Written By : Bertie Cowen 
Are you thinking of going hiking in jeans? Or perhaps you’re here to read a bit more about the “wearing jeans while hiking” debate… Either way, you’re in the right place! The very short answer is: you probably shouldn’t wear jeans while hiking. You’ll be much better off wearing a pair of hiking pants because they’re lighter, more comfortable, chafe less and retain less moisture. 
OR (drum roll)... You could enjoy the best of both worlds by checking out CoalaTree’s specially-design Decaf Denim pants that combine the style of blue jeans with the functionality of hiking pants and throw environmentally-friendly production into the mix. But for a longer answer. Here’s the truth about hiking in jeans:

3 Reasons Why Hiking in Jeans is a Bad Idea

Personally, I’m pretty sure I wore jeans when hiking as a kid but I haven’t got any real memories of that. However, Diane Spicer from the blog “Hiking for Her” has a better memory than me. Here’s what she says:“I learned to backpack in the 1970s wearing jeans. There were no other choices back then. 3 reasons I never hike in jeans anymore: Jeans soak up every drop of dew, rain, mud, and sweat, leading to a weight gain of what feels like several pounds. They don't dry fast, so embrace the idea of soggy, cold cotton against your legs on a backpacking trip (hypothermia, anyone?). They encase your hips and knees, robbing you of freedom of movement.”

Denim Jeans Retain Moisture

Cotton retains moisture ridiculously well. This is not a characteristic you want in hiking clothes. If it rains, they’ll get wet. If it’s hot and you sweat… they’ll get wet! And they’ll stay wet!!

Wet Jeans Are Cold & Heavy

We’re quite used to blue jeans being tough, durable, and warm. And on the face of it, that might seem to be three good reasons for wearing jeans out hiking. But the reality is, you don’t want to be wearing heavy clothes, especially on longer hikes. And if they get wet, they get cold real fast.Jeans ChafeLastly, any pants that are restrictive are going to be uncomfortable at best, and at worst they are going to rub, potentially even causing blisters. There are a few things you don’t want to happen on the trail, and getting blisters is right up there.

When is it OK to Hike in Jeans?

OK, OK, I hear you say! That all makes sense but many hikers wear jeans while hiking. Even Diane said she’d worn jeans in the 70s. Surely it’s not all bad to hike in jeans?

To answer this question, I turned to another outdoor journalist. Fiona Russell runs the website Fiona Outdoors and she lives in Scotland. So she knows a thing or two about hiking in adverse weather conditions! Here’s what she has to say:

“Choose the weather and the type of walk carefully if you want to hike in jeans. If conditions are cool and dry, then a comfy pair of jeans will be fine. But not if it's going to be wet. Wet jeans stick to the skin horribly and make you cold, so walking in jeans in wet weather is a no-no. 
Choose a lower-level and easy-going walk rather than a hike in the hills and mountains to minimize the potential for chafing. Make sure they don't have annoying seams that might rub the skin. You could think about wearing a pair of thin lycra shorts under the jeans to reduce the potential for skin chafing.
How about wearing stretch jeans? Stretch, skinny jeans might be a good option if they are easy to wear and not too tight.”

Hike in Cool, Dry Weather

So with moisture retention being one of the main reasons hiking in jeans isn’t a great idea, it stands to reason that you’ll be more comfortable if it doesn’t rain and if you don’t sweat. Note that Fiona suggested cool conditions… you want proper outdoor wear in really cold temperatures. But if it’s cool and dry, a pair of jeans could be perfectly fine. 

Choose Easy-Going Local Trails

If you choose a shorter walk over a long hike, then it’s far less likely the denim will rub your skin. Partly, too much exertion will cause you to sweat, regardless of the temperature. And also, steep inclines and descents require plenty of giving in your pants. So avoiding that will also help make your walk more comfortable.

Stretchy Jeans are Your Friend

Stretchy jeans contain less cotton than normal denim. Instead, they include other fabrics, typically elastane. This gives you much room to maneuver. But if you are starting to think this deeply about things, you’d probably be better off giving the CoalaTree Decaf Denim pants a test drive. Because not only do they have an awesome 4-way stretch, they’re water-resistant and designed to keep you cool…

Alternatives to Hiking in Jeans

If we flip all the reasons why hiking in denim jeans is a bad idea, then it means a good alternative is a pair of lightweight pants that are made of a moisture wicking fabric and retain body heat. These pants should also be soft and stretchy to avoid rubbing. And they should at least be be water-resistant, if not waterproof.

CoalaTree Decaf Denim Pants

Not the first time I’ve mentioned these pants but they really are a fantastic alternative to jeans. They can be used just as you would use jeans but with the added benefits mentioned earlier (stretchy, water resistant, anti-microbial) meaning you can also hike in them. Another cool feature is that they are really environmentally friendly. They’re made from recycled materials and are dyed using a waterless method. 
If you’ve ever studied the cotton industry you’ll know that it wastes huge amounts of water. And so if consumers switch en mass to materials that are less water intensive, it will eventually make a huge difference to global water consumption. 
Polyester Fabrics
A lot of people hike in pants made from synthetic materials. In fact, most specialist outdoor clothing uses synthetic material. Outdoor pants are specially designed to repel rain and wick away sweat and other moisture from the body. CoalaTree’s Trailhead pants are a point in case! 

Merino Wool

Merino wool is a lovely fabric and you can’t quite beat it when it comes to cold weather clothing. Some people seem to wear merino wool leggings as an outer layer but they’re really best as a base layer. Pop them on before you hit the trail or keep a pair in your dry clothing stuff sack. That way if the temperature drops you can throw them on under your nylon pants and you won’t freeze solid! Interestingly, where cotton and cotton blends will cool you down when wet, wool will actually keep you warm when wet!

About Denim Jeans

Modern day jeans were invented in 1871 by Levi Strauss and Jacob W Davis.The idea was to introduce ‘rivets’ into trousers in order to make them more durable, and it just so happened that denim was the fabric that performed best in their experiments with fabrics.

Denim is made from cotton which is one of the most water-intensive crops in the world. It takes an average of 2,200 gallons of water to produce just 2lbs of raw cotton. And the UN estimates that it takes 830 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans.

 

FAQs

Is it better to hike in jeans or shorts?

Shorts. Every time. Even in colder climates it will be more comfortable to hike in shorts rather than jeans. If it rains your skin will dry quicker than jeans and you’ll probably be warm enough while on a trail. And so shorts will be warmer and drier than jeans!

Should you hike in jeans or sweatpants?

Neither jeans or sweatpants are ideal for hiking. Both are made from cotton which retains moisture. And wet clothing is no fun while hiking! If you have to make a decision, hike in the jeans and save the sweatpants for after the hike.

What kind of pants should you wear when hiking?

You can go hiking in pretty much any kind of pants provided the weather is nice. However, most people on the trail will likely be wearing nylon pants specially designed for hiking. Hiking pants tend to be stretchy, water resistant, wicking and quick drying. Avoid cotton and jeans when hiking because they are none of those things!

About The Author

Bertie Cowen is the editor of EffortlessOutdoors.com, a blog that aims to help more people get outdoors more easily. You can also find him on Twitter.