Is It Better To Hike In Shorts Or Pants? 122 Hikers Answer

With so many different options and so many different opinions, it can be difficult to figure out what to wear when you go out for a hike. If you’re trying to decide between pants, leggings, or shorts while hiking, never fear, I asked a lot of people so you can know what’s commonly worn.

For hiking, long pants are the safest option in any location, but shorts are generally more comfortable during hot weather. In our survey for hikers, most females choose to wear leggings and most males choose to wear long pants. Many hikers agree that what you wear depends on weather and trail conditions.

However, there are many options for outdoor activewear and each one has its time and place. In some situations, shorts may be one of your best options. But for others, you will definitely want to opt for hiking pants or leggings. Additionally, you’ll want to know what not to wear on a hike so that you don’t make the same mistakes as hikers before you.

By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.

me-hiking-with-shorts-and-pants-in-dual-picture

To learn everything you need to know about whether you should wear shorts or pants while hiking on the trail, read on!

What’s Better For Hiking, Shorts, Pants, Or Leggings?

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the best bottom wear for hiking. While some people swear by hiking pants, others opt for convertible pants, shorts, or the most basic leggings. In sum, determining the best type of pants for outdoor activities depends on personal preference and experiences.

Wearing pants that cover your ankles is the safest option for hiking, but many people do hike in shorts, skirts, and even kilts. But to determine what people are actually wearing while they are hiking, we ask the hiking community to share their opinion and their own experiences.

Below, you can see the breakdown of what the hiking community agreed are the best options for clothing to wear on your legs while hiking in the great outdoors.

We Asked The People, They Answered

To find out what people wore while hiking on the trail, we sent out a survey to some of the most seasoned backpackers and hikers around. We got an overwhelming 122 responses from these hikers, and they shared their expertise on what to wear as pants or bottoms while on the trail.

As we were analyzing results, we noticed that there was a distinct difference between what female hikers said they wore and what male hikers said they wore. While some hikers seem to agree that longer pants were superior, the type of pants worn was different among male and female hikers.

So to properly analyze the survey responses, we will first discuss the overall results of what hikers wear as bottoms, but then we will delve deeper into the male and female responses of what you should wear on your legs while you hike.

What Do Hikers Wear?

Type of BottomNumber of People (122 Total Responses)Percentage
Pants2218%
Hiking Pants1814.7%
Leggings3024.6%
Shorts129.8%
Skirt or Kilt86.6%
Halloween Costume10.8%
No Clothes86.5%
It Depends2318.9%

All data gathered from an online, volunteer-based survey of the hiking community.

After we asked a total of 122 seasoned hikers about what they wear while on the trail, it was clear that long pants we’re superior to any other type of bottoms. While we did get some more adventurous (and likely joking) responses to our question about what hikers wear on their legs as they hike, pants and leggings seemed to be the most popular responses.

Yet, many hikers responded that what they wear on their legs will depend on the weather, the terrain, and the type of hike that they anticipate. For example, many hikers, both male and female, claimed that they prefer long pants when the weather is colder or if the terrain is more rugged. Also, many hikers explained that shorts are more desirable during the summertime and if the hike is on a more paved path and less rugged terrain.

When analyzing the results that we received from our survey, there were some responses that the hikers claimed were jokes, and others are inconclusive. While we do not recommend that you ever hike in your birthday suit, you can take the information from these tables however you want.

What Do Female Hikers Wear?

Type of BottomNumber of People (63 Total Responses)Percentage
Pants57.9%
Hiking Pants1015.9%
Leggings2742.9%
Shorts46.3%
Skirt or Kilt46.3%
Halloween Costume0%
No Clothes11.6%
It Depends1219%

All data gathered from an online, volunteer-based survey of the hiking community.

Over half of all female hikers responded that they’re wearing some sort of long pant. Whether that pant is simply normal pants, pants made specifically for hiking, or leggings, nearly all of them reported wearing some sort of bottom that covered their entire leg.

woman-hiking-leggings

What seemed to be the most different between female hikers and male hikers, or that female hikers were the most worried about chafing. if you have ever experienced chafing, it can be miserable. Chafing is caused when your legs or other body parts rub against each other as you walk and can result in a rather painful rash.

Many female hackers found that by wearing long pants, chafing was no longer a problem. However, it’s also important to note that most female hikers chose to wear some version of leggings or yoga pants for hiking.

Some female hikers elaborated on the reasons why they chose leggings when they answered the survey. Mostly, female hikers talked about how leggings were more stretchy and overall more comfortable compared to hiking pants. Additionally, some women found that hiking pants do not accommodate plus sizes and women who have larger hips. So, leggings seemed to be the best option for curvier women.

