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.
- Understanding Measurements: Rise versus Inseam
- What Are the Different Types of Sizes?
- How Should Hiking Pants Fit
- What to Look For When Buying Hiking Pants
- How to Try On Hiking Pants
- Don't Buy More Than One Pair Right Away
- Wrap-Up: Finding the Right Hiking Pants
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 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.
As you can see in the picture above, the tape measure starts at the inside of the crotch and goes down the leg to the bottom of the pants. This is how you measure the inseam.
You’ll often see this noted in the description of the pants online. It will say something like regular pants have a 33-inch inseam, short pants have a 30-inch inseam, and tall pants have a 36-inch inseam.
The rise is the measurement from the top of the waistband to the center of the crotch. This is what lends a pair of pants to being high-waisted or short-waisted. A higher rise means the pants will sit higher on your waist.
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.
As you can see in the photo above, the tape measure starts at the top of the waistband and ends at the center of the crotch. This is how you measure the rise.
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 when she did it for me. Also, if you don’t have a family member with mad sewing skills, you’ll need to use a tailor and it’s going to be expensive.
If the rise is too long for you, meaning the pants sit too high, the pants will continue to fall down as you hike and a lot of extra fabric will bag between your knees making for some really bad photos.
If the length of the rise is too short, well……that won’t be very comfortable.
What Are the Different Types of Sizes?
When you look at a tag, you may see a variety of acronyms. There could be Regular (R), Short (S), Tall (T), Petite (P), and Long (L). Sometimes you’ll see wide (W).
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 and Tall sizes are cut from the start to accommodate height. Rather than simply adjusting the length of the pants, the entire cut is altered from a Regular size. This offers a better fit. You’ll find the waist height, where the pants curve around the hips, and the pocket locations are all adjusted.
Petite and Tall Sizing
Petite sizing (P) is made for women below “average height” of 5’5″. 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’m 5 foot 3 inches, a petite, and I know that if I try on a regular-size dress, the neckline is often too wide, the shoulders fall down, the waist catches 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.
Nothing fits where it should and simply shortening or lengthening the sleeves or hem won’t fix the problem. It’s the same with pants. The clothing needs to be redesigned and recut to account for the difference in body measurements.
With pants, petite and tall sizing often means the inseam and rise were both adjusted, and where the pants curve over the hips were also modified.
So yes, petite and tall come in sizes zero to 18+. It has nothing to do with the size, it’s all about height.
Short and Long Sizing
Short (S) and Long (L) on a tag generally mean that the bottom of the garment was shortened or extended. All the brand did was change the inseam measurement.
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. As I mentioned above, this isn’t as customized a fit for petite and tall women. 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) mean the entire garment has been recut. The proportions have been adjusted.
Short (S) and Long (L) just means 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 differences in certain measurements.
If you wear a petite, check out our top picks for petite hiking pants.
How Should Hiking Pants Fit
There are many different styles of hiking pants out there. From capris to technical leggings to the usual looser-fitting pants, there’s something for everyone.
Keep in mind the terrain, weather conditions, and your own preferences.
I prefer regular hiking pants because they protect my legs from bugs, plants (like poison ivy), and briars. If a briar catches my pant, it pulls them away. With leggings, it wouldn’t end as well.
Most pants are designed to be tighter fitting with a wide opening at the bottom. The wider opening allows the pants to fall over a boot or hiking shoe. A lot of brands offer a toggle at the bottom so you can cinch the leg.
Just about every brand adds a generous amount of spandex or elastane to the fabric so expect pants to get a bit larger as you wear them. This is where the waist tie comes in handy and I highly recommend looking for pants with the tie.
If the pants are so tight when you first put them on that the waistband is crushing your stomach, let them go. If they are slightly snug, wear them around the house for an hour or so to see what happens.
As long as they don’t feel like the material is overtaking you, they’re not falling down, and you can bend and move comfortably, they fit.
The Right Length for Hiking Pants
How long your hiking pants should be is personal, but there are a few things to watch and some general tips you can follow.
I keep my pants about three-quarters to one inch from the ground. If the pants are designed with a cuff that fits tight around the ankle, then they should reach the ankle and cover it. These types of pants can grip too tightly if they’re too high, especially as your body swells from hiking, and become uncomfortable.
What feels fine for a 3-mile hike may not feel fine at the 8-mile mark.
Ideally, your pants should be long enough that they cover the top of the boot, but not so long that you walk on them.
If they’re too short, they can become caught in the back of your hiking boot or shoe as you walk. Too long and you’ll be yanking them up all day.
The trick here is to plan for the pants to become a bit longer as you wear them. I haven’t found a brand that hasn’t stretched yet.
If you buy pants with the toggle at the bottom so you can cinch them, you can sometimes use that to create a shorter hem. However, if you need to hem the pants, the toggle is likely going to go. It’s not easy even for a pro to remove it, create the new seam and add it back in.
Taller women may find the toggle is a problem if it hits too high. The good news is that they’re easy to remove.
Always wear your hiking boots or shoes when you try on pants, and if you’re adjusting the length.
Adjusting the Length
Okay, we have to talk about length. I see so many people discuss finding pants that are the right length. Here’s the cold, hard truth, it is rare to find pants you like that fit well in the waist and are the right length. Length is the last thing you should worry about, it’s the easiest adjustment.
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
When you try on pants, getting the rise to fit comfortably is your number one priority. If the pants are too long or short, look at adjusting the hem. There are tons of videos online with tips on how to do this. I would try to do it myself because a professional is going to charge $20 to $25. It doesn’t have to be even or pretty, it just has to work.
Taller women may have a trickier time because letting a hem out is difficult. Look at the hem before you purchase and see how much fabric folds over. Use this to estimate how much longer you can make the pants. Keep in mind that you will need a small hem to prevent fraying. The minimum hem length is usually a quarter inch of fabric.
Most of us will have to accept the fact that we will need to adjust the length. 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.
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.
What to 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 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.
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? (Convertible pants have a zipper so you can remove the bottoms and turn them into shorts.)
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.
How to Try On Hiking Pants
After a few years of returning pants, I finally devised 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.
- Grab a pair that’s your size along with a size up and a size down (so 3 pairs)
- Try on the pants in your size first
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- Take a final look and see if they stretched and look better or if they’re now too big
- Regardless of your initial opinion, try the size smaller or larger depending on how the first pair 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 and wear one pair until you’re sure they are comfortable and meet your needs.
Wrap-Up: Finding the Right Hiking Pants
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.