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How to Choose the Best Hiking Pants

The Hardwear AP pants are a tight fitting and pretty stylish pant designed for all sorts of outdoor uses. Here we are testing them on a hike in Smith Rock State Park  OR.
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday October 29, 2018

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best pair of hiking pants for you. Here we outline some of the facets and features to look for in each model before you make your next purchase. Of course, be sure to check out our full Best Hiking Pant for Men Review or Women's Hiking Pant Review to see how the top hiking pants on the market compare. You can also check out the in-depth individual review on each pair for all of the nitty-gritty details that will hopefully help you differentiate one pair from another.

As the most versatile pant in our review  we feel that there is not a season  climate  or activity that is not appropriate for the Renegade Cargo Convertible. Here checking out the water temperatures in the Crooked River.
As the most versatile pant in our review, we feel that there is not a season, climate, or activity that is not appropriate for the Renegade Cargo Convertible. Here checking out the water temperatures in the Crooked River.

While the models we tested are all marketed as hiking pants, in practice, people often look for a little more versatility from them. If you are planning a longer backpacking trip, you may want a pair that you can comfortably glissade in or convert into shorts on hotter days. If you're less of a hiker, but work hard outdoors, you may be looking for something that will stand up to the challenges of day-after-day wear. Many people also wear hiking pants for climbing, yoga, or simply as part of their everyday style. Fortunately, manufacturers often have you covered with a variety of options to suit your needs.

The Perimeter Pant is our Top Pick for Wet Weather due to its superior DWR protection. Here we are wearing it on a hike out to a far off cliff at Smith Rock State Park  with rain threatening.
The Perimeter Pant is our Top Pick for Wet Weather due to its superior DWR protection. Here we are wearing it on a hike out to a far off cliff at Smith Rock State Park, with rain threatening.

Types of Pants


In general, we found that hiking pants can be divided into a couple of categories based on their design.

One of the primary features to consider is whether to go with a traditional long pant, a convertible pair that zips off into shorts, or one that rolls up and cinches into capris. As with many pieces of outdoor gear and clothing, opinions vary among hardcore hikers. Below we have described the options in more detail, including the pros and cons of each type.

Standard Pants


Standard Pants are great for hiking because they keep you warmer than shorts and they protect your legs from bugs, abrasion from rocks, and moisture, as well as from exposure to the sun and wind. To mitigate overheating, almost all of the pants we tested employ a combination of mesh-lined pockets and strategically located vents behind the knees or in the crotch area to keep a hiker cool on a hot day. The REI Co-op Sahara Convertible pants have significantly more vents than the rest.

On the other hand, some standard pairs of pants are designed specifically with colder or wetter weather in mind and don't include many vents. These were the Fjallraven Vidda Pro, as well as our Top Pick for Wet Weather, the Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant. We wouldn't embark on a backpacking trip, trek, or thru-hike without at least one pair of pants, but if we opted for a standard pair of trekking pants, we would want a separate pair of shorts as well.

For those looking for a pair of pants that they can also wear in town or at work on casual Friday, traditional pants tend to offer more of an 'outdoor lifestyle' look than other varieties.

The Quandary is relatively affordable and super comfortable. We also like their simple look for wearing around town on top of their great hiking performance.
The Quandary is relatively affordable and super comfortable. We also like their simple look for wearing around town on top of their great hiking performance.

Convertible Pants


Convertible pants have a zipper on each leg, usually just above the knee, which allows the wearer to unzip and remove the lower part of the pant leg, turning them into a pair of shorts. Many hikers like the versatility this style offers because it saves space and reduces weight in a backpack. Another benefit to the convertible is that it is very easy to wash the legs- the part of the garment that gets the most dirty- without having to remove the whole pair of pants. The leg zippers can also be opened halfway to provide a vent without removing the whole leg, or the bottoms can be unzipped and scrunched around the ankles like gaiters.

