Often people will have a single layer of clothing for their legs. Generally legs need less protection from weather than the torso for several reasons. Moisture management is typically less challenging and in most activities, your legs  generate more heat than your arms because you are using your legs to propel yourself. Legs also tend to be more sheltered from rain than your upper torso except when climbing.  All these factors means that the comfort range of pants will tend to be wider than clothing for your torso. The most significant challenge presented by legs is that they tend to get abraded more than your torso, so pants generally need to be more durable for an equivalent lifetime.

My Choices

Caveat: I use the same clothing for around the town, at work, while traveling, and for outdoor activities like backpacking, camping, and hiking. My absolute requirements for pants are they are made from a quick dry material than is reasonably durable, no giant cargo style pockets, no obviously reinforced bum/knees, no zip-off legs, good cut, and has pockets that are deep enough that things don’t fall out when I sit down in a chair that slopes back. Extra credit if the material looks like classic chino twill on the outside, lightly calendared on the inside for comfort, doesn’t have “discreet” inseam pockets on the side of the leg, no prominent logos, and doesn’t have a built in belt.

I really like Outlier Slim Dungarees. They fit me perfectly, the fabric is excellent. The only downside is that when it’s above 75F and I am physically active they tend to chafe my inner thighs. In warmer weather I switch to OR Ferrosi Transit Pants which don’t look as tailored, but perform very well with great mobility. Both are styled like slim cut jeans, but made from a durable, breathable, and stretchy technical material. They can be used the the back country as well as in a business meeting with a blazer. When shorts are appropriate I wear Outlier New Way Shorts which fit me perfectly, or Patagonia Hydropeak Hybrid Walk Shorts which dry more quickly. When engaged in high energy activities I often use a pair of Tri-Shorts. They dry quickly, are comfortable when wet, don’t normally chafing, and work for swimming, biking, running, or hiking. When doing long, hot hikes/runs I use a pair of Xoskin Compression shorts which have always prevented chafing.

“Hiking” / “Travel” Pants

Outlier, BluffworksMakers and Riders, and Wool and Prince makes expensive, but very nice pants designed for an active (primarily urban) lifestyle. When Western Rise first started making pants I recommended them, but over the last few years they have had inconsistent quality, fit, and generally poor customer service. I no longer feel comfortable recommending them.

There are a number of less expensive pants made by more mainstream companies that market to “active / outdoor lifestyle”. Most of these pants are made from supplex or other light but durable nylon fabric. Examples of companies that sell these sort of pants are: Columbia, Ex Officio, Kuhl, Mountain Hardware, Patagonia, REI, TNF, etc. Ex Officio, prAna, Royal Robbins. Ex Officio seems to use a lighter fabric than many which is nice in the summer because it’s a bit cooler. Lululemon ABC pants are popular with some, though they don’t feel right to me.

Nylon pants have a number of variances. You will likely be able to fine a pair of pants which will check all your boxes. Example of features / variances:

  • fabricsL no, 2way, 4way stretch)
  • cut: slim, standard, baggy
  • pocket configuration
  • zip off legs?
  • integrated mesh briefs.

I would suggest going with whatever pants fit well and have a design you like.  While I don’t agree with their rankings, Best Hiking Pants tends to list many of the decent pants made by main stream companies.  It seems most hiking / travel pants end up with a thigh pocket which I dislike. There was a good thread on BPL in 2023 about durable trail pants.

Some people like convertible pants since they can worn as pants when it is cool and then convert to shorts when it warms up.  I wore a pair of Ex Officio convertible pants at least twice a week between 1992 and 2006, plus many successive days on every backpacking trip I took between 1996-2004. They were still in good shape (ignoring a few pine sap stains) when they were retired, I just stopped using zip-offs. Part of the reason was my wife really disliked them, but I also found the zippers could chafe on extended trips.

