Leggings have come a long way in women’s fashion. What used to be considered an undergarment is now proudly worn in any pattern you can imagine and is generally accepted everywhere from the gym to dinner out. There are a lot of benefits of leggings, and the best part about them is that they are so versatile.
No clothing item would be this popular if it weren’t at least a little bit comfortable, and leggings rule the fashion world when it comes to comfort. When it comes to hitting the trail, the best hiking leggings are the ones that will provide insulation, warmth, and durability.
You can wear your leggings as a base layer beneath jeans or snow pants for cold outdoor activities, or wear the leggings themselves as workout pants that keep your entire leg protected from chilly temperatures and wind. Not all leggings are created equal, however.
While you might be the athletic and outdoorsy type and don’t care about fashion in the least, leggings are a popular wardrobe item and can come in luxury materials like leather for dressy situations. The good news is that leggings also make fantastic leg coverings for running and hiking in cooler weather; not to mention other outdoors activities like climbing and indoor athletic pursuits like weight lifting and yoga.
Design Features of Leggings
Leggings vary widely in their design. The material that a particular pair of leggings is made out of matters because different fiber types offer different properties to the leggings. Leggings with a cotton blend are going to be softer than pure polyester leggings, but they are also less effective at wicking away moisture and sweat.
As for workout clothing or especially a base layer, moisture wicking properties are really important. Casual hikes and lounging at home will take to cotton just fine, however. Some leggings incorporate Spandex into their fabric blends. Spandex is a polyester-polyurethane blend that is known for its strength and especially its elasticity.
For sports that require lots of stretching and bending such as climbing and yoga, this is a great feature to have. Some leggings have a “four way stretch” feature, which means that the fabric can stretch both lengthwise and crosswise. Such fabric is more tear resistant and will retain its shape better without stretching out as much as a fabric that only stretches “two ways”.
Leggings that are designed for insulation can be made of polyester fleece, or simply lined with fleece. Fleece provides just about the best insulation that you’re going to get in a pair of leggings, and fleece lined leggings are surprisingly warm for being leggings.
Fleece lined leggings do well on the trail, and are also great for daily life insulation. They can even be worn underneath other pairs of leggings! One precaution when buying fleece lined leggings is that sometimes they don’t have the four way stretch feature, so they can feel restrictive during certain activities.
When purchasing leggings, make sure you take a look at the size chart. Legging sizes can vary widely between manufacturers. Yes, they’re stretchy which makes fitting a little more flexible, but you still want leggings that fit for maximum comfort and performance.
You can buy leggings in different lengths, as well, including leggings with stirrups, capri length leggings, and ankle length leggings.
Another feature to think about is the waistband. Many women prefer leggings with a higher waistband because it is more comfortable—no elastic band tightening around your lower belly, and they’re less likely to be tugged down. Some leggings have a foldable waistband so you can wear them as low rise or higher waist depending on your preference.
Another comfort feature that some designers incorporate into leggings is flattened seams to help reduce chafing. Friction can be a huge pain, especially for repetitive motion activities like cycling, running, and hiking. The flattened seam increases the surface area at the seams, which helps reduce friction and rubbing at those troublesome spots.
For backpacking, when you are going days at a time without the ability to wash your leggings, having a pair on hand that is a synthetic, cotton-less blend with four way stretch is a good idea. Cotton and its moisture retaining properties can contribute to you smelling bad at best, and hypothermia at worst. A stretchy material will retain its shape even with continuous daily use.
If you have the pack space, it can be a nice luxury to carry a pair of leggings that gets worn only when you set up camp at night and you sleep in them. They’ll feel at least a little cleaner than your daily use leggings and even that small luxury helps you feel refreshed at camp.
Now that you have an idea of some of the things to consider when choosing which leggings to use for all of your outdoor endeavors, we have compiled a list of some great leggings and the best way to use them.
Top Products on the Market
Weight: 5 ounces
Sizes: Small through Extra Large
Special Features: Chafe-resistant seams, double layer of fabric
Best Use: Hiking, trail running in the winter; layer for beneath outerwear
The Champion Duofold Leggings are designed for comfort and their wicking ability. There are several different designs in the Duofold collection, and the mid-weight wicking thermal leggings are the lightest of the collection.
They are designed with a double layer of fabric for staying warm in cold weather and are manufactured from 60 percent cotton and 40 percent polyester. The addition of polyester into this blend helps with wicking moisture away from the skin, which is essential for staying warm.
The soft cotton in the blend helps ensure that you will be comfortable in these leggings wearing them either on their own or as a layer underneath outerwear. Also incorporated into the Duofold wicking leggings design is a few more comfort features: no tags and no-chafe flatlock seams to reduce rubbing on the inner thighs where you get chafing with a lot of leggings. These leggings are versatile enough to be worn beneath jeans or on their own for sleeping or exercise in mild winter temperatures.
Weight: 5 ounces
Sizes: Extra small through extra large
Special Features: Synthetic blend of fabrics; wicking technology; four-way stretch
Best Use: Base layer
The 32Degrees Leggings are another great base layer leggings to have on hand. They are mid-rise, which is great for exercise and the fact that they rise higher than many pants waistbands to reduce bunching up around the waistband. They are made of a synthetic blend of 37 percent acrylic, 34 percent polyester, 25 percent rayon, and 4 percent Spandex.
This blend of synthetic fibers helps give the leggings a four-way stretch, perfect for climbing, yoga or other activities that require lots of flexible movement. The 32Degrees leggings are also designed for anti-odor and anti-static properties and are machine washable. In addition to being a good base layer, these leggings are also designed to be stylish enough to be worn with a tunic or dress.
