(CNN) — Think about your last hike and the way your pants affected your experience. More than just a sheet of material or a style statement, the right hiking pants can both protect you from the elements and shield you from the unpredictability of the trail.
“For me, hiking pants primarily function to protect my legs, whether from an overgrown trail, poison oak, ticks or coarse boulders I may have to climb over,” says Cris Hazzard, a professional hiking guide and creator of hikingguy.com. With that in mind, he says you’ll want to look for something comfortable, stretchy and quick-drying. A nylon-and-spandex blend works best for him, which he then combines with a pair of sweat-wicking long underwear underneath for extra warmth. Wesley Trimble, communications and creative director at the American Hiking Society, suggests opting for polyester, or even hiking pants designed with multiple or a blend of fabrics for performance purposes. He recommends avoiding cotton since it absorbs and holds onto moisture, which can lead to chafing, discomfort and temperature dysregulation, especially when wet.
Beyond materials, you want to look at the weight of the fabric. “There are trade-offs between lightweight and heavier synthetics,” says Trimble. He explains that while lightweight materials tend to be more breathable, dry faster when wet, weigh less and provide more flexibility and mobility, they aren’t as protective or durable than their heavier counterparts. If you’ll be hiking in rugged environments like the desert or thick brush, he says heavier-weight materials will last longer and provide more protection from prickly plants and abrasion. If possible, shop for your hiking pants in person to get a better sense of how that fabric feels against your skin.
The materials and fabric used in hiking pants will only serve you well if they fit properly. “Overall hiking pant fit is quite subjective, but folks should take a few factors into consideration,” says Trimble. “For starters, pants shouldn’t limit your range of motion. Lots of hiking pants now tend to have more stretch, which allows a wider range of movement. Pants that are too tight will often limit your range of motion, and tight pants may also limit breathability and ventilation.”
While Trimble says many hikers opt for shorts when the mercury soars, he prefers well-vented, breathable, lightweight pants for sun protection and for defense against bugs and abrasion. For ventilation, he suggests opting for hiking pants with mesh vents or those made of other types of breathable materials, including nylon or polyester.
Once you’ve determined your hiking pants fit your body comfortably, assess how they fit within the context of your full hiking gear. “It’s a good idea to size the length of the pants with your favorite hiking footwear,” says Trimble. First, he recommends ensuring the hem of the legs doesn’t drag on the ground since this can both ruin the material and serve as a tripping hazard. While he prefers his pants full length to prevent bugs and debris from making their way into his shoes, other hikers prefer a shorter pant to assist with ventilation.
Finally, if you’re backpacking with a hip belt, “it’s a great idea to test out your weighted pack with your pants, belt, shirt and even the underwear you plan to wear while hiking,” Trimble says. “Walk a few loops around the block and see if you feel any rubbing and friction. Sometimes belt loops, seams and friction between various materials will cause irritation due to the added pressure of the hip belt. On a few occasions, I’ve ended up with abrasions on my hips and lower back due to this friction on long hikes. Testing this out before a hike can help hikers stay comfortable on longer hikes.”
Here, the best expert-backed hiking pants to grab for your best hike yet.
With their flexible organic materials and street style-worthy silhouette, these hiking pants fit like a dream on and off the trail. “Gramicci’s Loose Tapered pants are the king of hiking bottoms,” says Kevin Cortez, a commerce editor at Men’s Health and hiking expert. “They’re loose and extra roomy for taking wide strides and going uphill, but they’re cropped and tapered for a stylish look off the trail. I have four pairs in different colors and they’re the most flattering pant I own.”
Made of polyester twill with tailored pleats at the front, these tapered trousers make both a functional and fashionable investment. “If you can swing its price, this is an awesome technical pant,” says Cortez. “Made by Japanese outdoor brand Goldwin, the One Tuck Tapered Stretch Pants are loose in the legs and slim down near the feet, and have plenty of stretch for extra comfort. There’s a nice, deep security pocket on the right leg for keeping valuables close, a built-in belt and mesh pockets for moisture wicking. They’re also wrinkle-resistant, which makes packing them a no-brainer.”
