Last Updated on 20/09/2023
Hiking in leggings is more popular than ever right now. In this guide to hiking leggings, we share the pros and cons of wearing leggings to hike in. You will learn the main reason people wear leggings for hiking as well as the disgusting truth about wearing leggings on multi-day hikes.
Hiking has embraced an evolving trend in recent years: leggings. Previously associated mostly with yoga or running, leggings have found their place in the hiking world. Now even men are wearing them and for good reasons too. But why? Can you wear leggings for hiking, and what are the benefits?
In this guide, we explain and explore the reasons why hiking leggings are becoming evermore so popular, as well as the truth about wearing them on a multi-day hike from both a male and female perspective.
Why Do People Hike in Leggings?
The actual reason people wear leggings for hiking probably differs from person to person, but the benefits are very much the same. Leggings are extremely comfortable, lightweight, moisture-wicking, and versatile, among other things. The only downside is that the thinner leggings can lack durability for less established trials, and for men especially, they can be a bit revealing if worn on their own.
Some people may appreciate all of the benefits leggings offer, but the real reason they hike in them is that they like the way they feel or look. The tight fit that leggings offer gives you totally unrestricted movement. Or you can get compression pants which have other benefits.
Athletes and trail runners often use the same type of sports leggings that we might use for hiking. For me personally, leggings would make sense as they prevent thigh chafing and keep your lower legs protected however, I am not brave enough to wear them without shorts over the top. Moisture-wicking boxer briefs can offer some of the benefits of leggings for hiking but without the full-length leg.
8 Benefits of Hiking in Leggings
Hiking in leggings comes with a multitude of benefits. These range from the practical, such as comfort and mobility, to more specific advantages, like warmth and moisture-wicking properties. Here is a look at the different benefits of hiking:
1. Leggings are Comfortable
Leggings, due to their stretchy material and close fit, can feel like a second skin. This allows for unrestricted movement and high comfort, especially during long or demanding trails. Because of all the benefits listed below, leggings are one of the comfiest types of pants to wear for hiking.
2. Leggings Can Be Warm
Winter hiking leggings provide a good level of warmth due to their close fit, which helps maintain body heat in your legs. This makes them suitable for cooler weather or early morning hikes as well as for insulation as a base layer under other clothing. The thicker leggings especially can be perfect for hiking in cold weather, providing enough insulation to protect you without making yourself too hot.
3. Leggings Manage Moisture
Sweating is inevitable on strenuous hikes, so clothing that doesn’t get heavy when wet is essential. Most leggings are made with moisture-wicking materials, which pull sweat away from the body, helping to keep you dry during strenuous hikes. Looser types of pants can suffer from bunching when they get wet and will often absorb more moisture than leggings would.
Leggings offer unrivaled versatility on the trails. They can be worn alone in milder weather or layered under other clothing in colder conditions. You can tuck them into your socks for extra warmth or roll up to let your legs breathe. You can go thru-hiking in leggings or on shorter day hikes that end up in a pub. I even wear leggings to swim in and go rock climbing.
Leggings are typically lighter than traditional hiking pants, which can be a significant advantage for backpackers or those who want to minimize their load. They are also more packable, which means you can take two or three pairs of these instead of a single pair of reinforced hiking pants. As well as being lightweight in your backpack, they feel lightweight to wear too and allow for total freedom of movement with very little resistance.
This one applies more to the ladies out there, as there aren’t many men who like the way they look in leggings. Women, however, look great in leggings which can form part of a stylish yet functional outfit on busy hiking trails. Leggings can help to enhance your figure and make you feel more confident as well as look good.
Some leggings offer compression, which can improve circulation and help reduce muscle fatigue on long hikes. Compression pants are like very tightly fitting leggings and are used by athletes and people recovering from injuries as a method of support and to enhance blood flow. I personally don’t like compression pants because they feel too restrictive, whereas I find hiking leggings very comfortable.
8. Reduce Chaffing
When used as a base layer, leggings provide a smooth surface that can reduce friction on your upper thighs and prevent chafing from other layers. Something I didn’t realize before I started long-distance hiking was that anyone can get friction burns on the thighs after walking 20 miles a day in hot weather. Leggings and long-legged boxer shorts are the perfect protection and take away the pain of trying to walk without your thighs touching, haha.
