OUTDOOR BASICS

Hiking in Jeans: Can You Hike in Your Favorite Denims?

Hiking in Jeans
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

You’re all set to go on your hiking trip, and you have everything set up: your tent is packed, you have plenty of food, you have your first aid kit, and a new compass so you won’t get lost. It feels like you have everything planned, down to the smallest detail, but there may be one important thing you might have forgotten: hiking pants. You might think that hiking in jeans will be fine, but we’re here to tell you that that’s a big mistake.

Instead of choosing to save money by sticking with the jeans you’ve worn everywhere, we’re here to tell you that there are better alternatives. Not only will they help you to stay more comfortable, but they can also heighten the experience of your hike.

Group of People Hiking

So why not join on this journey to providing you with better hiking pants options than your old jeans? You might find yourself surprised as to just how beneficial they can be.

Why Denim is Bad

Jeans and denim are made from cotton, which is a natural fiber. That seems like a great choice, since you’re heading into the outdoors, but it’s the worst decision you can make. Cotton is known for taking an extremely long time to dry, so if you’re caught in a downpour, you’re going to be sitting in those wet jeans for a very long time.

Denim also gets extremely heavy when it gets wet. Instead of a quick, breezy hike, you’ll feel like you’re slogging through quicksand with all this extra weight on your legs. And rain isn’t the only way it gets wet: the sweat from your skin as you hike is easily absorbed, and will only add to the discomfort your feel.

Wet Jeans

In fact, cotton is known to absorb up to 27 times their weight in water, so you can imagine how much energy you’ll be wasting, slogging along with all that heft on your legs.

Think denim could be a good choice when it’s cold? You’d be wrong there too. Denim will literally pull the heat from your skin and will grow ice crystals along its surface area. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it will greatly increase the risk of hypothermia.

Because of how much water denim absorbs, in conjunction with the fact that wet clothing draws heat away from the body 25 times faster than dry clothing is a complete recipe for disaster.

Jeans

Denim also isn’t known for being very soft. While hiking in jeans, you’ll likely experience chafing from the fabric rubbing against your skin. You can be left with anything from irritation to painful, bleeding sores that will ruin the enjoyment of your hike.

Why People Make the Mistake of Denim

That isn’t to say that denim isn’t without its advantages. Denim was once the be-all of fabrics, as it’s soft and extremely comfortable to wear. It’s even worn by many manual laborers on the job because of this.

But it’s also quite durable and abrasion-resistant, meaning that even after wearing them for long periods of time and for many years, you’ll rarely fine a hole or a tear in them. That means needing to replace them less often, and getting as much of every dollar spent out of one pair of jeans as possible.

Jeans

That might make them the perfect choice for hiking, since denim won’t get snagged on branches and passing thorns, and will keep your legs protected from biting insects as well. They’ll also keep your legs protected from the sun, sparing you from those awful blisters from sunburn.

And if you’re looking for a fabric that won’t irritate your skin, then jeans should be your number one choice. Cotton is completely hypoallergenic, so denim is the perfect choice for those with skin allergies.

Hiking in Jeans

With these notes in mind, they’re great for camping and short walks, but for hikes? There are much better choices out there for you. And if you do start your trip with jeans, at least bring another pair of hiking pants or shorts to change into if they do get wet.

Alternatives to Denim

Now that we’ve discussed why denim is a bad idea, it’s time to take a look at what fabrics you should be looking at.

Synthetic

Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon are actually the best choices to wear. Not only are they light, but they also wick moisture away from the skin to leave you feeling cool. When you’re on a hike, feeling hot and sticky is the last thing you want if you have any hope of getting to the end of your trip.

Syintetic Fabric Pants

Synthetic fabrics also dry in no time, so on the off chance that they do get wet, either from your skin or from weather, you only have to hang them up to dry by a fire for a few minutes and they’re ready to go again.

Wool

This is also a natural fabric that works well at keeping moisture away from the skin. It’s also a great insulator on those days when the temperatures drop a little below normal. It dries quickly, is breathable, and isn’t as itchy as old school wool sweaters.

Wool

They’re now made from a finer, softer wool that works with your body to keep you comfortable. The only downside to wool is that it does get a bit heavy when it’s wet, but it will still keep you warm until you can change your clothes.

Cotton Blends

This may sound counterproductive, but cotton does have some benefits. It feels soft against the skin and is very breathable so that you’re not feeling sticky. But in order to counter the other drawbacks of cotton, look for fabrics that have been blended with cotton.

