Hacking Wool Slacks?

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  • #1327309
    6th 0


    Not sure if the is a MUG or MYOG topic…

    Has anybody converted a pair of merino or any other wool dress slacks into hiking pants? In theory it sounds like a good plan: all the benefits of wool, readily available at the thrift shop, and be the sharpest dressed hombre on the trail.

    I would imagine you would need to take out the polyester liner, find a wool that has some stretch to it, and take out any extra material to lighten it up.

    How durable were they if you had to go with summer-weight fabric or some of the Super 150 wool? Were you able to wear them multiple days without the funk?

    …or maybe people with far more experience than me (eg. most everybody ;) will say wool is great for shirts and socks but not so great for pants on the trail.



    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    That could work well. Wool is tough and naturally anti-funk. I'd find a pair that fits well without a belt (to save weight), then remove the belt loops. Maybe install a beefier button / snap.

    When you trim the length, leave it a bit long. Fold it up, iron a seam and duct tape it in place. Take a hike. Adjust. Try again. Then sew (just a basting stitch) it in place.

    I prefer my hiking shorts have deeper pockets than my dress pants. But you'll have lots of extra, matching material with which to add cargo pockets if you wish.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    Warning here.

    If you wash the wool improperly, it will shrink. That can get the fit problematic for length and for waist. Or, suppose that your waistline changes a lot.


    Richard Mock
    BPL Member


    Locale: The piney woods


    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Years ago many of us wore wool trousers especially in winter. I ocassionally still wear them. You can get military surplus versions that are heavy, durable and scratchy. I think Filson still makes quality trousers, but I would guess the are over $100 a copy.

    I doubt you'll find merino wool dress slacks.

    For business, I mostly wear expensive worsted wool suits. The material is sturdy, doesn't feel like wool, doesn't look like wool, and isn't scratchy. Expensive quality worsted wool trousers have deeper pockets than ordinary dress slacks, are double-stitched, and reinforced at stress points. This is what you want. At a high end clothing store these trousers cost several hundred dollars, at a thrift store, if you can find them, probably $5 or $10 a pair. I have a few suits that are over 20 years old and still look new — they that good.

    W I S N E R !


    My buddy Adan (also on this site sometimes) has been hiking in some thrift store wool pants for who knows how long now….couple of seasons? They look like they do the job to me.
    I own some Patagonia Rock Craft pants and have been hiking in them for a couple seasons…but they're on their last leg. Thrift store wool will likely be the next route I go.

    Mitchell Ebbott


    Locale: SoCal

    I haven't done it with summer-weight stuff, but I found a pair of thick wool dress slacks that I use for the winter. I managed to get hold of a pair without a liner, so the only non-wool fabric is the waistband lining and pockets (which I think is linen). I suppose I could take those out and replace them, maybe with mesh, but I haven't bothered yet and probably won't.

    I've only used them once (in 10-30º temps) alongside a thin pair of long johns, and they were wonderfully warm and shed snow better than I had expected.

    Dave @ Oware
    BPL Member


    Locale: East Washington

    I used to use military tropics uniform pants. about half wool half polyester and thin. Add some to the knee zips to them, with a pair of shorts and rain pants and I was good to go for summer alpine trips.

    They fit loose enough for climbing.

    They came in navy or olive.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    "I used to use military tropics uniform pants. about half wool half polyester and thin."

    The non-tropical US Army Class A worsted wool pants had no polyester, so they were warmer. I used those for cross country skiing for twenty years.

    As I warned, though, beware if you let them shrink.



    I've been cold weather hiking in mostly wool-polyester and polyester-wool blend dress pants from Thrift Stores or awhile now. They work well enough. If it's cold enough, i may throw some nylon wind pants over them. If i know it's going to be very wet, i'll wear all synthetic pants with rain kilt instead (my favorite is my nylon shorts i sewed EPIC to for the legs) If it's really cold (approaching negative temps), then wool blend pants with light nylon windshell and also some Cap 4/PPDHE fleece type under pants.

    I don't wear them in warm weather though. I prefer all linen, hemp polyester blends, nylon, or nylon-cellulose blends for warmer weather.

    You might be interested to know that while wool is good at reducing odor, it's apparently not anti-microbial in the least. It seems to work more like a healthy gut, where there is a good balance of micro organisms to keep each other or the more stink producing micro-organisms in check. Finding this out was bit of a surprise for myself, i had lightly assumed that wool was more antimicrobial in nature. 100% linen is also good for reducing odor, but sucks in cold weather, and is not the best in very humid hot weather. Linen or hemp and synthetic blends on the other hand, work pretty well in very humid hot, weather.

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Why not? Going the thrift store route, you can find all kinds of wool slacks.

    As noted, there are outdoor clothing companies that make wool pants too. Cabela's does make merino wool pants– for $229. Icebreaker makes some too. Woolrich has several models and a polyester/wool blend offering too.

    They would function pretty much like light softshell pants, but I wouldn't want to get them wet. I imagine you could find some sort of fabric treatment that would improve on the water repellency.

