I Don't Hike in Leggings
I see a lot of leggings in the wilderness. With a plethora of offerings from Girlfriend Collective, Beyond Yoga, and Outdoor Voices, I'm an increasingly lonely wolf in my 5-pocket pants, but here are my reasons*:
1. 1-hour yoga classes are much shorter than 4-day weekends. If you usually wash your leggings after one or two workout classes, imagine sweating in them for 4 days without laundering. Those form-fitting pants are going to bother you and your crotch in the most unforgiving way. You need to let the air in.
2. You can’t layer underneath them. Before dark, I like to put on my long underwear just after setting up my tent so that I don’t have to get naked again before bedtime. It helps to maintain your body heat, especially if you’re moving directly from a fire to your sleeping bag. After changing, I often put my hiking pants back on over my long underwear in order to make dinner, gather firewood, or filter water in a nearby creek without snagging my fragile long johns or exposing my butt (sleepwear can be see-through). You can’t put leggings over long-johns.
3. When they do have pockets, which is rare, using them is awkward. Have you ever put a whiskey flask and a granola bar into a stretchy pocket that tightly grips your thigh? Me neither.
4. Leggings are too hot. Plenty of women, including this expert who hiked the PCT, prefer to hike in running shorts. For ventilation and temperature regulation, this makes sense, but plenty of hikers prefer not to hike in shorts. The amount of sunscreen and bug spray I’d have to bring to cover up my legs multiple times a day is not worth the extra weight. I also like being able to bushwhack, sit on rocks, or kneel in the dirt without scratching up my skin. If you’re a pants-hiker like me, leggings can feel a bit like hiking in a wetsuit. The tight, dark fabric—because who wears white leggings on a hike?—will heat up in the mid-day sun. Tight, dark clothing and direct sunlight are a bad match.
A few months ago I doubted myself and bought a pair of Patagonia’s “Pack-Out Tights” because I thought that perhaps my experience of hiking in yoga pants would be at least slightly different than hiking in “tights for traversing mountains." Ultimately, the experience was pretty much the same, but with pockets I didn’t use. Since then, despite the decent reviews of the pack-out tights I see online, Patagonia has not replenished their stock, and the leggings are no longer available on their website. I now use them for yoga.
If you understandably don't want to look like you're wearing frumpy cargo pants and you desire the slim appearance of a legging, I recommend Arc'teryx's "Sabria" pant, which have exceeded my expectations after several long hikes. The shape of these pants conform to the curves of your body without encasing your legs like a wetsuit, and the material is lightweight and breathable but surprisingly durable. I comfortably walked through some bushes in these and avoided scratches on my legs. I also walked through a shallow creek in these last week and my calves were dry again in no time. My only complaint about these, which is saying a lot given how picky I am about pants, is that the inner drawstring at the waist should be two strings rather than a single loop. I've knotted mine so many times that they are now impossible to untie.
*Long disclaimer: You're allowed to hike in anything—I’m not one to tell people what they shouldn’t wear in the wilderness because that isn’t my call to make. Nature doesn’t care if you bought everything Andrew Skurka recommended; she probably thinks that gear is antithetical to the wilderness. Consider for a moment that John Muir hiked all over the Sierras with nothing more than a blanket and a loaf of bread. Hikers often repeat that old Muir-minimalism anecdote in order to shame each other or themselves for purchasing multiple pairs of $25 socks for their upcoming trip. That said, as a consumer, I love researching. And as a hiker, I like to feel warm in the cold; I like to dry off quickly after crossing a waist-deep creek, and I especially prefer to avoid chafing, unnecessarily weight in your pack, wet socks, blisters, itchiness, hypothermia, yeast infections, and worst of all, that gap that inevitably forms between your shirt and the waist of your pants, exposing the skin on your lower back. I write about what gear works for me.