Should You Hike in Jeans or Hiking Pants?

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There are a lot of things to consider when you’re getting ready for a hike. What time of day is it? What’s the weather like? What should I bring? One of the most important things to consider is what you’re going to wear. In this blog post, we’ll talk about if you should hike in jeans or just buy hiking pants.

Key Takeaways

  • Is hiking in jeans a good idea or are you better off wearing hiking pants?
  • Denim’s weight, water absorption, poor insulation and limited flexibility are drawbacks when it comes to using it for hiking compared to modern fabrics designed specifically for the purpose.
  • Alternatives like hiking pants offer better breathability & moisture wicking capabilities. If you must wear jeans opt for stretchy denim and layer up if needed

Should You Hike in Jeans?

We all love our blue jeans. They’re a staple of everyday comfort, universally flattering, and seem to go with just about anything. The question of whether to wear jeans hiking sometimes stirs up a debate between avid hikers. Some hikers swear by denim jeans while the majority recommend hiking pants.

The Case For Jeans

Jeans are made from denim which is woven carefully to resist abrasion and endure tough conditions, making them a durable choice for those who wish to wear jeans while hiking. Wearing jeans is also a budget-friendly alternative for those who wish to avoid the extra investment on specialized hiking pants.

The Case Against Jeans

Despite the appeal of denim, the critics of hiking in jeans raise some valid points. Here are a few reasons why hiking in jeans may not be the best choice:

  1. Jeans are notably heavier than most hiking pants.
  2. Jeans have a tendency to soak up moisture, which can cause chaffing and make jeans feel heavy even in a drizzle.
  3. In most traditional pairs of jeans it is hard to move and hike in various terrains

Understanding Denim’s Limitations

Having considered both perspectives, let’s now examine the denim characteristics that could potentially impact your hiking experience negatively.

When compared to other materials used in hiking gear, denim proves to be:

  • Heavier than single-layer nylon pants
  • More absorbent, soaking up a lot more water
  • Uncomfortable and impractical for hikes, especially in wet conditions
  • Lacking in insulation needed for cold weather hiking
  • Poor breathability in hot and humid weather

Unlike modern hiking pants designed specifically for such conditions.

Moreover, denim lacks the flexibility of other hiking gear fabrics, potentially making movements during hikes more strenuous and uncomfortable.

Heavy and Absorbent

One of the significant drawbacks of denim is its weight and high absorbency. Denim which is formed from cotton really can absorb a lot of moisture. This absorbent nature can become problematic on a hike, particularly in wet conditions. When wet, denim can soak up about 155% of its weight, making it much heavier than hiking pants.

This absorbency also means that denim takes longer to dry than other hiking-friendly materials like nylon or polyester. When denim gets wet, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable, hindering your hiking experience. Thus, the phrase “cotton kills” often resonates in the hiking community, referring to these characteristics of cotton-based materials like denim.

Poor Insulation

Another potential downside to denim is its poor insulation. Denim does offer some thermal insulation, but it falls short when it comes to retaining body heat during cold weather hiking. This is mainly due to its propensity to absorb water, which hampers its ability to retain heat.

When denim gets cold, it fails to keep you warm and can make you feel quite chilly, especially when you’re out hiking. Moreover, hiking in cold weather with denim can increase your chances of hypothermia, as it doesn’t keep you warm enough.

If the denim gets wet, it loses its insulating properties, making it even harder to stay warm. Wearing poorly insulated clothing can also mess with your blood flow and might even lead to frostbite.

Limited Flexibility

Flexibility is another area where denim may not rise to the challenge. Hiking often requires a good range of motion, whether you’re hiking over rocks or striding up steep inclines. Denim doesn’t offer much stretch, which can hinder your movement on the trail.

In the long run hiking in jeans may result in discomfort due to:

  • Chafing and rubbing
  • Lack of breathability and moisture-wicking
  • Heaviness and fatigue
  • Restricted movement

These factors make jeans less than ideal for hiking.

When Jeans Might Be Acceptable

Despite the limitations of denim, there might be situations where jeans could be an acceptable choice for jeans hiking. If you’re planning a short, easy hike in good weather, jeans might serve you well enough. Especially if you’re just doing a short town to trail hike and not a longer day hike in jeans.

Jeans are suitable for casual strolls in the park or short hikes on maintained trails but are not the best choice for more challenging trails or unfavorable weather conditions. In situations like these, I highly prefer lightweight pants made with quick-drying fabrics. They provide comfort and practicality during outdoor activities.

Alternatives to Jeans for Hiking

Instead of wearing jeans, I recommend looking into other alternatives such as hiking pants which are far lighter and more comfortable than denim jeans.

