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What Kind of Pants to Wear Hiking - Pros and Cons of Each Type of Hiking Pants
Hiking pants are sturdy, functional, and practical pants for hiking, mountain tours, and trekking. There are different materials and models - here you will find all the pros and cons.
Hiking Pants - In a nutshell:
- Hiking pants are made of either softshell or a synthetic fiber blended fabric.
- They allow optimum freedom of movement due to a high stretch content.
- Depending on the material, the pants are windproof or water repellent.
- The material of hiking pants dries quickly.
- Hiking pants are lightweight and have a small pack size.
- For women, hiking leggings are very popular.
The advantages of hiking pants
Hiking pants have numerous advantages and functions compared to everyday pants like jeans.
The functional material in hiking pants provides good protection from wind and weather, ensures a comfortable fit, and dries quickly. Here are the details at a glance:
Especially when it's uphill, or you're out on a warm summer day, you can work up a sweat while hiking.
Hiking pants made of a breathable material transport moisture and heat to the outside. So no heat builds up under the pants.
The pants must fit comfortably, don't constrict you anywhere, and don't constrict you while hiking.
Pants that are too tight will hinder you. With pants that are too wide, you will easily get caught somewhere. The most comfortable pants are those with a high percentage of stretch.
When you take a break, it can quickly happen that you sit down on the damp ground. The pants must be water-repellent. This also applies to a drizzle.
If you've chosen a water-repellent material, you won't mind a bit of moisture because it won't penetrate the fabric in the first place.
Quick drying material
Especially if you buy hiking pants for a multi-day tour, they must dry quickly.
Rain showers are not uncommon in the mountains in summer.
When hiking, you notice every extra gram you have to haul up. The lighter your hiking pants are, the less extra ballast you'll be carrying around.
Lightweight hiking pants made of synthetic fiber weigh - depending on the size - just 300 grams. Lined hiking pants made of softshell weigh up to 700 grams.
Not everybody is the same. So that the hiking pants nevertheless fit everyone well, a good pair of pants is equipped with an adjustable hem.
This usually consists of elastic inserts and flexible Velcro fasteners. Belts are also available on some models for the perfect fit
When buying, look for a comfortable fabric that does not rub. Also, seams must be well made so that they do not chafe and you get open spots. This is especially important for multi-day tours.
Fit - how do hiking pants have to fit?
Hiking pants must feel like a second skin and allow unrestricted freedom of movement.
When trying them on, be sure to sit down and check that the pants don't pinch anywhere, even when sitting down. You will be walking most of the time, but the pants should also be comfortable on the way there and back.
Also, pull your knees up while standing and walk down and up some stairs. By the way, pre-shaped knees on some pants support the natural walking motion.
Short or long hiking pants?
Short hiking pants are lighter and you won't sweat as quickly.
However, also have less protection and there is a risk that you will get abrasions on sharp rock edges or in the undergrowth.
Long pants also protect you from the sun and also from ticks and mosquito bites, which are also increasing at higher altitudes.
Often it is very cool or windy at the top of the mountain. Here, long pants are clearly at an advantage and protect you from cooling down.
Zip-off convertible pants or roll-Up pants
Often you can expect very different temperatures on a hike. In summer, it is still cool in the morning, but becomes hot at noon, especially if your tour leads you through a mountain pine area.
The roll-up pants are somewhat lighter than the zip variants.
Often, only an additional button and a loop are processed here, while the zip-off pants require a zipper, whose weight, you always carry around with you.
In the pants to rolling up the additional fabric can feel annoying, here are the zip pants in advantage.
Hiking pants for women: Leggings for hiking
Advantages of leggings as hiking pants
Leggings are lightweight.
They rarely weigh more than 200 grams and they have a small pack size, so they beat any other hiking pants - even if they are light and thin.
Sports leggings are made of a material that dries quickly.
A good pair of leggings fit like a second skin, allowing for optimum freedom of movement. There are no zippers, buttons, or uncomfortable seams that could chafe.
- Leggings are well combinable, for example, with rain pants, you can quickly pull over.
- Leggings are also usually cheaper than functional hiking pants.
Disadvantages of leggings as hiking pants
Leggings are not as durable as hiking pants.
If you get stuck on a rock, you can quickly tear a hole in the leggings. Also against thorns, brushwood, nettles, etc. leggings do not protect so well.
- Mosquitoes also have an easier time getting through the thin fabric.
- Some leggings do not have a pocket where you can store your cell phone, tissues, or a printout of the hiking map.
In the meantime, the outdoor industry has responded to the leggings trend in hiking and launched special hiking leggings on the market. This is virtually the symbiosis of hiking pants and leggings.
