Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Backpacking Tights - Part 1
Display Avatars Sort By:
Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/13/2013 16:37:38 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Backpacking Tights - Part 1

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/13/2013 17:08:09 MDT Print View

Great article...always good to challenge our pre-conceived notions of what is the "proper" way of doing things.

I see nothing wrong with wearing tights.

Runners have some wisdom that we can learn from.

My only concern with tights is on the trail durability.

The "traditional" nylon pants are very durable. I have slide on my butt a few times on granite with my REI ones for short distances. I have tumbled, tripped, and have fallen a few times with scrapped knees or shins, but my pants were fine.

My concern with tights is that I would be left with a gapping hole in them.

Is this much of a concern and are there durable options with tights that can offer similar protection?

Looking forward to the next half of this article.


Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/13/2013 18:06:41 MDT Print View

I have no issues with tights other than pants are easier to put on, have pockets. I would shred tights with the underbrush where I hike now. They have worked for me elsewhere.

Daniel Pittman
(pitsy) - M

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/13/2013 18:07:04 MDT Print View

I'm doing it! Hope y'all are prepared to see my skinny ass in tights. Don't be meat-gazing, now....

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/13/2013 18:09:11 MDT Print View

You can wear shorts over them and keep your secrets to yourself.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/13/2013 18:22:54 MDT Print View

"My concern with tights is that I would be left with a gapping hole in them."



But Hammer pants are way cooler. All your consumables, clothing, and shelter can be hung in the crotch. Even better center of gravity than an Aarn pack.


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/13/2013 19:18:42 MDT Print View

"My concern with tights is that I would be left with a gapping hole in them."

Nice floss. ;0]

Dave Grey
(dapperdave) - F
Re: Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/14/2013 02:39:04 MDT Print View


I see your hammer pants and raise you a Cameo Codpiece

Word Up


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
"Backpacking Tights - Part 1" on 08/14/2013 06:17:44 MDT Print View

OK, I admit to doing this sometimes. Flattering to my body form thay are not. 'Corse at my age it doesn't really matter.

I use my smartwool pants and shirt exactly as you describe at times. Usually I bring a second long sleeved UL Ibex or Smartwool shirt for hking in. I have been doing that for the past 10 years or so. I can confirm that they do act like a wet suit in heavy rains.

However, in the ADK's at least, they soon develope holes. Getting these layers off while wet, under a tarp is no fun, and putting on a wet sticky layer(after rinsing them out)is difficult. I often will put my thumb or finger through the fabric. And after 5-6 hours of steady rain, they start chafing in odd places, usually at the seams, somewhere. My lower back, underarms, groin, and chest often get very sore after two or three days. I look at these as more helping with about a day of wetness or occasional rain storms over the course of a day than a long term solution to being wet. There is no replacing a rain jacket in two or three days of steady rain when it comes to chafing.

A friend, a semi-professional bike racer, has tights that I tried, but these are actually worse for wear and tear than smartwool. They snag on leaves quite easily and are a mess to clean up after a full day of hiking through the ADK's. A single trip often causes major fraying and surface knots where the threads have come loose.

The bugs get very bad in some of the lower areas, mosquitoes being the worst ... especially this year. A second layer of clothing is required for these areas. As you say, they are no protection.

Anyway, the drying is second to none, drying faster than my nylon pants most of the time. I often rinse my long johns in the local creek. This has other implications, but drying them by wringing them tightly and putting them on is a viable methode. As you say, body heat will soon dry them, provided you can avoid hiking in them through wet shrubbery or getting rained on again. If you are getting rained on, it doesn't matter anyway.

Multiple layers, such as at your waist or where your socks cover the bottom, or where your pack is against your back, do not dry well. Often, even two layers, such as shorts over tights, keeps both pieces wet for many hours longer than a single layer. The outer layer stops or limits air flow to the inner layer. Air flow is extreamly important to drying times. But, generally in 40-50F temps, I have found a single layer of long johns to be warmer than the nylon pants, simply because of the faster drying...once you are somewhere dry. A timely piece you wrote, and I thank you.

Regardless of hiking cloths, I always keep my sleeping cloths/camp cloths dry. Longjohns, socks and a down jacket are packed with my sleeping bag. As long as I am hiking, I can tolerate a lot of temp change. When I stop, I WILL get cold at 35F. My tarp, dry cloths, stove & hot drink become my priorities. A fire if possible, but if it has been raining for a couple days, I ignore it. I strip my wet shirt, and slip on my dry shirt. I strip my shoes, socks and pants and put on dry cloths, then I put my jacket on.

