Ladypants and Archaeology

One of the reasons that I've been posting very little here lately is that I am gearing up to go into the field in July, for some excavation, 3D modeling, and osteological analysis at the site of Oplontis outside of Pompeii. My goal for the summer is to blog here about that fieldwork, although it'll likely take the form of writing about work-life balance. You see, I'm bringing my family to the field for the first time! So I'll send missives about the adventures of traveling and seeing Europe with my 8yo and 3.5yo daughters and software engineer husband.
Found this on Pinterest as a "summer archaeology excavation
outfit". To which I say Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

In preparation, since I really haven't been in the field in a while, save a few weeks every other summer, I've been restocking my archaeological toolkit -- not the actual equipment, since my Marshalltown doesn't age, but my field clothing. Between the changes in site rules in Italy and the changes in my body following two kids, my old field garb isn't cutting it. Shirts are a no-brainer, and Italy requires EU-rated steel-toed boots, but that leaves the question of pants.

Ladies' pants are problematic. I'm currently wearing jeans that fit me well, but that annoy me because they have lady-pockets. You know, the teeny half-pockets (or sometimes no pockets!) that you can't fit anything in except lipstick because of *course* that's the only thing I want to carry with me. I've also found that ladies' khaki pants (no laughing here, Brits!) are woefully inadequate for fieldwork, especially if purchased at a store like Old Navy. The fabric is thin, the pockets are sad, and the worst part is that the men's pants are far more useful and rugged... and usually cheaper. My last pair of field pants was a men's style and size (plus a belt), since I had to prioritize function over fit.

To remedy this, I did what any social media maven would do: crowdsourced suggestions for archaeological ladypants. If you're also looking for rugged but lightweight pants for the field, here's a big ol' list that is only vaguely organized. (Full disclosure: I've not tested any of these except Rothco.)

National Sports/Sportswear Stores
  • Columbia Sportswear. Among the recommendations here were the fishing pants. To save on the cost, find an outlet near you.
  • REI. Highly recommended were the Sahara pants - there's a regular kind and a kind that can be rolled up when you get hot. Bonus points: these were also recommended by a recently postpartum archaeologist. 
  • Eddie Bauer. The zip-off hiking pants, rip-stop pants, and the Horizon pant were recommended (which also rolls up).
  • These stores were recommended as well, but no specific pants were mentioned: Academy Sports, Tractor Supply Company, Bass Pro Shops.
Local or Online Sportswear Stores
  • Army surplus was recommended for either hiking combats or paratrooper style pants. I found the Rothco brand of fatigues online at Amazon and ordered a couple, mostly because of the drawstring waist/side tabs at the waist, figuring that would get me through weight fluctuations.
  • Workout pants / activewear. I don't think this is allowed where I work, but if you are in a more lax country, sweat-wicking workout capris or other activewear could be a good bet. I was warned, though, that mosquitoes can bite through the thin stuff (see Ex Officio above).
I'm excited to try out the Rothco pants to see how comfortable they are. If they're not, I guess I'll try one of the above. Sadly, archaeologists are not as cool as NASCAR drivers and don't get crazy sponsorship deals. But man, I'd totally list sponsorship on my project page and say nice things about the company if I got free field clothes and backpacks! 

The author in 2003 as "queen of the trench"
at the site of Azoria on Crete. Definitely
can't wear this sort of field gear now!

Thanks muchly to all the ladypants wearers who contributed to my Facebook thread: Traci Ardren, Jo Buckberry, Sarah Levin-Richardson, Julie Hruby, Kate Ellenberger, Erin Stevens Nelson, Claire Terhune, Mindy Pitre, Tanya Peres, Katie Brewer, Amanda Mathis, Beth Koontz, Jane Holmstrom, Liz Berger, Kate Spradley, Megan Perry, Sonia Zakrzewski, Michelle Ziegler, Sheri Pak, Jess Beck, Anna Osterholtz, Sarah Miller, Ruth Beeston, Carlina de la Cova, Sarah Rowe, and Shannon Hodge. And thanks to the menfolk who also suggested pants: Dimitri Nakassis, Andy Danner, Stephen Savage, and Jim O'Hara.

