When I went through a patch of thorny bushes that had overgrown onto the trail, I was glad to have a good pair of hiking pants. Regular cotton pants or tights would have been a mistake and left my legs very scratched up.
Hiking pants can make a big difference when hiking longer distances and in dense foliage. Tights are generally good for shorter distances and on trails clear of vegetation. The material also makes a big difference since some hiking pants and leggings or tights are made of the same materials and some are not.
Wearing clothes that are tough, durable, moisture-wicking, and dry quickly can be the difference between a comfortable or uncomfortable time. Let’s talk more about wearing the right clothing for hiking.
Experienced hikers know that you’ll always feel a lot more comfortable and confident when they have the right clothing, equipment, and gear necessary when taking on the trail – and good hiking pants.
And the type of clothing that usually causes the most problems – if not correctly picked – is pants. They can chafe, they can rub, and they can be far too warm or cold at times, so if you get this wrong, there’s a good chance you won’t even enjoy the hike.
To help you pick the right pair for your next hike consider some of the following ideas.
Types of Hiking Pants
There are a few different types of hiking pants and tights. The classics are:
- Long pants
- Roll-up pants that can be converted into shorter pants for better comfort and airing
- Zip-off pants where the legs can be zipped off to turn them into shorts
These pants come in many varieties but should be made mainly with nylon or polyester. Look for ripstop nylon or polyester for better durability.
Tights also come in many varieties. The main rule is to avoid cotton tights and look for something that is made mostly of nylon or polyester. While you might not find ripstop tights, some pants are designed like tights and can be ripstop.
Which type of pants you should wear is up to you and how well you enjoy hiking with them. For long term performance, I would go for ripstop nylon pants.
These hiking pants are designed in a way that the user wears them just like ordinary pants. They can be rolled up a little bit to help your legs air somewhat, but they can’t be converted into shorts of any kind.
These are a good option for a casual hike, as they can often pass for ordinary trousers and are, therefore quite a smart-looking option.
Most of the time, they’re suitable for wearing in a café or restaurant after the hike.
Convertible – or zip-off – pants offer the best of both worlds. Although they can function as ordinary pants, if the temperature rises, you can zip off the lower half of each leg immediately, converting them into shorts.
These are great for travelers or backpackers, as it prevents you from having to bring a pair of hiking trousers and hiking shorts.
The only downside is that their shape can look a bit funny as trousers and often don’t look as smart as ordinary hiking pants.
Roll-up pants are a sort of hybrid between ordinary pants and zip-off pants. They can be rolled up to just below the knee and fastened or clipped in place, allowing significant ventilation in warm weather.
They’re a great option for those people who can get a bit warm on the trail, as you can roll them up for twenty minutes just to get a bit of air, and roll them down when you’re cool enough.
What About Tights?
Many people ditch the idea of trousers altogether when hitting the trail, and instead opt for tights or leggings. Not only can these look great and compliment your figure, but tights also have their own advantages.
Their compression and fabric can add a nice layer of warmth and wind resistance if the temperature drops, and as the fabric is tightly fitting, they don’t sag or sway, allowing you to feel more agile.
The main downside with tights is that, as they fit tightly on the skin, they can often get too hot in warm weather, and taking them off to cool down isn’t easy.
Test these out first before taking them on a long hike.
Size and Fit
Whether going for ordinary hiking pants, roll-ups, zip-offs, or just opting for tights, getting clothing that fits is crucial before heading out on a hike – especially if it’s a long one.
Although various retailers may offer great deals when shopping online, we’d always recommend buying them in person, as it’ll give you a chance to really try them on before you commit.
And when you do try them on, really try them on. Test if they chafe or rub, see what they feel like when talking long strides, squat down, and see if they get tight or bunch up; finding out if your pants don’t fit too well isn’t something you want to happen after buying them.
