When you get into any outdoors activity, sometimes it’s difficult to find answers that make sense for your situation. I used to hike with jeans, but now I don’t… does that mean it’s not okay to hike with jeans?
You can hike successfully in jeans and many people do. Jeans are often thick and durable and provide more protection but many choose to use more lightweight pants with synthetic fabrics to cut down on weight and increase comfort. From our numbers, 20% of people hike in jeans while 69% will not.
Does anybody wear jeans anymore while hiking? Well, for one, my dad still does. I’ll tell you some reasons why people have jumped ship from hiking in jeans and hopefully give you some insights as to whether you need to invest in a new pair of pants or not.
By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.
Can You Hike In Jeans? Yes!
If you search on the internet you’ll see a lot of people saying that jeans are terrible outdoorswear and that you’re crazy for wearing them while hiking.
I wanted to set the record straight.
You can definitely hike while wearing jeans.
You can go backpacking for 18 miles in a single day with a 60 lb pack wearing jeans.
I know this because my dad does it every year we go backpacking. My dad’s relaxing clothes is a pair of jeans.
Do People Wear Jeans While Hiking? Let’s Ask the People!
I know my dad prefers a good pair of jeans for a lot of reasons, but I was curious what other people felt. I decided to ask over 70 camper and hikers whether they wear jeans when hiking.
19-25% of respondents said they hike in jeans (roughly 6% said they only hike in stretchy jeans). I learned a lot about people’s preferences, and I even learned that some people are actually passionate about this subject.
Growing up when going on these backpacking excursions I would also wear jeans, or often my dad’s old army fatigues. Those pants were indestructible. I can tell you there are some advantages to jeans and other tough pants. Let’s get to them:
Jeans Are Durable
Jeans take a lot of abuse and are ideal for grimy tasks because they just seem to magically absorb dirt. This has its disadvantages, but if you are looking for something that will stand up to thorns, brush, or whatever comes your way during a hike, then jeans will do that for you.
This isn’t quite verified, but I think my dad has worn the same pair of jeans for the past 100 years.
If you’re walking in brush with a lot of undergrowth, then jeans are actually much better for that task since jeans won’t tear at the first thorn. That’s why on a ranch or other undeveloped regions of the U.S. where you have to do a lot of walking you’ll often find Wranglers.
For Some, Jeans Are Comfortable
I can’t say that jeans are comfortable for everyone, but I do know for a lot of people jeans are the clothes they relax in. If you’re used to wearing jeans while relaxing and hanging out, you may find that hiking long distances is no problem at all.
This has even improved over the past few years. Jeans now are made with a mix of stretchy materials. I for one when I wear jeans appreciate the extra elasticity when squatting down to pick up something or something like that.
In general, jeans for gals are more stretchy than jeans for guys, although that is changing over time. The stretchier jeans will be be more comfortable for hiking in than others.
In fact, when I asked my question about jeans several passionate respondents explained that they feel most comfortable in jeans. If you grow up with your casualwear being jeans than that makes a lot of sense.
If You Have Jeans, They’ll Work Fine For Hiking
I want to sum this up because sadly there is a lot of shaming of other people for what clothing they decide to wear. The hip and modern hiker might not wear jeans but several people do and it’s not a problem. If you’re hiking in mild weather, you really won’t have any exceptional problems (although there are some downsides I’ll talk about in a minute).
In short, if you have jeans and you are considering a hike in the summertime, you are going to be fine.
There are a few scenarios where it can make a lot of sense to try other types of pants, though–in fact jeans can actually be dangerous. I’ll explain.
Why You Should Consider Different Pants For Hiking
So hiking in jeans is definitely possible and it’s definitely still a thing. And I used to hike in jeans often growing up. But, I don’t now. I won’t say “I’ve seen the light”, but I definitely have experienced more activewear and I now know my preferences.
I know now, since I asked, that 69% of campers and hikers say they will not hike in jeans. The reasons given match up with what I’ll explain, here:
Jeans Are Heavy
Obviously this depends on the type of jeans, but in general jeans are heavier than other types of activewear pants.
I weighed my adventure clothing and came up with these numbers:
|Regular Cut Jeans (male) (33-32)
|Cargo Zipper Sportswear (similar to this one from Columbia on Amazon)
|Generic Gym Shorts
Jeans are often thicker and because of that are more durable. They’ll withstand going through the underbrush without your legs getting scratched or the fabric being torn (most often… they do wear out of course).
