Every avid hiker with miles on the trail under their belt has come to know just how important good pants are to successful and enjoyable excursions. The best backpacking pants can make hiking adventures and enhance enjoyment of trips by offering comfort, freedom of movement, and protection from harsh weather elements and from scrapes by rocks and underbrush. The wrong pair can ruin a trip by being a constant source of pain and discomfort or by simply coming apart when exposed to tough conditions.
Thus, it is important to invest in the best convertible hiking pants. Below, we’ve put together a list of what we believe are some of the best hiking pants on the market. They are comfortable, protective, high-performing, equipped to withstand highly abrasive wilderness and alpine conditions, and durable. Our buying guide makes it easy to figure out exactly what pair of outdoor pants will serve you best when hiking, backpacking, trekking, or climbing.
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How To Choose A Pair Of Hiking Pants – Buying Guide
Backpacking pants are performance pants and there are certain features they should have in order to fulfill their function on the trail. Each pair will have specific features that make it suitable for certain outdoor conditions and activities and not others. You also have your own preferences when it comes to what to wear when hiking.
Choosing trekking pants involves looking at more than just the style, color, and fit. You have to consider how well a pair will serve you depending on the weather conditions you will be hiking in, the kind of terrain you will be wearing it in, and the kind of hiking activities you will be engaging in whether that be rock climbing, trekking, or backpacking.
Below are the important features to consider when assessing the quality, performance, and suitability of each pair you’re considering so you can choose the best outdoor pants for your type of hiking.
The material is the most important aspect of a pair of backpacking pants and the first thing to look at when buying outdoor pants. It affects the comfort, performance, quality, and durability of a pair. So what’s a good material for backpacking pants?
It should be tough and abrasion resistant so it doesn’t tear easily when exposed to rocks, tree branches, underbrush, constant friction during movement, and varied weather elements. It should be water, wind, and weather-resistant and at the same time breathable, moisture-wicking and fast drying.
Most outdoor pants are made of ripstop nylon or polyester or a blend of these two materials with a small amount of spandex or elastane incorporated to make them stretchy so they move with the hiker and allow for a wide range of movements. Some trekking pants also have some cotton content for warmth and comfort.
Cotton and wool are an option for cold weather hikes because of their insulating properties. If you will be hiking in hot and humid conditions, cotton is a no-no. It readily absorbs sweat and moisture but takes a lot of time to dry. You don’t want to be hiking in heavy and damp pants no matter what the conditions are.
Proper fit is very important in trekking pants. It is part of what makes a pair comfortable and easy to hike in. Hiking and climbing require a wide range of movement and the pants you’re wearing shouldn’t restrict mobility or rip easily.
The fit varies with different manufacturers and even among different pants by the same manufacturer. To ensure you order the right size when purchasing online, take your body measurement and compare them to each pair’s size guide to determine which size to order. Check user reviews to get an idea of whether a pair fits true to size or runs big or small. This will help you decide whether to order the standard size or go a size up or down.
Choose the kind of cut that suits the conditions you will be hiking in and also suits how you like your active pants to fit. An athletic cut that maximizes comfort, mobility, and trail performance is ideal. Some pants will have a relaxed fit with room for layering while others will have a slim, stretchy fit. Some people prefer to wear leggings when hiking. Too baggy a fit isn’t good for hiking. Such pants will be heavy, keep flapping when blown by the wind and catch on underbrush. Too tight a fit isn’t good either as it will be restrictive, cause chaffing, and is susceptible to ripping.
Stretchy pants are some of the most comfortable pants. A spandex or elastane composition offers a stretchy fit that moves with you allowing a wide range of motion. As for the fit at the waist, look for features such as the elasticized waists and integrated belt and belt loops. If you want pants for climbing, look for pants with a long rise at the crotch, articulated knees, and the ability to fit under a harness.
When you receive your order, wear, and test how the pair fits by performing some gymnastics that imitate the kind of movement you will be making when hiking or climbing. This way, you will discover if they don’t fit well and return them before the refund period expires. Sit, raise one knee at a time, do a full squat, and hold it. If the pants feel restrictively tight, don’t stay on, split at the crotch, pinch, ride up or down, they are not a good fit and won’t offer a good experience hiking.
Related Review: Climbing Pants
When the weather conditions allow it, lightweight pants are always a good idea. They breathe well and don’t slow you down on the trail. They are also easy to pack in a backpack as a backup pair for multi-day hikes.
The good thing is that most outdoor pants out there are lightweight without sacrificing their protective features, quality, and durability. This means that weight won’t be a major issue when choosing your pants. For treks, hikes, and climbs in wintery and alpine conditions, thick pants that keep you warm are essential but they will be on the heavy side.
Pockets in pants come in handy but are a matter of personal preference. For some adventurers, the more and larger the pockets are the better. For others, one or two pockets are sufficient. No matter what you prefer, you will want to assess the pockets your potential pants offers and their size, design, depths, placement, and closure.
