Most serious hikers have their own favorite pants for wilderness hiking. For those who do not have a favorite hiking pant or who would like to reevaluate past decisions or who like to think in depth on outdoor clothing issues, I have prepared this short article with a downloadable chart of options. The downloadable chart covers most of the wilderness hiking pant options currently available.
[Note: To open the hiking pant options chart and skip the rest of this introduction, go directly to bottom of the page.]
Method of Organizing the Options List
I have organized my downloadable chart of wilderness hiking pant options by fabric type (fleece, nylon, wool, cotton or a hybrid of two or more fabrics. I then identify the most popular options within each fabric type (a surprising number) and include some of the pros and cons of each. This format made the most sense and, most importantly, did not overly complicate the choices.
My downloadable chart of hiking pant options could be constructed differently. One could set up a chart that evaluates each option in terms of the features commonly looked for in hiking pants: warmth, durability, water resistant, wind resistant, effective in a broad range of conditions, cost, etc. Another would be to organize them according to different weather conditions (snow, wind, rain, heat) and season of the year.
The focus of my downloadable hiking pant chart is mainly on highcountry wilderness environments under a variety of conditions. Hiking in the jungle, desert or arctic would dictate a somewhat different list of options.
One of the most challenging environments for pant selection is cold and wet environments. My favorite in these conditions is highly water and wind resistant soft shell pants supplemented with long underwear when the temperatures drop. “Soft shells” combine two or more fabrics (usually nylon, polyester microfleece and Lycra) woven together to provide a high degree of wind and water resistance plus good durability. Adding tall gaiters and an extra length storm jacket usually means I can leave my rain pants home.
In the warmer summer season, my favorite is the standard quick drying nylon convertible pants supplemented with long underwear and waterproof overpants as the weather dictates. Since I hike in a wide variety of conditions (often with great variations on a single trip), I find it very convenient and efficient to convert to shorts or back to long pants as needed. I have three or four weights (thicknesses) of nylon pants to choose from depending on the expected conditions.
Instead of gaiters, I select pants that are slightly long to avoid getting debris into my trail shoes or boots. I often carry gaiters for more extreme conditions but leave them off to facilitate maximum ventilation of my feet.
Even though the above paragraphs indicate my favorites, I do like to experiment. Hence, I own several of the pant choices listed on the accompanying chart of wilderness hiking pants.
The above description of favorites should not interpreted as recommendations. They are only my individual preferences given the pros and cons of the presented options.
A Multitude of Design Features
One complicating fact of wilderness hiking pant selection is the multitude of design features (besides fabric) that are currently available. Following are most of them:
DWR water resistant finish
SPF sun protection
Number of pockets
Type of pockets (e.g., cell phone pocket, slash, )
Flat or gusseted cargo pocket on thigh
Fleece or mesh lined pockets
Pocket closures (e.g., Velcro or zip)
Waist closure button or snap
Adjustable waist with drawcord, belt loops, integrated half belt or elastic
Crotch opening (zip, buttons or none)
Extended fly zipper all way through the crotch for cold weather
Side zips up the leg
Ankle or calf zips (or velcro closure) up outside seam
Velcro cuff closures
Inside ankle scuff guard
Roll up leg snaps
Knee and butt reinforcements
Articulated seat and knees
My intent in listing these hiking pant features is to increase awareness, but not to discuss the pros and cons of these features. One exception is pockets. I like pants with lots of pockets (partly because my packs have few external pockets). Conditions can vary from minute-to-minute and I don’t usually want to stop to get into my pack to change hats or gloves. I don’t like to take off my pack just to put on sun screen or to have a snack or take a picture. On the other side, pockets add to the cost and weight.