Convertible Pants – Twice as Good or Double Trouble?

Should You Pack Convertible Pants for Walking and Hiking Vacations?

Before my first group walking tour to Turkey with Walking Adventures International, I bought convertible pants. I could zip off the legs if the weather turned warmer during our days out walking, or put them back on before we toured a mosque. Many of my fellow travelers also wore convertible pants. I asked whether they ever converted them and the answers ran the gamut from "Never," to "All the time." Are convertible pants really worth the extra cost and the complications?

Shorts vs. Capri-Length Convertibles

Convertible Pants - Shorts vs. Capris
Wendy Bumgardner

What length do you want your pants to convert to -- capris, shorts, what length of shorts? Some models are triple converters, with zippers to convert to capri and again to shorts.

  • Where Do the Zippers End Up?: Well-designed convertible pants shield the zippers from rubbing against your skin. But the hem of the shorts still contains a zipper and that bit of bulk can be uncomfortable if it hits you in just the wrong spot, such as your knee. They may also be uncomfortable for sitting if they hit you at the wrong point of the thigh.
  • How Tight Are the Legs?: Because you will have a zipper at the bottom of the shorts, you may want a looser fit in the thigh and at the knees.

What Fabric?

Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Walkers
Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

For walking and hiking, you want fabrics that can dry quickly from sweat, rain, or after hand-washing while traveling. Many convertible pants come in quick-drying nylon blends, but you may prefer cotton or canvas.

  • Does the fabric have some stretch to it? A little spandex in the blend can help ease of motion.
  • A quick-drying fabric is essential if you want to wash them out at night and hang dry by morning.
  • Water-repelling: I found a pair by Mountain Hardwear that had a durable water-resistant finish that was effective at shedding light rain. This gave me triple-duty pants as I could ​wear them on rainy walks.
  • Do they have the right look for your travel plans? I have a black pair that works well as casual slacks for dining, etc. The khaki color of the same model looks more like hiking pants.

Ease of Converting - Those Darn Zippers

Walkers with Convertible Pants and Umbrella
Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

It's no good to buy convertible pants and not be able to easily convert them. Some pants convert with a roll tab rather than a zipper. That eliminates the problem of zippers (and possibly losing your zipped-off pant legs). But with roll-tabs, you still need to test whether the rolled-up legs are comfortable.

  • Ease of Use: Before you buy, practice zipping them on and off. They don't come with an instruction manual! I have a pair that color codes left vs. right legs so I don't have to use trial-and-error to get them back to the correct leg. But I have to put on my reading glasses to see the zipper ends and get them lined up.
  • Vertical Zippers: It's useful to have side zippers on the bottom of the pants for ease of taking them off without having to take off your shoes. That's handy for quick decisions when you are out and about. But those extra zippers add additional bulk and often increase the price. They are also one more place where you need to test the comfort of having zippers.
  • Weak Link: Zippers can stick, break, or are complicated to use. Before you take only a pair of convertible pants on a journey, consider what will happen if you can't reattach the legs due to zipper failure, or (horrors) losing the legs you thought you stashed securely!

Fit, Fit, Fit

If your pants don't fit right in the waist and crotch, you won't be comfortable and you shouldn't buy them. They also need to fit comfortably in the thigh, knee, and calf for both walking and sitting.

  • Rise: Are you comfortable with where the waistband hits your waist or hips? Does it have elastic or belt loops so you can adjust the fit?
  • Leg length: Do the pants come in the right length so you don't end up with high-waters or extra fabric?
  • Leg closure: Often the bottom of the legs feature drawcords or elastic for hikers to use to keep out insects and dust. They may have ankle or leg zippers to help get the pants on over shoes and boots. Those can be useful, but also make it difficult to tailor the pants if they are too long.
  • Relaxed or close fit: Do you have enough room in the legs and calves, or do you prefer a closer fit?


Mountain Hardwear Convertible Pants
Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

Where are the pockets and are they the right size for what you want to carry along? I bought the same model of pants (I thought) and they had different pocket configurations. Often convertible pants have cargo pockets on the legs in addition to front and/or back pockets. Are they where you want them? Are they big enough for your mobile phone, wallet, passport? Do they close the way you want (zipper, hook-and-loop, button?)

REI Sahara Convertible Pants with No-Sit Zips

These pants convert to shorts length (7-inch inseam). They feature "no-sit zips" on the removable legs, which are vertical zippers on the sides of the legs so you can zip them off without sitting and removing your shoes. They have color-coded zippers so you don't have to guess which leg to reattach. I bought a pair after trying on numerous other designs. I like them for the front, back, and leg pockets. These pants come in men's, women's, plus sizes, tall and petite lengths.

ExOfficio BugsAway Ziwa Convertible Pants

These nylon/spandex pants keep away bugs with Permethrin incorporated into the fabric, which should last through 70 washings. They convert to 10-inch shorts. They come in both men's and women's sizes and petite, regular and tall lengths. The women's version has a high rise. They have both zip and drop-in leg pockets, hand pockets, and an inner security pocket. There are side zippers on the bottom hem of each leg for easy-on/easy-off over boots.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.