Hiking in Jeans: Important Considerations

Hiking in jeans, is it a good idea?  Some people argue that jeans are comfortable and durable and work just fine for hiking, while others think that wearing jeans on any kind of hike is a terrible idea. 

I’ve done my fair share of hiking in jeans, including exploring the beautiful trails near Spokane, our current hometown.  And Kendall hiked the entire Inca Trail in his jeans on our 7-day Peru trip  

 My opinion?  Jeans are fine for short, easier hikes with dry conditions, but are not the best option for long hikes, strenuous hikes, or wet-weather hikes.

In this article, I’ll run through the pros and cons of hiking in jeans, talk about better alternatives, and discuss what to look for in good hiking pants. 

tours hiking in jeans on the stairs of the Inca Trail
Kendall hiked the entire Inca Trail in his jeans and was fine. However, we were lucky and had no rainfall.

So, Can You Hike in Jeans?

The short answer is yes, you can do whatever you want.  But should you hike in jeans? Are they an okay pants option to wear hiking? 

That depends.  We think that jeans are just fine for mild/moderate hikes with dry hiking conditions.  If you’re an occasional hiker who only does short trails and doesn’t want to spend money on separate hiking pants, we say sure!  Wear your jeans.  

However, if you hike frequently or are planning to do any kind of hiking that involves getting wet (river crossings, rainy weather), you will be much more comfortable choosing something else that’s more water-resistant and breathable. 

Whether you’re with a group of friends or on a hiking date, staying dry and comfortable always makes for a better experience.

overhead view of a river
Hikes with water crossings are a no-go for hiking in jeans

The Pros of Hiking in Jeans

1. Jeans are Durable

Denim jeans are more durable than a lot of other fabrics.  You can walk many, many miles in your jeans without wearing holes in the fabric.  Also, jeans protect your skin well from scratches and insect bites. 

2. Jeans Can Be Comfortable

For many people, Jeans are the most-used and comfortable pants they own. They are well broken in and many people feel more comfortable hiking around in what they already wear day-to-day.  

3.  Budget-Friendly

Specialized hiking pants can be expensive, so jeans are a great option for those who are just getting into hiking and don’t want to invest in pricey hiking gear, especially since investing in good hiking shoes is arguably a more important investment.

4. Jeans are Versatile

Jeans are super versatile.  On our three days in Monteverde, Costa Rica, we wore our jeans for almost all the hiking we did through the cloud forests and around town.  Our jeans worked great because we felt a little more appropriately dressed for going to restaurants after our short hikes.  

Jeans are a great option if you’ve got a day of short hikes mixed with other activities (hanging out in a campground, going to a restaurant, visiting a local church, etc.)

tourist in jeans walking down the hallway of a church
Jeans can be a good option if you are planning to visit restaurants or churches immediately afterwards

The Cons of Hiking in Jeans

1. Jeans are Heavy and Hot

One of the biggest downsides to jeans is their weight. Compared to hiking pants or leggings, denim jeans tend to be heavier and retain more heat. 

For some treks, including our recent Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hike, where the temperature stayed in the mid-90s for most of the day, wearing jeans would have been incredibly uncomfortable.   

four people descending a rocky trail in the Grand Canyon
Synthetic, moisture-wicking pants are a must for hot-weather or strenuous hiking

If the hike is long (longer than a few miles) and you are going to be sweating, don’t wear jeans. 

2. Slow Drying Time

Jeans don’t dry well.  If you are going to be crossing rivers, don’t wear jeans.  If the weather is wet, don’t wear jeans; they don’t work well as rain pants.  

Also, if you are doing any kind of strenuous hiking in a high-humidity climate, jeans are not a good idea.  Wet jeans are heavy and uncomfortable, and can make you pretty miserable on a hard/long hike. 

The same is true for shirts; we always recommend getting a good hot-weather hiking shirt if your hike will be warm.

a row of clothes drying on a clothesline
Jeans do not dry well, especially in humid climates

3. Jeans are not Breathable

Jeans, unlike leggings or hiking pants made from synthetic material, don’t wick away moisture.  If the hike is strenuous and you are going to sweat, jeans are not a good option.  Jeans will keep moisture against your skin which can cause chafing and other problems. 

4. Jeans Can Rip

While jeans are generally durable, they are less flexible than synthetic hiking pants.  If your hike involves any kind of rock scrambling, jeans are not the best idea as they can easily rip.

Better Alternatives to Jeans for Hiking

There are lots of better alternatives to jeans, and plenty of options even if you don’t want to spend a lot of money.  

Leggings are a great budget option.  I prefer capri leggings because I can roll them up and turn them into shorts if the weather is warm. 

Synthetic leggings are great for moisture-wicking and are quick drying, and they are incredibly flexible (great for hikes with any kind of rock scrambling). 

a pair of purple capri leggings with pockets, lying on a wooden floor

Leggings also work great as a moisture-wicking base layer underneath snow pants for winter hiking or snowshoeing. 

My current favorite leggings are High Waist Capri Workout leggings by HIGHDAYS.  These leggings come in a whole range of colors and have three pockets (one larger pocket on each side and one hidden waistband pocket for credit cards or cash). 

Convertible hiking pants are another great option. These pants have zip-off legs, so you can turn them into shorts when the weather is hot.  Convertible hiking pants also tend to have more pockets, the one big upside over leggings. 