    I've been looking for used merino wool sweaters along the same line. The trick for me is to find one with a long enough torso. I've seen really nice used Nordstrom sweaters for under $10.

    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Barbara

    How much do they shrink? Why not buy a pair that are many sizes too big and wash/dry them to shrink them up good? Then they'd be bullet-proof, right? Or do they just shrink and shrink with each wash?

    Mitchell Ebbott


    Locale: SoCal

    For winter weight stuff, that would probably work. It's basically how boiled wool is made. But I think intentional shrinking would tighten the weave too much for warm-weather pants.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    "How much do they shrink?"

    It's hard to say. Worsted wool will shrink, although not as much as ordinary soft wool. It depends somewhat on how badly you wash them.


    Kate Magill
    BPL Member


    "How much do they shrink? Why not buy a pair that are many sizes too big and wash/dry them to shrink them up good? Then they'd be bullet-proof, right? Or do they just shrink and shrink with each wash?"

    The trouble usually lies in the waistband. It probably has some poly/nylon reinforcement, interfacing, etc. and that won't shrink even if the wool does. So even if you get the legs shrunken down, they may be wonky in the waist.

    I have a pair of thrifted wool trousers that I use mostly in the winter or for casual hikes during shoulder season. They are I think 85% wool 15% nylon, which improves the durability. I did indeed remove the acetate liner, mainly because those liners don't hold up to much abuse–they tear pretty readily. Wool doesn't need much heavy washing; just soak in Eucalan every couple of weeks to get the worst of the dirt out, lay flat to dry. As long as you don't agitate the material or expose it to drastically different water temps you shouldn't get any inadvertent felting.

    matt kirk
    BPL Member


    Locale: southern appalachians

    I want to thank the authors of this thread for the inspiration to go out to the local thrift store and find a pair of wool slacks. Mission accomplished. I got a 100% merino wool pair for less than $4.

    I wear a 30/34, so it can be difficult to find the right size, but I got close enough on the first try. The pants weighed ~16.5 oz. before modifications, 11 oz. after. Super soft and comfortable, especially after washing and alterations.

    I removed the liner, belt loops and took in some of the seams to make a more "athletic fit." I folded the waist down about an inch and sewed all the way around the pants, taking a few back and forth passes on the zipper teeth to create new stoppers. This brought the crotch of the pants a little closer to where they needed to be. I used the extra fabric length on the legs to compensate for this adjustment. I also narrowed the width of each leg slightly on the inseam.

    I would caution others to reinforce the seams whether or not they choose to alter the fit. I leaned this by not abiding by the "dry clean only" instructions written on my pants and noticing some seam damage after a cold machine wash. This was easily fixable, but I went ahead and reinforced all the seams because I don't plan to take these to the dry cleaner to the future either… ;)

    Bob Shaver
    BPL Member


    Locale: West

    I definitely used wool dress pants back in the day. That was the early 70s, when I was living cheap. I had no problems with them, and they sure protected my legs from scratches from brush.

    Dennis W
    BPL Member


    Yup. A regular hack back in the 70’s and early 80’s before the days of higher tech fabrics. We also wore wool sweaters before fleece was invented. Yeah . . . I’m old.


    MJ H
    BPL Member


    Thanks for bumping this.  I hadn’t seen it before.  I have plenty of old wool pants (summer weight) that are too beat up for work now but still have plenty of wear.  I don’t usually like to hike in shorts due to vicious plants and bugs, but nylon hiking pants don’t let as much air circulate as I’d like.

    I also have a very heavy pair of winter wool pants, but I’ve never taken them hiking as they are too heavy.

    Ben C
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kentucky

    I wear a pair every day to work.  I think they would be comfortable and breathable and durable.  My concern is cleaning.  They don’t’ need to be cleaned as often as other pants, but they need to be dry cleaned when they do.  Outside of the cleaning issue, seems like they would be great.

    Edward John M
    BPL Member


    Cleaning wool is easy enough but it does need to be done correctly

    Cool water and minimum agitation minimum soap or detergent.

    Very common hack as stated I am working on a set at the moment as cold weather liners for my old army battledress trousers which are also being hacked to bag and double the knees

    The other old hack was to improve water resistance by an alum treatment and then use lanolin in a solvent

    Daniel Oxnard


    Locale: Appalachia

    I am so happy to see this post. I wear 100% wool dress slacks hiking any time it is cold,  and I feel a little self conscious on the trail. I really like them. So far they have proven exceptionally resilient, especially for their $6.00 thrift store price. Last winter trip I took, it rained, sleeted,  and snowed for most of the ten day hike. Towards the end I ran into a pair of hikers that had a big fire, but neither of them could get close enough to it, to actually warm themselves. I cozied right up to the licking flames, and my pants seemed fine afterwards.

    For washing I use woolite on cold/gentle cycle, but my mom says to just use shampoo?

    MJ H
    BPL Member


    I’ve washed wool stuff in Woolite on the gentle cycle too. No shrinking so far. This is heavier wool (a Filson jacket and LL Bean hunting pants) or base layers. I still dry clean my fancy wool for work.

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