This is awesome for outdoorsy ladies who need to dress up on occasion, because we all know comfort is key.
Weight: 5 ounces
Special Features: Hollow core fibers
Best Use: Base layer for winter activities
The GV2 Aero Compression Underwear is often sold as a set with a matching top, but you can also buy the leggings by themselves. The Aero leggings are 92 percent polyester and 8 percent polyurethane, and the fabric is designed with hollow core fibers to improve insulation. Like the 32Degrees leggings, the Aero leggings have sweat wicking properties and are designed to dry quickly.
The compression properties, as well as the moisture wicking, makes the Aero leggings a good choice as a base layer for winter activities that get you sweaty, such as skiing or snowshoeing. They can also be used for cold weather hiking and running. Compression gear is often worn by athletes because it is believed that keeping the muscles warm helps to prevent injury such as strain in the muscles.
Weight: 5 ounces
Sizes: Small (88-128 pounds in body weight) to Extra Large (128-150 pounds in body weight)
Special Features: Flatlock chafe-resistant seams
Best Use: Yoga, hiking, running, day-to-day wear
The Matymats Ankle Leggings are designed as workout leggings for mild weather. These aren’t as insulated as some of the other leggings available, but they are perfect for spring and fall hikes, runs and climbs. These pants have a colored waistband that can be either rolled down for a low rise look or rolled higher. The ability to have a higher waistband when desired is great for yoga and climbing where you are bending and want better coverage around the waist.
The fabric is a blend of 92 percent nylon and 8 percent Spandex for wicking properties and breathability. Like the Duofold leggings, the Matymats leggings are designed with flatlock seams to help prevent chafing caused by stitching along the seams. The four way stretch allows the leggings to maintain their shape no matter how bend you get while wearing them. Another great feature of these leggings is that they are soft and also stylish enough to wear for non-workout related activities.
Weight: 5 ounces
Special Features: Side panel is color contrasted
Best Use: Cycling, hiking, running
The Xpril Cycling Leggings come in a dozen different color combinations and are a great way to jazz up your workout clothing wardrobe. They are made of 92 percent polyester and 8 percent Spandex for stretch and the ability to retain their shape after the stretching. One thing to note for cycling is that it is a good idea to choose a pair of leggings that are designed so that the seams won’t chafe your legs, particularly your inner thigh.
Any activity with repetitive movement, from walking to cycling, is much more comfortable when your gear is as anti-friction as possible. The Xpril leggings are full length so the bottoms won’t restrict blood flow in your calves, which can occur with leggings that are too short. One thing to note is that while most of the leggings featured in this review are machine washable, the Xpril leggings must be hand washed and hung to dry for best quality.
Weight: 5 ounces
Sizes: Small through XXX Large
Special Features: The cotton blend makes these leggings comfortable for lounging
Best Use: Yoga, hiking in mild weather
The Gilberry Yoga Pants are made of a very thin cotton blend. They’re a very affordable choice if you are looking to see if you like the feel of wearing leggings, but they don’t have the performance properties that many of the other leggings included in this review have. These leggings are hand washable only, and do not do as good of a job wicking moisture as some of the other leggings you can buy.
One great benefit of them is their comfort. These leggings are a good choice for wearing to bed or around the house for maximum comfort! While they do not make a very good base layer and won’t do too much to protect you from the cold, they are an affordable addition to your wardrobe to be used for short hikes and runs in mild weather.
Weight: 5.6 ounces
Sizes: Small through Extra Large
Special Features: Side splits where leg opens
Best Use: Base layer in cold and rainy weather
The Columbia Glacial Leggings are 100 percent polyester microfleece! If you have never tried fleece leggings, you are in for a serious treat if you live anywhere where the temperature dips below 40. Fleece leggings can be worn underneath jeans, sweatpants or other outerwear for improved insulation and comfort.
One downfall of the Glacial leggings is that they do not have very much stretch in them compared with some of the other leggings included in this review, so some people find them uncomfortable for activities like yoga and climbing where flexibility is needed. Also, the fleece is on the outside so some women prefer the look of smoother material to wear with tunics and dresses. If, however, you need a great insulating base layer for beneath jeans and pants in day to day use and hikes, the Glacial fleece leggings are the way to go.
Weight: 5 ounces
Sizes: Extra small through Extra large
Special Features: Flatlock seams to reduce chafing; dual-layer EVO construction
Best Use: Insulation, hiking, running in chilly weather
The Under Armour EVO CGI Leggings are on the more expensive end of the leggings we have included in this review, but they utilize some unique technology that the other leggings we have covered do not use. The CGI stands for Cold Gear Infrared, which is part of Under Armour’s signature Cold Gear collection. This means that the leggings are manufactured using a thermo-conductive coating on the inside of the leggings to help conserve body heat.
These leggings also employ moisture-wicking technology to help keep you dry and warm. However, these leggings will only insulate you on their own up to a certain point—fleece is the better choice for insulation. One pro of the Under Armour leggings is that the material is very smooth and is unlikely to snag on vegetation and thorns as much as some of the other fabrics might.
These sporty leggings are a good choice for running and hiking in cooler weather because they are less likely to get caught on plants and rip. Under Armour does make some leggings and top base layer products that are better at insulating; the Base 3.0 and Base 4.0 made by Under Armour are excellent insulators.
Get your legs hiking
Leggings are pretty much a workout gear staple, and they also have their place on the trail both as an insulating base layer and as versatile, comfortable pants. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from, but they vary widely in their design, purpose and price range.
Just remember to check the sizing chart before you order any leggings since so many of them fit differently. Leggings are a great accessory to keep you warm and comfortable on the trail! If you have discovered the ultimate leggings that we did not include in our review, please tell us about them in the comments!