What on earth makes hiking pants good for hiking? If you’re someone like me, who would rather shop for sweet new gear over clothes any day, the prospect of finding hiking pants that are comfortable, functional and vaguely fit your style is daunting. But the experience doesn’t have to be nauseating. Our recommendation? Pay attention to the little details that aren’t obvious from the outside, but which make it obvious that the designers have done some serious hiking and genuinely know what works and what doesn’t.
When you’ve hiked a hundred miles in scorching sun and sleety rain that feels freezing but just won’t turn into snow; when you’ve spent way too long fishing around in your pack because your pockets can’t hold your minimal EDC; when you’ve worn ten different pairs of pants until they had holes so that you know where those holes end up – that’s when you know what good hiking pants feel like.
This review saves you the trouble by throwing together the best options for the start of 2017, most of them subtle improvements on tried and tested models. Just flick through the review to see which features and benefits catch your eye. If you’re still wondering how to choose the best hiking pants for you personally (I.e. sizing, fabrics, and whether you can get away without hiking-specific pants), keep scrolling past the reviews to where we delve into the details. There we go into what kind of performance you can expect from outdoor clothing, and which bells and whistles are a godsend vs. tacky extras made to appeal to the amateurs.
Top Pick: Fjällräven Keb
Fjällräven is Swedish for ‘arctic fox,’and these hiking pants are designed to be just as good at adventuring through the forests and mountainsides of the northern USA, Europe or any other rugged, demanding climate. The Keb pants, like the Vidda Pro before them, feature reinforced panels that contain 35% cotton- something you almost never see in hiking pants anymore. This G-1000 technical fabric does a terrific job of deflecting scree, mud, snow, fierce thorns and all manner of hazards. The Fjällräven Keb hiking pants are amongst the most rain-resistant of the bunch, and you can even add your own wax coating to the G-1000 panels to amp up the water-resistance. These pants are an outstanding option for hikers looking for the highest level of protection and durability.
G-1000 fabric is durable, water resistant and can be made fully waterproof with Fjällräven’s Greenland Wax
Panel pattern gives you comfort and stretch where you need it and rugged protection where you need that, instead of compromising with an all-over fabric that attempts both
Traditional pattern of stretch panels is stylish and adventurous-looking
Four different ways to fasten the ankles cuffs (In boot or above or as gaiters or open)
G-1000 reinforcement covers more of the leg than it did in Fjällräven’s Vidda Pro
Ventilation zips keep your legs cool and airy when you’re working up a sweat
Belt loops so you can carry a tool-belt / knife etc.
The Kebs come in a huge variety of color combinations
At this price, these are an equipment investment
Often, hiking pants fall into one of two categories: waterproof, terrain resistant, insulated and breathable, covered in technical zips (and alarmingly expensive); or basically a pair of everyday slacks that dry a little faster and weigh slightly less. In the Fjällräven Keb, we think we’ve found the perfect balance. The upper, front of the pants and the panels behind each knee are made from a polyester/elastin blend. These sections are stretchy and durable, but soft and breathable too. The rest of the Keb: the front of your thighs and knees; the whole backside; and the bases of the trousers (where you get the most abrasion and tangling and hill-sliding); are all made of a 65% polyester/35% cotton blend Fjällräven call G-1000.
If you want your Kebs to be waterproof, you just rub some of Fjällräven’s own Greenland Wax beeswax compound into the G-1000 panels. This is the same product that Fjällräven recommend to waterproof a bunch of their stuff, so if you already have some lying around you don’t need anything new. You can get a demo on the right way to apply the wax in some specialty hiking stores, or watch videos online. It’s easy to get the hang of and effective at keeping out the rain. We opted not to put on the wax at first, just to see how the Kebs hold up without that added weight. The non-treated pants held their own against a one-hour rain shower no problem.
Comfort and weight
If you’re worried that these panels sound heavy and impermeable, fear not: we were quite impressed by the ventilation zips that run down the side of each. This makes pants that are the best choice of hiking pants for cold, wet weather and rough terrain perfectly good choices for hot, muggy days as well.
The ankle cuffs of the pants are designed to be worn in about four different ways, and sit really well in each position thanks to the snap fasteners. This means that no matter what your body shape (height/waistline), what shoes you’re wearing, or whether it’s hot and sunny or blowing freezing rain on you, you can close the ends of the pants up in a way that’s satisfactory.
The Fjällräven Keb Women’s version is definitely re-tailored to suit slightly different proportions, meaning that women can look forward something that fits realy well, not just the men’s pants in smaller sizes. We liked this! We also reckon that the Kebs are flattering and stylish without trying to look like they’re not hiking pants.