“These are my new favorite hiking pants by far. The material is super lightweight and breathable, and they have tons of hiking-specific features that really make a difference,” says Kai Burkhardt, CNN Underscored’s outdoors editor. “An adjustable waistband means you’ll never have to wear a belt, the leg hems have a cinch so you can keep dirt and pebbles out of your hiking boots and they even have hidden zippers that open a vent on the sides of your thighs if you need to dump heat quickly.”
These bestselling Columbia hiking pants with a ripstop nylon material are proof you don’t need to shell out an arm and a leg (you’ll need those for your hike) to score durable and reliable hiking pants. Made with the brand’s proprietary moisture-wicking technology, they’ll repel both rain and light snow while drawing perspiration away from the body, contributing to an all-around comfortable hike no matter the weather. They feature UPF 50 protection ideal for summer hikes, several roomy pockets to keep weight off your back and a partially elastic waist with a hook and loop for convenient toting. Coming in 26 colors and regular, big, and big and tall sizing, there’s a Columbia Ridge Cargo Pant for every type of hiker.
While you can certainly double up your hiking pants with a pair of long johns underneath, even more convenient are these fleece Lululemon hiking pants with a nylon, water-repellent and abrasion-resistant exterior with a butter-soft fleece interior for frigid temps. Contributing to their practical properties are a built-in belt and pull-on waistband for a customizable fit, a shock cord at the cuffs and tapered fit from the knee to hem to lock in warmth, and a hidden phone sleeve and zippered pocket for storing valuables.
For a hiking pant that’s at once straightforward enough for everyday wear and technical enough for the trails, look no further than this bestseller from Outdoor Research. Its stretch-woven ripstop nylon material is both breathable and quick-drying while providing ample sun protection, and its articulated knees and drawcord cuff adjustments provide flexibility where you need it most. A harness-compatible waistband and bonded belt loops make this option appropriate for even the most rugged adventures. As an update to a previous model, this version features enhanced stretch and recovery for multiday use and hikes of all durations. “The Ferrosi fabric is legendary in some outdoor circles, and as a recent convert braving the intense rain in California this season, I’ve been continually impressed with just how light the fabric is and how good at repelling weather it is,” says Emily Pennington, outdoor writer, author of “Feral: Losing Myself and Finding My Way in America’s National Parks” and CNN Underscored contributor.
If the brand is well known for its durable outerwear, you can almost be certain its hiking pants will hold up to the trials of the trail. Boasting a pass-through pocket to store your second layer as well as several secure pockets, these ultra-convenient hiking pants serve to keep your gear within arm’s reach. Their recycled polyester and elastane fabric is at once water-repellent and breathable, while the mesh pockets behind the knees provide extra ventilation during high-intensity hikes. Cinch-cord adjustable leg openings keep warmth in and debris out. Plus, they’re great if you love the look and feel of joggers and want to bring your signature style to the mountains.
Whether you’ve got crags or creeks on the itinerary, these all-weather Patagonia hiking pants are sure to keep you going mile after mile. Their recycled nylon material is treated with a toxin-free water-repellent finish, and they feature a touch of spandex and moderate knee articulation to allow you to move through a full range of motion. Practical elements like on-seam front pockets with built-in drainage, multiple zippered pockets, adjustable waistband and cuffs and a center boot hook make them a dream to wear for multiday hikes. They come in both short and regular inseams and plenty of versatile color options.
Whether you’re leading the pack or following in their footsteps, these expert-approved hiking pants are sure to get you up that hill with time and energy to spare. They’re made with a lightweight, two-way stretch nylon and spandex material with a water-resistant finish to keep moisture out as well as extra sun protection as an ideal choice for summer months. Low-bulk seams and an odor-control technology make them perfect as a backup layer in your pack for longer hikes, and they come in numerous colors and inseams for a guaranteed ideal fit.
