With so many different options and so many different opinions, it can be difficult to figure out what to wear when you go out for a hike. If you’re trying to decide between pants, leggings, or shorts while hiking, never fear, I asked a lot of people so you can know what’s commonly worn.
For hiking, long pants are the safest option in any location, but shorts are generally more comfortable during hot weather. In our survey for hikers, most females choose to wear leggings and most males choose to wear long pants. Many hikers agree that what you wear depends on weather and trail conditions.
However, there are many options for outdoor activewear and each one has its time and place. In some situations, shorts may be one of your best options. But for others, you will definitely want to opt for hiking pants or leggings. Additionally, you’ll want to know what not to wear on a hike so that you don’t make the same mistakes as hikers before you.
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To learn everything you need to know about whether you should wear shorts or pants while hiking on the trail, read on!
What’s Better For Hiking, Shorts, Pants, Or Leggings?
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the best bottom wear for hiking. While some people swear by hiking pants, others opt for convertible pants, shorts, or the most basic leggings. In sum, determining the best type of pants for outdoor activities depends on personal preference and experiences.
Wearing pants that cover your ankles is the safest option for hiking, but many people do hike in shorts, skirts, and even kilts. But to determine what people are actually wearing while they are hiking, we ask the hiking community to share their opinion and their own experiences.
Below, you can see the breakdown of what the hiking community agreed are the best options for clothing to wear on your legs while hiking in the great outdoors.
We Asked The People, They Answered
To find out what people wore while hiking on the trail, we sent out a survey to some of the most seasoned backpackers and hikers around. We got an overwhelming 122 responses from these hikers, and they shared their expertise on what to wear as pants or bottoms while on the trail.
As we were analyzing results, we noticed that there was a distinct difference between what female hikers said they wore and what male hikers said they wore. While some hikers seem to agree that longer pants were superior, the type of pants worn was different among male and female hikers.
So to properly analyze the survey responses, we will first discuss the overall results of what hikers wear as bottoms, but then we will delve deeper into the male and female responses of what you should wear on your legs while you hike.
What Do Hikers Wear?
|Type of Bottom
|Number of People (122 Total Responses)
|Skirt or Kilt
After we asked a total of 122 seasoned hikers about what they wear while on the trail, it was clear that long pants we’re superior to any other type of bottoms. While we did get some more adventurous (and likely joking) responses to our question about what hikers wear on their legs as they hike, pants and leggings seemed to be the most popular responses.
Yet, many hikers responded that what they wear on their legs will depend on the weather, the terrain, and the type of hike that they anticipate. For example, many hikers, both male and female, claimed that they prefer long pants when the weather is colder or if the terrain is more rugged. Also, many hikers explained that shorts are more desirable during the summertime and if the hike is on a more paved path and less rugged terrain.
When analyzing the results that we received from our survey, there were some responses that the hikers claimed were jokes, and others are inconclusive. While we do not recommend that you ever hike in your birthday suit, you can take the information from these tables however you want.
What Do Female Hikers Wear?
|Type of Bottom
|Number of People (63 Total Responses)
|Skirt or Kilt
Over half of all female hikers responded that they’re wearing some sort of long pant. Whether that pant is simply normal pants, pants made specifically for hiking, or leggings, nearly all of them reported wearing some sort of bottom that covered their entire leg.
What seemed to be the most different between female hikers and male hikers, or that female hikers were the most worried about chafing. if you have ever experienced chafing, it can be miserable. Chafing is caused when your legs or other body parts rub against each other as you walk and can result in a rather painful rash.
Many female hackers found that by wearing long pants, chafing was no longer a problem. However, it’s also important to note that most female hikers chose to wear some version of leggings or yoga pants for hiking.
Some female hikers elaborated on the reasons why they chose leggings when they answered the survey. Mostly, female hikers talked about how leggings were more stretchy and overall more comfortable compared to hiking pants. Additionally, some women found that hiking pants do not accommodate plus sizes and women who have larger hips. So, leggings seemed to be the best option for curvier women.