Despite being the most burly hiking pants we tried on, the Kebs are fairly light in your pack and on the trail, at about 1.5 pounds, not quite twice the weight of the lightest hiking pants we could find, and still less than the average pair of blue jeans. We think they look pretty good on, too: a really nice balance of modern fit and classic mountaineering-style design.
Runner Up: Arc’Teryx Lefroy
Most hiking pants from the more technical brands like Arc’teryx, who we associate with technical snow gear, tend to be heavy and feel like thin hard-shell layers. So it was exciting when Arc’teryx released the Lefroy at under 10 ounces! The Lefroy pants are also designed specifically for the heat – not the snow. We found that the AirPerm fabric breathes incredibly well – the most breathable hiking pant out of everything we tested for this review.
Incredibly light men’s hiking pants
Carefully crafted fit and high-stretch
Articulated pattern for excellent mobility
Integrated webbing belt for micro-adjustments – you can leave your heavy leather belt at home
No belt loops to wear your own belt over the top
Not the best choice for winter or wet weather
The Lefroy hiking pants are cut in a slim style. Not formal exactly, but all the lines are clean and sit well and you can tell they’re a technical pant. When we saw the model photographs, we were worried they were going to restrictive and hot, but this wasn’t the case at all. The AirPerm fabric has a high (18) percent elastin, which makes it as stretchy as the prAna Stretch Zion. We found these perfectly comfy climbing over fallen logs and up embankments.
The Arc’teryx Lefroy are a great choice for anyone who wants lightweight travel pants that perform really well in summer hiking and backpacking conditions. The only downside really is that they are quite expensive for lightweight hiking pants. And while the AirPerm fabric is reasonably resistant to scrapes and spills, these are not pants that we’d take anywhere we were really planning to bushwhack.
Comfort and weight
It all depends on your lifestyle: if you do a lot of outdoor adventuring and/or sightseeing in the summer and want high-performance hiking pants that will last you for years and years, the Arc’teryx brand quality will be worth paying extra. This is one brand that is willing to pay plenty of attention to all those small details that make a difference.
Weight-wise, remember these are only 9 ounces. They are a considerable jump in price from good-value budget options like Columbia’s Silver Ridge, but not all hiking enthusiasts are students and for the seasoned traveller with a little more to spend, that isn’t going to matter.
Best pick for stretch and style: PrAna Stretch Zion
These stretchy hiking pants are slim but flexible, with a streamlined belt built into the waist that lets you micro-adjust your size, ensuring the perfect fit every time you wear them. They are stylish enough to wear into town, and comfortable enough to wear on the aeroplane, but neither of these factors alone are enough to make them one of our top picks. Luckily, their nylon-spandex blend offered a great compromise of water-resistance and breathability, and resisted abrasions and mud-stains too.
Zippered dual cargo pocket
Front pockets and zippered back pockets
Designed to hold their line well and resistant to wrinkles
Men’s fit fits women as well
Sizes have changed recently – loyal returning customers should double check the suggested measurements before they order
The built-in cinch belt is flat and slim-line enough that you can wear your own belt as well- perfect if you want to carry extra gear on your belt. The bottoms can roll up quite neatly and stay there, thanks to a snap on the side. The front and back pockets are placed nicely and big enough to use comfortably, unlike many pockets you see on men’s hiking pants (as well as women’s, which have notoriously useless pockets).
The prAna Stretch Zion pants breathe pretty well. While they resist water, they’re definitely not waterproof.
Comfort and weight
The prAna Stretch Zion are as comfortable as they look. Their fit is roomy enough that they’ll accommodate a set of long underwear/thermals underneath, but slim enough that a waterproof shell (like the Marmot PreCip below) will fit over the top without any issues. These are not the lightest pants reviewed here, but at 13 ounces they’re still easily less than a pound making them a great choice if weight is important to you.
Top rated pick by women: Marmot Lobos
Lots of water and abrasion resistance in pants that are flexible, comfortable, these pants are still looking great after months of backpacking. Both the convertible version and the full pants are designed to be rolled up below the knee, and they excel in just about every condition of weather and terrain.
Stretchy and functional
Stylish, flattering slim fit
Soft inner waistband designed for backpacking and laden hiking
If you go for the convertible option, the zippers can be a mild discomfort
Pockets are stupidly small: the front made for little phones or passports but not for hands or anything big, and the zippered side pocket can pretty much just fit a whistle and a packet of matches
Marmot Lobo’s Convertible Pants are made from a water-resistant, sun-resistant (UFP 50), abrasion resistant blend of 96% Nylon tempered with 6% Elastane to make them softer and more flexible. They proved quick-drying, blend that’s treated with a DWR coating. The material is UPF 50, quick drying and offers no resistance to mobility as you scamper through scree and up an incline.
