Traditional pants or the snug fit of leggings our list of the best hiking pants for women will have something for you, along with essential advice on what to look for when buying
I lost track of the number of women I saw hiking in leggings this past weekend. For most casual hikers, leggings have replaced hiking pants. But what about for a serious, multiple-day trek? Can leggings really stand up to traditional hiking pants? Both hiking tights and hiking pants have specific strengths, and the best hiking pants for women should be as stylish as they are comfortable, durable and weather resistant.
If you’re not sure which are for you, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article you learn about the following:
- Hiking pants vs hiking leggings
- What to look for in a great pair of hiking pants or leggings
- Design features of the best hiking pants for women
- The 5 best hiking pants for women
- The 5 best hiking leggings and tights for women
But before you get stuck in, here’s a quick overview of what your options are:
|Product||Type||Best suited to||Cost|
|prAna Halle Pant||Roll-up pants||Three season hiking and climbing||$$|
|Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants||Full length pants||Three season hiking||$$|
|Jack Wolfskin Activate Pants||Full length pants||Three season hiking and climbing||$$|
|Columbia Saturday Trail II Convertible Pant||Convertible pants||Summer hiking||$|
|Norrona Falketind Flex1 Soft-Shell Pants||Full length pants||Winter hiking and mountaineering||$$$$$$|
|The North Face Hybrid Hiker Tights||Leggings||Three season hiking and climbing||$$|
|Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights||Leggings||Three season hiking||$$$$$|
|Patagonia Pack Out Tights||Leggings||Three season hiking and climbing||$$|
|Arc’teryx Stride Tight||Leggings||Three season hiking||$$$|
|Smartwool PhD Tights||Leggings/base layer||Year round hiking (including use as base layer)||$$$|
Hiking pants vs hiking leggings
Traditional hiking pants have long been a staple of outdoor gear because they are made from durable material that can stand up to rough conditions on the trail. If you do any off-trail hiking in bushes or briars, full-length hiking pants will give you more protection from stickers than leggings. Hiking pants generally have multiple pockets and often convert to shorts or capris for especially warm days.
Hiking leggings and tights, on the other hand, are more comfortable than most hiking pants and can double as a base layer in cold weather. If the weather is warm, leggings are easy to roll up, although they do not generally completely convert to shorts or capris. Sizing is more forgiving with leggings, although some hikers are not comfortable with how form fitting they are. Hiking tights give more freedom of movement than hiking pants but are less durable and have fewer pockets. In wet conditions, most leggings can’t compare with proper pants as they tend to take much longer to dry. That said, it’s much easier to pop a pair of waterproof pants over the top of leggings. Another disadvantage to leggings and tights is that the fabric is sometimes so thin that they do not provide adequate protection from mosquitoes.
What to look for in a great pair of hiking pants or leggings
Whether you are looking for a new pair of hiking pants or wanting to try out hiking tights this season, you will want to consider multiple factors: weight, material, breathability, and waterproofing.
The weight of your hiking pants or tights will depend upon the weather conditions and season you are hiking in, as well as the terrain.
For summer hiking, the lightweight fabric of Columbia’s Women’s Saturday Trail Pants and Outdoor Research’s Ferrosi Pants make them a great choice for staying cool in.
However, if you want something more suited to cold, snowy conditions the Norrona Falketind Flex1 Soft-Shell Pants will keep you warm dry. Or you could opt for Smartwool’s PhD Tights. They are the only wool option on our list, making them our top choice for a tight that can double as a base layer.
The best hiking pants are also quick drying. It’s likely that you won’t put on waterproof pants each time there is a tiny rain shower. So your hiking pants or tights should be able to deal with that moisture quickly to avoid chafing and heaviness.
All hiking tights and leggings will be stretchy and will move easily with your body. And although not as form fitting as leggings, traditional hiking pants should also have a degree of stretchiness to them to ensure maximum comfort levels and zero movement restriction. Look for fabrics blended with spandex or elastane.
Breathability is exceptionally important feature of hiking pants and applicable to hiking in both hot and cold conditions. Whilst it’s mostly a matter of comfort when hiking in hot conditions, in the cold it can be a little more serious. Sweat that cools and stays on your skin can lead to dips in body temperature that can be hard to raise again. So if you tend to sweat a lot, opt for something that does a good job at transferring moisture away from your body. The most breathable options on our list are the Norrona Falketind Flex1 Soft-Shell Pants and the Stride Tight from Arc’teryx. The North Face Hybrid Hiker Tights is also very good at wicking moisture away from your skin and dry in record time.
