PPE: The Pros & Cons of Chain Saw Chaps vs. Pants

Arbortec BreatheFlex Pro chain saw protective pants. Which are better, chaps or pants, when operating a chain saw? Feedback from manufacturers suggest it is a matter of preference, and there are pros and cons for each. Photo courtesy of Sherrilltree.

With the ever-increasing awareness of the need for safety in the tree care industry, it should come as no surprise that proper personal protection equipment (PPE) for those using chain saws is a major topic of conversation. Manufacturers of chain saw chaps and pants say they are working hard to stay on top of the latest fabrics and design needs, and the professional arborists who wear the PPE are weighing in on what they want and what they need.

We spoke with a number of PPE manufacturers on the pros and cons of chain saw chaps vs. pants, and all agree it’s an evolving market and that choosing chaps or pants is largely a matter of personal preference. They also say it depends on considerations such as the work environment,
policies of the employer and industry regulations.

Alienor Diack, marketing manager for Clogger in New Zealand, along with colleagues Lincoln Smith and Phil Rogers, addresses some of the advantages and disadvantages of both pants and chaps.

“Pants have a number of advantages,” she says, “such as being individually sized so they fit correctly, and not presenting a snagging hazard during chipping or climbing operations. In fact, you would never want to wear chaps when climbing because of the snagging hazard. And pants are put on at the start of the day, so any job can be performed and the employee comes to work safely dressed for the job – that way, compliance is controlled. Plus, when everyone is dressed in the same pants, it gives a uniform, professional look to the crew.”

Clogger chaps. Chaps are more easily shared and provide good ventilation when working in hot weather, according to Clogger’s Alienor Diack. Photo courtesy of Clogger.

On the other hand, Diack says, chaps have the advantage of being easily checked for compliance in a drive-by inspection. “Also, the purchase price is lower, and not being a personal garment, chaps can be used by different people. A big advantage is being able to remove them in hot weather when you’re not performing chain saw work. And when you are wearing them in hot weather, chaps are open at the back, which gives very good ventilation.

Then there’s the question of cost. Clogger manufactures a wide range of both chaps and pants for specialized needs; costs range from $145 for the Zero Light and Cool Chainsaw Chaps Apron Style, designed primarily for ground tree crews and landscapers, to the higher-end Zero Gen2 Light and Cool Arborist Chainsaw Pants from $289 and the Arcmax Premium Arc Rated Fire Resistant Chainsaw Pants from $349.

Clogger pants. Protective pants can be better fi tted, pose less of a snagging threat while climbing or chipping and are worn all day, so they are better for compliance. Photo courtesy of Clogger.

“When it comes to cost, it comes down to questions like who pays for the gear, the lifetime cost of the garment, the safety culture of the company and the possibility of lost employee productivity as chaps are being put on and taken off , sometimes several times during a day,” says Diack. “First of all, the difference in cost between buying a good pair of regular work pants and chain saw chaps to go over them is not much less than buying chain saw pants in the first place. If you average the cost difference over a year, is the cost increase meaningful? It’s really not, especially if you consider the productivity losses from having to take the chaps on and off . We feel the extra cost of having two pairs of good-quality chain saw pants will truly pay for itself.

“Ownership is another factor,” Diack notes. “Pants are an individual’s responsibility, while chaps are a shared responsibility and often are treated poorly. The result is a shorter life for chaps with a higher annual cost because more replacements are needed.”

As far as who should wear chaps and who should wear pants, everyone we spoke with was clear. Chaps never should be worn when climbing or when feeding a chipper.

Bill Weber, owner and team captain of Arborwear, explains the safety aspects of chaps vs. pants and how the chain saw-resistant PPE works. “There’s not a whole lot of difference between the two as far as chain saw protection,” he says, “since chaps can cover all the way from the waist to the calf wrap as well as pants. The protection is in the blocking material, the layers of loosely woven fabric with fibers that pull out and clog the sprocket of the chain saw when it comes in contact. This slows down and stops the movement of the chain immediately.

Arborwear apron chaps. “There’s not a whole lot of difference between the two as far as chain saw protection,” Bill Weber says of chaps and pants. Photo courtesy of Arborwear.

“Typically, these layers are made with ballistic nylon or nylon/poly or even strands of Kevlar,” Weber notes. “With our RAC chaps (RAC stands for Replaceable, Adjustable, Comfortable), we also have a patented strap system with a girth hitch. If a strap should break, we offer a replacement strap set. Working in chaps with a broken strap becomes even more of a hazard around equipment.”

