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Lightest, most breathable pants?
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Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Lightest, most breathable pants? on 11/24/2006 19:01:31 MST Print View

Hey gang,

BPL has helped me so much in the past year, especially in the realm of packing, shelter, and sleep systems...and lots of guidance on torso clothing. Thanks to everyone for being so willing to share your knowledge!

I bring to you a new question/dilemma: what are the lightest, most breathable pants out there?

Context: I'm already planning some backpacking in California's central coast next summer (Big Sur, Ventana Wilderness), which brings up two critical issues: avoiding ticks and avoiding poison oak. I hiked through a forest of poison oak last year for two solid hours (due to a wrong turn - a long and sad story!), and with rapid application of Tecnu, I only got some extremely minor symptoms. So I want to avoid a repeat of /that/. :-)

As I prepare for a trip to Thailand, I've learned that there are leeches in the bushes and trees of the jungles there. So long summer-weight pants are starting to be of interest.

So we're talking about pants that:
1. Are lightweight. Duh.
2. Are breathable. These would be worn out of necessity in the summer.
3. Are either convertible or might layer well over shorts (for shoulder-season use). This rules out tights worn under shorts.
4. Are /moderately/ durable. I don't bushwhack, but you know how trails get overgrown. As long as they can take the odd branch-scrape without getting big ol' gashes, that's fine.

Right now I use REI Sahara convertible pants, which are OK for breathability, but they weigh 12oz. Looser-fitting tights would fit the bill (as long as I don't look like I'm just only wearing thermal underwear on the trail!), but I don't have an outfitter nearby that has products like GoLite, for example.

Any thoughts?

Edited by atomick on 11/24/2006 19:05:13 MST.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
homemade wind pants on 11/24/2006 20:15:22 MST Print View

My spouse made me a pair of pants from a very light, breathable ripstop nylon. Though they have elastic cuffs at the ankles, I can slide them on over my trail runners, and they fit well over a pair of trail shorts. The pants are of a very simple design, with one pocket/stuff sack, and an elastic waist with a draw cord. They are very wind resistant and warmer than they have any right to be, as they weigh 3 oz.

You can get a kit at, or find a sweatpants pattern and some .8oz material and make your own. I'm sure someone makes this sort of thing, too, maybe Montbell?

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Re: Light pants on 11/24/2006 21:48:33 MST Print View

If you can't find the pants you like among the usual commercial sources, you might consider this odd-ball source: I found a silver-colored pair of jogging pants at K-Mart or WalMart with a lining. After cutting away all of the lining, I was left with an uncoated, light, breathable pair of ripstop nylon long pants, which I liked so much I bought 3 pairs.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Lightest, most breathable pants? on 11/25/2006 11:49:19 MST Print View

Ex Officio Amphi Pants are great for warm weather hiking. You can get them in full-length, convertible, or as shorts. Gramicci makes a Quick Dry version of their climbing pants. Neither will be a huge weight savings over the Sahara pants, but you may shave a few ounces.

Remember to make apples-and-apples comparisons. Most running shorts have built-in briefs so there is a couple ounce offset right away. Most of the hiking pants have belts that add a few ounces.

I've picked up several pairs of running pants in thrift stores by companies like Hind and New Balance, but most are black and so are not very suitable for hiking exposed sunny trails. They hover around the 6oz mark. They are great for cool-weather cover up and at $5 or so a pair they can be sacrificial-- if I give them a beating, I'm not out much.

I've gone through the same problem myself and it seems to break down like this for me to get UL with pants:

Wear running shorts. You can find all kinds with briefs built in. I find them in thrift stores and garage sales for $2-$5 a pair for name brands like New Balance and Nike. Benefits: low cost, light weight, low chafe, quick dry. Caveats: no sun or bug protection. Wear sun screen and add a pair of UL wind pants like Mont-Bell, Montane, or GoLite-- or rely on your rain pants to fill that niche. The running short and wind/rain pant combo seems to be the choice of most long-distance hikers. It does seem to provide the most adapability for the weight. Running shorts with briefs aren't much more weight than briefs alone so the question is: can you tolerate the exposure to sun and bugs?

Wear convertibles and live with the extra weight offset by the multi-use factor. Most are more durable than running gear and wind pants. I don't mind a little extra weight for pants as they take the real beating from brush, mud, rocks, sitting, etc. I'd love to have a pair of Mont-Bell wind pants (2.5oz), but the idea of sitting in mud/dirt/gravel/sticks in a $70 pair of paper thin pants doesn't sound so hot.

