Out of all the menswear trends that have come and gone (and come back again, and left again), you might not find a more divisive trend at the moment than that of cargo pants. Yes, we’re here to make the case for the best cargo pants for men, and if you can believe it, there are plenty of opportunities to turn this style into a utilitarian move you can wear for days and weeks on end, regardless of the time of year.
Don’t believe us? Consider wearing your cargo pants with staple pieces you already know and love, like one of the best wool T-shirts and a set of rugged black leather boots — when in Rome, right? And then, we challenge you to see how badass, rugged and yes, functional this ongoing trend can be for you. Cargo pants have, over the years, earned a reputation that’s nearly as terrible as that of cargo shorts, which are often too baggy and not flattering to any body type.
Ready to step forward into a new pair of pants for a new season? Of course you are.
Beyond that, cargo shorts have looked juvenile and were mostly worn by those who shopped at mall stores like Abercrombie & Fitch (guilty as charged). But again, we’re here to tell you that cargo pants offer up more than meets the eye, especially in the year 2021. Like other menswear classics made modern, from the Oxford shirt to the field jacket and chinos, cargo pants owe their place in the menswear lexicon to both sporting adventure and the military, naturally. Cargo pants offered up plenty of storage space and were most commonly made in dusty camo fabrics or lightweight fabrics designed to handle the elements, from the desert to the jungle (that’s where the term “jungle cloth” developed from, after all).
But the best pants for men this year are decidedly more stylish and available for those of us outside the armed forces. They’re also much more well-made for modern times, although there’s no denying that cargo pants made for the field were tough as nails. Therein lies a crucial point, though: Your cargo pants are going to be worn on the road and on the trail, but likely won’t be subject to conditions as grueling as the days of old. Perhaps that’s why so many fashion brands have jumped on the trend, to the point where you’ll find all types of men’s cargo pants on the market.
The style can be worn in more athletic fashion or for laidback lounging, and they’re a surprisingly sharp option when hitting the road via train or plane (seriously, just look at how many baggy pairs of sweats or pants you see when traveling). And it can even be fun to switch up the type of pants you’re wearing, whether at home or on the road. After all, there’s only so many ways you can style dark denim or chinos, classic as they might be. And considering the fact that temperatures plummet in the winter months for most of us, well, some cargo pants are even made from warmer fabric than you might expect.
From jogger-style cargo pants to classic olive cargo pants in breezy fabric, you’ve got more than enough options to either dip your toes into this trend or go full-steam ahead with what might be the coolest pair of pants you own (yes, seriously). Think of them as you might think of your favorite chinos or even denim, as far as styling tips are concerned (we’ll get to more of that in a moment). Following styling tips you know and love will ultimately make them easier to wear, believe it or not. Ready to step forward into a new pair of pants for a new season? Of course you are. Follow these handy pointers before you start shopping, though.
What to Look for in a Pair of Cargo Pants in 2021
- Think cool, not classic: What do we mean by going in a direction that’s more cool, and less classic? We mean think of less of army-style cargo pants from Platoon, and think more of slimmer silhouettes, cooler colors, fewer pockets (yes, really) and more modern touches — like those jogger-style cargo pants we mentioned earlier, for instance. Finding an expert take on this silhouette gets a lot easier when you narrow down your search using a few of those style-forward criteria. The end result? Well, cargo pants that are cool, rather than stuck entirely in the past.
- Don’t be afraid to up the ante: When we say up the ante, we mean that you shouldn’t be afraid to look towards more fashion-forward designers, as opposed to sorting through the racks at a vintage store. Although cargo pants are a decidedly throwback-inspired look, they’re also a trend ripped from the runways, so designers that more commonly focus on fashionable styles are carrying the torch forward, draped in cargo pants. This means you might spend just a bit more on cargo pants than a typical pair of pants, but it’s a purchase that’ll pay off. After all, how many people do you know who are willing to go the extra mile and go out on a limb in terms of the pants they favor? Find the right pair, at the right price, and you’ll lead the way with a set of the best cargo pants for men.
- Shake things up from the average: As we said, you’ve got to up the ante from time to time when shopping, particularly if you’re already going out on a limb and snagging some cool, functional yet decidedly trendy cargo pants. The biggest thing to keep in mind when shopping the best cargo pants? They’re going to be made out of different fabric than your favorite jeans, and possibly even your favorite chinos. That could mean they’re made from stretch wool, or ripstop nylon, or even something in between. Think outside the box, and you might even be able to find a pair of cargo pants that are dressier than you’d expect (if they’re made of stretch wool, for instance). Choices abound in the search for the best cargo pants, and we say you need to keep your options open.
Those are just three of the tips we can offer up as you shop for cargo pants. Here’s the fun part, though: Finding the pair that works best for you, whether you plan to wear them with a thermal henley and high-top sneakers or with rugged leather boots, a chambray shirt and a waxed trucker jacket. We promise we’ve got just what the doctor ordered.
The Best Cargo Pants for Men to Buy Now
John Elliott Back Sateen Cargo Pants
You might know John Elliott for his focus on bringing back seriously cool, sleek sweatpants for men, the kind you can proudly wear with slick high-top sneakers and a slouchy T-shirt, all the better to let your pants (and those kicks) do the talking. The brand’s Sateen Cargo Pants fit much the same criteria, although this pair has an oversized fit that’s slightly different than John Elliott’s sleek sweatpants. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, especially if you want to really lean into the utilitarian vibe and tuck these cargo pants into lace-up boots. They’re made from thinner, smoother extra long staple cotton for a breezy fit and feel, so while these might not work all that well in the colder months, you can certainly utilize them the rest of the year.
Rails Emmerson Olive Cargo Pants
Rails is well-known for offering up super-soft men’s buttondown shirts, breezy T-shirts and a wide assortment of the type of menswear that’s casual, cool and easygoing. These cargo pants carry forward that same lineage quite nicely, featuring lightweight cotton military poplin fabric in a nod to the style’s functional roots. But beyond that, they’re also built with modern two percent stretch and a washed finish. The Olive color is another nod to throwback cargo pants, but these feel fresh and relevant, not like something out of a museum. That’s a great thing if you want to shake up your rotation of trousers.
Todd Snyder Utility Cargo Sweatpants
As a designer, the Midwest-born Todd Snyder (who first entered menswear through sewing classes at college in Iowa), takes throwback staples and shakes them up with a modern edge. That means gym class-ready grey sweatpants now feature a dialed-in fit and cargo pant construction, all done up in a soft fleece fabric. The Salt and Pepper texture is particularly eye-catching, and it helps that these pants blend both military cargo inspiration and the comfortable fit and feel of sweatpants. The best part is, you can wear these with everything from a Todd Snyder crewneck sweatshirt to one of the designer’s tailored T-shirts or henleys.
Fjallraven Vidda Pro Cargo Pants
Cargo pants are, naturally, designed to handle just about anything you can throw at ’em, so it only makes sense that Nordic outfitter Fjallraven offers up one heck of a hard-wearing take on the style. These are expertly crafted for climbing excursions and adventures off the grid, but a crisp neutral color and a tailored cut, not unlike iconic alpine trousers, ensures that they look quite sharp when worn back in town, too. They’re all the better if you team them with a Fjallraven thermal shirt and a rugged jacket.