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Jeff’s Carhartt Review

Just before Christmas, I contributed a teaser on a big box of Carhartt clothing that showed up on my front porch one day. Since that time I have worn one or more of the Carhartt articles of clothing every day, regardless of what I was doing. Carhartt very graciously sent a wide selection of items that gave me ample opportunities be in constant “test mode” since mid-December of 2011. Here we are in the second month of 2012 and closing in on the third quickly, but I managed, for the first time, to be in constant contact with all of the items tested. There was a variety of clothing which allowed for use of one item or another regardless of what was on the day’s agenda, be it cutting or splitting wood, lavishing Jeeps with tender loving care, just plain woods bumming, going to work or being at home with my family over the holidays.


I will first say that, in general, all of the new Carhartt clothing I have been using is some of the best clothing I have used. Well-made clothing sometimes costs a little more, but Carhartt has never seemed to be way outside of my budget like some high-end clothing is. Carhartts are not only sold online, but often where most of us without extravagant tastes don’t feel out of place shopping. Several Carhartts have been hanging on our coat rack for many years – decades in some cases. Those which were not bought on clearance were not particularly cheap, but they weren’t particularly expensive either.

This culture of which Stephanie speaks of in her initial review, wherein it is taboo to wash your Carhartts is no myth. I have been part of that culture for many years and have a Detroit jacket which has not been washed in over twenty years. I have another which has not been washed in over fifteen. These jackets are my dirtywork Carhartt and my casual Carhartt, respectively. I actually have a dress Carhartt and then my bibs, which go hunting, wood cutting, working around the place and about everything else. The bibs may have been washed once but I can’t remember that far back. Don’t ask me why either because I can’t explain it. It’s just one of those things one doesn’t talk about let alone do. Things changed in mid December of last year. In addition to a Hooded Active Duck Jacket, the remaining five articles of Carhartt clothing were something I hadn’t tried before – clothing which would be in direct contact with my body. Time to break that old taboo and start tossing some Carhartts in the washer once in a while!


The Hooded Active Duck Jacket is as well built as any Carhartt coat or jacket I have ever owned. It’s refreshing to be able to buy from a company over several decades and not see the quality or durability incrementally deteriorate. One’s money is well spent in this case and I’d rather have the coat than the money it cost because one will keep me warm for years and its usefulness not become devalued – you can guess which one. The Active Duck Jacket’s outer shell is the same heavy cotton duck material I have cone to expect and to count on. The liner is brushed polyester mesh, which seems to be an extremely effective insulation. The wrists and waist are seal around you against the wind with a thick, soft but very elastic cuff. Double and triple seams and bar tacks abound. I won’t list every place they are located because it’s enough to say that they’re everywhere they need to be and possibly in a few places where Carhartt could have saved a few cents by eliminating them, but they didn’t. The stitching is solid, straight and uniform with no stray threads and no skips. The seams are neat, compact and uniform in appearance and located such that they don’t catch on one another. There are two inside pockets, one with a zipper and another with Velcro, while on the outside there are two roomy hand-warmer pockets with sufficient depth to prevent odd bits of gear from falling out. The main zipper is brass, has a zipper pull large enough to manipulate with cold fingers or gloves and the whole works operates smoothly. The zipper itself is impressive in that it is well made, made of an ideal material and is beefy. The zipper will take quite a lot of abuse and I have several which still work after many years of abuse to back that claim.

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The Carhartt Hooded Active Duck Jacket was too warm for me to really put through its paces because this has been a particularly mild winter. Even on a day when it was in the low teens and the wind was blowing, this jacket was just too much to do moderately strenuous work in, like cutting and splitting wood and hiking. When I have to jump into a cold vehicle to head to work or back home on cold mornings and evenings, it has been absolutely wonderful. While my butt freezes on the cold seat, my upper body is toasty. The Active Jacket is cut so you have plenty of mobility without a lot of bulk. The cotton duck is stiff and of heavy weight, but the quality of the insulation allows the jacket to be thin enough to no get in your way. Overall, the Carhartt Hooded Active Duck Jacket lives up to the reputation achieved by previous Carhartt designs, and adds a new dimension of usefulness and versatility in outerwear. I may even wash it in twenty years and see what happens.

Pants, in general, are not fitted to people of my stature. I have but a twenty nine inch inseam and the waist-band of every pair of pants I buy is just about under my arm pits if I pull my pants up so that the crotch of the pants is near my own crotch. This makes “getting a leg up” an exercise in comedic choreography and painful futility. I have ripped the crotch out of a number of pairs of jeans and casual slacks because of this and even once on the first day at a new job at an engineering firm. No one saw me enter or leave the bathroom with my stapler or I would have had as much discomfort in explaining as I did in sitting for the rest of the afternoon.

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Carhartt’s Relaxed Fit Jeans actually fit and they are comfortable. They are made with a soft yet heavy fabric cut to actually allow one to bend, stoop, squat and sit without binding, pinching squashing and impinging. There are rivets and bar tacks where necessary and double and triple seams; yes, a triple-seamed inseam. How hard do you think it is to design and make a pocket on a pair of jeans? I have jeans with pockets that let anything in them fall right out when I sit down. Losing a little change is an annoyance, but having your favorite Victorinox Farmer Swiss Army Knife squirt out of your pocket, through the rabbit hole between the car seat and console, where it eventually ends its journey to wonderland under the carpet, under the air bag control module is another matter.

