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The Best Women’s Hiking Pants | HileHighValley

The Best Women’s Hiking Pants | HileHighValley

The Best Women’s Hiking Pants

People tend to think only very serious outdoors enthusiasts would spend the money to buy pants specifically for hiking.  But these days, hiking pants are so comfortable and versatile – even fashionable – that you may find they become your favorite pair of pants for everyday wear! With the many options available to consumers we know it can be tough to find the right ones for you. That is why we decided to create this list of the best women’s hiking pants for our readers.

What characteristics matter when looking at hiking pants?  Comfort/mobility, durability and versatility top the list.  But if you want to own a pair of pants that make you go from “I’m glad I bought these; they work well” to “where can I find five more pairs just like these??” then it is also important that they look good and that you look good in them.  We’ll talk about what makes a great hiking pant, and then compare five of the most popular brands.

Comfort/Mobility


Hiking pants today are not about heavy-duty, rugged fabric that would do double duty as BDUs.  They are about lightweight, soft, stretchy fabric that is tough enough not to tear on brambles or rocks, that dries in minutes, and that moves and breathes with you no matter what activity you are engaged in, from rock climbing, to kayaking, to some relaxing slackasana at the campsite.

Comfort is a combination of the feel of the fabric, the fit of the pant, how they move with you, and their breathability.  The key components of comfort, as gathered from many hundreds of online reviews for hiking pants:

  • Fabric: how does it feel? It is soft against your skin?  Does any part of the pant tend to chafe?  Do the pants rub and make noise (whoosh, whish) when you walk?
  • Fit: do the pants run true to size, so that when you order them online without trying them on they actually fit? Is the inseam the right length?  Do they shrink when washed?  Do they tend to sag or stretch when you’ve worn them all day?  Is the waistband adjustable?  How high is the waist? (you don’t want it so low that you aren’t comfortable bending or squatting, but you might not want it high-waisted if you are wearing a backpack with a hipbelt)
  • Mobility: can you bend, squat and climb in these pants? Does the waist slide down and you are constantly pulling them back up?  Do they tend to crawl up and give you a constant wedgie?  Do they bind in the thighs or the knees?
  • Breathability: do the pants keep you cool in hot weather and warm in cool weather? Do they tend to stick to your skin or stay loose?  Do they dry quickly when wet?

Durability


Whichever pair of pants you choose, if you love the way they feel, then you are definitely going to care how well they hold up.  There aren’t many things more disappointing in life than to fall in love and not have it last!

Many hiking pants are heavy on the nylon and include Elastane or Spandex to add some stretchiness to the fabric, so it isn’t differences in material that make these pants more or less durable, but rather differences in construction.  Depending on how the material is woven, a small tear can be prevented from becoming a big tear, as with ripstop fabrics.  A lot of high-quality camping gear (tents, hammocks, sleeping bags) are ripstop weaves, as are parachutes, sails, and hot air balloons.  Pants that are 100% nylon or polyester tend to stand up even better to abuse than those that include fibers that make them stretchy.  Other features of construction also create the overall impression of durability.  Do the buttons fall off?  Do the pockets rip if overloaded? Do the zippers hold up well?  Does the fabric tend to pill or snag?

In general, you want your pants to be tough enough to wade through weeds, brush, brambles, or thorns without tearing or letting your skin get scraped up.  You want them to hold up to rock climbing or scrambling up gravel hills without rubbing or ripping.  You want them to wash well, to not show pilling, and to be stain-resistant.  Ideally, they will still look as good as new even after several months of hard use.

 

Versatility


One of the more obvious ways in which hiking pants are versatile is that nearly all of them offer at least two options of leg length, either by including snaps that allow you to roll the pants up into capris, or including zip-off legs that allow you to turn your pants into shorts, or both at once.

But what is interesting is how many people love these pants for more things than hiking.  When they pack well and don’t wrinkle, they can be great for travel.  Another advantage is that they can be washed in your hotel sink and laid out to dry – and be good to go in just a few hours.  And some models of hiking pants are dressy enough they could even be worn as business casual slacks during the day and then double as trail pants on the weekend.

Most hiking pants are intended for cool to hot weather (spring, summer, fall) but not cold winter temperatures.  However, you can easily layer your hiking pants with long underwear if you need additional warmth.

 

 

Prana Halle Pant


womens hiking cargo pants

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Comfort & Sizing:

These pants scored high on comfort. The fabric is a ripstop nylon weave with Spandex to create some stretch.  They are very soft, they don’t chafe, and they don’t make noise when the fabric rubs against itself.

They are sold in sizes 0 to 16 and in three inseam lengths (short – 30, regular – 32, and long – 34) and run true to fit.  The size label is sometimes confusing, though.  You might find a pair that says “6 x 32” (size 6, 32 inch inseam) or “6 x regular” (which is exactly the same) or just “6” (which is also exactly the same).  Don’t interpret the “x” to mean extra large or extra long, it is just a confusing artifact of the naming convention.

