Winter arrived early last weekend, a week before the solstice. The daily temperatures have been hovering in the low 20s Fahrenheit (that’s somewhere around -5 for you centigrade folks), with high winds and plenty of snow. I’ve been out hiking every day, practicing winter fire lighting and taking advantage of the snow for tracking. It’s also provided ample opportunity to test out the wool pants I bought a few months ago.
They’re surplus from the West German army, circa 1976. I acquired them on ebay for $20.
They have a standard 6 pocket design. The back pockets and two side pockets have button closure flaps. The cargo pockets have flaps with two button closures: one in the middle and one on the back. The front edge of the pocket flap is actually sewn onto the pants, which prevents the flap from, you know, flapping. It encourages the flap to stay closed, even when both the buttons are undone, providing for somewhat secure storage while still having instant access. On the outside of each cargo pocket is a smaller, 3” wide pocket with no closure. It was probably originally meant for a magazine, but is a perfect size for a cell phone or camera. It’s a little small for my compass or GPS.
The front of the pants is reinforced roughly 7” above the knee to 7” below. The butt is not reinforced
The crotch is closed via four buttons, rather than a zip. Buttons are easier to replace in the field, but makes access a little slower. Annoying when nature calls. There’s also a series of buttons along the waistband, both on the inside and the outside. Some of these can be used to make minute adjustments to the waist size, others just seem to be spares. In all, there’s probably about 10 buttons that could be salvaged to repair the crotch or pocket closures. On the inside back of the waist band, there’s also attachments for suspenders.
On the hem of each leg, there’s are snaps that allow the legs to be tightened and the excess material folded, useful for blousing the pants with boots or for wearing under gaiters.
I love these pants. I received them in new condition, and their worth could easily be placed upward of $60. My only complaint is the button crotch, which I would prefer to be zippered.
In the cold (and somewhat wet) snow, I’ve been staying perfectly warm and dry with these and a pair of merino wool long underwear worn underneath. In slightly warmer weather, I’ve found the wool to be soft enough to be worn without the underwear underneath. (I haven’t ever worn US Army surplus wool, but I’m told that the West German stuff is softer. I’ve also been told that wool from the former Eastern Bloc is the itchiest, and warned to stay well away from it.)
I’d recommend the West German wool to anyone. When passing someone on the trail decked out in plastic from head-to-toe, making that annoying swish-swish-swish sound as they walk by, you can chuckle to yourself, content in the knowledge that you are warmer, quieter and more comfortable in your wool.