Weber says what makes Arborwear chain saw pants unique is that they are sized to waist and inseam, not just small, medium, large and extra-large, allowing for a personalized fit. “Ill-fitting PPE presents a real safety hazard,” he notes.

When it comes to justifying the cost of any chain saw PPE, but particularly pants, Weber is blunt. “I’ve read that the average number of stitches required in a chain-saw-related injury is 120. And think about it – chain saws were designed to chew up debris, not make a clean cut. That one always gets to me. “Those buying our chain saw pants are mostly individuals who like the comfort and convenience and company owners who are very safety conscious,” he adds. “Our pants came out about a year ago, and they are quickly becoming one of our fastest-growing products. A company owner might say, ‘I’ll give you the $70 I’d spend on chaps, and you can put it toward pants.’

“One thing to remember, once a chain saw has made contact with the garment, whether it’s chaps or pants, that PPE is finished. It’s one and done,” says Weber. “And you also have to take care of your pants and chaps. If you mash down those six layers of fibers with oil and sweat, they mat down and are less effective. You want to maintain that loft, and you can only do that when they’re clean.”

Arborwear chain saw pants. It is pretty well accepted that the cost of either chaps or pants is minimal compared to the cost to operators and employers of the injuries they are designed to prevent. Photo courtesy of Arborwear.

“Both our chaps and pants are certified to the same protection level, and they have the same outer protective shell material,” explains Ben McDermott, product and sourcing manager for Husqvarna. “So the primary difference becomes whether you want the all-day wear of a chain saw pant or the easy-on, easy-off of chaps. The person who would be using a chain saw all day – primarily loggers and climbers – would want the comfort of a pant, while chaps are perfect for the quick, 30-minute chain saw job. Generally speaking, chaps are lighter weight, cooler and more convenient; when properly buckled and adjusted, they can be worn for most any job.”

That said, McDermott notes that pants definitely are growing in popularity among arborists. “Chain saw pants are a big part of the market now,” he says, adding, “Arborists definitely are gear heads and also are very safety conscious. So we field-test our pants for months with professional users who get them at least 90 days. Then we incorporate their changes, things like where they’re too hot or too tight, this pocket needs to be one inch higher. We have more than 15 professionals in Canada and the U.S. doing field-testing for us.

“We refreshed our products back in 2016 with updated features and colors,” McDermott says. “We launched an assortment of three different levels of protective coverage for our chaps – Classic, Functional Apron and Technical Apron Wrap Chaps – and also launched three different pairs of pants at different price points, our Classic Pants at $149.99 and two versions of Technical Pants at $229. One is bright hi-viz orange and the other is more subtle in Husqvarna gray. We found that, particularly with tree care workers working in residential areas, they felt they stood out too much in the hi-viz orange and asked for something less colorful. Funny though, some of them want to stand out and be noticed – they’re proud of what they do!”

When asked how he justifies the higher cost of pants over chaps to customers, McDermott brings up safety. “Whenever we get push back in cost discussions, once we show them photos or quote statistics, it becomes obvious the cost is well worth it. These pants, and chaps as well, absolutely
save lives. Of course, how the pants last and wear depends entirely on the environment, the user and the quality of materials being used. If you’re constantly climbing in them, they’re going to wear out faster.”

McDermott leaks that Husqvarna has a brand-new chain saw pant coming out in 2020, called the Technical Extreme Arbor Pant. “We’re in the final stages of testing,” he says. “This pant is designed specifically for tree care professionals using high-quality, enhanced-durability shell material, and has all the bells and whistles that give our products more value in the eyes of our customers.”

Husqvarna chaps. Someone using a chain saw all day would want the comfort of a pant, while chaps are perfect for the quick, 30-minute chain saw job, says Ben McDermott. Photo courtesy of Husqvarna.

Brandon Nance, marketing and ecommerce manager for Sherrill, Inc., acknowledges that chain saw pants are growing in popularity. “Any time we go to a trade show, people ask two questions. The first is ‘How hot are they?’ and then, ‘How much do they cost?’ The heat issue is a major concern. I thought if that was what I had to wear, I would never wear pants, I’d stick with chaps. But now I always wear protective pants, because they have new, lighter fabrics and thinner protective layers, and the way the material is cut and designed allows for more mobility and flexibility in climbing.

