Muse / Sporting Life

Musing on Field Pants

This morning I am holed up in my office packing for a trip south to shoot birds. This little private office is my nest. It is a space that warehouses toys and tools, projects, and memories. Part office, part depository, my private quarters are a boot-room meets art studio with cocktail service to boot. The room is not decorated per-se, but rather adorned with gear that is enqueued for my next outing. I have an adoration for the artifacts, gear, and trophies shoved in every corner. Some of the clutter is used more than others, but having everything out to be admired and thought-over extends the experience of the field to daily life. One of the circumstances of my office is a former life as a guest bedroom tucked behind the library in our home. It has a large and deep clothing closet that is now brimming with rows of waders, coveralls, and bibs dangling to the floor. Jackets and coats hang with shell hulls in their pockets still. Tech shirts and wool ones are in perfect lines on cedar hangers. Camouflage patterns spanning four decades blend together. In the floor are vacuum sealed bags of scent controlled garments. There are tall boots, rubber Wellies, leather Mocs, baskets of wool socks, hooks festooned with scarves, and vests, and pouches. The closet exudes the musky and musty smells of outdoors. Hats piled to the ceiling on the top shelf- full brimmed ones and all the snapbacks freebies earned along the way. A wooden box on the floor overflows with shoe-shine creams and another of solvents and oils for cleaning guns. This morning, I open the doors to my closet and smile- the task is rather easy- I just need to grab some field pants and a vest for tomorrow.

So the gear has been selected, culled, and is hanging on a valet in the corner. I am musing again- about to begin a beautiful February day in the sixties with my family- but first having my coffee, daydreaming, journaling. I have pals that expertly review products often. They are most asked in some fashion, “which one is the BEST?” That is not my role or what this is. I am an admirer of things. This is an abstract muse on over the existential. I only can wear one pair of pants at time. Each pair of pants I ran my hand over swirled stories into my memory.

The First, The Oldest, The most Revered: The Filson Double Tin 

I am not sure exactly the place or occasion these heavy, waxed canvas field pants were acquired. I am certain however that this happened in a period of life that did not align into my budget of books, beer, and rent. I can surmise the motivation was my idiosyncratic desire to own durable heirloom goods. I recall becoming aware of the old heritage brand- Filson in my late teens. When I held them in my hand they reminded me of so many things items that have an appeal to icon design: Canvas Army surplus, Lederhosen, Chaps. Considering that I have pushed them hard for around twenty-five years and they aren’t even broken in, I believe my grandsons could own them. I think the mission was accomplished on buying something generationally durable.

Wearing these pants has a way of transforming you. They are heavy and so deeply penetrated with wax that they nearly can stand on their own. The stiffness does not feel uncomfortable, but rather offers a sense of security- you are protected from the wild. You can sit in the dirt without a worry about a cold or a wet seat. You can push through briars- fend off a nip by a snake. These pants are amour and you have a certainty when you are wearing them that pioneers, cowboys, and lumberjacks couldn’t have gone wrong. 

Tin Pants in Frozen Sorgum

I have worn these on the plains upland hunting with wool beneath. The cold there can be a wicked a Southerner can not endure. They perform so well in harsh weather that they have become a regular for going out in the snow or doing outdoor winter tasks in the mountains. Because these were the earliest pair of field pants I owned, I learned that they are not for mild weather. Perhaps waxed cotton was innovative at its inception. Duly noted has been that this rudimentary waterproofing keeps swamp-ass in as well as the elements out. The only other notable negative of the old Filsons is the button-fly. The buttons have a pro and con. They will probably outlast any zipper made- but the extra effort to efficiently and discretely urinate on the side of the the field is lost on buttoning up- especially in gloves.

Owning these for over a quarter century, I have never washed them. Before hanging them, I brush them well with a stiff boar bristle brush. At the end of each season, I reseal the cloth with beeswax and an iron. 

A Whim: Ball and Buck Field Pants

Father-Son in Ball and Buck

I became serendipitously aware of Ball and Buck early in the brands life. The Ball and Buck ethos spoke to me and I began buying a bunch of their Hunter’s Shirts. What I came to appreciate about Ball and Buck was consistent high quality and a promise to be manufactured in the USA. At some point, a field pant was introduced. There was an invitation to buy into a pre-manufacture funding model. I really had no idea what I was getting, but trusted the brand enough to find out. At the time, I’m not sure if there was a choice for a plain tan colorway, but I went straight for the signature old school camo. Months later, after forgetting that I ordered them, I received a really sweet pair of field pants. The quality and design was exceptional. I could tell that these would rival my full waxed tin pants as a choice for a heavy pant. It is always a difficult decision between the two of them.

The Ball and Buck pants are embellished with a heavy waxed shelter cloth that is essentially similar to my revered Filsons. A little protection is lost from the elements by having a duck canvas upper pant- but this affords a little more movement and comfort. The upper canvas is heavy enough to take abuse, but is porous enough to prevent the previously mentioned moisture issues of the waxed lap and seat in the full waxed pants. They have a heavy brass zipper, so the “peeing in the bushes” issue is resolved. I have no regret about choosing the camo. If I had to own one pair, I would chose the “plain” tan. The camouflage is more of a fashion nod than a necessity. I would hope birds are well held by pointing dogs by the time I ever reach them. Like the Filson pants, I am grateful to be the first owner breaking in a product that a gentlemen down my bloodline might admire in his closet a century from now .

Just Right All Those Years: The Mountain Khaki

In Georgia pines. Me in 10 year old MKs on left, my pal in Ball and Buck on the right. The Gentleman in the middle getting it done with those fabulous Mocs.