4 Problems With Leggings for Hiking
While leggings offer numerous benefits, they also have their downsides and aren’t suitable for all types of hiking. Understanding these potential issues can help you make a more informed decision about whether hiking in leggings is right for you.
Despite the comfort and flexibility of leggings, they may not be as durable as traditional hiking pants, especially when faced with rough terrain. Things like walking through thorny brush and brambles can cause an unrepairable rip, or simply kneeling down to take your lunch out of your bag can shred the thinly stretched material over your knee. Proper hiking leggings, however, often have reinforced patches on the high-wear areas and are perhaps less vulnerable to damage.
Leggings, while comfortable at first, can succumb to the same problems as any hiking clothing, such as feeling tight around the groin if it bunches up or starting to smell after just a few hours of intensive use. Tight-fitting leggings can actually become quite disgusting on longer hikes where you are constantly sweating. Nothing escapes your leggings; if you sweat, they get sweaty, and unless you wash them, they are going to become pretty gross to put on again.
While the way leggings make you look can be a benefit if you are in shape and are happy with your body, if you are at all self-conscious, the leggings put everything on full display. It is fairly well-accepted for women of all weights to wear leggings, but for men, it doesn’t matter how fit you are; leggings are still somewhat of a faux pas. The only pass men get is if they are competing in some kind of race or triathlon event, then it’s okay.
4. Lack of Pockets
Leggings may sometimes include a small key pocket or a slot for your phone on the thigh if you are lucky, but most of the time, leggings don’t have pockets. This is ok if you are carrying a bag, but it is both annoying and impractical if you want to go for a quick hike or trail run without anything to weigh you down. Compare leggings with cargo pants, for example, and you soon realize how handy it is to keep a few nuts in your pocket as a snack or a compass to stay on course.
Hiking Pants Vs Leggings Vs Shorts
The debate between hiking pants and leggings ultimately comes down to personal preference and specific hiking conditions. While hiking pants offer increased durability, practicality, and features like water resistance, leggings provide unmatched comfort and flexibility. In cold weather, it often makes sense to layer leggings underneath hiking pants for the benefit of both.
Here are some reasons and situations where I would choose one over the other:
- Desert and Arid Landscapes: Recommendation: Hiking Pants or Shorts. The looser fit and usually thicker material can help protect against sunburn and provide better ventilation than leggings.
- Mountain and High-Altitude Terrains: Recommendation: Hiking Leggings as a base layer. The close fit offers warmth and can easily be layered with other clothing in variable conditions.
- Rainforests and Humid Areas: Recommendation: Hiking Leggings or Loose Fitting Pants. They’re moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and allow for unrestricted movement through dense vegetation. Covering your legs can help to prevent unwanted insect bites and rashes from brushing against vegetation.
- Coastal and Waterside Trails: Recommendation: Hiking Shorts or Leggings. Leggings offer more protection from sun and salt and can be rolled up if entering water. Shorts are more breathable but leave you vulnerable to sunburn.
- Winter and Cold Environments: Recommendation: Hiking Leggings as a base layer. Paired under a more insulative layer, they can provide excellent warmth. In winter, I also cover my insulation layers with waterproof shell pants.
- Grasslands and Open Fields: Recommendation: Hiking Leggings or Pants. The additional protection against potential insects, ticks, or scratchy plants can be beneficial. The best option is tougher hiking pants tucked into your socks to stop anything crawling up your legs.
- Wooded and Forested Regions: Recommendation: Hiking Leggings. For ease of movement through potentially tangled underbrush and over uneven ground.
- Canyons, Gorges, and Rocky Landscapes: Recommendation: Reinforced Hiking Pants. They generally provide better protection against abrasions and scrapes on rough terrains where you will likely have to climb or crawl on your hands and knees.
As you can see, there are times when it doesn’t really matter too much what you wear and other times when I would specifically recommend one for the other. I generally wear shorts and sunscreen in hot weather, leggings as a base layer, and hiking pants as a durable shell or on their own in rugged terrain.
Choosing the Right Hiking Leggings
When it comes to selecting the right pair of leggings for hiking, there are several factors to consider. These include the material, the fit, and any additional features that might improve your hiking experience. Here are some of the things you should be looking for and thinking about, as well as the questions you should be asking:
Purpose of Leggings
What is your intended purpose? As you can see from the section above, hiking leggings aren’t suitable for all conditions, so you should think about the terrain of the hikes you have planned, the weather on the day, and the climates at those locations.