But comparing 21 ounces (jeans) to 6 ounces (gym shorts) is a huge difference, especially when you are hiking over 15 miles a day. You have to lift your legs thousands of times as you’re hiking and that extra weight piles up.
I won’t say that jeans will only allow you to hike 17 miles while shorts will allow you to hike 20 miles in a day–our bodies often get fatigued in other ways like our feet and our knees, but it is an extra boost.
If you’re trying to hike as far as possible in as little time as possible than you probably need to try another adventure pants option other than jeans.
Jeans Stay Wet
So, this isn’t necessarily about jeans in particular, but it’s about cotton. Often people exclaim “cotton kills” and while there is some truth to that, the danger is only present when you’re in extreme weather conditions. If you’re hiking in mild 50-80 degree weather, jeans will be totally fine.
Jeans DO dry out, just like any item of clothing–but cotton is especially prone to retaining moisture for long periods of time. If you’re interested to know how cotton performs as a base-layer and as activewear in general, check out our article here.
Now, as I said, if it’s warm outside and your jeans get wet, it’s not a big deal. It’s inconvenient, and in my opinion it’s really uncomfortable to walk with wet jeans, but you’ll be fine. But there are two extra problems with this.
Soggy Jean Weight
We already mentioned how jeans are heavier than other types of activewear, well adding water compounds this enormously.
I love to hike in the Uinta mountains–it’s been a family tradition since I was a kid. As with many mountainous regions, it’s not uncommon for it to rain every day, even just for an hour or so spread out through the day. Even though your pack and your torso will block a lot of the rain, the grass is going to get wet.
Guess what goes through the grass–your legs. So effectively, the bottom of your jean pant legs gets sodden much easier in a lot of different scenarios so your hiking weight gets even higher and higher in the foot region which makes hiking or backpacking harder than it already is.
Staying Wet in Extreme Cold Is Very Bad
Having wet jeans in mild weather is annoying, but if the weather gets cold (below 45 degrees Fahrenheit), wet jeans can be dangerous and lead to dangerous health conditions like hypothermia. If it’s cold and windy and your jeans are wet you are in very dangerous territory. This is where the phrase “cotton kills” comes from.
The wind will whip past your jeans and the evaporative cooling will suck all the heat from your body. This is a treacherous situation. If you find yourself in this situation, if you don’t have another pair of dry pants to change into it’s best to try and dry your pants via some method (such as by a fire. We write a post about how to dry your clothes by fire here).
Rotating like a rotisserie by a fire while wearing your jeans so it doesn’t get too hot isn’t a bad option.
Jeans Aren’t The Most Comfortable For Many
Earlier I said that some people feel most comfortable in jeans and that is still true, but the opposite is true. Many people (if not most people) find that jeans are uncomfortable in comparison to other pants options. So, it’s really subjective and up to you what your preferences are.
Because hiking pants are more lightweight and their fabrics are often finer, they are much more comfortable to wear.
My favorite hiking pants are some off brand that you won’t find in a store, anymore. But they look very similar to these on Amazon.
These types of pants dry quickly when they get wet. Among other benefits–but a feature on some of these types of pants is that the legs zip off at the knee.
This is perfect for hiking in the mountains because it gets hot and then suddenly it’s cold when the sun is behind clouds. This means you don’t have to bring multiple pairs of pants with you as well. You just zip off the bottom of the pants and you get shorts!
Anyway, these are the type of pants I love and recommend to anyone who wants to get into hiking. I think they are way more comfortable than jeans.
I’ve also gone hiking in gym shorts and that also has been a good experience, even with a heavy backpack.
Some Jeans Are Constrictive
As I mentioned, many jeans are now made with stretchy materials, and this is super important for hiking. If you have to climb steep terrain then it really is uncomfortable not to mention a huge waste of energy if you can’t raise your knee very high because your jeans are too constrictive.
Baggy jeans aren’t super in at the time of this writing, but they are slightly better in this respect because at least you have some mobility.
If you wear stretchy jeans than you won’t have a problem, here.
So… Why Don’t I Hike With Jeans?
All of these reasons are my reasons. I don’t think hiking with jeans is comfortable and feel like jeans are heavy, especially when they get wet. I don’t like feeling more encumbered while hiking or backpacking than I have to. I prefer more lightweight pants and especially pants with a high range of motion.
So, yes, you can hike in jeans and if it’s mild weather you’ll be fine. If you are going long distance, or if you have the potential to get a lot of rain or if it’s possible to get very cold, I’d look very hard at other options as you’ll find other types of pants work really well for those circumstances.