The majority of trekking pants have at least two side pockets. For hiking, simple but functional pockets that don’t add bulk are ideal. Look for zippered or velcro pockets to ensure whatever you keep in them stays with you.
If you want lightweight and minimalist bottoms, you will want pants with a few pockets. Go for pants with pockets galore if you want to keep a flashlight, compass, multi-tool, map, cell phone, fire starter, snacks, and more items within easy reach.
Water-resistance is a must-have feature in any kind of outdoor wear. In case it starts drizzling as you hike, you don’t want your pair of pants to turn into a soggy and heavy mess that interferes with your comfort and ability to move.
Most pants have some level of water resistance. The nylon and polyester fabrics they are made of are naturally water-resistant as they have tight weaves that prevent water from getting in. Some manufacturers also apply a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment to the face fabric. This treatment cause waters to bead up and roll off the face fabric instead of soaking through. This coating wears off with time and requires reapplication when it stops being effective.
However, water-resistant pants aren’t completely waterproof and won’t stay dry when exposed to heavy and prolonged downpour. If you’re likely to encounter cold weather and heavy rain – a dangerous combination in the wilderness, we recommend packing a pair of waterproof rain pants to wear over your pants in order to stay dry, comfortable, and safe in case the weather turns wet and chilly.
Hiking is hard work and an effective way to burn extra calories while having fun. Whether this is one of your goals or an unintended consequence, you’re likely to shed some pounds and find yourself slimmer at the waist after several days of strenuous activities. All of a sudden, pants that fit you perfectly on the first day of the hike need your help to stay up.
For multi-day hikes, we recommend getting outdoor pants that have an elasticized waist, integrated belt, drawstring adjustment, or belt loops to accommodate your favorite belt for hiking. This will allow you to adjust the fit as necessary and keep hiking comfortably and enjoying its health benefits.
Unless you want a pair of backpacking pants that will turn into a personal sauna in the course of your hike, you will want to ensure that the pair you choose balances abrasion, wind and water resistance with breathability.
A fabric that breathes well and wicks away moisture allows excess heat to escape and perspiration to evaporate keeping your cool and dry when hiking in hot or warm conditions. Thin and lightweight fabrics perform the best when it comes to breathability. However, the tight weave hiking pant fabrics have is not very breathable.
For maximum comfort when it is hot, go for breathable trekking pants that are also equipped with ventilation features such as mesh-lined zipped pockets, vents behind the knees or in the crotch area, rollable cuffs, and panels you can unzip to let your skin breath. These features will ensure you cool faster and protect you from overheating and getting sweaty and clammy when engaging in strenuous activities in hot weather.
Breathability is also important in thick and heavy pants meant for wet, cold, and snowy conditions since warmth builds up inside the pants and airflow is essential for comfort. However, venting outlets will be minimal in such pants to ensure they are still effective at blocking the wind, wet and cold.
Convertible pants designed with legs that zip off are the best pants for hiking because of their multi-season and multi-weather versatility and value for money. They are very convenient for environments where days start off chilly, gradually warm up becoming extremely hot at mid-day before getting cool again in the evening.
You can start with full pants, partially unzip the legs for ventilation, or zip off the legs completely so you’re wearing shorts when it is hot and sweaty and re-attach the legs when the weather cools down again.
If you’re an ultra-lightweight backpacker, convertibles are the best hiking pants because they are a multipurpose two in one piece of hiking gear. You don’t have to carry pants and shorts separately. Another convenience a convertible pair offers is that when the bottom of the pants gets dirty or muddy, you will be able to wash it without having to remove the whole pants.
Convertibility alone isn’t all that’s important. Good convertible pants have zippers that are well made, comfortable, and function well and a design that looks good. If you don’t like the zippers, weight, and style of zip-off legs but still want their convenience, consider roll-up pants that feature buttons on the lower leg or elastic in the cuff. In hot temperatures, you just roll them up and use the buttons or elastic to keep them up.
Flexibility is one of the qualities good hiking, backpacking and trekking pants should have if they’re to be comfortable and perform as expected. If you’re going climbing or bouldering, flexibility is especially important.
To ensure that you choose a flexible pair that enables a wide range of movements, look for features like a gusseted crotch with a long rise, roomy fit at the thighs, stretchy fabric with spandex or elastane composition and articulated knees.
Articulated knees are designed in such a way that they acquire a natural bend in the knee area when a person moves to improve the range of motion. A crotch gusset is an extra fabric placed where a standard seam should be. It offers better fit, comfort, and range of movement.
When you receive your pair of choices, you will also want to put its flexibility to the test before you wear it outdoors. Wear your new pants and strike a wide range of poses. Sit, squat, lift your knees one at a time the way you lift them when climbing, and strike some yoga and gymnastic poses.
If the pants move with you, allow a wide range of movements, and don’t feel restrictive you can keep them. If they feel constricting around the knees, thighs, hips, or crotch, split in the crotch, pinch, ride up or down, or limit mobility, your search for the best hiking pants isn’t over.
Quietness is an important feature that is easy to forget to consider when evaluating pants. A constant swishing noise accompanying your every move can get very annoying in the great outdoors where it is quiet and you’re moving all the time.
