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Hiking pants vs leggings: the great debate

Hiking pants vs hiking leggings. Wondering which one is the better option for your next outdoor adventure? You came to the right place.

We decided to research it and this is what we found out.

Traditionally hiking pants were preferred to hiking leggings. They were more durable, less prone to ripping and made of breathable material. New advances in clothing design mean that hiking leggings now offer the same benefits as pants. Ultimately choosing between hiking leggings and hiking pants depends on your preferences.

But there’s more to know to make a thoughtful decision. Therefore we are diving deeper into this interesting topic.

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Sylvia hiking the Rota Vicentina in Portugal

Are leggings and hiking pants the same?

Hiking leggings and hiking pants are not the same, and there are fundamental differences between the two.

Each has its benefits and drawbacks, and choosing between them will be a personal decision.

Hiking pants

Hiking pants are weather-resistant, lightweight, quick-drying, and loose-fitting.

However, the drawbacks of pants are that they are usually very slim cut and tapered for straight bodies.

They don’t lend themselves well to a curvier body type and seem to have been designed with men in mind.

Hiking leggings

Hiking leggings are often made from softer materials than pants. They are tight-fitting and stretchy and can feel like a second skin.

Thanks to modern technology and moisture-wicking fabric, stylish hiking leggings can be just as quick-drying as pants.

There are marked differences between the two and deciding which to choose will depend on many factors, including your hike’s length and difficulty.

We’ll dive further into this in the next chapter.

Sylvia wearing the Baleaf fleece-lined leggings without pockets
Sylvia wearing the Baleaf fleece-lined hiking leggings

What’s the difference between hiking pants and hiking leggings?

When we talk about hiking pants vs hiking leggings, we aren’t talking about traditional jeans and gym pants.

The types of trousers we will be discussing are specially designed hiking pants and technical leggings built for outdoor pursuits.

Hiking pants were initially designed for hikers who needed a practical alternative to jeans and other trousers.

Although there also exist men’s hiking leggings, these were only introduced after the women’s variants.

Wondering if guys can wear leggings? Find it out here.

Hiking leggings grew mostly out of the rising trend in female hikers wearing normal leggings ( often yoga pants) on the trail.

Wondering if you can hike in yoga pants, click here.

In this post, you can read everything about the differences between yoga pants and leggings and hiking pants and yoga pants.

Women seemed to prefer the comfort of the legging over the hiking pants which are more flared and not so well-fitting.

Companies began to make leggings for women on hikes that were both comfortable and durable.

Sylvia hiking the Rota Vicentina in Portugal
The trails of the Rota Your hiking pants or leggings must be comfortable and suited for the type of trail you will be doing


Hiking leggings

Hiking leggings have come on leaps and bounds in recent years.

They are snug fitting and can feel like a second skin, making them a much more comfortable alternative to pants, especially if you are a curvier woman. A gusseted crotch can add to the freedom of movement.

They are made with high waistbands that sit above the waist and offer adequate protection without the fear of bunching.

They dry quickly when wet and are more breathable than hiking pants.

The drawback is when you wear them with hiking boots, they might be less comfortable around the calf.

Hiking pants

They are versatile and lightweight trousers often made from nylon or other quick-drying materials.

They usually don’t have any bulky areas or extra materials sewn into them to keep them fast-drying, and this means that they are comfortable to walk in.

Lots of pockets with mesh inside allow the air to circulate on hot days.

Pants can be less comfortable for women as the seams make them more likely to cause chafing.

They are often more of a straight cut design and because of this may not offer the freedom of movement you might want on the trail.

They often don’t have a high waist which means that they don’t cover your tummy.

If you are looking for a pair of high waisted hiking pants, have a look at our selection here.

In this post, you can also find all info on how to choose the best hiking pants.


Hiking leggings and pants both have advantages, and the preference of choice is a personal one. The weather and the type of hike will be a driving factor in the decision between the two.

Hiking with hiking leggings near Capetown
Hiking near Cape Town


Hiking leggings

Leggings and technical tights are lightweight and won’t be a burden to your backpack.

They are lightweight against the skin, and as most don’t have any pockets, you won’t add any extra weight to them.

Designed to be a second skin, they move with you and hug the skin as they go.

If the leggings are too lightweight they tear or snag more easily than pants and they might not stand up so well against harsher terrain.

Hiking pants

Hiking pants are mostly made from lightweight nylon and spandex or elastane making them weigh less than even a cotton pair of shorts.

The lightweight nature of hiking pants makes it easy and convenient to carry an extra pair in your backpack without weighing it down.