Cotton Blend

This will create a garment that provides you with everything from both sides of the coin, so you can still be comfortable while wearing your favourite pair of jeans.

Features to Look For

If these fabric options don’t seem to float your boat, there are some key features you could look for instead. These features are what make the fabric options above great choices, but knowing what they are would make your search a lot easier.

  • Insulation: you want something that will keep you warm when it gets chilly. Hypothermia is a real risk that anyone can face if they’re wholly unprepared.
  • Moisture-wicking: fabric should remove sweat from the skin to minimize your chances of feeling cold. By removing sweat, it is also removing the bacteria from your skin that leaves you with that stinky smell. Wicking fabrics will also prevent that awful chafing, as well as reducing the risks of hypothermia from having damp skin.
  • Water-resistant: fabric should be able to resist or repel water at some level in order to keep you comfortable from the elements.
  • Breathable: getting sweaty is a normal part of any hike, but a fabric that doesn’t breathe is only going to make you hotter than you really are. It will also encourage more sweat production and make you smell even worse, so a breathable fabric will definitely prevent this.
  • Sun protection: hiking in the sun without the proper protection is a recipe for sunburns. Look for clothing with SPF factors so that you know how well they can protect you.

Person is Hiking

Considerations to Keep in Mind

In order to determine what kinds of fabrics you should look for, there are some elements of your hiking trip you should first consider. These will help you determine which hiking pants to go for or carry with you, depending on your needs.

  • Hiking area: are you going to be hiking through the desert or rose bushes? You want to be able to keep your legs protected from the sun as well as any obstacles that will catch and tear at your skin. Lightweight pants will definitely do the trick of both.

Hiking

The area you’re hiking in could also be prone to biting insects, so having this extra protection against them will prevent itching in the future.

  • Weather: you need to be able to cool off quickly when the temperatures get too high, so you may want to consider hiking shorts instead of pants. Feeling the breeze on your legs can give you the boost of morale you need to keep going. But don’t forget that the temperatures will dip when the sun goes down, so you’ll need protection against that as well. A good pair of convertible pants is a good option to handle both ends of the thermometer.
  • Hiking time: are you going to be spending hours up to days on your hike? Or are you only planning for a few hours of hiking before you head back home? If it’s the latter, then you won’t have to consider your pair of hiking pants as much. But for extensive hikes, you’re going to want to go the extra mile. Take into account the different kinds of terrain you’ll be traveling through, and pack a variety of hiking pants to help you conquer them all.
  • Budget: not everyone can afford the top notch pair of pants featured on every outdoor website you find. For that reason, you may have to settle for something cheaper that still works, but doesn’t do the job as well. However, you should care more about functionality than how stylish the hiking pants are.

Go for products that were designed with flexibility and durability in mind, so that you can hike for much longer.

Hiking Pants

And if you do choose to go for the bargain products that won’t break your wallet, exercise special care with keeping them clean so that you can make them last a long time.

  • Frequency of hikes: if you’re only going once a year, then you shouldn’t be spending a lot of money on hiking pants. However, if it’s a newfound obsession of yours, then you’ll want to invest in clothing that will last you a very long time and are comfortable as well.

Covering All Your Bases

If you can’t find fabric options that cover all of these features, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of layering. In fact, layering is highly encouraged. That way, you can still have all of the protection that you need instead of running the risk of being without. If the layering proves to be too sweltering, you can always remove the unnecessary layers to cool off.

Convertible Hiking Pants

You can always wear leggings or long johns under your pants to provide you with a little extra insulation. Invest in a good pair of convertible hiking pants that  allow you to unzip the legs and convert them into shorts so that your legs can breathe. Consider waterproof outerwear to help you fight against a downpour. Try a combination of different clothing and layers to see what’s not only comfortable, but will also help make your hike more of a success.

Overview

Denim might seem like the best choice all-around because everyone already has a pair in their closet. And if you are just taking short walks or staying at your campsite a majority of the day, then denim will work just fine. But for long hikes, you’re going to want fabric that’s better suited for your activity level, the weather, how long you’ll be walking for, and how much time you have for stops between each hike.

Hiking in Jeans

With that in mind, we hope that our advice to look at other fabric options has made you think twice about taking another pair of jeans with you on your trip. You’ll have a much better time with lighter fabrics that work with your skin rather than a soaked pair of jeans that’s dragging you down.

Do you have any advice of your own as to what hiking clothing as worked for you? Are there hiking short or pants you definitely recommend? Please be sure to leave your stories with us in the comments section below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry Mueller

Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.