Few things are more important when hiking than being comfortable. A lot of time is spent debating the ins-and-outs of the perfect hiking shoe, but not nearly enough effort goes into choosing the right pants. Comfort and durability are important for keeping your hiking trip enjoyable for your legs; otherwise, you’ll overheat and tire out before you barely break a mile.
Two Types of Hiking Pants
There are two types of hiking pants, and neither of them are denim jeans. While you might look rugged and stylish in denim, it doesn’t make sense to hike in them. They’re hot, uncomfortable when wet, and they don’t breathe well. Instead, you should be wearing convertible or standard hiking pants.
Convertible hiking pants are able to transition into shorts thanks to a zipper that allows you to remove the lower half of the pants. Benefits include more breathability, use in multiple climates, and they’re easy to remove. Of course, the added weight of the zippers mean they’re heavier when used as full pants.
Standard hiking pants, just as they sound, work like normal pants and cannot be converted into shorts. They’re ideal for colder climates, offer a sleeker appearance, and are generally lighter than convertible pants.
So which should you choose? If you’re heading out on a longer hike in warm or hot temperatures, convertible hiking pants can’t be beaten. They’re great for middle of the day jaunts and summer excursions. Standard pants are the way to go if you’re prone to hiking in the fall or winter. They’re also great for evening or night hikes when the temperature falls.
Buying from big box stores might save you money upfront, but purchasing high-quality hiking pants will save you more in the long run. That’s because well-made pants can last through years of use.
While most hiking pants are made with nylon, the big box pants are made with cheaper nylon. This leads to pants that are stiffer, more easily ripped, and noisy when they rub together. Higher quality brands use high-quality nylon for a softer touch that makes no sound. They’re also less likely to lose a button after only a couple of hikes.
The Right Fit
Finding the right fit is imperative if you want pants that will be comfortable on your hike. If they’re too tight you’ll find yourself chafing, too baggy and you might trip over them. So what goes into the right fit?
For starters, mobility is a key feature on well-fitting pants. Always test-drive a pair of pants around the store before committing. Be sure that you can move easily and that the pants are not so tight they’re restricting your movement. Squat down and sit on a chair to make sure that they’re comfortable in the back and knees. You’ll also want to look for pants with a gusseted crotch so they don’t chafe.
The pants should be loose enough that they’re not restricting movement but not so loose that they’re just hanging from your legs and barely touching you. You might want to practice jogging around the store in them to make sure you can comfortably run, too.
Finally, hiking pants don’t need to come with a wide variety of accessories to make them worthwhile. Most of your gear should be in your pack, but it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of pockets on the sides so you can easily reach your pocketknife in a pinch.
Pants with elastic waistbands are also a great alternative to using a traditional belt. Though they’re usually lighter, they won’t provide as much security if you pack your pockets full of heavy equipment.
The less extra material weighing down your pants, the better.