“My thing has always been safety,” he adds. “ANSI regulations say chain saw protection only is required on the ground, not up in the tree, but I can see that changing in the future.” Both Nance and his colleague, Mike Ziecik, product director for Sherrilltree, say steps have been taken to make pants more comfortable to wear in hot environs. “Pants typically have integrated mesh vents that allow for air circulation, thus reducing heat,” says Ziecik. “They also are made from high-tech fabrics that allow for greater breathability than the thicker fabrics commonly found in chaps.” He points out that the Notch brand of pants – Armorflex Chainsaw Protective Pants, priced at $229 – has large rear cooling vents on each leg and excellent breathability.

Husqvarna’s Technical Pants come in bright hi-viz orange and the more subtle Husqvarna gray, for those who don’t want to stand out too much. Photo courtesy of Husqvarna.

Nance agrees that huge improvements have been made in pant comfort and wearability. “We find the price point of these newer pants is important (to customers), but the comfort level far outweighs the price,” he says. “Chain saw injuries are very bad and not to be taken lightly, so you need to be wearing PPE. One of the training groups we work with emphasizes the importance of being prepared for heat, but they also stress that there are other ways to combat heat exhaustion than not wearing your chain saw pants.”

Notch Arborfl ex chain saw pants. Protective pants have new, lighter fabrics and thinner protective layers, so they are not as hot, says Brandon Nance. Photo courtesy of Sherrilltree.

Continuing the safety discussion, Nance adds, “A lot of larger tree care companies are requiring pants now, because chaps are so easy to take on and off , their workers aren’t staying compliant all day. It’s too easy when it’s the end of the day to take off your chaps and leave them in the truck, and then you don’t go back for them when you need to make that last quick cut. That’s when accidents happen.”

Another question Nance says he gets regularly is, “How long will pants last?” He says, “It depends on how you treat your equipment, I suppose. I know people whose chain saw pants have lasted one-and-a half years. Most arborists I know have two or more pairs, because, let’s face it, being gear junkies, we like to try out all kinds of different styles and features. One thing that is important is to keep them washed and to lay them out fl at to air dry. You don’t want to machine dry these. Also, they should be retired if a chain actually encounters the fibers. A small tear in the outer shell can possibly be repaired, but only by the manufacturer, so it’s worth looking

Weighing in on the chain saw chaps vs. pants debate for Stihl, Inc., are John Allen, product manager, and Lindsy Hooper, public relations specialist. “Currently, we have four different product lines in chain saw protection,” says Allen, “Function, Dynamic, Pro Mark and Advance. Advance is our premium line for arborists, and we’ll be introducing an Advance lightweight chain saw pant for climbers in late 2020. It’s being developed from tons of feedback we’ve gotten from professional arborists.”

Stihl Pro Mark wrap chaps. “We want to see pants cut specifi cally for women. It’s a discussion we’re currently having,” says John Allen. Photo courtesy of Stihl.

Hooper adds, “We did a survey during last year’s EXPO (in Charlotte) looking at all kinds of things from price points to style features like fi t, color, etcetera. We found comfort was the number-one concern. We combined that feedback with field-testing and input from our parent company in Germany to come up with the new pants design.”

“We want to ensure we get the design right,” Allen notes. “We don’t want to rush to market. We found arborists want pants that are lightweight and breathable and made of flexible material that stretches and fits comfortably. They want zippered pockets so their cell phone doesn’t fall out. They also want pants that fit right. We heard, ‘Don’t just give me four sizes, give me a matrix of sizes with various lengths.’ It’s a safety issue. Arborists don’t want big clown pants falling off of them.”

Hooper interjects, “It’s like buying a new car for them. These guys are wearing PPE all day, every day, so they have strong opinions.”

Arborists in the U.S. also have fashion sense, according to Allen. “They want more of a European styling with bright colors and geometric, angular, almost aggressive design. They don’t want plain and boring, they want to look cool. They want the best materials available, and they want to make a fashion statement in what they wear.

“Another thing I’m seeing in market trends is PPE for females,” says Allen. “We want to see pants cut specifically for women. It’s a discussion we’re currently having.

“At Stihl, we care that all the people we outfit are safe,” he continues. “For me, one of my personal goals is seeing everyone educated about the importance of proper PPE, whether the end user is a homeowner or the professional running a chain saw all day.”

Echo, Inc. offers both its Arborist Pants designed with eight layers of protective material and its Chain Saw Chaps, available in both an apron style or full wrap design, with six layers of polyester protection.

