The pants you wear hiking can make the difference between an amazing outdoor experience and a painful and perhaps even dangerous slog. Unlike jeans today’s hiking pants are comfortable, light, breathable, tough and many will keep you dry even in a pouring rain.
They have lots of pockets that ensure your important gear is always at your fingertips. And those pockets also let you distribute weight more evenly. That reduces strain on your back and shoulders. There are scores of different hiking pants on the market these days. So to make things easy for you we’ve compiled this list of the 10 best hiking pants of 2021.
1. The North Face Men’s Paramount Active Convertible Pant
There’s a lot to like about these Paramount Active Pants from The North Face. With their articulated knees and elastane/polyester weave they’re extremely comfortable and breathable. In a flash they convert from full length pants to shorts. And just as quick they convert back to full length. While not truly waterproof they are highly water resistant and they feature gusseting in the crotch and a pair of zippered pockets around back.
Maybe their most outstanding characteristic is the drawstring closure. It gives you the control of a belt without the weight. And the discretion of an elasticized waistband without the inevitable failure of that elastic. Toss in the affordable price and you have our #1 choice.
2. Outdoor Research Men’s Ferrosi Convertible Pants
These are very similar to the North Face Paramount Pants and for that they got our attention. They’re equally well made and convert just as quickly and easily from long pants to shorts. Where they differ is that you’ll need to bring your own belt to the party with these pants.
They’re also treated with a DWR coating. DWR stands for ‘durable water repellent’ and it makes these pants a good choice for damp locations. The Ferrosi Convertible Pants are also nearly impervious to UV light with a UPF 50+ rating. The highest available. To top things off there are zippered pockets in both the seat and on the thigh.
3. Fjallraven Men’s Abisko Lite Trekking Trousers
The Men’s Abisko Lite Trekking Trousers from Fjallraven are tough and breathable and have nice big zippered storage pockets at the thighs. They call this a ‘technical cut’ but we just call it comfortable. The four-way stretch fabric goes everywhere you want and need it to. And the boot hooks at the cuff prevent the legs from riding up, no matter the circumstances.
Those cuffs also have strap adjustments that let you tighten them up to keep cool drafts out. The pants feature gusseting at the knees and crotch and large, durable belt loops to accommodate the belt of your choice. You’ll pay a little more for these but it’s unlikely you’ll to be disappointed.
4. Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pants
Columbia’s Men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pants are market leaders with many people ready to proclaim them the best hiking pants on the market. We agree that these are outstanding pants. They feature articulated knees, gusseting in the crotch, large zippered thigh pockets and they’re cut the way good hiking pants should be.
They’re also UV resistant with a UPF 50 rating. And, when the cool morning turns into the scorching afternoon, they can be quickly converted to light airy shorts. Our only gripe is that we wish the belt loops and main zipper were just a bit longer.
5. Arc’teryx Palisade Pant Men’s
The Arc’teryx Palisades Pants look great. Few people would argue that. But they’re way more than just a pretty face. They’re comfortable, durable no-nonsense pants whose refined lines ensure there’s nothing here that is going to get in the way of your forward progress.
The elastane means they’ll never stop you from stretching to get a firm foothold. And the large, zippered pockets will allow you fast, easy access to your map, snacks, flashlight and more. The Palisade Pants are also highly breathable and feature gusseting at strategic areas so they won’t let you down. The waist sleeve also prevents the belt from getting caught on branches and bushes.
6. Marmot Men’s Arch Rock Pants
Marmot’s Arch Rock Pants are so simple and practical that you could just as easily wear them to work as you could wear them on the trail. They have a decidedly non-cargo pants profile that eschews the bulkiness and keeps everything in close and tucked away. There are 5 big pockets but you’d never know it at first glance. And they’re tough.
With gusseting down the inseam and articulated knees. The fabric is 6% elastane so they won’t restrict your movement and it’s treated with a water resistant DWR coating that’s also highly UV resistant. You’ll need to supply your own belt but the Arch Rock Pants do everything else.
7. Tbmpoy Men’s Outdoor Quick Dry Hiking Pants
If you’re looking for rugged, reliable, practical hiking pants that won’t break your bank here they are. Tbmpoy’s Outdoor Quick Dry Hiking Pants are both water and windproof, the fabric is light and airy and, because it’s 15% Spandex, it’ll stretch however you need it to. While the belt they include is nothing to write home about, it’s removable so you can swap it out for one of your own. There are 5 large zippered pockets that keep your gear secure and close at hand. And the pants are available in 9 different colors. Including a kind of stylized camo that’s actually kind of cool looking and perfect for hunters.
8. Magcomsen Men’s Hiking Pants
These are outstanding cool weather hiking pants with a fleece lining that are waterproof and stretchy. With the right long underwear you could use them in the winter too. The knees are reinforced with a tough, scratch resistant fabric.