Rather than risk my sleeping cloths getting wet, I will often strip and slip my nylon pants back on if I have to leave my shelter for any reason. (I try to make sure I have relieved myself before "hiding" under the tarp.) I used to worry that I looked like a fool under my tarp: in longjohns, cuddled up around a stove, or drinking a cup of cocoa, maybe with my bag around my shoulders. Well, I guess I do, but I don't believe it is foolish to do so if I am also warm, dry and fairly comfortable. You can laugh at me, it IS allowed.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/14/2013 10:02:45 MDT Print View

Tights combined with hiking pants are my garment of choice in cold rain.

You get pockets, shred protection, extra warmth and you feel dryer.

I have even worn windpants over the top when it was really wet, cold and windy.

The three items, tights, hiking pants and windpants can be mixed and matched depending on conditions.

Tights and wind pants combined are warmer and can weigh less than your average hiking pants alone.

John Dennis
Tights have been common in my region for a long time on 08/14/2013 11:08:53 MDT Print View

I live in New England. I started seeing tights (especially on men) years ago, usually with a pair of shorts over them. It's a perfect layering strategy. Are you hot? Wear shorts only. Is the temp on the cool side? Wear tights under your shorts. Is the temp moderately cold? Wear your pants. Is the temp very cold? Wear your tights under your pants. Are you warm enough in your bag at night? Wear just your underwear. Are you cold in your bag? Wear your tights to bed. Etc.

There is such tremendous versatility in how you dress when you have tights. Plus typically they are a very light weight garment to add to your pack, worth it to gain that flexibility.

Pants are soaking wet when you get to camp? Change into your tights! :-)

Is this really something new?

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Do tights help with muscle fatigue? on 08/14/2013 11:11:23 MDT Print View

Thanks for the article.

I was wondering if you have discerned less muscle fatigue from wearing tights.

See this article,

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: tights on 08/14/2013 11:20:09 MDT Print View

Mandex is the way to go for sure. Ideally accessorized with camo and a rifle.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
women on 08/14/2013 11:27:49 MDT Print View

women wear em all the time out here ... we are where lululemon is based of course ... and many of em seem to do just fine

theres a reason why all these men hike the grouse grind and squamish chief out here ... and often it aint for the green outdoors =P

as to why? ... modesty and self consciousness for the most part ...


Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Mandex on 08/14/2013 12:08:02 MDT Print View

LOL! "Mandex", I like it! A new word to add to my vocab.

Monty Montana
(TarasBulba) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
re: tights on 08/14/2013 14:57:24 MDT Print View

Insightful article, thanks! I have a couple pair of cycling tights, but I've never worn them hiking; however, what I do wear in the Rocky Mountain shoulder seasons is NB running shorts w/ pockets (4 oz) paired with Craft leg warmers (3.6 oz), less than half the weight of your typical cargo pocket hiking pant. On very cold days I'll wear some old school wool cycling leg warmers (7.4 oz).

Now, don't be confused by what's being marketed so frequently in the catalogs as leg warmers, because they're actually knee warmers; leg warmers extend from the ankle to near the top of the thigh. Giver that, there is not much of a concern for double layer fabric overlap and the attendant drying time, and they're a cinch to get off or on to accommodate the whim of the sun and parting clouds without sacrificing one's modesty. It works for me, and I guess tights would, also!

Happy Trails!

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: re: tights on 08/14/2013 15:18:15 MDT Print View

I don't really like full length unless it's actually cold. I usually wear compression shorts, though, which I've heard called "short tights."

Still laughing at "mandex"...

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: re: tights on 08/14/2013 16:19:12 MDT Print View

Full length leg warmers sound like a pretty cool idea, thanks for the tip!

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
tights on 08/14/2013 18:11:08 MDT Print View

<- tight wearer- have a couple different pairs, use them for backpacking, running, skiing, snowshoeing- one pair (Mtn Hardwear 3/4 length) probably qualifies as mandex :)

And E
(LunchANDYnner) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
tights plus running shorts on 08/14/2013 18:48:13 MDT Print View

When I run in the winter, I always wear light running shorts over thin tights.
This is how I hike when it's cold out as well. Nice to see others do too!

Kevin Flynn
(kmflynn_01) - MLife
Tights are Go! on 08/14/2013 21:46:45 MDT Print View

I was a competitive runner before becoming a hiker - and have continued to use running gear as hiking gear, so tights have always been in my toolbox.

