The Best Hiking Pants for Women Review
What are the best women's hiking pants to take on your next outdoor adventure? We tested seven of the best models out there to answer that question. We wore pants that roll, buckle, snap, and zip, and pairs that convert to capris, shorts, or both. We hiked, biked, and climbed for months in the desert and in the mountains, considering how well each pair moved, how comfortable they were, their versatility, durability and breathability, and what features we liked, or didn't. Then we rated them on the above criteria, and put it all together to help you select your next pair. Whether you're planning a long thru hike and need something that will withstand months of use, or just need a lightweight pair for summer day hikes, we have you covered here at OutdoorGearLab.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
The options for outdoor gear continue to multiply, and hiking pants are no exception. You can find pants that convert to shorts, or roll-up to capris, or both! And there are ones that repel water, or are highly breathable, or provide ultraviolet ray protection. Selecting the right pair for you will depend on a variety of factors, from the main environment you plan to hike in to your own personal preferences over pant length and style. In general, what's typically sold as a hiking pant today is a light-to-medium weight pant that is suitable for spring/summer/fall weather, but the actual temps and conditions you'll be hiking in will vary greatly depending on your locale and elevation. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, then a pant with great weather resistance should be your main criteria. Conversely, if your main hiking destination is the desert Southwest, then something with great breathability is preferred. We explore all these considerations and more in our Buying Advice article, and you can also check out our Dream Hiking Gear List and Dream Backpacking Gear List if you need to get fully kitted up for a big trip. You might also like our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems article for more information on the other layers you'll need to consider when heading out into the backcountry.
There are many different types and permutations available on the market today, from highly "techy" pairs to ones that could pass for a casual pair of work pants. But what designates something as a "hiking pant" vs just a regular type of pant? The first difference is fabric; most hiking pants are made with technical fabrics that offer a variety of protection from the elements, whether it's sun, rain or wind. The second is a convertible feature. All of the models in our review also offer some type of convertible feature, whether it's the ability to change into shorts or roll up into a crop. While there are still a few pairs out there that are standard pants without the ability to convert, most models on the market today offer some type of conversion. Here's a breakdown of the different types of convertible features available.
This style features legs that roll up to a crop or capri length (typically 1/4 or 1/3 of the pant leg) and secure with a button or snap. While you can roll any pant up and call it "convertible," the material typically used in hiking pants is often unstructured and doesn't hold a roll well when hiking. Being able to secure the roll is a welcomed feature, as then you don't have to stop every 15 minutes to re-roll them. This also provides the versatility of serving as two pants in one. This style is well-suited for wading through water, climbing, and adding ventilation in warmer weather. This feature is nice for wearing with sandals as well. The roll-up models that we tested include the Prana Halle - Women's, the Columbia Saturday Trail Stretch - Womens', the Kuhl Splash Roll Up Pant - Women's, and the REI Sahara Roll-Up - Women's
This style includes models whose legs zip off to become shorts, and sometimes also include a roll-up feature. These hiking pants have zippers that circumference the thigh at varying lengths (the models in our review ranged from mid-thigh to just above the knee), and the lower pant leg can be removed entirely, left to rest around the ankles to serve as gaiters (not really recommended, both from a style and functionality perspective), or left unzipped partially for added ventilation. These models are well-suited for hikers and outdoor recreationists intending to travel longer distances and/or for longer periods of time where weather forecasting and conditions may not be readily available during the planning stages. Zip-off models excel in the mountains where cool mornings and hot afternoons are typical. This style is also suitable for those looking to simplify their wardrobe and acquire versatile articles of clothing. The zip-off models that we tested include the Marmot Lobo's Convertible Pant - Women's, The North Face Paramount 2.0 Convertible Pant - Women's and the Prana Sage Convertible - Women's
Below we'll explain the different methods that we used to evaluate the seven models in this review, why the different criteria for evaluation is important to begin with, and which ones were our favorites.
Criteria for Evaluation
Comfort & Mobility
When it comes to hiking pants, we think that their comfort and mobility is one of the most important purchasing criteria. When wearing something for days on end, if it pinches, pulls, or impedes your movement in any way, it could impact your enjoyment of your trip. We go to great lengths to make backpacking "comfortable," with inflatable sleeping pads, padded backpacks and appropriate footwear, and the clothes you put on your body should receive just as much attention to detail and comfort. Whether you are hiking in your pants, or sitting in a canoe, rockclimbing, or travelling to a remote location, you'll want something that accommodates your moving body and is not constricting. That can be a tall order to fill! These hiking pants' comfort and mobility ratings were often influenced by fit, fabric, and construction details.
