Jeans are one of the most universal items of clothing; almost everyone has a trusty pair of denim trousers in their wardrobe. Seen as a casual classic, jeans are a great clothing choice for many different occasions and activities. Originally, denim jeans were created as a durable pant for ranch work, as denim is a hard-wearing and comfortable material. Jeans are also commonly worn at construction sites, so they clearly have their uses as a practical clothing item.
You might think their popularity amongst outdoor workers means jeans are an ideal choice for hiking. Sure, durability and comfort are great qualities in a hiking pant, but there are other elements that might make denim unsuitable. It can be tempting to try and avoid purchasing hiking clothes by just wearing outdoor-style clothing. For example, you might also ask; are Timberlands good for hiking? Unfortunately, although jeans and Timberlands are ideal for the worksite, as highly durable attire, this doesn’t necessarily transfer to the trails.
In this article, we’ve laid out everything you need to consider when dressing for a hike. The best hiking clothes are made using certain materials which are ideal for outdoor use, so we’ll explain what to look out for. We’ll discuss the benefits and downsides of hiking in jeans, so you can make the most informed choice, and share some alternatives if denim doesn’t work out.
What to look for in hiking clothes
There are certain things you need from your clothing when hiking, it’s a piece of gear like any other that serves a purpose in the backcountry. Hikers need certain material properties to keep them comfortable, these functions make hiking much more enjoyable.
Hiking clothes need to be moisture-wicking, this is an important part of your base layer. The fabric next to your skin should wick away sweat and any other moisture and move it outwards to dry. This is important as hiking is a sweaty activity, and if the moisture can’t dry you may end up feeling cold, clammy, and uncomfortable. You need insulating materials when hiking to trap your body heat and keep you feeling warm. Clothing that insulates well makes a huge difference in cold weather, holding in the heat instead of letting it escape.
Your outer layer when hiking needs to be waterproof and windproof. Otherwise, you might end up hiking in clothes soaked in rain, or catching a chill from the wind. Remember that water resistance isn’t the same as being waterproof, so make sure you have enough protection from the weather. Waterproofing is a vital property in outdoor gear, but so is breathability. Hiking clothes must be breathable otherwise your sweat won’t dry, leaving you damp, smelly, and uncomfortable. The balance between weather-proofing and breathability is tricky to get right, as the more waterproof an item is, the less ventilation it can offer.
How to dress for a hike
When picking out your wardrobe before hitting the trails, you’ll need to consider a few things. The appropriate attire will make your hike much easier, and keep you comfortable throughout your entire adventure. Layering is a great technique for hikers as it makes you more adaptable if conditions change. You can wear a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating middle layer, and a waterproof outer shell.
Check the weather forecast and do some research about the terrain and common conditions, so you’ll be prepared for your trip. Weather and temperatures can change fast, so make sure you have enough appropriate hiking clothing to keep you safe and comfortable. When hiking, function is much more important than fashion. You might need to forego the aesthetics this once, in order to ensure a successful hike.
The benefits of wearing jeans
Now you know what to look for in hiking attire, let’s learn about denim jeans. Jeans are an incredibly popular item of clothing, worn for years by everyone from lumberjacks to fashion models. Jeans are made from denim, a thick weave cotton material with a lot of really useful qualities. All cotton materials are breathable and soft, it’s always a comfortable choice. Cotton is also hypoallergenic, so it’s perfectly fine for hikers with sensitive skin.
Denim is an impressively durable material, as it’s dense weave makes it very resistant to abrasion. This is why denim jeans are a popular choice amongst construction workers, as they can take quite a beating. This means jeans are also protective, doing a good job saving your legs from scrapes and cuts. So, denim seems like good material for outdoor use. It’s comfortable, durable, and breathable, and these are great qualities for hiking clothes. Let’s move on and figure out if jeans are the right choice when hitting the trails.
Are jeans good for hiking?
While they have many qualities that are ideal for outdoor activities, jeans aren’t usually a good choice for hiking. Unfortunately, denim just has several properties which means it’s not ideal for the trails. Although it may be tempting to wear your favorite comfy jeans on a hike, you’d probably be happier wearing a different material.
