Updated November 2017
Looking for a new pair of hiking pants to put on your list for Santa? We're here to help. Completely new award winners this year, the Prana Stretch Zion wins the Editors' Choice, while the Patagonia Quandary takes the cake for being the friendliest on your wallet. We've also awarded the Kuhl Renegade a Top Pick for being the most versatile. Last but not least, the Arc'teryx Perimeter excels in wet weather. Not only are our award winners brand spanking new, but we're psyched on our selection, as each one brings something to the table.
Best Overall Mode
Prana Stretch Zion
Very comfortable fabric and fit
Super functional for hiking and backpacking, as well as climbing and use around town
Minimalist features give just what you need, and nothing more
Convertible option available for those who want even more versatility
Tends to absorb water in a heavy downpour
A bit warm for use in the hottest climates
For years, the Prana Stretch Zion
has been one of our favorite pairs of pants for hiking and trekking. We also love them for their versatility, finding them to be a great pant for climbing, traveling, working, and wearing around town during our everyday lives. This year was no exception, as the Stretch Zion
took the top spot in our comparative overall rankings, supplanting the Prana Stretch Zion Convertible
, which we opted not to review again since there are so many other great pants to highlight. (If you prefer a convertible version to give you the choice of pants vs. shorts on any given day, we still highly
recommend the Stretch Zion Convertible
, which is essentially the same pant with double cargo pockets and zip off lower legs). Prana really won us over by combining the softest and most comfortable feeling fabric with a cut that is flexible, functional, and stylish. We also loved its simple yet perfectly designed features, especially the small and low-profile waist tightener that made it easy to wear these pants comfortably under the hip belt of a pack, and the waist belt of a harness, without needing a belt. The truest test of how much we loved these pants came when we woke up in the morning: it was always a challenge to push these pants out of the way and see what other pairs were hanging in the closet. If you are looking for a supremely comfortable pair of hiking pants, or perhaps never want to have to look for another pair of pants ever again, then we would recommend trying on the Prana Stretch Zion.
Read Review: Prana Stretch Zion
Best Bang for the Buck
Super stretchy fabric moves as you move and feels great against the skin
DWR coating effectively sheds water while fabric stays dry
The most affordable pant in the review
Few pockets means it's hard to carry lots of extra stuff
Not a ton of ventilation
The Patagonia Quandary
is a very simple and comfortable hiking pant made of stretchy recycled nylon and cut in a slim, straight fit. We thought it was stylish and unassuming off the trail, while doing an awesome job of balancing weather protection and the ability to stay cool while hiking. Best of all, it was the most affordable pant in this review and considering it was one of the highest scorers, this made it the optimal choice for our Best Bang for the Buck Award. Usually, if you want to spend the least amount of money on gear, you will have to compromise a bit on performance, but not so here! The Quandary Pant
offers the best of both worlds, combining affordability with top-level comfort, mobility, and water protection. This is a pant that will truly thrive for hours, days, or even months on the trail, but wouldn't be our top choice for heavy manual labor or abrasive rock climbing. For those who want to spend the least amount of money on their pants, but don't want to compromise on materials or performance, the Patagonia Quandary
is our recommendation for you.
Read Review: Patagonia Quandary
Most Versatile Hiking Pants
KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
Convertible option allows for the most comfort no matter what the temperature
Stretchy nylon feels great against the skin, while also offering good protection from the elements
Cargo pockets offer a ton of storage space for trail necessities
Convertible zippers have a distinct look, and feel, across the lower quads
Main button comes unsnapped
Hiking is an awesome way to explore the landscape literally anywhere on earth, and the most versatile hiking pant will be able to keep you cool as you traverse the blistering heat of the Mojave Desert just as well as it protects you from the chill winds high in the Sierra. If you are looking for that one pair of uber-pants that can handle it all better than the rest, look no further than the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
. We found its heavy stretchy nylon to be an optimal shield against both wind and sun, not to mention trailside brush and abrasive dirt and rock. The option to convert them into shorts makes the Renegade Cargo Convertible
a perfect choice for mountain travel where temperatures fluctuate rapidly, and we loved wearing them as shorts by day, and pants once the sun got lower in the sky. With their durable fabric and stylish fit, these pants took "do everything" to a new level, as we think they are a fantastic choice for other activities besides just hiking. While traveling, camping, climbing, or working in the yard, we always loved how these pants fit and performed, which is why we chose to recommend them as our Top Pick for Versatility.