Hiking leggings are made of a robust fabric with a high stretch content and are reinforced at the knees and buttocks.
When choosing leggings for hiking, look for the following:
- Breathable, stretchy material
- Not pure cotton, but a material with a stretch content
- Wide, flat waistband
- Opaque fabric
Which hiking pants to wear - for which conditions?
Hiking in summer - lots of sunshine and high temperatures.
Here, lightweight hiking pants made of synthetic fiber in a light, thin fabric with integrated UV protection is the best choice. The light fabric will reflect the sunlight and you won't heat up as much as you would with black pants.
Of course, you can also choose a pair of breathable hiking shorts - but then remember the additional sun protection. A good compromise in the summer is convertible hiking pants or rolled-up pants.
By the way, for desert hikes we recommend long pants to be protected against the combination of wind and sand.
Autumn or spring - unstable weather (rain and wind)
If the conditions are not quite sunny and you are expecting rain and wind because you want to go hiking in the fall or you are planning a hiking vacation in Iceland, softshell pants are the right choice.
Softshell pants are wind and water-resistant.
There are also softshell pants that are completely waterproof due to a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) impregnation. In addition, the pants have a comfortable feel and dry quickly.
Such waterproof pants are available from Cycorld
Winter and high alpine tours - cold weather hiking pants
For a winter hike or in high alpine terrain, we recommend lined and windproof hiking pants made of softshell. If you move a lot and walk fast, the lining does not need to be so thick.
Depending on the conditions, for example if it is very muddy, you also need to make sure that the pants are waterproof. This is where hardshell comes into play again as additional weather protection. The same applies to trekking in South America or Nepal. Especially at higher altitudes, it gets cool quickly if you don't move.
Variable - hot to rainy
If you expect different temperatures - for example, cool in the morning and hot at noon, convertible hiking pants or roll-up pants can be the right choice.
If you're expecting rain, over trousers should be in your luggage. If the temperatures vary between cold and moderate, softshell pants in combination with thermal underwear can be the right solution.
Hiking pants - Which material?
If you are looking for hiking pants for the first time, you may be overwhelmed by the choice of models, features, and materials. We'll tell you which material is best for which tour.
Lightweight synthetic fiber
Lightweight synthetic fiber pants score points for their lightweight, high degree of freedom of movement, and high breathability. They dry quickly and are ideal for day trips in good, warm conditions.
Softshell with and without membrane
- Ideal for the high mountains or for multi-day tours with changing weather.
- Softshell is a soft, elastic material that promises great comfort in hiking pants.
- It is dirt repellent.
Softshell comes in different thicknesses and degrees of warmth. Thick softshell pants have many applications from demanding trekking tours to winter hiking and ice climbing.
- Softshell pants without an additional membrane are windproof and very breathable.
- Softshell pants with membrane are windproof but less breathable.
Synthetic fiber-cotton blended fabric
Mixed fabric pants are a combination of synthetic fibers, such as polyester or polyamide with natural cotton. These pants are very strong and durable, but at the same time breathable. They provide solid protection against wind and weather. Some models also have a wax layer or a special impregnation for even more weather protection.
Hardshell waterproof hiking pants
Hardshell is the way to go when you're out in the wind and weather. Due to its special membrane, hardshell pants keep moisture out, but at the same time transport moisture generated by sweating outside.
Hardshell pants are the most reliable weather protection. However, they unfortunately also have the worst wearing comfort, as the fabric feels relatively hard. In addition, the pants rustle. For a normal hike in good weather, hardshell pants are not necessary.
Range of use hiking pants - overview
|Range of application
|Lightweight synthetic fiber
Small pack size
warm - cool
|Softshell with membrane
Cotton synthetic fiber
Tours lasting several days
Jeans as hiking pants - not a good idea
While jeans are a great pair of pants for everyday wear, they are completely unsuitable for hiking. Especially when it's wet and humid, jean pants are not ideal.
You only have to step into a puddle once in an inconsiderate moment and the fabric quickly soaks up water. The moisture then quickly moves upwards and the pants stick to your skin.
In addition, it can easily happen that the pants get dirty while hiking. A pair of jeans absorb dirt - hiking pants, on the other hand, are water and dirt-repellent.
Jeans are not breathable - that means you will sweat and the pants will soak up the sweat and stick to your skin. Hiking pants are made of breathable materials.
In the summer, hiking pants with zip-off legs have a big advantage. This is not possible with jeans.
A pair of jeans is significantly heavier than a pair of hiking pants and won't allow you the freedom of movement and comfort you'd like while hiking.