Tim Bartelt, marketing services manager with Echo, says the primary benefit for wearing either product is obviously user safety. “The material in leg chaps or pants clogs the sprocket instantaneously, which prevents the chain from moving and causing damage to one’s leg.”

As far as the higher cost of pants is concerned, Bartelt says, “The higher cost of pants versus chaps is offset by the comfort and maneuverability that is offered by protective pants.”

One final question several manufacturers addressed was how effective chain saw pants and chaps are when using the newer, battery-powered chain saws.

Echo’s website carries a “warning for electric chain saw users!” that reads:

“The fibers will not stop the sprocket on most electric chain saws because of their constant high torque.”

“Any chain saw protection is better than none,” says Ziecik, “however, no formal studies have been done to claim the same protection level for lithium-battery powered saws versus gas-powered saws. I see this as a big focus in future testing.”

McDermott explains some of the mechanics. “For Husqvarna battery chain saws, we performed standard ANSI testing and determined that our battery saw is safe to use with our chain saw chaps,” he says. “Our testing is backed up by the physics and mechanics involved in gas versus battery saws. A big difference between battery and gasoline chain saws is that the gasoline chain saw has a flywheel. Part of the energy from the gasoline engine is stored as rotational energy in the high-speed rotating flywheel. When a saw chain on a gasoline chain saw contacts the protective knit nylon layers of protective clothing, the stored energy in the flywheel drives the chain longer and deeper into the PPE fibers before the fibers stop the chain.

“A battery saw does not have a flywheel and therefore stops significantly faster,” he continues. “Also, the Husqvarna battery chain saws have a built in electrical overload safety protection that stops the motor and thus the chain. When the saw recognizes a resistance exceeding the pre-set limitation of the saw, the motor is switched off .”

Stihl Performance Protective Pants. Arborists want pants that are lightweight, breathable, made of flexible material and that stretch and fit comfortably, with zippered pockets so their cell phone doesn’t fall out, says John Allen. Photo courtesy of Stihl.

When Dr. John Ball, industry safety expert, was asked about this issue recently, he said, “Short answer – always check with manufacturers, as some specifically state theirs is not for electrics.

“Also have six layers of ballistic nylon, not the minimum of four. The higher torque of these (electric) saws will cut through four if you keep your finger on the trigger. However, the nice part is that the second your finger is off the trigger, the chain stops – no spinning – so (the operator is) less likely to be struck. Also, kickback velocity is almost half that of a gas saw.”

Diack at Clogger says the message is, “Don’t stop wearing pants or chaps just because you are using an electric saw. Just as there is a huge range of gas-powered saws of widely varying power levels that run different chain sizes on different bar sizes, there also is a growing range of electric saws with different voltages and torque levels,” she explains. “No one is going to test garments using every available option, which is why a national standard is adopted using one very specific test method. The current standard for North America, F1897, has been in place for many years, and products that comply to this standard have prevented many injuries.

Echo chaps. “The higher cost of pants versus chaps is offset by the comfort and maneuverability that is offered by protective pants,” says Tim Bartelt. Photo courtesy of Echo.

“The testing we’ve done shows that our Clogger Arrestex HP chain saw protective fabric works effectively with electric saws,” she adds. “This fabric is used in both our chaps and pants and utilizes cut-resistant fibers that stop a chain saw by ‘braking.’ It’s not solely reliant on jamming up the sprocket area. I understand that one of the concerns with electric saws is that they don’t have the same drive-sprocket mechanism as gas-powered saws, so chain saw protective fabric won’t work. Arrestex HP overcomes this difficulty with its dual function performance.”

Weber continues the discussion. “There’s a lot of controversy about this now with the increased use of battery operated saws. So many safety mechanisms are built into battery-powered saws that as soon as there’s any tension on the chain, the chain brake is engaged. Compliance standards currently don’t address battery-powered saws, so currently there’s no differentiation with respect to PPE. But I suspect that will change, because I’ve heard a lot of questions and discussion about this.”

Weber sums up. “You owe it to your mother, father, wife and kids to wear the best PPE out there,” he says emphatically. “Anyone foolish enough to operate a chain saw without chaps or pants shouldn’t be operating one in the first place.” When it comes to the debate over chain saw chaps vs. pants, one thing is crystal clear – everyone needs to be wearing some sort of proper PPE each and every time they operate a chain saw.

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