How to Find Hiking Pants that Fit

Finding the Right Pants – The Struggle

We’re all built differently which means everyone has different needs when it comes to finding the right hiking pants. Some of us are short-waisted, others have long torsos or long legs.

As someone who stands 5 foot 3 inches (if I crane my neck), and is built with curves, I look for pants with a low rise, short length, and lots of stretch. 

The good news is there are many brands out there and they have different cuts and styles. With a little perseverance, you can find the best hiking pants for you.

Before I dive into finding the right pants, it helps to understand what exactly R, P, S, L, and T mean on the label. 

Petite and Tall Sizing

I wear a petite and it always frustrates me when someone shockingly says “you’re a petite?”  Yeah, I’m not a size zero, but that has nothing to do with petite versus regular. 

I’m guessing women who wear tall sizing face similar comments.

The average height for women is considered 5’5″ to 5’7″. Regular sizing (R or Reg) is based on women in this height range.

Petite sizing (P) is made for women below “average height” of 5’5″.  So basically, if you’re 5’4”, you’re a petite.

Tall clothing (T) is made for those taller than average height which includes women 5’8″ and taller.

The reason for the different sizing is that a different cut is needed.  Even if you have the same circumference measurements as someone who wears regular sizing (bust, hip, waist), the sleeves and pant legs would not be correct, and the torso would feel off. 

Think about a dress.  I know that if I try to on a regular size dress, the shoulders are in the wrong place, the waist is catching on my hips, and the torso just looks weird.

On a taller woman, the sleeves would be too short and the waist would taper too high on their body with a regular size dress.

Nothing fits where it should.  The dress needs to be redesigned and recut to account for the difference in body measurements.

So yes, petite and tall come in size zero to 18+.  People shouldn’t be so judgy.

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Short and Long Sizing

Short (S) and Long (L) on a tag generally mean that the bottom of the garment was shortened or extended.

The pant legs are shorter or longer, or the dress is shorter or longer.

Generally, the overall cut of the item is still based on regular sizing. Unfortunately, the majority of hiking pants are cut as Regular, Short, and Long.

This will make things a little more challenging for women who need a true Petite or Tall cut.

Summary of Tall vs Long and Petite vs Short

As you can see, there’s a big difference between that T or L, or the P and S on a pair of pants.   

As mentioned above, Petite (P) and Tall (T) means the entire garment has been recut.  The proportions have been adjusted.

Short (S) and Long (L) just mean the length of the inseam was changed, thus making the pant leg shorter or longer. 

This is not a hard and fast rule. Different brands cut their clothes according to their own rules and you may see little difference in certain measurements.

Most hiking pants only come in Regular, Short, and Long.  This means you’ll need to try on a lot of pants to find ones that fit well and are comfortable. 

Understanding Measurements:  Rise versus Inseam

Before we go further, it’s important to know that there are two measurements you need to pay attention to when buying pants. 

The first is the Inseam.  The inseam is the measurement from the bottom of the pant leg to the middle of the crotch.  Basically, it’s the length of the leg. 

The second measurement is the Rise.  The rise is the measurement from the top of the waistband to the center of the crotch. 

Most brands do not post the rise measurement, but over time you’ll become an expert at knowing what works for you and being able to judge the pants by looking at them. 

The rise is the more important measurement.  Pant legs can be hemmed, but there’s not much you can do to adjust the rise.  I’ve tried, and while somewhat successful, it wasn’t the easiest and my tailor (my mom) wasn’t thrilled with doing it. 

If the rise is too long for you, there will be a lot of extra fabric which will bag between your knees and make for some really bad photos.

If the length of the rise is too short, well……that won’t be very comfortable. 

How Do I Find Pants With the Right Length

Okay, you may want to sit down for this because it’s not good news.  The hard truth for most women, regardless of whether you’re a petite, regular or long, is that we will never find pants that are the perfect length. 

Let’s use short pants as an example. Short pants are meant for women 4’11” to 5’4”.  That’s a 5-inch difference.  There’s simply no way for that same pair of pants to be the right length for everyone.

As you can imagine, for some women the pants will be too short and for others, too long  

Companies usually strive to fit the taller range since it’s almost impossible to fix pants that are too short.

Hemming Your Pants

Most of us will have to accept the fact that we will need to hem our pants.  I know this can be expensive at around $20 per pair, but it’s actually not too difficult and you can do it yourself. 

You can find the seam tape you fold into the pants and iron in place or actually hand sew the hem. 

It’s not as hard as you think.  Once you get the hang of it, you’ll feel more empowered to buy whatever pants you like. 

Tip

If you opt for the seam tape that irons in place, take the time to run a few stitches through for added security.  You can get away with 4 to 6 individual stitches at various points around the cuff. 

