Pros and cons of convertible hiking pants

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Sep 3, 2003
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I’m in the market for new hiking pants for spring/fall hiking but am debating on another pair of convertible pants (zip-off legs). That is what I am replacing as the shorts part have seen their day. I found I wore the shorts more without the pant legs attached to the point that the shorts and legs were different colors. :eek: Are they more trouble than they are worth? Do you find it a pain to put the legs on or take them off in the course of the day? I’m interested in what others are finding works for them.

I have hiking shorts and prefer hiking in shorts whenever reasonable but pants sometimes are needed – bushwhacking, mud, snow, whatever. Maybe it’s just as easy to change from pants to shorts as it is to change the legs??

I got a pair of the REI nylon convertible pants last year and I really like them. The lower legs have vertical zips so they're easy to get off over your hiking boots and it only takes a minute. I've also been using them all winter, they really block the wind nicely.

I have two pair that I really like. I find myself generally taking off the pant section once the day warms up, and ofcourse putting them back in the evening.. Help keep the bugs off too. One pair I have zips off w/ the zipper going around the back of the knee. I'll unzip the pant section a few inches, I found this feature to be great for venting, w/ every step there is a billow effect that pushes air out. There are times where it is buggy or going thru pickers that I just like to vent the pants. I wouldn't do 3 season hikes w/o the zip offs. I don't want the weight of carrying extra shorts or pants when I can carry one in the same.
Carole -
I find their flexibility invaluable. I often start out with pants, as I tend to be cold-blooded. When I get heated up from hiking, I just zip them right off and hike in the shorts.

My favorites are the Ex Officio Amphi pants. They are comfortable, durable and have a nice mesh liner, which I prefer to wearing underwear. Here is the link, in case you are looking to spend your REI Dividend: Ex Officio Amphi - REI

I tried a few pairs on at EMS once. Blech. I couldn't stand the zipper and covering rubbing on my knees. I will bring cycling leg warmers and put them on and off instead. They aren't made to stand up to abuse, unfortunately, but I have some that are getting a bit thin and worn from lots of sweat and washings.

Depending on the trail, changing from pants to a separate pair of shorts or vice versa can be pretty inconvenient. You don't want to get arrested. Plus, I usually have to sit down to change, which is not so good in mud, snow, etc. You could wear shorts under pants, but that's sweaty and uncomfortable.

I wear my convertibles whenever I'm on the trail, even as a base layer in winter and as shorts in midsummer (they're the fastest-drying pants I have, and the best-breathing shorts too).

BHSF: Sounds like you were trying a pair that didn't fit correctly. The zippers aren't supposed to be touching your knees. The zip-off point should be above the knee, and the side zip should come up the side of the leg (to below the knee).
One advice I'd have would be to try on different pairs from different manufacturers. Since the zipper point is completely up to them it can change the way the shorts/pants feel and look.

I have EMS pants and personally never use them as shorts - I never have needed to and don't like the way they look as shorts (too short! :eek: ). In the summer time I'm usually wearing shorts and knee-high gaiters anyway, I get plenty of coverage that way.
I like them and never had a problem with the legs. I find them an easier and quicker change than separate pants and shorts and there's less to pack.

Its just natural that the tops wear out before the bottoms, both for the additional time you wear the tops and the additional wear and tear especially on the seat ... unless you can figure out a way to wear just the bottoms and not the tops :eek:
bikehikeskifish said:
I tried a few pairs on at EMS once. Blech. I couldn't stand the zipper and covering rubbing on my knees. I will bring cycling leg warmers and put them on and off instead. They aren't made to stand up to abuse, unfortunately, but I have some that are getting a bit thin and worn from lots of sweat and washings.


I have experienced this, but not with The Ex Officio Amphis. They have a nice strip of fabric on the inside of the zipper that prevents any rubbing. That strip does not interfere with the zippers, that work very nicely.

I've got a couple of pair and use 'em year round. The other advantage is you can zip open the legs a couple of inches for ventilation when the temperature is somewhere between shorts and long pants weather.
I love my zippy pants, especially in the winter when it's too cold to start the day in shorts but when I want to be able to layer down as I heat up.

Trick: If you wear gaiters (short or tall) with these pants, when you unzip the bottoms, just tuck them under your gaiters. That way you don't have to get them off and on over your boots, and you don't have to stop and figure out which is right and which is left when you want to zip them back on.
Stan said:
Iunless you can figure out a way to wear just the bottoms and not the tops :eek:

Staple them to your legs? I like my convertibles. Instead of taking the "legs" off, I sometimes stuff them into my socks. On the cooler days, venting by opening the zippers is a better option than taking the legs off then putting them back on.
Go with the convertibles

Convertible shorts/pants (or as they're sometimes abbreviated, "shants") are great!

I have shorts and pants as well but I use the converts year round. I'll often bring the shorts but many times I come home from a trip and they've not been out of my pack.
In summer, usually the only long pants that I carry are my Frogg Togg rain pants. On cool mornings or evenings, I just pull them on over my hiking shorts.

Weight wise, I think that 2 pairs of hiking shorts, plus 1 long nylon hiking pants may be lighter than convertable pants with zippers.
I guess I’m leaning toward pants for when I feel I’ll have them on all day. Once you get me in shorts it’s got to be pretty cold for me to want otherwise. I carry either a wind or rain pant as needed so they can go over the shorts just as easy as adding legs.

On a funny note: I have found several detached ‘legs’ on my hikes, one time finding a matching pair.
Zip off Pants

I don't think you can go wrong having at least one good pair. It's a lot easier then carrying a pr of shorts / long pants in case of weather changes. And as far as any zippers hitting your leg - ck out how they feel before you buy them. My only complaint is that for me, the shorts are too long on after i zip off the pants leg! Not a big deal I just roll 'em up but I do wish they'd make them a bit shorter. Here's to warmer weather! :) (cuffing them would also solve any problems of the zipped area being uncomfortable too)
I like my convertible pants/shorts. In warmer weather I usually just end up wearing the shorts and leaving the legs at home. I agree you need to try a few different manufacturers to find what works best. I prefer the REI brand. They are light, dry fast and the butt has stood up well to sliding down rock faces. I often wear them as my winter base layer under my precip pants. I also have a pair from ex officio but do not like them for hiking. I wear them on plane trips where its cold where I am starting and warm where I am ending. Take the legs off on the plane and I'm ready for the heat.
I love mine, and I am proud of the color difference! :D

Recently, I wore just the shorts under water proof pants for a warm winter hike.

I frequently bring the bottoms and wear them for 'whackin', or when it gets windy or cold.

Sometimes I also wear the bottoms, but unzip them part way for ventilation if it starts getting warm.

As Karl Malden would have said "Don't leave home without them"! :D