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5 Different Types of Pants for Hiking

A back shot of a group of hikers.

Hiking pants are a critical facet of the perfect hiking kit. However, there are endless varieties to choose from, thanks to the significant quality and feature improvement over a relatively short period.

Although we’re excited about the new hiking trends, the diversity leaves us pretty dubious when choosing appropriate hiking pants.

Traditional, roll-up, convertible, softshell, and tights are the five common types of hiking pants. Choosing the best pants ultimately boils down to the weather conditions, terrain, comfort, and preference. The most suitable hiking pants are fast-drying and water, wind, and abrasion-resistant.

Choosing the wrong pair of hiking pants can cause unending troubles and frustrations, making comfy hiking pants an absolute must in your wardrobe!

So, we’re going to discuss the best options available, along with a few tips on what to look out for to ensure you choose a pair of hiking pants that best match your needs.

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Types Of Hiking Pants

Like selecting the perfect pair of shoes or backpack for hiking, your protection and freedom of movement are critical when selecting the appropriate pair of pants for your next hiking trip.

While there is a myriad of options currently available, we will divide the hiking pants options into the most common categories primarily based on their design.

1. Traditional Hiking Pants

A man and a woman going for a hike.

Traditional hiking plants are straight-leg model pants fantastic for hiking as they protect your legs from rock and thorn abrasions, nasty bug bites, sun, rain, and wind exposure. In addition, they keep your legs warmer than shorts.

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Traditional hiking pants are best for general hiking, chilly and wet trips, or piping hot hikes with copious sun exposure. However, you’ll find that certain brands are explicitly suited to colder and damp weather.

More so, the stretchy material allows you to roll them up, leaving them pretty secure. In addition, the traditional hiking pants have a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating to make them water-resistant.

However, on the downside, conventional hiking pants aren’t versatile. So, you’ll have to consider bringing a pair of shorts along for the hike if the weather changes.

On the plus side, traditional hiking plants are suitable to wear in town as they offer a slight “outdoor look,” making them perfect for home, on the trails, and in town. However, they are more durable and breathable than regular streetwear pants.

2. Roll-Up Hiking Pants

As a similar alternative to traditional pants, roll-up models have buttons on the lower leg or an elastic in the cuff of the hiking pants. Both features allow you to roll up the pants into a higher capris style.

The roll-up feature offers some relief to hot temperatures without the hassle of changing pants mid-activity. Although you can roll up the traditional hiking pants, the formalized feature ensures that the lifted legs stay rolled up for as long as you choose.

3. Convertible Hiking Pants

A photo og convertible hiking pants in a white background.

As the name suggests, convertible hiking pants or “zip-off hiking pants” offer a versatile style that you chop and change as you please. These hiking pants are best for hiking in variable conditions or backpacking.

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Convertible hiking pants tend to have a zipper around each leg, usually located right above the knees, allowing you to unzip and remove the lower piece of the pant leg whenever the temperatures get too balmy for full-leg coverage.

This versatile style allows the user to save space and keep their backpack weight at a minimum as they won’t have to carry another pair of pants.

In addition, the zipper mode allows you to alternate between long pants and shorts, perfect for varying conditions and significant altitude differences.

Another benefit of convertible hiking pants that many hikers forget to consider is the simplicity of washing the pant legs without removing the whole pair of pants.

If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll know that this part of the garment tends to get the dirtiest. So, this feature is especially beneficial if you are planning to go on an extended trip.

You can also open the leg zippers halfway on convertible hiking pants to provide ventilation without zipping off and removing the entire leg.

A slight downer to convertible hiking pants is that you’ll have to remove your hiking boots to get the leg off, and the zips can potentially chafe you.

In addition, for individuals looking for a fashionable pair of hiking pants to wear to other places, the visible seam and zips running across your thigh might not be your favorite fashion statement.

4. Softshell Hiking Pants

Softshell hiking pants consist of a high-performance synthetic fabric with two to three layers; they are resistant to tears and abrasions, holding up well to mountainous or rugged terrain.

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Softshell hiking pants are the perfect choice for someone looking for a balance between breathability and water resistance. The outermost layer protects you from soggy hikes by shedding off light rain and drying when wet without making you feel like you’re in a sauna after your excursion.

