For as long as I’ve been hiking, finding trail pants that really fit has been a fruitless endeavor. A trip to the REI dressing room with potential options typically ends one of three ways: with too-baggy bottoms that make me look like a dad on vacation; with yet another pair of restrictive, sweat-trapping leggings; or with lots of tears and empty-handed. Whichever outcome, I’m left feeling ashamed of my body and cursing whatever genetic combination resulted in an extra-large butt being attached to a medium frame.
While curvy celebrity queens like Beyoncé and plus-sized outdoor stars like Mirna Valerio have helped turn my source of middle school insecurity into my biggest asset (pun intended), the outdoor clothing industry has been slow to catch up. Major brands like Patagonia and Marmot only recently began carrying extended sizes, and even so, finding active pants for curvy people that aren’t leggings is nearly impossible. Spandex can be a passable solution, but leggings often leave me swampy in all the wrong places, and I’ve torn holes in more than a few pairs trying to heft myself over deadfall.
Like many women, my problem isn’t necessarily one of size but of proportions. Pants that fit my derriere are almost always too large in the waist or too long in the leg because they are cut “boy-style”—that is, for bodies without hips. This is mostly due to the clothing industry’s habit of scaling up—using a small or medium sample and increasing proportionally for larger sizes. It’s almost as if no one told them that not all women are shaped the same.
And ill-fitting clothes aren’t just uncomfortable—they also lead to some real inconveniences. One of my too-tight pairs of pants tore right down the butt seam on day two of a five-day backpacking trip. While I appreciated the extra ventilation, the location was less than ideal. On another occasion, my ultra-baggy, too-long pair ripped along the hem, caught on my boot, and sent me tumbling face-first into a tree.
I had resigned myself to languish in the often pocketless, less breathable, beltloop-less, skintight world of leggings forever. That is, until I slipped on a pair of Fjällräven’s High Coast Lite Trousers. I audibly gasped when I was able to pull them over my thighs, then full-on whooped when I looked in the mirror. No stuffed-sausage effect. No extra-long hems dragging beneath my heels. Not even the dreaded waist gap. They didn’t just fit—I looked good.
A year later, after testing everything from hiking-specific leggings to “curvy” performance denim, these are still the best-fitting and most functional pants I own. They are my year-round hiking pants, my “I don’t feel like wearing pants” pants, my “look cute at the grocery store because Covid dating is hard and I might just meet my soul mate in the produce aisle” pants. Fjällräven markets the High Coast Lites as summer trail-to-town travel pants, and once I can get on a plane again, you can bet they’re coming with me there, too.
The High Coast Lites are snug through the thighs—they hug my curves but don’t squish them—and are tapered through the leg for a flattering fit. The internal elastic cord at the waist stretches with me when I’m bloated from my period or a pre-hike carbo-load. There are five functional pockets, including a zippered one on the leg that I use to carry a compass, keys, or a small knife, and rear snap pockets that can accommodate my oversized wallet. The pants come in color- and gender-neutral black, gray, and navy blue—no Grandma’s khaki or blinding neon pink here.
Unlike many hiking pants made from unforgiving nylon, the High Coast Lites’ polyamide-elastane blend is as stretchy as leggings yet light as air—it rivals my comfiest pajamas but is more suited to the outdoors. The fabric is also moisture-wicking and dries lightning fast. I’ve worn them on sweaty summer backcountry romps and trudges through thigh-deep winter snow with a base layer underneath, and they have never stayed wet long enough to bother me. Their quick-drying properties prevent them from stinking up quickly. They’ve held their color and shape over hundreds of miles and dozens of washes. Perhaps most impressively for an ultralight fabric—the size 6/8 weighs a feathery nine ounces—my pair doesn’t have a single hole, tear, or fray despite plenty of bushwhacking and rock scrambling.
Even as shorts, the High Coast Lites are a dream. While the pants cinch at the bottom and can be pulled up to mid-shin in hot weather, for superior ventilation I did something I’d never dreamed of and wore the shorts iteration on a sweltering three-day backpacking trip. While shorts usually mean chafe city for my thighs, the adequate coverage and slim yet forgiving fit meant these didn’t ride up once. I can now confidently leave my baby powder behind when I head into the backcountry during the summer.
Every person of any size, proportion, and gender deserves to feel comfortable and confident when recreating. And the industry still has a long way to go. (It’s important to note that the High Coast Lites only go up to women’s size 18; I’d love to see larger sizing to accommodate more body types.) Hopefully, the High Coast Lite’s superior fit is the sign of a larger trend and more brands will catch on that the rate of your metabolism shouldn’t determine your access to technical, high-performance clothing. Until then, I’ll keep wearing these wonderful pants and dreaming of a day when no one has to leave a dressing room in tears.
Lead Photo: L. Thurman