Always check the user reviews of your potential pants to see if there are any complaints of them being noisemakers in the wilderness. Most pants including the pants in our reviews are constructed of fabrics that don’t make noise. You can move stealthily while enjoying the serenity of nature.
When hiking, backpacking or climbing, there are all kinds of elements you want to keep off your skin: wind, rain, cold, the sun’s harmful rays, twigs, rocks, underbrush, mosquitoes, and bugs. The best hiking pants should be able to handle the kind of conditions you hike in, protect your lower body, and keep you comfortable in a variety of terrain and environments.
Look for pants made of a ripstop tough fabric with water-resistant and wind-breaking properties. Long pants are the most protective because they offer full coverage. When hiking in rugged and alpine conditions when it is inevitable that you will rub against abrasive elements, the pant fabric should be ripstop tough to resist tearing and protect your skin from scrapes and abrasions by branches, thorns, and rocks.
Because of the tight weave in their fabrics, all pants offer some protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. If you have very fair skin or tend to burn easily when exposed to the sun, you will need a higher degree of sun protection such as the one offered by pants made of a fabric with a UPF 50 ultraviolet protection factor.
Those hiking at high altitudes, in tropical regions, in the summer, in reflective snowy conditions, or in desert environments where the sun shines intensely and directly will also benefit from this high level of sun protection.
Full-length pants hide your legs from mosquitoes and insects. If you will be hiking in heavily infested areas, you may want to look for pants that have a bug repellent treatment so bugs will avoid you instead of you hiding from them.
In addition to being water-resistant and repellent, good pants are also made of quick-drying material. This ensures they dry fast after a downpour or a creek crossing and keep you dry, warm, and comfortable.
When your pants are fast drying, you won’t hesitate to enjoy a refreshing swim when you come across an inviting river or pond. You can also wash your pants if they get dirty without worrying that you won’t have something to wear come morning.
Nylon and polyester fabrics are very good at resisting water absorption and also dry very fast. Cotton is the worst when it comes to drying performance. It readily soaks in water and then takes its time to shed it off.
Q: What Are Backpacking Pants And Why Do I Need One?
Backpacking pants are specialty outdoor pants designed for performance and comfort when hiking. When you’re going to be hiking, trekking, backpacking or climbing in the wilderness exposed to all kinds of harsh weather elements and rugged terrain and vegetation, regular pants or leggings won’t do.
You need backpacking pants because they are lightweight and flexible, tough and abrasion-resistant, weather-resistant, and breathable. They will protect you from all kinds of elements in the great outdoors and ensure that you’re comfortable and can enjoy your favorite outdoor activities.
Since they are equipped to withstand the rigors of hiking, abrasive alpine environments, and harsh outdoor elements, they will also offer long-lasting service on the trail where regular pants won’t hold up.
Q: What Type Of Pants Are Best For Short Summer Hikes?
For short summer hikes, a hiker needs pants that are lightweight, comfortable and will keep them cool and dry. Top-rated pants for short summer hikes are made of a thin, lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking fabric. This ensures the hiker stays dry, cool and comfortable. It should still be a ripstop quality fabric with the ability to resist abrasions.
Convertible pants that can be converted into shorts when it gets too hot and sweaty are also a great choice. Pants made of a material with a UPF 50 sun protection rating offer a high degree of protection from the sun’s harmful radiation, which is very important in the summer sun especially if you have very fair skin that gets sunburnt easily. Short hiking expeditions may not require carrying a backpack. In this case, plenty of pockets will offer storage spaces for essentials.
Q: Can I Wear My Pants With Other Layers Of Clothes?
Yes, most pants are cut and sized to offer a relaxed fit for comfort, flexibility, and also to accommodate layering. If you’re hiking in cold conditions or going up in elevation, you can add a base layer such as thermal underwear or tight underneath to your pants in order to stay warm and comfortable. If chilly and wet conditions, you can also wear a pair of waterproof rain pants over your breathable pants and base layers.
Globo Surf Overview
What you wear when hiking, backpacking, rock climbing or mountaineering determines how your adventure will turn out. Given that your legs are the part of your body you use most when participating in these activities, the pants you wear are especially important.
If you want to enjoy your hikes to the fullest, good pants that fit well and suit your style of hiking and the kind of conditions you hike in are essential. They should be comfortable, breathable, water and wind resistant, quick drying, flexible enough to support a wide range of hiking or climbing motions, and tough enough to resist abrasion by shrubs and rocks.
The best convertible backpacking pants are an investment. They become a reliable go to for comfort, freedom of movement, protection, and performance on the trail. They also suit a variety of outdoor activities and casual situations from traveling, running, working outside, to running errands. Since they are constructed tough to withstand hard use, they are a piece of backpacking gear that will last for years and offer the best value for your money.
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Which of the pants on our list is your top choice? We would love to read your thoughts or experience with the pants for trekking, hiking, and backpacking we’ve reviewed! Feel free to share in the comment box below.