A man wearing a light blue full zip fleece and navy blue fleece joggers, standing between rocks in the forest.

How To Choose the Best Hiking Pants

With the right pants you can take on any hike

For as much as we’d love to just rock our birthday suits every time we hit the trails (communing with nature, right?), hiking pants provide practical protection from the elements. With the right pants you can take on any hike: Fend off the sun’s rays on summer afternoons, keep pesky mosquitos at bay, wick away moisture during a grueling ascent, or prevent grasses, twigs, and branches from scraping your bare legs. Here’s how to buy the best pair of hiking pants for your next adventure. 

Basic Terminology

Though pants come in various shapes and sizes, the words to describe them are largely the same across brands. 

Waistband: what wraps around your waist and secures the pants to your body.

Fly: the zipper before your crotch. 

Inseam: the length from your crotch down to your ankle. 

Hem: the bottom of the pant legs. 

Tapered pants: narrow toward the ankle.

Flared pants: widen toward the ankle.

Convertible pants: have zippers or snaps around your thighs or calves that can transform the garment into shorts or capris, or back into pants.

Bermuda shorts: longer shorts that fall around the knee. 

Capris: shorter pants that fall above the ankle, but below the knee, often tapered. 

Elements To Consider

Namely, where you’ll be hiking and how you like your pants to feel when you’re making miles. 

Location, location, location: First, identify the type of pants that’ll serve you best with a good understanding of where you’ll be hiking. This informs the type of materials and features you want to prioritize. Look up the regional climate for your destinations. 

Hot and arid: Try pants that can ventilate well, (breathable or able to be rolled-up or converted into shorts) and provide UV protection from the sun. 

Hot and humid: Look for moisture-wicking pants that’ll help mitigate sweat; consider insect repellency in the event of buggy terrain; and keep an anti-chafing fit in mind when contemplating size and fit. 

Cold and wet or windy: Prioritize the weight of your pants (how thick they are) and their resistance to weather and moisture. 

All over the place: Pants with convertible or zip-off legs, along with adjustable waists, provide a way to test out different fits or styles of hiking pants.

Fit: With everything from baggy cargo pants and tapered zip-offs to hardy leggings equipped with pockets, ultimately your choice comes down to one factor: What you feel most comfortable and capable in. Getting to know your favorite fit might take some trail time to hone, so start with a looser fit to ensure mobility and function first. 

Sizing: From brand to brand, sizing is anything but standardized—a size “30” might fit you perfectly in one style of pants, but not in another from another brand. Get rid of the idea that you’re a predetermined size and take your own body measurements (as defined above). Reference your measurements against a brand’s sizing chart to figure your ideal size. Pro tip: If you don’t have a flexible tape measure to assist with these measurements, use a piece of string or rope to mark your distances, then lay the string against a ruler or measuring stick. 

What body parts to measure for hiking pants: 

Waist = the smallest part of your torso.

Hips = the widest part of your hips.

Thighs = just below your crotch, around your leg.

Knee = around your knee with your knee slightly flexed.

Calf = the widest part below your knee.

Inseam = distance from your crotch to your desired pant length (knee, calf, ankle, etc).

Crotch length = Standing, from the front of your waistline (near belly button), under your crotch, to the back of your waistline (near the small of your back).

Crotch depth = Seated, from the top of your hip to the chair. 

A man climbing over a rock , he is wearing a light blue full zip fleece, navy blue pants and grey shoes.


After determining your own sense of comfort and personal measurements, don’t forget the important features to get the most out of your hiking pants. 

Mobility: The point of hiking pants is to move—and to feel good while doing so. Make sure you can move comfortably in your pants. Look for articulated knees and butt areas that mimic the anatomical shape of these body parts; you’ll find articulation by looking at the fabric around the joints (hips, butt, and knees), noting any gathered stitching and/or extra space (pant leg and butt areas shouldn’t completely lie flat when placed on the ground). Too, focus on fabrics with some stretch (more on that below).

Zip-off/convertible pants: Zip-off or convertible pants offer the two-in-one option of an equally great all-day hiking pant (for when you start out cold in the morning but eventually heat up), and a year-round garment that works as pants during the colder months and as shorts during warmer temps. 

Roll-up pants: Another option to help with ventilation is the ability to roll up or cuff your pants. Look for snaps located on the outside of your calf region (mid to lower leg) and corresponding snaps on the inside of the pant leg—they’ll hold the rolled-up hem in place at that fixed height. 

