Convertible Hiking Pants Review – what’s actually fantastic?

When it comes to hiking gear it can be non-trivial to choose the right pants, shorts or some unholy combination of the two. For me, a good pair of convertible hiking pants is an absolute necessity for long-distance backpacking. Although, as the saying goes, “hike your own hike.”

Why Pants?

Sure, shorts can be appealing, especially if you have high heat output and sweat a lot. However, I live in California. I do enough bushwhacking through dense chaparral that wearing anything other than pants is just a bad idea. Why? Poison Oak.

What glorious poison oak!

There’s also ticks, sun exposure, and dense vegetation looking to pierce and puncture your skin if you give it the chance. Perhaps I like pants because I don’t sweat as much as many people. Whatever the reason, I just don’t mind having convertible hiking pants on for most weather conditions.

On a well-groomed trail, you absolutely can get away with a pair of shorts and some trail gaiters, but I’d still rather just default to pants. The main features I need when it comes to pants for backpacking:

  1. Convertible pants (for venting)
  2. Relatively quick drying
  3. Zip pocket

Why convertible hiking pants?

I almost never turn convertible pants into shorts. What I do do, however, is zip off the bottom half by about 50%. This allows the pants to mechanically vent through the opening gap you’ve created, giving you about 80% of the benefit of shorts, while also providing close to 100% of the benefit of pants (protection from brush and sun exposure). Over the 15,000+ miles of backpacking I’ve done in pants, most of those miles have been in Prana Stretch Zion Convertibles.

More recently, however, I’ve switch over to Marmot’s Transcend Convertible pants (now discontinued) as my main pants. KÜHL also contacted me in April 2024 about reviewing a pair of Renegade Cargo Convertible pants (they sent me a free pair of pants, so I’m including them in my general review). Due to a Columbia gift card I randomly had, and that I needed to replace my Marmot pants, I also ended up with a pair of Silver Ridge Convertible pants (do not ever buy these).

Summary Table

FeaturePrana Stretch ZionMarmot TranscendColumbia Silver RidgeKÜHL Renegade
Overall Rating3/54/5 (best pants so far)1/52/5
Retail Price$125(Discontinued)$70$115
How quickly they dry1/53/54/52/5
Resistance to odor4/54/51/54/5
Quality of convertible zip2/54/52/53/5
Weight15.1 oz10.85 oz9.45 oz (w/o belt)15.2 oz
General CommentsDon’t dry quickly enough.
Direction of the zipper makes pants less durable.
Pretty good pants overall.
Wish fabric were stretchier.
Do not purchase.
They smell within hours of being used.
Perfectly adequate pants.
Wouldn’t buy for backpacking.
I’d recommend the Marmot Transcend. When my current pair fails, I’ll likely try the new Marmot convertible pants that have replaced these to see how they compare

Stretch Zion Convertible Hiking Pants

Doing cobra pose wearing a pair of stretch zion pants
Cobra pose in Colorado while wearing the Stretch Zion Pants

These are the first convertible pants I ever used for long-distance hiking (Colorado Trail 2014), and I fell in love with them.

The Good

  • They’re comfortable
  • They fit okay
  • They’re the right-amount of stretchy
  • They have an integrated belt
  • Zipper pocket is conveniently located
  • They have a lot of utility, and
  • They’re pretty durable (~3000 miles of use and more as just shorts)

The most interesting feature to the pants is the integrated belt. I’ve since learned from other pants that sometimes integrated belts can vanish internally and it can be near-impossible to get the belt out again. I have not had this issue with these pants. In fact, these pants are very usable, and the integrated belt mostly works. Of course, the integrated belt does become uncinched during movement, so frequent adjustments may be necessary (e.g. running), but for backpacking the belt works acceptably!

The Bad

  • They’re heavy
  • They take a long time to dry
  • When converting the pants to shorts, the front of the pants unzip first

What kept me coming back to the Stretch Zion pants is that they have an integrated belt! One less thing to worry about. However, they don’t dry very quickly, and they’re really quite heavy. The single biggest issue, however, is that when you start to convert them to shorts, the front of the knees get revealed first, rather than the back the knees.

The main reason I use convertible pants is so that I can vent my legs by unzipping the pants 50-70% of the way. For the Stretch Zion pants, this means that trees and other brush are likely to enter through your open knee, snag the pants, and stop you in your place. Continued use of the pants like this degrades the zipper. and results in torn and shredded pants around the knee area. When this happens, I retire the pants and they become permanent shorts in my collection. At this point in my life, I will only choose to buy hiking pants that open through the back of the knee first. That is a much better design.


The belts I use with my other hiking pants adds about 1.3 oz to 2.1 oz of weight.

I also regularly use the Prana Brion pants. These are my go-to everyday pants that I wear in both professional and casual settings. They do everything from work, to around town, to climbing at the gym or crag. I love these pants for their versatility. They are not, however, my go-to hiking pants for backpacking as they do not vent. It’s unfortunate that I have never received money or free gear from Prana. I’d really love it if they sent me replacements for their shit I’ve wrecked 🙂

Marmot Transcend Convertible Hiking Pants

I didn’t go out of my way to try these pants. I never would have considered buying them. In fact, the only reason I ended up buying these pants is because I needed to! When hiking the Continental Divide Trail in 2022, I completely destroyed my Stretch Zion pants while traversing through miles of aggressive blowdowns. I also lost my sunglasses to the blowdowns. I walked into Steamboat springs half-naked, and needed some pants. The Marmot store was the only store with convertible pants in my size (28 Waist), so I grabbed them. Of note: Marmot does not have very good warranty service, so know that before buying any Marmot product.