I would like a pair of hiking pants that are light weight and light colored, fairly wind-resistant and water repellent (still breathable), with a minimum of pockets and other trappings, belt loops (but not a captive belt), available in several inseam lengths, and a button and loop arrangment so they can be rolled up to just below the knee. Add a waist with a light microfleece lining and conical build like Mountain Hardwear's.

Scott Peterson
(scottalanp) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: Lightest, most breathable pants? on 11/25/2006 12:11:09 MST Print View


I hike in pants just about all the time, regardless of my location or time of year. For some reason I just find that in general, they offer more usability than shorts. I also have worn a carbon fiber knee brace (up until this year) and tried many combos of incorporating that thing into my clothing system.

I came across some Ex Officio pants on Sierra Trading post many years back and ordered them basically on price. I recently bought another similar pair and found that the material used is the same. Here is the run down on these pants and how they compare with what you are looking for:

They are incredibly durable: Far more so than lightweight ripstop. Which is great considering they are thin enough for my to place my knee brace over the top of, and I never had any rubbing issues when I did it that way.

They come with a DWR coating: For your first 4 or 5 days of crawling in the dirt, you will be hard pressed to get them to take on any stains. Water beads and rolls off.

They are breathable: They are khaki colored (optimal for high sun conditions)and seem at least as breathable as lightweight ripstop.

They are comfortable: The "peach-fuzz" treatment process leaves the material feeling extremely soft and supple. The kind of pants you want to spend time in.

The are relatively light: At 8.6 ounces (32 waist/32 inseam) they are by no means ultra light. But most of the weight centers with the nylon belt and plastic clip that come in the pants (which you could take out if you saw fit). There are zippered pockets for security. The first pair I purchased came with sew in mesh shorts, which at first I was negative on. But then after a couple of trips, I actually preferred over the non-underwear pants. When you put them on, they fit extremely well without falling down...but you don't have that high crotch that a lot of "walking" pants have that kind of crowd the boys. And you can barely feel the material on your legs as you move.

I believe they are called "No Brainer" pants and would usually retail for $60 to $70, but I have been able to find them twice for under $30 over the last 4 years on discount sites.

I would avoid tights of any kind in a tropical location...and in general would avoid converts too. Especially on a major trip like that, do not buy pants that will offer some other functionality when you get back at the expense of having the best pants for your exotic location.

One last thing. I am not saying these are the be all or end all pants, but do not get hung up on weight with this purchase. You are going to be wearing them most of the time not hauling them on your back. How they feel and function will do more to keep you moving than how light they are.

christian madsen
(sherpachris) - F

Locale: SoCal
More on pants on 11/25/2006 14:40:18 MST Print View

I've been very happy with the Ex-Officio Amphi-Pants. My size medium are 11 oz, including the built-in underwear. I purchased a pair for as low as $22 at Sierra Trading Post. The cuffs can be closed with an attached rubber button and elastic loop. This might help keep out leaches, even while in the water. You can also use the cord to hold the cuffs above your calfs in a make-shift shorts position. The waistband has a nice felt lining.

The pants are heavier than my go-lite ripstop shell pants (6.2 oz) but they are comfy and look good off the trail.

Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Pants! Pants! Pants! on 11/25/2006 17:50:56 MST Print View

Outstanding feedback so far, folks.

Durability issues aside for a moment, Motnbell's 15d UL Wind Pants and their 50d Stretch Wind Pants look like they might do the trick. They're all in dark nylon, which makes me a tad worried about heat and breathability, but it's pretty slick at 2.4 and 6.2 oz. respectively.

My REI Sahara pants right now are 12 oz. and are a bit of a pain to zip on and off. Wearing my Sugoi shorts with a built-in mesh liner (4 oz.) and, say, the Montbell UL Wind Pants (2.4 oz.) would even allow for the addition of my GoLite Reed rain pant (5 oz.) for a total weight of around the REI convertible pants, and with full waterproofing! That's not bad in terms of flexibility and layering (all three in camp would both be toasty and protect the UL wind pants, as per Dale's previous concern with durability). I'm attracted by the pull-on/pull-off simplicity of such a combo.

The points about Ex-Officio's pants being quick drying and lightweight, however, do mirror my experience with the REI Sahara pants: amazingly quick to dry, an OK hand/feel, and incredible flexibility. I guess losing all the pockets, and their respective weights, matters less to me being the owner of an Atmos 50 pack with gi-normous hip pockets.

