Dedicated hikers know how important it is to wear proper clothing on the trail. Hiking pants promise durability and protection against the elements, but as a beginner hiker, you may be wondering if hiking pants are actually worth it.
Hiking pants are worth it for most hikers. They are flexible and comfortable, enabling free and easy movement on the trail. Hiking pants are made from lightweight and robust material, offering good ventilation and protection for the wearer. Having hiking pants can make trekking much more enjoyable.
Of course, there’s a lot more to learn about hiking pants before you head out to purchase a pair. There are a lot of different options out there, and it’s important to know exactly what to look for before you start shopping. Find out everything you need to know about hiking pants below.
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What Are Hiking Pants?
Hiking pants are pants designed especially for hikers. They’re lightweight, compact, quick-drying, and breathable. Made with the outdoor enthusiast in mind, hiking pants can be very versatile. Many boast extra pockets for storage, while some pairs can be converted into shorts with a zippered leg.
There are hiking pants for every season. Summertime pants are especially airy, designed to keep your legs cool while offering protection from the sun. They guard against warm-weather bugs and wick away your sweat, making them the perfect accompaniment on those forays into nature you take in the hotter months.
Winter hiking pants are designed for use in colder weather. They’re made with extra thick and durable materials. Most of them will not zip off at the leg like their summer counterparts. Instead, winter hiking pants may have added protection on the knees and ankles to insulate and protect you from falls. You can also expect an additional layer of waterproofing to stave off snow and rain.
No matter which climate you’re heading into, there’s a pair of hiking pants that are designed to work for it. You’ll find an extensive inventory of hiking legwear chocked full of varying features and serving many different purposes. Depending on the type of trip you want to take, the perfect pants for those distinct conditions are waiting for you.
What Are Hiking Pants Made Of?
Hiking pants are usually made of nylon, polyester, or a mixture of fabrics. Each material has its pros and cons, and it’s important to understand the differences between them before you decide which to buy. Some materials will be better than others depending on the conditions you’ll be hiking in.
Nylon hiking pants are quite common on the market. They’re good for nearly everything, from stain resistance to breathability and especially durability. Some hikers find that they don’t repel water as well as polyester, but nylon does ensure you’ll be comfortable while staying flexible and enjoying the widest range of movement possible.
Polyester pants are also a very popular option. They’re usually even lighter than nylon, and they repel water to a fault. However, polyester isn’t as breathable as nylon fabric. If you wear them on a hot summer day, they won’t wick away your sweat as well as a pair of nylon hiking pants. There have even been reports of some hikers starting to smell rather ripe after a few days of wear and tear.
Want the best of all worlds? Pick yourself up a pair of mixed-fabric hiking pants. Nowadays, most manufacturers default to mixed fabrics. These incorporate both polyester and nylon, sometimes throwing in spandex, elastane, and other materials into the mix. Mixed fabrics increase both utility and comfort.
Since each type of fabric serves different purposes, manufacturers can design mixed-fabric pants to cover a wider array of functions. Many hiking pants incorporate rip-stop fabric in the knees, while others use tougher material around the seat to protect from falls. Depending on your conditions and hiking style, mixed fabrics will probably be the smartest choice.
It’s important to understand the difference between waterproof and water-resistant hiking pants. Most hiking pants are going to be water-resistant. The fabric itself will be manufactured to repel water, and you need that in a pair of pants you’ll be donning rain or shine. Water-resistance is one of the main reasons people buy hiking pants in the first place.
Waterproof pants are another story. These are pieces of clothing that won’t allow any water in at all, and most hiking pants can’t make that claim. Waterproof pants are usually coated with Gore-Tex or another compound, and they can get very uncomfortable. They’ll be heavier, bulkier, and less breathable, so they’re only good if you know you’ll be soaking wet every single day.
How Much Do Hiking Pants Cost?
Hiking pants come in a range of different price points. You can find pairs for under $50 at some stores. Many are available for under $100, while others cost a bit more. Some hiking pants can cost over $200, but these are usually specialized for snow or other extreme weather conditions.
It’s unlikely you’ll need to spend too much to get what you need. However, the option is there if you need specialist gear. Hiking pants that are built for special conditions tend to cost more, as they require more money to design and manufacture. Keep in mind that you’ll also pay extra for additional features and added protections, as well as certain conveniences like a convertible leg.
No matter what you want to spend, you’ll find hiking pants for every budget. If you want to find a cheaper way to enjoy these superior pants, you can usually get a secondhand pair online. Try shopping at outlets like GearTrade to find a used pair, or search through the sale rack at your local camping store.
Pros And Cons Of Hiking Pants
Pros Of Hiking Pants
- Quick drying
Cons Of Hiking Pants
- Not fashionable
- Can’t use the same pair for different seasons
- Difficult to find some sizes
- May limit movement
- Can be expensive
Do You Really Need Hiking Pants?
You don’t need hiking pants to enjoy hiking. Hiking pants can be a great investment, but they do have their drawbacks. They are designed to be functional, rather than fashionable. Many casual hikers will be able to go out and enjoy the trail in pants they already own.