I also like nylon pants and especially like the hybrid pants produced in the past few years. They fit slightly looser than tights, more like pants, but have good stretch, pockets and durability. Mountain Hardware, Kuhl and Outdoor Research each have a hybrid pant in their lineup. I think Craghoppers does too, and probably a few others that I haven't noticed. They cost a fair bit more than tights do however, so...

Andy Davison
(FurTech) - M
Tights in the UK on 08/15/2013 01:44:24 MDT Print View

A few observations:
I've used loose tights (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) a lot in the UK, particularly for two day adventure races. Commonly I've used Ron Hill's Tracksters in various weights and Paramo Stretch Pants. For such events I have tights and over trousers. The OTs are only worn if I get cold. I find that even after wading through streams or spending all day in the rain, I can wear them dry and sleep in them overnight. I also find that a small difference in thickness can make a big difference in insulation. On occasion it has been essential to add the OTs to keep warm, especially in wind blown rain. I also find these synthetic tights to be reasonably tough though susceptible to snagging, and suspect that they will be much stronger than wool. Most of my wool shirts have holes in them.
Perhaps the psychology of racing is a bit different to backpacking and thus shades my perception: I expect to suffer for speed. That said, I've been amazed how well these leggings work.
As far as the physics is concerned, I suspect that the conduction of the material is significant enough to be noticeable. I say this because the snug fitting thick and dense thermal sleeves I sometimes use (designed for cycling) don't insulate any where near as well as I would have expected and far less than loose fleece of a similar weight (when dry).
Also, my experience with wet none-stretch trousers is that they cling, chaff and feel uncomfortable and cold.
Finally, the loose/tights mentioned above are a bit less revealing than tight/tights.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
mandex all the way on 08/15/2013 02:40:31 MDT Print View

My friend Justin proudly rocking his $2 halloween store mandex in the Narrows last fall.mandex

Linda Vassallo

Locale: Eastbay
Tights For Backpacking on 08/15/2013 16:44:20 MDT Print View

Good Topic for Thought, thank you for doing the trials and sharing your insights.

I have been considering switching to tights ever since my JMT hike last year. I met several hikers along the way who were wearing tights and it seemed to me that tights would be more comfortable and allow for better movement than my older nylon trail pants. I have seen several brands at REI (of different materials and thicknesses) that I thought would work. I am now encouraged to go out and buy a pair.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Backpacking Tight on 08/15/2013 17:57:13 MDT Print View

The title on the BPL homepage is "Backpacking Tight".

Brought to mind a whole different idea than stretchy leg coverings!

John Coyle

Locale: NorCal
Backpacking Tights on 08/15/2013 22:57:50 MDT Print View

Tights on the trail? No way. My backpacking friends already call me "Bird Legs." If I wore tights they would get even more specific and call me "Great Blue Heron Legs."

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Durability on 08/17/2013 11:43:16 MDT Print View

Tights need to be something like 8-10 oz to be durable. Midwieght. Anything thinner and they shred (and they are much more revealing).
I like my golite running tights. The fleece lining is so nice. I use them as long underwear to sleep in often.
They are durable enough for shoving through light brush.
I do creek bushwacking/canyon trips in them and they work really well for wet and cold. They take off the chill when crossing and they warm up almost instantly when I exit the water, letting me recover better.

Durable tights? Try baseball pants. A guy on ventana wild recommended them to me when I asked about bushwacking gear, Some of them fit like tights. Heavier and not as warm, but the material is more like regular hiking pants. They are now my go to bushwacking pants. I prefer to keep everything slim and work my way through brush instead of shoving through it.

Edited by justin_baker on 08/17/2013 11:48:02 MDT.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
running funky on 08/17/2013 18:23:19 MDT Print View

This summer I've been experimenting with running tights under a skirt, after last summer using nylon hiking pants and being tired of putting them on cold and wet in the morning during a four day hike. The last morning out I stayed in my long johns that I had slept in, and put wind pants over top, and was so much more comfortable! I haven't found a pair of hiking shorts that I like, so I've sacrificed pockets for now, and I'm rather liking the increased airflow with a short skirt. Much drier at the end of the day. I've got a pair of shorts that I can wear under the skirt, too. has a great selection of patterns if you are tired of black, black, black--my leopard tights get lots of commentary on the trail!

(Joomy) - M
Tights for bush-bashing on 08/17/2013 19:41:16 MDT Print View

"Perhaps durability is the third reason. If you need to do some heavy bushwacking in nasty/thorny conditions, then yes, tights won't be the best option. In many conditions, especially on-trail, durability won't be an issue."

