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We have bought the best hiking pants for 9 years and counting, with almost 40 pairs tested. For this update, we tested the best 16 pairs side by side in comparative analysis. Our experts took to the trails to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each pair. We know that there are a lot of options out there, so we do the leg work for you to figure out which models are the most comfortable, which ones breathe effectively while keeping you dry, and which have the most useful features to keep you enjoying nature trails all year round.
Material: 86% nylon / 14% spandex | Weight: 9.4 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Highly breathable, lightweight fabric
Stretch fabric offers superior mobility
Suitable for everyday wear
REASONS TO AVOID
Too light for cold, windy days
Waist stretches with repeated wear
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants are incredibly comfortable, offer a high degree of mobility, and keep you cool even as the mercury rises. They are made of durable ripstop fabric and incorporate a higher-than-average 14% spandex, making them stretchy and unrestrictive. We found that they provide high mobility for hiking, running, yoga, and rock scrambles. They are also very light, thin, highly breathable, and have drawcord cuffs so you can cinch them up higher on your calves if needed — all great qualities in hot weather.
Their high performance in the dry heat makes them less ideal for cold or windy days; they just don't provide quite enough protection for skinny legs. We also found that the waist stretches after a couple of wears (if they haven't been washed and dried in between), so if you are hiking for more than a day, a belt is a near necessity. Even so, they are a super comfortable all-purpose pair that especially shines in hot weather.
The REI Co-op Sahara Roll-Up is a high-value pant in a world of expensive hiking bottoms. Despite the comparatively low price, this pair is water-resistant while also remaining lightweight and breathable. It has six pockets (two front, two rear, two thigh), as well as distinctive snaps that allow the wearer to roll them up and secure them mid-leg if the temperature rises.
We have a couple of bones to pick with these REI pants, though. While they're super functional, we aren't in love with their aesthetic. And though they have a good assortment of pockets, there are noticeable diminishing returns. That is, in practice, we couldn't carry more in them just because they were there. However, the Sahara's performance is reliable enough that we would recommend this pair to anyone who prioritizes functionality and value.
Material: 84% nylon / 16% elastane | Weight: 11.6 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Best in class weather resistance
REASONS TO AVOID
Lacks rear pockets
The Arc'teryx Gamma LT Pants are 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. We're also fans of the integrated belt on the Gamma LT. They include thoughtfully designed features, and the fabric offers enough stretch not to be a distraction while scrambling.
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.
Material: 97% nylon / 3% spandex | Weight: 13.3 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable fabric and fit
Solid set of features
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy when wet
Warm in hot climates
The Prana Stretch Zion pants are durable and versatile. We enjoy the small but practical integrated waist tightener, which means these pants can stay up without a belt. We also appreciate 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. Combined with some of the softest and most comfortable fabrics of any of the models in this review, it is no wonder that these pants are one of our favorites.
Though they shine 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.
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 backcountry hiking pants. They come with elastic cinch cords in the ankles, and the thigh pocket is relatively discreet, meaning that it won't look too outdoorsy. The felt interior waist liner also adds to their comfort.
There are a few tradeoffs with these pants. They 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. Because of their design aesthetic, only one of the pockets has a zipper, which left us wanting a little more security for our house keys when we went out for a quick hike. Even so, their seamless adaptability between the front and backcountry makes them an excellent choice.
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 Pacific Crest Trail's snowfields and through the whipping winds and summer hail storms of the Colorado, Long, Oregon Coast, and Appalachian trails.
Our review process begins by researching the market for the best products available. We purchase the top contenders and get down to hands-on testing on hikes and camping adventures in the rain, sun, and wind. Our testing grounds span a variety of locations, including the Oregon Cascades, the Southern Utah desert, Colorado's San Juan Mountains, and New Hampshire's White Mountains. We analyze each pair's comfort and mobility, how well they protect us from the elements, whether they keep us dry (enough) in the rain, or allow us to stay cool in the damp heat of summer. In addition to a variety of outdoor activities, we wear them out and about for everyday use.
Analysis and Test Results
We assess each model across five different scoring metrics that are the 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 additional features. Each metric is weighted based on its relative importance to the overall function of the pants. If a particular metric is much more important to you than the rest, be sure to check out the specifics of how different models perform in that category (as opposed to just looking at the overall score). And also check our full list of hiking gear reviews.
