OUTDOORS

Best Backpacking Pants: Looking for the Top Outdoor Apparel

Blue hiking pants
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

Considering the best backpacking pants, the first things that come to mind are the comfort, ease of movement, quick-drying, convertible, and warm or cool depending on the climate. A lot of us probably have our favorite pants that we cling to maybe because they are broken in, or we have some emotional attachment because we wore them on an epic hike, or we like the pockets or some other feature.

A lot of us probably haven’t even considered backpacking pants; we just wear what we wear. As we will discover today, there are some features that are must haves and then some optional things that would be useful as well. The technology of outdoor apparel has advanced tremendously and there are backpacking pants out there that will knock your socks off. Let’s take a look.

Fly by the Seat of Your Pants: Pant Features

Before we get to the pants themselves we will review some common terms and details that will cross all brands of pants. We will look at fabric, fit, design features and layers.

Pants brown snow

Fabric

As you can imagine there are a lot of fabrics available for outdoor clothing. Backpacking pants in particular need to be lightweight, waterproof/water repellant, wind and abrasion resistant and durable.

There are also some fabrics that have a UV protection built in. This is particularly important if you are hiking in the desert or high sun conditions. Things that add to UV protection are the tightness of the weave, dyes (not color), and the actual fiber of the fabric (ex. Polyester and nylon are very reflective).

  • Denier: a measurement of the fiber thickness of individual threads which in turn is used to make the fabric. The higher the denier, the stronger and heavier the fabric
  • DWR: durable water repellant; fabrics can be treated with DWR to make them water repellant/waterproof
  • Sealed seams: Once the garment is made, the seams are sealed with an appropriate DWR to make sure the seams do not leak moisture
  • Estane: Actually this is an engineering polymer. As it applies to outdoor apparel, it has many benefits such as flexibility, abrasion resistant, repels moisture, and acts as a barrier. These are all excellent benefits for outdoor wear.
  • Spandex/Elastane: Most of us are familiar with this term, but just in case…it is a very elastic fabric that will stretch. It is a synthetic fiber that is stronger than rubber and very durable. This fabric is found in a variety of sportswear.

Fit

How your pants fit is important. Not only do you want to be comfortable you don’t want any issues. If you get the pants too baggy, you have to deal with extra fabric flapping around that can become annoying. If you get them too tight you may experience chafing on the thighs. The best bet is to try them on and move around in them a bit to make sure you have a good fit. Areas to take note of are the waist, crotch, thighs, knees, and length.

  • Slim/Trim Fit: This is a form fitting design that is usually snug from the thighs to the calves, or very narrow legs that are tighter fitting.
  • Regular Fit: This is a traditional fit. It is neither tight nor loose. They fit just right.
  • Loose Fit: This is a design that gives more room in the hips and thighs and will appear to be baggy. Perfect for a hard shell layer that will go over the top of a base layer.

Design Features

  • Convertible: Simple put, the lower legs of the pants will zip off and convert the long pants into short pants. This type of flexibility is nice when backpacking in warmer climates where shorts sometimes fit the bill. It also helps with keeping your load lighter by packing dual purpose pants.
  • Adjustable waist: There is a system in the waist that will allow you to fine tune the fit. It could be buttons, Velcro or snaps.
  • Gusset: a triangular or diamond-shaped piece of fabric added to a seam to reduce stress in tight-fitting clothing. It can be added at the knees, crotch, arms, hems, pockets, etc.
  • Articulated knees: There are darts sewn around the front portion of the knee that give the pant leg more mobility and flexibility.
  • Instep strap: A strap that will hold your pant legs down. It goes from the hem down under the boot/shoe. You see this usually on gaiters, but some backpacking pants have this feature.

Hiking Pants Leg Zip

Layers

  • Base layer: Think of the old fashioned “long johns”. The base layer is basically underwear, meaning it is something you wear under another layer. It needs to be moisture wicking so it will carry the moisture away from your body. Some of the best fabrics for this layer are synthetics, Merino wool, and silk. Backpacking pants are not just a base layer, but you may wear a base layer under them especially if it is cold outside.
  • Soft shell: This layer is typically a stretchy woven fabric made of polyester or nylon. It has a DWR coating so it is water, wind and abrasion resistant. This is that category that most of the backpacking pants fall into.
  • Hard shell: This is a woven fabric that is laminated to a waterproof layer. A well-known name for this type of fabric is Gore-Tex. This layer gives the most protection from the weather. This layer is waterproof, windproof, yet very breathable. Typically this layer is worn over a base layer.

man-hiking-on-hill

Looking Like a Fool with Your Pants on the Ground: The Pants Themselves

The North Face Men’s Resolve Pant

Sizes: XS-3XL The North Face Men's Resolve Pant

Best Use: Hard shell

Weight: 12.7 oz

Waist Closure: Elastic with drawstring

Fabric: 70-denier ripstop nylon; HyVent™ mesh knit lining

Waterproof: Yes, seam sealed

Pockets: 2 hand pockets

Ankle Gussets: Zippered with adjustable Velcro ankle tabs

Warranty: Lifetime

Description: The Resolve Pant is a perfect hard shell, especially in foul weather. They are waterproof with sealed seams and a mesh lining. The lightweight fabric is breathable, yet keeps moisture out. This fabric helps to regulate body temperature.