While it is hard to evaluate for fit, as people have different proportions or shapes, we tried our best by putting the different models on several women in the same size range to see if we experienced similar issues, say with legs being too tight. For example, the Prana Sage Convertible pants are cut with a narrower leg, and the convertible zipper lies very tight around the leg just above the knee. This impedes the Sage's mobility both with and without the legs attached, and was a noticeable issue for everyone that tried them on. The Marmot Lobo's Convertible Pant felt a little constricting there as well, with The North Face Paramount 2.0 Convertible Pant having the most comfortable leg circumference and range of motion.
We tried on and wore a lot of convertible pants for this review, including some models that didn't make the cut. With the trend in fashion leading to more tapered pants even in the hiking department, beware of the tightly cut convertible models. The zipper area will not have the same stretch as the rest of the fabric, and if it is cut tightly or your legs rung "large," your range of motion and comfort will be impacted. This is one kind of pant that you'll want to try on first even if you're pretty sure on what size to order.
Another fit issue to consider is where the waist of the pant sits in relation to your body. While a lot of this is a personal preference (high vs low waist), there is a sweet spot in the middle where most of us prefer to wear our pants. Too high (at the natural waist) and there is too much extra material that can bunch up under a hipbelt. Too low and your hipbelt is pushing your pants down over your rear. Most hiking pants that we tested in this review were cut to fit right across the hip bones, which we preferred. The only high-cut pant in this review was The North Face Paramount 2.0 pair.
Fabric was another big factor in a model's comfort and mobility. Whether you're hiking, bending over to retrieve gear from a pack, high-stepping, rockclimbing or doing summit yoga poses, you need a fabric that will stretch and move with you. All of the models in this review have some stretchy fabric woven in the blend (usually Elastane or Spandex). Some use as little as 3%, like the Kuhl Splash Roll Up, which still feels fairly stiff, and other use as much as 13%, like the REI Sahara Roll-Up, which was very stretchy. There didn't always seem to be a magic number; the Prana Halle was our Top Pick for Mobility and is only 3% Spandex, but you'll definitely want to make sure there is some mixed in there. You can test the material out yourself with a little "squat test" when trying them on. Does the material pinch or stop you in anyway? Can you even get down low in them? Testing that out alone in a dressing room could help make the decision for you.
As for construction, there are small details in the way a pant is made that can improve mobility, such as a gusseted crotch or articulated knees. The Columbia Saturday Trail Stretch pant has a tapered fit, but the seaming at the knees gives them a slightly pre-bent shape, allowing for full range of motion when hiking. Another detail that aided in comfort was the waistband. The Marmot Lobo's have a fleece-lined waist, which was comfortable against our skin and reduced chaffing. An internal drawstring is always nice too, as it lets you tighten the pants and not have to worry about wearing a belt, which is usually not that comfortable under a backpack. TNF Paramount 2.0, Prana Halle and Prana Sage models all have those. Unfortunately, the tightening method in the REI Sahara Roll Up actually made the pants more uncomfortable. That model uses and internal elastic secured by a button that sat right over our hipbones. After doing up our hipbelt we could quickly feel the button digging into us and it left marks on our skin.
Versatility is an important factor to consider when purchasing a pair of hiking pants, particularly when heading on out on multi-day backcountry trips. If you only have one pair of pants with you, they'll need to be able to handle a variety of weather conditions, from hot to cold, and sun to rain. Even on a day hike, conditions can quickly change, from cool at the trailhead to hot on the hike, and cold again up at the summit. The versatility of a pant is determined in large part by its features. By nature, a zip-off pair is more versatile than a roll-up model, and a roll-up will offer you more wear options than a standard pant. The materials used also determined versatility, as a pair with a DWR treatment that is highly water resistant can also be used for water sports, whereas a cotton-blend pair cannot.