The Renegade Cargo Convertible pants were the most versatile in our review  in large part due to the fact that if you are too warm  you can simply unzip the lower leg and you are left with shorts.
The Renegade Cargo Convertible pants were the most versatile in our review, in large part due to the fact that if you are too warm, you can simply unzip the lower leg and you are left with shorts.

In practice, even with convertible pants, hikers often have a preference, keeping the lower legs attached all the time, or stuffing them in their pack. Almost all pairs of convertibles require the wearer to remove their shoes or boots to get the legs off (the REI Sahara is a pleasant exception to this rule), so the effort required to make a midday switch is often more cumbersome than beneficial. If you otherwise would have only brought a pair of pants, the zippers on convertibles add a bit of weight. One pair of convertible pants might end up weighing more than a pair of wind pants and light hiking shorts, rendering the multi-function unnecessary. Other potential drawbacks are chaffing at the zipper, as well as the convertible pants "style" with a visible seam across your thigh. Some manufacturers handle these concerns better than others, so if you are considering a pair of convertibles, be sure to read the individual product reviews.

In this year's review, we tested a few pairs of convertibles, including the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible, The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible, the REI Sahara Convertible, and the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible. We liked the KUHL convertible hiking pants for their durability and ease of conversion, as well as the fact that they look pretty good as a regular pair of pants.

It's common for manufacturers to offer a convertible and non-convertible version of the same pants. We appreciate the options.

Roll-Up Pants


As another alternative to traditional pants, some models come with buttons on the lower leg or elastic in the cuff. Both enable the pants to roll up into a higher capris-style. These features can offer just enough relief in hot temperatures and are much less of a hassle to adjust mid-activity than a pair of convertibles. We recognize that any pair of pants can be rolled up, but formalizing the feature means that the legs will stay in place during activity for as long as you need them to.

A quirky feature of these pants is that they have buttons to help them stay rolled up at the bottom  and on the inside of the pant leg is a strip of reflective tape for increased visibility while bike-riding at night.
A quirky feature of these pants is that they have buttons to help them stay rolled up at the bottom, and on the inside of the pant leg is a strip of reflective tape for increased visibility while bike-riding at night.

The Prana Stretch Zion included sewn on buttons that hold up the cuffs if you give them 2-3 rolls and then button. These worked well regardless of calf size, but limit how high the cuffs can roll up if you want to actually use the button. The Mountain Hardwear Men's Hardwear AP Pant also included this feature, with the added bonus that when rolled up and snapped in place, a small tag of reflective material becomes visible, nice for when you are riding your bike through town in low light.

Finally, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants tackle this problem by including a cuff cinch cord and buckle at the bottom of each leg. Rather than rolling up the cuffs, the wearer can simply scrunch them up above the calf or knee, and pull the drawcord tight, holding them securely in place. We liked this option because it provides versatility, making it possible to secure the pant cuff at any height. When the legs are rolled down, the cinch cord can also tighten around a pair of high-ankle boots, making a decent makeshift gaiter.

Sizing, Fit, and Mobility


We prefer hiking pants that are relatively form fitting, but not restrictive. Some people prefer a looser fit, but in our experience, a pair that is too baggy is heavier, flaps in the wind, and gets caught on trailside brush, all of which can be annoying over the course of a long distance hike. On the other hand, if a pair of pants is too tight, they will likely cause chaffing, will limit mobility, and will likely wear faster around the knees, crotch, and glutes. Models with articulated knees and gusseted crotches are typically the most comfortable and offer the most mobility, as will pairs with a higher proportion of spandex or elastane fabric blended in.

The Renegade Cargo Convertible pants had one of the loosest and most spacious fits of any we tested  which allowed for great mobility and comfort. Our only complaint was the convertible zipper seam  which you can see here on the lower thigh  would rub a bit when walking.
The Renegade Cargo Convertible pants had one of the loosest and most spacious fits of any we tested, which allowed for great mobility and comfort. Our only complaint was the convertible zipper seam, which you can see here on the lower thigh, would rub a bit when walking.