Fit & Fashion:

People loved the look of these pants, which were the dressiest – looked the least like hiking pants – of the five we reviewed.  A number of women mentioned wearing these to work, with the cut and style making them look like slacks as opposed to activewear.

Few wearers felt they stretched or sagged with prolonged wear, but instead held their shape well.  The waistband has a drawstring adjustment in addition to a zipper and a two-button fastening, making it unnecessary to add a belt.  They are a mid-rise pant, meaning the waistband sits just below the navel.  This is good for backpacking, because the hipbelt will generally not overlap with the waistband of mid-rise pants.  No one complained about the pants riding up or clinging to their skin.

Durability:

The biggest complaint about these pants was that the buttons come off easily.  So easily, in fact, that many people recommend reinforcing the stitching before you wear them the first time.  However, one user contacted the company and was told they were aware of the problem and trying to fix it – and they offered her a $20 gift certificate towards the cost of tailor fees to have the buttons resewn.  The more recent reviews seem to find the buttons more satisfactory.

A very few users complained about pilling of the fabric at the crotch or on the back yoke, but most felt the pants held up well over months or even years of use.  Mud and blood washed right out without staining, and the pants dried in twenty minutes in the sun.

Versatility:

These pants have discrete snaps that allow you to roll them up into capris, but do not have zip-off legs.  PrAna does offer different styles of pants that do convert into shorts, but a lot of users loved the look of these pants precisely because there were no zippers around the legs to make them shout “I’m a pair a hiking pants!”

In addition to mesh-lined front pockets, there are two back pockets that close with snaps and a zippered front pocket on the right hand side.  The hidden zipper runs along the side seam just below the regular pocket.  The newest production run has resized the zipper pocket so that it fits the iPhone 6.

The pants are lightweight and cool in warm weather, and easy to layer with long underwear for cold weather.  If you intend to layer, you may want to get one size larger than your normal size.

Verdict:

These are the most expensive of the pants we reviewed, but they are so versatile and durable that you will likely find yourself going back to them again and again.  A lot of users ended up buying multiple pairs in various colors, since you have your choice of black, coal gray, and three shades of khaki (dark khaki, cargo green and dark ginger).  Dressier than yoga pants, but just as comfortable…what’s not to love?

 

 

 

Columbia Sportswear Women’s Saturday Trail II Knee Pant


women's convertible hiking pants

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Comfort & Sizing:

The fabric is soft, stretchy, lightweight and comfortable.  They don’t cling to your skin and they keep you cool and dry.  The nylon and elastane fabric offers a 2-way comfort stretch and make these pants move with you no matter how active you are.  The fabric doesn’t rub noisily against itself. These pants are available in size 2-16 in regular sizes, and size 16W-24W in plus sizes.

Fit & Fashion:

While most people find their regular pant size to be just right in these pants, there were some complaints of the pants running small.  Curvy people thought they flattered their figure, and liked that the fabric, although lightweight, wasn’t revealing.  They are a mid-rise pant, falling just below the navel, with a button-and-zip closure.  The waistband is not adjustable, but the stretchiness of the fabric offers a snug yet comfortable fit.  There are loops for a belt if you needed one.  Elastic pulls allow you to snug the fabric around your calf, creating a custom fit for yourself.

They come in three colors – a light khaki called “Fossil”, a dark gray called “Grill” and a blue-black color called “India Ink”.  More than one person complained that they ordered the India Ink online but received the Grill instead.  There are also camo versions of this pant, in gray, black and green camo, sold as the “Saturday Trail Printed Knee Pants”.

Durability:

Columbia’s Saturday Trail line all enjoys the benefit of their Omni-Shield stain and moisture resistant coating and their Omni-Shade sun protection.  The water resistance is very good – it is an adventure trying to rinse them in your sink!  Things you would expect to stain – juice, grease – just wash right off. These pants held up well to regular use.  There were a few complaints of pilling fabric and they tend to wrinkle if you put them in the drier as opposed to letting them air-dry.

The Omni-Shade sun protection coating may seem unnecessary, but it actually is possible to sunburn through your clothes!  Although nylon pants like these have a naturally high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor), a lightweight cotton shirt only has a UPF of 6.  Adding the Omni-Shade coating increases the UPF rating on these pants to 50 (meaning only 2% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays pass through) and keeps the fabric from losing its UPF resistance when wet.

Versatility:

People loved the roomy front pockets – a lot of the pants we looked at had fairly small pockets – and understated, almost invisible back pockets that close with Velcro.  These pants also have a security zip pocket along the outside seam on the right side for holding your credit card, money, or phone.