If you’re buying a pair that zips off or rolls up, test to see if they really offer ventilation. It’s also worth checking the material to see if it’s durable enough for your hiking needs and whether or not it offers good water resistance.
Again, find this out before buying, not when you’re halfway through the hike!
Shopping For Hiking Pants and Leggings/Tights
There’s an array of things you’ll need to bear in mind when picking the ideal hiking pants or leggings – material, circulation, water resistance, and more. We’ve broken down each one to give you a better idea.
The material of hiking pants – as well as all other hiking equipment – has undergone some significant changes in recent years.
Nowadays, most hiking equipment is made from synthetic materials, such as polyester, gore-tex, nylon, or elastane.
Many of the products that come in these fabrics are designed to be flexible and comfortable but also durable and resistant to tearing and scratching – when some of these materials are combined, they strike a perfect balance between affordability, versatility, comfort, and resilience.
Polyester, for example, is also quick-drying and moisture resistant, allowing you to keep dry, and spandex is very flexible and stretchy, meaning the pants won’t rub or chafe after long-term use.
Nylon is very tough and durable. It’s a bit heavier than polyester but also dries quickly, is moisture-wicking, warm, and lightweight.
Understanding these materials and their properties is key to getting hiking pants that are perfect for you.
Despite what most people believe, most hiking pants around aren’t actually waterproof but are water-resistant. This means that they help prevent you from getting wet, but in extremely rainy conditions, the rain will still get through.
So, to ensure complete waterproofing, a pair of overtrousers will need to be worn.
As for wind resistance, most decent hiking trousers will offer some, but for optimal effectiveness, again, you’ll want to wear some over trousers as well.
Breathability is something that many new hikers don’t often consider, but those with a lot of experience can assure you that it’s a crucial element to getting good hiking pants.
Hiking pants or tights that aren’t breathable can often create a layer of sweat or moisture on your skin, which isn’t only uncomfortable but can also prevent you from keeping warm in those colder temperatures.
In hot temperatures, a lack of breathability can make you too warm and leave you feeling sweaty and sticky under your pants.
Polyester breathes well and nylon can also breathe in hiking pants but is generally less breathable. Each pair of pants has a blend of materials that are used, and hiking pants generally breathe well.
Read reviews if you are not sure because breathability is crucial in all weather conditions.
Features of Hiking Pants and Leggings/Tights
Here are some things you will want to consider before buying a pair of hiking pants.
Having an array of different pockets and pouches can make finding your gear, accessories, or even just finding snacks, so much easier and more convenient.
When trying on a pair of hiking trousers, test the pockets for size and whether they cause discomfort.
A gusseted or reinforced crotch helps prevent your hiking pants from splitting or tearing when walking, crouching, or moving around in general.
They can also add extra comfort and prevent chafing.
Many pairs of hiking pants have reinforced stitching or fabric around the knees. This helps prevent them from breaking or tearing and can provide some protection when kneeling down.
A comfortable waistband will allow the trousers to sit at the ideal height, ensuring they’re tight and secure around your waist while preventing them from bunching up.
Having trousers that can roll up allows for greater breathability in warm conditions, helping you cool down and remain comfortable.
Belt loops allow the possibility of adding a belt. This is useful if your trousers are slightly too loose or if you want to clip items to your belts, such as a compass or a knife, for easy access.
Reinforced cuffs and knees will help lengthen your hiking pants’ lifespan by providing more durability against scuffs, scrapes, and scratches.
A great choice for those who venture off to particularly harsh terrain.
Having a drawcord ensures that, when rolled up, your hiking trousers stay in the desired position.
This is great in warm conditions, as it allows added breathability for long periods of time and prevents your legs from getting too hot.
When choosing the best hiking pants or tights/leggings, there are many things you’ll need to bear in mind.
But by trying on various pairs and looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each type, you’ll be sure to strike the balance you need, to get something that’s suitable for the trial, convenient, comfortable, and will last you a long time.
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