Updated April 2017
Preparing for Spring hiking this year, we updated this review to continue bringing you comprehensive analyses of the best pants for hiking and general outdoor activity on the market. Two award-winning pants, from The North Face and Arc'teryx, have been updated to new versions. We highlight the differences between the models we reviewed and their successors in their respective individual reviews. Furthermore, each performance metric described in this review is now accompanied by charts to quickly compare and display the differences between products.
Best Overall Hiking Pants
Prana Stretch Zion Convertible Pants
Versatile for hiking
Sports or casual wear
Great pocket options
Stitching gives way over time
Seam stitching not top notch
Crotch zipper too short
The returning champion was not unseated this year. Our favorite pant for hiking or backpacking remains to be the Prana Stretch Zion Convertible
, winning our Editors' Choice award for the second year running. These pants excel in pretty much any outdoor activity. The material is stretchy and comfortable, and thick enough to keep us warm in chilly weather. When temps heat up, unzip the lower leg section and you get a functional, stylish pair of shorts. These pants are designed to be durable, breathe well, and resist water, and our testing confirmed that these targets were met. The Stretch Zion Convertible scored the highest of any pant in our laundry heap and was the model we kept wearing on a daily basis. If you aren't into transforming pants into shorts, check out the pants-only version, the Prana Stretch Zion Pants
Read full review: Prana Stretch Zion Convertible
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible
Warm in colder climates
Good features and pockets
Baggy fit and lack of stretch
Convertible shorts a bit short (10")
The North Face confirmed that the Paramount Trail Convertible has replaced the Paramount Peak II Convertible, the latter of which we previously reviewed in hand. The design changes are minor, and we describe in detail the differences between both models in the individual review.
Ringing in at $70, The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible
pant combines high-performance with affordability. What it has that the other, less expensive pairs don't is durability, good weather resistance, and unique features. For these reasons, we award it our Best Buy Award. Whether you are hiking in warm or cold, dry or wet, the Paramount Trail Convertible has the versatility to keep you comfortable. While they are heavier than some of our other favorite models, these pants will last you the length of a thru-hike without coming undone at the seams. If you want the most durable pant for the least amount of money, then the Paramount Trail Convertible is the right choice.
Read full review: The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible
Top Pick for Wet Weather
Arc'teryx Gamma LT
Most water resistant
Not very versatile
Arc'teryx recently update the Gamma LT. The main changes are to the fabric, belt buckle, pockets, and length. We expect performance to be essentially the same, if not better, in this new version. See the individual review for details on the differences between the newer and older models.
While the Arc'teryx Gamma LT
pant may be one of the least versatile pairs tested, there is no doubt this pant will protect you the best for hiking, trekking, or backpacking through inclement weather or wet climates. For that reason, we are happy to give it our Top Pick Award for Wet Weather. The thin, stretchy nylon and elastane feels slick, like a rain shell, and performs similarly. The DWR coating is durable and helps shed water, while the nylon weave is non-absorbent. They dry out fast after a shower, too. No pant had more attention to quality than the Gamma LT; they have proven to be among the most durable pants you can buy. For the right conditions, we think this pant is worth every penny. If you're looking to upgrade to something a little burlier for technical mountain adventures, check out the $199 Arc'teryx Gamma AR Pant
Read full review: Arc'teryx Gamma LT
Analysis and Test Results
To help us decide the best pair of men's pants specifically for hiking, we ranked them according to six metrics, which were then rated as a percentage of the final score. The criteria were comfort and mobility, versatility, breathability, durability, weather resistance, and features/conveniences. We have broken down each of these categories to help you understand how we tested and which products were the best. The table above displays a comparison of the overall scores of each contender.
The seven pairs of pants in our hiking pants for men review. From left to right: Gamma LT, Stretch Zion Convertible, Silver Ridge Convertible, Ferrosi, Stretch Zion, Liberator Convertible, Paramount Peak II Convertible.
Comfort and Mobility
It stands to reason that the most important consideration for any piece of clothing is how comfortable it is. Anytime your attention is needed because of something that you are wearing, it is being taken away from what you are doing. Comfort, then, means a lack of distraction, where the pant moves and flows with you as you move; never obstructing, never pinching, never rubbing, never annoying. Without comfort, you won't care about the rest of the metrics we measured for you here, because you won't consider wearing the pants long enough to care whether the pockets are in convenient places or the stitching is durable.
Comfort comes hand-in-hand with mobility. These pants need to be able to move and bend like you, and this is a key component to keeping your pants off your mind. While all of the pants reviewed are constructed primarily of nylon, some incorporate small percentages of stretchy material, such as spandex or elastane to help them stretch and move without hindering. Pants such as the Outdoor Research Ferrosi fit snug to the body, but have incredible stretching properties, keeping them mobile. On the other hand, a couple of options, such as The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible pants, have no stretchiness built into the fabric but instead promote mobility by incorporating a looser, baggier cut.
The incredible stretchiness of these pants makes them great for any sort of movement oriented sport, not just hiking. Here we tested them out in the local park in one of our favorite time killing activities, slacklining.
