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Our Favorite Hunting Pants for Men and Women

Popular Mechanics Logo By Justin Park of Popular Mechanics | Slide 1 of 12: High-tech hunting pants might not make you a great hunter, but they can definitely make a rough day in the field more enjoyable and keep you out hunting longer. Plenty of hunters still find success in denim jeans—I confess to having hunted in camo jeans only a few years ago—but there are lots of benefits to be had from the evolution in hunting-specific bottoms. If you’re like I was not that long ago, you might be skeptical of the value of new high-tech fabrics, especially once you see the price tags. Plenty of hunters will go with a sub-$50 pair of cotton-blend camo pants and call it good enough. And it likely will be. But if you’re considering something more, it’s worth pointing out that higher-end fabrics are trickling down into the budget categories, and I point out a few pairs of hunting pants below that are under $100.First and most important, a good pair of hunting pants that keeps you dry and warm (or cool, depending on the season) will make you more comfortable in the field, and a comfortable hunter will be able to hunt longer and with a clearer head. If all you can think about is getting back to your vehicle and getting out of your gear, you’re not likely going to be on your game when opportunity presents itself.Modern fabrics and design have also drastically increased the number of options in the market, so you can get pants that are tailored to your particular region and style of hunting, with specific camo patterns, season-specific warmth, weather-specific waterproofing and breathability, and lots of hunting-first features. There’s not one pair of pants that’s perfect for every occasion, but check out my recommendations below for some offerings that might be just right for your location and style of hunting.The Expert: As a Colorado-based hunter of deer, elk, pronghorn, waterfowl, and moose in the Rocky Mountains, I’ve tested hunting pants in a range of climates and conditions from hot and dry high desert to thick forest in heavy rain and snow. I also hunt back home in Upstate New York’s Eastern hardwood forests and spend more time in a treestand in wide-ranging weather, so I understand the challenges of several different regions, seasons, and types of hunters. What to Consider When Choosing the Right Hunting PantsLayering SystemsWhile layering isn’t as essential for bottoms as it is on your upper body (keeping your core warm keeps your extremities warm), you can still use layers to address wild swings in ambient or body temperature, such as hiking up a steep grade with a pack on and then spending hours motionless in a treestand. Several of the hunting pants recommended below are designed to be used in a layering system and wouldn’t make sense as a standalone garment.Layering isn’t generally of any value when hunting during warmer seasons, but in colder weather or any situation with wild swings, it’s easier to adapt to conditions when you’re wearing layers than it is when you’re wearing a single garment. The downside here is that you will at some point be carrying extra clothing which requires more pack space and some additional weight. With bulky insulated bibs, for example, that space and weight requirement can be fairly substantial, so make sure you need the layers before you commit to them. Patterns and ColorsHunting apparel companies offer more types of camouflage than ever, and you can spend days researching the purported benefit of one camo over another. Since Realtree, one of the first popularizers of modern hunting camo patterns, debuted decades ago, there has been an explosion in concealment R&D, and the marketplace offers dozens of patterns from manufacturers as well as third-party pattern companies such as Kryptek, Realtree, Mossy Oak, and others.An in-depth discussion of camo efficacy is way beyond the scope of this article, but my baseline advice for choosing camo is to look for a brand that caters to your specific region and type of hunting. Not only will you get a camo pattern that’s in line with your hunting environment, but also the garments will be designed for your style of hunting.More and more long-range rifle hunters are eschewing camo altogether since the patterns are less important at long distances than some basic concealment and stillness. Thankfully, apparel companies are catering to this audience, providing more solid colorways in earth tones. Buying solids has the benefit of making your pants capable of double-duty for work, play, or casual wear beyond the hunting seasons.MaterialsAs the saying goes, “cotton kills,” and that’s because cotton absorbs moisture like a sponge and doesn’t dry out quickly. Moisture transfers heat much more readily than air, so wet pants will both pull your body heat off you and draw the outside cold into you. Aside from cotton, there’s no material that you need to avoid at all costs, nor is there any “best” material for every pair of hunting pants.Most modern technical hunting pants use blends of materials such as nylon, polyester, elastane, spandex, and merino wool. The manufacturers try to balance breathability, durability, stretch, comfort, warmth, and many other factors to create the ideal fabric for each application.If you hunt in wetter regions, you may want to look for pants with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating. Many hunters carry separate rain pants for when precipitation hits, but a basic level of water repellency is a good idea—unless you hunt mostly in drier areas. If you need maximum weatherproofing in your pants, you’re likely in the market for a pant that uses specialized fabric-membrane combinations such as Gore-Tex. These high-tech garments borrow tech used for years in snow sports and mountaineering and provide high levels of wind- and waterproofing while remaining breathable unlike, say, a rubberized rain slicker. Keep in mind, however, that while these layers perform great, they have some drawbacks such as stiffer, noisier materials and higher price points. They also will never be as breathable as thinner, lighter fabrics that aren’t waterproof but allow body moisture to escape freely.Nice-to-Have FeaturesHunting pants come with lots of little features that get touted in product descriptions, such as purpose-built pockets, built-in kneepads, quiet pocket snaps, and durability-minded details such as reinforced fabric on high-wear areas.Pockets I’m usually fine with almost any arrangement of pockets on my hunting pants, as I tend to always have a pack and prefer to keep frequently used items, such as my phone and binoculars, on my upper body. The classic 5-pocket setup you’d find on blue jeans works just fine. Look for cargo pockets if you know you’ll use them. I don’t like anything substantial on my legs as it can swing around and snag while you’re hiking. Kneepads Lots of hunting pants come with kneepads, and you might love them or hate them. While I find thick built-in kneepads annoying at first, I usually forget about them after the first mile of hiking and am glad to have them when I need to stop and stay low. Folks with bad knees or any hunters spending time above tree line where rock is the predominant ground may want to filter their search down to only pants with kneepads.Likewise, many pants will feature articulated knees that keep the fabric from binding when you flex at the knee joint hiking or getting low. Some pants, such as the Under Armour model recommended below, have extra material around the knee. This is actually my preferred setup, as I don’t ever feel like I need full kneepads, but I do enjoy a little extra cushioning there.Reinforcements While lots of modern pants focus on being ultralight and breathable, you’ll get more years out of them if they have reinforced fabric in certain areas. First and foremost, I like pants with reinforcement in the rear end, which is usually the first place to go threadbare if you often sit on rocks and rocky dirt that slowly abrades the fabric. While I almost never use rear pockets, they can often act as de facto fabric reinforcement if the rear isn’t otherwise fortified.Other areas it’s nice to have extra material: the cuffs at the ankles, which can rub against each other and wear, and the knees, which tend to bump against things when you’re hiking or rub against rocks and dirt when you’re kneeling.

