You’ve heard the rumors. Cotton, while a favorite choice for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its inherent comfort and breathability, is not an ideal fabric for hiking. But a community of denimheads begs to differ, and proclaims that their favorite jeans have as much of a place in the great outdoors as any high-tech textile.
Hall of Fade’s Keat Chan is a major proponent of hiking in denim, and organizes “denim hikes” with other blue jean enthusiasts in an effort to prove the skeptics wrong, and continue the love for his favorite fabric even while journeying in the rugged wilderness. Chan’s denim hikes have ranged from conquering the mountains of Thailand to camping Cliffside in Australia to a walk in the Taman Negara nature reserve, a protected Malaysian rainforest. Chan embarks on these non-profit excursions not only to promote community building, but also to demonstrate the unknown benefits of hiking in cotton.
Denim has one key quality that makes it extremely appealing to outdoorspeople — durability. Whether wading through brambles and tall grass or sitting on a log by a campfire, denim stays snag free and repels rough elements like no other textile. Indeed, Chan said his inspiration to hike in denim originated from the textile’s rugged nature. If the fabric was good enough for miners and cowboys, it must be good enough for hikers. Of his crew of denim-clad trekkers, Chan says, “Our legs are protected from branches and mozzies while we’re trudging around in style.”
Speaking of style, long-term backpackers point out that jeans are great to travel with because they double as both a fashion and function garment. If travelers choose to carry only one pair of pants, they might choose jeans over hiking pants, since your favorite Levi’s are fit for both a night in the woods and a night on the town.
Some discourage wearing denim hiking because the fabric absorbs moisture, and can become cold and heavy when wet. Another way to look at it? If you’re caught in a rainstorm, you’ll likely be running for shelter no matter what. And Chan says jeans are actually remarkable on hikes for their temperature regulating abilities.
“You’ll be walking through terrain that is sometimes barren and hot, then in the shade amongst the tropical trees and streams, followed by an ascent up a mountainside where the air becomes less humid and cold,” he said. And depending on the type of weave, denim can offer extreme flexibility in a varying climate, especially given the vast and unknown possibilities in the wild. Chan elaborated, “[Denim] provides warmth when you need it, breathability when you most desire it, and durability when you’ve never considered it.”
He says his most memorable denim hike was an outback excursion in Canberra, Australia, in which his trekking group climbed 31 mountains and knolls in 12 days, all whilst clad in their their beloved blues. Denim provided a “thick skin” on the trip — literally and figuratively — giving Chan protection from dangerous arachnids that found warmth inside of his sleeping bag, and serving as a comfort when the group was confronted by challenging heights and long, arduous days on the trail. Chan said of the journey, “It was a tough trip, but I would do it all over again in a heart beat.” And, of course, in his favorite pair of blue jeans.