I would recommend checking out the follow pants. Most have more textual fabric which is better better looking than the classic nylon hiking pants and I also find more comfortable against the skin

Pants other people have recommended but I don’t have experience with


Soft shells have been gaining popularity since they are comfortable over a wide range of conditions and tend to be made from durable materials.  I have a general post about softshells. A quick caveat, I have yet to find softshell pants that I am happy to wear in hot weather other than the OR Ferrosi.

There are a number of other quality travel friendly softshell pantsMaker and Rider also makes some nice soft shell pants as well as some very nice 4 season pants made from wool. I am not fond of the Huckberry Proof Nomad pants. The fabric is too stretchy without any texture. In recent years the gap between soft shells and “nylon hiking/travel pants” has really shrunk. I am not sure how useful this distinction is these days.

 If you don’t mind more “outdoors” styling, there are a number of excellent softshell pants made specifically for climbing, skiing, etc. Many of these are make from Schoeller Dryskin. For many years I used a pair of Marmot ATV for cool to cold outdoor activities. The ATV pants were comfortable when I was active down to 15 F (skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, moderate duration ski lift rides) and still acceptably comfortable when it was 45 F and I was engaged in demanding activities.  They were even comfortable when I was inactive in 70 F (eating lunch inside a lodge). If I expect conditions to be below 20F, I add a mid-weight base or a wind shell.

Rain Pants

I have a general post about rain gear.  As for rain pants, there are a variety of theories.  Some people believe that legs work hard enough that rain shell for legs is typically not needed.  In warmer conditions this works well for me, but when the temperature dips below around 45F I found that I don’t like soggy pants on my legs and started to carry rain pants. I am using a Zpacks Vertice Rain Pants which work pretty well. My experience is that my legs produce less moisture than my torso, so I don’t have to be as picky when it comes to breathability for rain pants as well choice a rain jacket.  Pretty much anything that is sufficiently durable would work for me.


When I am engaged in demanding physical activities, I use shorts down to 30F. “Around town”, I typically switch to using shorts when the daytime stays over 70F. When active, I find motion keeps my legs warm enough when it’s 30F or warmer, though I might switch to pants when I need to protection from bug bites or abrasions from vegetation. If it rains, I often just let my my legs get wet because the heat my legs generate keeps me warm enough to be comfortable.

Kilts / Skirts

I know a number of men and women who like using kilts, skirts, or even full dresses when traveling, hiking, and backpacking. Mountain Hardware makes a Kilt designed for outdoor use which seems to be a cult favorite.  I intended to experiment with hiking in a kilt, but could never bring myself to use one in real life. I guess I was afraid the fashion police would get me.

One think I did use for awhile was a rain kilt. I found these pretty effective, but ultimately switch back to rain pants because I found them more versatile.


Many people require little insulation for their legs to feel comfortable while being active, but it’s also important to remember that your body is a system. Your upper thighs come just after your core torso and head/neck areas in the amount of heat you can lose. So even though you legs tend not to be as affect by cold, insulating your upper legs can be a big help if you are trying to stay warm. Several companies including Mountain Hardware and Montbell make insulated skirts / kilts.

There are several ways to keep legs warm. For most people a base layer plus a shell work well or one of the warmer softshell pants. There are a number of companies which make down or high loft synthetic pants. As mentioned above, there are companies that make insulated skirts.

Managing Chafing

Chafing = Wetness + friction. Something to keep in mind is that you want to minimize chafing. One of the most effective solutions to minimize friction against the skin is to wear tight fitting boxer-briefs, biking shorts, or tights which are made from nylon or polyester with lycra. A number of people I know really like Under Armor compression shorts. Some people apply products like Glide as a preventative measure. I found that Glide did significantly reduce chafing, but I thought it was a bother to use, especially on trips which are more than a day or two. Wearing light, open, well breathing pants/shorts helps minimize accumulated moisture.

There are some new products which are base layers with stretch sections designs to compress and support your muscles to enhance performance such as those made by CW-X.  I have no experience with theses, but they have gotten some good reviews.

Low Cost

Nylon warm-up pant or running shorts from Target, Walmart, etc for running, backpacking, etc

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