Fair weather hikers may want to opt for something that converts to shorts instead. Columbia’s Women’s Saturday Trail Pants zip off at the knee and are an ideal option for hot days and cool evenings, or for when the mozzies come out late in the day.
03Water and wind resistance
Most hiking pants are not waterproof. For full protection against the rain you’ll need to wear waterproof rain pants over the top of your hiking pants or tights. However, the best hiking pants for women should have a degree of water and wind resistance that will be able to withstand light showers and moderate wind. There are a couple of options on are list that offer really decent water resistance: Jack Wolfskin’s Activate Pants and the Norrona Falketind Flex1 Soft-Shell Pants. These are ideal for hiking in light rain and when hiking through snow, but will struggle a little when it comes to prolonged heavy rainfall.
Design features of the best hiking pants for women
If you like having easy access to small things then having a couple of pockets is key. Zips are always useful to prevent things from falling out, and cargo pockets all for more hefty items to be carried without discomfort.
Hiking pants with a couple extra seams at the knees allows greater levels of comfort when bending your knees. This is especially important when climbing and scrambling, but also when crouching down.
The extra piece of material in the crotch of hiking pants eliminates an uncomfortable seam and also adds durability in an area of high stress – you’re less likely to split your pants at the crotch!
Having a comfortable waist band is really important. Choose something that sits in a position you are used to (some people prefer low rise to high waists etc), but also look for soft fabrics on the inside as well as width in the band itself.
Although wearing a belt can be uncomfortable for some, having belt loops makes your pants much more customisable. They also provide a place to clip small items to.
Some pants have buttons or fasteners that allow you to roll up your hiking pants when hiking in warmer conditions. Having this option immediately makes your pants more versatile.
Reinforced cuffs and knees
Some pants have an added layer of tough fabric in the knee or cuff area – the places that get the most wear and tear. This can seriously lengthen the life of your pants. So if durability is important you may want to look for this feature.
Cuff drawcord or fastener
A draw cord or fastener at the cuff can be used to roll your pants up and hold them there. It’s also useful when hiking in snow to prevent the snow from creeping up your legs, or indeed in windy weather. Need more airflow? Just loosen the cuffs right out.
The 5 best hiking pants for women
Now you know what features the best hiking pants for women should have, all that’s left is to figure out which of this fabulous selection is best suited to you and your hiking adventures.
If you know you want hiking leggings or tights instead of traditional pants, you can skip to the best hiking leggings and tights section. Otherwise, read on for all your options:
The Halle pant from prAna comes in eight colors and looks like a casual slack. For all the pants that claim to work both on and off the trail, this pair actually does. With a dress shirt or sweater, there would be very little to suggest these are hiking pants at all. That’s not to say they won’t work on the trail, though. The Halle includes some of the best features hiking pants have to offer: water-repellent fabric, reinforced knees, a hidden zipper pocket and the option to roll up the legs.
- Dressy enough to wear off the trail
- Durable and water resistant
- Multiple pockets, including a hidden zipper pocket
- Not very breathable
- Special sizing, which makes ordering online more difficult
If you want a pair of hiking pants with a relaxed fit, Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants are both soft and loose fitting. A draw cord at the ankle allows you to adjust the length or the width when you need a snug fit. The pants are made from a ripstop material making them super tough and durable, providing excellent wind protection without added weight. Although the material is not very breathable, the cut of the legs is loose enough to allow airflow around your legs.
- Loose fitting
- Lightweight, wind-resistant material
- 5 pockets
- Fabric is not very breathable
- Sizing runs long
Jack Wolfskin Activate Pants are designed to be comfortable and stay in place during the most strenuous physical activity. One especially thoughtful feature is a waistband that is slightly raised in the back, something anyone who has ever dealt with pants slipping down during climbing or under a pack can appreciate. Each of the three pockets zippers closes to keep your phone, keys, or anything else secure during your hike, and the breathable, softshell fabric is both comfortable and water resistant.
