As recently as five years ago, Army-Surplus wool pants were a stalwart piece in my winter outerwear getup. I'd pair the coarse, jungle-green trousers, which were purchased for $20 to $30 at secondhand shops, with a Gore-Tex shell jacket for ice climbing and head outdoors into the chill air of northern Minnesota or Ontario's Orient Bay area, where ice axes and tall, cold cliffs afforded a venue for the ascent of frozen icefalls as high as apartment buildings.
Kick a crampon through the tough matte of wool above the ankle cuff and, oh well, the pants didn't set you back all that much. They were warm, too. And, unlike hard-shell pants I'd paid hundreds of dollars for, the cheapo woolies breathed so well you could feel subzero air seeping in and out just slightly with the wind.
This winter, wool pants are back. Though the price has shot up, the Bunkhouse Trousers from Michigan-based Stormy Kromer (stormykromer.com) hold true to my vision of a solid pair of winter pants. They are made with thick and plush--but tough--wool blend.
The traditional pants, which include nearly no modern touches, do add a dose of nylon fibers to the sheep-fuzz fabric blend. It takes some of the coarseness down and might add to durability.
Made in Ironwood, Michigan, the Bunkhouse Trousers hail from a forest town on the state's Upper Peninsula that knows deep snow and long winters. They come in dark gray and olive green and cost $129.95--a lot more than the Army-Surplus variety, but more refined and better fitting in my test so far.
With my old woolies, I always wore suspenders to keep them hiked high on cold days. Stormy Kromer adds an integrated belt-like system on the waist to cinch and help dial in fit. Two roomy front pockets offer a spot to warm bare hands.
I have not tested the Bunkhouse Trousers in below-zero air (the ice has not yet formed on local cliffs). But hiking around in the pants, I found they have a nice fit and a familiar bulky, substantial, and warm feel.
The company touts the Bunkhouse Trousers as being "built like an old-time locomotive." With belt loops, double-stitched seams, and buttoned back pockets, they do conjure that aesthetic. Train conductor meets lumberjack, maybe. And, in my mind, there's a little bit of ice climber in there, too.
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear atwww.gearjunkie.com.