Along with wearing shorts, some female hikers found that wearing a skort or hiking skirt was also comfortable because the skirt allowed for better airflow and helped keep them cool. Whether this is truth or confirmation bias, we have yet to tell. Regardless, wearing a hiking skirt may also be a viable option for female hikers–and just thinking about it, it does make a lot of sense.

What Do Guys Wear for Hiking?

Type of BottomNumber of People (59 Total Responses)Percentage
Pants1728.8%
Hiking Pants813.6%
Leggings35.1%
Shorts813.6%
Skirt or Kilt46.8%
Halloween Costume11.7%
No Clothes711.9%
It Depends1118.6%

All data gathered from an online, volunteer-based survey of the hiking community.

Similar to female hikers, guy hikers mostly responded that wearing some sort of long pants was their go-to option for hiking. Additionally, more men opted for wearing shorts regardless of the weather than females. Plus, some men even found that wearing a kilt is one of the most comfortable options for hiking. While we’re not recommending that you choose a kilt for your hiking attire, it was rather surprising to see that almost 7% of all men surveyed responded that their primary hiking gear was a kilt because it allows for more airflow and better flexibility.

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From some guys I know personally who wear a kilt (some to the office even…, others to church… I’m not joking) the feedback is wildly positive–airflow and a sense of freedom. Both good fits for hiking.

Another interesting finding from analyzing the survey responses was that a few men claimed that they wished leggings were more socially acceptable for men to wear because the men who do wear leggings or have worn them in the past have noted that they are more comfortable to wear.

While a few men did respond that they do prefer wearing leggings while hiking (or at least to wear leggings under a pair of shorts), many others simply said they were too embarrassed to wear leggings, so they opted for hiking pants instead.

Now, we are all about wearing what is the most comfortable am best suited for your hike. So if you’re a guy and you want to wear leggings while you hike, you should just own it. Just wear those leggings and feel comfortable. You’ll probably thank yourself later.

I admit… I personally don’t have the guts for that, but I support you if you choose to go for it.

Reasons Why Pants Are Better For Hiking

Another overall trend that we noticed from the survey responses was that many people preferred to wear convertible hiking pants that can be worn as either pants or shorts. I am solidly in that camp. Convertible pants are awesome. Because the conditions of the hike will change depending on the year, hiking pants that are convertible are great for adapting to various temperatures and different types of terrain.

You can find some convertible hiking pants here on Amazon or here on REI.

The safest and most practical thing for hiking is to wear pants, ultimately

Longer pants give better protection and other benefits such as the following:

  • Protection against branches and bushes: If you are going off-trail, this becomes very important.
  • Protection against poison ivy and other plants that can cause a rash.
  • Protection against bugs, such as mosquitoes, flies, and ticks: In some regions and climates, you don’t even have a choice. You have to wear long pants so you don’t get ticks all over your legs. I’ve even seen some wrap duct tape with the sticky side up on their thighs so they can catch the ticks crawling up their legs. If you’re hiking in the south, you should count on wearing pants.
  • In some situations, more comfort: If you have loose or short shorts, your chances of chafing from your legs rubbing together increase.
  • Protection against chafing since the inseam area of the pants is higher

One particularly useful recommendation that we thought deserves more attention is the color of the pants that you wear while you are hiking. If any of you readers are from the Midwest or any other northern climate, you likely know that ticks and bugs can be a huge problem. Particularly for ticks, wearing a light-colored pant will allow you to easily spot the bug before it is able to get any higher and bite you.

We go into more depth on what colors work well for hiking. Believe it or not some colors work better than others! Check out our article, here, about it.

Furthermore, if you want to know more about hiking pants and want to know if they’re even worth it, check out my article here to find out!

Reasons You Might Wear Shorts For Hiking

Even though we recommend wearing pants for hiking for safety purposes, Shorts are incredibly comfortable, in comparison, for hiking. And if the conditions are right, you’ll be just fine.

my-nephew-from-behind-in-shorts

On a personal note, I prefer to hike in shorts in good conditions. The key is to know what the conditions are:

  • If it’s hot (80s and above), shorts are much more comfortable. Undeniably, the greater airflow makes a huge difference here.
  • The trail is well maintained and there are no poisonous plants in the region (poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, etc). If you’re hiking in the rocky mountains you aren’t likely to see many poisonous plants and some trails are well-traveled and maintained–you can get away with hiking in shorts all day.
  • Insect volumes are low enough to not bother you or you have other protection. DEET spray works well, but it has to be reapplied regularly. If you’re okay with reapplying bug spray or lotion frequently, or, if you are incredibly lucky to be in a place without a lot of bugs, then shorts work super well.
  • The UV index is not too high or you’ll be walking in shade most of the time: Something to consider is that if you are hiking in places without a lot of shade that you can get sunburned on your legs (and if you’re wearing sandals, your feet). It’s not usually that easy to get sunburned on your bottom half while you’re walking, but if the conditions line up, you could get the dreaded “knee-pit-sunburn”. It’s horrible, trust me. If you wear shorter shorts you can get sunburned on your thighs as well. If you thought chafing was bad, before…
  • If it’s warm and the ground is wet. Hiking in pants when the ground is super wet means your hiking pants are going to get soggy around the shins. If it’s warm enough, going with shorts works great because your legs will dry very quickly while with pants you’ll be carrying around sodden pant legs for a mile or two.

Those who responded that they prefer to wear shorts while hiking mainly chose to do so because they felt too constricted in their pants or did not want to invest in an expensive pair of hiking pants. If this sounds like you, you will be perfectly fine wearing a pair of running shorts for hiking. I’ve worn gym shorts on many hikes, and I can attest it works great in good conditions.

If you want the best of both worlds, I highly recommend convertible hiking pants. I have worn these on many a hike and the ability to zip off the bottom half of the pant legs is an incredibly useful feature. If it gets hot, you can take off the pant legs–if it gets cold, you can zip them back on. Although the convertible pants I have were from a no-name brand that probably doesn’t exist anymore, again, you can find some convertible hiking pants here on Amazon or here on REI.

But if you are a more advanced hiker and are going off-trail or hiking less traveled and difficult trails, you don’t want to choose shorts because you will be hiking through brush. You need protection from plants and bugs.

What Shouldn’t You Wear While Hiking?

Generally, there are some types of pants and attire that you should avoid wearing while hiking. Basically, anything that could potentially get in the way of hiking or cause yourself injury should be avoided. Below are a couple of things that you should avoid wearing while you are hiking.

Avoid Hiking In Your Birthday Suit

First of all, even though we had a percentage of hikers respond thought they would rather wear nothing while they were hiking, it is not a good idea to hike in the buff. While it is generally frowned upon by society, hiking without proper clothing can be dangerous because you could fall and hurt yourself, get scraped up by branches, or get bitten by dozens of bugs and be itchy for the rest of the day.

Sure wearing no clothes may be one of the breeziest solutions to staying cool on a hot day, but we believe that you likely know better and should not follow the advice of the hikers from the survey. Of course, this is also a common joke in the hiking community, and you should not take it seriously. Seriously.

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Are Jeans All That Bad?

One thing that gets a lot of flack for some hikers are hikers that choose to hike in jeans. Many people successfully hike in jeans without any issues.

I go into detail on reasons why it’s okay to hike in jeans, but I also talk about reasons why you might not want to. Check out that post, jeans.

Don’t Wear Clothes That Can’t Get Dirty

While it should go without saying, you should try to avoid wearing nice clothes that you don’t want to get dirty. Even if you’re going on one a hiking date with your new significant other and you want to look fashionable, you will be better off wearing active gear more suitable for the hike.

In fact, if your significant other is into outdoor activities, you will probably look a lot less silly if you wear active gear that is suitable for hiking. Plus, you won’t run the risk of getting mud and dirt all over your favorite pair of pants or having the wind blow around your skirt or dress.

Instead of hiking in nice clothes, you should wear long pants, leggings, a moisture-wicking shirt, and active shoes to be the most prepared for a hiking trip. Are you interested in planning the perfect hiking date? Check out my article here to find out how!

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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What to wear hiking: shorts or pants?

Three hikers on a ridge

The hiking shorts or pants question is one that’s nearly as old as the hills and mountains themselves. While many sartorial savants will stress the importance of full-leg coverage to protect ourselves from the various aggressors (rocks, vegetation, ticks, mosquitos et al) our pins might encounter on a hike, others insist that comfort trumps all and, thus, shorts are the way to go.

Although there’s no definitive answer to this question, there are several considerations that will make either a pair of the best hiking shorts or best hiking pants more suitable to the type of trails and conditions in which you plan on hiking – something we’ll delve into in more detail below.

Pants or shorts for hiking? The bottom line…

Before we get down to outlining the cases in favor of hiking shorts and pants, it’s worth reiterating the most important take-home from any comparison of the two: the best option for you will ultimately come down to when and where you’re hiking and a number of other variables, including the terrain you’re hiking in, the presence (or absence) of biting insects, the amount and type of vegetation on the trail, and, of course, personal preference. This being so, before heading out on any hike it’s well worth doing a little homework to get “the lay of the land” and assess weather conditions (see our best weather apps for hiking) before choosing your outfit for the day.