Along with wearing shorts, some female hikers found that wearing a skort or hiking skirt was also comfortable because the skirt allowed for better airflow and helped keep them cool. Whether this is truth or confirmation bias, we have yet to tell. Regardless, wearing a hiking skirt may also be a viable option for female hikers–and just thinking about it, it does make a lot of sense.
What Do Guys Wear for Hiking?
|Type of Bottom
|Number of People (59 Total Responses)
|Skirt or Kilt
Similar to female hikers, guy hikers mostly responded that wearing some sort of long pants was their go-to option for hiking. Additionally, more men opted for wearing shorts regardless of the weather than females. Plus, some men even found that wearing a kilt is one of the most comfortable options for hiking. While we’re not recommending that you choose a kilt for your hiking attire, it was rather surprising to see that almost 7% of all men surveyed responded that their primary hiking gear was a kilt because it allows for more airflow and better flexibility.
From some guys I know personally who wear a kilt (some to the office even…, others to church… I’m not joking) the feedback is wildly positive–airflow and a sense of freedom. Both good fits for hiking.
Another interesting finding from analyzing the survey responses was that a few men claimed that they wished leggings were more socially acceptable for men to wear because the men who do wear leggings or have worn them in the past have noted that they are more comfortable to wear.
While a few men did respond that they do prefer wearing leggings while hiking (or at least to wear leggings under a pair of shorts), many others simply said they were too embarrassed to wear leggings, so they opted for hiking pants instead.
Now, we are all about wearing what is the most comfortable am best suited for your hike. So if you’re a guy and you want to wear leggings while you hike, you should just own it. Just wear those leggings and feel comfortable. You’ll probably thank yourself later.
I admit… I personally don’t have the guts for that, but I support you if you choose to go for it.
Reasons Why Pants Are Better For Hiking
Another overall trend that we noticed from the survey responses was that many people preferred to wear convertible hiking pants that can be worn as either pants or shorts. I am solidly in that camp. Convertible pants are awesome. Because the conditions of the hike will change depending on the year, hiking pants that are convertible are great for adapting to various temperatures and different types of terrain.
The safest and most practical thing for hiking is to wear pants, ultimately
Longer pants give better protection and other benefits such as the following:
- Protection against branches and bushes: If you are going off-trail, this becomes very important.
- Protection against poison ivy and other plants that can cause a rash.
- Protection against bugs, such as mosquitoes, flies, and ticks: In some regions and climates, you don’t even have a choice. You have to wear long pants so you don’t get ticks all over your legs. I’ve even seen some wrap duct tape with the sticky side up on their thighs so they can catch the ticks crawling up their legs. If you’re hiking in the south, you should count on wearing pants.
- In some situations, more comfort: If you have loose or short shorts, your chances of chafing from your legs rubbing together increase.
- Protection against chafing since the inseam area of the pants is higher
One particularly useful recommendation that we thought deserves more attention is the color of the pants that you wear while you are hiking. If any of you readers are from the Midwest or any other northern climate, you likely know that ticks and bugs can be a huge problem. Particularly for ticks, wearing a light-colored pant will allow you to easily spot the bug before it is able to get any higher and bite you.
We go into more depth on what colors work well for hiking. Believe it or not some colors work better than others! Check out our article, here, about it.
Furthermore, if you want to know more about hiking pants and want to know if they’re even worth it, check out my article here to find out!
Reasons You Might Wear Shorts For Hiking
Even though we recommend wearing pants for hiking for safety purposes, Shorts are incredibly comfortable, in comparison, for hiking. And if the conditions are right, you’ll be just fine.
On a personal note, I prefer to hike in shorts in good conditions. The key is to know what the conditions are:
- If it’s hot (80s and above), shorts are much more comfortable. Undeniably, the greater airflow makes a huge difference here.