All 6 pockets are deep and zippered and tailored to keep your gear in close so it won’t snag on branches and bushes. The waistband has 2 elasticized sections to help keep the pants up. But you can add your own belt as well. If you want to stay warm and dry on your next outing these will fit the bill.
9. Jessie Kidden Men’s Convertible Hiking Pants
These Convertible Hiking Pants from Jessie Kidden touch all the outdoor bases. They have plenty of pockets to store gear, they’re light and breathable, they’re water repellent and dry quick and they have a UPF 50+ UV coating.
They’re also convertible, so the bottom 2/3 of the pants leg zips off in a hurry so you won’t overheat. The waistband is elasticized but also allows for a belt. And the pants are available in a multitude of colors, including army green. Our personal favorite.
10. Fjallraven Men’s Vidda Pro
The final entry on our list of the best hiking pants is our second from Fjallraven. Their Vidda Pro hiking pants wander off the farm a bit with their 35% cotton content. But they can be easily waterproofed to compensate. And we’d recommend you do that because the pants have so much going for them.
They’re comfortable, practical, have 7 large pockets for gear and plenty of gusseting in vital areas. There are even adjustment straps at the cuff so you can keep cold breezes, water or whatever else outside where it belongs.
What are Hiking Pants?
Hiking pants are lightweight, water-repellent, fast drying, rugged pants that are designed specifically to meet the challenges of the outdoors. Hikers need to be constantly aware of weight, they need to be prepared in case it rains or snows and they need to know that their pants can take a beating. In the not-too-distant past most hikers relied on blue jeans. But blue jeans absorb water like a sponge. This not only makes them heavy and uncomfortable it can also lead to hypothermia (1). So a better alternative was necessary. Enter hiking pants. For all the reasons we stated above they have become the standard when it comes to hiking apparel.
What are Convertible Hiking Pants?
When shopping for hiking pants you’re going to see the term ‘convertible pants’ thrown around a lot. It can be a bit confusing because ‘convertible’ usually conjures up visions of car roofs that fold away to let you enjoy the great summer weather. Actually, convertible pants work almost the same way. Although, they don’t fold away into some secret compartment in the pants.
Instead, they have discreet zippers above the knees that can be unzipped to remove the lower part of the pants leg in warm weather. So, what were full-length pants are now hiking shorts. This type of hiking pant is particularly appropriate for spring and fall when it can heat up during the day and get very cool when the sun goes down.
It’s a great idea. So why aren’t all hiking pants like this? First, because not everyone is down with the look of the zippered seam around the pants leg. Second, if something happens to that zipper it can create problems. And third, the zippers add weight. Some people also think they make the pants a little less comfortable.
What’s the Difference Between Water Resistant and Waterproof?
People sometimes mistake water resistant pants for waterproof pants. But there’s a pretty important difference between water resistant and waterproof (2). Water ‘resistant’ pants will resist being penetrated by water. That is, they’ll put up a fight. They’ll repel a light rain and splashes but if the rain gets heavy you’re going to get wet.
By contrast waterproof pants don’t care if it’s raining cats and dogs all day. Nothing is getting through them. Even if you wade into a river water won’t come through the material itself. Though it’s going to enter through the bottom of the pants unless you’re wearing a waterproof gaiter.
Some pants are treated with a special coating that repels water. But other fabrics like Gore-Tex (3) are naturally waterproof. In addition, should you want, there are sprays available that will enable you to waterproof your pants at home (4).
What Should I Look for in a Pair of Hiking Pants?
There are a number of things you should keep your eyes open for when shopping for hiking pants, including:
Breathability – When you’re putting forth maximum effort on the trail you can get pretty hot. Even in the winter time. You can try and vent heat by removing gloves, removing your hat and opening or even removing your jacket. But if your pants aren’t breathable your lower body can still get uncomfortably hot. So breathability (5) is important when it comes to hiking pants. Not all fabrics are breathable though. Some breathable fabrics that are used in hiking pants include nylon, polyester, Gore-Tex and wool. Wool has been the go-to fabric for winter clothing for centuries because it’s both breathable and it stays warm even when it gets wet.
Fit – You’re not going to get very far on the trail without your legs. So it’s important that they be allowed complete range of motion inside your pants. If you’re hiking pants restrict you from lifting your knee high enough or stretching far enough to reach a stable foothold then they’re not helping your hike. They’re interfering with it. At the same time you don’t want pants that are so baggy that they get caught on underbrush or other hazards. So good fit is a balancing act. They need to allow that range of motion but they also need to stay close to the body. For this reason some manufacturers include Spandex or other stretchy materials into the weave.
