We love a good pair of hiking pants and spent the last eight years testing 35 different pairs. For our 2020 iteration, we compare the 17 best models available — bought, tested, and examined in-depth. Our experts took to the trails to do some legs-on testing in order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each pair. We focus on a handful of metrics that matter the most, including all-day comfort, breathability as temps rise, versatility for multiple types of recreation, and weather resistance. After all of the dust has settled, we awarded the best of the best pants for overall performance, budget shoppers, and specific uses.Related: Best Hiking Pants for Women of 2020
Best Hiking Pants for Men of 2020
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants are incredibly comfortable, offer a high degree of wearer mobility, and keep you cool as you work up a sweat, earning the honor of the best overall pair of hiking pants in this review. They are made of durable ripstop fabric, and incorporate a higher-than-average 14% spandex to ensure maximum mobility for hiking, running, yoga, or scrambling across rocks. They are also very light, thin, and highly breathable, making them an ideal choice for hot weather.
Their high performance in the dry heat makes them less than ideal on cold or windy days; they just don't provide quite enough protection for skinny legs. We also couldn't help but notice that the waist sizing is a little off. The cut of these pants sits lower on the hips, and with repeated wear, they slide even lower if you don't wear a belt. Even so, they are an excellent all-purpose pair that especially shines in hot weather.
Read Review: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Savanna
Not only is it one of the least expensive pants in our lineup, but the REI Co-op Savanna is also a great value. Despite the low price, this pair is reasonably water-resistant while also staying lightweight and breathable. It has four pockets (two front and two rear), elastic in the waist, and cinch cords in the ankles that allow the wearer to secure them around hiking boots or roll them up in warmer weather.
There are a few things that we aren't thrilled about with this model. The fit can be a little weird — you may want to consider sizing up. The feature set is also pretty minimalist, so if big, zippered pockets are what you are going for, look elsewhere. However, the performance of the Savanna is reliable enough that we would recommend this pair to anyone who prioritizes functionality and value.
Read Review: REI Co-op Savanna
Best for Climbing
Prana Stretch Zion
The Prana Stretch Zion is our top pant recommendation for climbing — a testament to their durability and versatility. We love the cargo pocket with zippers on both sides, which means that we can quickly reach a phone or topo map while sitting at a belay. We also enjoy the small but practical integrated waist tightener, which means these pants can stay up without a belt. Combined with some of the softest and most comfortable fabric of any of the models in the test group, it is no wonder that these pants are one of our favorites.
While these were our top pair of pants for climbing, they are not without their flaws. The fabric is a bit heavy and densely woven for hiking in hot weather. They are much more effective when the temperature is on the cooler side. They also aren't as water-resistant as most, so if wet weather is in your future, look elsewhere. However, if comfort is your top priority, then we would strongly recommend trying on this pair of pants.
Read Review: Prana Stretch Zion
Best Weather Resistance
Arc'teryx Gamma LT Pant
The Arc'teryx Gamma LT pants are super comfortable, lightweight, and great for a variety of activities. Their water and wind resistance make them an excellent choice for cool, wet-weather hikes. They also come equipped with a drawstring at the cuff, so if the sun comes out and the temperature rises, you can roll them up and keep your legs cool. These strings at the cuff can even perform double-duty, converting to makeshift gaiters if needed. We're also fans of the integrated belt on the Gamma LT. The features they do include are thoughtful, and the fabric offers superior stretch.
The primary drawback is that these pants are pricey. You could certainly spend less on a different model and not tell too much of a difference. We also think it is an unusual choice not to include any rear pockets. Even with these things in mind, our testers love this model and will be pulling on a pair during future adventures, especially when inclement weather is in the forecast.
Read Review: Arc'teryx Gamma LT Pant
Best for Trail to Town
Royal Robbins Alpine Road
The Royal Robbins Alpine Road is for the casual business professional that goes straight from the office to the trail. This pair combines a more formal 'office style' with the functionality of a backcountry hiking pant. They come with elastic cinch cords in the ankles, and the thigh pocket is relatively discrete. They felt interior waist liner also adds to their comfort.
