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Is Hiking in Jeans a Good Idea? Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’ve ever wondered if hiking in jeans is a good idea, I want to share my experiences as someone who used to do it and why I don’t do it anymore. So let’s get into that:

My experiences hiking in jeans (and why I stopped):

When I first began exploring the outdoors and didn’t know any better, I’d wear pretty much anything including casual wear and for pants, I’d often wear jeans to my hikes. At the time (I was in my teens), I didn’t care what I had on, I just wanted to explore the trails and never even bothered to think about what I was wearing or look twice at the people I would come across on those trails who wore proper outdoor clothing (or not).

However, as I became more immersed with the outdoors and began testing one new type of outdoor product after another (including wearing more appropriate pants for hikes), I quickly realized why clothing specifically geared to hiking is actually an important thing and my newfound opinions on hiking in jeans changed and at the same time led me to reflect and notice disadvantages that I didn’t before. 

Now at the same time, there are still situations in which hiking in jeans has merit and rather than condense it all into long paragraphs, I’m just going to list it in bullet points to help you understand my positions:

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4 situations where hiking in jeans has merit:

1) You’re hiking in a slot canyon:

Slot canyons are tight spaces people hike through and these are places where you can often get cuts on the walls if you’re constantly scraping yourself through. Although there are smooth slot canyon hikes, there are still examples of these places where you’re scraping against the canyon walls, and that friction is bad for your skin.

Wearing jeans on these types of hikes actually adds a decent protection from that. As an example, you can read about famous slot canyons in Utah to see what these situations can look like. Some of them are very open where you won’t be scraping against the walls, and others can be very tight spots where you will have to drag yourself to move through it.

2) You’re trying to avoid bites from bugs or other animals:

I honestly have to give it to jeans here. If you’re trying to protect your legs from things like ticks and snake bites, they are going to give you a decent layer of protection here.

3) You’re doing a nature walk, or easy hikes where it’s dry:

If you’re doing hikes in decent (chilly) weather and the trail itself is nothing major, then it’s totally fine to wear them here and in fact you can wear pretty much any type of clothing on these types of nature walks because there’s no real hiking involved and the weather isn’t unfriendly towards jeans. Here are some examples:

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4) I honestly think hiking in jeans is better for desert environments (protects against cactus’s, sharp rocks, etc…):

If I was exploring trails in Zion National Park or checking out hikes in Sedona (I’ve already done that), I would not be against wearing jeans on many of the hikes I’ve explored there.

Let’s take Sedona for example, I bushwhacked to a secret place called the Keyhole Cave and I have to tell you, that was a horrible experience in the sports pants I wore. I was stung by cactus and needles from trees and other bushes and if I wore jeans on that particular hike, I’d likely have a lot less chances of those things happening. Here’s a photo from that specific hike:

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4 situations where hiking in jeans doesn’t have merit:

1) Any type of rainy or wet hike is a no go for jeans:

Jeans soak up water easily and on the many hikes I’ve done that were wet, whether hiking in the rain or just being in an area where the weather is humid or moist from previous rain, it has not been a fun experience. Once the jeans get wet, they also get heavier and more annoying to wear.

2) Cold situations (snow, ice water, etc…):

Anything involving snow or similar situations automatically makes it a potentially wet hike because:

A) You will likely get the snow or ice on your pants.

B) Once you have snow on your jeans, it’s going to melt, possibly freeze and basically feel like you’re hiking in ice cold water which isn’t just an unpleasant feeling, but is also dangerous for the potential of hypothermia happening (I’ve been through that situation before).

To be fair, just about any kind of pants, when they get wet will not be pleasant to wear, but jeans in my opinion are far worse to be in when it comes to those situations.

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3) I would never recommend wearing tight jeans on hikes:

This is an awful idea because you need good mobility on a hike and wearing tight pants is just going to make that nearly impossible.

4) In general, being outdoors in decent sports or hiking pants are more comfortable and mobile than jeans:

I’ve worn all sorts of pants when I’m outdoors, including sports pants, sweatpants, leggings and jeans, and if I were to rate the comfort and mobility of each one, then jeans would be last on that list of categories. In short, there’s a good reason why these other pants categories are made for the outdoors. Also there’s a lot of good points on hiking in jeans on this other blog post you may want to check out.

More quick questions and answers about hiking in jeans:

Is it better to hike in jeans or leggings?

I prefer leggings over jeans when it comes to hiking unless it involves hiking in a slot canyon.

Should I hike in jeans or sweatpants?

I’ve hiked in both and I prefer sweatpants over jeans here because they are way more comfortable to wear for the outdoors.

What types of jeans are best for hiking?

Any types of jeans that are not tight can be OK for certain types of hikes, but not all. For most, I would recommend wearing other types of pants more geared towards the outdoors like sports pants or leggings.

My recommendation is to try wearing more outdoor appropriate wear in general when hiking because believe me, there is a pretty stark difference when you wear clothing that is better suited for the outdoors vs clothing that is better suited for none outdoor environments.

You can compare the feeling and experiences of that vs hiking in jeans and see which one you’re more comfortable in, but also remember that there are different types of terrains you can do this in, and in some cases (like I showed above), wearing jeans has merit, but even in those circumstances, I’d still recommend you go with more outdoor friendly clothing overall.

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