- Water- and wind-resistant material
- Slightly raised waistband
- Zippered pockets
- Pockets, though zippered, are very thin
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Convertible hiking pants, like Columbia’s Saturday Trail II Convertible Pants give you the option of both hiking shorts (10-inch inseam) and full-length pants. The bottom hem of the pants also includes a draw cord for times when you want the pants to stay put. They make especially great hiking pants for multi-day or muddy hiking trips because they dry quickly and are easy to wash with just water. Although the colors are all relatively muted, there are seven different colors to choose from.
- Fabric includes SPF protection
- Can be worn as shorts or pants
- Deep front pockets
- Tight around the thighs for some
- Not very breathable
One of the best options on our list for climbing and hiking in snow and winter weather are the Norrona Falketind Flex1 Soft-Shell Pants. They have a slim fit that won’t bunch under climbing gear, ankle straps to keep snow out, and gaiter hooks to hold your boot laces in. An adjustable waist with belt loops means you can wear a belt or not – whichever you prefer. These pants are truly designed to keep you warm and dry while allowing a full range of movement. They are also the most expensive hiking pants on our list.
- Fabric is both stretchy and breathable
- Water- and wind-resistant
- Allow a full range of movement
The 5 best hiking tights and leggings for women
Combining the best parts of leggings and running tights, The North Face Hybrid Hiker Tights are a durable alternative to traditional leggings. A wide waistband is more comfortable on the trail and lays flat underneath your hip strap, while gusseted seams add strength and reduce chafing at the crotch and inseam. As with most leggings, you won’t find many places to stash a phone or personal items, but there is a single, zippered pocket on the inside of one pant leg.
- Moisture-wicking fabric dries quickly
- More durable than most leggings
- Can gape at the back for hikers with a curvy shape
- A bit warm for summer hiking
The Abisko Trekking Tights from Fjallraven are a high-end option for a hiker looking for the comfort of tights with all the extras that set hiking pants apart: multiple pockets, reinforced knees, and extra durable fabric. One feature that hikers either love or hate is waterproof fabric swatches at the knee and bottom areas. Because the waterproof fabric is a contrasting color to the rest of the tights, it is very noticeable. If that is an issue for you, the black Abisko Trekking Tights are all one color. If you don’t mind the contrasting colors, there are four other colors to choose from in addition to black.
- Multiple pockets
- Sturdy but flexible
- Designed specifically for hiking
- Contrasting panels draw attention to the knees and backside
Patagonia’s Pack Out Tights are made from a thicker material than most active tights, so they are more flattering than some hiking tights and will stand up better to snags and scrapes. The mid-rise waistband won’t slip when you bend or stretch. In addition to a zippered pocket on the inside, each leg has an open exterior pocket perfect for slipping essentials in and out quickly. The snug (but not too tight) fit is a middle ground between form-fitting leggings and looser hiking pants.
- Lining is very soft
- Not too tight
- Not as durable as hiking pants
If you are looking for a simpler hiking tight that is closer to a traditional legging, the Stride Tight from Arc’teryx is a great option. A zipper opening at the ankle gives you the option to loosen up the bottom for more airflow, or if you plan to do mostly summer hiking, you can opt for the 3/4-length Stride Tight instead. Specially designed seams along the pant leg allow comfortable stretch and also provide a very flattering fit. The drawstring waist gives some flexibility when it comes to sizing, but also makes sure you won’t have a gap in the back when you bend over.
- Simple, flattering cut
- Zippered ankle or 3/4-length option
- Lightweight fabric is not as durable as other hiking tights
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Smartwool’s PhD Tights give you the warmth of absorbent wool and the comfort of a soft legging. Merino wool is warm, moisture wicking, and naturally resistant to odors. For multiple-day trips, wool makes a great material for a base layer as well. These tights have a nylon exterior to improve their water resistance and robustness against snagging. Although they are short on pockets compared with the Fjallraven leggings, there is a small pocket in the back for your keys and a side pocket for larger items.
- Keep shape after multiple days
- Warm, moisture-wicking wool
- Naturally odor resistant
- Only 2 pockets
- Hot in summer weather
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Hiking leggings and tights are a combination of the comfort women love in yoga pants and leggings and the durability of hiking pants. On the other hand, some ladies prefer hiking in pants with a looser fit and more durable material. Whether you want a pair of pants that can stand up to anything or leggings that can double as a base layer, one of the hiking bottoms on our list is sure to fit your needs this season.