The middle layer of softshell hiking plants contains wind-repelling characteristics that serve to prevent you from freezing, while the innermost layer keeps you warm and cozy.

Softshell pants aren’t suitable for all climates; they are best for winter hikes or unstable environments with rapidly changing altitudes. In addition, softshell pants are pricy compared to non-softshell hiking pants.

To sum it up, softshell hiking pants deliver more comfort along with proper insulation and durability, but you wouldn’t want to wear them on a scorching day.

5. Tights As Hiking Pants

A woman wearing black tights..

Although worn mainly by women, tights are becoming increasingly popular for men.

The proper tights, also known as yoga pants, are far more suitable for hiking than standard leggings made from cotton. Instead, yoga pants consist of unique fabrics like polyester and spandex (lycra).

Regarding its functionality, tights are mostly worn due to style preference. However, yoga pants are helpful on hikes with bramble, and bushy terrain as loose-fitting plants can easily snag on these types of landscapes.

Other beneficial characteristics of tights include lightweight tight-fitted, yet stretchy enough for you to move freely on all terrain. In addition, yoga pants are durable, breathable, and moisture-wicking; they provide copious hours of free movement without chafing or discomfort.

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Tights are best for easy day hikes; more technical multi-day hiking excursions may require more rugged wear as weather and climate play a role.

Characteristics To Consider When Selecting Hiking Pants

Every hiker knows that finding the perfect clothing fit is crucial to have an incredible instead of a miserable experience on your hike.

If your pants are too tight, you’ll experience uncomfortable chafing, whereas too baggy pants can cause you to trip. So, what do you have to consider to ensure you find the right fit?

Consider The Size, Fit, And Mobility Of Hiking Pants

As a quick rule, your choice of hiking pants will boil down to three critical components: performance, style, and comfort.

First, you’ll want to ensure that your hiking pants are comfortable. We recommend that you find hiking pants that are form-fitting with high mobility but not too restrictive.

For example, a pair of stretchy and snug hiking pants allow you to follow movements with fluidity while limiting the risk of catching onto branches.

While you may prefer a looser fit, an overly baggy pair catches onto bushy terrain, flaps in the wind, and becomes pretty frustrating when the loose-fitting pants slide down.

In comparison, an unduly pair of pants limits mobility can cause chaffing, and will most likely wear faster.

To increase mobility, you’ll want to keep an eye out for:

  • Stretch: Any decent pair of hiking pants should provide a full range of movement without coming apart to ensure that you climb steep trails, scramble of rocks, and jump over debris in the path. Various fabrics are available containing different stretching properties; some types have a two-way or four-way stretch that easily adapts to your body’s movements, giving you the freedom to move around without restrictions. Also, consider a pair of pants with a higher spandex percentage.
  • Articulated Knees: hiking pants with the fabric cut to match your leg’s shape. It’s essential to have excess mobility in your knee and crotch area when you wander across varying terrain.
  • Gusseted crotch: the diamond piece of fabric in the crotch reduces stress on the garment while increasing mobility and lessening abrasion.
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Ensure that you test-drive the hiking pants while you’re in the store before you commit. Try doing several squats and jogging around the shop to make sure they are tight but loose enough not to restrict your movement.

Consider The Material Of Your Hiking Pants

A colorful upholstery fabric samples.

The material of hiking pants has changed significantly in the last decade.

Most traditional hiking pants consist of synthetic materials like nylon and polyester. Still, many new, modern hiking pants are available in stretchy fabric made from nylon with spandex or elastane.

Another phrase you may notice while shopping for quality hiking pants is the term “ripstop.” Ripstop fabric is a woven fabric made using a unique technique that reinforces them, making them tough and durable.

While we can’t say that there’s a specific material best for hiking pants, a mixture of fabrics like nylon, polyester, and elastane is your best bet. In addition, this type of material lends itself to other essential factors like water resistance and breathability.

Note that you’ll want to avoid wearing or purchasing cotton or linen material hiking pants. Regardless of what material the hiking pants are or what it looks like, your best bet is to find pants with these different properties:

Weight

It’s advisable to keep your travel weight to a minimum while hiking, as the trip can become far and tedious. While it may seem minor to cut back on heavily weighted pants, we can guarantee you that it’ll help backpackers on a multi-day hike!