At the end of the day, the pants that were the most comfortable were constructed using a soft material, which felt great. They also had the fewest restrictions in the cut where we noticed tightness or rubbing, and had the stretchiest and most mobile fabrics, ensuring that our movement was never impeded. The Prana Stretch Zion Convertible and the Prana Stretch Zion
did the best job of incorporating all these factors, although the Outdoor Research Ferrosi was a close second. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pant was the most restrictive pant, hugging and pinching us in ways we didn't appreciate, especially around the crotch. Overall, Comfort and Mobility accounted for 30% of a product's final score.
On this day the water resistance and drying time of these pants was not tested, as our head tester managed to keep himself out of the river on the possibly 100 stream crossings encountered on the nine mile roundtrip journey to the Subway.
On many hiking adventures, you will travel light, sometimes only having the luxury to take what you are wearing when you walk out the door. Whether you are going for a day hike or planning a long backpacking trip, you will be happier in a single pair of pants that work across a range of conditions and temperatures. The ideal pants can protect your legs from most conditions all on the same hike. Conditions ranging from intense sun and heat, wind, rain, brush along the trail, or cold, should all be alleviated by versatile pants.
The convertible feature helps with a pant's versatility. If it is too hot or you become too sweaty, that problem can be quickly solved by unzipping the bottoms and turning them into shorts. In general, pants that were convertible scored higher for versatility. Another less important aspect to versatility is whether the pants excel at other activities. For instance, on a long thru-hike, you may find yourself swimming, stretching out with some yoga, climbing a tree (for any number of reasons!), or in an impromptu bouldering session. How well you are able to do these things in one pair of pants affects how we scored them for versatility.
On a cold and cloudy day you can't go wrong in the Paramount Peak II Convertible pants. These are amongst the most versatile of all the pants we tested, and we think you could wear them for months on a longer trail.
Yet again, the Prana Stretch Zion Convertible was the winner in this department. The tight yet stretchy fabric weave kept us protected from most weather conditions, including cold and wind, while the convertible shorts were the best of any we tried. They were also versatile enough to be used during almost any activity. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants were the least versatile, mostly due to their thin fabric. While they are more appropriate in their pant form for higher temperatures than the others, they didn't protect us well from wet, wind, or cold. The Arc'teryx Gamma LT pant, despite being our Top Pick for Wet Weather, was also not versatile. It was one of our least favorite options for hot and dry weather and didn't have the convertible option to cool us down. Versatility accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
These pants feel just about normal as shorts, with the 14" inseam sitting right about at knee height, instead of well up the thigh like some of the other convertible pants. The new cuffs also hide the zipper well and look pretty much like normal shorts.
While some of the pants tested give you the option to convert at a moment's notice when the weather gets too warm, not all do. We wanted to see how effective each was at diffusing heat and potential moisture build-up from exertion, high temperatures, and the sun, while in pants mode. There was quite a bit of variation from pant to pant.
To test breathability, we mostly relied on our time field testing. Much of this time was spent wandering around in the sun in the desert, perfect for understanding how well a pant will breathe while exerting oneself in the sun. Not content with these "uncontrolled" tests, we decided to test in a controlled situation. We took all the pants out to a steep hill, worked up a sweat, and hiked up the hill as fast as we could in the afternoon, wanting to determine if there was a noticeable difference between the pairs. While we found it impossible to quantify the results of this test, we were able to notice what pairs felt cooler than others.
Sewn in ventilation holes in the crotch of these pants. We appreciated the effort to address a problem in these pants, that they can be hot and sweaty in this area when its really warm out, but didn't think that this feature was super effective.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the pants made of the lightest and thinnest fabric did the best job of breathing. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi excelled in this category
, followed by the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible
. Likewise, the pants that we found to be the hottest, interpreted here as the least breathable, were also the thickest and heaviest. These were The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible and the Kuhl Liberator Convertible. We would have simply converted them into shorts had we given ourselves that option, so the fact that they didn't breathe well was not a catastrophic failure by any means. Breathability accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
The Liberators converted to shorts during a toasty afternoon spring hike up the upper cascade falls trail near Ouray. While it was too hot to leave the pant bottoms on, luckily we didn't have to!
While all of the products were primarily made of nylon, not all nylon is created equal. In our durability tests, we considered abrasion resistance, how well pockets and zippers held up to stretching and pulling, and any seam failure. In general, the more lightweight the material felt, the quicker we were able to wear holes in the fabric. While not factored into our ratings, we do recommend you take a look at the manufacturer's warranty, especially if you are rough on your clothing.
We tested durability by putting these pants through abusive days. For six months we traveled through the jungles of Central America, abusing them in unpredictable fashions. We also chose to test their abrasion resistance by putting them through days of farm work, as well as desert rock climbing. While these activities do not exactly mimic the abuses a pant will experience while hiking, this was our way of condensing lots of abuse into a short period of time to best represent durability.
Prana is known as a climbing clothing company, so it only made sense to test the Stretch Zion while out climbing. Here we are testing the abrasion resistance in Indian Creek, they performed quite well.