The most versatile model in this review was our Editors' Choice winner, the Marmot Lobo's Convertible. These pants can convert into a crop and a Bermuda-length short, and the material offers great water resistance. We wore them out on a lake for a day in an inflatable canoe, and the constant back and forth of the paddle across our lap and the ensuing drips should have left us soaked, but the droplets just rolled right off our lap and refused to soak in. The North Face Paramount 2.0 Convertible was also highly versatile, but lacked the roll-up crop option. If you like convertible pants (and some people just don't), then nothing beats the option to quickly convert to shorts when the weather heats up.
The least versatile model that we tested was the Kuhl Spash Roll Up. These sturdy cargo pants are made with a cotton-blend fabric, and absorb any and all water that falls on them. One splash in a creek or river crossing gone awry could make for a very unpleasant rest of your day. They are also heavy and not very breathable, so with no option to remove the legs you'll end up pretty uncomfortable on a warm day.
Breathability is a key feature of any piece of outdoor gear. As we move through the mountains, our bodies generate heat, which in turn leads us to sweat to cool back down. When this sweat accumulates in our clothing, it's at the very least annoying, and also potentially dangerous. Temperatures can change quickly in the mountains, and cold and wet clothing can in turn lead to hypothermia. While we don't tend to sweat as much from the lower half of our body as the upper, good ventilation is still key to preventing discomfort and also "crotch rot," something thru-hikers are all too familiar with, both male and female. Hiking pants achieve breathability both through the types of materials used and the secondary features that can improve airflow.
We spent a lot of time hiking in these pants in hot spring desert conditions, and the models that kept us cooler from a pure material perspective were unfortunately some of the ones that offered the least weather resistance. There seems to be the trade-off between the tighter weave fabrics that repel water, and the more open, cooler weaves that let air, and water, right through. For example, the REI Sahara Roll-Up was one of the "coolest" pants that we tested, but did not repel water in the least. The exception was the Prana Sage Convertible, which offered us the most breathability and still decent water resistance.
Beyond the materials used, the other features that can help keep you cooler are both the roll-up and zip-off options. Merely exposing the bottom of our calves seemed to do wonders for improving airflow, both to our legs and our feet, and besides just taking off the legs, you can also un-zip the legs part way to provide additional airflow. This feature made a slightly heavier pair, like TNF Paramount 2.0s, more breathable then they otherwise would have been. The mesh-lined pockets on the Columbia Saturday Trail Stretch also helped with breathability.
Hiking in the mountains can be notoriously hard on your gear, from your footwear to your backpack, and everything in between. And with prices of hiking pants fast approaching $100, we'd like to buy a pair that will last a long time, without blowing out in the rear or falling apart at the seams. When purchasing a pair with durability as your main criteria, look for models that are made with "ripstop" or "abrasion resistant" materials. Ripstop fabric is made with a reinforcing pattern that stops holes from running through the length of the material should a tear occur (commonly used in tents), and was found on the Prana Sage Convertible. Abrasion resistant fabrics resist wear through rubbing and other surface wear. This keeps the fabric from pilling and wearing away in areas like the knees, inner thigh, and seat. The Marmot Lobo's Convertible is made with an abrasion resistant Nylon.
To evaluate the durability of each pair, we wore them for several months in tough desert terrain both while hiking, scrambling, and rockclimbing. We snapped and unsnapped buttons repeatedly, and closely examined all the components of the different models. We also pulled out pairs from our own testers' closets to see how they were faring after several years of use. The model that impressed us the most from a durability standpoint was the Kuhl Splash Roll Up. These cargo-style cotton-blend pants have the thickest material of all the models that we tested, and we can attest to their ability to withstand lots of use. The main durability issue we experienced with the other models was some pilling on the inner legs and knees, specifically in the Prana Halle and Columbia Saturday Trail Stretch.
Weather resistance is an important point to think about when buying a pair of hiking pants, as you will most likely be using them out in the elements. Our legs tend to be an afterthought when it comes to protecting our body from the wind and rain, but we can personally attest to the fact that you will be very miserable if your legs are cold and soaking wet even if your rain jacket is keeping your core and head dry. The three elements to consider for weather resistance are rain, wind and sun exposure.
