Wearing the right clothing during your thru-hike will be vital to your comfort and success while out on the trail. Keeping your legs protected while bushwhacking, forging through colder climates, or wading through streams—since your legs are the very things that are carrying you forward—is extremely important to ensure you’re prepared to go the distance.
A dependable pair of hiking pants is one of the pieces of clothing that can help with this. These pants need to be lightweight, breathable, flexible, comfortable and durable to ensure that if need be, you can wear them day in and day out without worry. Because just like how you’re mentally preparing to take on a 6-month (or longer) thru-hike through mother nature, your pants need to also be ready to face mother nature head-on. No matter what climates, terrains or seasons she decides to throw your way.
Let’s talk about why hiking pants are better than a pair of shorts, tights, rain pants or cargo pants for hiking.
Warmth: When temperatures plummet below 40°F, or your heading into higher elevations or colder climates, having your legs fully covered will help insulate and protect you from frigid winds and snowfall. There are many hiking pants that are wind-resistant, or that come offered with fleece-lined insulation for additional warmth. But if you want to stick with a 3-season hiking pant, then you can easily take these pants into winter with you by pairing a moisture-wicking baselayer underneath of the pants for added insulation.
Protection: Although hiking pants are quick-drying and breathable, there’s no denying how great a pair of breezy shorts can be when hiking in hot weather. However, if you're hiking through rough terrain or your legs need added sun protection, then pants have got you covered. Literally. One of the top benefits of hiking pants is their added protection. When hiking in shorts or a thin pair of tights, you have little or no barrier against your skin and things like poison ivy, ticks or mosquitoes. If your hike requires bushwhacking or rock scrambles, your knees and the skin on your legs will also thank you if they're safely shielded under a thick pair of hiking pants.
Versatility: Because hiking pants come with features such as roll-up tabs, zippers, mesh pockets and vents, they can be worn every day in various climates, whereas rain pants, for example, are only designed to be used over your clothing for added protection in heavy rains. They also include many pockets, just like a good pair of cargo’s, although they’re lighter and more fitted.
Durability: Hiking pants are thick and abrasion-resistant, making them much more durable than a pair of tights or yoga pants. When facing tough terrain, overgrown trails or bushwhacking, hiking pants will hold up much better to wear-and-tear, snagging or piling. Some hiking pants also come designed with double reinforced knees or padding in the butt for added durability.
Range of motion: Hiking pants aren’t nearly as restrictive as they might first appear. Since hiking pants are made with flexible materials such as spandex, a good pair will allow you a significant range of motion. As long as you focus on picking a hiking pant designed with spandex or another elastic material, you’ll be able to bend, move, scale that mountain or climb that boulder with ease.
Cost: Hiking pants don’t run cheap, but before their cost has you running back to those shorts or tights, let’s talk a bit about why a pair might just be worth the investment. First off, buying a pair could save you space in your pack. Since hiking pants come offered in full length, convertible zip-off or roll-up styles (meaning they can transition from pants to shorts or capris) they can end up being a real 2-for-1, or maybe even 3-for-1, option. Also, you may be surprised to find that it could end up costing the same as buying a durable baselayer and shorts combo to create your own makeshift pair of hiking pants.
There are three styles of hiking pants: Standard, Convertible and Roll-up. Each style has its own characteristics that can be beneficial for your thru-hike. Here, we’ve rounded up a few top features of each:
Thanks to standard hiking pants comfort and sleek appeal, they can be worn on the trail, around town and even in casual work environments. Since there are no zippered attachments, this style would be a great option for those that experience chafing or discomfort from convertible pants. Also, if where you’ll be hiking calls for more insulation, there are standard pant options that come customized for colder climates.
Like the name, convertible hiking pants “convert” to shorts by zipping off and detaching at the knee. This is a great feature for when you need to cool down in hot temps, or if you want to wear pants in the morning and evening, but shorts during the hottest part of the day. With convertibles, you can quickly switch between shorts and pants, all without having to remove your boots.
Roll-up pants change from full-length to Capri-style pants and secure in place by buttons or elastic. This style is perfect for those that don’t like shorts, but still want a cooler option than a full-length pant. The roll-up style can also be very useful around camp. Rolling and buttoning the hems in place will help prevent them from getting dirty or frayed from dragging on the ground. Another thing to keep in mind is that pants with a roll-up option can be terrific to use after you’ve set up camp.
From left to right: standard, convertible and roll-up hiking pants
Material: what are good hiking pants made of?