The nylon performed really well against all the perils of the trail, and after months of wear there wasn’t the wear and fabric pilling in high use areas (basically, the seat of your butt) that a few other comparable hiking pants tend to exhibit.
The nylon is coated with DWR that beads off water, and these withstand a long walk in light rain without any water seeping inside.
Comfort and weight
Comfortable in every way – stretchy fabric and a diamond gusset in the crotch for extra movement. The fabric never felt too sweaty, but if you want more airflow but to keep the extra protection from sticks and trail debris, you can just unzip the bottoms a bit to let the air through. The convertible option isn’t just about not wanting to carry a spare pair of pants in your pack – it’s about being able to go from long pants to capris (with buttons to hold them rolled up) or to shorts in any situation. The Marmot Lobo’s Convertible hiking pants are inexpensive considering their comfort, performance and versatility, and weigh just 9 ounces. The non-convertible Marmot Lobo’s hiking pants weigh even less, and cost even less to boot!
Best waterproof hiking pants: Marmot Precip Pant
The only true, 100% waterproof hiking pants on this list, the Marmot PreCip are designed to be worn over your regular day pants, though you could wear them over long thermals if you expect storms from the start of the say. Like the Marmot PreCip jacket, the PreCip hiking pants live up to their claim and keep out the rain.
Great fit, flexibility and movement for waterproof pants
Good breathability (for waterproof pants)
Fairly durable nylon
Quick to dry
Pockets, including waterproof zippered smartphone-stash pocket
Zips up the out-seam almost to the knee, to make them lightning fast to get on and off over hiking boots
Not as breathable or comfortable as non-waterproof hiking pants
As rain paints, they are excellent: fully waterproof thanks to a waterproof NanoPro membrane and fully taped (waterproof-fabric-reinforced) seams. They are comfortable even when wet, and baggy enough to accommodate pants underneath without verging into MC Hammer territory. The waist is simple and they slip on and off fairly easy.
Comfort and weight
That said, these pants are definitely not comfortable enough that you’d choose them over the others on this list for even a day in dry conditions. The NanoPro is excellent at keeping out horizontal rain, and nothing on the market that is waterproof breathes as well as most things that aren’t. But at only 9 ounces, these are a feather-light addition to your pack that you’ll be grateful for whenever clouds threaten to ruin your hike.
Best hiking shorts: Under Armour ArmourVent Trail Shorts
If you’re wearing shorts hiking, it’s because you want to stay cool. So the best hiking shorts are the ones that keep you that way. Under Armour’s ArmourVent Trail Shorts are feather-light but don’t feel cheap or vulnerable. Their style is a slimmer fit than the baggy trail running shorts you usually see, but thanks to a thoughtful design and four-way-stretch you actually do have plenty of room to squat and lunge as you climb the trail.
Cool and airy
Stylish slim flit
More length than many trail-running shorts
The cons of all shorts: zero protection from mosquitoes, ticks, snakes, banging your shins on branches, etc.
The fabric is thin and not reinforced to withstand sharp branches or abrasion – you’ll shred them if you try to do any off-trail hiking
An elastic waistband makes sure they fit comfortably and never slip down. The gusseted crotch means that your movement isn’t restricted on tougher trails or even while working out.
Comfort and weight
The seams and inner waistband are flattened, a nice touch that we didn’t expect in hiking shorts made by a company that focuses on fitness wear, and reasonably priced at that. These shorts let plenty of air in directly, and the Vent fabric makes sure that any sweat is transferred out and evaporates pretty quickly. A very comfortable pair of shorts with good versatility.
Other considerations to help you choose the the right pair
The main advantage of hiking pants over blue jeans. All those mesh sections and fully open panels that you can unzip to expose your skin may seem silly on the rack, but they are precious when you’re sweating through a forest trail.
Full-length breathable rip-stop fabric can protect you from twigs and thorns whilst keeping you breezy cool; mesh is less protective but still better protection against flies, ticks, mosquitos and sun.
Making choices based on brands, especially when the brand option is more expensive without clear advantages, can be silly. Don’t assume that just because you’ve heard a brand name before, it must a good one. Well-known does not mean well-respected.
Any new manufacturer can come out of nowhere with zero marketing experience but decades of hiking experience and suddenly be making the best product on the market. Well-established brands can get complacent or greedy and start churning out annual updates that are as pointless and ‘buggy’ as smartphone upgrades.
