Why Wearing Long Pants Offers Hiking Protection
The debate within the hiking community over the proper gear to wear is neverending. Conducting physical exercise for hours on end while experiencing consistent fabric friction makes opinions on clothing especially fierce. From my own experience, I have found that long pants make my hiking trips more comfortable. This opinion has fierce opponents, we will call those folks, “shorts hikers”. Their arguments are thorough and based around comfort, however, they don’t know what it’s like to bushwhack for days on end. Pants are a superior clothing choice when making extended trips into wilderness. I believe they provide a barrier against insects, protect me from poison ivy, and make my hiking trips more comfortable.
Full disclosure: this article is written with the intent of convincing the reader to wear long pants – no apologies are offered to those living the shorts life.
The number of insects that I run into while hiking is enough to drive me insane. Mosquitoes are thick on many trails preventing extended rests during a hike. It’s not only mosquitos but ticks also live in high numbers throughout the brush. Unfortunately, these arachnids carry diseases that can destroy lives, Lyme Disease is a prominent example. Let’s not forget about biting flies, no jaunt through the woods is without them.
Does Bug Spray Work?
Wearing bug spray is only so effective. The constant movement and sweating created during a hike renders repellent useless, relegating it to a temporary solution. Pants offer a more long term fix to the bug problem.
Hiking With Mosquitos
The mosquito has a hard time flying more than 2mph. The average hiker moves at a pace of 2.5mph – see where this is going? At this pace, being bothered by insects is not an overwhelming problem. However, when hiking stops or breaks occur, even when using the bathroom, the mosquito will take full advantage of the slower pace and swarm en masse.
Wearing pants creates a physical barrier that insects have a harder time penetrating, compared to skin. This is not to make the claim that mosquitoes can’t bite through lightweight pants, but it complicates the process. Even when I am walking slowly or photographing something, my pants are also moving. The fabric swishes and vibrates against my body, creating an uneven surface to land on and prevents most insect bites.
Another benefit of having pants is that my hands are free to do other things. If I don’t extend myself to reach my legs or ankles, it saves energy. With my legs protected, I can hold a camera or swat bugs away from my face.
As for ticks, pants offer great protection. Ticks live near the ground and most commonly attach to people by clinging to the ankles. Pants provide another layer of protection from ticks. From my own experience, ticks crawl onto the outside of the material and have no way to bite. Periodically, I can check my pants and physically remove ticks – a much better solution than removing them from the skin.
Long Pants Protect From Poison Ivy
I have a severe allergy to poison ivy. It can spread across my body in hours and has forced me into the hospital on more than one occasion. Poison ivy’s preferred habitat is on the edge of the forest, commonly along roadways, property lines, and trails. While it comes in all sizes, its most duplicitous proportion is when it grows in the undergrowth, hidden from sight.
Brushing against poison ivy without even knowing, is easy to do. The smallest contact can deposit urushiol onto the legs. If you’re sweating, the water will spread the oils across your skin. A simple brush with the hand can then spread the oil to your fingers and whatever else they touch.
When I wear pants and I brush against poison ivy, it stays on my pants and not my legs. If I suspect that I walked through poison ivy during the day, I can simply wash the pants at camp.
Protect Your Legs While Bushwhacking
Sometimes, the trail takes me into thick brush and spiky plants. Bushwhacking through vegetation opens wounds quickly, causing bleeding. I have found that even a lightweight pair of hiking pants can protect me from the worst of bushwhacking damage.
Pants also prevent sunburn. Legs make-up half the body, they deserve just as much protection as the face does. Pants protect me from the sun’s rays and I love wearing them when hiking in the desert.
What to Look for in Hiking Pants
The biggest concern with pants is overheating. The material must be lightweight, allowing for the wind to penetrate. Nylon is an ok material that is strong. Cotton pants feel great, especially in hot conditions. Try out a few different pairs until you find your favorite.
Pants also need to be loose. I have had problems wearing tight pants while hiking. Ingrown leg hairs are a common consequence of pants that are too tight. Loose pants mitigate this catastrophe.
It took some trial and error but I am happy to wear pants whenever I hike. They protect me from the worst of mother nature and encourage me to slow down and smell the roses. I highly recommend trying pants on your next hike.