Work wardrobe, roof style.
September 15, 2017 4:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the perfect pants and shoes for work. However, my requirements are a little different than most work-clothing questions around here: abrasion resistance and grip.

So I'm a solar site auditor, which basically means I spend much of my working day clambering about on roofs. I'm looking for work pants that will hold up in that environment, and shoes or boots that will keep me from plummeting to my doom.

When it comes to pants, what I really need is maximum abrasion resistance. Asphalt shingles absolutely destroy fabric, and on steeper roofs I am often reduced to crabwalking and scooting around on my butt which is kinda like rubbing my pants against ultra-coarse sandpaper. Right now I'm wearing pants made from a lightweight ripstop nylon/spandex blend that are definitely durable for what they are but are a bit on the thin side. I'd like something heavier, ideally something made from cordura or with kevlar or spectra fibers in it. I'm willing to pay if I think it'll hold up, but I'd have to be pretty confident to go much above $50 because I'm not dropping $150 on pants just to have my undies showing inside a week. They need to have cargo pockets and they need to have excellent freedom of movement. No zippers, zipper pulls just get ripped off. I'd love it if they came in green. Cotton/poly blends are no good, even the heaviest ones fall apart right away.

For shoes, what I need most is grip. I need sticky, tacky soles that will glom onto the roof and not slide. I'm thinking something with relatively thin soles will help here (I've noticed that my thin gloves get a lot more traction than my thick boots, I think because I can really press them tight into the shingles) but really they just need to be super grippy. They don't have to specifically be work boots, anything closed-toed is fine. Do I want running shoes? Vibram FiveFingers? I'm prepared to get a little crazy, as long as it will work. I'd be willing to go up to $250 or so for something that will last (read: a heavy, all-leather upper) but cheaper, more disposable shoes are also fine. As long as they stick!

Thanks for your suggestions!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I recently bought some Duluth Trading Company Flex Fire Hose pants. NOT the firehose pants, but the flex variety.

Very tough material. Feels like Cordura, but a bit lighter. They fit well, lots of freedom, and loosen up nicely after washing. My only complaint is that they seem to hold stains. Not sure why, I got some motor oil on a pair and I was unable to wash it out. But very tough material, regrettably they don't come in green.

For your shoes... a client of mine used to sell these things called "Cougar Grips" on his website. HE doesn't anymore, but this guy has something similar Cougar Boots.
posted by bricksNmortar at 5:16 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you have an REI nearby I would go there. Their staff is really knowledgable and it sounds like some some nice quality outdoor gear would be perfect. (although if you google roof shoes some people swear by Chuck Taylors)
posted by beccaj at 5:36 AM on September 15, 2017

Best answer: If you don't need big, capacious cargo pockets, get the standard double-front Carhartt pants. If you need bigger cargo pockets that have flaps, Wrangler Riggs has some with double fabric on the knees (and with a crotch gusset for more flexibility). The Carhartts are thicker material, the Wranglers are thinner ripstop material but still long-lasting. (Carhartt also has some pants with single layer knees, ripstop material, and big cargo pockets, but in your case I think you'll want the reinforced knees.) Any of them will wear out fairly fast with your use, but you'll get longer use out of pants made for work than you will otherwise.

For shoes, you might want to look at the Five Ten shoes, if maximum traction is the goal.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:50 AM on September 15, 2017

Response by poster: Double layers don't help, shingles rip up poly/cotton like it's tissue paper and I won't even touch 100% cotton. Outdoor pants are too lightweight, expensive, and not designed for this level of abuse. Already tried them, they didn't last a day.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:54 AM on September 15, 2017

Response by poster: I've been interested in Duluth, but they never say what actual materials their non-cotton fabrics are made from, so that's out. Too much of a gamble.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:59 AM on September 15, 2017

Best answer: Ooh, you need approach shoes! They are a blend between hiking shoes and climbing shoes, meant to be comfortable enough for hiking in (which regular climbing shoes are most definitely NOT) while still providing grip on rocks. Five Ten linked above makes approach shoes and climbing shoes. La Sportiva and Scarpa are among the other brands that are sold at REI, and I'm sure there are others as well.
posted by somanyamys at 6:06 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're not going to find any affordable fabric that can take this sort of punishment for a significant length of time. Use knee pads, maybe, and focus on finding shoes and other safety gear that will allow you to stay on your feet.
posted by jon1270 at 6:07 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's actually my butt that gets ripped up, not my knees; I rarely kneel, but often sit, crouch, crab, and scoot. Trust me, I stand as much as I can but not being able to stand is not an excuse for not doing the job—there will always be a subset of roofs that fall in between "I can walk on this" and "Nope, not doing it." I'm willing to pay more for extreme durability in the butt area, I just haven't found a work-friendly pant that offers it. Motorcycle pants do, but the cut is too tight and they tend not to have cargo pockets.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:24 AM on September 15, 2017

Buy some fancy abrasion resistant fabric, and have someone sew big squares of it on to the knees/butt/etc of your pants. When the abrasion resistant fabric starts to wear out, get it replaced before the underlying pants are damaged!
posted by gregr at 6:25 AM on September 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Dyntex/Herox and kevlar are the high abrasion resistant fabrics used in cold weather mountaineering pants which would probably be a bit warm for roofs. (Here's a $465 pair). You can also find mountaineering pants which are lightweight but have Kevlar-reinforced butts and knees (they don't seem to make kevlar-reinforced pants for women, color me shocked). But they have skiier's pockets, not cargo pockets, which really don't hold much.

