The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Hiking Pants

Friday May 10, 2019
With the most features and an incredible range of use  we honored the Renegade Cargo Convertible as our Top Pick for Versatility. From any season to any activity  this pant is an optimal choice.
With the most features and an incredible range of use, we honored the Renegade Cargo Convertible as our Top Pick for Versatility. From any season to any activity, this pant is an optimal choice.

As with many gear categories, the basis of this review is hands-on field testing. We put each pair through its paces in a few different phases. First, we wore each model to get an initial impression of the comfort, fit, and features of each. We then took to the trail to test these pants more rigorously on a variety of terrains and in different weather conditions. We ventured into the Cascades and High Desert of central Oregon, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the deserts of Southern Utah. Our final step was a series of controlled tests.

Comfort and Mobility


The majority of the testing for this metric came during our field testing while hiking. We also conducted some side-by-side stretching and running tests to further compare the comfort and mobility of one pant directly to another. Aspects we assessed are the feel of the fabric against the skin at different contact points (e.g., knees, waist), as well as fit and whether or not a model is tighter or looser relative to others. We paid particular attention to the fit around the pelvis, upper legs, and crotch.

These pants offer enough stretch and mobility to avoid restricting range of motion.
These pants offer enough stretch and mobility to avoid restricting range of motion.

Venting and Breathability


Once again, we noted on each hike how useful the pant was at keeping us cool throughout the excursion. To further compare, we took every pair of pants to a long hill and tested them one after the other by running up the mountain in the sun after having already worked up a sweat. We also paid particular attention to features that allowed for excellent ventilation, and how effective they were.

Testing the Quandary for breathability and venting while running up this steep hill in the hot sun. While they didn't have a lot of features to aid in venting  we found that their very thin  light fabric did a more effective job than most at breathing.
Testing the Quandary for breathability and venting while running up this steep hill in the hot sun. While they didn't have a lot of features to aid in venting, we found that their very thin, light fabric did a more effective job than most at breathing.

Versatility


To test for this metric, we wore each pair in a variety of settings, such as work, camping, rock climbing, and traveling. We also tested each pair of pants while hiking in different weather conditions, such as hot, cold, windy and wet and graded models based on how well they were capable of handling all of these different situations while keeping us comfortable.

While we preferred to use these pants in cool weather and did our best to find something else to wear when it was hot  we thought they were pretty versatile for climbing  camping  hiking  backpacking  traveling  or simply wearing around town. Here at a local sport crag in the San Juan Mountains of CO.
While we preferred to use these pants in cool weather and did our best to find something else to wear when it was hot, we thought they were pretty versatile for climbing, camping, hiking, backpacking, traveling, or simply wearing around town. Here at a local sport crag in the San Juan Mountains of CO.

Water Resistance


Though the models were tested in truly wet weather, many of our regular stomping grounds are in dry climates that don't receive much precipitation. However, water resistance is a critical aspect of the performance of a hiking pant. For this reason, we decided to conduct a shower test to get a better idea of how each pant, and its durable water repellent (DWR) coating, handled light sprinkles and heavy downpours. We began by spraying each pant with a misting water bottle to get an idea of the DWR effectiveness in light rain, and then moved into the shower, where we could certainly see whether a pant could shed water, and how absorptive it was. We then hung up each wet pair up on a hanger and timed how long it took for each pair to dry. We conducted these tests after the pants had been heavily worn and washed to more closely simulate real-life conditions.

Testing drying times on some of the contenders.
Testing drying times on some of the contenders.

Features


To assess for this metric, we first identified all the various features on each pair of pants- pockets, buttons, zippers, convertibility, materials, belts, etc. We then put them to the test on our hikes and other adventures, focusing first on the functionality of each feature, and second on the total number of features included.

This simple buckle is not a belt that wraps the entire waist  but simply a short strap that can be pulled to help cinch up the pants a bit. This feature is nice for making micro adjustments to fit on long hiking trips where waist size fluctuates  and is also nice for avoiding an actual belt when wearing a pack waist belt or climbing harness.
This simple buckle is not a belt that wraps the entire waist, but simply a short strap that can be pulled to help cinch up the pants a bit. This feature is nice for making micro adjustments to fit on long hiking trips where waist size fluctuates, and is also nice for avoiding an actual belt when wearing a pack waist belt or climbing harness.