Lightweight nylon is incredibly strong and even the lightest pair of hiking pants can stand up to the trials of the trail and the bush.


If you are looking for lightweight materials, you should be careful not to compromise on quality.

Lightweight material in both leggings and pants should be quality material.

Again the choice between the two relies heavily on the type of terrain you choose for your hike.

Hiking with hiking leggings in winter
Leggings are the absolute winner when it comes to stylish hiking gear for women


Hiking leggings

When thinking about hiking pants and leggings functionality should always take precedence over form, however, we aren’t suggesting that you can’t look good while pursuing the outdoors.

Leggings do feel better against the skin and cut down on the chaffe factor caused by pant seams, but the snug fit isn’t the only reason people prefer them.

Many women prefer the look of leggings and when you spend such a long time pursuing the trail you want to look good doing it.

Hiking pants

The problem with hiking pants is that they don’t look as good as leggings and this is in fact a problem with many outdoor clothing ranges.

They seem to be built with men in mind and women’s products have only slight variants on the original male design.


In this instance the hiking leggings have it for us, they are far more stylish than the hiking pants and some of them can even pass as everyday wear.

Trail Norte Pequeno São Jorge Azores Portugal
Norte Pequeno trail


Hiking leggings

As well as being snug-fitting modern technical leggings are built to withstand the outdoors.

They are made from ever more breathable materials which help to stave off the hiking funk.

This makes them a great option for layering if you are hiking in changeable weather or winter conditions. They allow a layer of breathable fabric which also helps to keep the heat in.

Although they are not as microbicidal as pants, leggings are still a great option for hiking.

Hiking pants

Pants have been designed for the trail over many years and have built-in microbial technologies for longer hikes.

They stay fresher longer and because they don’t hug your skin quite as tightly they are less prone to funk than leggings.

Pockets with mesh insides add an extra tough of ventilation.

Pants may be colder in harsher conditions and too much cold air can seep in through those mesh pockets


Depending on your terrain and season the amount of breathability you need will vary.

The length of the hike will have to be taken into consideration too.

If you choose to go for a winter hike for 3 or 4 days and layer up, you might find the leggings don’t hold up as well as they do over a shorter time.

However, if you are going on a day hike during winter, leggings might do just fine.

Fjallraven Abisko Men Trekking tights
Fjallraven Hiking tights with reinforced knees and rear



Modern advancements in clothing technology means tights are catching up with pants. They offer a wide range of benefits and can be just as hard-wearing.

Many leggings now have kevlar reinforced knees and seats and offer extra protection when on the trail.

Hiking pants

Hiking pants offer plenty of durability that comes from years of hiking know-how.

Covered with DWR, water-resistant, fast-drying, and lightweight, pants can be soaked, dried quickly, worn again, and be ready to do it all again.

Nylon is not pull-proof though and with all the pockets and zips they can catch and snag in the bush.


Hiking leggings are far more durable than they used to be.

More and more they offer reinforced knees and seat areas and are made from hi-tech fabrics that are designed to stand up to hard hikes.

Pants are also durable, but they have a lot of toggles, and the more dangly bits, the higher the likelihood of damage.

Squat in leggings
Leggings are much more versatile than hiking pants


Hiking Leggings

Hiking leggings are incredibly versatile, they can be used for hiking and climbing but they are also comfortable and stylish enough for everyday use.

They will see you through a yoga or gym class, and thanks to the breathability of technical leggings you can head straight from the gym to the grocery store.

Hiking leggings are also great for running, they offer protection and comfort whatever the weather.

Hiking Pants

Hiking pants are versatile pieces of clothing that can be worn as smart-casual trousers.

They can be worn on the golf course and make playing in warm or wet weather more comfortable.

Hiking pants and hybrids are now more versatile than ever and a good slim-fitting pair is an ideal pick for bicycling.


Hiking leggings are massively versatile and lend themselves well to not only hiking but to many other sports and activities.

The breathability and moisture wicking material make them ideal for gym goers who need to go straight from the gym to other activities.

Hiking leggings are a must-have item for lounging, sports, and everyday use.

Hiking pants lend themselves well to different uses and are a great staple for any wardrobe.

Sylvia with the fleece lined winter hiking leggings
Recent hiking leggings also have pockets to store your mobile phone or other valuables


Hiking leggings

Pockets are an important feature for many hikers, the more pockets that you have, the more belongings you can carry.

Pockets mean you can comfortably carry your cell phone, money, and even a small map.

More and more hiking leggings now come with pockets and are a great alternative to hiking pants.

In the past, they did not come with pockets but there have been recent innovations to make hiking leggings more practical.