Excellent for everyday capris in the summer, they move and stretch with you at yoga class, scrambling over rocks, or wading through creeks.  The high water resistance and sun protection coating make them perfect for applications where you expect to get wet, like kayaking along a local river, or clamming in New England.

 

Verdict:

Excellent summer wear, you’ll want to keep these handy.  Columbia’s Saturday Trail line offers lots of choices, from shorts, to convertible zip-off leg pants, to these knee pants, in lots of colors.  So if you fall in love with these, you might find yourself buying a whole summer wardrobe.

 

 

Columbia Sportswear Women’s Saturday Trail Pant


women's plus size hiking pants

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Comfort & Sizing:

These are very similar to the Saturday Trail Knee pants we reviewed.  The fabric is the same – soft, good stretch, lightweight, quiet.  The legs are straight-legs (not slim cut) and the knees are articulated to be sure that they don’t bind when climbing or squatting.  They work well in 30 degree temps with the addition of silk long underwear, or in 80 degree temps, with the legs rolled up and snapped into place as capris.

They run true to size, but if you are between sizes, go up not down.  They are offered in short (29.5), regular (32), and long (34.5) inseam lengths, sizes 2 to 16.  They don’t offer plus sizes in this particular pant.

Fit & Fashion:

These pants run true to size for most people, but they tend to stretch out a little when wearing them all day.  If they are just a touch too snug when you first put them on, they’ll probably end up being just right.  These were the only pants that showed some complaints from wearers that they tended to ride up a bit and leave you with a wedgie – not a frequent complaint though, so it must just affect certain body types that way.  The waistband sits just below the navel and isn’t adjustable, but the two-way stretch of the fabric helps it fit comfortably without that.

They come in the same dark gray (“grill”) and light khaki (“fossil”) that the knee pants do, but offer a dark green (“cypress”) in place of the india-ink color.  They also come in black camo and green camo versions.  The convertible function is discrete and helps keep the pants from looking sporty.

Durability:

Like other pants in Columbia’s Saturday Trail line, these include their Omni-Shield stain and moisture resistant coating and their Omni-Shade sun protection.  A small proportion of wearers complained about pilling fabric, but most felt these held up well to frequent use.  The biggest complaint was that they tend to stretch between washes.

Versatility:

The classy styling make these pants suitable for non-active wear, and the rollup-and-snap-in-place convertible feature makes these great for hiking on warm afternoons, forging streams, or resting by a pond while you dangle your feet in the water.

One of the differences between the Saturday Trail and the Saturday Trail II lines seems to be in pocket design.  The Knee pants we looked at were in the Trail II line and people loved the roomy pockets.  These pants, in the Trail line, had complaints about the pockets being shallow and small.  They have the same two front pockets, zippered security pockets, and discrete Velcro closure back pockets.

 

Verdict:

A stylish, comfortable option that you can expect to hold up well.  A great traveling companion in sun and rain alike, thanks to the excellent moisture and sun protection coatings.  And definitely the pants with the coolest user review…someone was wearing these hiking in the desert and accidently wandered into a rattlesnake nesting ground.  While scrambling for safety, she was bitten on the leg, except the thick weave of the fabric prevented the fang from actually puncturing her skin!  Now that’s one way to get a customer for life.

 

Singbring Women’s Outdoor Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Mountain Pants


hiking pants womens

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Comfort & Sizing:

These pants are made of polyester rather than nylon.  As a result, they are more water-resistant, but also warmer, more prone to making a ‘whishing’ noise when you walk and the fabric rubs on itself, and don’t stretch.  However, they have elastic in the adjustable waist and gusseted knees to ensure they fit and move with you.  They are sold in sizes from x-small to x-large (0-2 up to 16-18).  They also offer a range of colors: black, dark gray, gray, purplish red and wine red.

Fit & Fashion:

These pants definitely look like hiking pants.  The contrasting zipper color, the articulated knees set off from the main fabric color in black, and the elastic waist make these clearly hiking wear.  The legs are slim cut, which is useful if you are tucking them into waders or walking through knee-high grass and want the most protection for your legs.

The slim-cut legs tend to run snug for some people, so if you have hiker thighs, consider ordering a size up.  The adjustable waist and loops for a belt can make these fit most everyone.  The waistband sits higher than the other pairs of pants we looked at, more at your natural waistline.  This can be irritating if you are backpacking, as the hipbelt then presses the elastic of the waistband into your skin.

Durability:

These hold up very well.  No complaints of runs, snags, tears or pilling of the fabric, and they wash off easily.  They market them as waterproof, but they are more water-resistant than truly waterproof.  Don’t expect to stay dry if you submerge them.

Versatility:

The mesh pockets in the front are zippered and deep.  There is also a single small pocket on the back right.  They are not convertible into capris or shorts, and the slim leg means they aren’t easily rolled up either, but these are excellent lightweight pants for hiking, fishing, mountaineering, and camping.  Singbring also offers a heavier weight pant for cold weather use.

