade off for pants that will keep you warm, dry and won't melt if you get a little close to the fire. One note... You stated that ties in the cargo pockets were useful for keeping track of gear. While this is true now, I've read that when these were originally manufactured the purpose of those ties were for use as a tourniquet if a soldier was shot in the leg. Thought you might be interested.

Travis said...

Just got a pair of these pants for Christmas and they are great. I wore them today for the first time here in VT, it was 3 degrees this morning. At first, I did not think the crinkly vapor barrier material was going to bother me, but now it is really getting on my nerves. I would not try hunting with them in this condition as they are LOUD. I'm thinking of removing the material as you did. Did you open the seems on the outside of the pants, and how did you sew them back up or did you bother? How did they look when you were done? Sewing is definitely not my strong point and I don't want to ruin them.

Heber Farnsworth said...

I opened the seam on the outside of the pants. In face you can sort of see it in the picture where you can see my hand holding this yellow stuff. I opened the bottom of this compartment as you can see and then reached my hand in and pulled. The material ripped quit easily and I was careful to rip it as close to the other seams as I could.

I haven't bothered to sew it up. I may at some point but it's not really that noticeable.

Enjoy hiking in the pants!

Bill said...

These pants are great,ice fishing(krinkly knee stuff is excellent for wet ice,keep knees dry)4wheeling,Packer games and general work around the house. I found them at a local army/navy store,i wish they had more. I paid about $30, worth every penny. Label says G.Kunst. The only problem is they force me to keep my weight down so they don't fit too snug(darn old age.. Lol) Bill G. Fond du Lac Wi.

Anonymous said...

I ordered 2 pair of these pants just in time for winter. They are bombproof!