We don't consider a product's value in its overall numerical score, 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. To assess value, we compare the price of each product against its overall score. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi and Patagonia Quandary are two examples of models that provide great value, costing far below the highest-priced options, yet stepping up to nearly any hiking challenge. The REI Sahara pants help you save even more in your wallet, though there is a noticeable drop-off in styling and refinement. Still, they are our recommendation for spending the least while still getting respectable performance.
Comfort and Mobility
One of the most critical considerations for outdoor clothing is its comfort. In the context of hiking pants, comfort means that they feel good; no pinching, rubbing, riding up, or distracting from the activity. 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 stretchy material, such as spandex or elastane, in order to increase user mobility.
Some pants, such as the Patagonia Quandary, Mammut Runbold, Kuhl Deceptr, and the Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights, have a slim fit but compensate with a high proportion of spandex or elastane, which facilitates wearer mobility. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi, Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2, and Arc'teryx Gamma LT also include a higher-than-average proportion of elastane, though they rely on a slightly looser fit to also achieve mobility. The high-scoring Prana Brion, Royal Robbins Alpine Road, and the Prana Stretch Zion all have lower stretchy material ratios. 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, 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 wearer's body type and shape.
At the bottom of this metric, we have pants like the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible. Their material is static, paired with a waist that stretches out slightly after a few wears, so they just don't stay up as well as models with an integrated belt or more resilient fabric.
Venting and Breathability
Venting and breathability are crucial if you plan to wear your pants primarily in the sunshine and/or summer heat. Venting refers to specific features included in a pair of pants that facilitate the release of heat and moisture away from your body. Things like zippered vents, mesh-lined pockets, and rollable cuffs are types of vents. Breathability is similar but refers to the quality of the fabric itself (as opposed to features built into it).
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 openable zippers prevented us from getting too sweaty in the first place. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi is lightweight and breathable, making it a solid choice for hot climates. The KUHL Radikl incorporates super stretchy spandex panels for comfort, but they also notably increase ventilation in critical areas in the crotch and along the upper legs.
There are some in-between options like the Royal Robbins Alpine Road and 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 REI Activator 3.0 also has thicker fabric — great for wind resistance, but less impressive regarding breathability.
Versatility and Style
Versatility is a model's ability to perform well and maintain its functionality in a variety of conditions and activities. 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 and 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, Mammut Runbold, and Arc'teryx Gamma LT for their flexibility in the backcountry and utility for long-distance travel. Though we found that it performs best in cool weather, the REI Activator 3.0 was a pleasant surprise in terms of style. With their stretchier fabric blends, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, Patagonia Quandary, and Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2 served us well when we needed to scramble and stretch, making them great choices for many different activities, from hikes to yard work.
The middle-tier pants like the REI Co-op Sahara 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 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 of the fabric. This chemical coating helps the pant shed precipitation. DWR 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, 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, as well as how effective it remains after washing them. We are also interested in how long the pants take to dry out after the skies clear.
The pair that we strongly prefer for cold weather is the REI Activator 3.0. The thick fabric and formidable DWR coating are both valuable assets when hiking deep into the shoulder seasons. We also like the Arc'teryx Gamma LT which hold their own in wet weather and are relatively warm. The DWR coating on these models does a great job of shedding water even after a lot of wear, and there is minimal absorption. The Arc'teryx 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 pairs with the thinnest fabric like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi 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 "extras" on a pair of pants. 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 as well as their locations, waist tightening systems, and belts, button and fly styles, roll-up snaps/cinches, ventilation holes, and crotch zippers. Some of these features are functional additions that inspire our adoration, while others are excessive, or unnecessary.
The more useful and functional features a pant includes, the higher the score. Products that receive a lower rating either include fewer valuable features or the features that they do have don't reach their potential. Favorite features among our testers include pockets that are large enough and deep enough to protect items from inadvertently popping out, as well as 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 many 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. We appreciate REI Activator 3.0's nice set of well-positioned pockets, Royal Robbins Alpine Road's hearty snap and french fly for extra security, Mammut Runbold's flaps that protect the front pocket zippers from rain, the Arc'teryx Gamma LT's sleek integrated belt, and the Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2, which also benefits from practical pockets.
Having the option to roll up the legs and cinch them down around your calf or above the knee when the weather gets warmer is useful. The REI Activator 3.0, REI Sahara Roll-Ups, and Royal Robbins Alpine Road all benefit from this add-on as well.
The pants you wear can make or break how much you enjoy your adventure. And with so many options on the market, the challenge can be deciding which ones to buy. However, we hope that this expert review helps you make your next pants purchase and enjoy whatever the trail throws at you.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.