All-purpose pants should be tough, weather resistant, versatile, and allow you to move freely. Additionally, all-purpose pants should also look normal enough to wear in casual scenarios without exposing your true gear-head nature.
Both the REI Acme Pants and the Carhartt Dungarees hit all of these criteria pretty well.
REI ACME PANTS – $160
PROS: super comfy, gender-specific, quick drying, durable. CONS: pricey
Made in China
CARHARTT DUNGAREES – $60
PROS: tough, water resistant, age nicely
CONS: men-cut only
Made in Mexico
REI ACME PANTS
I’m in my third winter with these pants, and I’m amazed at their durability, lightness, ability to dry quickly, wind-cutting greatness, and relative warmth. And yes, they look normal too!
Quick feature list: zipped pockets, Velcro ankle straps (which would be better if they strapped more pant for cycling, but they do okay), neutral grey/slate color, real waist/inseam sizes (not just S, M, L, etc). There is also a women-specific version of the Acme.
I’ve never paid so much for pants. They retail for $160, but they’re worth every cent. If my math is right, I’d say I’ve worn them nearly 300 times over the last 2.5 years. That’s about 50 cents a day. And they have plenty of life left.
The fancy Schoeller fabric is comfy, stretchy, and easy to move around in. All the hyped properties of Schoeller are true. And I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool “wool guy” who has never bought the fantasy of the vast majority of high-tech fabric claims. But the Schoeller PR folks speak the truth: this stuff blocks wind well, breathes well for temperatures up to the 60s, dries amazingly fast, and—with a good base layer—is perfectly suitable to temps down to the 20s.
But the thing that gets me on these pants is the durability. I have had a number of falls in these pants. There are a few times where I was positive I had ripped them. The majority of my time in these pants is on a bicycle, and they show no wear around the sit bones. That significant achievement speaks to the fabric’s durability.
If you are active in the cooler months and you want normal looking pants, and you can stomach paying $160 for pants, then the REI Acme pants are hard to beat.
If $160 just doesn’t pencil out for you, then consider the Carhartt Dungaree pants, which cost around $60. The Dungarees are no substitute for the Acme pants in the drying and stretchiness departments, and they don’t have a women’s version. But they are otherwise good all-purpose pants in the durability, weather-resistance, and value areas. And unless you hang with the highly-cultivated crowd, Carhartts can probably work as casual wear for most scenarios.
Although “dungaree” traditionally describes a type of heavy cotton fabric, in Carharttese, it describes the cut of a pant style: one with a “fuller” butt and thigh, which happens to be great for cycling and other active pursuits. Carhartt makes a number of Dungaree pants, but the specific version that makes for a good cool-weather daily driver is the Front Work Dungaree. It has a double layer of fabric on the front thigh and knee.
As it turns out, the double front does a fantastic job of holding out water. In fact, riding a bicycle with these pants in a downpour barely wets them out. They’re wet, but they’re not soaked through. The reason is that the cotton weave is thick and tight. When water soaks it, the fibers expand and close off the spaces between the weave, blocking more water from passing through. It’s a traditional, and effective, method for providing water resistant cotton.
While these pants are durable, they’re still cotton, so they will wear and rip in the way denim does. But those same properties make them more supple and comfy over time. And of course, they age nicely.