Adventure Pants: Key Features to Evaluate

When I hike, I almost always wear a pair of lightweight pants made from a quick-drying synthetic like nylon or polyester. I call them my adventure pants. A slew of these are out there on the market, but there are a few critical features I look for—and recommend that you do too.

Even in the heat of summer, I prefer wearing my adventure pants to shorts. They block the sun, keep out the bugs, and help protect shins and knees from branches and rocks along the trail. They might be a little warmer than a pair of shorts, but not much; they tend to be extremely breathable. When shopping for a pair, here's what to look for:

Good Pockets!In my opinion, this is the single-most important criteria in selecting adventure pants. Surprisingly, most adventure pants have lousy pockets. They're the first things I check out.

The deeper the pockets, the better. I tend to end up with a fair amount of stuff in my pockets while I hike (pocket knife, snacks, etc.). Pockets should also hang separately from the pants, rather than being sewn into them (with the front of the pocket being the pant leg). If the pockets are shallow, or if they don't hang separately, it's easy for stuff to fall out of them when you sit down. Having lost items this way in the past (bye-bye pocket knife), I can attest how frustrating this can be. Some pants have zippers that close the pockets for extra security—a nice feature.

Having more pockets is nice as well, especially ones that are wide and deep enough to hold a folded map or other relatively bulky object. Pockets on the sides of the thighs are nice. One last thing to consider is the fabric used in the pockets. Some versions use mesh, which saves weight and feels nice (and is good if you'll be getting sand in your pockets; it strains through nicely) but is much less durable than a solid piece of fabric.

If pockets pass muster, I take a look at the rest of the pants.

Smooth, Secure WaistbandIf you're backpacking, you're cinching up a beefy, bulky waistbelt around your waist—and over the waistband of your pants. If the waistband bunches up, wrinkles, or otherwise doesn't lay flat, it will create pressure points on your hips. These can quickly lead to discomfort and even blisters. Look for waistbands that lie as flat as possible next to your skin. Some higher-end adventure pants feature a soft fleece lining underneath the waistband, another nice feature.

Take a look at the buckle or clip in front as well. Make sure that it stays in place when cinched and tightened. I've had versions where the nylon strap that slips through the little plastic buckle steadily loosened, causing the pants to slowly slip down my waist.

Other Things to ConsiderThe highest wear-and-tear areas of your pants are the knees and butt. Some adventure pants are reinforced in these areas.

A variety of "convertible" pants are available, where the lower leg zips off and converts the pants to shorts. These are not my preference, but a lot of people like them. If you're one of them, look for zippers that don't feel annoyingly stiff when in full pants mode.

Darker colors show the dirt and grime of a long trip less, but are warmer in direct sun.

As a general rule, I find that adventure pants from Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, and Patagonia tend to be the most likely to meet the essential criteria.

Expect to pay $50 -$100 for a good pair of adventure pants. They're a solid investment, and one of the most used items in my collection.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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