Even though I like to hike in shorts almost year round, some insulating and/or weather resistant bottoms are always nice to have around. As lightweight as some base layers are right now, adding a pair of long johns to sleep in or take the chill out of a 5 a.m. start makes more sense than ever.
When sweat and dirt make my legs feel sticky, I’ll sleep in long johns to increase my comfort. If it’s chilly in the morning or while hiking at night, I can throw these on under my shorts. Maybe most importantly, for warm weather thru hikes, you can treat long johns with Permethrin to create a shield for your sweet legs from the biting insects.
In cold weather, you can beef up with synthetic or down stuffed pants, which are great for hanging around camp when you aren’t moving, but aren’t great for hiking in.
Add weather resistant wind or rain pants over puffy down or synthetic pants over a good base layer and your are locked in for cold weather. Remove the puffy from the scenario and you’ve got your early spring/late fall layers with just long johns and wind/rain pants. Bring just wind/rain pants over your shorts for your warm layer system.
The following are the stats and my humble opinions on the pants I’ve used or researched and wish to use on the trail:
Weight: 96 g / 3.4 oz.
Material: 2.3-oz (80-g) 100% recycled polyester double knit with Polygiene® permanent odor control.
*2020 – I know longer see any light or ultralight offering in the Capilene category AT ALL. This makes me sad.
- Capilene® Lightweight has a smooth face for easy layering. Fair Trade Certified™ sewing
- Fabric’s open-grid pattern next to skin provides excellent breathability, moisture-wicking and dry time with Polygiene® permanent odor control
- Elastic waistband is brushed for next-to-skin softness
- Gusseted crotch for comfort and unimpeded mobility
- Functional fly
- Flatlock seams to minimize chafing
Incredibly light weight but only truly thermally efficient in mild weather. That said, your legs are not a huge heat retainer/conductor, so in colder conditions, these may be enough insulation for an ultralight hiker once you’re up and moving.
The Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Bottoms are best for layering. Because of their breathability, they are not very wind resistant on their own, however, that breathability translates to comfort when worn under other warmer layers.
Fantastic synthetic ultralight bottoms for mild weather thru hikes.
Weight: 126 g / 4.4 oz.
Material: 83% merino wool, 12% nylon, 5% corespun lycra
Fabric weight: 150 gsm
- Fit: Slim
- Padded gusset for comfort and mobility
- Contoured pouch with functioning fly
- Corespun fabric for enhanced durability
- LYCRA content for stretch and mobility
- Flatlock stitching prevents chafing
- Gusset for comfort and mobility
Only one ounce heavier than the synthetics above, these lightweight wool bottoms from Icebreaker feel much warmer. These are blended with a bit of synthetic to improve movement and they are corespun (wool is woven around some of the synthetic strands) to improve durability.
As far as wool garments go, Icebreaker’s blend holds up the best, in my experience. Other brands tend to loose elasticity and wear through in spots much faster.
Weight: 159 g / 5.6 oz
Material: 87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon Core
- Slim Fit; Mid Rise
- Fully functional fly
- Wide elastic waistband (40 mm) designed for ultimate comfort; keeps Merino next to skin
- Flatlock seam construction designed to eliminate chafing
- Naturally regulates temperature
- Naturally odor resistant
Very comfortable but just slightly less stretchy than the Icebreakers above, which use lycra in their blend. Smartwool Micro bottoms use their own method of corespun weaving to encase the synthetic strands in wool fibers.
I used these bottoms on my 2012 Florida Trail thru hike. They made it all 1101 miles, and only during the very last week did they begin to develop “runs”, caused by snags on foliage while hiking.
Weight: 155.9 g / 5.5 oz.
Material: 10d DWR coated Argon ripstop nylon
Fill Weight: 3oz
Fill: 850+ high quality water resistant down
- Compresses to size of a Nalgene bottle
- Sewn through baffles keep down from shifting
*2020 – I no longer see these pants on Borah Gear’s website… 😦
You’ve got a puffy for your torso, why not give your legs some puffy love? These down pants are not for hiking, really, but they pump the heat when you’re hanging out at camp for sure!
Borah gear makes some of the lightest weight down pants out there and they are durable to boot. I wouldn’t recommend it with such a nice piece of gear, but I have sat on the ground in these with no harm to the fabric.
Paired with a down jacket and hood, you will look and feel like the Michelin Man, but you will be sooo cozy!
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