As some people find them quite ugly, hiking pants are much less usefuloff the trail. Most people don’t want to wear them for everyday activities. Since they aren’t versatile in that sense, a lot of hikers don’t want to bother with them. It’s up to you if you want to have special clothing just for hiking.
A Personal Choice
The decision to buy hiking pants is your personal choice. You can go hiking in any kind of pants you like. From hiking in jeans to khakis, or from yoga pants to gym shorts, the trail is your oyster. As long as you’re wearing something, you’ll usually be fine.
However, hiking pants can make you more comfortable and improve your experience on the trail. For most people it’s a smart move rather than a necessity. There are certain conditions however where hiking pants will be much better than regular pants or shorts.
It’s better to have hiking pants in extreme terrain. Even if weather conditions are relatively mild, you’ll need a lot of extra mobility for steep slopes, rocky crags, and climbing over rocks. Hiking pants allow you to move around more freely than jeans or cargo pants.
You’ll enjoy the flexibility as you hyperextend your legs and crouch down to scramble over shale and shard. Since hiking pants are so much lighter than alternative clothes, they can even help with the fatigue that inevitably arises when you’re dealing with extreme terrain.
Backpacking for a week? You definitely want hiking pants. Even if conditions won’t be particularly rough or hot, hiking pants will save you precious weight and volume when it comes time to pack your bags. Rather than a pair of pants anda pair of shorts, you’ll only need one pair of convertible hiking pants.
That one pair of pants can weigh under a pound, depending on the brand and size. A pair of jeans can weigh twice that much. Furthermore, longer treks provide ample time and space to get your pants dirty. A pair of hiking pants designed to withstand stains and dirt will be much cleaner after multiple days of use.
If conditions will be especially hot, hiking pants will be much more comfortable than any other pants. Since they’re lighter, they won’t make you sweat as much. When you do sweat, they’ll wick away the moisture before you get drenched in perspiration.
Hiking pants give you options. While shorts might seem like the better choice, we all know how fickle the weather can be on a hike. Mornings are cool, but you could be sweating buckets by midday. Luckily, you’ll be able to turn your convertible hiking pants into shorts.
What To Look For In A Pair Of Hiking Pants
Are you ready to start looking for a pair of hiking pants? This is an exciting time, but shopping should be done with careful consideration. Not all pants are created equal. You can and should cherry pick your pants for the trail conditions and climate, focusing on the features that matter most to youin a piece of outdoor gear.
First, you’ll want to pay attention to what your pants are made from. Nowadays, a combination of polyester, nylon, and spandex is the go-to for manufacturers and hikers alike. You want a piece of clothing that will stretch along with you, so the addition of spandex or an equivalent is almost mandatory.
Avoid pants that are made mostly from materials like cotton that don’t dry easily. Instead, focus on quick-drying synthetics. You may come across rip-stop nylon in your search, which is specially woven to stop rips as they occur.
That can be great in rugged conditions where ripping and tearing is a real danger, but it’s best to consider how you’ll be using them before you decide. Rip-stop and other specialized fabrics can add extra expense onto your pants, so it’s best not to bother with it unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Weight & Volume
You want a pair of hiking pants that are lightweight and compact. Exactly how lightweight and compact you need them to be will vary depending on the length of your trip and personal preference. Those heading out for long journeys should focus more on weight and volume.
Each pound added to a backpack causes extra strain on the joints. Imagine hauling a pair of blue jeans on a ten-day hike, it would be pretty unpleasant. Hiking pants are lighter, plus it’s easier to store them because they fold down to nearly nothing. Due to the weight factor, thru-hikers can benefit greatly from ultralight hiking pants.
If you’re a dedicated day-hiker, you can probably pick up a heavier pair of hiking pants without any problems. You won’t have to carry them in a backpack, and you won’t mind a few extra ounces on your legs. Day hikers have the freedom to focus more on extra features instead of an ultralight pant.
Water resistance can be very important when you’re hiking. Most hiking pants offer at least some level of water protection. Some are even coated in a water-resistant layer before being sold. If they are rated as water-resistant or waterproof, you should check the rating before you make your purchase.
It’s a relief to have some security on your hike when it comes to rain. You don’t want to have to hide at the first sign of a storm cloud. A good pair of hiking pants will give you the freedom to continue on in wet conditions. They’ll dry off quickly, and you should be able to wear them during a shower if need be.
However, be mindful not to invest toomuch in water resistance. It’s not the be-all and end-all of hiking pants. If you are going into a very wet or rainy area, you should bring a rain jacket and some rain pants with you instead of relying on a lightweight pair of hiking pants.
No matter what season it is, you should always consider sun protection. The sun can harm wintertime hikers just as much as summertime hikers, especially since hiking trails lend themselves naturally to increased exposure.
Many trails are higher up off the ground, putting you closer to the sun. And in some cases, parts of the trail may be unshaded and offer little to no protection. If that’s the case with your destination, it may be wise to consider getting pants with added Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) built into their fabric.
UPF is a clothing-specific rating, so it’s different than SPF. Clothing with added UPF protection will block more ultraviolet light than regular clothes. Of course, even a pair of jeans will block some UV light. But UPF may still be worth investing in for very exposed and sunny trails.