Read Review: KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
Top Pick for Wet Weather
The best water-shedding DWR coating of any hiking pant
Stretchy nylon/elastane fabric absorbs very little water
Feels like a very lightweight technical pant
Nylon not as comfortable against skin as others
Not much ventilation
There are some landscapes on earth that are virtually synonymous with heavy rainfall: the North Cascades, the South Island of New Zealand, or the Kanchenjunga region of the Himalaya. Hiking in these regions virtually guarantees that you will end up getting wet, so a water resistant hiking pant should be a top priority if you have a trip to these or other wet climates in mind. Most of the pants that we tested for this review claim to have some sort of durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied to help them shed water before it absorbs into the fabric, but only the Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant
effectively accomplished this task, making it our Top Pick for Wet Weather. This simple pant is made of a stretchy blend of nylon and elastane that reminds one of a more technical mountain pant, but in very lightweight form. It balances supple mobility and breathability with more than adequate water resistance
for most hiking adventures, and although it wasn't one of the highest overall scorers, it's our first choice if we know that rain is on its way.
Read Review: Arc'teryx Perimeter
Notable for Incredible Durability
Fjallraven Vidda Pro
Constructed with hefty weight G-1000 fabric that blends polyester and cotton
Reinforced in all of the heavy wear areas
Greenland wax treatment increases durability and weather resistance
Far too heavy for warm climates
A noticeably "Euro" style
For some people, hiking is not so much about strolling along a perfectly manicured trail as it is about bushwacking, scrambling through difficult terrain, and getting very dirty. For these types, we recommend checking out the unique Fjallraven Vidda Pro
, a tried and true design that comes to us from the backwoods of Sweden. The most interesting feature of these pants is that they are designed to be "impregnated" with Fjallraven's Greenland wax, in much the same way that one might wax their skis, to add durability and water resistance in the same way that our ancestors did in the days before Gore-Tex and high-tech synthetic fabrics. It is not an exaggeration to think of these pants as high-quality, reinforced, and ethically sourced army surplus pants, and they will thrive as a do-it-all option for the rough wearer: hunting, bush craft, and winter ranching. While they weren't the highest scorers in our stretchy nylon-heavy review, they set themselves apart for their durability and toughness, notable and admirable qualities for any pair of hiking pants.
Read Review: Fjallraven Vidda Pro
Analysis and Test Results
The chart above shows where each of the nine pairs of hiking pants that we tested ranked in comparison to the others. To gather these scores, we tested pants over a three-month period during the fall of 2017 in a variety of locations, including the Cascades of Oregon, the desert of Southern Utah, and the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The majority of our testing took place on hikes and camping adventures, where we used these pants as they were intended to be used. To accurately rate each product, we assessed them based upon five separate metrics that play a critical role in the optimal performance and quality of a hiking pant: comfort and mobility, venting and breathability, versatility, water resistance, and features. For certain products or metrics where we were not able to reach solid conclusions in the field, we devised more controlled comparative tests described below.
The Screeline are awesome for warm weather or cold, and are a great pant for hiking, backpacking, or simply scrambling around on the rocks, as we are here at Sparks Lake, OR.
For each metric that we assessed for, we assigned each pant a score of 1-10. We then weighted each parameter based upon its relative importance to the function of the pant and combined all the scores to come up with an overall score between 1-100. In all cases, we rated pants based on their performance compared to the competition.
Since we selected the nine best pairs of hiking pants from an exhaustive list of over 70 options, a poor score simply means that it wasn't as good as the other eight awesome pairs of pants in our review, and doesn't imply that it is actually an awful product. It's possible that a particular metric may be far more important to you than it was in this review. If so, we encourage you to pay very close attention to that metric and dive deeper into the individual reviews to find out exactly how a given pant performed. Below we will describe each review metric in detail, including how we assessed for it, how much that metric contributed to the overall score, and let you know which were the best scoring products for each metric.
The Renegade Cargo Convertible is an awesome hiking pant that can be used in any type of situation. Here we are on an evening hike on the backside of Smith Rock in Oregon, with a mighty Cascade volcano in the background.
Comfort and Mobility
It stands to reason that the most critical consideration for any piece of clothing is how comfortable it is. If you are distracted by something that you are wearing, then your attention is being taken away from what you are doing. Comfort, then, could be defined as a lack of distraction, where the pant moves and flows with you as you move; never obstructing, never pinching, never rubbing, never annoying, never distracting. If a pant isn't comfortable to wear, 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.
A comparative look at the fit and style of the nine pairs of hiking pants in our review, front view. From left to right: KUHL Kontra Air, Prana Stretch Zion, KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible, The North Face Paramount 3.0, Arc'teryx Perimeter, Patagonia Quandary, REI Co-op Screeline, Mountain Hardwear Men's Hardwear AP, Fjallraven Vidda Pro.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with mobility. Hiking pants need to be able to move and bend like you, and this is a crucial 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, and others use blends of cotton to improve the feel against the skin.