The most immediate element we think of when it comes to weather is the rain. It can turn a lovely hike into a nightmare, and leave you a decidedly unhappy camper. And while it's easy to whip a rainjacket out of the lid of your pack and put it on, finagling a pair of rain pants on in a hurry is no easy feat. That's why we prefer heading out in a pair of hiking pants that provide a good amount of water resistance, as you can continue hiking in them in a light to medium drizzle. Water resistance is provided both by the materials used and an additional durable water repellent (DWR) coating on the fabric. By nature, Nylon and Polyester fabrics are hydrophobic (repel water), whereas cotton is hydrophilic (attracts water). That's why manufacturers typically do not use any cotton in their hiking pants, and while we liked the durability and comfort of the cotton-blend Kuhl Splash Roll Up, they are not at all water resistant. The Marmot Lobo's and TNF Paramount 2.0 models were both highly water resistant, repelling water and taking a lot of friction and time to finally saturate through. Both these models have a DWR coating, but so does the Prana Halle, and they did not repel water nearly as well.
DWR coatings will wear off over time, and won't work as well if your pants are dirty. Consider washing your high-performance gear with a product like Nikwax Tech Wash, which cleans your garments without degrading the DWR.
Another consideration when it comes to water is the drying time. When you get wet on the first day of a week-long backpacking trip and only have one pair of pants, you'll be happy if yours are quick drying. The Lobo's and Paramount 2.0s fit the bill for this criteria as well, drying out in the full sun in around 20 minutes, twice as fast as their competitors.
When it comes to the wind, protecting our legs on a blustery day did not feel as crucial as our core, but is still nice nonetheless. Models with more structured fabric, like TNF Paramount 2.0s, did a better job of blocking the wind that the lightweight REI Sahara Roll-Ups. If you plan on hiking in windy locales, check out our Women's Wind Breaker Jacket Review.
Finally, what's often overlooked when it comes to pants is sun exposure. We worry about our shoulders and noses, but easily skip over our legs when applying suncreen. However, it is just as important to protect them from harmful radiation, and wearing clothing that block those rays means we can limit the amount of sunscreen we need to use, which is nice when backpacking for days on end without a shower to get all the cream off. You'll see clothing these days with a ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating, which is similar to the SPF rating used in sunscreens. A UPF 50 fabric will block most UV rays falling on it, allowing only 1/50th of the radiation to pass through. While all clothing will block some rays, typical summer fabrics have a UPF of only 6, so picking a designated UPF 50 pair of pants or t-shirt will provide much more protection. This is particularly important when spending time on the water, or on snowfields at elevation.
With a lot of hiking pants sharing similar styling, materials, or water resistance, sometimes it's the little features that can make or break the overall functionality (and help you decide whether or not you want to purchase a certain pair). Some features, like zip-off legs, are really convenient, and yet there are many hikers out there who would never touch a pair with a ten foot tent pole! Then there are other features that most people can agree upon, like useful pockets and ways of tightening the waistband. Here are some of the standout features we discovered over the course of this review.
When it came to the zip-off models, we were able to get all of the legs off over hiking shoes, but they were cut too narrow to fit over hiking boots. Part of why convertible options are useful is the ability to quickly change into shorts, but if you have to take your boots off it'll slow the whole process down, and at that point you may as well just whip on a separate pair of shorts or a skort. We did really appreciate the color-coded zippers on The North Face Paramount 2.0s. It can be a bit of a hassle to get the legs back on, particularly if you can't tell which pant leg goes on which side. By making the right side red and the left side blue, you'll never make that mistake again.
Another feature that's important is usable pockets. Some models, like the Prana Halle and Sage Convertibles (below, left), have shallow hand pockets that don't hold much and gape open when squatting down. Sometimes it's really nice to walk with your hands in your front pockets, and/or not have to worry about losing whatever you put in them. TNF Paramount 2.0s (below, right) and REI Sahara Roll-Ups had deep front pockets that could hold our whole hand on cool mornings.
In addition to front pockets, having another place to secure items that you want to have easily accessible is a great feature. All of the models in this review had some type of side pocket, but some, like on TNF Paramount 2.0s (below, left), were rather small, whereas others, like on the REI Sahara Roll-Up (below, right), were large enough to accommodate a phone or energy bar.
A final welcomed feature was an internal drawstring. Belts can feel bulky and uncomfortable while hiking, particularly under a backpack's hipbelt. Being able to tighten the waist without one was a great option, and TNF Paramount 2.0s, Prana Halle and Prana Sage Convertibles pants all had one.
Buying Advice, which will provide some guidelines to help you narrow down your top choices.
— Cam McKenzie Ring
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