There are tons of videos on how to hem pants online and I’ve done it myself many times.  It’s really not that hard once you get the hang of it. 

It is far more important to find pants with the right rise than the right length. 

What Should I Look For When Buying Hiking Pants

First Look for Fit

The most important thing when buying pants is to find a pair that fits.

You want the waist to hit in a comfortable spot for you and the crotch area to be in the right place.  It’s going to be uncomfortable if the length between the waist and crotch is too tight, and annoying if it’s too long. 

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One of the great things about women’s hiking pants is most of them have a drawstring at the waist.  You still have your buttons and zippers, but the tie allows you to cinch the pants tighter providing greater adjustability. 

Look at how the legs come into the crotch area. If the cut is too severe, like a triangle, the pants may pull and look odd as well as be uncomfortable.

If the cut is too arched, there may be a lot of extra fabric which can be an issue.

Assess the Features

Once you have fit, look for features.

Do you need a pocket large enough for your phone?  Are you someone that likes to have your car keys in a zippered pocket?  Should the pockets have buttons or snaps to secure a closure? 

What other features do you like?  Are convertible pants a must? 

Do you like a pant that rolls up into capris? 

Are the Pants Suitable For Your Needs

Think about when you will be wearing the pants.  Is the fabric light enough for hot summers or thick enough to keep you warm on cold winter hikes?

Take a good look and feel the fabric.  Too much spandex can stretch out over time and become unwearable.  Too much cotton or heavier material will absorb sweat and water and become heavy. 

Looking for the top Hiking Pants for Petite hikers? Click here to read our top picks for 2020.

How to Try On Hiking Pants

After a few years of returning pants, I finally came up with a dressing room routine to thoroughly vet the pants in the store.  Don’t worry, you’re behind a closed door so no one will see this. 

  1. Grab a pair that’s your size along with a size up and a size down (so 3 pairs)
  2. Try on the pants in your size first
  3. Look at them and see if you like how they look and feel just standing there. Are they comfortable?  Are they pulling anywhere?  Do they look odd and make you feel self-conscious?
  4. Sit down on the chair or bench.  Are they still comfortable or are they pulling anywhere?  Do they ride up too much at the leg? 
  5. As you’re sitting, cross one leg over the other, then reverse them.  Sit as you would around a campfire.  Are they still comfortable?  Are any zippers cutting into you?
  6. Stand back up and then squat down like you’re pulling something out of your pack.  Assess comfort.  Pay attention to how they stretch.  Make a note if anything is gripping your legs or cutting. 
  7. Take a final look and see if they stretched and look better or if they’re now too big.
  8. Regardless of your initial opinion, try the size smaller or larger depending on how they fit. Repeat the steps above. It’s a good double-check.

If there is any discomfort, it’s likely not going to get better so you can remove those pants from the list. 

If they feel too big, if anything cuts into you, if the inseam feels too tight, if the legs are gripping in odd places, if you don’t like the fabric, anything – put them back. 

Try a different pair of pants in the same brand.  Sometimes one model fits better than another. 

Don’t Buy More than One Pair Right Away

When you do find a pair you like, buy one pair and try them for a few hikes. If you like the way they wear, then buy another pair or two.

If it’s a brand that has a tendency to sell out quickly, then purchase more than one pair, but only remove the tags from and wear one pair until you’re sure they are comfortable and meet your needs.

Finding the Right Pant – Patience, and Determination

The great thing about hiking pants is there are many brands that make a great product. Hiking pants are also highly adjustable so you should find the process easier than an annual jean purchasing trip.

I promise there’s a pair out there that will work for you.  It’s like buying jeans, but a little easier since they have a lot of stretch and drawstring waists. 

Most brands are also good about consistency in fit and not updating their best sellers too frequently.

Find the right fit, then find the right features. Once you have a couple of brands that work for you, it will be easier to always have a good pair of hiking pants ready to go.

Our Vote for the Best Petite Hiking Pants

Click to read the full article with descriptions and detailed information.

Top Petite Hiking Pants
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is W4HA99113_MOONROCKprAna Halle PantRetail = $85
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2691920008_4.jpgOutdoor Research Ferrosi PantRetail = $80
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1579861_028_a1Columbia Saturday Trail PantRetail = $60
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is NETPGNHE_D2.jpgThe North Face Aphrodite 2.0Retail = $70
Honorable Mentions
REI Sahara Convertible Pant
Kuhl KlashTM Pant

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2 Responses

  • I’m just throwing it out there – I hate buying pants!!!! These are great tips – I cant buy a pair without scrutinizing every last detail haha. Especially length when sitting too!

    • Thanks Sarah! I usually hate buying pants too — so frustrating. I’m short so length isn’t a big problem — the waist coming to my rib cage can be though 🙂

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