For a pair of hiking pants as hardworking as you are, opt for the Prana Stretch Zion II made with recycled nylon and stretchy elastane. They’re treated with a toxin-free water-repellent solution; they feature several pockets, including a handy flap closure with double entry at the thigh and a ventilated inseam gusset for extra breathability during sweaty hikes; and they come in numerous earth tones and inseams for every hiker. The webbed cinch strap at the waist provides customized comfort on the fly, and the snap roll-up feature at the hem allows you to adjust your coverage for ultimate temperature regulation.
Arc’teryx makes some of the most reliable hiking gear on the market, and the brand’s hiking pants are no exception. Designed with a stretchy yet flexible nylon and elastane blend, they’ll help you reach the summit with a sense of comfort and convenience. They feature a water-repellent and lightly insulated soft shell for all-weather wear, articulated patterns for ease of movement, a harness-compatible waistband ideal for full-day (or -week!) hikes and climbs, and cuffs you can adjust with a drawstring to keep debris at bay.
“These are the pants I didn’t know I needed until they arrived in my mailbox one day,” says Pennington. “With a street-forward style that moves perfectly between trail and town, they are not only pocket-rich for trekking but also cute for city days when traveling.”
From their wrinkle-resistant nylon material to the addition of spandex and articulated knees for extra mobility, these Patagonia hiking pants with a classic tapered fit seamlessly take you from meetings to the mountains. They feature UPF 50 fabric for extra sun protection, a water-repellent coating to keep you dry in downpours and a discrete zippered thigh pocket for valuables in addition to its two hand warmer pockets, two rear pockets and coin pocket. As a certified B Corporation, the purchase is as wise for the planet as it is for your hiking wardrobe.
“You get all the comfort and mobility of tights but with added durability on the butt and the knees so you don’t destroy them within the first mile of scrambling,” says Heather Balogh Rochfort, outdoors writer and CNN Underscored contributor.
“I prefer to day hike in performance pants because of the added stretch and comfort they provide on the trail,” says Erica Zazo, outdoor writer and CNN Underscored contributor. “These are extremely soft and really easy to move around while hiking but also stylish enough for a post-hike beer at a local brewery.”
“Kuhl managed to do the impossible and create a quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabric that’s as cozy and comfy as your favorite old pair of jeans,” says Pennington. “Plus, the stretchy cargo pockets are just large enough to hold an iPhone.”
Save for carrying you up that hill themselves, these top-rated Rab hiking pants do it all and then some. They’re designed primarily for warm and wet weather with their lightweight stretch nylon material and waterproof polyurethane membrane, but they’ll easily serve you well in colder temps with their zippered hem gusset making way for wider hiking boots required for snowy terrain. Plus, they come in regular, short and tall sizing complete with a semi-adjustable waistband with an integrated belt adjustment for a perfect fit.
Tackle your next trek with these ultra-breathable and water-repellent hiking pants made of plain weave recycled polyester and yarn sourced from ocean plastics. Lightweight enough to feel like a second skin, they’ll move with you as opposed to against you in inclement weather. Their relaxed and roomy fit allows for ample range of motion, while the side zip pocket protects your valuables from the elements. Snap-button adjustable hems make room for even the bulkiest of boots, while the elastic waistband with a built-in silicone grip facilitates carrying a backpack or waist pack.
For a convertible zip-off pant that works double duty in chilly and hotter temps, look no further than these abrasion-resistant hiking pants. “I’m a big fan of the Kuhl Renegade Convertible Pants,” says Hazzard. “I find them worth every penny. First, all the essential things are there: durability, lightweight, quick-drying and exceptional comfort. I also like them because the material resists snagging on brush and thorns, and the quality is top-notch.”
These convertible hiking pants made of a stretchy recycled nylon and spandex fabric have a ton going for them. They’ve got flatseam stitching that reduces the look and feel of bulk while also making them ideal for packing on hiking getaways, a water-repellent shell to stay dry in wet climates and during perspiration, a UPF 50 fabric for extra sun protection and reinforced cuff backs to prevent abrasion against rough hiking boots. What’s more is that its ventilation is located smartly at the mid-thigh all the way down to the bottom hem for impromptu breathability while also omitting the need to remove your pants when swapping out shoes or boots. They come in both extended sizing and several inseam options for an all-around great-fitting hiking pant.
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