There are a few tradeoffs with these pants. Because of their design aesthetic, only one of the pockets has a zipper, which left us wanting a little more security. They also have a higher than average proportion of polyester and less elastane than the typical pair, which means that there also isn't quite as much stretch in the fabric. Even so, their seamless adaptability between the front and backcountry makes them an excellent choice.
Read Review: Royal Robbins Alpine Road
Why You Should Trust Us
Lead testers Ben Applebaum-Bauch and Andy Wellman both love a good backcountry adventure. Andy is an avid climber, hiker, and alpine skier. He has published multiple bouldering and climbing guides of the American southwest and knows the value that a comfortable, protective pair of hiking pants can provide. Ben got his professional start in the outdoor industry as a trip guide and has led multi-week backpacking, cycling, and canoeing trips throughout northern New England and maritime Canada. He is also an avid thru-hiker, passing under the baking sun and over the snowfields of the Pacific Crest Trail and through the whipping winds and summer hail storms of the Colorado, Long, Oregon Coast, and Appalachian trails.
Our review process began by scouring the marketplace and researching dozens of the best products available. We then purchased the top contenders and got down to hands-on testing on hikes and camping adventures in the rain, sun, and wind. Our testing grounds spanned a variety of locations, including the Oregon Cascades, the Southern Utah desert, Colorado's San Juan Mountains, and New Hampshire's White Mountains. We analyzed each pair's comfort and mobility, how well they protected us from the elements, whether they kept us dry (enough) in the rain, or allowed us to stay cool in the damp heat of summer. In addition to a variety of outdoor activities, we wore them out and about for everyday use as well as for occasional long-haul air travel, hoping to get a compliment or two on our rugged yet refined style.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Pants
Analysis and Test Results
We assess each model across five different scoring metrics that are most significant contributors to the performance and quality of any pair of hiking pants: comfort and mobility, venting and breathability, versatility and style, weather resistance, and features. Each metric is weighted based on its relative importance to the overall function of the pants. While our final rankings are based on a product's overall weighted score, we recognize that some models excel in particular areas and that different wearers may have different performance priorities. If, for example, venting and breathability are the most vital metric for you, we encourage you not just to look at a product's overall score, but to also focus in on that specific metric to discover how each product performs at a more granular level.
Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Pants
We don't consider a product's value in its overall performance scoring, but we recognize that it is an important consideration in any purchase. While the adage, "you get what you pay for" often rings true, our years of testing experience have taught us that the highest-priced products are not always the highest performing. Several high-priced models might have certain features that give it more of a niche appeal than a general appeal, especially in their wet-weather applications, for example. If you need a higher level of wet-weather protection, it's easier to justify the price. If you don't, then we think that selecting a lower-priced model will likely serve you and your wallet better.
For general use, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi and Patagonia Quandry are examples of models that provide great value. They are both high performing for a wide range of uses, and look pretty good without costing as much as the pricier options with extra wet-weather protection. The REI Co-op Savanna pants also provide simple functionality without a lot of features, style, or, most importantly, expense. They get the job done without asking you to fork over too much cash. You will have to spend a little more, though, if you're interested in higher performance across a more extreme range of conditions.
Comfort and Mobility
The most critical consideration for most outdoor clothing is its comfort. In the context of hiking pants, comfort means that they move and stretch with the wearer, not limiting, pinching, rubbing, riding up, and not annoying or distracting. The product should enhance your outdoor experience, not detract from it. Our thinking is that if it isn't comfortable, the rest of the metrics probably don't matter nearly as much.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with mobility. The more a model facilitates free movement, the better. The majority of pants in this review achieve their comfort by incorporating some amount of stretchy material, such as spandex or elastane, to increase user mobility.