The pockets on Carhartt’s Relaxed Fit Jeans actually work like pockets are supposed to. They are deep enough and wide enough to keep stuff where you put it. While it may seem funny a few years after you’ve finished putting your car’s interior back together, it wouldn’t be as entertaining to find that your ferro-rod or match safe quietly made good its escape as you plodded your way to being lost, near dark and getting colder. Pants without pockets are useless and pants with poorly designed pockets are even worse. It doesn’t seem to me that it would take much to think that one through before sewing up a few hundred thousand pairs of cool-looking jeans but it doesn’t always happen. Carhartt seems to take all these little details seriously and my next pair of jeans will be another pair of Carhartt Relaxed Fit Jeans.

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While jeans are great and appropriate for so many occasions beyond work and play in the outdoors that they are indispensible, but if I am going out specifically to engage in outdoors activities, I usually wear something a little more adapted to that specific endeavor. Carhartt sent along some very interesting pants which one might generically cast as “cargo pants” at first glance, but “cargo” connotes mass and bulk to me and the things I carry are many and small, requiring more organization than warehouse space. Sensibly thought-out pockets are an oversight in the economy jeans I have been using over the past several years, but they are an outright abomination in some of the so-called cargo pants that I have used because someone actually thought about the pockets and still screwed it up by poor placement, shape and size.

“Canvas Utility Pants” is what Carhartt calls the next item. These are a medium-weight canvas pant with all the carefully considered attributes of all the former articles of clothing, plus a few more features. The canvas is neither stiff nor rough but is still very durable. They look nice enough to use as casual wear and I have noticed in the last few years that extra pockets on are more accepted, or at least not as noticed in the office under certain circumstances. The Canvas Utility Pants could go either way; outdoors for rough use or as a slight step up from jeans in a casual-wear-appropriate environment.

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Even though I have been using these pants for outdoor work and woods bumming, I will also be using them for day trips with my wife where we may just drive around and look at things, go to antique stores or visit historical places, shops, fairs and such. The Canvas Utility Pants are comfortable to sit in while driving and have enough sensibly designed pockets for the incidental items one would want to have on hand when away from home or not close to the car. If you travel, they are casual enough without being too casual and have room for maps, extra camera batteries, tickets, pocket camera, a snack or two or whatever you feel is appropriate for the day. Never mind the visions of BDUs stuffed with MREs. The Canvas Utility Pants look good for the times when that matters but they are still very capable outdoors wear. Mine are a shade lighter than a khaki color so they don’t set off the tactical alarms as you engage in civilized affairs.

To kick up the tough and capable factor a notch, there is another pair of Carhartt pants that have really gotten about the most use and abuse of all those I have been using; the Ripstop Work Pants. While these are as comfortable as the Relaxed Fit Jeans and the Canvas Utility Pants, they are made for rougher service and have a few more features. Mine are a dark gray-green or “olive green” and they are right at home outdoors. While not camouflaged, the color is an excellent shade for not making you stick out like a sore thumb in the woods. Like the Canvas Utility Pants, they really don’t stick out in a crowd either but, up close one can tell that these are made for serious work. Since the Ripstop Work Pants are everything the others are and made just as well, I will focus on the features which differentiate them.

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The Ripstop Work Pants’ material feels a bit heavier than the Canvas Utility Pants and has the added feature of the ripstop grid. There are few more bar tacks and double seams and the knees are reinforced with a double layer of material. The belt loops seem tougher still and accommodate my two and a quarter inch belts with plenty of room to spare. The pocket flaps have snaps in lieu of Velcro and the back pockets are hemmed with Cordura® to prevent fraying cause by tools being put into and pulled out of the pocket. Zippers, buttons and snaps on all the Carhartt pants are well made and well placed and the pockets are all well designed, but the one thing that really stood out on the Ripstop Work Pants was the Cordura® shield on the right side pocket that keeps a folding knife’s pocket clip from chewing up the seam. Actually, it’s not the clip on my Benchmade Ritter Gritptillians that chews up my pockets – it’s the aggressive checkering on the scales, and it does it do a number on cheap jeans.

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In sorting photos for another topic, I noticed that the Ripstop Work Pants really look pretty refined for the woods. Not that this will stop me from wearing them there but they sure won’t look out of place on a job site even if you have to meet with clients and actually work on the same day. No need to keep your casual khakis in the truck and change in the port-o-pot. I have worn these to work myself on occasion when I had to split the day between lecture and lab. They worked out well for that because they look “decent” in the classroom and are comfortable and durable in the electrical lab. The dark color makes the incidental smudge disappear and the cut makes them look very professional.