Try to get a pair of lightweight hiking pants that pack down tiny; these pants are suitable for most three-season trips.

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However, temperatures can plummet during summer as nighttime kicks in, especially in desert areas. So, you’ll want to take an extra heavier and thicker pair of hiking pants along with you. These thicker insulated fabrics are also ideal for icy weather and rugged trips.

Moisture-Wicking & Fast Drying

A woman wiping her sweats.

The fabric needs to absorb sweat from your body and move the moisture towards the outer layer of the fabric, allowing it to dry quickly. Wicking material lets you break a sweat while ensuring an optimal microclimate between your skin and clothing.

Wicking fabrics minimize the discomfort of wet skin while reducing the continuous cooling of sweat on your skin when excess moisture remains on your skin.

Water And Wind Resistant

While you can opt for a full-on waterproof pair of hiking pants, experts suggest that you instead wear water and wind-resistant pants if you aren’t walking in extreme conditions.

Fabric that completely blocks wind and moisture can leave you soaking wet from all your sweat if you get caught in the rain.

Waterproof and windproof materials prevent the elements from fully saturating your clothes or chilling you. Water repellent fabrics undergo a treatment that prevents the moisture from penetrating the fabric; instead, it slides right off.

Quick-Drying

Quick-drying fabrics absorb water, unlike water-resistant material; however, it also disperses moisture that enables it to dry faster.

Quick-drying hiking pants are more suitable for hikes in dry environments.

Seam-Sealed

Seam-sealed hiking pants have one of three sealants that replace the stitches in your pants that potentially allow water to seep into the garment. The sealant is applied to the reverse side of the seam.

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The three sealing options are:

  • Critically Taped Seams: Only the portions of the garment’s seams are sealed; these sections are most prone to experience leaks.
  • Welded Seams: The garment’s seams are “welded” by melting the two fabric pieces together to form a tight and waterproof bond. Welded seams are more robust than taped seams.
  • Fully Taped Seams: As the name suggests, fully taped seams cover all the garment’s seams; this is the most effective form of sealing hiking pants.

Breathable

Breathability is the ability of the specific fabric to permit moisture passing through it, preventing saturated and clammy clothing. Breathable material is essential as it helps avoid painful chafing and blisters from wet clothing that rubs against your skin.

Durable

A photo of two woman pulling the pants each side.

It’s vital to find high-quality, durable hiking pants due to the rocky, bush-filled areas you’ll be treading in; this will prevent your new pair of pants from tearing on round one.

For extreme durability, consider investing in hiking pants made from ripstop material. However, you can settle for a simplistic pair of hiking pants made from durable material in less intense hiking environments.

Alternatively, consider a pair of hiking pants with patches of ripstop in the areas like the bum and knees, as they are most likely to come into contact with debris like rocks, bushes, and twigs.

Abrasion-Resistant

Most hiking trails are full of debris and pitfalls that easily damage poor-quality hiking pants. Therefore, ensure that you invest in a pair of abrasion-resistant hiking pants.

Insulation Properties

A back shot of a male hiking.

Insulation hiking pants are a go-to for winter hikes. It’s critical to stay warm while hiking in icy weather conditions.

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Whiles clothes do not generate heat, insulated fabrics aid in retaining the heat your body produces. So, invest in a pair of hiking pants lined with fleece or flannel to provide proper insulation during winter hikes.

Please note that insulation will work against you in sweltering temperatures.

Sun Protection

If possible, try purchasing hiking pants with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) to protect the skin from sun damaging UV rays.

UPF is a clothing rating that indicates the number of units of UV light an item of clothing allows in through the fabric.

It’s worth noting that casual clothing will provide a degree of protection from the sun, but a UPF rating garment is safer if you hike in sunny and scorching climes.

UPF is especially beneficial for individuals with fair or sensitive skin as they are prone to burning.

Consider The Color When Selecting Your Hiking Pants

A photo of light color palettes.

Considering the color of your hiking pants may sound a bit like overkill, it plays a pretty important role.

Lighter color fabrics absorb less heat than dark ones because the darker colors tend to absorb heat, while the lighter shades reflect heat.