In Australia we often wear gaiters that protect our lower legs anyway.

Edited by Joomy on 08/17/2013 19:42:34 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Tights for bush-bashing on 08/17/2013 19:44:26 MDT Print View

Jeremy, you don't have any brush in Australia that grows above the knees?

(Joomy) - M
Re: Tights for bush-bashing on 08/17/2013 19:46:10 MDT Print View

Of course we do but in my experience most of the damage is concentrated on the lower leg, probably because the lower leg moves a lot more with each stride. And I guess most of the time the walking down here is less proper bush-bashing as much as heavily overgrown, rugged and narrow trails.

Edited by Joomy on 08/17/2013 20:06:11 MDT.

Jake S
People don't wear tights? on 08/18/2013 07:21:42 MDT Print View

Maybe I'm weird, but are you telling me people don't wear tights? They've always been a staple of my layering system

Coldest: Tights + Nylon mesh "Basketball" Shorts + Rain pants

A little warmer: Tights + Nylon mesh "Basketball" Shorts

A little warmer yet: Compression shorts w/ 9" inseam (or "half-length tights" if you will) + Nylon mesh "Basketball" Shorts

Extremely hot w/burning sunshine: Compression shorts + breathable full length lightweight pants

I really figure anyone wearing "hiking pants" would wear them instead of rain pants (which they probably also carry) and zip off the legs as temperatures dictated.

Maybe I'm only speaking from unfamiliarity with them, but for ultralight kits "hiking pants" really belong on the same archival shelf as "Tent poles" and "hiking boots" and "Tent stake mallet", as far as I'm concerned. Maybe the one advantage of hiking pants is bug resistance, but treating tights with permethrin and staying in motion buy hiking eliminates most of that advantage, doesn't it?

Edited by spags on 08/18/2013 07:23:13 MDT.

Sebastian Boenner

Locale: beautiful Rhineland (Germany)
tights on 08/19/2013 08:20:12 MDT Print View

Depending on the conditions tights are a favourite "tool" of mine. I prefer them during the shoulder seasons or as a baselayer in winter. (For me they just feel too warm in summertime)
When we spend 4 weeks of backpacking in Iceland they worked amazingly well. I used 3/4 lenght tights. Normally my lower legs don't get that cool and due to the amount of river crossings there was less fabric to dry. I combined the tights with a running shorts to give my upper legs a bit more wind protection. Only in the worst conditions I added a waterproof pair of trousers. I know this combination looks dorky, but function over fashion! ;-)

My wife uses tights all year long. During summertime she prefers short one to keep her upper legs warm while airing her lower legs at the same time.
(picture was taken last year during our thruhike along the GR20)

Well, and they prevent other hiker risking a look under her skirt while leading during an uphill section ;-)

Edited by racoon-on-tour on 08/19/2013 08:42:11 MDT.

Richard May
(richardmay) - M

Locale: Swamplands.
rain tights on 08/19/2013 08:49:22 MDT Print View

hmmm... I may have to give them a try this rainy season. Sounds like they'd do pretty well down here.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: tights on 08/19/2013 18:32:48 MDT Print View

I used to wear long underwear under shorts while skiing. This worked pretty well, but I would get a bit cold when I stopped for lunch. Then I bought a pair of full zip fleece pants. A bit heavier, but way better range. If it is hot, I can open them up or completely remove them (without taking off my skis). If it is cold, they are way warmer than tights.

When hiking, I find that I need them less. Most of the time I hike, I hike in shorts. So, my pants stay in the pack. However, when the weather gets bad, or I get to a summit, then I switch to either rain pants or wind pants. Both are lighter than tights.

I do think tights are fairly economical, though. You can get a good pair of polypropylene long underwear (AKA tights) for very little money. This covers a pretty wide range for very little money. When combined with a wind/rain layer, they also provide plenty of warmth. The biggest cost at that point is in terms of weight (puffy pants are lighter). They also make sense if you are sure that your trip is going to fall within this sort of temperature range -- personally, I rarely hike at that range very long.

Matthew Perry
(bigfoot2) - F

Locale: Oregon
Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/20/2013 11:01:22 MDT Print View

When will we get a State Of The Market Report on Unbifurcated garments? Plenty of us kilted backpackers on here, ya' know?


Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Re: Backpacking Tights - Part 1 on 08/20/2013 19:33:31 MDT Print View


"When will we get a State Of The Market Report on Unbifurcated garments? Plenty of us kilted backpackers on here, ya' know?"

You could start a new thread on genus 1 clothes.