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Tested: Patagonia's Iron Forge Hemp Canvas Pants

We wanted to see how the company's new work wear stacked up against the competition

(Rachel Hudacek)

We wanted to see how the company's new work wear stacked up against the competition

Patagonia is best known for making technical mountain clothing from materials like nylon, wool, Gore-Tex, and down. Starting this August, however, the company is launching a whole line of work clothing based around hemp, an easy-to-grow and durable alternative to cotton. Imagine the sort of garb Yvon Chouinard would have worn to bang out those very first climbing pitons.

The line is simple: There’s a work pant, a work shirt, a sweater, and a couple of jackets. Nothing costs more than $200, which, if you know Patagonia’s pricing, is an anomaly. The company seems to have realized that if it wants to compete in the work-wear market, it has to keep prices down. Part of the savings also comes from the decision to go direct to consumer, which means you’ll be able to buy the line only on Patagonia’s website or in its stores beginning August 2, when the line officially goes on sale.

The Iron Forge Hemp Canvas Double Knee Pants ($80) are the core piece. They look like a pair of Carhartts, but instead of that company’s 100 percent duck cotton, Patagonia uses a blend of 55 percent industrial hemp, 27 percent recycled polyester, and 18 percent organic cotton. Patagonia says that hemp is 25 percent more abrasion-resistant than duck cotton, and the recycled polyester and cotton are included to give the pants a softer hand and tighter weave.

I got my hands on a pair earlier this month and immediately handed them over to my buddy Saylor Flett for ten days He’s a teacher at Feather River College’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership Program and leads trail-building classes. Flett’s also in the middle of rebuilding an Airstream. Carhartts are his go-to, so I figured he was the perfect person to see how the Patagonia pants stack up.

Flett noticed the cut almost immediately. Unlike Patagonia’s other clothes, which are svelte and efficient (so you don’t have extra material flapping around when you’re climbing or skiing), the work pants are almost baggy. The lower legs are cut to fit over work boots, and the knees and thighs leave plenty of room to move, even when you’re wrapped in this heavier, more-durable fabric blend. The waist was generous, so Flett had to wear a belt or suspenders to keep his normal size 32 from falling down.

The other feature Flett noticed right away was the lack of a break-in time. These pants were comfortable right out of the box and didn’t stiffen after a wash. “They’re really soft and supple and have a good hand on them,” Flett said. “With Carhartts, you have to wear them for a good 40-hour workweek to get them to this point. Then you wash them, and they turn into cardboard again until you’re finished with your next 40-hour workweek.”

Instead of normal rear pockets, the Iron Forge pants come with big drop pockets that look like the ones on the front, which Flett found useful. “The back pockets are equal in size to the front pockets, so they’re great for storage,” he said. “I basically filled my two back pockets with screws and tools and didn’t need to wear my tool belt.”

He did say, though, that filling his pockets was only practical when he was working while standing. His wallet tended to fall out when he was lying down under the Airstream.

Finally, there was durability. Flett said he’s used to the tough-as-nails feel of Carhartts and was worried the softer Patagonia material might not hold up. Over the ten-day test, however, he did his best to scrape and abuse the pants, and they never tore or seemed to wear out. Flett is going to continue putting the Iron Forge pants through the wringer, but knowing Patagonia—which has a reputation for durable construction—we both feel confident that the pants will live up to the claims. Check back soon for updates.

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