Gear Guy

Would hemp pants be suitable for hiking?

Pretty much everyone with whom I go backpacking or hiking has always told me never to wear pants made from cotton. And so, I have avoided jeans and khakis most of the time, usually favoring polyester blends. However, I long for nature's own fabrics again and again. Recently, I saw hemp pants available online, but I wonder if they'd be suitable for backpacking and hiking? Brice Rough and Ready, California

Oh, I used to get all exercised about the don't-wear-cotton bit. But sometimes cotton is comfortable, and if you have non-cotton stuff in your pack to put on in case of inclement weather, who should tell you what to do? Besides, hemp is just a different type of natural fabric—it doesn't offer any real advantage over cotton in terms of breathability or weight.

So consider this: Some of the new cotton fabrics that are treated for better water resistance and that are engineered to dry more quickly. Orvis, for instance, sells something called the Lightweight Epic Pant, made with mid-weight cotton treated with Nextec's Epic, which covers the fibers in silicon for wind and water resistance. I'm not a huge fan of Epic in shells, but it seems to work very well in this application. One drawback: The price. These pants sell for $125 (www.orvis.com). Travelsmith sells a similar pair of pants, also made of cotton that has been treated with Epic, for $89 (www.travelsmith.com).

Beyond that, lots of synthetics now are so close to cotton in look and feel that it's very hard to tell the difference. A good example: L.L. Bean's Trail Cargo Pants ($39; www.llbean.com), made with light Supplex nylon. Light, comfortable, fast-drying, sturdy. What more could you want?

For this year's essential day-hiking threads, check out Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.

Filed To: Clothing and Apparel

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