While leggings are figure-flattering, move with your body and offer unparalleled comfort, a well-crafted pair of hiking pants provide reinforced protection and resiliency to changing climates.
So, which should you wear to go hiking? While the answer to this ongoing debate depends largely on personal preferences, it also depends on a few other key factors.
A rugged material like polyester, nylon or a blend of the two will provide a balance between versatility, durability and comfort. While leggings are lightweight and prevent chafing during longer wear, pants that are crafted with spandex provide flexibility and the ability to move freely. Bottoms made with densely woven ripstop fabrics won’t pose a problem if you encounter sandstone or other abrasives and will allow you to sit on stumps while you take a water break, scramble up rocks and walk through dense foliage without worrying about scuffs and scrapes. However, ripstop leggings that feel like a second skin can be difficult to find.
Breathability is an often-overlooked factor when deciding between pants and leggings for the trail but is a crucial element no matter the weather conditions. Polyester, which is quick-drying and moisture resistant, works to wick away sweat to keep your body dry and regulate its temperature. This keeps your body feeling warm in cool conditions and prevents you from feeling sticky with sweat in warmer conditions. In unpredictable climates, you may want pants that are either convertible, which can zip off and become shorts, or that roll up easily for ventilation.
Features like deep pockets can make finding your essential gear and snacks much easier, especially when you’re carrying a good amount of gear. While pants tend to sport a number of pockets in various sizes, allowing you to carry a map, a pocketknife and a few other essentials at once, tights are generally only equipped with two thigh pockets that are large enough for a cellphone or a compass.
Length and Trail Conditions
For longer hikes and multi-day journeys, a bottom that’s odour-resistant and treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) is key to withstand wet conditions. For more technical hikes, look for reinforced stitching or fabric around high-impact areas like the knees and rear to lengthen the life of your bottoms.
While leggings generally perform well on shorter hikes in pleasant conditions and on well-groomed trails, hiking pants are ideal for multi-day backpacking trips and technical hikes, as durability and moisture-wicking properties become essential.
Picking the right bottoms can make your time outdoors more comfortable and convenient. Here are some recommendations:
Courtesy of Patagonia
Patagonia Point Peak Trail Pants ($159)
Patagonia’s Point Peak Trail Pants are made from recycled nylon and treated with a PFC-free DWR finish for eco-friendly protection against precipitation. Its articulated knees and abrasion-resistant paneling make these a reliable choice for multi-day hikes in rough terrain, yet its slim fit makes these sleek enough to wear to an active job. For maximum comfort and protection, these tough but lightweight pants come with adjustable hook-and-loop tabs at the waist and at the cuffs to keep out debris.
Courtesy of Mountain Hardwear
Mountain Hardwear Dynama High Rise Pant ($69 - 100)
With a slim profile and a flattering cut, these versatile Dynama High Rise Pants by Mountain Hardwear allow you to transition seamlessly from the trail to an active job or a post-climb beer. Made with a blend of lightweight nylon and spandex, these quick dry pants are ideal for warmer weather or with a base layer underneath in cooler conditions. The wide, stretchy waistband provides all day comfort. Its two deep zippered pockets help keep your essentials close.
Courtesy of Fjallraven
Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights ($200)
The ultimate splurge for hiking leggings, these Abisko Trekking Tights by Fjallraven are essentially hiking pants but with the freedom of movement and style of leggings. The four-way stretch fabric is also breathable and has the ability to regulate body temperature in a range of conditions, making it a practical choice for longer hikes. The wide waistband provides a comfortable fit, and the reinforcements over the rear and knees make these suitable for technical hikes that’ll bring you close to sharp stones and rocks.
Eddie Bauer Trail Tight Leggings High Rise ($89 - 120)
Created with the avid hiker in mind, these high rise Trail Tight Leggings by Eddie Bauer can withstand steep ascents and scrambles over rocks. The durability is attributed to the blend of polyester and spandex material, and the two drop-in zippered pockets provide a secure space for essentials. These supportive and well-fitted leggings also feature FreeShade® UPF 50+ sun protection and Polygiene® odour-control technology to keep you protected from the elements and feeling fresh.