The base material for the jacket and all the pants under scrutiny here is cotton. While it is comfortable and durable, it can soak up water but I did notice that they all seemed to repel a considerable amount of water and did not seem to absorb much moisture from the air at all though not being specifically wet weather gear proper. Most of my Carhartt clothing from the past has performed similarly but I don’t remember ever reading of a specific treatment used to enhance water repellency in their clothing. My old Detroit Jacket is incidentally waterproofed by virtue of the wide range of stains it has accumulated, including bar oil and tree sap but the tight weave of the canvas has to be a significant factor in shedding as much water as it does.

The Carhartt Workwear Pocket T-shirt is a real t-shirt. T-shirts seem to have become as much an American icon as jeans and it also seems everyone makes one, but not everyone makes one that’s worth having. The usual deficiencies include improper sizing, thin material, cheap construction and the tendency to shrink north to south only, leaving you with an exposed “mid-drift” making them non-plumber appropriate (sorry guys). The Workwear Pocket T-shirt is made of thick, soft cotton and is sewn to stay together for a long time. I have washed mine many times in the past several weeks and it shows no signs of excess or continual shrinkage, plus the hems do not exhibit the annoying trait of curling up over time. Repeated washing seems to just make it feel that much better without showing signs of wear. The obligatory pocket is a useful size, is sewn on well and it does not sag.

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The single best feature of the Workwear Pocket T-shirt is that the neck band does not make me feel like I have a noose around my neck. That has not changed through many washings and makes it the best t-shirt I have worn. All others but one have the neck band slit to keep me from wondering if I had put them on backwards.

Carhartt’s Long-sleeved Workwear Henley is better still, especially in cooler weather. The button-up neck is handy when it’s breezy but nice to open up and cool off a bit as things heat up. The Long -sleeved Workwear Henley is made just like the Workwear Pocket T-shirt in terms of quality and comfort and I have found myself wearing it as often as I can outdoors. The fabric is soft, not itchy or stiff and it breathes. I have had other tees which were too hot because of some component other than cotton being used which was neither a benefit in terms of reducing wear or enhancing comfort. The buttons are sturdy and the button-holes are stitched well with no over-sized or under-sized openings, which is another common problem I have had with some of my bargain clothing.

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Lastly, there’s the Carhartt Plaid Flannel Shirt. How can it be that something which is considered so truly and genuinely manly as a Plaid Flannel Shirt can just be so darned snuggly? I have tolerated a lot of discomfort for the sake of being outdoors over the years. I dress as appropriately as I am able to judge the conditions and usually do fairly well, but I have also hung around after getting as cold or as wet as I wished to tolerate, for a few more minutes, and a few more, and still a few more, just to see what other creature may happen upon me while there is still enough light to see. It’s worth a small amount of suffering to see some more and do some more, like finish splitting up a pile of wood before going inside, but when I slip an arm into the Carhartt Plaid Flannel Shirt, it feels so cozy that it just makes me grin. Comfort isn’t just for sissies after all and I am getting my fair share every time I wear that shirt.

Unlike poorly made flannel shirts, this Carhartt fits, just like the rest of the clothing mentioned, and it looks good, whether I do or not. If nothing else, the good looks of this shirt just may rub off on me a little or at least serve as a respite for the eye weary of my appearance. I haven’t had a decent flannel shirt in years and the Carhartt Flannel Shirt was like running into an old friend.

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All the Carhartt clothing I have been wearing has been first rate clothing in all respects. Buttons, snaps and zippers are heavy-duty and easily manipulated. One of the most important things that I noticed that I didn’t notice (I know) was the irritating, tickling, prickling invisible fishing line threads that stick out and poke you in the spots where you seem to have the most nerve endings. Bargain shirts are famous for this and many tags and neck seams are sewn with this elusive little torture device. There were no irritating tags either – the ones that develop hard, quills along the edges to irritate any spot the invisible threads might have missed.

All of the Carhartt clothing actually fit me. The sizes were true and when the tag says the inseam is thirty inches, the inseam is thirty inches. For anyone who clings to an old pair of cheap jeans with a tag stamped “thirty two inch waist” for the entire world to see, but which would actually measure something more like thirty eight, just be honest with your self and order what you really need because someone at Carhartt actually has a tape measure. The shirts all fit well and did not have disproportionally short tails or sleeves, the inner-facing does not shrink, curl or bunch and the seams don’t coincide with areas of your body which come into contact with hard surfaces. Someone (probably several people) were actually thinking about people having to wear this clothing when they made it and not just concerning themselves with how it looks hanging on a rack in a retail store.

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I know I mentioned cost earlier but I should be clear on that with regard to Carhartt clothing; Carhartt clothing is a high value expenditure of your hard-earned cash. Carhartt clothing is not as expensive as many name-brands for like articles of clothing, in fact, the price is usually on par with some sub-standard apparel which is marketed with an artificially high price point, but with the Carhartts, there is nothing artificial about their design, durability, comfort or fit. You won’t have to wear them twenty years to amortize the cost, but you may very well end up wearing them for twenty years anyway. When the day comes that you finally have to face reality and let that old, trusted and reliable friend move on, don’t just throw it in the trash or a burn pile. Do like I have had to do and send it off respectfully in an all wood funeral pyre.

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