Cotton, although a great clothing material in general, is a poor choice for any hiking or camping. Firstly, cotton is incredibly absorbent, able to hold a lot of moisture and taking an eternity to dry. If you sweat, come across any puddles, or get caught in the rain, your jeans will likely be soaked for the remainder of your hike. Not only is this extremely uncomfortable, but hiking in wet clothes can even be unsafe.
Despite the fact that cotton is quite breathable, denim is a much thicker and stiffer material, much warmer than thin cotton t-shirts. This means denim jeans can be hot and sweaty while you’re hiking, which is incredibly uncomfortable. Sweating also increases the moisture which your jeans absorb, making them even less breathable, and contributing to blisters and chafing. Although cotton is quite breathable, jeans are much less so, and hiking clothes need to be in order to be comfortable.
Wet jeans cause painful chafing, a very unpleasant thing to deal with on the trail. This can lead to blistering, and even infection, as broken skin in moist environments is highly vulnerable to bacteria. Blisters are basically a hiker’s worst nightmare; we put so much effort into avoiding them. There’s no reason to bother investing in the best hiking socks to prevent blisters if you’re just going to throw on a chafing pair of jeans.
Hiking in wet jeans can also lead to hypothermia, a dangerous backcountry threat that every hiker needs to take steps to avoid. As we mentioned, wet jeans take a very long time to dry. Wet clothing will conduct heat away from your body 25 times as fast as dry clothes, and you remember the importance of insulation. If you wear wet denim jeans in colder temperatures, you will have no protection from the elements whatsoever. The wind and cold will go right through your damp jeans and chill you to the bone. Hypothermia is caused by being unprepared in the cold often, so make sure you wear appropriate attire to protect yourself. Jeans just aren’t a good choice when it’s cold or wet, and hikers should always be prepared for bad weather conditions.
Because denim is so awful at wicking moisture, it can absorb up to 27 times its weight in water. Hikers and backpackers generally prefer going lightweight, so having to carry such heavy wet jeans is something you want to avoid. Jeans are heavy, absorbent, and they take a long time to dry. When you’re backpacking, all clothes and other belongings should be as lightweight as possible, so denim really isn’t ideal. For these reasons, we have to conclude that hiking in jeans is a bad idea. Hikers need to wear warm, waterproof, and moisture-wicking clothing, so denim just isn’t an appropriate material.
Better alternatives to hiking in jeans
So we’ve established that denim is a bad choice as a hiking material; although it’s a durable option, other fabrics are more suited to outdoor adventures. Let’s go through some more appropriate fabric choices for your next hike, so you can make a more informed decision and be better prepared once you hit the trails.
Wool is a traditional clothing material, known for being itchy and old-school. However, modern hiking clothes use wool to great success, particularly merino wool. This wool is soft, breathable, moisture-wicking and reasonably quick-drying, making it an ideal hiking material. Unlike denim jeans, merino wool won’t retain moisture for hours or chafe your skin, this material is ideal for preventing blisters and great for hiking.
Synthetic materials are much more affordable than merino wool and have a great number of useful properties. Polyester and nylon hiking clothes are great at wicking moisture and are very fast-drying. Many synthetic hiking garments are made from recycled materials, so they’re the ideal choice for environmentally friendly hikers. The downside to synthetics like nylon and polyester is that they can hold in bad odors, although most are treated with an antimicrobial to combat this.
Fleece is common for colder climates, as they provide good warmth and insulation. Fleece clothing is usually made from polyester, and this material’s chemical properties combined with its soft, thick fibers make fleece a great clothing option when hiking in winter. Fleece, however, is not waterproof or windproof, so you’ll need an outer layer to protect you from the elements. A polyester or nylon rain jacket with a waterproof coating will keep you dry on your hike, protecting you from both the wet and the cold. In comparison to denim, polyester fleece and shell fabrics do a much better job of keeping hikers warm and dry.
If you still want to go hiking in jeans
You’ve read all the information about the best hike clothing materials, but you still want to wear jeans on your next trip. Your clothing is a little less important than your hiking boots for example, so certain hikers might get away with wearing a pair of jeans.