If you prefer a looser fit, then you should check out the Fhallraven Vidda Pro. Tighter fitting pants with excellent mobility include the Patagonia Quandary and Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant. For us, pants that were right in the middle included the Prana Stretch Zion, The North Face Paramount 3.0, and the OR Ferrosi. Body shapes are different, but we found the Mountain Hardwear AP Pant to be a little too tight with not quite enough stretch, especially in the upper thigh and lower pelvic region.

The G-1000 fabric that makes up these pants is thick and heavy  but the spacious and borderline baggy fit means that they retain plenty of mobility.
The G-1000 fabric that makes up these pants is thick and heavy, but the spacious and borderline baggy fit means that they retain plenty of mobility.

It is worth noting that hiking pants tend to stretch and loosen with the repeated, continuous wear of a backpacking trip, meaning they will feel a little baggier until they are washed and dried again. Hikers also tend to lose weight and lose inches on their waist during long-distance hikes. For this reason, we recommend looking for a model with an integrated belt, drawstring or belt loops, which will allow you to adjust the fit if you are going to be on the trail for multiple weeks.

Climate and Destination


Though hiking pants are typically designed for a range of weather conditions, some factors will separate pairs that are meant to keep you cool in a dry heat versus ones that will insulate you in cooler or wetter climates. Below are some considerations to keep in mind depending on where you will be hiking.

Hot and Dry


Deserts or Low Elevation Summer

Hiking in deserts or during the summertime creates surprisingly varied conditions. On the one hand, intense heat might inspire you to hike in shorts and forego pants altogether. On the other, protection from the direct rays of the sun, wind, and spiky flora can make or break a backcountry adventure. In these conditions, convertibles are often a great, flexible option. Lighter fabrics like those found on the Patagonia Quandary, OR Ferrosi, or REI Sahara offer valuable protection without being too heavy. It is also important to consider the breathability of your pant, as well as the color, which is discussed more below. We typically hike in shorts if heading out in the heat for one day, but think that pants are an essential piece of clothing for multi-day hikes.

Hiking along an exposed ledge on the way to some cliff ruins in the Bears Ears National Monument  we felt that the Paramount 3.0 were a solid pant that promised good value for the price.
Hiking along an exposed ledge on the way to some cliff ruins in the Bears Ears National Monument, we felt that the Paramount 3.0 were a solid pant that promised good value for the price.

Cool or Temperate


High Elevation or Spring/Fall

For spring, fall or hiking at high elevations, we tend to almost exclusively wear pants because of the protection they offer against cold and wind. While there may be warmer days, we make due with the various ventilation options available in most pairs of pants. Our testers tend to carry just one pair of pants, which means less weight and fewer items in our packs.

Made of thick and heavy fabric and lacking any features to help with ventilation  the Vidda Pro pants are best used in cool weather  as we verified here in the snow.
Made of thick and heavy fabric and lacking any features to help with ventilation, the Vidda Pro pants are best used in cool weather, as we verified here in the snow.

One significant consideration is that the spring and fall tend to bring wetter weather in many of the most popular backpacking regions. If you are caught out in a thunderstorm, you will likely want pants that repel water well. A reliable durable water repellent (DWR) coating is a must in these conditions, as well as nylon fabrics, which absorb much less water than cotton and dry significantly faster. With this in mind, almost any of the pants in this review work well, although we would avoid the Mountain Hardwear AP Pant, which contains a high proportion of cotton. Though the Fjallraven Vidda Pro is also made mainly from cotton, it is meant to be treated with Greenland wax to ensure that it repels water efficiently. If we are likely to encounter cold weather and rain, we are much more likely to bring fully waterproof rain pants to use over the top of our hiking pants when needed.

Wet


For rainy days and truly wet climates, we recommend bringing along a pair of rain shell pants. This is especially important when combined with cold temperatures, which can take an outing from just uncomfortable to dangerous fairly quickly. You can also check out our Top Pick for Wet Climates, the Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant, which outperformed all the competition when it came to water repellant, absorption, and fast drying time. That said, it still does not perform as well as a pair of waterproof rain pants.