I also love the idea of hacking at off-the-shelf el-cheapo workout pants. More of a scavenger hunt aspect to that I well as saving a hundred smackers on a pair of UL leggin's. ;-)

Lots to think about, thanks so much...if anyone has additional ideas, or /specific/ experience with either of those MontBell pants, I'd love to hear them.

Edited by atomick on 11/25/2006 17:51:49 MST.

Zack Karas
( - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Re: Pants! Pants! Pants! on 11/25/2006 18:47:20 MST Print View

Check out Rail Riders Eco Mesh pants. I've converted to pants to avoid the sun, bugs and plants (my girlfriend goes by the motto "all green things are bad" to keep her safe, I prefer pants...). I believe that they weigh a bit more than other pants (maybe 10 oz.), but they have full length mesh down the outside of both legs underneath a zippered opening. I've worn them in every type of weather and one pair held up to over 4000 miles of hiking. A little pricey, but the ventilation can't be beat.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Pants! Pants! Pants! on 11/25/2006 19:59:29 MST Print View

Rail Riders also makes a nylon 7oz pant. The durability and fexability of the Eco Mesh Pant are much better, with 30 SPF as well.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Pants! Pants! Pants! on 11/26/2006 03:22:12 MST Print View

Nathan, do more research on the Montbells before you buy. From everything I have read, they are not very breathable as compared to Montane wind pants. Any non-wind hiking pants with mesh are going to be somewhat more breathable (railriders eco mesh, mountain hardware makes a mesh pant?). The fit of the rail riders pants turn some people off.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Lightest, most breathable pants? on 11/29/2006 08:34:37 MST Print View

You aren't going to do much better than your supplex REI sahara convertibles. Supplex is actually reasonably breathability. What you perceive as "OK" breathability (vapor transmission) is a really a lack of wicking and only slight air permeability. Ultralight wind pants made from ripstop will be worse on both counts, so I would drop them as an option.

I agree that the ex officio pants are nice... I have a pair I have used for more than 10 years, but the performance different between the sahara is close to zero... they are made from approx the same weight supplex.

There are two improvements you might consider.

It sounds like you want full coverage most of the time. Switching to Rail Rider Eco Mesh Pants will be an improvement thanks to side ventilation. Keep in mind that your Saharas in shorts form will be cooler than the Eco Mesh.

The second option would be semi-fitted pants made out of coolmax which are targeted at runners because they will let more air through and wick better than your sahara pants.

To keep ticks away, soak your clothing in Permethrin.

Edited by verber on 11/29/2006 08:55:00 MST.

Colin Kelley
(ckelley) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara
Re: Re: Lightest, most breathable pants? on 11/29/2006 23:23:18 MST Print View

How about Integral Designs Pertex Pants? Anyone know about the Pertex 565 fabric they're made of? They looked interesting and were on sale so I ordered a pair of them from have them Friday.

The Montbell UL ones are probably poor in breathability since they're made of the same 15d heavily-calendard ballistic nylon they use for the UL down jacket etc.

I used to have a pair of Montane Featherlite pants. Breathability was excellent but they were a little "clingy"; the fabric was so light it would get statically charged and then cling to my legs which was kind of annoying.

So far my favorite answer has been lightweight, unlined Nike nylon wind pants. Unfortunately mine are starting to wear out and Nike hasn't sold them in years.

If you are inclined to make a pair, the Momentum90 fabric from thru-hiker seems impressive for breathability as well as wind and water resistance--due to a phenomenal DWR. After 6 washings of a sample I still can cup the fabric under the tap and it holds the water like a bowl! However I calculate the weight at 1.14 ounce/square yard which is pretty far off the .90 advertised.

Edited by ckelley on 11/30/2006 21:15:59 MST.

Vlad Putin

Locale: Radio Free Pineland
Re: Lightest, most breathable pants? on 11/30/2006 00:18:45 MST Print View

Get yourself a pair of the older, ripstop, OD (olive drab) jungle fatigue pants the military used to issue. You can still buy them. They are 100% cotton, have huge cargo pockets on the side of each thigh and are EXTREMELY comfortable and excellent for jungle conditions. These were made for hot/wet environments. Since Thailand doesnt generally get cold and is very humid, the fact these are 100% cotton doesnt fact you will probably find it to your advantage.

The fact they are ripstop means they are light and tough. These are not camos BTW, they are olive drab and have little checkerboard patterns in the fabric...but one single color olive drab.

Only thing to think about perhaps is going into Thailand with clothing like that, they might accuse you of being a spy or you might have trouble getting thru customs or something. Check before you attempt to get these thru any third world country customs checkpoints. You dont want them thinking you are there to go to the golden triangle and get involved in smuggling opium or something.