Hiking Pants

Modern hiking pants are made of tough fabrics like rip-stop nylon or breathable polyester with a touch of spandex/elastane to add to the mobility. These materials are typically more lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying than denim, making them a far superior choice for hiking.

Hiking pants are also designed to adapt to different weather conditions. Some features of hiking pants include:

  • Extra insulation for warmth in cold weather
  • Lighter weight and moisture-wicking fabric to keep you cool and comfy in hot weather
  • Water-repellent features to keep you dry during your hike

While hiking pants might not have the same urban style as jeans, they are perfectly fine and specifically designed to perform much better than jeans out on the trails. Here are some of our recommendations for best women’s hiking pants and the best men’s hiking pants.

Convertible Pants

Convertible pants are another versatile alternative to jeans for hiking. These pants come with zippers around each leg, allowing you to easily convert them into shorts. This feature allows you to adapt to changing weather conditions and ventilation needs without having to carry an extra pair of shorts.

Leggings and Tights

For those who prefer a snug fit and plenty of stretch, leggings and tights might be a viable alternative to jeans for hiking. They offer more flexibility and breathability than jeans, making them a comfortable option for hiking.

Leggings and tights can also be ideal for hiking in cooler weather. They offer:

  • Warmth and insulation, especially if made from materials like merino wool or if they’re wind and waterproof
  • Stretch and freedom of movement
  • A snug fit without any bagginess
  • Less likelihood of causing chafing

While they might not be the best option for hardcore conditions and longer treks, leggings and tights can be a good choice for more laid-back and shorter hikes.

Tips for Hiking in Jeans (If You Must)

If you’re determined to hike in jeans, here are some tips to enhance your comfort. These tips are designed to help you make the best of your denim on the trail, focusing on choosing the right kind of denim, layering wisely, and staying dry.

Choose Stretchy Denim

If you’re going to hike in jeans, go for a pair with a bit of stretch. Stretchy denim, made with a hint of elastane or spandex, offers a better fit and more flexibility than traditional denim, allowing you to move more freely on the trail.

When choosing stretchy denim for hiking, look for jeans with high stretch LYCRA spandex or elastane. If looking for good pairs of jeans to hike in I recommend the Kuhl RYDR or the Prana Bridger jean both are more hiking-friendly stretchy denim jeans.

Layer Wisely

When hiking in jeans, layering is an essential strategy. It allows you to adapt to changing weather conditions and regulate your body temperature. A good layering strategy can also help wick away moisture, which is particularly important when wearing denim, known for retaining moisture.

For cold weather hiking, here are some clothing recommendations:

  • Opt for synthetic fabrics or merino wool for base layers as they are excellent at wicking moisture and are breathable.
  • It’s generally recommended to go for a three-layer system: a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulation layer, and a protective shell layer.
  • The number of layers you need can depend on the weather and temperature.

Stay Dry

Keeping dry is fundamental when hiking in jeans, especially during wet weather. Wet denim can stick to your skin, causing rubbing and making you feel cold. Denim also becomes heavier, making movement more challenging and potentially leading to fatigue.

It’s essential to take measures to stay dry, such as avoiding hiking in jeans in rainy conditions, using rain gear if hiking in jeans, or using water repellent sprays to increase your jeans’ water resistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it normal to hike in jeans?

It’s fine to hike in jeans if the weather is good and you feel comfortable, but keep in mind they don’t dry quickly and may not provide the best protection from hot or cold temperatures. I recommend to use hiking pants especially for longer day hikes and backpacking.

Is it better to hike in jeans or leggings?

Leggings are a better choice for hikes, offering comfort and flexibility. For more technical hikes and long excursions, however, you may want to opt for more durable and protective hiking pants. Jeans are okay when doing shorter hikes with moderate temperatures.

Can you hike in normal clothes?

You can hike in normal clothes if the hike is relatively short and not too strenuous. You should avoid cotton clothing as it retains moisture and won’t keep you cool in hot, dry climates. Opt for wicking materials such as wool or synthetic shirts and fleece layers for more optimal performance.

What are some drawbacks of hiking in jeans?

Wearing jeans on a hike can be uncomfortable and impractical due to their weight, absorbency, lack of insulation, and limited flexibility.

What are the alternatives to jeans for hiking?

If you’re looking for an alternative to jeans for hiking, try hiking pants, convertible pants, shorts, leggings, or tights. All designed specifically for outdoor activities and offering better breathability, flexibility, and moisture-wicking properties than jeans.


So, should you hike in jeans or buy hiking pants? Jeans can be a comfortable choice for casual wear but are not the best option when it comes to hiking. Jeans suffer from many downsides being weight, absorbency, insulative qualities, and limited flexibility.

For longer day hikes or backpacking trips highly consider alternatives such as hiking pants, convertible pants, leggings, tights, or shorts. In the end, the right gear can make all the difference on the trails.

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