When I started hiking, I usually just wore jeans or old army cargo pants. But after I went on my first multi-day hike and experienced a bad case of thigh rash, I decided to investigate and find out more. It turned out, cargo pants are not necessarily your first option when you go hiking. Are cargo pants good for hiking? Yes, they are. A cargo pant is good for hiking, as it has a lot of pockets, where you store maps, compass, and gear. But the pant shouldn’t be made from cotton, as this causes problems when hiking. Cotton stores water, and this means cotton clothes stay wet and cold longer and can cause rashes as wet cotton is abrasive. 

Cotton is a mediocre material for hiking pants!

In general, you can use cotton for shorter hikes perfectly well. If you go on a 3-hour summertime hike in your local area, there is no way a cotton pant will not work well. Later down here, I recommend BDU pants for hiking these short trips, and they also use mainly cotton. But if you are serious about hiking, cotton can be a problem.

Cotton retains water

The main problem: Cotton is a hydrophilic material, which means it stores water. Water is retained, and this means your cotton pants will stay wet for a long time when you hike with it. No problem in summer, but in spring or autumn, anytime you sweat, this sweat will keep your pants wet for a long time. And if you hike in the rain, the paints will never really dry once they get initially wet. Wet cotton is also very abrasive, which can lead to rashes and chafing. Chafing sucks, if you have had it, you know what I’m talking about. And the worst-case scenario, chafing can also cause infections. This is especially a problem if you go hiking during the rainy season in tropical climates.

Cotton makes your body lose heat when wet

The worst problem with wet cotton is the loss of heat. Heat loss from the body is a serious problem when you hike in colder climates. The wet fabric next to your skin will transport heat away really fast, it’s the same principle as swimming in the water. This will lead to hypothermia, and that will slow you down and eventually kill you. Hypothermia is one of the things that will likely not be a problem on your typical 2-hour afternoon hike where everything goes well, and you can warm up in your car afterward. But add time, like a 3 to 5 days hike, constant rain, and a cold and wet tent, and exhaustion, and you have a recipe for disaster! In contrast, most hiking paints are made from synthetic wicking materials, which repel water and dry faster. Wicking materials are thus a good choice if you need fast drying pants that repel water – like when you go hiking in wet conditions or sweat a lot.

Wicking fabrics guard against preventable problems in a way that is more reliable than luck. They are a reusable insurance policy that helps protect the safety and enjoyment of your treks.

What type of pants is best for hiking?

So, if we’re talking about it already, mabye you are now wondering how your perfect hiking pant should look like. What type of pants is best for hiking? The best pair of hiking pants should have these features: Lightweight, quick-drying, enough storage pockets with zip closing if possible, and not bulky. In hot climates, you want zip-off legs too. By the way, climbing and hiking pants are not the same, climbing pants have their very benefits, if you need some good climbing pants, check out our review of the 2020 best climbing pants here!

Lightweight

This is a no-brainer. Heavy pants mean you carry around dead weight with you. You already most likely have a heavy backpack, so adding heavy pants doesn’t make sense at all

Quick-drying

In order to avoid the aforementioned problems with hypothermia, good hiking pants should dry fairly quick. This can usually be achieved by using a blend of nylon or other synthetic materials.

Plenty of Pockets

Pockets are great for hikers. Storing often used items like compass, map, GPS, or smartphone in your pants can save you time and hassle. Closable pockets are a must if you have steep climbing sections or down and uphill sections in your hike.

Zip-off legs

The ability to zip off the pant’s legs is great in summer and hot conditions. If you have the option, definitely buy pants with zip-offs if you want an allround hiking pant for the whole year!

Are BDU pants good for hiking?

BDU pants are good for short hikes and walks. They are fairly heavy and made from mostly cotton, which is not ideal for hiking. On the other hand, they have a comfortable cut and a plethora of pockets, so that’s nice. But if you go on longer hikes or in wet conditions, they are not a good choice thanks to the cotton fabric. So keep them in your drawer if you need nice working pants, or pants for a quick afternoon hike. But for serious hiking, get a decent pair of hiking pants.

Can you wear jeans to a hike?

Jeans are nice to wear for work and relaxed walks. But if you go hiking, jeans have none of the options and features you want to see: They are heave, have not a lot of pockets, and the fabric is 100% cotton, which soaks wet and sucks in cold and wet conditions. They are also not very comfortable, nor do they have a lot of legroom or flexibility. If you want to go hiking, generally avoid jeans.

What are some good options for hiking pants?

So, hiking pants are important and should be selected well. You want something that breathes and has quick-drying material, but also a good amount of pockets. They should be warm when temperatures go down and have some zip-off legs at best. Some of the better hiking pants also have built-in sun protection or even keep insects away! The list below is a good overview of high-quality hiking pants.

Brand / ModelLegs StyleGender AvailabilityListPrice
Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Hiking PantsConvertibleM | F$60
prAna Stretch Zion PantsRoll-upM$85
REI Sahara Convertible Hiking PantsConvertibleM | F$70
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Convertible PantsConvertibleM | F$90
Kuhl Renegade Cargo Convertible PantsConvertibleM$99
REI Screeline Hiking PantsFull LengthM | F$80
Mountain Hardware AP PantsRoll-upM | F$90
Arc’teryx Palisade PantsFull-lengthM | F$159
Marmot Arch Rock PantsFull LengthM$75
Fjallraven Vidda Pro PantsFull LengthM | F$150

Related Questions

What are hiking pants made of?

Hiking pants and shorts are made of durable and quick-drying synthetic fabrics like spandex and nylon. The material is usually lightweight without a lot of bulk. They also give a good amount of insulation.

Are military boots good for hiking?

Most military boots are suitable for hiking. They might not be the most comfortable hiking boots, but they give good support for your ankle and are durable and water-resistant while not too expensive. Keep in mind: Some military boots that are made for desert combat might not work well in cold and wet conditions!

Can I wear leggings for hiking?

Hiking leggings and tights are the most comfortable pants to wear when hiking. But if you go hiking in cold or mixed weather, leggings are not good options to wear as an outer layer, as insulation is usually not good nor do they repel water very effectively. They are perfect to wear as base layers, though!