Some pants, such as the Patagonia Quandary, the Kuhl Deceptr, and the Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights, have a slim fit but compensate with an increased stretchiness, maintaining mobility for the wearer. The Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2, Arc'teryx Gamma LT, and Outdoor Research Ferrosi include a higher-than-average proportion of the stretchy material elastane. The high-scoring Prana Brion, the Prana Stretch Zion, and the Royal Robbins Alpine Road all have lower ratios of stretchy material. Still, they somehow perform well-above what one might expect based on the numbers alone, due in part to the multi-directional elasticity of their fabrics.
Other models, such as the Fjallraven Vidda Pro and REI Co-op Savanna, offer minimal stretch in the fabric and promote mobility with a looser, more relaxed cut. The Kuhl Radikl pants also have a more regular fit but include strategically placed panels of super stretchy fabric at the knees, crotch, and lower back, to facilitate mobility. The cut is also an essential factor but could be heavily dependent on the body type and shape of the wearer.
As we move into the bottom of this metric, we have pants like the Arc'teryx Lefroy and The North Face Paramount Active, which have a slim fit that just feels pretty restrictive. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants have a different issue — their material is reasonably static. Paired with a waist that stretches slightly after many wears, and they don't stay up as well as models with an integrated belt, or more resilient fabric.
Venting and Breathability
We love hiking pants over shorts for their ability to protect from the wind, cold, and underbrush. However, if you are using them primarily for sun protection, you know that venting and breathability are also crucial. The best hiking pants are going to shield the wearer from the elements while keeping them cool and dry. Breathability is a quality of certain types of fabric that refers to the ability to release moisture (in this case, sweat, and can vary based on fabric thickness, weave density, and material. Venting refers to specific features included in a pair of pants that facilitate the same. Things like zippered vents, mesh-lined pockets, and rollable cuffs are types of vents.
To assess venting and breathability, we primarily rely on field testing. Much of this time is in the direct rays of the desert sun, where we could quickly work up a sweat. We also test each pair in a more controlled setting, running up the same incline in similar weather conditions, paying close attention to how effectively each pair kept us cool, relative to the others.
Not surprisingly, the pants made of the lightest and thinnest fabric tended to be the most breathable, while the pants with the most mesh and zippered vents cooled us off the quickest and prevented us from getting too sweaty in the first place. The REI Savanna is surprisingly lightweight and breathable, as is the award-winning Outdoor Research Ferrosi, making both of them solid choices for wearing in hot climates. The KUHL Radikl incorporates super stretchy spandex panels for comfort, but they also notably increase ventilation in critical areas.
There are some in-between options like the Royal Robbins Alpine Road and the Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2 which, are moderately breathable and offer ventilation primarily by rolling up the legs and securing the elastic cinch cord in the ankles. The pants that are the least breathable are also the thickest and heaviest and have the fewest vents. With its extraordinarily dense and heavy G-1000 fabric and no vents, the Fjallraven Vidda Pro is a pant designed exclusively for colder weather. The Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights are a bit of an enigma; some panels are light and breathable, but the reinforced areas around the knees and seat get quite sweaty. The Arc'teryx Lefroy also has thicker fabric — great for wind resistance — less impressive on breathability.
Versatility and Style
Versatility is a model's ability to maintain functionality in a variety of conditions and activities. Sure, there is specialized clothing for different activities, but we want to know how well each pair can crossover from one thing to the next. After all, if you are traveling far or remote, you probably want to minimize what you pack and get the best utility from what you do bring. In the backcountry, the most versatile pants should perform well not only during a hike up a mountain but should be more than serviceable for activities like climbing and paddling. In the front country, pants should also be functional enough for long-haul travel, everyday outdoor work, yoga, and workout routines.
We recognize that style in an of itself isn't essential for measuring performance. However, a pair that looks good will have greater versatility over a pair that doesn't (all other things being equal).
Holding down one of the top spots in the metric is the Royal Robbins Alpine Road, which combines high performance with superb style and adaptability between trail and town. Rounding out the top tier are the Prana Brion, Prana Stretch Zion, and Arc'teryx Gamma LT for their flexibility in the backcountry and utility for long-distance travel. With their stretchier fabrics, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, Patagonia Quandary, and Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2 served us well when we needed to scramble and stretch.
