Rare is the woman who has the body that the clothing manufacturers have in mind when they are making pants.
We each have our “thing” that disqualifies us from buying pants off the rack, whether it be a high hip-to-waist ratio, no hip-to-waist ratio, short legs, long legs, flat butt, round butt, potbelly, chicken legs, ad infinitum. And we have likely struggled with this “thing” since those awkward teenage years when our bodies began to assume their adult positions, and it has likely made pants buying a real pain in the uniquely-shaped butt.
For me, it’s been my leg length. Everyone has always commented on how lucky I am to have long legs, but these people have never been pants shopping with me. My legs have been a thorn in my side since before middle school, pants being the main reason. Jeans, specifically. I learned I could hide my “floods” by tucking them in to tall boots, and in California I could get away with shorts, skirts, or capris for a good portion of the year, but I always dreaded going jeans shopping, filling the dressing room with dozens of too-short pants, usually going home empty-handed and feeling like a circus freak. Nowadays there are more companies making longs and extra longs, but even then it can be rough.
I have many friends who have fantastically curvy curves, tiny waists and globe-like million-squat glutes, who wind up with that loose extra-fabric thing pooching oddly at the small of their back. Or my more linear friends who do better in men’s pants because they just don’t have the curves for women’s. My short-legged friends complain about having to hem, and I offer to take their extra and attach it to mine. My lifter friends lament that their quads don’t fit the pants that fit their waists.
I don’t know what your “thing” is but I know you have one, because we all do, and here it is again invading our happy place in the form of hiking pants.
Easy answer: leggings.
But there are days when you need a heavier pant, either because of cold weather or the terrain you’ll be traveling in, so…enter the hiking pant.
So many choices here, but basically you want something comfortable and durable, and pockets are a bonus. For summer some prefer a convertible pant (zip the legs off mid-thigh for shorts), for winter something with a little thickness while still being breathable is ideal. I’m a huge fan of the REI Women’s Activator pant, and wear them practically year-round aside from the blazing hot shorts days when I’m not going to be too high up. They are weather resistant—not quite waterproof but not absorbent—and breathable, with many pockets, and durable enough that for all the scrambling and kicking myself with my own spikes have never torn, and I’ve had them for two years. And—this was the final yay for me—the Long is actually long enough.
What To Look For
- Durability: while tights/leggings are comfortable and likely something you already own, consider your terrain—if you are going to be scrambling or sitting on rock or moving through brushy areas, thin fabric is likely to get easily snagged and torn
- Fast Drying: whether from sweat or rain, river crossings or sitting on snow, chances are good your pants might get a little damp. A quick-drying synthetic will have you comfortable in no time flat, which is why cotton is an ill-advised choice
- Flexibility: one of several reasons to not wear jeans, you want a pant that will move with you, not chafe, not ride up, not need hitching up, and that you won’t think about when you’re reaching for the next boulder or leaping across a stream
- As with the rest of your outdoor clothing, not cotton. That means no denim. Not only does hiking in jeans sound uncomfortable and annoying, but if there was even a light rain, there you are in heavy wet pants.
- Polyester, often with a DWR finish for added weather resistance
- Spandex for stretchiness, usually blended with something to give it added breathability
- Supplex is a taslanated (woven) nylon that is becoming very popular. Lightweight and strong and dries quickly
- Hemp and bamboo are some up-and-coming natural choices
- A waistband/closures that don’t rub under your pack
- Lots of pockets for phone, snacks, lip balm, etc
- Convertible/zip to shorts
Some Of Our Tried-And-True Basic Favorites
- First Life Alturas Guide
- Columbia Saturday Trail pants
- Athleta Women’s Trekkie
- Patagonia Quandary convertible
- Prana Halle (for many body types)
For Curvy Girls
- Quechua Warm Snow Hiking Trousers
- Patagonia Snowbelle pants
- Arc’teryx Sigma AR
- Coalatree Trailhead pants
For Plus Size
- LL Bean Women’s Vista Camp pants
- REI Taereen pants
- Aphrodite 2.0 Motion Water Repellent pants
- Columbia Saturday Knee pants
For Tall Girls
- Lululemon Wunder-Under Yoga pants
- REI Activator pants in tall sizes
- Eddie Bauer Guide pants
- Prana Halle Roll-up in tall sizes
- Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch Capris
- Outdoor Research Ferrosi pant
- REI Sahara convertible pants
- REI Rhyolite pants
Wendy Harrington is a California native who has lived in a small town at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state since 2001. Her love of trail running and peakbagging has led her to summit all five Washington volcanoes, climb to the high points of three states, and put nearly a thousand miles a year on her boots. Her loves include ridgelines, saddles, granite, one-day pushes on big mountains, anything volcanic, long solo days, and objectives that push limits and test endurance.