Lucky to be wearing our Top Pick for Wet Weather when the rain started pouring down at Smith Rock  ruining the day of climbing  but leaving the ground and sparse vegetation happily nourished.
Lucky to be wearing our Top Pick for Wet Weather when the rain started pouring down at Smith Rock, ruining the day of climbing, but leaving the ground and sparse vegetation happily nourished.

DWR Coatings and Weather Protection


Most manufacturers will use a durable water repellant (DWR) coating to the outside of many outdoor garments. Especially in the case of waterproof clothing like hardshell jackets or pants, the DWR coating is essential to keep water off the face of the fabric so that it can maintain its breathability. Hiking pants are not typically fully waterproof, but a DWR coating can offer enough water resistance to keep you comfortable. If left untreated, the (usually nylon) fabric would absorb and retain water, leaving you soaked in a rainstorm.

DWR coatings will help your pants shed the water from a gentle rain before it has the opportunity to soak through, but in most cases will still not keep you dry in a true downpour. In addition, DWR coatings wear off over time, especially if you subject your pants to especially abrasive activities, or wash them often. Naturally, we notice that the coating tends to wear off first in the areas around the knees, lower thighs, and butt. We recommend re-applying it to ensure your pants continue to perform. A good option is Nikwax Direct Wash-In.

After our shower test  it was clear to us that the Perimeter Pant had the best DWR coating of any pant  and also absorbed the least amount of water  leading to our recognition as the Top Pick for Wet Weather.
After our shower test, it was clear to us that the Perimeter Pant had the best DWR coating of any pant, and also absorbed the least amount of water, leading to our recognition as the Top Pick for Wet Weather.

Only a couple pairs of men's pants in our review did not come with a DWR coating applied. In our water resistance testing, the Mountain Hardwear AP Pant performed poorly compared to the others. It is also worth noting that not all DWR coatings are created equally and results varied widely for the rest of the pants. In most cases, the DWR coating did a decent job of repelling most of the water, but all of the pants did experience some degree of absorption. The Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant was the most water repellent.

Before jumping in the shower  we tested the Quandary under a simulated light rain and found that their DWR coating was quite effective at preventing moisture from soaking in  rather forcing it to run off.
Before jumping in the shower, we tested the Quandary under a simulated light rain and found that their DWR coating was quite effective at preventing moisture from soaking in, rather forcing it to run off.

UPF Rating


While all garments naturally offer a bit of protection from ultraviolet rays, many of the hiking pants we reviewed specifically market their UPF rating, usually UPF 50. Especially when hiking at high altitudes, in the summer, or in the desert, protection from the sun is one of the main advantages of wearing hiking pants instead of shorts. The need for this level of protection can be greatly enhanced for people with very fair skin who burn easily. The Prana Stretch Zion, Patagonia Quandary, OR Ferrosi, and KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible are four pants that boast UPF 50 ratings. Other pairs had lower ratings or made UPF claims but did not specify a certain number. To find out a garment's specific UPF rating, check out the specs chart at the top of the individual reviews. Read on below for more information regarding UPF ratings if they are a factor in selecting the right garment for you.

What is the difference between UPF and SPF?


SPF (Sun Protection Factor) measures the amount of time it takes skin to burn, which is why it is commonly found on sunscreens. UPF Rating (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is a rating for clothing that measures the amount of UV radiation that reaches your skin through the fabric.

What do the ratings mean?


Like an SPF rating, the higher the UPF number, the more protection the garment offers. For instance, a shirt with a rating of 25 allows approximately 1/25th, or 4 percent of the sun's UV rays through, and a pair of pants with a UPF of 50+ allows less than 2 percent. Clothes with a rating of under 15 UPF are not allowed to claim a UPF rating, but for comparison, a plain white cotton t-shirt has a rating of about 5-8 UPF, allowing about 20 percent of the sun's rays through, which is still far more effective than wearing nothing at all.

How does it work?