Hiking shorts or pants? The case for pants

Full-pin protection

The main advantage of wearing hiking pants instead of shorts is for added protection against the myriad things that might do your legs harm when getting your wander on. The most notable of these are:

  • Rocks
  • Roots and vegetation
  • The sun
  • Ticks (see How to avoid tick bites)
  • Mosquitos (see How to avoid bites and stings on the trail)
  • Midges (see How to stop midge bites)
  • Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac
  • Snakes
  • Snow (postholing (opens in new tab) in snow is no fun at the best of times and is even worse when you’re in shorts!)

Insulation

It goes without saying that a pair of hiking pants are better equipped to keep you warm than a pair of shorts. While warmth isn’t something you’d typically look for when hiking in summer, many hikers are apt to forget that the temperature difference between where they start their day and the high point of their trail could be vast – vast enough to make having an extra bit of insulation on the pins greatly appreciated. As a general rule, you can expect temperatures to drop by around 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet of elevation gained, so – unless you’re doing a low-level walk with very little ascent – this is well worth factoring into your decision.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that many hiking pants have thigh vents and ankle zippers that let you boost airflow when need be, thus bringing you (almost) the best of both worlds. For more on this, check out How to choose hiking pants.

Storage

There are plenty of shorts out there with large cargo pockets, granted, but anyone who has ever tried stowing anything in these while hiking will know that doing so often results in that “anything” banging against your knees and thighs for the duration of your hike, which can be very annoying. With pants, on the other hand, there’s less mobility in the fabric around the thighs, meaning your pockets’ contents should be less prone to bopping around as you walk.

Hiking short or pants? The case for shorts

There are several reasons why shorts are preferable to some hikers. (Image credit: Kieran Cunningham)

All about comfort

On hot and/or humid days, hikers need every ounce of airflow going to prevent overheating. No matter how well ventilated a pair of pants may be, the full-leg coverage they provide means that the best hiking shorts are streaks ahead in the ventilation stakes – something that can make your hikes a lot more comfortable when temps are high. Shorts also, of course, provide for a freer range of movement, which means the fabric won’t be inhibiting your stride when you’re stomping up steeper stretches of trail.

Protection from other sources

While a pair of shorts will leave your legs more exposed to whatever you encounter on the trail, the risk of doing yourself any harm can be mitigated by using alternative sources of protection. Below, we’ve added an overview of the protective measures you can take to lessen the risk of all the factors identified above:

• Rocks – tread carefully/wear crew-cut or knee-high socks

• Roots and vegetation – wear crew-cut or knee-high socks

• The sun – lather on the sunscreen (see Hiking injuries and ailments: how to prevent and treat them)

• Ticks – wear knee-high socks (pull them up when walking in vegetated areas, pull them down on open ground – more on this in our buying guide to the best hiking socks and explainer What kind of socks are best for hiking?)

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• Mosquitos – wear a suitable insect repellent

• Midges – as above

• Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac – tread carefully

• Snakes – as above

• Snow – again, knee-high socks will do the trick

Silence is golden

It may be a minor quibble for most, but for more noise-sensitive hikers, the constant swishing sound made by pants when on the move is enough to make shorts preferable.

Heat comes from the core

There’s no denying that pants are a warmer option than shorts. However, the benefit of full-leg coverage might not be as significant as you think. This is mainly because most of our body heat is generated by our core – if we keep this warm then the rest of us should stay warm too.

Is the comfort and freedom of movement worth the risk of getting insect bites, scratches or scrapes? (Image credit: Getty)

Still undecided? If so, the best bet might be to invest in a pair of convertible pants that give you the option of switching from pant-mode to short-mode in as long as it takes you to fasten/undo the zipper. For more on these, check out How to choose hiking pants.

Pants or Shorts for Hiking – Which Is Really Best?

Deciding between pants or shorts for hiking can be confusing if you don’t have a lot of experience yet. A lot of it depends on not just climate, weather, terrain, but also personal preference. There are hikers that swear by wearing pants for extra protection, and those who prefer the freedom of shorts.

So which is right for you, pants or shorts? Let’s find out.

The Case for Pants

The main advantage of hiking in pants over shorts is for added protection. Depending on where you’re hiking, this can be important.

And when I say protection, I mean protection from:

  • Ticks
  • Scrapes and punctures
  • Poison ivy/oak
  • Debris and dirt
  • Snakes, spiders, and other crawlers

Ticks are a huge reason hikers like to wear pants. Here in New England, ticks can carry Lyme Disease. Those infected can have symptoms of fatigue, pain, muscle aches lasting for months. A common preventative measure is wearing pants that are tucked into your socks.

