How To Choose the Best Rock Climbing Pants

Climb more comfortably with the right pants for the conditions.

The honest truth? The best rock climbing pants are the ones you feel good in. In fact, America’s pioneering climbers, including Yosemite legends like Yvon Chouinard and Warren Harding, were partial to canvas workman’s pants, thrift store slacks, and painter’s pants—anything that let them move freely.

That said, when you’re really pushing your limits, it can make a big difference to have rock climbing pants that fit well, stretch with you, and protect your legs from bumps and scrapes. Then there’s the matter of weather resistance. If you’re on a wall for extended periods of cruddy weather, hypothermia is a real concern. The best rock climbing pants for rainy or snowy climates are made with water-repellent coatings or quick-drying materials—something you’ll be hard-pressed to find in garden-variety jeans and leggings.

Rock climbing pants today come with a number of features to improve comfort and mobility on the wall. To help you choose the best rock climbing pants for your needs, we’ll go over the following in this guide: 

  • Common Materials 
  • Features to Look For 
  • Fit Considerations

Common Materials 

Rock climbing pants contain a variety of materials, each with its pros and cons. Many fabrics contain a blend of two or more materials for a wider range of characteristics.


One of the original climbing pant materials, cotton provides amazing breathability. Cotton fabrics also tend to have some stretch and good tear resistance, especially when woven into a canvas or denim. Cotton pants are also easy to wash and dry and don’t retain odors over time. The biggest downside of cotton-based pants, however, is that they absorb water and are slow to dry, which could leave you chilled in a damp environment. And if you’ve ever watched the knees blow out of your favorite pair of jeans, you’ll be familiar with cotton’s other downside: It’s prone to wear and tear over time.


Nylon is used in a lot of climbing gear, from your rope to your harness. It offers some stretch and good durability, especially when it’s densely woven. Some drawbacks: Nylon absorbs water—not nearly as much as cotton, but more than polyester—and can be slow to dry. Nylon also tends to retain body odor and doesn’t breathe as well as cotton.


Polyester is another common ingredient in rock climbing pants. It’s strong and abrasion-resistant. While it performs similarly to nylon in most cases, polyester does repel water instead of absorbing it. Like nylon, polyester is prone to getting stinky after a few wears, and it’s not as breathable as cotton. Bonus: Polyester is easier to recycle than nylon, so you’ll likely see some options that contain recycled polyester.


Softshell refers to woven synthetic fabric. As the name suggests, it’s softer than a conventional hardshell fabric, but provides some (not total) wind resistance and water repellency. Softshell pants tend to be lightweight and stretchy and abrasion resistant, and are a good option for technical terrain in variable conditions. Many also come with a brushed or fleece liner, which can make them a great choice for winter climbing.

Spandex or Elastane

Elastane (sometimes referred to as its brand name Spandex) adds stretch. On its own, elastane is not very durable—just think about how easily leggings tear when they snag on a sharp rock. However, elastane is a great addition to a blended fabric, in which other materials provide durability and elastane provides the stretch.

DWR (Durable Water Repellent) Treatment

Many climbing pants come with a chemical treatment that repels water. Keep in mind that DWR is most effective when it’s new: After several washes and a little abrasion, the coating will begin to wear off. When possible, look for “PFC-free” or “short-chain” DWRs, which are less toxic to the environment. And if you don’t plan to do any wet-weather climbing, consider purchasing pants without a DWR coating at all. 

A close up image of a pocket on orange pants.

Features to Look For 

These days, rock climbing pants are designed with everything from clever fit fixes to climber-friendly pockets. Here’s what to keep an eye out for. 

Cuff Cinches

Elastic loops that run through the hem of each pant leg and cinch around your ankles. They keep excess fabric out of the way of fancy footwork. 


A must for keeping phones and snacks at hand. Zippers add weight but keep items secure during acrobatic moves. Tip: Make sure back pockets don’t have buttons or snaps, which can dig into your rear on rocky seats. 

Thigh Pocket

A long pocket, usually zippered, running the length of the thigh. Should extend downward or backward from the zipper so it’s accessible while hanging. (Check that it fits your phone.)

Harness-compatible Waist

A waist band designed to lay flat and sit above the waist belt of a harness.  

Integrated Waistband Cinch

A built-in cord or belt that cinches to keep your waistband in place. A lower-profile alternative to belt loops.   

Gusseted Crotch

A triangular, rectangular, or diamond-shaped swatch of fabric sewn into the crotch. Boosts durability and freedom of movement.

Articulated Knees

Knees sewn on a curve to give pants a natural bend. Improves durability and lets the pants move more naturally during high steps.

Reinforcement Patches

Extra fabric sewn over the knees, butt, or hems. Boosts durability at high-wear points.

Brush Holder

A fabric or elastic loop, usually along the flank, to hold a small bouldering brush. 

Fit Considerations for Rock Climbing Pants 

There are few activities that demand you use your legs to their full range of motion in the way that rock climbing does. Fit is critical. Too tight, and you could find pants restricting you in the middle of a high-step move. Too loose, and they could bunch up under your harness or make it hard to see your feet. 

How to Tell if They Fit

Climbing pants should feel trim but not tight. They should offer a good protection from the rock and the elements while feeling light enough to move in easily. If you plan to climb in cold weather and wear baselayers, also make sure you’ve got enough room to fit a thin wool or synthetic legging underneath.

The waistband should be relatively low-profile. Ideally, the waistband should sit above where your harness usually rests (otherwise you could end up with hip chafing). The waistband should stay in place without digging into your sides.

If you’re on the taller side, you may want a longer inseam so that your pants don’t hike up over your ankles when you hang in a harness. If you’re shorter, look for a shorter inseam or make sure you can roll your pant legs up if needed to see your footwork. 

Tips for Trying on Climbing Pants 

Standing in a dressing room is a poor simulation of climbing. Before you buy a pair of rock climbing pants, try out these moves: 

  1. The wide stem: Step your legs as wide apart as you can in both a front-to-back direction and side-to-side. If your pants stop you before you can get to your max range, they might be too tight or lack stretch. 
  2. The high step: Stand on one leg and lift your knee as high as you can. If your pants are uncomfortably tight at that bend or you feel like you’re going to pop the seam in the crotch, you might need a stretchier fabric, a gussetted crotch, or more knee articulation.
  3. The stationary jog: Run in place for a minute. If your pants start to slip down your hips, they might be too loose. If they feel chafey or hard to move in, you may want a softer, thinner, or stretchier fabric. Remember, a big part of outdoor climbing is hiking to the crag. Make sure your pants are up for all the adventures you’ll put them through.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.