- Base Layer vs. Solo Use: Are you using them as a base layer under pants or shorts, or are they your primary hiking pants?
- Weather Conditions: Different leggings are suitable for cold, warm, humid, or dry conditions.
The type of material hiking leggings are made from is often synthetic and fairly durable. If you are using regular leggings for hiking, then here are some things you should be seeking out:
- Synthetic vs. Natural: Understand the pros and cons of materials like polyester, nylon, spandex, and natural fibers like merino wool or cotton.
- Breathability & Moisture-Wicking: Essential for comfort in various climates.
- Durability: Some materials resist wear and tear better than others.
- UV Protection: Some leggings offer added UV protection which can be crucial in sunny conditions.
Fit & Comfort
If you have some experience with hiking leggings, then you will know that some will naturally fit you better than others. To help find the best leggings for your hiking style, you can try on a bunch of pairs and note any that fit you well and try to work out which features are working. I always look at the label to look for things like 3-7% elastane or slightly more spandex (10+%). Then I give them a stretch to see how much resistance there is and look for things like a diamond crotch for extra comfort.
- Compression vs. Regular Fit: Compression can be good for circulation but might not be everyone’s preference.
- Elasticity: Ensuring they maintain shape and provide flexibility.
- Seam Placement: To avoid chafing or discomfort.
Some features that do not always come as standard are things like a pocket big enough for your phone or reinforced knees. Decide if something like that is important, and then do a search for hiking leggings with those features. Here are some to get you started:
- Pockets: Very useful for storing small essentials.
- Zips & Vents: Allow for temperature regulation.
- Adjustable Waistbands: For a better fit.
- Reflective Elements: Useful for low-light conditions.
- Reinforcements: Improve durability in rough terrain.
- Anti-Odor Technologies: Beneficial for multi-day hikes.
- Insect Repellant Treatments: Some leggings come treated to repel mosquitoes and other pests.
Style & Aesthetics
If you are thinking about hiking in leggings because you like the way they look, then most likely, you don’t care so much about the other features. In this instance, you should probably go with a brand you know and like because that is most likely the best way to get a style you like.
- Colors: Darker colors might be more versatile but can attract heat. Lighter colors might show dirt more.
- Patterns vs. Solid Colors: Personal preference, but consider visibility and style.
Best Leggings Brands for Hiking
Many outdoor clothing brands have embraced the leggings trend, offering options that combine style, comfort, and performance. These include well-known names such as Patagonia, The North Face, and Columbia, among others. But you can also get some basic and cheap leggings from somewhere like Target that will do the job most of the time. Here are some of the best brands to check out:
- Under Armour:
- The North Face:
- Outdoor Research:
- Mountain Hardwear:
Leggings as a Base Layer
One of the key advantages of leggings is their ability to serve as a base layer in colder conditions. Their tight fit and lightweight make them ideal for layering under other clothing, providing additional warmth without adding bulk. While I still think base layers are lighter and less constrictive than leggings when hiking, they do pretty much the same thing.
Layering Tips for Cold Weather Hiking
When using leggings as a base layer, pair them with breathable, moisture-wicking layers on top, which can add the warmth you will likely need. A pair of insulated hiking pants over your leggings can provide extra protection against cold, wet, or windy weather. In winter, you might even wear a pair of sweatpants over the top and then waterproof shell pants over everything to keep you dry.
Men’s Hiking Leggings: Embracing the Trend
Leggings are not just for women. More and more men are discovering the benefits of hiking in leggings, and many outdoor clothing brands have responded by offering men’s versions. Most are marketed as running tights but take a look around a gym or on popular hiking routes and you will see at least one man in tights.
Brands such as Arc’teryx and Under Armour have developed men’s hiking leggings that provide the same benefits of comfort, flexibility, and warmth but with a more masculine design. The stigma around men wearing leggings is slowly fading, and they are becoming a more common sight on hiking trails. If you wear them under a pair of shorts, no one will even bat an eyelid.
Hiking in leggings is pretty comfy, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you should definitely give it a go before you laugh at me wearing mine, haha.