Hiking pants are surprisingly lightweight, and this is because of the synthetic fiber blend of Nylon, Spandex and Polyester they're designed from. Most hiking pants nowadays are made from Nylon and Spandex solely, because Nylon is more abrasion resistant and durable than Polyester. All three of these materials are moisture-wicking and quick-drying. These qualities come in handy when facing rain, crossing streams, and for diminishing the chance of catching hypothermia in wet and cold conditions.
Since these materials also have natural UPF ratings reaching as high as 50+, they can also be worn in sunny climates as a line of defense in sun protection. With their breathability, you won’t have to worry about boiling in the heat and sun. Since neither Nylon, Spandex or Polyester are 100% waterproof, hiking pants are usually treated with a form Durable Water Repellent (DWR) to up their water-resistance game.
Comfort: HOW SHOULD HIKING PANTS FIT?
Hiking pants come in form-fitted or relaxed styles. Choosing the style that’s comfortable for you will come down to preference. A more fitted pant will conform to your body and move with you, eliminating the chance of catching on objects and tearing. A relaxed fit pant will give your legs more room, and may provide better defense against rubbing/chafing. If you go with a more relaxed fit, be sure not to go too loose, as hiking pants naturally loosen after multiple wear’s, not to mention you’ll likely lose weight while out on the trail. Also, when facing heavy winds, it’s probably better to not have your pants ballooning up or whipping around like a pair of windbreakers. Length-wise, make sure the pants don't drag or snag while out on the trail.
Hiking pants come designed with fit-enhancing features such as integrated belts, drawstrings, or adjustable side straps. Integrated belts and drawstrings can help fit pants to those that are in between sizes, or provide a range of sizing options in case you change size while out on the trail. Make sure however that the integrated belt, drawstrings or adjustable side straps don’t sit awkwardly against your backpacks hip straps. If they do, then a few miles in this will cause some very uncomfortable rubbing/chafing.
Breahtability AND Warmth: HOW THICK SHOULD HIKING PANTS BE?
Hiking pants come in different ranges of thickness. Thinner pants are best for summer and arid, tropical climates. Most thin designs come with mesh pockets and vents to help keep you breathable and cool. Thicker pants may have added insulation for warmth, and are best worn while hiking in fall, winter, or in higher elevations. Something to keep in mind is the thinner a hiking pant is, the less durable, yet more breathable it will be. Still, most standard 3-season hiking pants are able to be worn all year round. All you need to do is add a base layer under them to help with insulation in the cold.
Since many hiking pants today now come equipped with zippered or mesh-lined panels for added breathability, they’re becoming more practical to use even while out in hot or humid conditions. Also, you can roll up your pant legs, or with convertibles—unzip the attachments—to give your legs some extra airflow.
© Danielle "Giggles" O'Farrell (@withthewildthings)
Water-Resistance: Are hiking pants waterproof?
Nylon, Polyester and Spandex are all water-resistant fabrics, however there is a large difference between ‘water-resistant’ and ‘water-proof.’ To up the water protection of hiking pants, manufacturers normally treat them with an added DWR (durable water repellent) agent. The DWR treatment creates a ‘shield’ on the pants fabric that makes water bead up and roll-off, similar to what happens on a rain jacket or an umbrella. Like all water-resistant gear, the DWR treatment of your hiking pants will naturally wear off in time. The butt and thighs of your hiking pants will usually be the first to show signs of this because that’s where water will first seep through. See our FAQ at the bottom of this post to learn what to "re-waterproof" your hiking pants.
Color: Does it matter?
The color of your hiking pant can play a more important role than one might think. Most people pick the colors of their clothes based on preference, but did you know that the color you choose can benefit you in certain conditions? Lighter colors such as beige or tan are ideal for hotter climates because these lighter colors reflect sunlight, helping to keep you cool. Darker colors like black, navy or brown are best in the cold or at higher elevations because they absorb the sun’s heat. Since darker colors attract the sun, they can also dry faster than lighter colors.
Design and Features
Pockets: Because many hiking pants are created with lots of pockets of various sizes, they’re great for carrying maps, gadgets and other little gizmo’s you want easily accessible instead of tucked away in your pack. Most styles have several zippered pockets on the front, back, and outer thighs (similar to cargo pants).
Elastic Waistbands: An elastic waistband allows for comfortable flexibility when bending or stooping, while still holding your hiking pants securely in place.
