Comparing Helikon-Tex trousers
I like having cargo pockets on my trousers. I carry a pen, some scrap paper, a large phone, several bike-lock keys as well as my house keys, and sometimes a compact camera. I find this collection of things easiest to store in cargo pockets. Unlike a bag, I don't risk leaving my cargo pockets on the bus(!) and it would be uncomfortable to to try fitting all of these things into regular trouser pockets.
In the past, I bought trousers with cargo pockets from high street clothes shops. My two problems with them have been:
They're generally made of very lightweight cotton which wears out in the seat (due to my travelling by bicycle a lot) and sometimes in the knees.
The layout of the pockets sometimes seems to be chosen for aesthetic rather than practical reasons, making some of the pockets unusable for me.
A few years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I bought a pair of Helikon-Tex M65 trousers. The pocket layout was practical and the nyco fabric was incredibly hard-wearing and I haven't looked back since. The M65 trousers are great in cold weather, but above 10°C I start wishing for something more breathable, especially if I'm doing something moderately active.
Since I bought those M65s, I've bought a few other pairs of Helikon-Tex trousers. They seem to be in a sweet spot of good quality / reasonable price. I had to sew the waist button back on to the first two pairs I bought, and repaired a front pocket in a more recent pair, and this feels like a small inconvenience to me. At the lower end of their price range (below £40 at time of writing) there are 4 styles that are available in solid colours. These are, in order of price:
- BDU (an old U.S. forces pattern)
- SFU Next (version 2.0 of a proprietary Helikon pattern)
- M65 (an old U.S. forces cold-weather pattern)
- CPU (another proprietary Helikon pattern) - I haven't bought any trousers in this pattern yet.
In the same price range, there are also two styles that are only available in camouflage colours: PCS (current UK forces pattern) and ACS (current US forces pattern.) I haven't looked at those because I'm not interested in camo.
Helikon make trousers in 4 kinds of fabric. Heaviest first, these are:
- Nyco - A 50:50 nylon/cotton blend. The M65 trousers are only available in this material in a sateen weave. This is heavy and extremely hard wearing. Last year, I fell off my bike and scraped along the ground for about a metre on my knee. My knee still shows a scar but I can only see tiny spots of wear on the trousers. If I need to wade through a thicket of brambles, this is the fabric I want my clothes to be made of. Also, it doesn't seem to shrink at all when washed.
- Polycotton twill - A heavyweight polyester/cotton blend. Twill is supposed to drape more attractively than some other weaves. I find this fabric hard-wearing but a bit coarse. I'd rather wear something else.
- Polycotton ripstop - A mid-weight polyester/cotton blend. This seems to be Helikon's most used trouser fabric and has the biggest selection of colours.
I haven't bought any trousers in this fabric yet.
- Cotton ripstop - A pure cotton ripstop. According to Helikon's website, trousers made with this fabric are only a few grams lighter than the same style in polycotton ripstop. I assume it is more breathable than the polycotton though, because in most styles it is only available in two colours: khaki, and desert camo. Even though I'm not keen on khaki, I've bought trousers in this fabric for their breathability.
Differences in styles
The M65 and SFU Next have their cargo pockets mounted high on the leg. This suits me.
The BDU trousers have lower cargo pockets and I have had to sew across the bottom of the pockets in order to shorten them. Without this modification, the contents of the cargo pockets hit me in the knee when I walk briskly or run. (I guess my legs are shorter or differently proportioned from most customers.)
From photos of the CPU trousers, it looks like the cargo pockets are mounted low, like the BDUs. That's why I haven't bought any CPU trousers.
Both the SFU Next and CPU cargo pockets have technical features (but not all the same features in both styles.) Unlike the older designs, they also have extra pockets as well as the usual front and back ones.
One thing that I do not like about the SFU cargo pockets is that they have velcro flaps. (The CPU are advertised as having this too.) This is a pain if you are wearing a top in a high-loft material because it will catch on the velcro when you reach into the pocket, potentially damaging the material.
All four styles have waist adjusters. In theory, this means that you do not need a belt to get the fit right. In my experience the adjusters on the M65 trousers slowly loosen so I never rely on these.
The SFU trousers (which are the most "fitted" style mentioned here) have velcro waist adjusters. I like these a lot. The waist size is totally locked in and the velcro is completely covered so it should not catch on other clothing.
Most of the styles have a double layer of fabric at the knees and in the seat. As I travel mostly by bicycle, I love this.
In the case of the SFU Next and CPU trousers, the double layering at the knees comes in the form of kneepad pockets. Helikon sell insertable kneepads separately.
The M65s do not have this double layering but the nyco fabric is so tough that this is irrelevant. A pair of M65s have been my most-worn trousers for 3 years now and there is no sign of wear in the seat or knees. The Helikon website does say "Reinforced seat and knees" for these too, but I'm not sure what this is referring to.
The M65 trousers use a longer piece of material for the front of each leg, which is then shortened to the required length by sewing a couple of folds into the seams. This might be what Helikon mean by reinforcement. It seems to give greater freedom of movement than the other styles, which might reduce the amount of force that seams have to cope with. On the other hand, the M65 is the baggiest style because it is compatible with a button-in thermal liner, so this freedom of movement may not be due to the folds after all.
Your choice of trousers from the styles I mention might be influenced by available fabrics (and colours), the height at which cargo pockets are mounted, technical pocket features, and fit including waist adjusters.
The table below includes a mixture of generic manufacturer information and information specific to the trousers I've bought.
|Available fabrics||nyco sateen||polycotton twill,polycotton ripstop,cotton ripstop||polycotton ripstop,cotton ripstop||nyco ripstop (only in camo colours),polycotton ripstop,cotton ripstop|
|Cargo pockets mounted||high||high||low||low (judging from photos)|
|Fabric purchased||nyco||polycotton twill||polycotton ripstop||cotton ripstop||cotton ripstop|
|Helikon quote one weight for each style/fabric comnbination. Presumably all weights are for the same size.|
|Helikon quoted weight (grams)||988||950||785||775||680|
|I wear size small in regular leg length, so measured weights (below) are all for that size.|
|Measured weight (to nearest 10 grams)||900||800||670||630||630|