The legs have both a zippered ankle gusset and a Velcro ankle tab. This means you can zip these pants up to allow for more airflow and breathability. You can also roll them up to your knees and use the Velcro tabs to secure them in place. Conversely, if you want to keep moisture out you can tighten the legs around the ankles by tightening the Velcro tabs.

These pants have a loose fit and can be easily pulled over jeans or other pants to protect from moisture. They can be worn over a base layer or worn by themselves. They are so lightweight they roll up into their own little pouch.

Check the price on Amazon

Outdoor Research Prusik Pant

Sizes: 30-38 inch waist Outdoor research prusik

Best Use: Mountaineering

Weight: 15.2 oz

Waist Closure: Snap waistband with zipper

Fabric: Cordura®, 73% nylon, 23% polyester, 4% elastane 160-denier stretch double weave

Waterproof: Water and wind resistant

Pockets: zippered hand, thigh and back pockets

Ankle Gussets: Ankle draw cord, instep strap

Warranty: Infinite guarantee

Description: The Prusik soft shell pants are made strong and durable for the mountaineer. With a mix of nylon, polyester, and Elastane, these pants will flex when you flex. The fabric is light to medium weight. The stretch double-weave gives it durability and abrasion resistance.

The ankles on these pant legs have a drawcord to tighten around the ankle. The cords can also be used as instep straps to keep your pants legs from riding up. These pants also have a nice selection of pockets with a zippered hand pocket to keep any valuables safe.

They are tailored for a trim fit. They feature articulated knees and a gusset crotch for ease of movement. There are no side zippers to open up the legs for venting. The belt loops can accommodate a belt or can be used for attaching other items.

Check the price on Amazon

prAna Stretch Zion Convertible

Sizes: 28-40 inch waist PRANA STRETCH ZION CONVERTIBLE

Best Use: Mountaineering

Weight: 17 oz

Waist Closure: Button waistband with zipper; adjustable

Fabric: Stretch Zion, 97% Nylon, 3% Spandex

Waterproof: Water and abrasion resistant

Pockets: Hand pockets, Velcro thigh pockets, back pockets

Ankle Gussets: None

Warranty: Full warranty

Description: This pair of backpacking pants is made from stretch Zion fabric that was developed by prAna. It is a blend of nylon and Spandex. It has a 4-way stretch, is water repellent (DWR coated), abrasion resistant, quick drying and offers UV protection.

This soft shell pant is convertible pant with a 12” inseam which would hit the average person right above the knee. They also have a ventilated inseam gusset. The rear pant legs have a “mud flap” feature where the heel cuffs are reinforced. There is a vertical zipper at the cuff to make them easier to get on and off without having to remove your boots or shoes. There are plenty of nice pockets. The two thigh pockets are pleated so they have more capacity.

The Stretch Zion’s are a regular fitting pant with a classic look. The waistband has a button and zipper closure and belt loops. A belt is not necessary since the waist is adjustable for a better fit.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountain Hardwear AP Pants

Sizes: 28-42 inch waist Mountain hardwear ap pants

Best Use: All-Day

Weight: 7.2 oz

Waist Closure: Button waistband with zipper

Fabric: Blended canvas, 75% cotton, 23% nylon, 2% Estane

Waterproof: Water and abrasion resistant

Pockets: Front cell pocket, Hand pockets, zippered back pockets

Ankle Gussets: Rollup feature with snap closures

Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty

Description: This pair of soft shell pants is constructed from a blended canvas fabric with a combination of cotton, nylon, and Estane. Mountain Hardwear AP Pants offer durability and stretch. Noted by Mountain Hardware these are “all day” pants, which is better suited to straight backpacking and not so much for the rock climbing, mountaineering type backpacking.

Articulated knees are a great feature on this pant. It allows for more flexibility and freedom of movement. The ankle design is a straight leg with a roll-up feature that allows you to shorten the pants for fording a stream or ventilation. The pant legs are secured with snaps so they will not unroll. A differentiating feature is reflective hits. These will give you a small bit of reflection if riding a bike or jogging at night for example. Another feature is an inside mesh on crotch which aids in ventilation.

