You might have already made the decision to wear yoga pants to hike. We don’t blame you. They are soft, comfortable and easy to pull on. We wear yoga pants for everything, from Zoom calls to the gym, and it’s only natural to want to wear them out on the trail.
But do yoga pants make for good hiking apparel? Perhaps you’ve torn a hole in a beloved pair while picking your way through brambles or watched an expensive pair of leggings pill quickly after taking them out on a multiday backpacking trip. In this article, we'll cover what you should look for when wearing yoga pants (also called tights or leggings) on the trail.
Can I Wear Yoga Pants Hiking?
Yes, you can absolutely wear yoga pants while hiking (though leave cotton yoga pants at home). More people than ever want a single pair of tights that can work in many situations, from running to the grocery store to hiking in the mountains. However, to avoid having to retire a beloved pair of yoga pants sooner than later, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a pair of tights to work in the yoga studio and also in the woods.
Consider the type of hiking you'll be doing
The first thing to weigh is the kind of hiking you plan to do. How long will you be out on the trail? And what kind of terrain are you likely to encounter?
- For short, casual day hikes, your favorite pair of soft, moisture-wicking (non-cotton) yoga pants will work just fine. If you’re not planning on spending an extended period of time outside and want something that is comfortable, cute and still wicks sweat enough to help you stay dry, your typical yoga pants made of synthetic materials like spandex or nylon will do the trick. (Why you should avoid cotton: Yoga pants made from synthetic materials wick away sweat to keep you dry, while cotton tends to absorb sweat and takes forever to dry so isn’t ideal for hiking).
- For a multiday backpacking trip or technical hikes, you might want to weigh additional factors. Consider hiking leggings, which look and feel a lot like yoga pants but have added details such as secure pockets for trail essentials, a water-repellent finish to help protect against light precipitation, and fabric that resists abrasions. These considerations apply for day hikes, too, but become more essential when you’re headed out for several days in the wilderness with a heavy pack and unpredictable weather and terrain, or if you plan to do any scrambling or rock climbing.
Features for Hiking Leggings
Here are a few additional factors to consider if you plan to wear your yoga pants hiking:
Yoga pants are often designed to be worn indoors in a studio or gym, where you're not likely to encounter rough surfaces. Those made for casual use typically aren’t built to handle the abrasion that comes with scrambling around rocks, brushing past rough tree bark or wearing a heavy pack. You may find that your favorite yoga pants pill after you wear them for several miles on the trail.
When looking for hiking-specific tights, prioritize a pair that can stand up to wear and tear.
- Abrasion-resistant fabric: Tougher, denser woven fabric will hold up a lot better over time when you lean against a tree, find a seat on a rocky surface while eating lunch or crouch next to a cookstove.
- Reinforced panels: Hike-specific tights are reinforced in areas that tend to get more use, like the seat, knees and thighs, to help when scrambling up and over roots or rocks. There often are more seams on a hiking-specific tight, and less stretch overall, though you’ll find stretch on the back side of the tight. Look for tights that have reinforcement to make sure you get more life out of them.
Yoga manufacturers don’t have to consider the elements when designing tights; hikers do. Fortunately, more yoga companies are designing tights with hikers in mind, which means the fabric is weather-resistant.
- Quick-dry fabric: With fabric designed to dry fast from yesterday’s downpour, your pants are ready to go in the morning if you’ve been rained on. You’ll likely want to get quick-dry fabric if you know there’s a light downpour at most.
- Durable water repellent (DWR): If you live in a place where the weather changes frequently and you could be hiking in a downpour, look for treatment with DWR or other water-resistant finish. It stops water from penetrating the fabric or soaking a fabric all the way to your skin. You’ll be happy you made this choice if you the weather turns unexpectedly.
When you are out hiking for hours at a stretch, you may want functional features that help you stay organized and protected from the elements. Pick a pair with pockets where you can stash sundries like a map or snacks—especially if you’re wearing a giant pack that’s a hassle to take on and off. At minimum, look for at least one large pocket that fits your phone. Zippered pockets add extra security. Side thigh pockets don’t interfere with a climbing harness.
- Sun protection: Clothing that has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating will help protect your skin against harmful UV rays.
- Insect-repellent: Some hiking leggings have fabric or technology that helps repel insects.
Fit and comfort
Comfort is likely the biggest reason you grab your favorite yoga pants when you’re headed out for a hike. But you want to consider fit and some other functional elements of a tight, especially for a longer backpacking trip.
In general, look for tights with a fit snug enough to keep the tights anchored around your waist, but not so tight that you can’t breathe. Yoga pants with compression, which hugs the body, helps keep your tights sitting on your waist on a longer backpacking trip, versus a softer waistband, which has potential to slide down. Also consider that your body can change on a backpacking trip, with the shift in diet to dehydrated foods, creative bathroom set-ups or from continuous hiking.
Look for a pair of tights with an adjustable drawcord that you can tighten or loosen when you’re out on a longer multiday backpacking trip. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort but remember that your super comfy yoga tights with no drawcord might be the wrong fit at some point, especially on a longer trip.
Fashion-oriented hikers can have everything they want for their next backpack or day hike. Fun, fashionable hiking options that also hit the mark for practical are more prevalent than ever, and the options for fashion-forward yet functional tights are growing all the time.
Article by Nicole Tsong. Nicole is a Seattle-based fitness expert, author of "24 Ways to Move More" and a work/life balance coach. She was an award-winning journalist for The Seattle Times and the Anchorage Daily News, and previously served as chair of the board for the nonprofit, Yoga Behind Bars. In her spare time, you’ll find her in the mountains with her pup Coco or tending her many houseplants. REI member since 1997.