- The trail is well maintained and there are no poisonous plants in the region (poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, etc). If you’re hiking in the rocky mountains you aren’t likely to see many poisonous plants and some trails are well-traveled and maintained–you can get away with hiking in shorts all day.
- Insect volumes are low enough to not bother you or you have other protection. DEET spray works well, but it has to be reapplied regularly. If you’re okay with reapplying bug spray or lotion frequently, or, if you are incredibly lucky to be in a place without a lot of bugs, then shorts work super well.
- The UV index is not too high or you’ll be walking in shade most of the time: Something to consider is that if you are hiking in places without a lot of shade that you can get sunburned on your legs (and if you’re wearing sandals, your feet). It’s not usually that easy to get sunburned on your bottom half while you’re walking, but if the conditions line up, you could get the dreaded “knee-pit-sunburn”. It’s horrible, trust me. If you wear shorter shorts you can get sunburned on your thighs as well. If you thought chafing was bad, before…
- If it’s warm and the ground is wet. Hiking in pants when the ground is super wet means your hiking pants are going to get soggy around the shins. If it’s warm enough, going with shorts works great because your legs will dry very quickly while with pants you’ll be carrying around sodden pant legs for a mile or two.
Those who responded that they prefer to wear shorts while hiking mainly chose to do so because they felt too constricted in their pants or did not want to invest in an expensive pair of hiking pants. If this sounds like you, you will be perfectly fine wearing a pair of running shorts for hiking. I’ve worn gym shorts on many hikes, and I can attest it works great in good conditions.
If you want the best of both worlds, I highly recommend convertible hiking pants. I have worn these on many a hike and the ability to zip off the bottom half of the pant legs is an incredibly useful feature. If it gets hot, you can take off the pant legs–if it gets cold, you can zip them back on. Although the convertible pants I have were from a no-name brand that probably doesn’t exist anymore, again, you can find some convertible hiking pants here on Amazon or here on REI.
But if you are a more advanced hiker and are going off-trail or hiking less traveled and difficult trails, you don’t want to choose shorts because you will be hiking through brush. You need protection from plants and bugs.
What Shouldn’t You Wear While Hiking?
Generally, there are some types of pants and attire that you should avoid wearing while hiking. Basically, anything that could potentially get in the way of hiking or cause yourself injury should be avoided. Below are a couple of things that you should avoid wearing while you are hiking.
Avoid Hiking In Your Birthday Suit
First of all, even though we had a percentage of hikers respond thought they would rather wear nothing while they were hiking, it is not a good idea to hike in the buff. While it is generally frowned upon by society, hiking without proper clothing can be dangerous because you could fall and hurt yourself, get scraped up by branches, or get bitten by dozens of bugs and be itchy for the rest of the day.
Sure wearing no clothes may be one of the breeziest solutions to staying cool on a hot day, but we believe that you likely know better and should not follow the advice of the hikers from the survey. Of course, this is also a common joke in the hiking community, and you should not take it seriously. Seriously.
Are Jeans All That Bad?
One thing that gets a lot of flack for some hikers are hikers that choose to hike in jeans. Many people successfully hike in jeans without any issues.
I go into detail on reasons why it’s okay to hike in jeans, but I also talk about reasons why you might not want to. Check out that post, jeans.
Don’t Wear Clothes That Can’t Get Dirty
While it should go without saying, you should try to avoid wearing nice clothes that you don’t want to get dirty. Even if you’re going on one a hiking date with your new significant other and you want to look fashionable, you will be better off wearing active gear more suitable for the hike.
In fact, if your significant other is into outdoor activities, you will probably look a lot less silly if you wear active gear that is suitable for hiking. Plus, you won’t run the risk of getting mud and dirt all over your favorite pair of pants or having the wind blow around your skirt or dress.
Instead of hiking in nice clothes, you should wear long pants, leggings, a moisture-wicking shirt, and active shoes to be the most prepared for a hiking trip. Are you interested in planning the perfect hiking date? Check out my article here to find out how!