Being a civilian wearing any sort of military issue clothing in many of these third world, tropical countries is a no no from a safety standpoint.


Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Pants! Pants! Pants! on 11/30/2006 00:26:59 MST Print View

I have a pair fo Montbell UL Wind Pants and I love them. Treated with reasonable care, they've lasted nicely. They even survived a couple of high-speed glissades!

They're breathable but on the water-resistant side of windproof pants. In my book, this makes them great for pants where breathability is less of a concern. I use them to layer over shorts typically.

Like others have stated, they're not the most breathable pant and I wouldn't recommend wearing them all day in warm conditions. But I love them to slap over shorts on a ridgetop or when temps drop. They are also my warm weather rain pants (when soaking through is less of an issue). They resist sprinkles and dry quickly when wet.

Great pants- a winner in my book! I carry them very often.

Edited by djohnson on 11/30/2006 00:30:44 MST.


Locale: South West US
Re: Re: Pants! Pants! Pants! on 11/30/2006 01:47:48 MST Print View

just brain storming... the patagonia island hopper pants sound like they might be a good option, according to the specs. listed weight is 6.5 oz.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
re:Lightest, most breathable pants on 11/30/2006 03:04:47 MST Print View

Another vote for Saharas. I tried pants from Columbia, TNF, spent a few years in military ripstop, and I also decided on the Saharas. They are the right balance of light and durable at 11oz, have the cargo pockets out of the way on the side (unlike TNF), have two back pockets (unlike my Columbias), and because REI now has short/medium/long, they fit me perfectly.

My temperature/mosture combo is now:
Hot/dry: Saharas as shorts
Hot/wet: Sahara ahorts +Montbell windpants
Cold/dry: Saharas+Capilene base(waiting for a deal on wool)
Cold/wet: Saharas+Montbell (DWR)Thermawrap pants

I took the Saharas to sawanobori (waterfall climbing) where I was up to my chest in water, and they repeatedly drained and dried quickly except where they overlay my polyester boxers. Obvious lesson there..

By accident I discovered a feature not mentioned on the website, there is a small velcro-ed pocket on the right side just below the belt line. It is just visible in the photo online, and is perfect for coins. And speaking of pockets, the compartmentalized and zippered cargo pockets keep my stuff secure and not flopping around.

Next REI trip, the North Faces go back and I'm stocking up on Saharas.

I still like my old military BDUs for yard work, but I can't believe my waist was ever that size?

Vlad Putin

Locale: Radio Free Pineland
Re: re:Lightest, most breathable pants on 11/30/2006 09:59:41 MST Print View

>I still like my old military BDUs for >yard work, but I can't believe my waist >was ever that size?

Military BDUs are not the ripstop, 100% cotton jungle fatigues which are sooooooooo comfortable in hot, wet climates. Current issue military BDUs are a combo synthetic/cotton fabric which are NOTHING at all like eighties or nineties era ripstop, cotton jungle fatigue pants.

The ripstop jungle fatigue pants are COMFORTABLE and cheap too! They look kinda cool as well.


Colin Kelley
(ckelley) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara
Re: Re: Re: Lightest, most breathable pants? on 12/03/2006 21:03:01 MST Print View

Just a follow-up on the Integral Designs Pertex Pants. I'm disappointed. The Pertex 565 is 1.6 ounce nylon that's heavily calendared on the inside and treated with their Shield DWR. Because of this breathability is poor and the fabric is sticky on the inside--I wouldn't recommend wearing them during any exertion or in even moderate humidity.

I'm sending the pants back. A vastly better choice would be to make the Thru-Hiker Liberty Ridge pants with their Momentum .90 ounce taffeta.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Lightest, most breathable pants on 12/04/2006 02:03:10 MST Print View

Vlad, thanks for the clarification. Have you tried the newest issue uniforms with digital patterns, knee pad pockets, etc..? How do those compare?


Locale: South West US
Re: Lightest, most breathable pants on 12/04/2006 03:01:16 MST Print View


I just got out in mid 2004 and got to try the new cammies on the tail end of my enlistment. The materials is a 100% cotton twill, so a little thicker than the ripstop cammies. The fit on the new cammies is much looser and more comfortable that the older uniforms.

To clarify, all of my issued uniforms were 100% cotton, either ripstop or twill. I know there are knock-offs that have a synthetic blend, but these are crap.

Edited by oiboyroi on 12/04/2006 03:02:32 MST.