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Hiking in jeans: why wearing the wrong leg-wear on the trails is a bad idea

A close up of two people hiking on a pebble beach wearing jeans
(Image credit: Mike Harrington)

While you don’t need to have the shiniest and priciest gear to hit the trails, you definitely don’t want to head out wearing your old Levi’s – and not because doing so is considered a hiking fashion faux pas. In this article, we explain why hiking in jeans is a bad idea.

You might have rolled your eyes a time or two passing fellow hikers on the trail who are all kitted out in that season’s newest outdoor gear, but dressing properly for hiking is actually the biggest aspect of mountain safety – and that includes thinking about the best hiking pants for your trip.

At any time of year – and especially in wet and cold weathersafety should be the first thing on your mind when you’re going hiking. There are all the obvious safety tips like carrying a map and compass, telling someone where you’re going and even knowing what to do if you meet a bear on the trail, but one of the biggest blunders you can make is to set off in the wrong clothes.

In many regards, hiking in jeans doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. You no doubt already own at least a couple of pairs so it’s economical, they’re sturdy so they’ll hold up against a fall and they’re relatively thick compared to other styles of pants like leggings, so they should keep you warm, right?

A man wearing jeans stands at the top of a mountain looking at the view with his pack on the ground

(Image credit: Kris Ubach and Quim Roser)

Wrong. Jeans are made from cotton which means they soak up moisture like a sponge instead of wicking it away like wool, nylon and polyester. If you are hiking in wet weather or sweating, you’ll soon be hiking in cold, clammy jeans that cling to your skin and take a long time to dry out. This moisture also sucks away your body heat, and jeans can freeze solid in very cold weather, increasing your risk of hypothermia in low temperatures. Their sturdiness also becomes heaviness when they’re wet, and they will limit your range of motion making it awkward to hike.

What you’re looking for in a pair of hiking pants is something lightweight and breathable that doesn’t retain moisture or restrict your movement, and dries easily if you get wet. Short story long, ditch the jeans no matter how you look in them, remember that hiking isn’t a fashion parade and get yourself some decent hiking pants that keep you comfortable and safe on the trail. And yes, all of the above counts towards denim shirts and jackets too. 

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Adventure.com. She is an author, mountain enthusiast and yoga teacher who loves heading uphill on foot, ski, bike and belay. She recently returned to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland after 20 years living in the USA, 11 of which were spent in the rocky mountains of Vail, Colorado where she owned a boutique yoga studio and explored the west's famous peaks and rivers. She is a champion for enjoying the outdoors sustainably as well as maintaining balance through rest and meditation, which she explores in her book Restorative Yoga for Beginners, a beginner's path to healing with deep relaxation. She enjoys writing about the outdoors, yoga, wellness and travel. In her previous lives, she has also been a radio presenter, music promoter, university teacher and winemaker.