How to Choose the Best Leggings for Hiking
Choosing a set of hiking leggings isn’t all that different from picking out a pair of pairs of pants to wear on the trail.
It’s all a matter of finding something that can stand up to the abuses of Mother Nature, while also keeping you in relative comfort.
This is the main reason you’ll want to start wearing waterproof leggings for hiking:
They’re a whole lot more comfortable than pants!
This is especially true when you encounter a downed tree blocking the trail and need the extra range of motion to swing your leg over it.
They should be form-fitting and the best hiking leggings should almost feel like you’re wearing nothing at all.
That’s not to say that all leggings will be equal on comfort and mobility though.
While leggings made for indoor activities like yoga are typically just a blend of polyester and spandex. Hiking leggings might have some nylon sections woven in for extra durability. These areas won’t stretch well.
Additionally, some hiking leggings and tights have a more comfortable design.
Many of them come with a gusseted crotch, which is a fancy way of saying that there are no seams running down the middle of the crotch section.
Instead, it will have a single piece of fabric stretching from the seams on the legs. This is an important feature for men’s hiking leggings that need e a little more room down there.
Everyone wants gear that’s good in a variety of situations, but it’s hard to find anything that can be good in all situations.
This is where getting a pair of waterproof leggings for hiking really shines though.
Unlike nylon pants and shorts, leggings can actually look good on and off the trail. Like any piece of technical clothing, there are tradeoffs to be made.
Leggings that are more durable and have lots of reinforcement points will look less natural and probably won’t be suitable for off-trail activities.
Leggings that appear normal might not have the weather resistance necessary for serious backcountry adventures.
Additionally, there are some legging that are warmer than others and are only suited for winter temperatures.
It goes without saying, but even the best hiking tights are not going to have the same durability as high-quality nylon and polyester weave pants.
Hiking leggings are built for comfort and mobility.
That being said, hiking tights vary widely in terms of durability, with the most long-lasting pairs being constructed from heavy-duty nylon.
Polyester is almost as good, and organic fabrics like wool are the least durable of them all.
To get a pair that can take some serious punishment, it’s best to go with a brand that uses reinforcing patches on high wear areas like the seat and knees of the leggings.
As with anything in outdoor gear though, it’s a tradeoff – fabrics that are more durable are usually less comfortable and are more likely to limit your mobility.
One of the most important features to look for in hiking leggings is their resistance to moisture buildup.
Different fabrics dry at different rates.
Cotton would be the slowest, which is why it’s not used in most hiking clothing, including leggings.
Wool is also not particularly quick to dry, so it gets blended with nylon and polyester, which also makes it a little more water-resistant.
Nylon and polyester are excellent moisture wicking fabrics, they will dry out very fast and are generally good at repelling moisture, making them the best choice for weather resistance, all other things being equal.
However, a problem that many hikers probably don’t think too much about when choosing the best hiking leggings is wind protection.
A cold breeze cuts right through regular spandex leggings, so many manufacturers will add a tighter weave of nylon or polyester to provides extra protection.
This is also where wool has the advantage, as the fibers are better at trapping warm air from your body, which provides a buffer against the wind.
Leggings are very similar, and often, identical to base layer clothing. They’re designed with sweat wicking properties and breath sufficiently so you don’t become a hot mess and overheat.
The difference is that they need to perform this role while also being weather resistant. This can be a difficult balance to strike.
Like with any other outdoor clothing, the most breathable fabrics will be the organic ones.
Cotton is not typically used for leggings due to its tendency to absorb water, but wool is not uncommon. Its anti-stench properties along with its breathability make it a great choice for high-intensity exercise.
Fully synthetic fabrics also have a fair degree of variability between them when it comes to breathability.
The best ones will be lighter weight nylon and polyester. Which should have a loose enough weave to let heat and moisture out, while not allowing too much rain and wind in.
Thicker materials like polyamide are less breathable and will feel hot when hiking in warm weather.
Final Decision: What are the best leggings for hiking?
Choosing the best pair of hiking leggings is a challenge as each pair won’t be good for all situations.
The highest performing leggings are the Abiskos from Fjallraven.
They’re durable, provide excellent protection from the elements, and have an amazing fit.
But they are very technical looking and you might get a few odd stares wearing them in public.
Additionally, if your hiking adventures involve snow and freezing temperatures, the Smartwool PhD Tights are your best bet for superior warmth.
If fashion is a concern and you’d like to feel comfortable wearing your leggings to a restaurant or bar after the hike, the Arc’teryx Sabria are the most fashionable pair on this list.