The most durable pants were The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible Pants as well as the Arc'teryx Gamma LT pants. Out of all of the pants, the thick and burly 70 denier nylon on the Paramount Trail withstood more abuse with no sign of wear. Likewise, although appearing thin and fragile at first, the Gamma LT underwent a lot of rock climbing and came out unscathed. Among the most fragile were the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, whose thin but stretchy material seemed to get nicked with the lightest of abrasion. Durability accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Let's face it, if you are going out on a multi-day backpacking trip, chances are you are going to get rained on at some point. Becoming soaked to the bone is a backcountry traveler's worst nightmare, but at the same time, one must be careful to not carry too much weight by adding a bunch of extra layers to the pack. This is where weather resistance comes into play.
These pants are designed to keep you as dry as possible, but are not
specialty rain layers. Most of them come with a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating applied to the outside. This chemical coating helps the fabric shed water upon contact, preventing it from being absorbed into the fabric. It is worth noting that these coatings break down and wear off over time, so if you are heading out on a long trip with an older pair of pants, you should apply a new DWR finish to your pants.
Testing our Top Pick for wet weather, the Gamma LT. In a sudden spring snowstorm, they kept us plenty dry, although not super warm. We were on a dry ledge beneath the overhanging cliff (next to the melting out Cascade Falls in Ouray).
In order to test weather resistance, we wore these pants outside as often as we could in poor weather. Admittedly, though, our head tester lives high in the mountains of Colorado and tested these pants primarily in spring. This meant conditions ranged from snowing in the mountains (which is not the weather that most people consider hiking in) to sunny and dry in the desert (again, no rain). To determine how these pants performed in a rainstorm, we conducted the shower test, where we put the pants on and jumped into the shower to see what happened. Things we looked for were how well the DWR coating worked after
three months of testing, whether the fabric tended to absorb water, how wet our legs got inside the pants, and how long the pants took to dry out after being hung up (post shower).
The DWR coating on the Ferrosi was possibly the best in the review, here shedding the water that landed on the pant leg. While some still made its way through the material, there was almost no absorption and a very quick drying time.
The most weather resistant pant was the Arc'teryx Gamma LT pant. The DWR coating did a great job of shedding water even after lots of abuse, and the nylon fabric, that honestly, sort of feels
like a rain-specific pant, didn't absorb water like many of the others. It was also fast to dry out once removed from the "rain." The Outdoor Research Ferrosi performed nearly as well, incorporating an effective DWR coating with non-absorbent and fast drying nylon weave fabric. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants were by far the lowest performers; they had no DWR coating and soaked through pretty much instantly. Weather resistance accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
The final category that differentiates the best pairs from the worst is their respective features
. These are the little things that you love or drive you nuts. Every pair has unique features that include the type of pockets and location, waist tightening systems and belts, the zipper system to convert into shorts, vertical cuff zippers, cuff roll-up buttons, cuff tighteners, ventilation holes, and crotch zippers. Some of these features were functional additions that inspired our adoration and others were superfluous or maddening.
In all cases, we attempted to rate the product based on whether the features were useful, and if they worked well. In most cases, having the option to convert to shorts was useful, but we also rated this feature on how well the zippers functioned, how easy they were to convert compared to the other pants, and how they looked and felt. We did a similar analysis of pocket layout and location, as well as for waist tightening systems. In short, the more useful and functional features a pant included, the higher the score. Products that received a lower score either included few useful features, or the ones that were included didn't function nearly as well as competitors.
The cargo pockets on this pant have two openings instead of one on just the top, and both of them are zippered. The side opening is convenient when sitting down, because then it becomes the top opening :)
Our Editors' Choice Award-winning Prana Stretch Zion Convertible pant once again had the best feature set. They were the most stylish and comfortable convertible shorts and we loved the side and top zippered side pockets that kept items secure and accessible. The small hip tightener, which we hesitate to call a belt because it doesn't circumnavigate the entire waist, allowed us to cinch the waist to the appropriate tightness. This pant had the best set of features that all worked really well compared to the competition, while the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible was once again our lowest scorer. While it included some useful features, like convertible shorts, an included nylon belt, and a zippered cargo pocket, the functionality of these features was lower than those on other models. Features accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
The little gap between seams is held together by very stretchy nylon underneath. This is Kuhl's system for adding stretchiness to this pair of pants. You can see here as we stretch what the maximum range is. While we like their idea, it didn't seem to have nearly as much function as incorporating a stretchy nylon as the main fabric throughout the pant.
The Paramount Peak II Convertibles are one of our favorite pants for hiking in cooler temperatures. Their thick and heavy fabric helps hold in the heat and they unzip into shorts when the temperatures climb.
Pants specifically designed for hiking are an obvious best choice when trekking or backpacking in just about any environment. However, which model to purchase is less obvious. While comfort is usually a top priority, the climate(s) in which you spend your time can dictate what features are most important. It is our hope that this review of the most highly rated and popular models on the market will help you slim down your choices. Happy hiking!