Numerous were the times I saw women wearing hiking leggings during their hiking. Do casual hikers find comfort in this type of clothing? How do they cope with multi-day hiking or weather up’s and down’s?
Are hiking leggings better than hiking pants? What are the important things that drive a purchase decision? As hikers we did our research to find out what you need to know. There are different factors that influence such a decision, where style and comfort are additional key elements to take into consideration.
But first let’s see the basic difference between hiking leggings and hiking pants.
Hiking Leggings or Hiking Pants?
Let’s face it. Hiking pants are more durable (their materials) and will literally help you during different conditions on a trail. Bushes, rocks, thorns will be along your trail and pants will protect you. Leggings are less durable, they will tear apart easily and have no pockets. Not that pockets are always an asset, since the more you put in your pockets the more you make walking more difficult. That is why we use a backpack or chest-level holsters.
However, hiking leggings (and tights), are elastic. This means way too easy to walk; feels like almost wearing nothing. When weather gets cold, it is easier to wear an additional pair of pants on top of them. If weather gets hot, you can easily roll them up, but you can do that too with your pants (if they have the special binders). If it rains, get prepared for longer drying times. Walking through locations with lots of insects can be an adventure while wearing hiking leggings.
Finally, when you sweat a lot, it gets a bit sticky.
Key Selection Factors for Hiking Leggings
Most characteristics are similar between hiking leggings or hiking tights and hiking pants. They usually narrow down to: Breathability, WaterProofing, Materials and Weight. These factors are crucial for most of the hiking gear you carry.
Materials of Hiking Leggings
Materials will influence weight of leggings too. Weight (and materials) differ per season and hiking conditions, as well as per terrain.
Leggings in hot weather: Choose lightweight fabrics, to stay cool in.
Leggings in cold weather: For cold and/or snow you need some soft shell pants or tights. There are ones made from wool and this can act as your base layer too.
Materials that are Quick Dry: Best leggings and pants are of the quick dry type and this stands both for drying from rain and/or extensive sweating. Your leggings must be able to cope with moisture. Wet leggings or pants become heavy and they rub against your body creating sore skin.
The Stretch Factor: Leggings and tights are stretchy by default, otherwise they are not… leggings. A number of hiking pants are a bit elastic while not being tights. Such are really comfortable, especially when you need to do big strides or climbs. We have a pair that are really comfortable to any range of motion.
Breathability of Hiking Leggings
Sweat that stays between your skin and your leggings will lead to large dips of temperature. That is one of the worst things to allow to happen to yourself. Trapped moisture is not just a matter of comfort (or better said of… discomfort). In hot weather it will make sores to your skin, while you will freeze in cold one.
Make sure you choose materials that are very good at wicking moisture away from your skin and dry really fast.
If weather conditions are somewhat in the middle, towards hot then it is better to choose a pair of hiking pants instead of hiking leggings.
The Water and Wind Resistance Factors
It will be tough to find waterproof pants, since something that is indeed waterproof, won’t have a good (or any) breathability level. So, if you wear leggings then wear an additional waterproof rain pants set on top. However, if weather is mild to hot and rainy, that is tricky. Best solution is again to wear a pair of tights or leggings and have a different pair of waterproof pants, or a a poncho or/and gaiters.
In general it is best to have and wear layers of clothes for your lower body, so you can easily add/remove what is needed as conditions change.
Never Wear Cotton Leggings for Hiking
Cotton is the most unsuitable type of material to wear in any hiking adventure. The reason is rather simple: Cotton absorbs body and external moisture.
When it rains or snows you will get wet and stay wet. Then comes hypothermia, pneumonia and a big range of things that can literally kill you.
If you sweat a lot, it gets trapped in the cotton fibers. Then as you walk it will become sticky, less insulated and rubbing against your body will create sores.
Finally, moisture in cotton is the perfect nest for the cultivation of bacteria that can cause infections and… strong odors.
Best Hiking Tights and Leggings for Women
Columbia Titan Peak Hiking Leggings
Good for cool conditions. Moisture wicking, reinforced knees and back and a thigh pocket with zipper. Good value for money, warm. Some may don’t like ankles area as it seems a bit baggy, plus knes and backside kinda stand out.
Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights
Lots of extras: multiple pockets, reinforced knees, extra durable fabric, sturdy yet flexible. Waterproof fabric patches at knee and bottom areas, but with separate noticeable color. The latter can be an issue for some.
Arc’teryx Stride Tight
A hiking tight, looking more like a legging. It has a zipper opening at the ankles; good for extra coolness during summer hiking. Also comes at 3/4-length Stride Tight. Seams are nicely designed to product a really flattering fit. Waist has a drawstring; good for fit reasons, plus less exposure while bend over. On the other hand the very lightweight fabric is not the best option for winter time.
Smartwool Women’s PhD Tight
Absorbent, soft merino wool. Warm, moisture wicking and definitely resists to odors which makes it ideal for multiple-day trips. In extreme cold it can easily act as a base layer. Water resistant and relatively robust (nylon exterior). It can be hot in summer weather and has only 2 pockets (though many will claim that 2 is more than enough).
Outdoor Research Radiant Hybrid Tights
Designed for mobility and breathability. Warm, comfortable with midweight radiant fleece panels for cold weather. Lightweight and breathable fleece panels in waist and inseam channel heat where it needs to get. Better to avoid using it as a base layer (extreme heat will build up). Moisture wicking and quick drying with great stretch for all ranges of movement.
Adidas Outdoor Women’s Hike Tights
Another great for winter (strictly) pair of tights. Fleece lined with Adidas’s ClimaWarm. They fit and feel great, and come with water-resistant overlays to keep cold and rain away. Breathability and range of motion are equally great.
Crane & Lion Perfect Core Leggings
Stretchy and breathable and thick. Back seam is really flattering to your booty; no see-through. Interesting enough they are “Oprah approved”. Their fit can be a bit more “spacey” so you may need to size down to find your best fit. They come with a waistband pocket and CoolMax crotch gusset.
Eddie Bauer Women’s Trail Tight Leggings
FreeDry moisture wicking polyester/spandex, Polygiene® odor control technology, and FreeShade UPF 50+ sun protection. Stitching that won’t slip or slide. Pockets with zippers that don’t chafe.
How To Take Care of your Hiking Leggings
Good hiking leggings are not cheap. Taking care of them will help you enjoy them for long. Here are 2 basic rules for that.
Storage and cleaning: Coming back from your hiking trip? Then don’t toss your leggings in your wash basket. It is better to clean and wash them immediately. If they are still sweaty better to hang them out to dry. After that lay them somewhere flat. Sweat and bacteria can break down the materials, as they infiltrate into the fabrics.
Washing: Use cold water with mild detergent. Do not use for any reason, bleach and fabric softeners. These will wear down the materials and can deteriorate colors. This soap here is considered a special one for cleaning such (and similar) types of clothing, and is in a very good price too.
Drying: Do not get them through your dryer. Extreme heat from the dryer can misshape and over-stretch the fabric. As said, good leggings are made from quick dry materials, so simply hang them up or lay them down to dry. If you stay in a hotel and your room has heated towel racks, don’t hang them there.
Hiking leggings and tights for women are a step further from the comfortable yoga pants. Along with being lightweight, easy to pack and clean they are preferred by most women who are active in hiking. Their variations are suitable for even more activities like running, surfing and all kinds of active sports.