You come to know about different brands different ways. Mountain Khakis is one of those brands that became part of my daily wear for a really long time. Well branded in a Jackson Hole lore, I got to know Mountain Khakis because of true roots in the Carolina apparel industry- more specifically- picking through piles of seconds in a warehouse sale. Mountain Khakis didn’t win me over because of its marketing, but rather its essence of fit and style. The brand was born about the the time I graduated from school. Khakis were about the one thing I wore EVERY single day. First and foremost, I took to MKs because they were became a replacement for other duck canvas pants. The appeal was two-fold. A great pocket shape that held a clip knife well and a football shaped gusset in the crotch. For an active guy in boxer shorts it was just so good. They had a lighter pant that was a similar fabric weight to mall brand chinos. They did well indoors and in warmer weather. These became daily drivers for work pants on my most casual days for years.

So at a factory rejects sale that happened annually in the fall, I was picking through a box of crumpled seconds in a warehouse south of Charlotte. A pair of Mountain Khakis with a field pant front was shining in the bottom of a box like the gold light in the Pulp Fiction briefcase. There was one pair- it was my size and the rest was history.

What won me over was the same comfort and fit I could rely on from the brand. The pants had a second skin of synthetic material over the thigh area and were reinforced over the heel cuff. They had an attractive khaki on khaki color combo. The khaki trended to the yellow side giving aunique Australian outback appeal.  They looked sharp and felt extraordinarily comfortable. These became my go to field pants for years on warmer weather hunts. They looked great with an Oxford shirt and could carry over to a casual after hunt dinner better than other field clothes. Some people have a fondness for a favorite pair of jeans- these pants became my “comfort clothing”. I began to admire them enough that I wore every time I went to the farm. They met an ill fate with some tractor grease changing an implement. Honestly, this soiling just gave them permission to end up at the farm never every time I would go. They have just the right amount of protection for busting around in the brush, but are nice and cool when worn for work on a 65 degree day. I’d buy another pair for sure- but would love it if they fell from heaven like that warehouse bin.

Technically Mindful, Light, and Just Right: The Sporting Gent

Blocking driven pheasants in Sporting Gent field pants.

Some years back, a men’s shop popped open in nearby neighborhood in Charlotte. By its name and newly minted logo alone, there was a natural magnetism the drew me in to check the store out. When I entered the Sporting Gent, I was warmly greeted by its proprietor, Marc. I found myself taking a rush tour in a perfect clubhouse for fellows that speak my language and share my passions. In so many ways, the shop had all the feels of my opening description of my private office- personal, warm, and aptly reflecting a lifestyle fitting for the name Sporting Gent. I grew up surrounded by a family with interests in apparel and a generational history in retail. The mystique of the early general mercantile that sold everything from shotguns shells to medicinal elixirs was never never lost on me. Knowledge of the hard work, knuckle-busting, patience, and dedication of running such a business did not pass me by either. My admiration for The Sporting Gent has been there since the first day I moseyed in and had a glass of bourbon and an hour of jokes with Marc. The Sporting Gent has expanded from brick and mortar into a widely admired brand that continues to curate great merchandise and is now anchored on an eponymous apparel brand. I’ve enjoyed watching the TSG line come into existence. It is is born in the field and designed to be worn there. An invitation to the trout stream or to shoot birds are not shallow words lost on passing conversation with Marc. He lives the lifestyle he sells and we’ve been out in the wild more than a few times.

The TSG field pant is an excellent mid-weight pant. It is technically designed with a traditional appearance. It is a dedicated field pant with its design directed at an ergonomic purpose to hunt, explore, and forage. The fabric is tough enough to bust through briars- but a perfect weight for mild winter days in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Tomorrow I’m going to stalk the pines in central SC behind some fine English pointers with Marc on the lead horse. It is going to be in the high fifties and naturally the TSGs came out of the closet.

Do You Really Need Field Pants: Homemade

Another outdoor brand I admire is Kevin’s of Thomasville. Some years back I saw that their catalog advertised a custom field pant that took one of their better chinos and had a seamstress reinforce them with briar shields. Kevin’s even offered this service for modifying trousers that you already own and adore. I always think bespoke service like this is world class. I have to confess that I never bought a pair of these- because I’m sort of a crafty guy that has been attempting this myself for years. My sewing skills are a C minus at best, but a handful of Brooks Brothers chinos have met this fate on the old Singer. I have sewn on Cordura, ripstop nylon, wax cloth in a tartan, and just doubled the thickness of one pair of chinos over the other. Like my appeal to the comfort of the Mountain Khakis, these homegrown britches take the most comfortable pair of pants in your closet and put them in the field. My results have varied based on my personal ability to sew. One pair is dashing- at the other end of the spectrum, my first attempt is pure utility. Each has its place. So often the pursuit of fowl is a genteel game. In the balance between ruggedness and refined, there is a time to look dapper and a time for utility. The most enduring styles are most often a marriage of both of these ends.

Suddenly the question is begged- do you need field pants at all?

I would argue that many plantation quail hunts happen in this fashion: It is a bit warm. You are riding on a quail buggy. The pines have been burned and the understory has grown into a perfect habitat.  The earth has also been perfectly stripped into long alleys for walking over grasses that are no deeper than your ankles. Stories are told as you ride along and admire the dogs work in front of you. From your party, a couple of guns get off the cart to shoot. They approach the holding covey from about twenty five yards away through the kind alleys of turned sandy dirt and grass. Not a briar or seed sticks to the shooters as a dog handlers in thick chaps beats through the heavy understory of forbs and grasses. The shooter has two shells in the gun. Everything else is in on the cart.

BOOM. . . BOOM.

photo: Lawson Builder

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