You could argue that denim jeans are perfectly adequate clothing on a short day hike. If the weather conditions are mild, wearing jeans on a day hike will probably be fine. Denim is ideal for scrambling and bushwacking, as the thick and durable material can protect you well, but other materials can do the same job without being hot or uncomfortable.
Although it’s well known that jeans aren’t ideal for hiking, they’re still a popular choice amongst many in the backcountry. It’s hard to change your habits, and a lifetime of wearing denim in the great outdoors means many hikers still swear by hiking in jeans. It’s worth noting that jeans could be a good thing to take on backpacking trips, as they can be a fashion garment as well as a functional one. Because of their famed durability, we’ll likely continue seeing jeans on the hiking trails for years to come, so don’t feel too bad if you decide to stick with denim.
Certain denim jeans may be more appropriate for hiking than others, like these Mountain Hardwear Jeans from Amazon. As the name suggests, they’re designed with some thought towards outdoor use, intended as a comfortable and durable pant suitable for any activity. This pair of jeans outlines the reasons why hiking in jeans is still a considered option; wearing a versatile material like denim can be ideal both on the trails and in the city.
Common hiking mistakes to avoid
Hiking in jeans is a mistake often made by the inexperienced outdoor adventurer. Every hiker could come up with a huge list of similar mistakes they made when first hitting the trails, so we thought we’d help by sharing the most common first-time hiking faux-pas. Avoid these backcountry slip-ups to slip the learning curve and jump straight in as an expert hiker!
- Wearing shoes out of the box: Brand new hiking boots and shoes need a break-in time before they hit the trails. Hiking boots just aren’t comfortable straight out the box, they need to be broken in before use. New boots can be uncomfortable and cause blisters when taken directly on a 6-hour hike. Instead, wear them out and about for a few days first, so they’re much better when the hiking begins.
- Buying low price equipment: Amazon, Walmart, and so many other retailers offer ultra-cheap hiking and camping gear. This equipment is generally low quality, doesn’t last long, and will need replacing before you know it. For important items like hiking boots and waterproof jackets, it’s better to invest in a more durable and reliable product.
- Taking on too much: New hikers need to ease themselves onto the trails- don’t try to climb Everest on your first ever hike. If you bite off more than you can chew, it’s easy to become discouraged from hiking. Instead, take it easy and start slow, allowing yourself time to adjust to backcountry exertion.
- Going straight to ultra-light: Backpacking and hiking with a seriously lightweight load takes a lot of practice and experience, it’s just not viable for novice hikers. Don’t expect yourself to survive the wilderness on the minimum just yet, take your time and learn about the ways of the backcountry.
- Not fueling your body: New hikers quickly realize that they burn much more energy than usual on the trails, but sometimes this comes too late. Forgetting to eat breakfast, or neglecting to bring enough snacks, are common errors that can be very annoying. If you don’t eat enough when hiking, you’ll tire much faster and have much less fun.
- Forgetting the weather forecast: Modern hikers are very lucky that detailed and accurate weather information like mountain weather forecasts is so easily available, so it’s important to make the most of them. Always check the forecast before your hike, so you won’t have any surprises. Light rain and cold temperatures are no obstacle to hikers, but thunderstorms, blizzards, hurricanes, and other serious weather threats cannot be missed. Never go hiking in dangerous weather conditions, as there’s no trail worth the risk.
When it comes to hiking in jeans, there’s a lot of reasons you may want to avoid it. Ideal hiking clothes are good at wicking moisture, breathable but waterproof, warm, and comfortable. Unfortunately, denim jeans just don’t fulfill these requirements, so we cannot recommend wearing them on the trails.
Denim is made from cotton, and it’s well known in the backcountry that cotton kills. This is because instead of wicking moisture, cotton clothes like jeans will absorb sweat and rain, and take a long time to dry. Wet jeans are heavy and uncomfortable, and they can even cause injuries like chafing and blisters. Hiking in wet jeans can also be dangerous, as it leaves you exposed to hypothermia. It’s much better to go hiking in specialized hiking trousers, made from synthetic materials. Making this choice means you’ll be far more comfortable, protected from the weather, and generally safer and happier on the trails.
Bonus tip: Check out this video on how to properly layer your hiking clothes!