If you are looking for a pair of hiking leggings with pockets, click here.

Hiking pants

One of the main advantages of hiking pants is that they come with many pockets.

These pockets are also often deeper than the ones you find in hiking leggings. Pockets are also often mesh lined which means it’s easier to ventilate.


If you are looking for lots of pockets hiking pants are the absolute winner.

Although hiking leggings come with more and more pockets they just can’t compete with hiking pants that have more and deeper pockets.

LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois
The LaSalle waterfall in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, USA

Waterproof and wind-resistant

Hiking leggings

Technical leggings are also wind resistant and will keep the wind rash at bay.

There are drawbacks with leggings being so tight-fitting. There will come a point where the moisture will soak through to your skin with prolonged exposure.

Hiking pants

Are hiking pants waterproof? Not all hiking pants are waterproof. Waterproof hiking pants have a gore-tex layer or similar type of membrane that helps the pants to breathe while keeping the rain out.

Of course, waterproof hiking pants are also more expensive than non-waterproof ones. But they will keep you dry in the rain and windy conditions.


Hiking pants take the edge for hikes with more extreme weather conditions and longer duration.

Some hiking leggings are fine for light showers and wind for a few hours at a time but aren’t going to hold up as well as pants over a 3-day hike in rough weather.

Hiking in jeans on a rainy day
The right hiking gear becomes all the more important in bad weather.


Hiking leggings

Although more and more hiking leggings are shower resistant and windproof they are not all-weather resistant.

They are not resilient enough to stand up to snow and heavy downpours and eventually something will seep through.

Some leggings also have a knack for riding up and this can leave your ankles and lower legs exposed.

This is even more likely in the sun when shorter leggings are preferred and you may end up with burnt ankles.

Hiking pants

Hiking pants are slightly more weather resistant than hiking leggings.

They are made to stand up to tougher downpours and to be exposed to extreme weather over a prolonged period of time.

They often offer UV protection and if you are opting for a convertible pair of hiking pants they are also suitable for wearing during warmer weather.

They aren’t very comfortable against the skin however and even less so when cold and fighting off rain.


In weather that is cold and wet, layering is probably the best option.

Wearing both leggings and pants in these circumstances will offer full comfort and protection as one compliments the other.


Hiking leggings

Prices vary. For good hiking leggings, you can be looking at anywhere from $25 to $150 dollars for the more expensive pairs.

Hiking pants

Again prices vary and we would avoid the cheaper options, it’s best to do your own research and decide which pair is best for you and your hiking needs.


The best bet is to stay in a price range you are comfortable with but without scrimping, a solid pair of leggings or pants will be your best friend on a hike.

A hike in the forest
More challenging hikes will require more technical leggings

Can I wear leggings for hiking?

Normal leggings and yoga pants aren’t designed for long hikes, they are fine for a short walk or recreational climbs but should be avoided for long days on the trail.

Technical leggings and hiking leggings are great for taking on the trail.

They were designed with this purpose in mind and have great in-built technology to make sure that your hike is comfortable.

Weather-resistant and quick-drying materials make hiking leggings an ideal addition to any hikers backpack

Do you really need hiking pants?

A better question would be when do you need hiking pants?

Hiking pants are an essential part of trail life. There is no doubt that they are a good design that has spent many years in the making.

Hiking pants offer great protection against both light and heavy showers and cold winds.

They also offer UV protection and they are versatile enough to change to shorts when the weather becomes too hot.

If you are looking for a pair of high waist hiking shorts, click here.

Hiking pants are essential for layering with hiking leggings and for weather conditions that leggings aren’t built for.

A mountain hike
Hiking pants might be the better choice for long multi-day trails.

What type of pants are best for hiking?

If you feel most comfortable in hiking pants, you should consider the ability of the pants to do the job.

If you are hiking in summer, you should look for a pair of lightweight nylon pants that is good quality and can stand up to the trail.

Trying on different brands and designs is the best way to find the right fit for you.

Seasons and trail difficulty will determine the pants you choose but no matter the season they should be water-resistant and lightweight.

When looking for hiking leggings comfort should be one of your deciding factors, the best way to determine the right fit and cut for you is through trial and error.

You should look for leggings made of quick-drying, breathable, and moisture-wicking material. Check if the leggings have pockets.

Lightweight materials are fast drying and leggings with inbuilt support will stand up to tougher trails.

If you are wondering what’s the best material for leggings, click here. 


Hiking leggings and pants are both good options for hiking and mountaineering.

They can be worn individually and they can complement each other.

Leggings have come a long way in recent years and the material is now strong enough to withstand the call of the wild.