We recommend the convertible Quick-Dry-Stretch hiking pants by Cycorld.  These pants are 90% Polyester and 10% spandex, so great for moisture wicking, have a comfortable elastic waist, and five pockets. 

What to Look for in Good Hiking Pants

The type of fabric and the type of waistband are two of the biggest considerations when looking for good hiking pants.

Fabric

Here’s a brief list of the pros and cons of the most popular hiking pants fabrics: 

a close up photo of the fabric label on a pair of leggings

Cotton:

Pros:

  • Comfortable and breathable
  • Widely available and affordable

Cons:

  • Absorbs moisture and dries slowly
  • Not very durable 

Nylon:

Pros:

  • Durable and abrasion-resistant
  • Quick-drying and moisture-wicking

Cons:

  • Not very breathable
  • Can retain odors
tourist with a backpack wearing black synthetic pants, descending the stair of El Peñol in Colombia
Kendall wearing his favorite spandex/polyester blend pants on our hike up the stairs El Peñol in Colombia

Polyester:

Pros:

  • Moisture-wicking and quick-drying
  • Durable and retains shape well

Cons:

  • Not as breathable as natural fibers
  • Can retain odors

Merino Wool:

Pros:

  • Naturally odor-resistant
  • Moisture-wicking and insulating

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Less durable than synthetic fibers

Blends (e.g., nylon/spandex or polyester/spandex):

Pros:

  • Combines the benefits of different materials
  • Offers stretch and flexibility

Cons:

  • Can be more expensive

Waistband

Pay attention to the waistband.  Is it elastic?  Adjustable with a drawstring?  Here are the most common types of waistbands with pros and cons for each: 

tourist in drawstring shorts standing above the Lost City archeological site in Colombia
We tend to prefer drawstring waistbands, and Kendall wore these drawstring shorts during the majority of our Lost City trek in Colombia

Elastic Waistbands:

Pros:

  • Comfortable and adjustable
  • Allows easier movement

Cons:

  • May not provide as secure of a fit as other waistband types
  • Can bunch up or roll over 

Belted Waistbands:

Pros:

  • Able to adjust tightness
  • Can feel more secure and stable

Cons:

  • Additional weight and bulk from the belt loops and buckle
  • The belt can sometimes dig into the waist, especially when wearing a heavy backpack

Drawstring Waistbands:

Pros:

  • Can quickly and easily adjust to fit
  • Lightweight, less bulk with no belt buckles

Cons:

  • Less adjustable than belts
  • Drawstrings can become loose 

Fixed Waistbands (No Adjustment):

Pros:

  • Simple design and lightweight
  • No risk of pressure points from belts or drawstrings

Cons:

  • Not adjustable

What are the Best Jeans for Hiking?

If you are going to hike in your jeans, try to choose jeans that aren’t 100% cotton.  Opt for jeans with a blend of synthetic materials.  Here are some common synthetic blends to look for in hiking jeans: 

overhead view of a pair of stretchy jeans lying on a wood floor
Stretchy jeans are often better as they have a blend of both denim and synthetic material
  • Stretch Denim:
    • Made by blending cotton with spandex or similar materials
    • More stretchy, often used in skinny jeans
  • Poly Denim:
    • These are denim products made with a mix of cotton, polyester, and other artificial fibers
    • Often includes materials like lyocell and nylon

The Bottom Line: Hiking in Jeans

So, should you hike in jeans?  For short hikes that don’t involve getting wet or excessive sweating, sure!  Go for it.  However, if you are doing strenuous, long-distance, or hiking that involves getting wet, we recommend choosing synthetic leggings or hiking pants. 

Hiking in Jeans FAQ:

Is It a Bad Idea to Wear Jeans When Hiking?

Wearing jeans when hiking is not necessarily a bad idea, but it depends on the circumstances. Jeans are okay for shorter, easier hikes in dry weather.

However, for longer hikes, wet weather, or hikes that involve rock scrambling or river crossings, synthetic hiking pants or leggings are a better choice.

Should You Wear Jeans for Trekking?

For long hikes or multi-day trekking, jeans are not the most practical or comfortable choice. Trekking often involves long hours of hiking and different weather conditions.  You are more likely to sweat or get wet.  Leggings or synthetic hiking pants are designed for these conditions and will keep you more comfortable. 

Are Jeans or Leggings Better for Hiking?

Leggings are often made from synthetic materials like spandex or polyester.  These fabrics are flexible, breathable, and moisture-wicking, making them great for hiking.

Jeans, although they are durable and can protect well against scratches or insect bites, are heavy and retain moisture.

When Should You Not Wear Jeans Hiking?

Avoid hiking in jeans during rainy or wet conditions, as jeans tend to absorb moisture and dry slowly. In cold weather, jeans may not provide enough insulation. Also, avoid wearing jeans for longer or strenuous hikes, as they are heavy and do not wick moisture.

Is It Better to Hike in Jeans or Sweatpants?

The choice between hiking in jeans or sweatpants depends on personal preference and the specific hiking conditions. Both have their pros and cons.

Jeans are generally more durable and provide better protection against scratches or insect bites, while sweatpants are often more comfortable.  Both sweatpants and jeans can be hot and do not wick moisture well, so keep in mind the weather and the difficulty of the hike. 

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