While jeans may work for a casual and relaxed walk or a short fair-weather hike, hardcore hiking requires specialty attire for comfort and function, particularly in cold or wet weather. Jeans are cold in the winter, wet for hours in the rain and hot in the summer. Think about when and where to wear your jeans, but a serious hike calls for a better choice of legwear.
Why Not Denim?
Jeans are made of cotton denim. Cotton is a natural fiber, but is quite slow to dry, particularly when it is as heavy as denim. Jeans absorb water, sweat and mud as you hike. Damp jeans are, even in mild weather, uncomfortable and slow to dry. In cold weather, wet denim will pull the heat from your skin and may develop ice crystals, dramatically increasing the risk of hypothermia.
Denim jeans are hot in the summer, leaving you sweaty and uncomfortable. When your skin is sweaty, particularly in a stiff fabric like denim, chafing may result. Chafing on hikes can leave you with mild irritation or deep, painful and bleeding sores, making it hard to continue and even harder to enjoy yourself. Hiking pants and shorts designed for outdoor wear will keep you feeling cool and dry.
While heavy denim jeans may be an acceptable choice for a day working outside, when you're hiking, you need to layer fabrics for warmth. Opt for a pair of wicking leggings or long underwear covered with hiking pants as a better choice than denim. Add additional quick-dry layers if needed, and remember to always pack dry clothing and rain gear.
Unlike denim, high-tech wicking fabrics will keep you dry, even after river or creek crossings. These fabrics pull sweat and water away from your skin, reducing the risk of hypothermia and keeping you more comfortable in hot weather. Most of these synthetic fabrics dry quickly, saving you the discomfort that can come with damp clothing, including skin rashes and irritation. If you're hiking for several days, wicking hiking pants can be hung to dry with ease.
With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.