Articulated Knees: An articulated knee in a pant means there is an excess of fabric in the front and back of the knees of the pant. This extra fabric allows for improved stretch and range of motion when hiking uphill or climbing.
Gusset Crotch: As for the seams at the crotch, it’s important to look for a gusset which is an extra patch of fabric sewn in where the four seams of the crotch meet. This piece of fabric takes stress off the seams, aiding in durability and overall range of motion.
Extra Fabric along thighs: If rubbing/chafing is a major concern, there are hiking pants with extra fabric throughout the thigh to allow for more room and breathability.
Some common design features to look for in hiking pants.
|Arc'Teryx Leffroy||$109||Nylon, Elastane||9.7 oz||Standard|
|Prana Stretch Zion||$85||Nylon, Spandex||13.6 oz||Roll-Up|
|Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pant||$60||Nylon||10.8 oz||Convertible|
|Outdoor Research Men's Ferrosi||$60||Nylon, Spandex||12.2 oz||Standard|
|KUHL Renegade||$85||Nylon, Spandex||14 oz||Standard|
|Marmot Men's Arch Rock||$75||Nylon, Elastane||10.1 oz||Standard|
|Mountain Hardware Chockstone||$100||Nylon, Elastane||6 oz||Roll-Up|
|Patagonia Quandary||$79||Nylon, Spandex||10 oz||Standard|
|REI Co-Op Sahara||$70||Nylon, Spandex||12 oz||Convertible|
|RailRiders Backcountry Khakis||$69||Nylon||14.3 oz||Standard|
Material: 86% Nylon, 14% Elastane
Weight: 9.7 oz
Created for hiking in hot weather, this minimal yet comfortable pair of lightweight pants has great breathability and plenty of stretch. Whether you’ll be scaling rock faces or bushwhacking, these pants will hold up and keep your legs protected. The pants are a fitted and durable style, yet their flexibility makes them nonrestrictive. The waistband comes with a webbing belt that fits comfortably and securely under your pack. These hiking pants have two mesh-lined pockets in the front and a thigh pocket with a zipper. There are no back pockets included on this style.
Material: 97% Nylon, 3% Spandex
Weight: 13.6 oz
Fashioned from prAna’s original Stretch Sion fabric that specializes in being light, durable, breathable, wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying, and UPF 50+, this standard fit pair of hiking pants has a simple design with plenty of hidden surprises. The ventilated inseam gusset, mesh pockets and roll-up snap in place convertible option gives your legs plenty of breathability, while the streamlined adjustable waistband ensures these hiking pants sit right where you want them. There is a cargo pocket that has angled dual-entry, two front and two back pockets, and any spillage or dirt on the material is said to just roll right off. This trekking pant option is best suited for warm weather, and can hold up to heavy abrasion.
Material: 100% Nylon, Polyester Mesh
This convertible pair of lightweight hiking pants has zippers to change the pants to 10 in. inseam shorts in a matter of seconds. The pants have a partial elastic waistband and outer adjustable belt that helps secure fit, along with a gusseted crouch made from ripstop nylon. The pants also have a UPF rating of 50+ to keep your legs protected when braving long treks under the sun’s rays. To keep you cool, there are mesh-lined, Velcro pockets for providing ventilated airflow. Being that these pants are thin and breathable, this straight leg style is best for hiking in sunny, hot weather. This hiking pant has been said to lack in flexibility however, limiting mobility if climbing or scrambling through rough terrain.
Material: 86% Nylon, 14% Spandex
Weight: 12.2 oz
These trekking pants provide lots of elasticity and durability for thru-hikers facing rugged conditions where ease of movement is essential. They are designed by OR to be strong and wind-resistant, and they include a high spandex makeup that allows for extreme flexibility. The pants also have a low-profile waist that will easily fit underneath a harness if climbing, and the drawcord ankle adjustments allow for securely sealing the bottoms of the pants if tucking them into boots or underneath of gaiters. The drawcords can also be used to shorten the pants if they are too long. The Nylon used to design these trekking pants is known for being tough yet still breathable. The pants are also fixed with articulated knees, a gusseted crotch, belt loops, deep front slash pockets, zippered back pockets, and a zippered cargo-style side pocket.
