Clothing is one of the most important things to have dialed in when embarking on an outdoor adventure. When embarking on a hike or trek, a good pair of pants becomes extremely important.
Pants offer protection from the sun, wind, and cold, as well as abrasions on the skin from rocks and plants. The right pants have pockets that can be useful for carrying small things on an outdoor adventure without you even noticing.
A cargo pant is a style that is usually used for hiking and trekking and have one or more large pockets in the form of patches along the legs.
The fit is generally very relaxed, as the main purpose of cargo pants is to offer both protection and comfort to the wearer while being utilitarian.
In this article, we will see the types and features of pants for outdoor activities, and then review some of the cargo pants available to come up with our top-five cargo pants for outdoor activities.
These pants are designed to be quick-drying. They have a nylon construction which means that they dry in the nick of time. The pants are bound to get wet outdoors, but they will dry within a few minutes. This is why it is so important to ensure that you have the correct cargo pants when you are doing any outdoor activity. Quick-drying pants are also essential when you need to cross streams or endure wet and stormy weather. You also need to keep pants dry when you hit mountain areas that feature colder temperatures.
Some cargo pants have more pockets than others. Pocket sizes also vary, and this is important to pay attention to depending on what you need the pockets for. Some outdoor enthusiasts like to use pockets to store digital cameras, maps, sunglasses or even lip balm. Basically, you want to be able to store ‘small and handy’ things in your cargo pants pockets as opposed to in your backpack.
This may seem like a bit of an odd reason to buy cargo pants, but when you are on a hike or trek, you may want a material that is soft, quick-drying and quiet. What does this mean? Well, you want a pair of cargo pants that don’t make a rubbing sound that you often get with nylon. Remember that no noise means a higher chance of viewing wildlife too! And good luck sneaking up on any animal while wearing a pair of noisy pants.
This is probably one of the more popular reasons to buy cargo pants. They can convert to a pair of shorts in the warm weather! You’ll see them labeled as ‘convertible hiking pants’ in the stores. They generally have a zipper on each leg that detaches the bottom section of the pants. It’s simple to store the detached part of the pants in your backpack or pocket after converting your pants to shorts.
Cargo pants are often made from nylon that is strengthened. This means that even though the material is strong, the pants are extremely lightweight. They weigh less than cotton shorts! Hard to believe but very true. The feather-weight helps with the comfort and quick-dry properties that you want during a hike.
Cargo pants are designed for very niche outdoor conditions, and this is why they are probably the most comfortable pants around. They are light and sized to the tea! They also give you plenty of room to move around in. Cargo pants are known for avoiding friction, unlike denim pants. They also allow for flexibility with elastic waistbands. These are not the most fashionable but they do make the world of difference when you are outdoors.
Cargo pants are made of nylon and they are generally made to allow your skin to breathe through them. When you are walking or jogging outdoors, you will start to sweat and your body needs to get rid of the moisture as quickly as possible. These pants help to let you breathe and still protect your legs from debris, thorns, twigs and long grass. If you’re a lover of off-trail hiking, cargo pants are a must-have!
There are many ways to classify a cargo pant, based on the style and ability. Here is a brief run-down on the top cargo pants that are available for outdoor activities.
These pants, are standard pants that reach up to the ankle length of the wearer. There is nothing exceptional about these pants, regarding style. They come with standard zippers and button closures, have pockets and look similar to regular pants.
These pants are primarily designed for comfort. Some of these pants have vents at strategic locations, such as meshed pockets or hidden in the crotch area to aid circulation and keep the wearer cool. Pants with such vent systems are great to have when hiking or trekking in hot weather.
On the other hand, some cargo pants are constructed in a closed manner as possible, often having drawstring closures around the ankles to stop the cold and the wind from creeping in.
Convertible pants are those which can be converted to a full pant or shorts easily. There is often a piece of tubing that serves to protect the shins and quads that is detachable.
Most often, it is attached to the main pant with a zipper. Depending on the need, one can either remove the piece and stow it in the backpack or wear it.
The advantage of having convertible pants is that if the bottom portion gets too dirty, it can be easily detached and washed. When the weather is too warm, removing the leg piece can help with cooling-off, and when it is too cold or windy, or when you need protection from sun or abrasion, the piece can be re-attached.
However, the additional zipper that is present to hold up the detachable piece can add to the bulk of the pant, and in some cases, also rub against the leg and cause abrasion.
A lot of people have a preference for hiking in either pants or shorts and tend not to mix things up. For such people, a convertible pant might be perfect.
Some people find that attaching and detaching the pieces is a hassle, especially if the whole pant must be removed to do so. Instead, they prefer keeping pants and shorts as separate outfits and use as required.
A lot of manufacturers do a shoddy job in concealing the zippers that attach the two pieces. Failure on the part of the designers and manufacturers to make sure that the trimmings are comfortable and don’t disturb the skin is also a cause for a lot of people to forego the convenience of convertible pants and opt for stand-alone options.
Roll-up pants function in the same way as convertible pants, except that there is no separate detachable piece. Instead, the pants are loose enough to allow for folding up the legs, and there are fasteners provided to help to keep the rolls in place.