That said, there are a few reasons why you might let the brand weigh into your choice. The first reason, which is especially important if you want to buy hiking pants online, is that different brands tend to have slightly different sizings. If you know that brand x has fit you really comfortably before, chances are they will again. The second reason is that certain brands have a reputation for excellent customer service, advice, return policies and so forth.
Pants that can zip-off completely are attractive to ultra-lightweight travellers who want a pair of pants and shorts without needing to carry one or both. These are a better choice for people who usually prefer shorts and occasionally want to wear pants than the other way around, since the zippers however well-made can be an unnecessary discomfort and weight in themselves. If you usually prefer full-length pants and only occasionally want to wear shorts, just pack a pair of shorts as well. They’re not that heavy.
Many hiking pants are marketed for travellers who will be mostly sticking to city footpaths and the occasional overlooking trail. This means that they can get great reviews as hiking pants even though they actually have fairly limited flexibility. If you plan to climb steep trails and do the odd bit of bouldering on your way, let alone climb trees or anything more adventures, it’s crucial to find flexible, stretchy hiking pants that won’t cut into your thighs or limit your range of motion. Look for pants with a gusseted crotch, slightly baggy or boxy-looking knees, and don’t be afraid to do a bit of tai chi in the change room.
Another huge benefit of hiking pants over denim. This is important both on your body and in your backpack. Some people get excited about every ounce they’ve managed to shave off, but it’s kind of like cycling: there’s a huge spectrum and unless you’re really experienced, the differences in weight between different products at the expensive end probably doesn’t matter too much – there’s been enough competition for long enough now that they’re all pretty good. Heavier isn’t always worse, either: the Fjällräven Keb, for example, has sections of reinforced G-1000 fabric covering a lot of the legs, with the option of adding wax to make them even more protective (and even heavier).
A more important consideration when it comes to weight might be how much water the pants soak up. If you get soaked, how much extra weight will you be hauling?
Cheap hiking pants can feel and sound like a sleeping bag. It’s a difference you might not notice in a busy store with a bustling sale on, but when you’re reaching for your binoculars for a better view of that bird, or just trying to enjoy the quiet, that plastic bag scrunching sound can really grate on you. This is especially true of pants that claim any level of water resistance. ‘Quietness’ is one factor that you really do see a big difference in between the affordable and up-market brands of hiking pants.
Pockets and pocket sizes
This one’s a bit easier to know for yourself what you want, but it bears mentioning in case you don’t think of it.
On a normal day at home and work, do you love being able to stash a bunch of stuff in your pockets? If so, check that the pockets in your potential hiking pants are big enough. You can see right away how many there are, but if they look suspiciously small, check the reviews to see if anyone’s complained about their lack of utility.
If you only ever carry your smartphone in your pockets, then you can shed a couple of ounces by choosing pants without those extra pockets.
Most hiking pants offer some amount of protection for your skin and durability for the fabric itself: you might not expect it to shield you from every branch and thorn that you whack into, but you should be able to expect the fabric not to tear too easily. This can be about the weave/construction (‘rip-stop’) or about an extra layer that is designed to reinforce and deflect.
Yet another advantage over regular pants, hiking pants are designed to dry much quicker. Why is this important? So that if you encounter rain or a creek while hiking you are drier, warmer and lighter faster. It also makes it easier to do the laundry and then be able to pack up camp (or check out of your hotel room) sooner rather than later. Check specs and user reviews to see how well the pants you’re looking at have performed.
This is probably going to be the main source of discomfort if your pants aren’t quite the right size, or if you have a backpack that tends to sit low and tug your waistband around. Look for pants with a soft panel inside the waistband, and with a way to adjust the sizing in case it’s not quite perfect. Almost everyone loses and/or gains weight after a few weeks hiking (or eating your way from Rome to Paris), so putting some forethought into this is a nice thing to do for your future self.
Some pants come with too few belt loops, some with too many. Some come with detachable belts, and some with permanently attached cheap and nasty belts that you can’t get rid of. Pay attention.
Is this important for where you’re going? Remember that you can end up much colder if rain gets through your pants than if snow gets on top of them. Many hiking pants claim some level of water resistance – few are completely waterproof. If you think you need this level of protection, don’t expect to find a pair of hiking pants that is ultra-comfortable, quiet, flexible, lightweight, warm enough, breathable and waterproof. Ain’t gonna happen. You’re better off buying a pair of great all-round performance hiking pants, plus a thin waterproof shell and some thermals to wear underneath. If it’s wet and warm, you’ll be much more comfortable with a merino-synthetic layer to wick away moisture and cool you down than sweating directly into your waterproof shell.