Zip-off Hiking Pants

Legs off for daytime hikes. (Photo: M.Kopp)

They’re not all cut from the cloth!  Nor are all zip-off pants are constructed with the same attention to detail.  And don’t even get me started about sizing.  But the good the news is that when you find a pair of zip-off/convertible pants that fit, you’ll never leave them behind on a hiking or backpacking trip again.

Legs on as sun sets. (Photo: M.Kopp)

The design is simple, pants with zippers mid-leg that allow removal of the lower leg fabric to turn the trousers into shorts.  Why bother?  Warmth and flexibility.  Start out hiking in the early morning, and quite often there’s a chill in the air – legs on.  By mid-day the sun is packing a punch – legs off.  Late afternoon, as the last rays of the day dip behind a peak – legs back on again. 

It’s a convenient piece of clothing that works for hikers and backpackers.  Buy a water-repellent, quick-dry pair (nylon or other synthetic material) and you’ll even be able to leave rainpants behind on short day hikes.

Tips for buying zip-off pants:

  • Look for legs that can be removed or zipped back on again without having to take off your hiking boots.
  • Make sure they are made of a quick-dry fabric, not cotton.
  • Watch for sturdy zips that don’t catch in the covering material as you zip/unzip the leg pieces.
  • You want only one zip per leg (I’ve seen up to three on each leg – extra weight for a rather useless feature).
  • Be sure to check the sizing carefully (pull out a tape measure and double-check leg length, waist height…)
  • It’s a matter of personal preference, but I like low profile pockets which reduce bulk (no cargo pockets).
  • Always check that the pants have belt loops or better still, a built-in belt.
  • Articulated knees (for ease of movement) are a nice feature.
  • Some zip-offs have a small red thread marker on the “right” leg to help you put them back on faster!

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