This guide to the best winter hiking pants available provides information on 10 different pairs of snow pants, softshell pants, rain pants and traditional hiking pants for winter trekking. In it, we break down the features of each pair and what conditions they're best for.
There are three things you need your winter hiking gear to do: keep you warm, dry and moving. Most of us can figure out the top between base layers and waterproof shells, but when it comes to the body part you’re driving most up a trail—your legs—bulk adds up fast. After all, no one wants to commit to another four miles to the summit when your layers have you waddling like the Michelin man.
The real key is understanding you don't have to have full protection in one outfit. Harsher conditions may call for snow pants, but adequate layering combined with softshell pants, rain pants and even hiking pants you'll wear in the summer will do the trick for many winter walks (throw on a set of gaiters to keep snow out of your boots). For the most part, the goal is to aim for a pair that's light, comfortable, mobile and weather-resistant. You can always stash a pair of rain pants in your pack if the skies open up while you're out.
- Lightweight and versatile
- If you run cold you'll need to layer
The temperature, weather conditions and terrain will dictate your apparel choice more than anything else, but if you're looking for a versatile option that will be suitable, along with appropriate layering, for a broad range of conditions, go for a softshell pant. Patagonia's Simul Alpine are lightweight at 13.6 ounces and come in a water-resistant and durable fabric that's also stretchy. The waist is adjustable, and the cuffs accommodate full-sized hiking boots.
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- Paneling increases strength and durability
- Material is not as flexible as other options
This bestseller from the Swedish trekking company lives up to its reputation of quality technical hiking gear. The secret is in Fjäll’s proprietary G-1000 fabric, which is tightly woven and quick-to-dry for wind- and water-resistance and durability. Most of the pant is made from the G-1000 polyester and cotton blend, but the knees, butt and front of legs are all paneled with the softer Eco fabric for more mobility, and the bottom of the legs have a second layer of material to stand up to any chafing from your hiking boots. The rear and knees are pre-shaped and have reinforced seams for optimal durability and mobility as you scramble over sharp rocks or through the brush. There are pockets for storage, fabric panels to minimize chafing where you want help most and, best of all, zippered vents from the knee to hip and along the calves to let heat out on temperamental days.
- Affordable option for weekend warriors
- Not as technical as competitors
Outdoor Research's Ferrosi rightly nabs spots on many lists of great hiking pants. They're both water- and wind-resistant, they dry quickly, they're stretchy enough to move in, and they breathe well. They also have a comfortable waistband and cuffs that you can cinch up to stop the wind from coming up your legs.
- Flexible and versatile; meant for multiple activities
- May be too warm for sunny winter days
If you want to buy just one pair of pants for all your winter needs, opt for snow pants with a lot of mobility. This pair from Columbia hits all the key features for hiking, skiing and snowboarding: they're fully waterproof with no-leak seams, they contain some insulation, and they have built-in gaiters. The fleece lining and lack of vents mean these risk being a little too toasty on a bluebird day and they might not hold up over multiple seasons of heavy use, but they're an affordable option for folks who need something basic for a range of outings in the snow.
- Buttery soft, high warmth to thinness ratio
- Price may be prohibitive to infrequent adventurers
Patagonia makes these snow pants for backcountry skiing and snowboarding, and the features that make that so also make them ideal for hiking with boards. The Stormstride have excellent stretch and breathability, weigh 16.8 ounces and have three-layer waterproofing. You'll want to wear a base or mid-layer underneath, but the lack of stifling insulation makes them wonderfully versatile and suitable for any activity out in the snow.
- Gore-Tex protects against wind and water
- One of the priciest pairs on our list
The Beta LT Pant maintains its ultra-durability and lightweight feel thanks to Hadron fabric, a liquid crystal polymer grid face fabric that is abrasion-resistant, highly technical and minimal. The Beta is windproof, waterproof and breathable, and was crafted to perform in rugged, unpredictable alpine conditions.
- Made with recycled waterproof breathable laminate
- Low breathability
Most hikers use rain pants as an emergency layer in case they get caught in a sudden shower. They aren't breathable, so while they'll provide reliable waterproof protection, they can also get clammy in warmer conditions. That said, that same trait means they'll provide warmth without insulation, and full-length side zippers allow you to dump heat when you need to. They also make them easy to throw without taking your shoes off.
- Elastic and stretch details make for superior comfort
Mountain Hardwear built these lightweight rain pants with Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, a durable and waterproof material that's also slightly stretchy, which most rain pants aren't. The pants have an elastic waistband that'll accommodate layering, and the cuffs zip open up to the calf so you can put them on without taking your boots or shoes off if you have them stashed in your pack as an emergency layer. They're expensive, but they're much lighter than most rain pants, and that extra bit of stretch makes them great to walk in.
- Merino regulates temp and odor
- Better for climbing, rather than hiking
If you’re hard on your gear but feel restricted by most thick, dependable fabrics, you need heavy duty pants explicitly made for mobility. The Obsidian Pants were crafted for hunting, but inspired by rock climbing and mountaineering. The result is a killer hybrid of serious durability, uninhibited movement and three-season warmth. They’re made from 90 percent stretch merino, delivering great temperature regulation (and odor control) and, along with strategic stretch nylon panels, let you crouch, jump and climb with ease. Their DWR finish will keep you dry while the merino helps wick sweat away as your heart rate shoots up and the temperatures drop. Throw a pair of gaiters over the bottom and rain pants in your pack and these trousers will buffer against anything a winter hike throws at you.
- Most comfortable pant for four-season hiking
- Not fully waterproof
Similar to Outdoor Research's Ferrosi, Prana's Stretch Zion II is a traditional hiking pant (with some added sustainable features, to boot). They have weather-resistance with a PFAS-free DWR finish and four-way stretch for dynamic movement, as well as bluesign-approved materials and a UPF 50+ rating, but they aren't fully waterproof like snow or rain pants. That said, if you layer correctly — they have an adjustable waist to allow for it — and are hiking in dry conditions, they'll serve you well in winter (and summer). Better yet, because they aren't so technical, you can get away with wearing them around town too.
- Affordable and durable everyday pant
- Doesn't have a focus on sustainability
Slip these on when you want to stay warm and dry in the snow — water-resistant nylon face fabric repels moisture, while built-in stretch keeps you moving on the trail, even when conditions go from bad, to worse. Kuhl's workwear-inspired hiker are great for the trail, but are also comfortable enough to wear on the daily. The gusseted crotch, articulated knees and rivets at stress points can handle outdoor work while maintaining comfort.
- High on style and performance
- Uses sustainable materials
- May need to layer for colder conditions
The Brise Pant proves that technical apparel can be high on style, by combining tear and abrasion-resistant fabric, a water-repellant finish and Articulated knee, crotch gusset, and zippered ankle with a modern design and fit. For anyone who needs one pair of pants that can live in both worlds, check out this revamped pair by Foehn.