These pants allow the wearer to keep cool in warm weather by lifting the pant away from the ankles, while not having to adjust it all the time since the fasteners will hold the fold in place.
The advantage of roll-up pants over convertible pants is that there is no additional weight of zippers, nor is it cumbersome in the way of attaching, detaching and lugging it around in the backpack when not in use.
Paying attention to the weather is crucial when embarking on an adventure. Cargo pants can be classified that are suitable for heat, cold and wet conditions.
When the weather is hot, it is essential that you wear pants made of breathable material. This makes sure that the sweat from the legs is wicked away effectively, thereby, preventing chafing and abrasion, especially in the thigh and crotch areas.
Pants that are suitable for hot weather come with gusseted crotch area, which helps in additional moisture management and keeping cool.
Pants that are meant for use in the heat especially come with vents that allow for circulation of air, as shown in the image above. This circulation aids in further wicking and increases the breathability of the material. The vents are strategically placed, based on the design considerations made by the manufacturer.
In addition to being breathable, pants used for hot weather are usually given the roll-up or convertible features.
An important aspect of hot-weather pants is the sun protection that it offers. For clothing, there is something called as the “UPF” (UV Protection Factor) that becomes an important parameter when buying your next pair of pants.
UPF is a measure of how much UV rays can penetrate your clothing. It is denoted by a number, and the higher number, the more effective the piece of clothing is at stopping UV rays from penetrating it.
The minimum UPF allowed being denoted UPF 15, which means that about 7% of the sun’s UV rays can reach the skin through the clothing rated as UPF 15. Anything below this is not allowed to be rated.
The UPF rating is very crucial, especially when you are planning to hike or trek in peak summer, or in a desert area, where there is a high risk of UV exposure.
Nylon and Polyester clothing mixed with spandex is a good choice for hot weather cargo pants. Care must be taken to choose clothing of lighter colors like white, beige, ivory and tan because these colors absorb the lesser amount of heat as compared to dark colors, keeping you cool.
For colder weathers, protection from the cold temperature, wind and moisture are the important factors to consider while looking for pants for outdoor hiking and trekking.
Most cold weather pants do not feature vents (though there are manufacturers who make all season pants and provided zippered vents that can be opened and closed as needed).
Breathability of the fabric is important, even in cold weather, because one can still sweat in cold weather and it is important to remove moisture from the skin to prevent skin discomfort, as well as keep hypothermia at bay.
For winter pants, synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester are preferred, since these materials allow breathability and wicking while keeping the cold out.
Winter pants feature additional protection, like drawstring closures at the ankles to try and seal gaps that can make the body lose precious heat. A lot of people also prefer layering in cold weather, wearing synthetic or woolen base layer pants that fit snugly against the body, then adding hiking pants over it.
In case the weather is wet with snow or rain in addition to being cold, it is always a good idea to wear a shell rain pant on top of the hiking pant to keep yourself from getting wet.
Cargo pants by themselves are typically not suitable for the very wet weather. Most of the cargo pants are treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating. This is a wax-like material that coats the top layer of the fabric and creates a barrier between the elements and the fabric, which causes the fabric to repel moisture instead of absorbing it.
However, the DWR coating only makes the pants water-resistant, and not waterproof. The coating wears off with abrasion and with repeated washing. There are commercially available products that can be used to restore the DWR coating.
Most manufacturers add the DWR coating to their cargo pants. However, to be used in very wet weather, it is best to use a shell rain cover pant on top of the cargo pants.
Here is a list of our top 5 cargo pants. The factors that influence these choices include the following –
Outdoor Research is a Seattle-based company specializing in outdoor clothing. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi is reasonable priced (check out the latest rates here), and it is the best cargo pant available for year-round use. Here is a list of specifications of the pant –
Made of 86% Nylon and 14% Spandex, this pant provides excellent breathability and moisture wicking capability. The high Spandex percentage allows this pant to offer free movement, amazing comfort, and a great fit.
Available in six colors, this pant offers a zippered pocket on the thigh, two front slash pockets, and two rear zippered back pockets. This pant is amazing for hiking, climbing, and scrambling.
Where to Buy: You can pick these up directly via Outdoor Research here.
prAna is a sustainable clothing brand that creates amazing clothing for yoga, sports, and outdoor adventures.
Priced in the low to mid range (check out the latest rates here), the prAna Stretch Zion is one of the best hiking pants available in the market today. It is suitable for hiking, bouldering, and rock climbing.
The material is 97% nylon and 3% Spandex, which means that the pants are amazingly breathable, lightweight and the ease of movement is terrific, not to mention they are very lightweight. It is one of the most performant hiking pants with the highest level of comfort. These pants are all-season and can be used year-round.
Where to Buy: I’ve had the best luck at this Amazon listing here.
Patagonia is a well-known outdoor gear brand, and they make some great outdoor clothing.
Patagonia Quandary Pant is one of the most affordable cargo pants for hiking, trekking, and climbing. Priced in the low to mid range (check out the latest rates here), It is a steal, given that the material is 94% nylon and 6% spandex, offering a medium stretchy feel to it.