Clearly, the sheer number of people with opinions on this topic means finding good archaeo-pants is a very real concern!


Ash said…
I have a pair of red ant pants that were only worn twice because they were way more heavy duty than I expected and were so rough on my skin. It's possible they would soften up with more wear/washings, but they mainly seemed good for survey through briars. I have a few pairs of women's Carhartts that have lasted through CRM and grad school and a pair of Dickies that are a little lighter fabric that I really like as well.
Steko said…
I'm curious about "changes in site rules" you mention and Italy requiring steel-toe boots. What is the source of these regulations? Is it the Soprintendenza ?
Hm, now that I think about it, maybe I've always had to wear steel-toed boots on digs in Italy. I definitely didn't in Greece. Anyway, it may be a Soprintendenza-level decision, or even a site-by-site one? I'm not sure, to be honest. The sites I've worked on have had safety engineers responsible for telling us what to do and what not to do.
Courtney said…
Oplontis! Wow, I was there in 2015 as an education specialist. I wrote a curriculum for K-12 called Project Archaeology: Investigating a Roman Villa and it features the two villas at Oplontis. It is available for download:

My luggage was lost when I traveled to Italy so I think I was wearing linen pants I bought at a train station and had been wearing for several days. I usually wear Patagonia pants purchased at their outlet store during a sale.
Oh, these are so neat, Courtney! I'm going to use the K-5 one on my older daughter (rising 3rd grader) when (if?) I can bring her to site one day. I'm definitely worried about the lost luggage issue... especially since I have to transport a bunch of equipment.
Bone Belle said…
I'm sorry this is so long! I just want to help. :)

I am a large hourglass shape and work in sometimes triple digit (F) heat.

I wear the Bass Pro World Wide Sportsman shirts. They're great for sun-blocking but not melting you (venting and nylon type fabric). They do have nice size pockets on the front but if you're busty, they're kind of worthless. I do like the neck flap on the back that covers that space where your hat might not and they usually have a loop for your sunglasses. They have the sleeve buttons for rolling them up. They also have enough length to cover you modestly when you bend over. They do stain with the red mud we have here but I've not managed to ruin/rip, etc one in 3 years.

I did buy their pants to match but found a brand called Dakota Grizzly that is the same thing but cheaper. They zip off to shorts, have a little side pockets that I put keys in, regular pockets that are so-so sized. They are nylon quick dry and are GREAT for anti-swamp crotch. I do have to cinch the waist with the belt that comes with but they are pretty easy to bend and move in. I haven't torn, split, worn out a pair in 3 years.

In the winter I just wear sweat shirts and LB jeans.

For steel-toed boots, I have a pair of men's Ariat. They are ok. They're water proof and I can tuck my pants into them. But I had to use ballet lambs'wool toe pads bc they crushed my toes. They are also way hot and I can't drive in them bc they're heavy weighted. A coworker suggested Red Wings next time.

Also, if you're packing equipment and are worried about it getting lost on the flight, I sometimes just ship mine by post ahead of time to wherever I am going. Post can get lost too or be slow but I've not had anything lost that way yet.

And since most clothing doesn't have pockets, I use a bucket buddy. Little items in the pockets and big tools in the bucket. It's also handy to carry out little find bags.

Hope any of this helps. I've got tons of tips I picked up from trial and error I'd be glad to pass on. :)
Sarah said…
Just checking back in here to say that my absolute favorite REI Sahara Roll-up pants are no longer available. These were great for my curvy petite self because they had a flexible waistband, lots of adjustment and some stretch to the material, so it made it easy to move in. REI now offers a Kornati Roll-up pant, but according to the reviews they basically fail in every way that the Sahara was great. I'm still on the look out for something new (but if anyone has a size 12 petite Sahara roll up that they want to pass on I would be in heaven).

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