The Best Hiking Pants Review For Men
Which pair of hiking pants provide the best overall performance for hiking and backpacking? We took seven of the most popular models and put them through months of rigorous testing in the desert of Utah and the mountains of Colorado, hiking in these pants day in and day out to see which pair came out ahead of the competition. We filled our days full of climbing, camping, working, and relaxing and put all of the models to the test, analyzing and rating each pair for comfort and mobility, versatility, breathability, durability, weather resistance, and features/conveniences. We took the newest and most popular versions from our previous reviews and tested them against three new models, noting how they changed and whether or not they were still worthy of any awards. Keep reading to see how all of the models fared in our comparisons.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
What goes into making a really good hiking pant? Not only is comfort important, but they should also offer a good range of mobility, as that is exactly what you'll need while hiking. Versatility is a plus for different types of weather and breathability is a must to ensure that you stay dry and sweat free when the days are really hot or the sun is beating down on you. Durability is a no-brainer, as backpacking can be notoriously hard on clothing. You'll want them to be water resistant, as you don't want to catch hypothermia when a cool thunderstorm overtakes you; and if it does, you'll want them to be able to dry quickly. Features and other conveniences, such as waist tighteners, zip-off pant legs, and cargo pockets will work well and help you while out on your adventure. With so many things to consider, it's a wonder that any single pant can do a good job at all of these things; believe it or not, this pair exists! All of the pants we tested did an adequate job of meeting these needs, with some specializing in certain categories more than others.
While the seven pairs of pants that we tested all fit into the broad category of hiking pants, the reality is that these products are useful for so much more than simply walking outdoors. If you are planning a long backpacking trip, there is an entire slew of other things that you might find yourself doing in addition to hiking. You might want to go swimming, wade a river, or climb a rock or a tree. You may need to collect and chop wood, climb a nearby summit, glissade down a snowfield, or do some yoga in camp after a long day (or before another one!). Luckily the makers of these models have got you covered, and in most cases you will be able to do all these activities and more in just a single pair of pants.
Selecting the Right Product
A few of the models that we tested will be decent for hiking no matter where you want to go and when, while the majority will perform better under certain conditions and not so good under others. The first thing to do when picking out the ideal pair of pants is deciding what the primary climate is that you will be hiking most often. Your needs will be different if you plan to hike through the Pacific Northwest in spring versus dropping down into the Grand Canyon in summer. While some of these pants are good for very specific purposes, it is worth noting that in general these are middle-of-the-road, do-everything pants, and thus are generally designed for the middle range of temperatures and climactic conditions. They should serve you for temperatures between about 40-85 degrees Fahrenheit, and should keep your legs protected in conditions from cool dry nights, breezy days, and light rain showers. If you are planning to encounter monsoonal downpours or snowstorms, you are surely going to want some specialty shell pants adequately suited to that weather.
Another thing worth considering is whether or not you want to buy a pair of pants or a pair of shorts. Pants are certainly more versatile for a variety of climates, and are a must if you want protection from underbrush or other abrasion like activities, such as scrambling. On hot summer days that get above 80-85 degrees (or much cooler than that for some heat sensitive people), you will comfortable heading out on your day hike in shorts instead. If you want the best of both worlds, the all-in-one inclusive option, then check out the four pairs of convertible pants in this review, with the Editors' Choice winner being the Prana Stretch Zion Convertible Pants; these pants have zippers that allow you to remove the bottom of the leg and then quickly convert them into shorts.
We make a point of describing the ideal uses for each product in their individual reviews, as well as areas where that pair of pants probably wouldn't work out very well. Be read those for more specific information. We also recommend you check out our Buying Advice article for a more in depth analysis of how to choose a pair of pants that are perfect for your hiking adventure.
Types of Hiking Pants
In order to increase versatility, especially over a wider range of temperatures, some of the pants here are convertible. This means that they can convert from pants to shorts by unzipping the lower legs at a junction just above the knee. Some people love the option of having this conversion, while others think that it is unnecessary. There are pros and cons to having your pants convertible. The obvious pro is that if you get too hot, you can simply unzip the legs off your pants and now you are wearing shorts. The cons are that the shorts tend to run pretty darn short, and also whether you are using them as shorts or pants, there is the zipper line that can look silly and unstylish to some. The feel of this zipper line against the skin of you leg, whether in pant mode or as simple shorts, can at times feel more annoying and less comfortable than a normal pair of pants or shorts. Convertible pants are a really good fit for backpackers who might want both pants and shorts at different times, but don't want the extra weight or bulk of carrying two individual pieces of clothing. For a lengthier discussion about convertible pants, check out our Buying Advice article.
Criteria for Evaluation
To help us decide the best pair of men's pants specifically for hiking, we ranked them according to six metrics, which were then rated as a percentage of the final score. The criteria were comfort and mobility, versatility, breathability, durability, weather resistance, and features/conveniences. We have broken down each of these categories into more detail to help you understand how we tested and which products were the best.