High-tech hunting pants might not make you a great hunter, but they can definitely make a rough day in the field more enjoyable and keep you out hunting longer. Plenty of hunters still find success in denim jeans—I confess to having hunted in camo jeans only a few years ago—but there are lots of benefits to be had from the evolution in hunting-specific bottoms. If you’re like I was not that long ago, you might be skeptical of the value of new high-tech fabrics, especially once you see the price tags. Plenty of hunters will go with a sub-$50 pair of cotton-blend camo pants and call it good enough. And it likely will be. But if you’re considering something more, it’s worth pointing out that higher-end fabrics are trickling down into the budget categories, and I point out a few pairs of hunting pants below that are under $100.

First and most important, a good pair of hunting pants that keeps you dry and warm (or cool, depending on the season) will make you more comfortable in the field, and a comfortable hunter will be able to hunt longer and with a clearer head. If all you can think about is getting back to your vehicle and getting out of your gear, you’re not likely going to be on your game when opportunity presents itself.

Modern fabrics and design have also drastically increased the number of options in the market, so you can get pants that are tailored to your particular region and style of hunting, with specific camo patterns, season-specific warmth, weather-specific waterproofing and breathability, and lots of hunting-first features. There’s not one pair of pants that’s perfect for every occasion, but check out my recommendations below for some offerings that might be just right for your location and style of hunting.

The Expert: As a Colorado-based hunter of deer, elk, pronghorn, waterfowl, and moose in the Rocky Mountains, I’ve tested hunting pants in a range of climates and conditions from hot and dry high desert to thick forest in heavy rain and snow. I also hunt back home in Upstate New York’s Eastern hardwood forests and spend more time in a treestand in wide-ranging weather, so I understand the challenges of several different regions, seasons, and types of hunters.

What to Consider When Choosing the Right Hunting Pants

Layering Systems

While layering isn’t as essential for bottoms as it is on your upper body (keeping your core warm keeps your extremities warm), you can still use layers to address wild swings in ambient or body temperature, such as hiking up a steep grade with a pack on and then spending hours motionless in a treestand. Several of the hunting pants recommended below are designed to be used in a layering system and wouldn’t make sense as a standalone garment.