Synthetic fabrics will usually offer at least a little bit of wind resistance, but it shouldn’t necessarily be your focus unless you’re heading to a windy place. Wind resistance is especially important if you’re going hiking in the mountains or the desert, as the wind here can actually get painful if it’s blowing hard enough.
If you know you’ll be getting a lot of wind on your hike, focus on the fit of your pants as well as their advertised level of wind resistance. Baggier pants will flap around more than those with a tighter fit and can slap your legs and thighs in a painful manner. If you focus on a close fit for windy conditions, you should be much better off.
When it comes to hiking pants, you don’t necessarily need to wear the same size you do with regular pants. Many people prefer to size up their outdoor wear, as it gives them more room to move around. You need this greater flexibility during a hike for performing exaggerated movements like stretching, climbing, and extending different parts of your body.
It’s especially important to get pants which are looser around the knees and groin area, as these places will be shifting around the most. However, you don’t want to go overboard and be swimming in fabric. These days, the addition of spandex can give you much more flexibility than in previous years, where pants weren’t stretchy at all.
If you’re unsure about sizing, it’s better to go physically to an outdoor shop and try pants on before you buy them. You’ll be able to walk around, stretch, and squat, mimicking the movements of your hike in a controlled environment. Then, you’ll know if you need a bigger size, or you prefer something a little tighter.
The color of you hiking pants matter a lot, because different colors retain or reflect heat. For hotter climates or summertime adventures, it’s much better to choose pants with a lighter color because they will reflect heat and keep you cooler. Light grey, green, or beige seem to be the go-to for most manufacturers.
For wintertime hiking or high-altitude journeys, it’s smarter to bring dark-colored pants. They will absorb heat, helping to keep you warm. Dark blue, green, and black are your friends here. The color of your pants will matter more if the conditions will be particularly extreme, like desert hiking. If you’re going for day hikes in milder climates, the color can be less of a consideration.
You want your pants to be breathable. You’ll sweat with physical exertion during a hike, and well-ventilated pants will help wick moisture away from your skin. This keeps you cool during your trip, helping you stay more comfortable than you would be with sweat running down your legs.
Breathable clothes also feel lighter, which is especially good if you’re hiking through challenging terrain. They also dry quickly, which helps with sweat buildup. Many hiking pants have additional features for ventilation built into them, so look for additional zippers and mesh siding if you need lots of breathability.
Anyone going out for a hike needs to bring certain items along with them. Things like snacks, water, a flashlight, and bug-spray will be necessary on the trail. You need a place to store all of that stuff, and your backpack isn’t the best spot. You need easy access immediately.
Your hiking pants can help you store things in a more accessible location. Look for pants that have cargo pockets in addition to regular hip pockets. Some pairs will have multiple cargo pockets in different sizes, which can be good depending on what you need to bring. Consider what’s essential to you personally, then choose the pants that best suit your purposes.
Many hiking pants come with convertible legs. These are pants that can be turned into shorts when you get hot, and they can be a great boon on the trail. You simply unzip them at or around the knee, and you’re left feeling lighter than ever before. You can stow the extra fabric in your hiking pack and reattach the legs when you get cold.
Convertible hiking pants aren’t necessary in every situation, but they are really nice to have in some conditions. For example, many summer days in the mountains begin with a cold morning and progress to hot afternoons. Convertible pants will keep you warmer in the morning and cooler in the afternoon, allowing you flexibility and comfort in the changing temperature.
Some hiking pants are pretty bare, while others have added features for more convenience and comfort. Some of these extra features can make a world of difference, especially extra ventilation zips and convertible bottoms. You can even find pants with zippers around the ankle, giving you more space to put on bulky hiking boots.
Many hiking pants come with ties at the ankle for rolling up your britches into a capris-style pant, and others offer integrated belts with harness compatibility for climbers. Some hiking pants even feature permethrin-based insect-repelling coating, which can be good for bug-infested climes.
What Kind Of Pants Are Good For Hiking?
Jeans are probably the best option for hiking besides proper hiking pants, as they offer more protection than shorts and leggings. They even have some qualities that regular hiking pants don’t. They’re more durable, the fabric is tougher, and they offer a higher level of protection against thorns.
Jeans are a better alternative for spring, winter, and fall, as they can get hot quickly. Khakis, hunting pants, and cargo pants are also good for hiking in the cooler months. They aren’t as tough as denim, but you’ll find the synthetic material to be a close runner-up. If you’re hiking on a cleared trail where underbrush won’t be an issue, you can even wear yoga pants, sweatpants, or leggings.
For the warmer months where you feel hiking in shorts is a must, choose denim or cargo shorts. These are tougher in the seat, so you don’t need to worry about ripping them if you sit down on some rocks. Additionally, they usually feature pockets. That means you can store things in them, which adds a level of convenience you won’t usually find in gym shorts or yoga shorts.
Hiking pants are more than worth it for most people. Made of lightweight material with lots of extra features, these specialty trousers are perfect for the great outdoors. Now that you know how to shop around for the perfect hiking pants, you’re ready to hit the trail with confidence this year.