Comfort and Mobility
It stands to reason that the most important consideration for any piece of clothing is how comfortable it is. Anytime your attention is needed because of something that you are wearing, it is being taken away from something more important, namely, what you are doing. Comfort, then, means a lack of distraction, where the pant moves and flows with you as you move; never obstructing, never pinching, never rubbing, never annoying. Without comfort, you really won't even care about the rest of the metrics we measured and defined for you here, because you won't even consider wearing the pants long enough to care whether the pockets are in convenient places or the stitching is durable.
Along with comfort comes mobility, and in truth these two features go hand-in-hand. These pants need to be able to move and bend like you do, and this is a key component to keeping your pants out of your mind. While all of the pants reviewed here are constructed primarily of nylon, some of them incorporate small percentages of stretchy material such as spandex or elastane to help them stretch and move without creating a hindrance. Pants such as the Outdoor Research Ferrosi fit more snug to the body, but have such incredible stretching properties that they remain insanely mobile. On the other hand, a couple of options, such as The North Face Paramount Peak II Convertible pants have no stretchiness built into the fabric, but instead promote mobility by incorporating a looser, baggier cut.
At the end of the day, the pants that were the most comfortable were constructed using the softest material, which felt great against our legs. They also had the fewest restrictions in the cut where we noticed tightness or rubbing, and had the stretchiest and most mobile fabrics, ensuring that our movement was never impeded. The Prana Stretch Zion Convertible and the Prana Stretch Zion did the best job of incorporating all these factors, although the Outdoor Research Ferrosi was a close second. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pant was the most restrictively cut pant, hugging and pinching us in ways we didn't appreciate, especially around the crotch. Overall, Comfort and Mobility accounted for 30% of a product's final score.
On many hiking adventures you will be traveling light, sometimes only having the luxury to take with you what you are wearing when you walk out the door. Whether you are simply going for a day hike, or are planning a long backpacking trip, you will be happier in a single pair of pants that work across a wide range of conditions and temperatures. The ideal pair of pants would be one that can protect your legs from the most different kinds of conditions all on the same hike. Conditions ranging from intense sun and heat, wind, rain, brush along the side of the trail, or cold, should all be alleviated by the most versatile pants.
The convertible feature really helps with a pant's versatility. If it is too hot or you become too sweaty, that problem can be quickly solved by simply unzipping the bottoms and turning them into shorts. In general, pants that were convertible scored higher for versatility. Another less important aspect to versatility is whether the pants can excel at other activities. For instance, on a long thru-hike you may find yourself wanting to go swimming, stretching out with some yoga, climbing a tree (for any number of reasons!), or an impromptu bouldering session. How well you are able to do all of these things in one single pair of pants affects how we scored them for versatility.
Yet again, the Prana Stretch Zion Convertible was the winner in this department. The tight, yet stretchy weave of the fabric did a great job of keeping us protected from most weather conditions, including cold and wind, while the convertible shorts were the best of any we tried. They were also versatile enough to be used during almost any activity. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants were the least versatile, mostly due to their extremely thin fabric. While they are more appropriate in their pant form for higher temperatures (than the others), they didn't protect us well from wet, wind, or cold. The[Arc'teryx Gamma LT pant, despite being our Top Pick for Wet Weather, was also not very versatile. It was one of our least favorite options for hot and dry weather, and didn't have the convertible option to cool us down. Versatility accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
While some of the pants tested do give you the option to convert at a moment's notice when the weather gets too warm, not all do. We wanted to see how effective each of these pants were at diffusing the heat and potential moisture build-up from exertion, high temperatures, and the sun, while in pants mode. There was predictably quite a bit of variation from pant to pant.
To test breathability, we mostly relied upon our vast amount of time testing in the field. Much of this time was spent wandering around in the sun in the desert, perfect for understanding how well a pant will breathe while exerting oneself in the sun. Not content with these "uncontrolled" tests, we decided to test in a more controlled situation. To do this, we took all the pants out to a steep local hill, worked up a sweat, and hiked up the hill as fast as we could in the afternoon, wanting to determine if there was as noticeable difference between the pairs. While we found it impossible to actually quantify the results of this test, we were able to notice what pairs felt cooler than others.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the pants made of the lightest and thinnest fabric did the best job of breathing. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi excelled in this category, followed by the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible. Likewise, the pants that we found to be the hottest, interpreted here as the least breathable, were also the thickest and heaviest. These were The North Face Paramount Peak II Convertible and the Kuhl Liberator Convertible. We would have simply converted them into shorts had we given ourselves that option, so the fact that they didn't breathe well was not a catastrophic failure by any means. Breathability accounted for only 10% of a products final score.
While all of the products were primarily made of nylon, not all nylon is created equally. In our tests of durability, we considered abrasion resistance, how well pockets and zippers held up to stretching and pulling, and any seam failure over time. In general, the more lightweight the material felt, the quicker we were able to wear holes in the fabric. While not directly factored into our ratings, we do recommend you take a look at the manufacturer's warranty, especially if you are particularly rough on your clothing.