A comparative look at the back of the nine hiking pants in this years review. From left to right: KUHL Kontra Air, Prana Stretch Zion, KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible, The North Face Paramount 3.0, Arc'teryx Perimeter, Patagonia Quandary, REI Co-op Screeline, Mountain Hardwear Men's Hardwear AP, Fjallraven Vidda Pro.
Some pants, such as the Patagonia Quandary fit slim, but have incredible stretching properties
, keeping them mobile. On the other hand, a couple of options, such as the Fjallraven Vidda Pro pants, have no stretchiness built into the fabric but instead promote mobility by incorporating a looser, baggier cut
On a leaf peeping hike in the autumn in the Colorado mountains. The Kontra Air was certainly one of the most comfortable pairs of pants to hike in.
At the end of the day, the pants that were the most comfortable were constructed using a soft material that felt great against the skin. 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 did the best job of incorporating all these factors
, providing the most comfortable, mobile, and relaxing fit. Close second was the stretchy and mobile Patagonia Quandary
, while the REI Co-op Screeline
and The North Face Paramount 3.0 both fit slightly looser to accomplish nearly the same amount of comfort
. It's worth pointing out is that comfort can be somewhat subjective, and varies based upon body size and type, so be sure to read more in-depth in the individual reviews to get an idea of how each pant fits. Overall, Comfort and Mobility accounted for 35% of a product's final score.
We felt the Paramount 3.0 were best used for day hiking, although they work well also as a backpacking pant. They were mobile and comfortable on this warm fall day, exploring ruins in the Bears Ears NM, Utah.
Venting and Breathability
Those of us who like to hike in pants can appreciate their ability to protect us from wind, sun, cold, and brush. However, spend enough time walking around outside in pants, and you are going to experience some serious heat buildup, not to mention sweating. That's why it's essential to have a pant that can vent and breathe well. Breathability is the ability of a fabric to allow heat and especially moisture to travel from the inside to the outside through the material while venting refers to the ability to open up pockets or zippers to more quickly allow hot, moist air to escape and cool one off.
Through our many months of testing, we found that venting is the most effective and efficient way of cooling off when overheating in a pair of pants, so features like zippered vents, mesh lined pockets, and roll-able cuffs factored heavily into a product's score. Most of the pants featured a tight, nylon weave that severely limited direct air transfer — good for wind protection, but not as efficient for breathability.
To test venting and 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. Other times we hiked uphill, as one usually does in the mountains, building up the heat and sweat needed for some serious study. Not content with these "uncontrolled" tests, we also decided to test all the pants in a controlled situation. We took them out to a steep hill in the sun, worked up a sweat, and ran up the hill as fast as we could in each different pair of pants, paying close attention to how hot and uncomfortable each pair felt. While we found it impossible to quantify the results of this test, we were easily able to notice what models felt cooler than others.
These large mesh vents on the back of the knees of the Screeline were very effective at allowing for air flow within the pant, helping to make this the most ventilated pant in our review.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the pants made of the lightest and thinnest fabric did the best job of breathing, while the pants with the most mesh and zippered vents cooled us off the quickest and prevented us from getting too sweaty in the first place. The REI Co-op Screeline
was the clear winner in this department, thanks to its generous mesh venting, especially behind the knees. The KUHL Kontra Air was a close second, using a combination of a ton of venting as well as a thin and light cotton blend fabric
. The KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
also had a ton of vents, not to mention the ability to simply convert them to shorts, should the desire arise. The pants that we found to be the hottest, interpreted here as the least breathable, were also the thickest and heaviest and had the least vents. With its extremely dense and heavy G-1000 fabric and no vents, the Fjallraven Vidda Pro
was a pant designed exclusively for cooler weather. Venting and Breathability accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Running uphill in the sun on a hot day to test the venting and breathability capabilities of each pair of pants. The Stretch Zion were a pretty warm pant overall, and we preferred them for cooler weather.
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. A pair of super versatile pants should have no problem handling conditions ranging from intense sun and heat, wind, rain, cold, or brush along the trail.
Trying to warm up by the fire on a chilly and windy night camping. The Perimeter pant is an optimal choice for rainy weather or wet climates, and we think it is better for cooler weather than during summer.
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. This year we only tested one pair of convertible pants, the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
, although a couple other pairs, the Prana Stretch Zion
and The North Face Paramount 3.0
are also available in convertible options.
Another less important aspect to versatility is whether the pants excel at other activities besides just hiking. 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. We also found that while these pants are designed with hiking in mind, pants are pants, and it is nice to be able to wear them around town during our regular lives if need be, and this factor also contributed slightly to a pant's versatility score.
