It goes without saying that Hiking Women want hiking pants (or trousers if you’re a Brit) that are well styled. Styling of course, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and good style on you very much depends on your body shape and to some extent on age. A pair of trousers that fit well and look fine on someone built like a stick may not look quite so good on a pear shaped lady like me, so choose a style you like and of course feel comfortable in.
Having said that, hiking (walking or trekking) trousers are often worn for work as well as for leisure, so a pair of dark coloured pants with a good cut that can be smarted up with a shirt and blazer, can be a very useful addition to the wardrobe.
Hiking pants are usually the made from synthetic fabrics with nylon and polyester the most common. They are often used in mixtures with other products such as spandex (also called lycra) and cotton. When compared to natural fibres like cotton, linen and wool, the synthetics, polyester and nylon, offer better pilling (bobble) and wrinkle resistance, greater durability and higher colour retention. When trying on a pair of pants in the shop I usually scrunch them up in my hand and squeeze hard to test whether they are likely to wrinkle when worn. Synthetic fabrics also provide superior water, wind and environmental resistance, and they do not absorb water and become wet and heavy. They dry out quickly too – an important consideration during wet weather and on hiking trips where trousers need to be washed out on the trail. Thankfully, gone are the days of hiking in cold, heavy, soaking denims that took hours to dry out.
Nylon is often mixed with spandex to add shape retention and a touch of stretch. This mixed fibre fabric is also light and feels like cotton to the skin. Polyester is a generally thicker and heavier than nylon and can also be combined with spandex for stretch and shape retention, or with cotton (usually 65% polyester:35% cotton) for softness, breath-ability, and resistance to pilling and static electricity. Used alone polyester does not breathe and is apt to stick to skin if you sweat or perspire.
Today, hiking trousers variously offer anti-bacterial and anti-mosquito properties, a stain resistant Teflon finish, a water resistant finish and protection against UV light. Some nylon and polyester products claim UV protection by virtue of the tightness of the weave without employing any special chemical treatment. Others benefit from the addition of chemicals such as UV absorbers and UV blockers during manufacture resulting in UPF ratings of garments from 30 (high) to 50+ (ultimate protection). Pants should be thick enough to protect against prickles and mosquitoes, and may also be designed with ventilated weaves and moisture wicking to assist in cooling and breathability.
Winter weight pants may be lined with a warm insulating material in a similar manner to ski pants. However, I prefer them unlined so they can be used throughout the year, and to wear separate long johns or thermal underwear close to the skin as this is warmer than linings.
Before leaving the subject of fabric, it’s important to check out the stitching on the seams as this is likely to wear or tear first. Double stitching increases durability and resistance to abrasion, and winter weight pants may also have taped seams. It’s worth checking the fabric and stitching in internal pockets especially if you will be storing valuables in them. Both should be strong as the last thing you need is for house keys, wallet or passport to fall out through a hole somewhere in the wilderness, miles from the nearest road.
When it comes to styling the waistband plays a large part. Elasticised waistbands are frumpish especially when visible from the front. Much better are internal drawstrings that adjust to fit, side tabs with adjustable buttons or Velcro fastenings. The rise, which is the position the waistband sits, can vary from waist level (the Simon Cowell look!) to inches below the belly button. With the classic fit the rise hits 1 to 2 inches below the belly button and the trousers follow the body contours without being tight. I like a high waist on hiking trousers but for a chic look, especially for hiking women with boyish figures, the rise is lower.
Pockets are generally positioned at the side, back or on the thigh. They may be patch (sewn on the outside of the pants) or in-seam pockets and should be deep enough to store belongings, e.g. your passport in a thigh pocket, when sitting down but shallow enough to be able retrieve the contents easily. They should also retain a smooth look when filled – this is especially true for hidden pockets.
Pockets may be open or secure, closed by a zip, button, snap/press stud or Velcro. With Velcro closure check that the pocket doesn’t gape when sitting or bending down.
The leg may be ankle or capri (¾) length and some trousers are convertible into shorts or capris for extra ventilation. If the lower section of the leg zips off, check that it is easy to unzip and to zip back on before buying as this might have to be done in the outdoors in pouring rain. Some pants even have rear belt loops to store the zipped off leg sections! Where trousers convert to shorts, check they sit high enough not to be an irritant around the knee. For capris the trousers bottoms roll up and are secured by a buttoned side loop or drawstring, if this is the case check that when the draw-strings is pulled up it will not hang down and get caught in the walking sandal or boot. Also look for zip gussets in the bottom of the side seam that allow easy removal of trousers over walking boots.
Other useful features on some trousers are reflectors in the bottom of the pants that are good for working along roads in the dark, crotch gussets and knee darts or articulated knees that give a freer range of movement and more comfortable fit. Finally, before you buy, check the washing instructions. Are they hand or machine washable, quick drying and will the wrinkles drop out and look smart without ironing?
If buying on-line, order a couple of sizes, as sizing varies between manufacturers, and maybe a couple of colours. Don’t forget to make sure you can return unwanted pairs free of charge.
So Hiking Women, these are the main factors you should look for when choosing walking/hiking/trekking pants/trousers. Like all hiking gear the most important consideration is that they allow free movement and feel comfortable to wear.