Clothing is given a UPF protection rating based off of a couple of different factors: construction, dyes, and treatments. By careful selection of fiber type, such as nylon and polyester, both of which do a great job of repelling the sun's rays, and a dense, tight weave, the fabric itself can let very few rays of UV light through. Certain dyes also affect the amount of radiation that can penetrate through the garment. The color has no effect, but the dye itself, which can be engineered for UV sun protection, adds to the garment's rating. Lastly, specific chemical treatments can be added to the clothing to boost its rating.

Do you even need clothes with a UPF Factor?


All clothes protect against the sun's rays to some degree, and most likely you have never gotten a sunburn underneath your shirt. However, certain skin types, such as people who are very fair-skinned, may benefit from extra protection from UPF rated clothes. Certain regions of the world may require extra sun protection, such as equatorial regions or areas near water and snowfields. People who spend a great deal of time at altitude, where the sun's rays are more intense, may demand more from their clothing. Wearing clothing with a UPF rating is not essential for spending time outdoors, but it does ensure that you are exposed to less harmful radiation.

Color


Color can be an overlooked aspect when selecting an outdoor garment. Most people pick the color of their pants or other clothing based on style, that is, what looks the best, but in reality, color can make a big difference in the garment's performance as well as how you will feel in different conditions. Luckily, all of the pants in our review come in many different colors, so this shouldn't affect which garment you select, but it is something to consider once you have chosen the pair you want to buy.

Testing the REI Screeline on a beautiful day hike around Sparks Lake  Oregon Cascades with South Sister in the background.
Testing the REI Screeline on a beautiful day hike around Sparks Lake, Oregon Cascades with South Sister in the background.

In general, we prefer white, tan, beige, or other very light colored garments for hiking in the sun or warm climates. We prefer black or other dark colors for hiking in colder seasons or higher altitudes. It is our experience that the color of your pants will drastically affect how hot they will feel in the direct sun, and in many cases how quickly they will dry out. White and other light colors reflect light, so will tend to absorb much less heat from the sun, thereby keeping you cooler and less sweaty. Black and dark colors absorb light, as well as heat from the sun, keeping you much warmer, potentially sweatier, but also possibly helping you dry out faster. Using this knowledge in conjunction with the temperatures or climate that you will be hiking in can make a huge difference in your comfort level, and is something we always consider when heading out on a hike. We have many options of clothing in both dark and light colors and choose ones that match the conditions and climate of our adventures.

Advice from Thru-Hikers


Lastly, we leave you with some advice from Austin and Veronica Palmer, who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail during the summer of 2011 and the PCT during the summer of 2014, on what they look for in a good pair of hiking pants to wear for over 2,000 miles straight.

When you have a lot of stuff to carry on your back  you want everything you own to have more than one purpose  including your pants.
When you have a lot of stuff to carry on your back, you want everything you own to have more than one purpose, including your pants.

For a long distance hiker with a limited amount of space looking to minimize the weight they are carrying, the more uses one item has, the better. That means both of them, and many hikers they met along the way, loved convertible pants. Veronica wore an earlier version of The North Face Paramount Convertible Pant - Women's for the entire length of the Appalachian Trail and half of the PCT, and wore the Columbia PFG Aruba Convertible Pants for the other half. Austin wore convertible pants on the PCT as well. They used all three modes: long pants, shorts, and capris, and found that having a lot of pockets was an advantageous feature to keep essential items organized and easily accessible.

Austin and Veronica launching off on their thru-hike of the PCT  both wearing convertible pants for the most protection and versatility possible. They encountered extreme desert heat  high-altitude cold  and intense alpine sun. The right pair of hiking pants can leave you comfortable in all situations.
Austin and Veronica launching off on their thru-hike of the PCT, both wearing convertible pants for the most protection and versatility possible. They encountered extreme desert heat, high-altitude cold, and intense alpine sun. The right pair of hiking pants can leave you comfortable in all situations.

Overall, they both agreed that the most important considerations are durability against months of hard use, adjustability to account for weight fluctuations, quick drying, and good ventilation options.


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