I think gregr's suggestion is a good one--although you might need a seamstress to make you a pair of cargo pants with a Herox or Kevlar panel through the seat rather than just installing one over an existing pair.

What do other people you work with do?
posted by crush at 7:26 AM on September 15, 2017

Response by poster: I work alone. The other guy who does my job just wears thrift store jeans and gets rid of them when they get holes, which is a legit option but not the way I'm looking to go here.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:40 AM on September 15, 2017

Response by poster: Also, I'm a guy. So while it is indeed annoying that there are fewer women's options out there, it has no practical impact for me within the scope of this question. Definitely shitty though, since mountaineering is just as popular with women as with men.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:43 AM on September 15, 2017

I was a roofer for a summer (it was enough, TYVM), and I will agree that no clothes which are capable of withstanding the roof will also be comfy, good-looking, or long-lasting. Being up there is murder on your clothes. (Heck, 25 years later, even my lunch cooler still has tar on it!) So either you could take some decent pants to a tailer and ask to have the seat reinforced, or you can accept that work clothes are disposable. (Which sucks, I know.)

I recently bought some Duluth Trading Company Flex Fire Hose pants. NOT the firehose pants, but the flex variety.

Me, too! I am wearing them (in an office setting, with some time spent in machine rooms) right now, and I LOVE them! I only have one pair now, so I don't dare ruin them in the yard, but I want to swap out all my khakis for these so I can wear them seven days a week.

Sign up for their mailing list, then buy a pair when they offer 30% off -- totally worth it. (And yes, definitely available for women.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:28 AM on September 15, 2017

All the roofers I've known wear jeans and Carhartts, with the odd Dickies thrown in.

I know you say you don't want those, but it's unclear if you've actually tried them. I'm the kind of person that trusts the received wisdom of professionals who've been doing this every day for decades, YMMV.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:28 AM on September 15, 2017

I've been interested in Duluth, but they never say what actual materials their non-cotton fabrics are made from, so that's out. Too much of a gamble.

When googling, I get this as a description on the search page, but when I click the link, I don't see it as text:
Fire Hose Pants & Shorts - Duluth Trading
Heavy-duty 100% nylon twill bonded to 100% polyester fleece Flat-faced woven outer shell with water-resistant finish blocks wind, sheds rain, sleet and snow Extreme abrasion-resistance without the weight – Alaska tough! Ripstop nylon reinforcements at knees, back pockets and other ...
I'm not sure if that helps.

I do know an excellent tailor who made me hard-to-fit jeans and I bet she would rock at making you a pair for your needs. MeMail me if you'd like the link.
posted by jillithd at 8:29 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just went and looked at the label... The DuluthFlex pants are 97% cotton, 3% spandex.

They're really tough, plus I like how lightweight & comfortable they are.
posted by bricksNmortar at 8:54 AM on September 15, 2017

Shoes for Crews
posted by Thorzdad at 10:16 AM on September 15, 2017

What about these? Seem to fit your requirements.

If you're willing to go more expensive, Filson Tincloth and Cactus Outdoor's pants are the toughest I've worn.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:39 AM on September 15, 2017

Response by poster: Those CATs would be great if they had reinforced patches on the seat, but they don't; only on the knees. Tincloth is something I've thought about, but it is extremely pricey, especially for what is basically just waxed cotton canvas.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:22 PM on September 15, 2017

It looks like you might be looking for motorcycle pants, which are built for serious abrasion resistance. I've never worn a pair myself, but I'm seeing a ton of them with kevlar-reinforced seat and knees -- see examples here and here, as well as this article and this article about kevlar motorcycle jeans (for some brand recommendations).
posted by ourobouros at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2017

Response by poster: Looks like I'm getting a pair of approach shoes (Five Ten Guide Tennies) and those Mountain Hardwear Dragon pants. I'm not sure about the cut or the pockets on the pants, but even if they're not right for work they look fantastic for winter hiking. I wore the butts out of two pairs of snow pants with all the glissading I did last winter, so they should see plenty of use regardless.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:03 PM on September 15, 2017

I'm into canyoneering (aka "adventure hiking"), and I sympathize with how difficult it is to find pants that can stand up to the constant sliding and butt-scooting over extremely abrasive surfaces.

This is how we deal with the issue - the Imlay Scuttlebutt. It's designed to be worn on a rock climbing harness, but it would be easy (and cheap) to run some 1" tubular webbing through it at the waist and thigh, add some buckles, and you've got yourself a stand-alone piece of gear that you can quickly throw over on over your pants before heading up onto a roof.
posted by gin and biscuits at 9:39 AM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So I've had my new shoes for about a week now and am extremely happy with them. Definitely better grip and control than my work boots; I feel much more confident on some of the steeper roofs that were a bit tricky to deal with before. They are clearly not as durable as my work boots, but they also cost about 1/4 as much so I'm nt too concerned.

The pants I've just started using today, but so far I really like them. They are extremely comfy and stretchy and they seem pretty bomb-proof in all the right places. I'm still not too enthusiastic about the pockets (too few, too small, and all zippered) but they work. The integrated belt is also not the best design I've ever seen, but again it works. If these things hold up as well as I think they ought to, I'll be very satisfied.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:07 PM on September 28, 2017

It takes very little time to add extra cargo pockets. Maybe 1/2 hour per pocket?

Pockets don't come standard on a lot of the clothing I wear, so I was super excited to realize I could just DIY the pockets. My everything now has adequate pockets.
posted by aniola at 2:14 PM on April 27, 2018

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