These pants are one of the most comfortable cargos out there, given the fit and feel of the fabric.
On top of being one of the most comfortable pants around, Patagonia Quandary Pant is made of recycled nylon, which means that it is one of the most sustainable options in outdoor clothing.
Where to Buy: You can pick these up directly via Patagonia online here.
Columbia Sportswear is a leading brand in outdoor clothing and makes some of the most affordable outdoor clothing.
Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants are definitely a more affordable pair of pants (Check out the latest rates here) and are one of the most affordable hiking pants around. These pants are extremely breathable and dry very quickly.
Available in an extensive range of 20 colors, these pants are extremely versatile and are of great use for hiking and trekking.
The material used is 100% nylon, with no spandex mixed.
While Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible is a great choice in terms of cost, breathability and wicking capability, it does not perform too well on the durability factor, and it is not recommended for cold weather. It would serve well on a desert trail but would fare very badly on an icy Alpine trek.
Where to Buy: Pick up these convertible pants directly at Columbia.com here.
Priced in the mid range, the Kuhl Renegade Convertible has a very durable construction and is made of high-quality material. The material composition is 95% nylon and 5% spandex, which offers good breathability, quick drying, and nice stretching capacity.
These pants are most useful for traveling and hiking. Being a convertible pant, this one features zippered leg pieces that the wearer can easily remove and put back on.
The fit of this pant is a little baggy and not form-fitting.
Our Full Take: Kuhl Renegade Pants Review.
Where to Buy: Pick these up over at REI directly here.
This pair of cargo pants has five pockets with a DWR finish. It also has a fantastic feature which is that it boasts a UPF of 50 sun protection. These cargo pants are stylish and work very well for a weekend outdoor walk or climb. You can even wear these on a longer outdoor hiking trip if you need to.
The pants are made from 100% nylon and look great. They are comfortable and have a flat waistband which allows for greater comfort when kneeling and bending. They accommodate belts of all sizes and are highly water resistant. These pants do fit slim and long, so be aware of the size when ordering. Material: 100% Nylon
Where to Buy: You cna pick up these pants via Amazon here.
These cargo pants are ideal for short summer hikes. These are also ideal if you are an outdoor enthusiast on a budget. Some cargo pants purchases can get really expensive really quickly and if you’re still new to trailing, climbing or hiking, you may not want to buy the most expensive pair on the shelf.
This pair is ideal if you’re looking for something affordable that has most of the features any cargo pant should have. It has six pockets; two hand and two back pockets as well as two thigh pockets. It also converts to shorts if you need with a zip off leg feature. The elastic waistband allows for comfort and the fabric is 90% environment-friendly! Material: 100% Nylon
Where to Buy: Head on over to this Amazon listing to get these pants.
With all the comparisons that we have made, we find that Outdoor Research Ferrosi and prAna Stretch Zion are the top choices. Between these two, you will get a very solid pair of cargo pants, and choosing the best pants is completely dependent on the wearer.
Outdoor Research Ferrosi scores higher because of the cost factor (not by much) and the fact that Outdoor Research Ferrosi works extremely well as all-weather cargo pants and has better wind-resistance as compared to prAna Stretch Zion, and the fact that prAna Stretch Zion needs better ventilation capability.
Apart from these, both score well on all the other desirable features of a good cargo pant, and the decision on which one to buy should be purely based on what exactly you will be using the cargo pants for.
Among Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible and Kuhl Renegade Convertible, the competition is fierce. While Columbia Silver Ridge scores high because it is priced lower and is great with breathability, owing to its 100% nylon construction, Kuhls scores high because of its durability.
Both Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible and Kuhls Renegade Convertible feature low on our list because they are convertible pants, which are not preferred by too many hikers. We placed the Kuhls lower because of the price factor. However, for a convertible pant, we would rate is higher than any other, including Columbia Silver Ridge.
Patagonia Quandary Pants are great pants, except for the UPF factor. It is the lowest among all the pants featured on this list. However, the price range is the same as the others here. Apart from this one factor, Patagonia Quandary is very comparable to prAna Stretch Zion, since it offers the same kind of stretchy and comfortable feeling.
A lot of people think that Patagonia Quandary Pant can be a replacement for the pricier prAna Stretch Zion, especially since it is lighter than prAna Stretch Zion.
Apart from these pants on our list, there are a few more expensive options for cargo pants.
These pants score well on all the factors that we have been comparing, except for the cost factor. Here are a few other brands that you can evaluate if you are fine with spending more on hiking pants that will definitely last longer and have a higher brand value –
Priced at the extremely high end range (check out the latest rates here), this one is one of the most expensive cargo pants available. However, the material is 88% nylon and 12% elastane, which perfectly balances breathability, wicking, wind-resistance, durability and stretchiness to be one of the most comfortable hiking pants ever.
Priced at at a slightly higher range(check out the latest rates here), the material is 86% nylon and 14% elastane which makes it super stretchy and comfortable.
With a price tag at the higher end (Check out the latest rates here!), the material is 96% nylon and 4% spandex, which seems expensive as compared to Kuhls and Patagonia which have similar material composition. However, the fabric is more durable compared to these brands, which will justify the price.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.