Pockets – Some of the best hiking pants resemble cargo pants in that they have lots of pockets. Now, some people like pockets and some people don’t. We like our hiking pants to have lots of pockets because it’s easier to retrieve something like a tactical flashlight or a compass from a pants pocket than it is from the bottom of the backpack. Pockets on hiking pants should be protected by a buttoned flap, or have a zipper that seals them against the elements. Keep in mind too that pants pockets enable you to more evenly distribute the load you’re carrying, rather than having it all concentrated on your back and shoulders.
Articulated knees – Ever notice that the knees are typically the first thing to give way on a pair of jeans? All the bending and twisting weakens the fabric over time and before you know it’s thinning out and breaking apart. The last thing you want is for the knees to give out on your hiking pants. Especially if the weather is cold or wet. Articulation provides a bit more room through the knee area. The knee of the pants then expands and contracts as you lift your leg. As a result less stress is put on the fabric covering the knee and the pants last longer.
Durability – The reason everyone doesn’t wear stretchable, breathable lycra (6) pants on the trail is because they’re not very durable. In addition, they’re not waterproof. They also don’t provide much protection. If your thigh encounters a gnarly branch while you’re hiking it’s going to tear right through your stretch pants and leave a nice gash on your leg. Hiking pants made from ripstop nylon or polyester or even Gore-Tex will resist tearing. You may still wind up with a scrape under the pants, but not the kind of gash that could end a hiking trip. Plus, the pants will remain usable.
Are Hiking Pants and Mountaineering Pants the Same?
They come from the same universe but they are designed to address different aspects of the outdoor experience. For instance, above we mentioned that wool has been the go-to material for outdoor winter clothing for centuries. It’s tough, breathable, warm and best of all, it stays warm even if it gets wet. Those are all positives for winter mountaineering. But the warmth of wool pants can be a big issue during the summer months, even though they’re breathable.
With hiking pants it’s assumed you’re sticking to the low altitudes and venturing out in reasonable weather. Mountaineering pants on the other hand are made for those who venture into the high country, often above tree line (7), where they are exposed to extreme cold and biting winds. So the pants need to be as warm as wool (if they’re not actually wool) and they need to block the wind. As most standard hiking pants are not very warm and only do a cursory job blocking the wind wearing them on Denali would be asking for trouble. Mountaineering pants also usually have gusseting on the bottom inside of the pants leg. That’s to prevent crampons from snagging and ripping the pants.
Are Hiking Pants the Same as Cargo Pants?
We mentioned above that hiking pants look a bit like cargo pants. And that’s true. But for the most part the similarities end there. Cargo pants are almost always made from cotton. And while cotton is one of our favorite fabrics sad to say it makes for lousy climbing pants. Why? Because it soaks up water like nobody’s business. Not only that but cotton takes forever to dry out. Which is why it’s never recommended for hikers (8).
In addition, cargo pants may look rough and ready but not many of them have gusseting in the knees or crotch. And almost none have articulated knees. Also, many hiking pants are convertible. So you can turn them into shorts if you’re getting hot. You won’t find this option with cargo pants. At the end of the day if you want to wear cargo pants for a nice afternoon walk in the state park they’ll be fine. If you plan on hiking into the backcountry though, the shortcomings of cargo pants will jeopardize your safety.
What is Gusseting?
Gusseting is an important aspect of hiking pants and one of the things that separate them from regular pants. A gusset (9) is intended to bolster the strength and durability of a particular area of a garment in order to protect it from wear and tear. Hiking pants aren’t meant to be worn with crampons, so you won’t find gusseting at the bottom of hiking pant legs. But you will often find it in the knees, in the crotch and along the inseam.
Which is Better, An Elasticized Waist or a Belt?
The elasticized waistband is convenient and easy and there’s no chance of losing it like there is with a belt. It also saves weight because you aren’t carrying a belt around your waist. On the other hand, it can feel too constricting sometimes. And there’s no way to tighten up the waist if the gear in your pockets is pulling your pants down. Some pants with elasticized waistbands also provide belt loops. And that’s a good thing because in time the elasticity will wane. If it were our call we’d go with belted hiking pants simply because you can adjust the waist to be as tight or as loose as you want.
The Bottom Line
Hiking pants long ago replaced blue jeans as the preferred attire for serious hikers. That’s because they’re lightweight, water repellent, comfortable, stretchable, have lots of storage pockets and don’t cost an arm and a leg. If you’ve never tried them before and you love to hike you owe it to yourself to get a good pair of hiking pants before you set out on your next adventure.
The hiking pants on our list represent the best all-purpose outdoor hiking trousers on the market today. Each has been thoroughly examined and appraised and proven both its functional worth and overall value. Use the above information to help inform your selection process then choose the pair that is just right for you.