Can you just wear an old pair of jeans/sweatpants on a hike or should you buy some specialized hiking pants? And if it’s the latter, how do you know which pants to purchase?
Those are the questions we’ll be answering here as we look at the many types and styles of hiking pants and find the right ones for you.
What Are the Types of Hiking Pants?
Your first option for hiking pants is to wear the ones you already have.
The problem is that these pants likely weren’t made for long hikes. If they’re durable, they may be too heavy and could retain moisture. If they’re light, they may rip and tear.
Many dress trousers are built with style in mind and so they are often impractical and will become uncomfortable during long hikes. As for sweatpants and other athletic apparel, they’re usually comfortable but may rip and tear easily while also soaking up the rain like a sponge.
As for actual hiking pants, there are three main categories:
Standard Hiking Pants
Standard hiking pants just look like normal pants, but they provide features needed for long hikes in the woods, including durable materials, a lightweight construction, and waterproofing/windproofing.
Standard hiking pants usually include zips on the bottoms of the legs, making it easier to remove your hiking boots.
Convertible Hiking Pants
Convertible hiking pants can be worn as shorts or trousers. They have zips or buttons around the legs and these can be removed or added as needed.
Start your spring hike with full pants and then remove the legs when you get too hot. Alternatively, wear them as shorts, store the legs in your backpack, and retrieve them if it gets a little chilly.
As the name suggests, roll-up pants are hiking pants that can be rolled into Capris, giving you some extra ventilation during those hot weather hikes.
How Do You Choose Hiking Pants?
Whether you’re buying standard hiking pants or convertible pants, there are a few things to consider.
Most hiking pants are made from durable and stretchy fabric that won’t restrict your movement on the trail. They typically use synthetic materials as cotton clings to moisture and while wool is moisture-wicking, it’s not the most lightweight or comfortable material for pants.
The best hiking pants typically use polyester and/or nylon, as well as elastane and spandex to create stretchable waistlines.
A good pair of hiking pants should offer some degree of sun protection while also guarding you against the wind and rain.
Pay attention to the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). It’s similar to the SPF (sun protection factor ratings found on sunscreen), but it references how much of the sun’s ultraviolet rays penetrate your clothes.
Generally speaking, clothing will provide you with natural sun protection, and if you’re wearing full-length pants and tops, you should be sufficiently covered. But if you’re hiking in very hot weather, it’s worth paying extra attention to UPF (especially important if you have very fair skin or you’re otherwise prone to skin cancer and burning).
If you’re hiking in cold weather, look for rain pants that won’t soak up the moisture.
Hiking pants use water repellent coatings to keep wet weather at bay while synthetic material blends and high-quality weaves provide wind and sun protection.
You’re going to be doing a lot of walking in hot temperatures, so your hiking pants need to be breathable. If not, they’ll accumulate sweat and led to chafing, rashes, and discomfort, not to mention some very stinky trousers!
Thankfully, most hiking pants are breathable.
Summer hiking pants need to be lightweight and packable. You can pack a spare pair in your backpack or remove and pack the ones you’re wearing—assuming you’re changing into shorts.
For cold weather hiking, they can afford to be a little thicker and heavier and that extra weight should make them warmer. But avoid choosing pants that are too thick, heavy, and bulky, as they’ll just get in the way.
The Size and Comfort
Choose hiking pants that are a little loose, giving you the freedom to move and ensuring they’re not constantly pinching at the waist.
A looser fit will give you more freedom around the knees and crotch, potentially increasing your mobility and reducing chafing.
A higher price doesn’t always equate to higher quality. As with any type of clothing, you could find yourself paying much more than something is worth just because of a designer logo.
You don’t want to simply buy the cheapest hiking pants that you can find, as they likely won’t have the features you need and will probably fall apart after the first few miles. At the same time, you don’t want to blow your budget on a pair of hiking pants when you’ll likely need to spend even more on hiking boots, a hiking jacket, and other hiking gear.
Are Tactical Pants Good For Hiking?
Tactical pants can make very good hiking pants. They were once the pant of choice for climbers and other outdoor adventurers, and these days they are the trousers of choice for law enforcement, security guards, and paramilitary personnel, albeit with a few modifications.
The style can differ greatly, so if you’re going to be using tactical pants as hiking pants, make sure they’re not too bulky and actually provide the features and benefits you need.
How Long Should Tactical Pants Be?
Tactical pants usually sit higher on the waist to accommodate tactical belts without dragging the pants down. As with standard hiking pants, they should cover the tops of your boots but not be so long that you’re constantly tripping over them.
Are Hiking Pants Supposed to Be Shorter?
Hiking pants shouldn’t be short as such, but they must be short enough so that you don’t walk on them or trip over them. They should cover the tops of your hiking footwear without getting in the way.
Why Are Hiking Pants So Expensive?
Hiking pants are specialized trousers made from high-quality synthetic materials and designed for a specific purpose. They’re not fast fashion and the demand is very low, so you don’t have the same competition that you have with yoga pants or sweatpants.
As a result, hiking pants can be a little more expensive than standard trousers. There are some cheaper options out there, though.
Are Hiking Pants Better Than Jeans?
Hiking pants are definitely better than jeans for hiking. Jeans are hard-wearing and you likely won’t feel the sting of bees, bugs, and thorns when walking, but they are heavy, cumbersome, and retain a lot of water.
If you’re heading on a very short hiking trip and the weather’s not too hot, there’s nothing wrong with wearing jeans or other standard pants. But if you’re going to be out there for a long time, opt for hiking pants or tactical/cargo pants instead.
How Many Pairs Of Hiking Pants Do I Need?
You should only need one pair of hiking pants, but it depends on how long you’re going to be hiking for, what the weather is like, and whether you’ll be spending the night in the wilderness.
If you’re hiking for many miles and will also be setting up camp, bring another pair just in case. If you have just one pair and they become waterlogged or ripped miles from home, your options will be limited.
If you’re only going on a short hike, a single pair of high-quality hiking pants will suffice.
What Should Hiking Pants Be Made Out Of?
Most hiking pants are made from synthetic materials, including nylon and polyester. They may also include super stretchable materials like spandex for the waist and areas that need a little more freedom.
Summary: Buying Hiking Pants
As you can see, there’s more to hiking pants than simply grabbing an old pair of jeans from the closet. But that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank, as there are many affordable hiking pants out there.