When I switched from Stretch Zions to these pants, I was blown away!

Walking through Montana with the Marmot Transcend Convertible Hiking Pants
Marmot Transcend Convertible Pants. Somewhere in Montana.

The Good

  • They dry quickly
  • They’re comfortable
  • They fit okay
  • They’re light-weight
  • They unzip, exposing the back of the knee first
  • They’re fairly durable (~ 1400 miles of use)

Moving from Stretch Zion pants to these, I was amazed by what it felt like to have pants that dried quickly. Also, the knees opening in the other direction was a game changer — it allowed for improved venting (better heat dissipation), and also meant that I was less prone to getting stopped suddenly by brush that snagged me through the opening!

The Bad

  • The material isn’t stretchy enough
  • They’re discontinued

The one big problem with these pants is that they’re not stretchy. Unlike my Stretch Zion pants that fail due to punctures from brush material, my Marmot Transcends failed by having the crotch break open. I tore the seems when doing some high steps during rock scrambling. For the rest of my hike, I had to regularly repair the crotch with my sewing kit. My sewing did not maintain the the integrity of my pants for very long.

Other features that I’m ambivalent about: they include side zippers, so you can remove the bottom half of the pants without removing your shoes. I seldom use this feature.

Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Hiking Pants

I wanted to like these pants, I really did. The only thing to like about them, however, is that they came with a 1.3 oz lightweight belt.

Modeling the unfortunate knee opening situation for the Silver Ridge Convertible Hiking Pants
The pants convert toward the front of the knee first. Blah!

The Good

  • They dry very quickly
  • They’re light-weight
  • They come with a light-weight belt

The Bad

  • They smell terrible with very little use
  • When converting the pants to shorts, the zipper unzips the front of the pants first
  • The fit is too baggy
  • They don’t block wind well

If the pants didn’t smell so bad after very little use, I might be more into these pants. However, I can’t do it. If I use them, even casually for a day, I notice that I smell awful whenever I sit down. I have never had this happen before with anything other than a couple of synthetic-material boxer briefs that I’ve used in the past, and only after intense workouts.

It adds insult to injury that the pants unzip from the front, exposing the knee, making them prone to snags and destruction. The material doesn’t seem durable compared to the other pants in this review (although I just will never use these pants for enough miles to know for sure). All-in-all, I can’t get behind these pants. I’d even go so far as to say, “stay away from these convertible hiking pants!”

KÜHL Renegade Convertible Hiking Pants

I only have around 100 miles of use with these pants for this review, so it may be a little pre-emptive. For most pieces of gear, I aim to get at least 300 miles of backpacking use before making a definitive decision. However, I need to state that these pants were provided to me free-of-charge by KÜHL for the purpose of reviewing them.

Overall, I think the pants are fine. Their best use is probably for snowshoeing, or less-intense recreational activities. They might also be great for long, urban tourism trips where you’re packing minimal clothing for a variety of activities. They’re usable for hiking and backpacking, and perform acceptably for that. I did 40 miles of wilderness bushwhacking in Ventana, and they did what they needed to do!

The pants have also been fine for running (as shorts), use around town, and they look pretty stylish (all things considered) for a convertible pant! I’ll probably continue to use these in normal life, just not for backpacking. If you’re looking for durable, stylish pants with a mix of activities involved, these might just be for you!

The Good

  • They’re comfortable
  • They fit okay
  • They unzip, exposing the back of the knee first
  • The zipper pocket is inside another pocket

The thing that I like most about these pants is that the zipper pocket is located inside another pocket. Zipper pockets is one of the key things I look for from my hiking pants! A good zipper pocket is essential for securing my hiking wallet (ID, money, credit cards) and car keys. Having this zipper pocket more protected does a lot to assuage my concerns on backpacking trips (or long trips in general).

The Bad

  • They’re very heavy
  • They include snaps at the bottom of each pant leg. The snaps are prone to getting caught on trail debris
  • Due to bottom-of-pants snap design, pants are unlikely to be durable long-term for backpacking
  • The zipper for conversion seems likely to fail

The snaps… omg. Not good. They should not be at the bottom of the pants. They don’t improve fit, and they are the biggest weakness. A friend that joined me for my most recent-bushwhack in Ventana had to make an emergency stop at REI to grab a pair of pants for P.Oak mitigation. On the way down, he mentioned that he had a pair of old pants that kept coming unsnapped, making them terrible for hiking in. Kuhl needs to cool it with their snaps — they’re just not good.

Additionally, when I was reattaching the bottoms to the pants, the zipper came undone. I’m used to this happening as zippers fail, but never with new gear. This does not instill confidence that the zippers are going to hold up over hundreds of miles of use.

Kuhl pants snaps at the bottom of the pant leg
The snaps at the bottom of the pant leg have limited ability to improve fit, yet get caught on trail debris

Other features that I’m ambivalent about: the pants include side zippers. This means that you can remove the bottom half of the pants without removing your shoes. I seldom use this feature.

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