Jeans are probably part of everyone’s wardrobe. And while they are durable, are they actually practical to hike in? You’ll often hear people say “no jeans!” but are they actually that bad? Well, let’s take a look.
Can you hike in jeans? Hiking in jeans is not recommended. Jeans are made from cotton, which holds water and can freeze. Many hikers wore jeans for hiking in the 1970s and 1980s before synthetic material was available. For short hikes and nature walks, jeans can be acceptable hiking attire.
Why Hiking In Jeans is a Bad Idea
If you’re hiking in jeans, there are some really important things you should know. First, for any difficult hikes or hiking in cooler weather, jeans are not a good idea (and sweat pants aren’t good either).
The main reason why jeans aren’t recommended for hiking is that they are made of cotton. As the saying goes, “cotton kills”. But what does this actually mean?
What is different about cotton is that it holds water. Unlike other fabrics, it doesn’t wick moisture. This makes cotton especially dangerous in cold weather. When cotton gets wet, it will stay wet and even freeze if it’s cold enough. Even if the temperature is well above freezing, moisture will continue to steal valuable heat from your body.
And while it might not be raining or snowing, there are always creek crossing and river crossing, puddles, and moisture from your own sweat that can a problem. Jeans are heavy enough, and when they get wet, they are even heavier.
The dangers of cotton are so prominent in the hiking community that some hiking clubs don’t allow you to hike in them. I’ve even heard stories or rangers lecturing hikers for wearing jeans on the trail!
Here’s a screenshot of one local hiking event that doesn’t allow jeans:
And a local hiking club that also doesn’t allow jeans:
As you can see, jeans on the trail aren’t taken lightly, especially for difficult hikes.
When Jeans Are Okay
Now that I pointed out why jeans aren’t a good idea, hiking in them can be okay but it depends on the hike. It was a lot more common to hike in jeans during the 1970s and 1980s. Jeans were a lot common to hike in back then because that’s all they had. Hikers didn’t have the fancy synthetic clothing that we do today.
There are some people who are still wearing them:
Been hiking for over 50 years in jeans. I do not understand the concern. Jeana are tough, light & rugged. What people wear other than cotton is beyond me. Synthetics are hot & uncomfortable IMO. Of course in hot weather cotton shorts are better.Phil from California
And another hiker:
I did some extensive hiking in jeans and was perfectly fine. If you feel comfortable in jeans then yeah, you’ll be fine. If not then wear something else, or pack a change of clothes just in case you get uncomfortable mid-way through the hike.Tyler from Canada
But still, for longer hikes or hikes in wet weather, it’s advised to leave your jeans at home. There are much better options nowadays that are safer and lighter to hike in.
So, when are jeans okay for hiking? For short hikes and nature walks, and possibly even day hikes, jeans can be fine in fair weather. I have friends who I’ve hiked doing 9-mile hikes in the White Mountains who wore Jeans. Is it the best idea? Probably not, but they did the job.
One of the main, and possibly only advantage of wearing jeans is the durability. Jeans are tough and can take a beating from brush, thorns, and rocks. While this may seem like a notable advantage, you probably aren’t going to be bushwacking. Trails are clear for the most part and as long as you stay on the path, you should be fine.
Jean Alternatives for Hiking
So if you’re not wearing jeans for hiking, what are the alternatives? Good question!
Any material made from quick-drying fabrics such as spandex or nylon is a good choice. Lightweight fabric is an advantage during warm weather but you might sacrifice durability. Some hikers prefer to hike in leggings. I even compiled a list of the best leggings with pockets for hiking. You don’t always want something that is too light if it can tear easily.
In the summer, when it’s hot and getting wet isn’t much of a problem, I wear cotton shorts. I find them to be comfortable. At the end of my hike though, my shorts get swamped from sweat and I can’t wait to get out of them.
If you’re hiking on a budget, you don’t always need fancy gear. the nylon shorts you have at home are quite fine. If you do want some hiking specific gear, here are some of my recommendations:
Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch Convertible Pant
If you don’t have a pair of zipoffs, consider getting some if you hike year-round. What I like about these is that I can wear them as shorts in the summer and pants in the winter. In the winter, I usually wear thermals under these for insulations so they stay dry.
prAna Stretch Zion Pants
These are another favorite among hikers. They are good for hiking but stylish enough for everyday wear. The bottoms roll up and are held in place by roll-up snaps, which is great for hot weather or stream crossings. What I particularly like about these pants is they have a fixed internal belt. It’s one of those simple things that makes these pants so much more convenient.