Layering isn’t generally of any value when hunting during warmer seasons, but in colder weather or any situation with wild swings, it’s easier to adapt to conditions when you’re wearing layers than it is when you’re wearing a single garment. The downside here is that you will at some point be carrying extra clothing which requires more pack space and some additional weight. With bulky insulated bibs, for example, that space and weight requirement can be fairly substantial, so make sure you need the layers before you commit to them.

Patterns and Colors

Hunting apparel companies offer more types of camouflage than ever, and you can spend days researching the purported benefit of one camo over another. Since Realtree, one of the first popularizers of modern hunting camo patterns, debuted decades ago, there has been an explosion in concealment R&D, and the marketplace offers dozens of patterns from manufacturers as well as third-party pattern companies such as Kryptek, Realtree, Mossy Oak, and others.

An in-depth discussion of camo efficacy is way beyond the scope of this article, but my baseline advice for choosing camo is to look for a brand that caters to your specific region and type of hunting. Not only will you get a camo pattern that’s in line with your hunting environment, but also the garments will be designed for your style of hunting.

More and more long-range rifle hunters are eschewing camo altogether since the patterns are less important at long distances than some basic concealment and stillness. Thankfully, apparel companies are catering to this audience, providing more solid colorways in earth tones. Buying solids has the benefit of making your pants capable of double-duty for work, play, or casual wear beyond the hunting seasons.

Materials

As the saying goes, “cotton kills,” and that’s because cotton absorbs moisture like a sponge and doesn’t dry out quickly. Moisture transfers heat much more readily than air, so wet pants will both pull your body heat off you and draw the outside cold into you. Aside from cotton, there’s no material that you need to avoid at all costs, nor is there any “best” material for every pair of hunting pants.

Most modern technical hunting pants use blends of materials such as nylon, polyester, elastane, spandex, and merino wool. The manufacturers try to balance breathability, durability, stretch, comfort, warmth, and many other factors to create the ideal fabric for each application.

If you hunt in wetter regions, you may want to look for pants with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating. Many hunters carry separate rain pants for when precipitation hits, but a basic level of water repellency is a good idea—unless you hunt mostly in drier areas.

If you need maximum weatherproofing in your pants, you’re likely in the market for a pant that uses specialized fabric-membrane combinations such as Gore-Tex. These high-tech garments borrow tech used for years in snow sports and mountaineering and provide high levels of wind- and waterproofing while remaining breathable unlike, say, a rubberized rain slicker. Keep in mind, however, that while these layers perform great, they have some drawbacks such as stiffer, noisier materials and higher price points. They also will never be as breathable as thinner, lighter fabrics that aren’t waterproof but allow body moisture to escape freely.

Nice-to-Have Features

Hunting pants come with lots of little features that get touted in product descriptions, such as purpose-built pockets, built-in kneepads, quiet pocket snaps, and durability-minded details such as reinforced fabric on high-wear areas.

Pockets I’m usually fine with almost any arrangement of pockets on my hunting pants, as I tend to always have a pack and prefer to keep frequently used items, such as my phone and binoculars, on my upper body. The classic 5-pocket setup you’d find on blue jeans works just fine. Look for cargo pockets if you know you’ll use them. I don’t like anything substantial on my legs as it can swing around and snag while you’re hiking.

Kneepads Lots of hunting pants come with kneepads, and you might love them or hate them. While I find thick built-in kneepads annoying at first, I usually forget about them after the first mile of hiking and am glad to have them when I need to stop and stay low. Folks with bad knees or any hunters spending time above tree line where rock is the predominant ground may want to filter their search down to only pants with kneepads.

Likewise, many pants will feature articulated knees that keep the fabric from binding when you flex at the knee joint hiking or getting low. Some pants, such as the Under Armour model recommended below, have extra material around the knee. This is actually my preferred setup, as I don’t ever feel like I need full kneepads, but I do enjoy a little extra cushioning there.

Reinforcements While lots of modern pants focus on being ultralight and breathable, you’ll get more years out of them if they have reinforced fabric in certain areas. First and foremost, I like pants with reinforcement in the rear end, which is usually the first place to go threadbare if you often sit on rocks and rocky dirt that slowly abrades the fabric. While I almost never use rear pockets, they can often act as de facto fabric reinforcement if the rear isn’t otherwise fortified.

Other areas it’s nice to have extra material: the cuffs at the ankles, which can rub against each other and wear, and the knees, which tend to bump against things when you’re hiking or rub against rocks and dirt when you’re kneeling.

© Staff, Courtesy of Under Armour

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