Essential Construction Clothing and Gear
It's not about fashion. Check out our favorite hard-working, practical, functional work clothes and accessories.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
A New Work Jacket
Most of us work jackets until they’re absolutely falling apart (about four years) because the more worn they get, the better they feel. We recommend a canvas shell, a fleece or quilted lining, and big pockets. A medium-weight jacket is best so it will be comfortable in cool weather but can be worn with layers for way-cold weather.
This is our favorite to date: it’s the Duluth Trading Co. Action Flannel-Lined Jacket. It’s made from the ultra-durable “Fire Hose” fabric and has all the other stuff we like too: attached hood (no zippers or snaps), under arms and shoulders designed for non-binding movement, and best of all, the rugged zipper that you can expect to last the life of the coat. Plus, it has more pockets than a billiard hall, which is always a plus. While you’re at it, take a look at these work-friendly fleece vests, too.
Construction is a strange industry. Depending on where you live in the world you could spend your time worrying about whether or not it’s going to be hot, or trying to figure out how you’re going to work an entire day in the cold. If you work or play out in the heat, give this cooling towel a shot.
You can buy this cooling towel on Amazon here. If you’re not one to read directions, remember this—don’t throw it in the dryer or you’ll wreck it!
Cooler Mud Boots
If you work or play in serious wet weather and mud, completely waterproof boots are the only choice. But in warmer weather, they can be torture—like walking in a swamp of your own sweat.
The Original Muck Boot Company has come up with an improvement. Its “Chore Cool” boots have a moisture-wicking lining to help keep your feet dry. We tried them last spring, and the wicking lining helped, especially on days that started cold (the boots are insulated) but ended warm.
Mostly, though, we love the regular features of Muck Boots: a soft top that doesn’t chafe your skin; aggressive Vibram soles; and stretchy, flexible insulation that keeps your feet warm without making you feel like you’re wearing buckets on your feet. Comfortable waterproof boots—what a concept!
You can find Muck Boots, including the new Chore Cool models online here.
Freshen Up Work Boots
At the end of a long workday, fill up your boots with cedar chips. (Better yet, slide in an old sock that’s filled with cedar chips.) The cedar chips absorb moisture and eliminate odors. You can buy a bag of chips, sold as animal bedding, at a pet store. Change out the chips every month or so.
Protect Your Head
Nobody is a fan of hard hats. They’re just not very comfortable, and they tend to fall off unless you’re standing completely upright.
For those jobs where a hard hat isn’t required but there’s still some danger of whacking your noggin, try a bump cap instead. It doesn’t provide as much protection as a hard hat, but it’s not nearly as cumbersome, and it fits just like a baseball cap.
Bump caps can protect your melon when you’re climbing around a cramped attic, working in a tight crawl space, or whenever you’re near a clumsy coworker who has a bad habit of dropping tools while working off a ladder.
The Skullerz Bump Cap shown here is made by Ergodyne.
Favorite Shop Apron
There are lots of shop aprons out there but none perform better than the Fire Hose Bib Apron from Duluth Trading Co. You wear an apron not only to keep your clothes clean but also to keep your essential marking and measuring tools at hand. Any apron with pockets can perform these two tasks. The features that set the Fire Hose Bib Apron apart are the three mesh bottom pouches that let sawdust flow right through and the straps that take the apron weight off your neck and put it squarely on your shoulders.
The pouches are where you can keep your tape measure, square and hearing protectors. Behind those pouches, there are additional pouches for less-used tools. And you’ll appreciate the breast pocket design with pencil sleeves that keeps pencils and a 6-in. steel rule in place even when you stoop to pick something up off the floor.
Long-Life Work Boots
If you’re a serious tradesman, you don’t buy a pair of boots because they’re on sale—you buy the boots that treat your feet the best, and sometimes that’s not cheap. Tuff Toe is a polyurethane adhesive that’s chemical- and water-resistant. It protects the toes of your boots from getting chewed up on rough surfaces like concrete or shingles. Tuff Toe is fast and easy to apply, and let’s face it—a comfortable pair of work boots is a construction worker’s best friend.
Gloves for Digital Digits
Most of us are pretty much glued to our smartphones. Even when you’re in the middle of a big project, you check e-mail, answer the phone and add things to the list app. So now you’ll be needing these Ironclad TouchScreen work gloves, which allow you to operate the touch screen with gloves on. The gloves have a snug fit, so you have plenty of dexterity. There is leather reinforcement and even a terry cloth sweat wipe. They’re not designed for rough work like framing or masonry, but they’re excellent for automotive, mechanical, electrical and similar work.
Duluth Trading Co’s Flex Ballroom Jeans are one percent spandex, so the denim is just a little stretchy. That, along with the hidden crotch gusset (extra space down under) makes them extremely comfortable work pants. You can wear them on a big tile job and never once unbutton them, which is often necessary during floor work. Like all of Duluth Trading Co’s other clothing, these jeans are built to last, with “Fire Hose” fabric pockets, waistbands and bottom hems.
Job sites are noisy. Don’t wait until you develop hearing loss to protect your hearing. That means you, young guys! Regular earmuffs work OK, but they can be hot and uncomfortable, and wearing them is a good way to irritate your coworkers who regularly have to yell to get your attention.
EP3 Sonic Defenders are earplugs that block noise above 85dB but still allow you to hear lower, conversation-level sounds. They come in small, medium and large and are designed to be comfortable enough for all-day use. They include a small stopper plug if you want to block out all sounds. That may be helpful when the new kid has rap music cranked up on the job site radio.
Kneel for a Living?
So exactly how many knee pads have you gone through over the years? When it’s time for replacements, forget the home center and go to Tommy Lesosky, the Wizard of Knee Pads! He’s been making nothing but knee pads for the last 25 years and makes 25 percent of all the pads sold. Tommyco knee pads have cushions, surfaces and shapes specially designed for different trades. Install vinyl flooring? Kneel on lots of broken glass and nails? Lay tile for a living? Or maybe carpet? Doesn’t matter—you’ll find a pair just for you. They’re all built for durability, comfort and pain-free James Brown–style knee drops.