We tested durability by putting these pants through some extremely abusive days. For six months we traveled through the jungles of Central America, abusing them in the most unpredictable fashions. We also chose to test their abrasion resistance by putting them through days of farm work, as well as lots of abusive desert rock climbing. While these activities do not exactly mimic the abuses a pant will experience while hiking, this was our way of condensing lots of abuse into a short period of time to best represent durability.
The most durable pants were The North Face Paramount Peak II Convertible Pants as well as the Arc'teryx Gamma LT pants. Out of all of the pants, the thick, heavy, and burly 70 denier nylon on the Paramount Peak II withstood more abuse with no sign of wear. Likewise, although appearing thin and seemingly fragile at first inspection, the Gamma LT underwent a lot of rock climbing and came out unscathed. Among the most fragile were the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, whose thin but extremely stretchy material seemed to get nicked with the lightest of abrasion. Durability accounted for 15% of a products final score.
Let's face it, if you are going out on a multi-day backpacking trip, chances are that you are going to get rained on at some point. Becoming soaked to the bone is a backcountry traveler's worst nightmare, but at the same time one must be careful to not carry too much weight by adding a bunch of extra layers to the pack. This is where weather resistance comes into play.
These pants are designed to keep you as dry as possible in a downpour, but are not specialty rain layers. Most of them come with a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating which has been applied to the outside. This chemical coating helps the fabric shed water upon contact, preventing it from being absorbed into the fabric. It is worth noting that these coatings break down and wear off over time, so if you are heading out on a long trip with an older pair of pants, you may want to consider applying a new DWR finish to your pants.
In order to test weather resistance, we wore these pants outside as often as we could in poor weather. Admittedly, though, our head tester lives high in the mountains of Colorado and tested these pants primarily in spring. This meant conditions ranged from snowing in the mountains (which is not weather that most people consider hiking in) to pleasantly sunny and dry in the nearby desert (again, no rain). To accurately determine how these pants performed in a rainstorm, we conducted the trusty shower test, where we put the pants on and jumped into the shower to see what happened. Things we looked for in particular were how well the DWR coating worked after three months of abusive testing, whether the fabric tended to absorb water, how wet our legs got inside the pants, and how long the pants took to dry out after being hung up (post shower).
The most weather resistant pant in our test was the Arc'teryx Gamma LT pant. The DWR coating did a great job of shedding water even after lots of abuse, and the nylon fabric, that honestly sort of feels like a rain specific pant, didn't absorb water like many of the others. It was also extremely fast to dry out once removed from the "rain." Notably, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi performed nearly as well, also incorporating a very effective DWR coating with non-absorbent and fast drying nylon weave fabric. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants were by far the lowest performers; they had no DWR coating and soaked through pretty much instantly. Weather resistance accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Features and Conveniences
The final category that differentiates the best pairs from the worst is their respective features and conveniences. These are the little things that you absolutely love or drive you completely nuts with frustration. Every pair has its own unique array of features that include type of pockets and location, waist tightening systems and belts, the zipper system to convert into shorts, vertical cuff zippers, cuff roll up buttons, cuff tighteners, ventilation holes, and crotch zippers. Some of these features were functional additions that inspired our adoration and others were superfluous or downright maddening.
In all cases, we attempted to rate the product based on whether the unique features were useful, and if they worked well. In most cases, having the option to convert to shorts was found to be useful, but we also rated this feature on how well the zippers functioned, how easy they were to convert compared to the other pants, and how they looked and felt. We did a similar analysis of pocket layouts and locations, as well as for waist tightening systems. In short, the more useful and optimally functional features or conveniences a pant included, the higher the score. Products that received a lower score either included very little useful features, or the ones that were included didn't function nearly as well as its competitors.
Our Editors' Choice Award winning Prana Stretch Zion Convertible pant once again had the best set of features and conveniences. They were the most stylish and comfortable convertible shorts and we also loved the side and top zippered side pockets that kept items secure and easily accessible. The small hip tightener, which we hesitate to call a belt because it doesn't circumnavigate the entire waist, allowed us to cinch the waist to the appropriate tightness while always functioning perfectly. This pant had the best set of features that all worked really well compared to the competition, while the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible was once again our lowest scorer. While it included some useful features like convertible shorts, an included nylon belt, and a zippered cargo pocket, the functionality of these features was lower than those on other models. Features and Conveniences accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Pants specifically designed for hiking are an obvious best choice for your lower half when trekking or backpacking in just about any environment. However, which model to purchase is less obvious. While comfort is usually a top priority, the climate(s) in which you spend your adventure time can also dictate what features are most important. It is our hope that this review of the most highly rated and popular models on the market will help you slim down your choices to one or two pairs. If you'd like more information on how to select the right pair of hiking trousers for you, check out our Buying Advice article. Happy hiking!
— Andy Wellman
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