The Renegade Cargo Convertible pants were the most versatile in our review, in large part due to the fact that if you are too warm, you can simply unzip the lower leg and you are left with shorts.
Made with durable nylon and offering many venting options, not to mention the ability to convert into shorts, we found the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
to be the most versatile pants that we tested for this review. They kept us cool while hiking uphill in the sun, and were also thick enough to protect us from the cold and wind. We also liked them for wearing around town or while working outside and found them to be an adequate climbing pant as well. A close second was the Prana Stretch Zion
, which we found to be a warmer pant overall, but which also comes in a convertible option. Lastly, The North Face Paramount 3.0
was a sleek and stylish pant that we found served us well whether out hiking with a pack on or traveling across the world. Its light and the stretchy fabric was excellent against the wind and also offered superb sun protection, and it also has a convertible option. Overall, versatility accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
The comfortable Kontra Air pants are quite versatile, as we tested by climbing in them at Smith Rock. We thought they were great for nearly any activity, but thrived better in warm, dry weather.
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 that fear must be weighed against the alternative — carrying a lot of extra clothing and weight. For multi-day trips, water resistance is a huge bonus for a pair of hiking pants, but it also matters if you happen to live or hike in a wet climate. We used to consider wind resistance as well when assessing for a hiking pant's performance but have found that all the pairs that we tested are functionally wind resistant due to their tightly woven fabrics.
Most of these pants are designed to keep you as dry as possible, but are not
specialty rain layers, and are not
water proof. 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 material. It is worth noting that these layers break down and wear off over time, especially if you wash your pants frequently in the washing machine, 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.
Lucky to be wearing our Top Pick for Wet Weather when the rain started pouring down at Smith Rock, ruining the day of climbing, but leaving the ground and sparse vegetation happily nourished.
To test water 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 fall, when high pressure and sunshine tend to dominate the forecast. Testing conditions ranged from hiking in the snowy 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 and washing, 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).
Testing the water resistance after applying quite a lot of Greenland wax treatment to the Vidda Pro. These pants extend their versatility well into winter, which is what we expect from a pant born above the arctic circle.
The most weather resistant pant was the Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant
, which we awarded our Top Pick for Wet Weather. The DWR coating did a great job of shedding water even after lots of abuse, and the slippery nylon fabric didn't absorb water like many of the others. It was also fast to dry out once removed from the "rain," since it hadn't absorbed much water in the first place. The Patagonia Quandary
performed nearly as well, incorporating an effective DWR coating with non-absorbent and fast drying stretchy nylon weave fabric. We were also very intrigued by the performance of the wax impregnated Fjallraven Vidda Pro
pant, which eschews the now-standard chemical DWR coating in favor of a more natural and customizable wax one. Weather resistance accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
The final category that differentiates the best pairs of hiking pants from the worst is their respective features
. These are the little things that you love or drive you nuts. Every pair has their own set of unique features, including 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, while 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.
The single cargo pocket on the Stretch Zion has the cool feature of being zipper enclosed on both the top and the side. When sitting in a harness, the side entrance becomes very convenient.
In short, the more useful and functional features a pant included, the higher the score. Products that received a lower rating either included few useful features, or the ones that were included didn't function nearly as well as competitors.
A feature unique to the Quandary is this drawstring on the inside of the waist belt that helps make micro-tuned adjustments to the fit, and helps you avoid needing to wear a belt underneath a pack waist strap. You can also see the mesh wicking material inside the waist belt designed to allow sweat moisture to evaporate quicker.
Our Top Pick for Versatility, the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
pant also had the best feature set. It had a ton of pocket options for those who like to have all their trail trinkets handy and organized, as well as excellent ventilation and the ability to convert to shorts. The KUHL Kontra Air
has an entirely different set of pockets and ventilation designs that also worked better than the rest. Lastly, our Editors' Choice winning Prana Stretch Zion
had fewer pockets than the two KUHL pants, but the design and execution of its features were nearly flawless. We loved the small, low profile waist tightener that allowed us to backpack and climb without wearing a belt. Features accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
The Vidda Pro are by far the most burly and durable pant that we tested for this review, and also have a ton of large pockets for storage. We think they are ideal for hunting or other bushcraft.
Pants specifically designed for hiking are the best choice for trekking or backpacking in just about any environment. The challenge comes when trying to decide which ones to buy. While comfort is usually a top priority, the climate in which you spend most of your time can dictate what features are most important to you. It is our hope that this expert review of the most highly rated and popular hiking pants on the market will help you make an optimal choice. Happy hiking!