I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to hiking clothes. I own one pair of convertible zip-off hiking pants I’ve mostly worn camping in Montana. But since I live in Las Vegas, my needs differ from others, and we wear shorts virtually year-round.
Pants are easily the most neglected piece of hiking clothing. After all, our winter workout pants handle the gym just fine, right? But hiking is unique, and the exposure to the elements changes the necessity of clothing. When hiking, you must consider factors such as:
- Trail difficulty
A majority of hikes don’t demand hiking pants. My go-to is a pair of Vuori workout shorts. Together we’ve tackled two Tough-Mudders, three Spartan Races, and countless hikes and workouts. Also, I’m not concerned about combating scratching thick brush on my local desert trails.
Every hike is unique, so dress for your trail.
This article explains what makes it a “hiking pant” to better understand the features to consider when selecting pants for a hike. By the end, you’ll be able to decide if it’s time to invest in hiking pants or wear an option you already own.
A hiking pants guide
Whether you’re new to hiking or advancing to more demanding trails, considering what to wear on hikes always comes into question. And rightfully so.
We tend to own more pant variety than shirts, so your closet may have an excellent alternative. In fact, if you invest in only one article of hiking clothing, you should start with a quality hiking shirt.
When distances increase and hikes become more challenging, hiking pants will become essential.
Frequently asked hiking pants questions.
- How much should hiking pants cost? You can purchase a good pair of hiking pants for $60 to $100. Long multi-day treks demand durable trousers that cost $150 to $250.
- What are the different types of hiking pants? Standard hiking pants include joggers, convertible pants, and waterproof softshells.
- What’s the best hiking pants brand? Popular outdoor brands like Columbia, Patagonia, and REI make excellent hiking clothing. Once trekking pants become needed, specialized companies like Fjällräven make a superior product.
- What fabric is best for hiking pants? Quick-drying, moisture-wicking synthetics like polyester, spandex, and nylon blends are excellent for hiking pants.
- Are wool pants good for hiking? Wool is a favorite material for hikers due to its natural moisture-wicking and insulating properties. Less common than synthetics, wool is an excellent material for hiking clothes.
- How should hiking pants fit? Hiking pants shouldn’t be too tight or baggy. The struggle of hiking is staying cool and dry, which needs space for airflow while having the flexibility hikes demands.
- Can I wear jeans hiking? Cotton is the least friendly fabric for hikers. Denim cotton absorbs sweat, dries slowly, and prevents breathability. Avoid wearing jeans on hikes.
What makes hiking pants unique?
Your hike starts before sun up. It’s 42 degrees Fahrenheit with moisture in the air. You’ll be above the tree line in two hours with no shade from the harsh rising sun.
Hiking is like no other activity. The weather, temperature, and terrain constantly challenge hikers. That’s why zip-off pant legs and ventilating zippers are our thing.
But much more comes into consideration too. Not only do hiking pants need to adapt to keep you cool, but they also have to be made of materials that keep you dry while protecting you from the sun and brush.
Hiking pants are uniquely adaptable, thoughtfully rugged, and comfortably designed for extreme conditions.
Do I need hiking pants?
If your hikes are less than 5 miles, of moderate difficulty, and you have a suitable alternative, hiking pants likely aren’t necessary.
Alternatives to hiking pants include:
- Workout shorts
- Running pants
- Rain pants
You also can’t just grab a pair of joggers and assume they work fine. To know if pants are suitable for hiking, find the label and look for these synthetic materials:
If the pants are cotton lined or made of more than 50 percent cotton, it’s best to avoid wearing them. Pants made of a blend of the above materials, especially mostly polyester, will work fine for most hikes.
Hiking pants buyers guide
If you hike often or plan to start, an investment in a good pair of hiking pants is worth it. But, with so many options, where do you start?
Your first pair of hiking pants should be zip-off convertible pants. Since they adapt for every season, you’ll get the most out of your investment.
As you begin your search, you’ll run into various options. Here’s a rundown of the three common types of hiking pants and top-rated examples with the Hiking Beginner stamp of approval.
Convertible hiking pants
The leader of the hiking pant world, convertible hiking pants are seasonally flexible, affordable, and come in various options.
When faced with a choice, we highly recommend this hiking pants style for beginner hikers.
REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Pants in Men’s $79.95 and Women’s $79.95.
- 96% Nylon, 4% spandex
- UPF rating 50
- Zip fly with button closure
- Cargo pockets
- Drawstring waist (women’s)
- Elastic waistband
- Water repellent
Why we like these hiking pants
There’s much to love about the Sahara line of convertible hiking pants. Purposefully designed for the hiker and trail, the vented pant cuff zippers provide ventilation with zip-off knees to convert to shorts.
The women’s style no longer provides a belt loop and only relies on a drawstring waist. Furthermore, like much of the Sahara line of clothing, the fabrics have changed over the years, leaving repeat buyers frustrated but new buyers very happy.
Jogger hiking pants
Perfect for a quick hike or trail run, jogger hiking pants have become more popular with today’s athleisure fashion. Joggers can take you from the trail to Starbucks in style, but there are better choices for long treks.
Here are two of our top picks for hiking Joggers:
Athleta Trekkie North Jogger Pants – Women’s $89.00
- 95% Nylon, 5% Spandex
- UPF 50 rating
- Secured pockets
- Snag and tear-resistant fabric
- 2-way stretch
Why we like these hiking pants
Nylon and spandex provide the comfort and flexibility needed for hiking or trail running and provide excellent moisture-wicking properties.
With only three pockets and a slim-fitting design, you may need a backpack for longer hikes. Furthermore, the mid-rise pants won’t protect your ankles in low shoes from brush on remote trails.
Columbia Tech Trail Knit Jogger Pants – Men’s $46.00
- 86% Polyester, 14% Elastane
- Omni-Wick™ fabric for excellent moisture wicking
- Gusseted crotch
- Secured pockets
- Elastic waist
- Stretch movement
- 4-way stretch
Why we like these hiking pants
Joggers are already comfortable, and the 14 percent elastane in this pair provides plenty of stretch for the trail. Plus, the gusseted crotch and Omni-Wick will keep you comfortable and dry.
With only three small pockets, you will need a backpack for longer hikes.
Softshell trekking trousers
Serious expeditions require serious hiking pants, and joggers don’t cut it on long backpacking hikes or multi-day treks.
To be prepared for any condition, softshell pants are weather-resistant and breathable while remaining lightweight and flexible.
Fjällräven Vidda Pro Trouser in Men’s $165.00 and Keb Trousers in Women’s $235.00
- G-1000® Eco: 65% polyester, 35% cotton 63% polyamide, 26% polyester, 11% elastane
- Reinforced knees, rear, and pockets
- Preshaped knee and crotch gusset
- Hip-to-knee zipper ventilation
- Knee pad openings
- Snap ankle cuff
Why we like these pants
These are the sports car model of hiking pants. Fjällräven took everything a hiker needs for the most demanding trail and put it into a pair of pants.
Based on the price, these trekking pants are overkill for the average hiker.
Hiking is mentally and physically demanding. It removes you from your comfort zone and pushes you to extremes.
Playing defense by removing the variables you can control, those that create discomfort, pain, or injury, is essential.
Clothing is one of those significant factors.
When you’re on the twentieth switchback and using all you have to keep going, give yourself the advantage of comfortable hiking clothes. Being sweaty, smelly, and uncomfortable is a choice.
Do you better understand hiking pants and if you need a pair? Share this article to help others. You may even find a new hiking partner.