These pants are a regular fit but reviewers state they run a bit small. They have a classic look. The back pockets have zippered closures. There is a cell phone pocket on the thigh and two hand pockets. The waist has belt loops.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountain Khakis Camber 104 Hybrid Pant

Sizes: 30-44 inch waist Mountain Khakis Camber 104

Best Use: Mountaineering

Weight: 16.8 oz

Waist Closure: Button waistband with zipper

Fabric: 55% cotton, 33% nylon, 2% Spandex

Waterproof: Water and wind resistant

Pockets: 7 pockets; hand, back, zippered security pocket and cell phone pocket

Ankle Gussets: Rollup feature with snap closures

Warranty: Unknown; satisfaction guaranteed

Description: The Camber 104 Hybrid Pant is made from a blended fabric of cotton, nylon, and Spandex designed to be comfortable and durable with stretch. This performance blend is lightweight and wind resistant. These pants have triple-stitched seams for added durability.

The articulated knees and a diamond crotch gusset allow for better performance. The rear pant legs have the “mud flap” feature. There is a good set of pockets on this pant including a zippered thigh pocket and cell phone pocket. There are hand and rear pockets. The front pockets have stylish snap rivet trim that also reinforces the pockets.

These soft shell pants have a regular fit and a classic style with straight legs, belt loops, zippered front and metal shank button. The waistband has a velvet lining for a softer feel. A bit of swag comes with this pair of pants, a bison bottle opener key ring.

Check the price on Amazon

Fjällräven Abisko Lite Trekking Trouser

Sizes: XS-3XL waist fjallraven-absiko-lite

Best Use: Trekking

Weight: 16.8 oz

Waist Closure: Button waistband with zipper

Fabric: G-1000®; 65% polyester, 35% cotton

Waterproof: Water, wind and abrasion resistant

Pockets: 7 pockets; hand, back, zippered security pocket and cell phone pocket

Ankle Gussets: Rollup feature with snap closures

Warranty: Limited Lifetime Warranty

Description: The Abisko Lite pants are unique in that they are made from G-1000® fabric which is a tight woven blend of cotton and polyester and then treated with Greenland wax. What you get is an extremely hardwearing, water-repellent, windproof, UV protecting and mosquito safe pair of pants.

Greenland Wax helps adjust G-1000® garments to meet climate demands. More wax will increase durability and resistance to the elements. Less wax will adjust the garment to be cooler and more breathable for arid, dry climates. Each garment comes with the easy instructions as to how to wax and wash the garments. This type of waterproofing is also sustainable and environmentally friendly as there are no chemicals, just natural beeswax, and paraffin.

This pair of pants has extra reinforcements on cuffs and strap adjustments at the hems. There is heavy duty fabric on inner calves for durability against chaffing. This pant also has articulated knees. There are spacious thigh pockets with zippered closures and hand pockets.

The Abisko Lite has a regular fit and a classic style. The pants come in two-tone color design. The waist has a double button front with zipper and belt loops. This pant includes HDO Sport winter cap swag.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

Backpacking is a great sport. You get to enjoy the outdoors, see beautiful scenery, test your own endurance and strength and enjoy the special camaraderie of backpacking friends. It is a technical sport in that most avid backpackers know their equipment and know it well. They typically like to get the best of the best and trade information amongst the backpacker’s network of the world.

Equipment and products are continually designed and tested to come up with lighter weight, more durable, easier to use products. It is the same for backpacking pants.

Legs traveler close-up

We reviewed six of the best backpacking pants there are. There are many common features, but some have unique features that you may or may not find useful. Just like your boots and your pack, your pants need to fit just right.

You need to be able to flex and move and be protected from the wind, rain, and the sun, not to mention look good. Since sizes vary, it is suggested you try them on before you buy them or buy from a place that has a good return policy just in case they are too long or short, tight or loose, or don’t fit just right.

Whatever backpacking pants you choose, make sure they go backpacking!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Eugene Anderson

    My favorite are Prana’s pants.I mostly use them for outdoor activities like hiking and climbing. Everything about them is perfect and I can’t think of anything that can be improved. The stretch and adjustable waist are fantastic. They showed excellent durability. I don’t know much about the other pants described in this article, but until I try them, these would be number 1.

    • Dennis Owens

      Prana’s pants are great and they are really more useful with activities that require long walks and climbs where the fabric is often placed into frequent stretching. Overall, a great product!

  • George Lewis

    I buy only the products that are top in a class. I just bought my second pair of Mountain Hardwear pants, which doesn’t happen often. These pants have endless possibilities. I can go from hiking into a fancy restaurant and not feel that I’m out of place. I’ve worn them in a variety of weather conditions and I really have no complaints. Additionally, they’re really affordable and that’s rare for high quality clothes.

    • Dennis Owens

      Investing in quality goods will never be a bad move. Sure, they are quite expensive at first glance, but considering how long they will be used and the comfort it can provide during long runs and treks is something worth paying the extra cash.

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