- Cargo pants are comfy, rugged, and great for the outdoors.
- Fit and fabrics have come a long way since the baggy pants of the 1990s.
- Our best pick, the Mammut Zinal, is comfy, durable, and offers a range of fit options.
When you hear the words "cargo pants," you might then think either "adventure" or "Sporty Spice." If you’re in the latter camp, I’m here to show you the light. There’s no doubt that the Spice Girls and Old Navy made thigh pockets cool back in the 1990s, but it’s 2019 and things have changed a lot since you could buy a cassette from Sam Goody. These days, men’s adventure pants fit well, use performance materials, and don’t make you look like you just walked off the set of a safari-themed game show.
My wife got me a pair of active cargo pants to rock-climb in, about two years ago. Up until then, I was strictly split in my clothing: spandex for cycling and running, jeans and slacks for the times when I wasn’t sweating. I didn’t see the need for a middle ground, but I wore those cargo pants so much that I acquired two more pairs in an REI sale, and since then I have become something of an aficionado of the genre.
These days, I often go from the climbing gym to a restaurant or bar, and I like to be dressed appropriately in both places. Also, as someone living with diabetes, my pockets are always stuffed with the things I need, so the extra storage is very helpful. Even if you don’t find yourself having many "trail to tavern" days, cargo pants are a great option for hiking, airports (hello, passport pocket), yard work, and everyday wear in informal environments. Modern cargo pants are athletically cut, meaning they’ll stretch with your legs as you move, and breathe with your body as you heat up. This makes for a comfortable experience whether you’re sending a peak or sitting in a plane.
Here are the best active men’s cargo pants you can buy:
- Best active men’s cargo pants overall: Mammut Zinal
- Best for the classic look: Sherpa Adventure Gear Gurkhali
- Best active men’s cargo pants for travel: Icebreaker Connection
- Best for guys who live in jeans: Backcountry Workwear
- Best active men’s cargo pants for fit: Mountain Hardwear AP
The best active men’s cargo short overall
I never thought pants would make me feel like a badass, but these Mammut Zinal pants are like trail armor. Plenty of pockets, a great fit, and durable construction make them my go-to for everything from hiking to climbing.
I’m pretty picky about what I wear on the trail. I want clothes that don’t look like I walked off an Everest expedition but perform like I could take one on if I needed to. I spent much of my life dressed in spandex covered with sponsor logos and I’m done with bright colors and flashy fabrics, but I don’t want to sacrifice performance in order to avoid looking like a NASCAR driver. Mammut’s Zinal pants hit the middle ground for me: incredibly practical on the trail, but they come in colors that can’t be seen from space.
The first thing you’ll notice with the Zinal is the strange seams that cut across the thighs, but once you start moving in them you’ll soon forget about the seams or the pants. They feel like they were built with a body in them, moving naturally even when the pockets are loaded, thanks to the clever cut and spandex fabric. Zippered and tapered ankles make it easy to pull hiking boots on and off or roll the legs up to see your feet when climbing. Ventilation zippers on the sides let you cool off on hot hikes while cargo pocket let you carry snacks, phone, maps, etc.
These pants are durable. I’ve taken them to indoor and outdoor climbing, as well as on long hikes with scrambles that would shred lightweight fabric. Contrary to what their tough exterior and water-repellant coating might lead you to believe, these pants are Bluesign approved, meaning they are made using ecologically sound fabrics and manufacturing processes.
These pants aren’t cheap, but they let my knees move better on technical climbs than any other pants I have ever worn. The athletic fit lets me use the cargo pockets on hikes without things uncomfortably bumping into my thighs, and the zippered ventilation is handy when I need some cooling.
Pros: Great fit, usable cargo pockets, zippered vents
The best for the classic look
Beneath the classic look of a pair of green moleskin pants, the Sherpa Adventure Gear Gurkhali packs some serious cutting-edge fabrics and design.
It’s fitting that these pants are almost army green given that they are named for the Gurkhas, a Nepali regiment of the British Army known for their incredible bravery and endurance. In fact, an ex-Gurkha is attempting to summit the world’s highest peaks in record time as of this writing. If these pants are half as tough as the Gurkhas, then I’ll be wearing them into retirement.
The Gurkhali pants might look, at a distance, like classic moleskin pants. Their straight leg cut, dark green color, and tacked seams evoke the outdoor pants of a different era. But these are far from retro: The Gurkhali pants are made with Dyneema, a material that is 30% lighter than traditional nylons but 15 times stronger per weight than steel. Despite this durability, the pants feel light and the two-way stretch of the fabric means they move with your body whether you’re climbing a chimney or just grabbing a coffee.
The five-pocket design doesn’t strictly qualify these as cargo pants, but they are certainly rugged enough for outdoor wear. Nice touches, like the pattern on the front belt loop, means they’re also stylish enough for the office or semi-formal use. Not only do these pants look good, but they will also make you feel good as a portion of proceeds is donated to children in Nepal.
As REI buyers noted, the cut and comfort of these pants are as valued in the office or on a night out, as it is on the trail.
Pros: Durability, fit, and performance are second to none, looks great for everyday wear
Cons: No thigh pocket
The best active men’s cargo pants for travel
Merino wool is the traveler’s best friend, so the Icebreaker Merino Connection Pants use it to ensure a soft and stink-free fit even when you’re in them for the long haul.
In a world of high-tech polymers and lab-designed fabrics, merino wool is still my go-to for long travel or trail days. Not only does it feel soft against the skin, but it also keeps odor at bay. This might not seem important, but let me tell you, sprinting to catch a flight and then sitting in your sweaty pants for a dozen hours is no fun. That’s why I always fly in moisture-wicking and odor-resistant merino shirts. Until now, I didn’t have merino pants, but these incredibly comfy and well-cut adventure pants from Icebreaker are quickly becoming a fixture in my in-flight wardrobe.
These pants feature spandex weave, so they stretch with you as you move, as well as a robust nylon exterior that has proven more than capable of sustaining rock climbing and hiking. The addition of a side stash pocket, just big enough for a wallet or passport, makes these pants even more practical in airports.
The pants are stylish and comfortable enough to be worn in the office, dressed down at night, or taken on expeditions. Buyers praised the lightweight and breathability that comes from the merino wool. The Connection comes in sand and slate — two natural tones that should go with any wardrobe — and while the cut and color are great for trail use, these pants don’t scream "I’m outdoorsy" like some outdoor pants tend to.
Icebreaker offers a handy fit-finder on its website. I often find myself between 30 and 32 waist sizes and it took about 30 seconds for the algorithm to put me in a size 30, which fits perfectly. But some buyers noted that the stretch in the fabric means you should err on the side of a smaller size, but I found that the fit-finder did a great job in finding me the right pair.
Pros: Comfortable and breathable, durable exterior and soft interior
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