Poison ivy and oak are another potential concern. If you’re staying on well-groomed trails and not bushwacking, this might not be a huge problem. Here in New Hampshire, I’ve personally never had poison ivy except for once when staying at a campground. However, poison ivy thrives on warmer weather. Some people describe trails down south as “jungles” where bugs and poison ivy are everywhere.

Another reason to wear pants on the trail are bugs. Sometime’s there’s no avoiding them. As someone who prefers to wear shorts, I’ve gotten a lot of mosquito bites during my hikes. It’s not too much much of a problem when hiking, but stopping to rest is.

If you’re doing any kind of bushwacking or rough climbing, pants have a clear advantage. Pants will help protect you against thorns, branches, and sharp rocks. Pants will also keep you clean. After a good 9 mile hike, I often hop in the shower and see all the dirt that comes off me.

In some climates, you may come across snakes, spiders, and other crawlers. In any type of harsher environment, pans are the winner.

Here’s why some prefer pants:

During the peak of tick season, I hike in pants even if it’s boiling hot. It also helps keep debris out of your shoes.

Always pants with the cuffs tucked into your long socks.

Pants for me…better protection against bugs, snakes, plants.

The Case for Shorts

I personally prefer shorts. I like feeling comfortable and don’t mind getting a little dirty. There are some hikers who wear shorting hiking the entire Appalachian trail, so it’s certainly part personal preference.

In fact, many thru-hikers on the Appalachian trail often wear the most minimalist clothing they can get away with. It’s not uncommon for many of these hikers to hike without underwear.

The main advantage of wearing shorts is comfort. Many climates are hot and humid, and pants just make everything worse. Many experienced hikers wear running shorts or lightweight synthetic shirts.

There’s always the question of, “what if it rains or gets cold?”. A lot of times, that generally isn’t a problem. I’m not one of those crazy people that wear shorts in the dead winter during a snowstorm, but there’s is some truth to this. Most of your body heat is generated from your core. If you keep your core warm, the rest of your body will stay much warmer. And while your legs are moving, they are generating their own heat.

As far as rain, as long as it’s not cold, it’s not a problem either. Having wet legs is just that, wet legs. A little rain is perfectly fine. I actually feel more comfortable in shorts than pants when it does rain.

The downside of wearing shorts is when you stop moving, it can feel cold, especially when you are at high altitude with high winds. In such environments, it does make sense to have some extra protection around the legs.

For protection, shorts aren’t always the best against bugs, scrapes, and sunburns. While you might not like the look, wearing tights under your shorts is one option. This allows for a lot of freedom of movement and is lightweight.

Hiking in shorts and tights

Anytime I do ultra-marathons or multi-day adventure races, I like to wear rights under my running shorts.

Here’s what some other hikers had to say:

Shorts, always. I don’t mind yoga pants in the winter, but for some reason, they are uncomfortable with the slightest bit of warmth in the air. Oddly, I don’t have the same issue when I run. Hiking pants are not only uncomfortable, but they are also unflattering.

Shorts & bug repellent. My legs do get banged up on occasion, but it’s worth it for them to be free.

Nylon Under Armor athletic shorts for hiking. I’ve had three pair for 15 years. They never wear out. Long workout pants for the evening.

Something Else?

If you still can’t decide between pants and shorts for hiking, there are other options too. Many people were convertible or zip-off pants. I have a pair myself that I quite like. These pants, in particular, come with a built-in belt, are lightweight, and quick drying. I actually wear them in the winter over my insulated rights.

Women also hike in yoga pants and leggings. There are even leggings designed for hiking with pocket room and built-in bug repellent.

Hiking in skirts or kilts is another option. These are probably the most comfortable, especially if you are a hot hiker and sweat a lot.

Weather Considerations

We’ve covered a lot when it comes to pants vs shorts for hiking. One thing to keep in mind is the material you will be wearing. As you may have heard, cotton kills. There are people who wear jeans in hiking, and it can work, but you can’t get them wet. The same thing goes for hiking in sweatpants. These are okay for shorter hikes and nature walks, but nothing beyond that.

Whicher ever attire you wear hiking, the important thing is that it’s safe first, comfortable second.

Ezoic

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Hi, I’m Ben!

Ben winter hiking Mt Monadnock

I live in the beautiful White Mountain state of New Hampshire. I love to hike and camp all year round. I’ve completed various multi-day adventure races and 3 ultramarathons to date. Welcome to my site!

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