Material: 95% Nylon, 5% Spandex
Weight: 14 oz
With all the useful features of cargo pants without actually being cargo pants, the KUHL renegades are practical and storage-friendly. The specialized DURALUX fabric used in their design is made to withstand scratches, rips and tears while still feeling as soft as cotton. Thanks to their durable build, these hiking pants are ideal for climbing, or forging through rough terrain and sunny climates while out in the backcountry. The pants have a UPF rating of 50+ to block UV rays, and a DWR finish for added protection against water. The gusseted crotch and articulated knees improve the range of motion, and the unique eight-pocket design of these hiking pants allows for plenty of storage. Two of these eight pockets are specially designed cell phone pockets, including one for ‘stealth’ and one for a ‘3D cell phone.’
Material: 94% Nylon, 6% Elastane
Weight: 10.1 oz
Fixed with a moisture wicking DriClime waistband that helps wick away sweat, a UPF rating of 50 to keep harmful UV rays away, and a durable water-resistant finish, these hiking pants are ideal for hiking through wet or dry climates. With articulated knees, and a gusseted crotch, the elasticity in these pants gives you plenty of ability to move freely. So, whether scaling rocks or scrambling that last leg of the trail, these pants are sure to allow for plenty of movement. They’re extremely abrasion-resistant for weighing in at just 10.1 ounces. They also have a reinforced pant hem that reduces the chance of fraying. Although designed for hot weather, these hiking pants can be used in any season or climate, just be sure to add a base layer underneath in cooler temps.
Material: 91% Nylon, 9% Elastane
Weight: 6 oz
This highly stretchable and incredibly lightweight pant has a removable, buckle closure belt option along with adjustable cinch ankle cuffs. The Micro-Chamois lined waist design will provide comfort if worn with a climbing harness, and the knee articulation and inseam gusset give free range of motion. There are zip hand and back pockets, and a cargo-style pocket at the thigh. This pant would do best in warmer temperatures against tough terrain. These hiking pants are said to run on the small side, so ordering a size up is recommended.
Material: 95% Nylon, 5% Spandex
Weight: 10 oz
A great option for lean and medium builds, this environmentally conscious hiking pant prides itself on being a Bluesign fabric approved product. To earn this title, this means that all materials used in the garment's production must be safe for the environment, workers and end-use customers. This all-season, wrinkle-resistant hiking pant has a wicking mesh internal waistband, a UPF rating of 50+, handwarmer pockets, and a gusseted crotch and front and back knee articulation for easy mobility. There is also a hidden drawcord so you can easily adjust the size specifically to you. The pants have reinforced belt loops and plenty of pockets including two front drop-in, two rear (one zippered and one drop-in), and a zip side cargo pocket.
Material: 94% Nylon, 6% Spandex
Weight: 12 oz
Made for hiking in hot climates, the REI Co-Op Sahara convertible pant is lightweight and designed with flat seams that prevent rubbing and chafing. The pants pack down to a tiny size, and the color-coded zippers on the thighs can help distinguish the right leg from the left leg when re-attaching the zippered bottoms. These hiking pants have a UPF rating of 50+, elastic along the back of the hips to allow for more mobility, and they have reinforced bottom cuffs to withstand wear-and-tear from abrasion of hiking boots or the trail. The REI Co-Op Sahara recently released a new version of this pant, and it is said to run small and not be as stretchy or flexible as the previous.
Material: 100% Nylon
Weight: 14.3 oz
Sophisticated enough to wear from the backcountry straight into town, these soft yet durable nylon trekking pants are ready to be worn anywhere. The pants have a gusseted crotch, articulated tailoring through the knees for ease of movement, two zippered back pockets, and deep front slash pockets with a built-in safety zip pocket to stash your valuables. Designed to be tough and wrinkle-free, the durable material used in this design also dries within a matter of minutes. The RailRiders backcountry hiking pants are made to provide all-purpose reliability and comfort, no matter where you decide to wear them.
How to re-waterproof hiking pants?
Like all water-resistant gear, the DWR treatment of your hiking pants will naturally wear off in time. The butt and thighs of your hiking pants will usually be the first to show signs of this because that’s where water will first seep through. If you think it’s time to re-waterproof your pants, you can always first test this by sprinkling a few drops of water on them. If the water sinks into the fabric and creates a dark circle, then it’s time for a fresh DWR treatment. Sometimes the heat of your dryer can re-activate the water-resistance of your hiking pants (side note: always be sure to read the washing instructions of your particular garment first.) If this method doesn’t work, applying a tech wash product like Nikwax is a great environmentally friendly, water repellent option.
By Katie Licavoli: Katie Licavoli is a content writer, author and outdoor enthusiast. When not reading or writing away, she's out running, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, or sailing the great lakes in northern Michigan.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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