Are Skinny Fit Hiking Pants Right For You?

By KÜHL Editor on September 13, 2023

The other day my wife returned home from what she called “a quick shopping trip” i.e. shopping spree and, knowing I’m an aficionado for outdoor gear and apparel, was excited to show me her new pair women’s hiking pants. As I read the label, I was floored to find out they were called “skinny pants.”

They certainly didn’t match the image in my mind conjured by the term skinny, but that made me realize I really had no idea what skinny pants were and I certainly didn’t expect there to be such a thing as skinny fit hiking pants.

I decided I needed to do some research.

I learned that skinny pants have been around for a few years, are everywhere, and seem to be here to stay. Now I knew I was somewhat out of touch from the fashion world, but I never realized just how much until I realized that this fashion trend had been embraced by the outdoor community as well.

But if this news to you like it was to me, take a deep breath before you start assuming that die-hard backpackers and hikers have traded technical performance for the runway, and I’ll go through some of the reasons skinny leg hiking pants may just be what you’ve been looking for.

What are skinny hiking pants?

Pretty much just what you’d expect, or maybe not at all what you’d expect. If someone would have asked me to describe skinny pants a few weeks ago, I would have described then as skin tight and painfully uncomfortable.

However, today I’m more enlightened and I know that skinny pants refer more to the way that the leg tapers towards the ankle.

Non-skinny pants fall straight down, creating a less form-fitting pant.

In the examples above, you can see how the women’s slim hiking pants are much more form-fitting in the calf and ankle than the straight leg hiking pant. As far as fit goes, the skinny pant is a more form-fitting throughout the thighs and seat than the straight-legged pant.

KÜHL's Kontour Skinny is a good example of a slim fit outdoor pant.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, there are men’s skinny hiking pants as well. However, the taper on the men’s pant is more subtle than on the women’s hiking pant and they usually aren't’ called “skinny” but are more commonly referred to as “tapered”.

Kanvus™ Jean is a good pair of men's tapered hiking pants.

As you can see from these two examples, the difference between a tapered leg and a straight leg in men’s pants is very subtle. But like the women’s pant, the men’s skinny or tapered pant is going to be more narrow and form-fitting in the leg, seat, and thigh.

Why would you want to wear skinny hiking pants?

This is a question I asked myself as I started to learn more about this trend, but after buying a pair for myself and looking at my own experiences with outdoor apparel, the more it made sense. There are those activities that are better performed with more form-fitting clothing.

For example, if you are doing something that requires a lot of bending in the knees (like climbing or hiking) you don’t necessarily want a lot of room between your body and the fabric. You want the pant to move with you, not have your knee rubbing against the fabric.

Think about it this way, when you go hiking or backpacking and you have shoes/boots that are too big or your socks are too big and you have that extra space, it rubs against your skin and the friction creates blisters. The same thing can happen to your knees if you are doing a lot of bending and the fabric is rubbing against your skin instead of moving with it.

According to Switch Back Travel, KÜHL's Renegade™ Cargo Convertible is one of the best pants for hiking!

A woman in KUHL hiking pants climbing a cliff

Another reason I’ve found that I enjoy a more tapered, form-fitting pant is less material to snag or catch on things. If I’m traversing through thick vegetation, I don’t want to give branches and thorns too many opportunities to grab me. Now, I understand that the difference between a skinny-pant leg and a straight-leg pant is minimal, and a straight leg isn’t like dragging an opened parachute behind me, but I still prefer a closer fitting pant leg if I know I’ll be hiking through branches.

I also prefer a taper through the calf and cuff area if I’m hiking in the snow (especially if I forgot gaiters) to minimize the amount of material that could get wet.

What are some things to consider when buying skinny hiking pants?

Really the two most important factors are material and build. If you are looking for a quick-drying hiking pant you’ll want a pant that is primarily made of polyester. Polyester is more breathable and doesn’t absorb moisture the same way that nylon does, helping it dry faster than nylon. On the other hand, if you still want quick drying, but are more concerned with durability, then you’ll want a pant made with ripstop fabric.

This will give you the peace of mind knowing that unlike a tear that immediately spans the entire pant leg, ripstop does exactly what its name implies:stops ripping, keeping the tear contained. You’ll also want to pay attention to stretch. Since a slim fit hiking pants are going to be more form-fitting, you want them stretch and move with you. This is where spandex comes in handy or in the case of ripstop, find a pant that has 4-way mechanical stretch.

As far as build goes, you’ll want a pant that has articulated knees (this is pretty standard, but still worth double-checking). The reason you want to look for pants with articulated knees is that an articulated design follows the natural movement of the body. Another important part of the construction of your pants is what’s called a “gusseted crotch.” I didn’t know what that meant, but a quick Google search revealed that a gusset “is a piece of material sewn into a garment to strengthen or enlarge a part of it, such as the collar of a shirt or the crotch of an undergarment.”

A man in KUHL hiking pants showing gusseted crotch feature

Evidently, it “is often a triangular, square or rhomboidal piece of fabric inserted into a seam to add breadth or reduce stress from tight-fitting clothing.”

Are skinny hiking pants right for you?

Well, that depends. For me, I found that depending on the activity, yes, they are comfortable and do what I need them to do.

I like that they move with me and don’t restrict my movement. If you were to ask me what the best slim fit hiking pants are, I would have to say the ones that do what you need them to do. I know both men and women that wouldn’t feel comfortable hiking in a skinny pant, but I also know plenty of people that prefer a slimmer fit.

My wife, for example, likes that she doesn’t have to sacrifice fashion for function. She likes that a single pair of pants can serve multiple purposes and she doesn’t feel like she’s wearing “hiking pants” even though she is. At the end of the day, you need the right gear and apparel to support your lifestyle, not hinder it.

KÜHL Editor
KÜHL Editor


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