How to Choose Hiking Pants for Sailing

We will break down how to choose hiking pants for sailing as well as why you should wear them and who needs them.

The main advantages of battened hiking pants on dinghies are:

  • Leg comfort
  • Allow you to hike further out
  • Allow you to hike longer
  • More directly translate body movement (energy) to the boat

Why Wear Hiking Pants?

Sailing a dinghy sailboat upwind requires you to keep the boat from healing and kept basically flat (as horizontal as possible) to stay fast. This is ‘hiking out’.

As the wind increases, more of the crew’s body weight must move to windward, out and away from the boat.  This is aided by hiking straps which run fore and aft in the cockpit in the center or near the centerline of the boat.  Hooking your feet under these when hiking out over the gunwale of the boat keeps you attached to the boat while allowing you to lean out farther to hold the boat flat.  The harder the wind blows, the harder you need to hike or project your body out and away from the boat.  The term for this type of hiking is called Straight Leg Hiking. It requires physical strength and can be painful as the deck’s edge pressures the backside of your thighs.

Enter battened hiking pants.  While they come in many styles, the concept is universal. Multiple stiff battens that have a padded covering are held in place along the back side of the thighs.  This spreads the weight load over a much wider area making hiking much less painful.  Additionally, the battens serve to “extend” the deck outward, supporting your legs up and out.  This helps keep your buttocks from drooping and out and away from the boat, thus projecting more weight out and keeping the boat flat.

APS is the World Leader in Outfitting Sailors.  Shop our:
– Hiking Pants

When might you wear Hiking Pads?

If there is enough (or anticipated) sustained wind that will require you to straight leg hike, it is best to wear them.  If it is expected to be light winds all day, leave them on shore.

Styles and Materials of Hiking Pants

Hiking pants are universally made of neoprene, so they will add insulation, and in warm weather can be a bit hot at times, or in colder weather contribute to keeping you warm.  Depending on the style of the suit you can determine how much or little the pants or suit will insulate you.  Some pants are made with a perforated neoprene that allows heat and sweat to escape and are popular for warm weather sailing.

Besides insulation, neoprene offers unique features making it the best material for hiking pants.  The stretch of the material provides for freedom of movement.  The ‘second skin fit’ of the pants or suit makes it not bulky and less likely to catch on the boat and rigging.  The firmness of the material keeps the battened pads in place.  Lastly, the neoprene provides the wearer padded protection from bumps and bruises.

Short Hikers

These are designed for hot weather sailing and minimize the amount of insulating neoprene covering your body.  They do not offer knee protection which is a real consideration – covered knees are highly recommended.  They do not have suspenders to keep them up but rely on a waist belt system. This style can feel bulky and a bit restrictive when bending over, but they are less likely to overheat you when it is really hot out.

Pant Hikers

Similar to the shorts, these are good for warm weather sailing as they do not cover your chest/core and trap heat.  The longer cut offers knee pad protection and generally more padding from bruises down your legs.  Again, these rely on a waist belt system which can feel bulky and a bit restrictive when bending over.

¾ Hikers

These are by far the most popular style of hiking pants.  The best feature with these is the integral suspends that keep the pants (and pads) in place all day long, and allow you to customize the fit by adjusting their length.  There is no bulky waist belt and protects your knees.  These are sometimes worn on top of a skiff or steamer wetsuit for cold weather sailing.

Skiff & Steamer Wetsuits

If you are sailing in cold or frigid conditions, you may want to add Leg Sleeve hiking pads to your existing sailing wetsuit – See Leg Sleeve in the next section of this article.

Types of Battened Pads

Battened pads for hiking pants consist of 3-5 stiff fiberglass battens that have a padded exterior (sewn of molded) that creates a single pad (one for each leg).  However, there are three different ways the pads are held in place.  Proper placement is below the buttocks (not touching so as not to chafe) and at least a few inches above the crease in the back of your knee.  If they are too long they will hamper your movement and can rub your skin raw.


These are permanently sewn to the hiking pants – usually the exterior.  The advantage is that they are integral to the pants and can’t move around – twist around your thigh or move up or down your thigh.  Some sailors feel this is best, but it does require that the pants position the pads in the proper place as is.  If not, you will need to look at the other two options.


Velcro in Place

These are loose pads that have Velcro strips on one side.  They work with hiking pants that have a soft Velcro loop finish on the inside.  To place them, simply turn the neoprene pants inside out and Velcro the pads directly to the inside of the suit where you would like them.  Try the suit on, and readjust the pad placement as needed.  Depending on the length of your legs, and the width of the deck, you can place the pads exactly where they provide the best performance.

Leg Sleeve

These are stretch material tubes that have a pocket to insert battened pads.  The hiking sleeve is independent of pants and slides up your leg and into place around your thigh.  Like the Velcro in Place pads, these allow you to place the pads specifically where you want them to sit on your legs.  They in effect turn any sailing wetsuit into hiking pants. Be sure you are wearing a wetsuit designed for sailing with reinforced seat and back of legs.

Note that depending on how tightly the hiking sleeves fit your legs, and how snug your wetsuit is on top of them, leg sleeves may need to be adjusted occasionally during a long day of sailing to keep them exactly in place.  If the other two types of battened pads don’t fit you well, leg sleeves allow for the widest range of fit options as they come in many different sizes (circumferences) and with correspondingly sized pads.

With all of the different types and styles of pants and pads, you are sure to find a comfortable fitting pair.  Call our customer service if you need help finding the best hiking pants for you.

APS is the World Leader in Outfitting Sailors.  Shop our:
– Hiking Pants

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