So, consider purchasing a pair of cream, beige, or gray hiking pants for summer and black, navy, or dark gray ones for winter.

Consider The Season When Selecting Your Hiking Pants

You should purchase the type of hiking pants depending on the specific function and season.

For summer, you’ll want to wear hiking pants with a lighter construction and fabric weave with loads of breathability. So, consider purchasing a pair of traditional pants, roll-ups, or convertible hiking pants.

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In addition, summer hiking pants are slightly baggier than winter hiking pants, allowing a degree of ventilation during hotter temperatures.

Then, consider wearing long, water-resistant pants that provide insulation, offering protection against rain, wind, and chilly weather for spring and fall. Note that the same will apply if you plan to go hiking on routes with a high elevation. So, consider wearing hiking pants with a reliable DWR coating.

For wet and snowy weather, we recommend investing in a pair of softshell pants or hiking pants with a thick and tough weave along with water resistance qualities as temperatures can drop dangerously low on these excursions.

When choosing hiking pants, a vast determining factor is where and when you go hiking. For example, if you’re going on a day hike in temperate climates, you can stick to traditional or roll-up hiking pants.

If you’re out on an excursion in the desert, ensure that you can convert your hiking pants into shorts. In addition, going for a hike in tropical areas like the jungle requires that you wear long hiking pants that can protect you from bugs and poisonous plants.

We are trying to convey the primary point that you always need to take the climate and season you hike in as it contributes to what type of hiking pants you’ll want to wear.

Also, note that various leg lengths are available for hiking pants that allow you to choose a comfy pair for every type of climate.

Accessories For Hiking Pants

While hiking pants do not need a wide range of accessories to make them effective and worthwhile, the add-ons do make them all the more convenient on your hike.

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Here are several fantastic additions to keep in mind if you’re willing to spend a bit more on a fancy pair of hiking pants.

Pockets

A man pulling out his pocket.

Some people say pockets aren’t essential, but we beg to differ! I mean, who wants to go on a hike with their hands full?

Keep in mind that not all pockets are made equal; some can be incredibly useful while others serve little to no purpose.  

Try finding hiking pants with pockets at least two hands deep. More so, zipped hand pockets are a plus point as they are slightly more water-resistant.

Ideally, you’ll want to look for hiking pants with large side pockets to accommodate your extra accessories like your phone, camera, compass, map, snacks, or pocket knife. But, then, the more pockets, the merrier – the tiny hidden pockets are perfect for keeping your keys safe.

Hiking pants with several pockets is beneficial if you’re going on a short, less strenuous hike and you plan to leave your pack at home.

Lastly, if you’re purchasing hiking pants for frosty climates, consider buying ones with fleece lining; these “handwarmer” pockets will do wonders!

However, if you are planning a summer’s hike in scorching heat, try finding a pair of pants with mesh lining in the pockets to boost ventilation.

Elastic Waist Bands

Hiking pants with elastic waistbands aren’t essential, but they are a good-to-have alternative to a traditional belt.

Suppose you’re planning to attempt a multi-day hike; note that it is normal for hikers to shed a couple of pounds on these tedious excursions. So, having an elastic waistband will ensure that you can tighten your pants if your pants start to slip down your waist.

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However, these elastic waistbands cannot provide as much support if you put a lot of gadgets in your pant pockets.

Ventilation Zips

As part of breathability in hiking pants, ventilation zips are a nice-to-have feature, especially on summer hikes.

Ventilation zips typically run along the side of your hips and have a mesh lining underneath, allowing air to flow in when you open the zips.

Boot Zips

A black pants with bottom zipper.

Boot zips run from the bottom of your hiking pants to the top of your ankle. These zips help slide your shoes on and off while allowing a degree of ventilation when open.

Gathered Ankle Cuffs

A gathered ankle cuff will protect your ankles while providing additional comfort. The cuffs can be a means of elastic bands, Velcro, zippers, or buttons.

Conclusion

Your ultimate choice of hiking pants boils down to efficacy, durability, and comfort; you need to find a balance between protection and freedom of movement.

Consider your hike’s weather, terrain, and skill level before purchasing your new pair of hiking pants. However, we recommend owning at least two summer and winter sets, as they offer different benefits.

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