I am sure every hiker at some point realized they didn’t have the proper clothing for the situation and thought “can I wear jeans hiking?” It might sound silly but let’s talk about it!
The quick answer is that jeans aren’t ideal for hiking, but if that’s all you have don’t let that get in the way of you getting outdoors; ultimately, you can hike in anything.
This guide to wearing jeans hiking is designed for any gender.
Why Shouldn’t I Wear Jeans Hiking?
Jeans are not ideal for hiking because of the material. Cotton and denim are not breathable or flexible so they will get hot and sweaty and they will not stretch for any kind of scrambling or large steps you might have to take. The material can be scratchy and can rub after a long time of strenuous movement.
The other big problem with jeans is that they do not dry quickly. When you are hiking you are likely to get wet, whether it’s sweat, stepping in a stream, getting caught in the rain, accidentally sitting in a puddle, or just brushing past wet branches. When your clothes are wet it can be uncomfortable and jeans especially will get heavy and make the day much more challenging.
If you end up in a survival situation and your clothing is soaking wet with no outlook of them drying anytime soon that could be a hypothermia risk and a life or death situation. This is unlikely to happen, but it is something that avid hikers consider when choosing their clothes, if you are just going on a short well-known trail this probably won’t be too much of a concern for you.
When looking for something to wear on your legs you are going to want something light and quick-drying for a much more comfortable excursion. You are also going to want something with some stretch to it so you can climb mountains without worrying about the range of motion (read about more alternatives below)
Jeans in the Winter vs the Summer
I see people wearing jeans a lot more in the winter on the trail than in the summer, which is understandable. A lot of the time the only long pants people own are jeans. If you are just an occasional hiker you probably don’t own a lot of fancy gear or clothing items to choose from. In this case, yes, just wear jeans, but be sure that you are out adventuring somewhere well known and safe.
Wearing jeans hiking in the winter is a lot more normal than in the summer. In the summer wearing jeans hiking is very odd. Most people own a pair of shorts so just wear them. Wearing jeans in the summer is just straight-up uncomfortable. You will be sweaty and the jeans will rub and chafe. You will get too hot and it will be more difficult to move. The jeans will get wet from your sweat and then when you stop moving, especially if you end somewhere cold like a mountain summit, the wet sweaty jeans will get cold and it will be harder to enjoy the summit and then hike back down.
Ultimately, wear jeans in the winter if that’s all you have, but don’t go tramping off into the backcountry where there are no marked trails. In the hot summer, for your own sake, find a pair of shorts to wear.
Will I Look Funny Wearing Jeans While Hiking?
Ultimately, yes, a little bit. Most people don’t care about anyone but themselves on the trail and probably won’t even notice.
I have seen some very interesting things people wear on trails and I usually only get annoyed if they wear something that could be hazardous to their health and potentially dangerous that could put a strain on other hikers, search and rescue, and those people friends and family if something happens to them. Those things include things like flop flops in rocky terrain and shorts and a t-shirt in the snow.
Similar to what I said in the section above, if I see someone wearing jeans on a hike in the summer I usually just think “that looks uncomfortable!’ If I see someone wearing jeans on a hike in the winter, I think ‘well, that’s all they’ve got, good enough’.
If jeans are your preference, just stick to it and wear what you want, most people won’t think twice.
This is the anomaly of the wearing jeans on a hike conversation. It’s very common to see jean shorts on hikes. Again, they aren’t always the most flexible and won’t dry quickly, but it’s a fairly normal clothing choice and no one will think twice about them in the summer. It’s a great choice if that’s all you have, and some people just straight-up prefer them.
In the winter, if you live in a cold climate, don’t wear any kind of shorts on a hike. Keep the long pants on.
If you just aren’t sure what to wear on your legs while hiking other than jeans some great options include leggings, outdoor pants that are made with sweat-wicking materials, rain pants if you are in the rain, swim or gym shorts for the summer, or a skirt or dress. Hiking in a skirt can be so comfortable, especially when it’s hot!
If you are shopping for outdoorsy pants look for ones made out of quick-drying materials such as nylon, spandex, or polyester. Consider that pants that are waterproofed will not be very breathable, but there are other technologies out there that make the pants somewhat water resistant but still breathable, just read the tag, read reviews online, or ask a sales associate at the store.
If you are hiking in cold conditions and you don’t think you will be warm enough in your hiking pants it would be a good idea to wear thermals underneath.
Ultimately you should avoid cotton as it takes a long time to dry.
At the end of the day, wear whatever you want into the backcountry. If you are comfortable that’s all that matters! When picking out clothes think about comfort, breathability, stretchiness, and how fast the material dries. As for what other people think, if you are hiking in the middle of the summer on a very hot day in long tight skinny jeans, it’s going to look odd but most people will forget about it pretty fast. In the winter, wear what you have.
If you need further help with other things for hiking such as what to put into your pack, you can find my day packing gear lists for summer here and for winter here. You might also benefit for my guide on how to start hiking for cheap which you can find here.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to if you should wear jeans hiking. The one-sentence answer is preferable not, but if that’s all you have, don’t let that get in the way of enjoying nature. Happy hiking!
Welcome to Alpine Feeling! My name is Talon, and I am a Vancouver local who loves hiking and all things outdoors. I am here to do my best to provide you with outdoor guides to the Vancouver area and beyond.