Are Hiking Pants Really Necessary for Hiking?

One of the biggest hiking questions most hikers have when they start is what should I wear hiking? This is quickly followed by a discussion around what pants should you wear and if hiking pants are necessary for hiking. 

Hiking pants aren’t necessary for hiking (you can hike in any pants you want), but there are several reasons why you would want to consider wearing hiking pants. They’re lightweight, dry easily, and comfortable. We’ve found that most experienced hikers prefer hiking pants because of these reasons. 

Let’s explore why hiking pants are the best choice for hiking and dive into the characteristics of other common pants options for hiking so you can choose the best pants for your next hiking adventure. 

are hiking pants necessary while hiking?

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What Makes Hiking Pants so Great for Hiking?

Although you can wear any pants you want for hiking, there’s a reason why so many prefer hiking pants. They’re made specifically with the needs of hikers in mind, so they’re the perfect clothing choice for any hiking trip. 

Hiking pants are so great for hiking because of their fabric. Being made of mostly nylon and polyester, two fantastic outdoorsy fabrics, hiking pants dry quickly, wick sweat, and are not constrictive. They’re also able to handle harsher conditions, taking the mud, rocks, and scrapes in stride. These characteristics make them perfect for the trail. 

Hiking Pants Dry Quickly

Hiking in wet pants is a completely miserable experience for anyone whose been unfortunate enough to do it. The nature of hiking means that despite your best efforts, you’re still likely to experience wet conditions on the trail eventually. Whether that’s an unexpected rain storm, a river crossing, or just a very humid day – you don’t want your clothes retaining that moisture while you’re hiking. 

Wet pants are heavy, terrible at maintaining temperature, and can causes rashes or fungus to form. None of that sounds particularly nice while you’re hiking. 

So, wearing hiking pants that dry quickly means that you don’t need to worry about this. If a rain storm comes, or you have to cross a stream, hiking pants are made to dry quickly. This way they don’t weigh you down, make you too hot or too cold, or cause painful areas on your legs. 

Hiking Pants Wick Sweat

Hiking and sweat go together like salt and pepper. If you’re hiking you’re likely going to be sweating, even if you’re in cold weather. Hiking takes exertion, and your body’s response to that is sweat. 

So, you’re going to want something that can handle that sweat by not absorbing it, and by letting your skin breathe. Heavier pants like jeans or thicker leggings hold onto that sweat making it harder for your body to air out and cool off. But hiking pants are often lighter and airy, letting air in to evaporate that sweat away. 

Hiking Pants Are Not Constrictive

Due to their construction, hiking pants don’t sit tight to the skin. They need to be airy and light in order to not weigh you down and to allow for water and sweat to dry out quickly. 

After a multi-mile hike the last thing I want is for my legs to be constrained. It’s just uncomfortable, and if you’re prone at all to swelling – not super great for your legs. So, I prefer hiking pants to allow me more room to move around and so I feel less trapped in my pants while out in the woods. 

are hiking pants necessary for hiking? person hiking in hiking pants on dirt road

What Other Types of Pants Can I Wear Instead of Hiking Pants?

If you’re not all that into getting some new hiking pants then the other most common choices are: 

  • Jeans
  • Leggings
  • Shorts
  • Cargo Pants
  • Joggers

Each of these have pros and cons – but the type of pants you choose really should depend on what the hiking conditions are when you’re out. 

On humid, wet days you’re going to want to avoid jeans (check out why jeans are bad for hiking). They soak in and keep water, weighing you down and making it hard for you to cool off. So, only wear jeans if you know you’ll have good weather. 

For leggings, these are good choices to wear only if you wont be doing a lot of rocky climbing. Leggings don’t provide a lot of protection against scratches and scrapes, nor good insulation on hotter or cooler days. Shorts also have this same problem, while also leaving you exposed for insect or tick bites. 

Cargo pants are an interesting option because they do provide some utility while out on the trail. But they can also have similar issues as jeans. They don’t dry quickly and can leave you wet on the trail. Joggers just aren’t made for hiking at all and generally provide no protection from the elements. I don’t recommend joggers for hiking in any condition.  

So, know where you’ll be hiking and choose your clothing appropriately based upon the fabric of the pants and the conditions of the weather and trail. 

What Hiking Pants Should You Get?

If I’ve managed to convince you that hiking pants are the way to go, then you may be wondering what hiking pants should you get? 

There are so many brands of hiking pants out there – so I’ll try to highlight a few of the best for you to start your search. 

If you’re just starting out and looking for something affordable, then I recommend these pants by CRZ. They are branded more as exercise pants – but the fabric is the same as a standard hiking pant. I’ve worn these a lot on my hiking trips, and they’ve always withstood any condition I’ve put them through. 

For more mainstream brands you’ll want to go with Eddie Bauer (for men and for women), or Columbia (for men and for women). They are more durable and better constructed to last for many years. They also have a few more pockets, or other add-ons that make them great if you’ll be hiking more than just casually. 

If you’re a full-on outdoors enthusiast, then you may go with one of these lesser known brands. Not being a mainstream brand doesn’t mean lower quality though – these pants are the highest quality and experienced outdoorsmen/women absolutely gush over them. These are Kuhl or Outdoor Research (men and women). 

Going with one or more of the options above will definitely have your legs feeling great on all your hiking adventures. 

Hopefully you’ve found your answer to whether hiking pants are really necessary. If you’re looking to get out and hike, check out our hiking adventures page to find some great local trails to explore. 

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