If you’re anything like me, the more you get into the outdoors, the more technical you want your hiking gear to be. Waterproof jackets need to be 3-layer, down must be hydrophobic and hiking pants have to feature articulated knees.
But what are articulated knees in hiking pants, anyway? It’s one of those terms you’ll often see on the label, assume is a good thing, but have zero clue what it means. And again, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know – is it a real benefit, or just another crafty means of making a garment seem more high-performing, and justifying that eye-watering price tag? Read on to find out what articulated knees are, and why you want them in your hiking pants.
What are articulated knees in hiking pants?
Articulated knees are created by sewing darts into the knees. A dart is simply a seamstress term for a fold that is sewn into a garment’s fabric, either to make it contour better to the body or to improve its functionality. If you have any nice dresses or suit jackets in your closet, you can take a look now and you’ll likely see that darts have been sewn around the waist to make the garment contour to your body better and appear more flattering.
In the case of articulated knees in hiking pants, the point of darts has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with function. Darts, or folds, are sewn into the fronts of the knees to essentially leave a little outward curve of the fabric which leaves more room for your knees to bend.
When you look at a pair of hiking pants – including rain pants – to see if they have articulated knees, you should see a short horizontal (or near horizontal) seam leading from both the inseam and outseam. In the case of some hiking pants, like my Arc’teryx Gamma Pants, there are darts underneath the knee only, while my Fjallraven Keb Curved trousers have darts both above and below the knee.
What’s the purpose of articulated knees in hiking pants?
When you’re hiking up a very steep slope or come upon a section where scrambling is required and you need to lift your knee higher than usual, articulate knees mean your trousers won’t prevent you from achieving the range of motion needed, even if your pants don’t contain much (or any stretch).
Now you might be wondering why all pants don’t have articulated knees, since even if you’re not going hiking in them you’ll still want to climb stairs and sit down in chairs, and the short answer is that, back in the days when all things weren’t mass-produced and were tailor-made, they probably did have articulated knees. These days, however, many clothing manufacturers rely on adding more stretch to garments to make sure they move with your body.
This of course can work quite well, but the more stretch a fabric contains, the more likely it is to lose its shape with washing and wearing. So for hiking pants, your best course of action is to choose a pair with just a little stretch, and articulated knees so you can get your legs up and over that boulder or stile without hearing that alarming ripping sound of seams bursting.
All the latest inspiration, tips and guides to help you plan your next Advnture!
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.