Waistband adjustability: You might experience your waist contracting or expanding from physical exertion, camp foods, or resupply meals—considerably so if you spend serious time on a thru-hike where physical changes are common. Every body is different, so pants with an adjustable waistline help as fluctuations occur. Look for waistbands with embedded belts or adjustable webbing that can be tightened or loosened via snaps, buttons, or webbing cinches. 

Pockets: With ample places to sew pockets (front of hips, butt cheeks, thigh sides), there are no excuses for a lack of pockets—they help carry essential gear like maps, snacks, phones, GPS devices, and more. 

Materials: You’ll want to avoid denim here. 

Synthetics: The majority of hiking pants will be made from blends of synthetic materials like nylon, polyester and spandex. That’s due to the fact that many organic fabrics (cotton, linen, hemp) are heavier and less durable when compared to their synthetic counterparts. 

Moisture-wicking: To combat moisture from sweat, turn toward fabrics with wicking properties—engineered to move sweat away from the body and disperse it across the outside of the fabric in a way that causes it to evaporate quickly. This helps your body regulate its temperature more effectively, and helps keep you dry despite perspiration. (In winter months, your base layer will be the first line of defense against sweat.)

Weather-resistance: To deal with moisture coming from the outside-in, look for pants advertising water-resistance treatments or finishes. “FastDry” or “TransDry” are examples of standard industry finishes that protect fabrics against moisture. Pro tip: Many fabrics can be treated at home with waterproofing washes or sprays, so there’s an option to waterproof pants that you already own. Also, be on the lookout for PFC-free waterproofing finishes, as they’re better for the environment. 

UV protection: As SPF measures the protection of sunscreen on skin, UPF is the rating system used to gauge the protection that apparel provides. If a pair of pants is treated with UV protection, it should have its lab-tested UPF rating noted so you can compare protection strengths (the higher the number, the more protection). In general, darker fabrics provide more UV protection than lighter ones; the denser the fabric weave, the more UV protection; and polyester and nylon fabrics will offer more sun protection than natural fibers like wool or cotton. 

Anti-chafing: The prevention of thigh and butt chafing (a mild rash that develops after prolonged rubbing on your skin) is different for everyone; in general, look to reduce the combination of friction, moisture, and irritating fabric. When buying pants, take fit and ventilation into account (this’ll reduce moisture), plus how the pants sit against your skin. For some, looser pants help prevent chafing by reducing points of contact between skin and fabric; for others, tighter pants help prevent chafing by limiting the pants’ movement on your body. For most, a combination of wearing synthetic underwear and using petroleum jelly or anti-chafing creams on sensitive rubbing areas does the trick. 

Anti-odor: Clothing odor is typically combated by antimicrobial fabrics. If you want to wear hiking pants for days on end or to minimize washing, look for antimicrobial fabrics. While some fabric fibers are naturally antimicrobial (linen, merino wool, and hemp), other synthetics are sometimes treated with antimicrobial finishes to keep microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses from flourishing within its fibers.

Insect-resistant: Just as pants can be finished with treatments to protect against moisture, UV rays, and odor, they can also help fend off insects with repellent finishes that keep the creepy crawlies and annoying mosquitos at bay.

Female-Specific Considerations

Nothing is more complicated than buying women’s pants. For many women over the years, finding the right pair of hiking pants was a long, arduous, and sometimes disappointing journey. The good news is that the market for women’s-specific hiking pants has been growing practically nonstop the last couple years: Gone are the days where waistline and thigh measurements are governed by one ratio; adios to those adventure pants with pockets barely big enough for a granola bar; and finally, hello new generation of engineers and designers!

Consider pants with zippers that run the length of the crotch (from the waistband fly all the way down to your crotch and partially up your backside), for easy bathroom access when you pop a squat. 

Try multiple brands from different global areas. European-designed pants will likely differ from Asian-designed pants and North American-designed standbys. Don’t shy away from testing different designers and brands and styles to find the right, comfortable fit for your body. 


Truth is, the average hiker doesn’t need to break the bank searching for a decent pair of hiking pants. For your first pair, start with more affordable options until you dial in exactly what you need and desire in a pair—then invest in higher-quality, durable pants that’ll last. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.