When it comes to hiking clothing, people tend to have strong opinions on what you should wear in the mountains. In particular, the debate over whether you should wear pants or shorts while trekking can get pretty heated among hikers.
So which should you wear while hiking? Is it better to hike in pants or shorts?
Both pants and shorts have their uses while hiking, but most people find that long pants provide more protection from the elements, including the rain, sun, and bugs. However, shorts are often more practical on hot days. Ultimately, what you choose to wear will depend a lot on the trail conditions and what you find to be most comfortable as you hike.
Only you can decide whether shorts or long pants will work best for your hiking needs, but in this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the pros and cons of both options. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different clothing choices for hikers so you can be best prepared for your next trip to the mountains.
Wearing Shorts Vs Pants While Hiking
Both shorts and pants are worthwhile choices for hiking, but which one you choose to wear will depend on (1) the weather, (2) the trail conditions, and (3) your personal preferences.
For some hikers, the decision to wear shorts or pants really comes down to the weather on any given day. Many trekkers will opt for a pair of shorts if the temperatures are forecasted to be quite warm because shorts provide much more breathability and ventilation than a pair of pants. Alternatively, on chilly days, many hikers will wear a pair of pants, instead.
As far as trail conditions go, if you expect any off-trail hiking during your travels, wearing pants can often provide you with some protection from dirt and debris.
Of course, there’s a risk of ripping your pant legs on sticks and sharp rocks while bushwhacking, but many people prefer ripped pants to cuts and scrapes. Plus, long pants tend to provide some extra protection from biting insects, which can be helpful in places with lots of mosquitoes, ticks, and black flies.
Last but not least, we can’t overlook the role that personal preference plays in deciding what you wear in the mountains.
There are plenty of people out there who will only wear shorts while they hike, regardless of the weather conditions. Conversely, there are some people who only ever wear pants in the mountains. Whether you choose to wear shorts or pants is up to you, but it’s important that you consider the pros and cons of each option before you go hiking.
How to Choose the Best Pants For Hiking
There’s no one pair of pants that’s “best for hiking” because what is ideal for one hiker might be different from what other hikers prefer. Rather than focusing on a specific type of pants for your travels, it’s best to consider some key elements of a good pair of hiking pants, such as:
Comfort is key with any item of clothing and hiking pants are no exception. Finding pants that fit well and that feel good on your body is of the utmost importance. Features like articulated knees, stretchy fabrics, and gusseted crotches can also help your pants feel more comfortable as you trek.
Staying cool and dry as you charge uphill can be a challenge, so it’s worth looking for fabrics that are highly breathable. Most purpose-built hiking pants are made from a nylon/elastane blend, which provides them with some good breathability. Some hiking pants are more breathable than others, though this often comes down to personal preference and the thickness of the fabric (thicker fabrics tend to be less breathable).
The great outdoors can be rough on gear, so you want to look for pants that are particularly durable. No pair of pants can withstand everything, but models with thicker fabrics tend to be more durable than those made from thinner materials.
Pockets & Features
Most hiking pants come with an assortment of features, which can include everything from an array of pockets to built-in belts and even zip-off legs. Which features you’re interested in will depend on your personal preferences, but it’s worth considering what features you’d like in a pair of pants before you start shopping.
Our Favorite Hiking Pants
There are hundreds of pairs of hiking pants on the market today, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re in the market for a new pair of pants, some of our favorites include the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, Arc’teryx Gamma LT, and the Patagonia Quandary, though there are plenty of other great options out there to choose from if those don’t work for your needs.
Should You Hike in Jeans?
As a general rule, no, you shouldn’t hike in jeans. The issue with jeans is that they are hot, heavy, and made of cotton.
Sweating in jeans is uncomfortable, to say the least, and doing so is inevitable when you’re hiking. Most jeans are also made from relatively thick denim, which provides you with minimal breathability as you hike.
The other major drawback to jeans is that they’re made of cotton (denim is a cotton-based fabric). Cotton isn’t a good material for hiking because it actually makes you colder when wet, which can be dangerous in certain environments.
To be fair to jeans, a quality pair of denim pants can be very durable, which is why they’re commonly used by ranchers, tradespeople, and others who have physically intensive jobs. But there are a lot of reasons why jeans aren’t ideal for trekking, so it’s typically best to get yourself a pair of proper hiking pants, instead.
Pants vs. Shorts: Which Is Better For Hiking?
At the end of the day, there are benefits to wearing both pants and shorts while you hike. If you prioritize protecting your legs from the sun, bugs, and debris on the trail above all else, pants might be worth considering. Alternatively, for people who prefer more breathable clothing and are okay with some cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and sunburns, shorts are a potential option.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.