 

Verdict:

These were the least expensive of the pants we reviewed, but they are well-constructed and well-designed for outdoor activities.  People also had very good experiences when they contacted the company directly for questions or complaints.

 

 

White Sierra Women’s Sierra Point Convertible Pant


womens hiking cargo pants

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Comfort & Sizing:

These pants are 100% nylon, so less stretchy than most of the others, but are cut generously through the legs and include elastic at the sides of the waistband.  They are slightly noisy when you walk, but lightweight and very breathable.  They come in x-small (size 2) up to x-large (16-18), and also in plus sizes 1X to 3X.  They offer versions in a 29-inch (short) and 31-inch (regular) inseam.

Fit & Fashion:

These run pretty true to size.  The adjustable waistband and roomy thighs mean it is relatively easy to get a good fit, even buying online.  The first place you are likely to run out of room is in the seat.  The waist sits a little higher than mid-rise for most people – right at the navel.

The convertible pants mean there is a fold of fabric all the way around the thigh where the concealed zipper is.  The fabric is naturally crinkly, too.  These look like the lightweight hiking pants they are.  A lot of convertible pants that are made of stretchy fabric tend to be too tight where the leg zippers are, because the zippers don’t stretch even if the fabric does.  White Sierra did a good job with these, using non-stretchy fabric and cutting the legs looser instead.  The zippers are color coded, too, making it easy to tell which side is which.

The color choices are “bark” (a sandy brown), “stone” (a light khaki) and “caviar” (a dark gray, near-black).

Durability:

These pants stand up well to hard use, wash easily and don’t stain readily.  They are treated with a Teflon fabric protector to help waterproof them.  Their UPF rating is 30. Nearly all the complaints we reviewed online dealt with the size or the look of the pants, not with the durability.

Versatility:

The convertible feature makes these great for desert camping, where you are likely to see big temperature changes from early morning to mid-afternoon.  The legs are easy to take off over regular shoes, but if you are wearing hiking boots, you’ll probably have to take off your shoes to get the legs off – not so convenient!  They are water resistant and dry readily, and the added UPF protection make them particularly useful for activities where you expect to get soaked.  The natural ultraviolet resistance of most fabrics is cut in half when the fabric gets wet.

People really liked the roomy front pockets that are deep enough to fit a field guide, a passport, or an iPhone 6.  There are no back pockets however.  The 7” inseam on the shorts (an inch or two below fingertip length) is just right for most wearers.

Verdict:

These inexpensive convertible pants get the job done.  The choice to use non-stretchy fabric and cut the legs wider makes these comfortable for most people, even if the look isn’t as streamlined and classy as some of the other pairs we looked at.  The availability of plus sizes is a special treat, as those are often hard to find in convertible hiking pants.

 

Summary


The world of hiking pants is not what it once was.  Although you can still find very traditional hiking pants (like the Singbring Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Mountain Pants) the trend is towards pants that are versatile enough to be worn every day in many settings.  The PrAna Halle and Columbia Sportswear Women’s Saturday Trail pants are both convertible into capris, but the convertible functionality is so discreet that they hardly look like activewear at all.

Three of the pants we looked at – the PrAna Halle and the two Columbia Sportswear pants – were a combination of nylon with elastane or spandex to provide stretch.  This combination offers high levels of sun protection, water- and stain-resistance, and soft, breathable fabrics that aren’t noisy when you walk.  However, all three of them had a tendency to pill or snag according to some users.

The all-polyester Singbring pants and the all-nylon White Sierra Women’s Sierra Point Convertible pants aren’t stretchy, and so they both included elastic waistbands and gusseted knees (Singbring) or wide-cut legs (White Sierra) to keep you mobile.  They look like the hiking pants they are, but they were also the most durable.

Each of the five pairs of pants we looked at has very positive reviews online.  Choosing the ‘best’ among them is really based on intended use, as any one of them might be the best for your purposes.  The White Sierra Women’s Sierra Point Convertible Pant was the only option that converted to shorts.  The Columbia Sportswear Women’s Saturday Trail II Knee Pant was the only one that is cut to fall just below the knee, and had roomy pockets.  The PrAna Halle and Columbia Sportswear Women’s Saturday Trail pants were dressy as well as functional and the choice between them likely comes down to which you like the look of more.  The Singbring Women’s Outdoor Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Mountain Pants were the most “traditional” pair we reviewed, with deep zippered pockets, slim cut legs, and articulated knees in contrasting colors.

None of these pants are made for really cold weather, although they can all be layered with long underwear to keep you comfortable on cold mornings.  They are intended for spring, summer and fall use.  If you’ve never bought hiking pants before, consider trying out a pair!  You may find yourself reaching for them again and again.

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