Then there are the middle tier pants like the REI Co-op Savanna, which are high on utility for hiking and outdoor work but have a limited fashion appeal. Conversely, there is the Kuhl Deceptr, which just looks better than it performs.
Lower scorers include the Kuhl Radikl, the The North Face Paramount Active, and the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible, which are each more limited to standard hiking and walking, which don't require a wide range of movement or flexibility.
If rain is in the forecast, you'll want to be protected. Though none of the pants in this review claim to be fully waterproof, quality water resistance is a massive bonus for a pair of hiking pants. We also consider wind resistance when assessing performance. Together, both of these characteristics can be tricky to balance with venting and breathability, but some models in this review have decent success.
To that end, most of these pants are designed to keep you as dry as possible while remaining lightweight and comfortable. To achieve this, most come with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating applied to the outside. This chemical coating helps the fabric shed precipitation. These treatments do wear off over time, especially if you wash your pants frequently in the washing machine, so if you are planning a long trip with a much-beloved pair of pants, you should apply a new DWR finish before you head out.
To test water resistance, we wore these pants outside as often as we could in wet weather. For a slightly more controlled environment, we also conduct a spray test, giving each pair an even spritz to understand the process of saturation and water beading. Things we look for are how well the DWR coating works right off the rack and after washing. Some pants absorb water faster, but take longer to saturate overall, meaning that it takes longer for water to reach the wearer's skin. Another important feature is how long the pants take to dry out after the skies clear.
The most weather resistant pants are the Arc'teryx Gamma LT, followed closely by the Arc'teryx Lefroy. The DWR coating on these models does a great job of shedding water even after a lot of wear, and there is minimal absorption. These pants also dry out quickly since the water stays on the surface. The Gamma LT stands out as a step above, balancing water resistance and comfort and mobility the best. A handful of pants in this review fall into the solid second tier, including the Patagonia Quandary, Royal Robbins Alpine Road, and Kuhl Deceptr. It is no surprise that the pairs with the thinnest fabric — the Outdoor Research Ferrosi and REI Savanna — are also the fastest to dry.
We are intrigued by the performance of the wax impregnated Fjallraven Vidda Pro pant, which eschews the now-standard chemical DWR coating in favor of a more natural and customizable treatment. So long as you are willing to take the time for the initial treatment, they can withstand moisture about as well as (or better than) any other pair in this review. But, with the other models, you don't have to work so hard for it.
Features are all of the parts of a pair of pants beyond what is minimally necessary. These are the thoughtful design elements that enhance a wearer's experience. Each pair has its own set of unique features, including the type and number of pockets and their location, waist tightening systems, and belts, roll-up snaps/cinches, ventilation holes, and crotch zippers. Some of these features were functional additions that inspired our adoration, while others were excessive and frustrating.
Our primary focus during testing was whether the features included proved to be practical and functional. For example, having the option to roll up the legs and cinch them down when the weather gets warmer is useful, and we did a similar analysis of pocket layout and location, as well as for waist tightening systems.
In short, the more useful and functional features a pant included, the higher the score. Products that received a lower rating either included fewer valuable features or the features that they had didn't function nearly as well as competitors. Favorite features among our testers include pockets that are large enough and deep enough to be functional, integrated belts, and the ability to roll up (and keep up) pant legs.
The KUHL Renegade pant boasts the most robust feature set. It has a ton of pocket options for those who like to have all their trail trinkets handy and organized. The Fjallraven Vidda Pro is similarly loaded with pockets. We are also partial to pairs that streamline their offerings but have high-quality execution. This tier includes models like the Prana Stretch Zion, Royal Robbins Alpine Road, Arc'teryx Gamma LT, and Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2.
Hiking pants offer a large handful of benefits over shorts, and often for activities beyond hiking and backpacking. With so many options on the market, the challenge is trying to decide which ones to buy. While comfort is usually a top priority, the climate in which you spend most of your time can dictate what other metrics are most important to you. We hope that this review helps you in your next pants purchase. Happy trails.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch & Andy Wellman