A common question asked by beginner hikers is what they should wear hiking. The most important aspect of choosing hiking clothes is safety and comfort, even though a few newbies are more concerned with finding a fashionable hiking outfit.
Honestly, I’m more worried about being cool or staying warm and finding clothes that don’t rub, constrict, and or bind my freedom of movement. But hey, maybe you can use my hiking clothes recommendations to figure out what to wear on a hike and still look cute!
Trust me, you don’t have to look like you stepped out of a catalog (do people even look at catalogs anymore?), and you don’t have to spend a fortune to get good hiking clothes. Sure, premium brands have wonderful qualities, but just like buying gear, don’t let not being able to afford premium brands keep you from the trail.
One of the most important factors in deciding what you should wear hiking will be the weather. Also knowing how to properly layer your clothes is key when temperatures vary during your hike.
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What to Wear Hiking in Hot Weather
The obvious goal in deciding what to wear when hiking in hot weather is to choose clothes that will help you stay cooler (well, as cool as you can in smothering heat!), wick perspiration, and provide sun protection.
Most hikers wear a lightweight, short sleeve shirt on the trail when it is hot. As much as I love $5 Academy t-shirts, cotton shirts are not your best bet. Cotton takes forever to dry and the sweaty, wet fabric can be heavy and oppressive, making you hotter.
Confession: Sometimes I wear cotton t shirts on hikes and other outdoor adventures. Now that I have been honest with you, please continue reading my hiking clothes recommendations. Oh yeah, I have another confession about what I have worn hiking in a minute….😏
Instead of cotton shirts, choose synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. These fabrics wick sweat away and dry much faster than cotton. Ladies, check out this super affordable tee. Guys, here’s one for you too.
Lightweight wool shirts are comfy and an excellent choice. Wool doesn’t seem to hold that stinky odor that clings to synthetic fabrics, which makes it a favorite with backpackers out on the trail for days.
One disadvantage to lightweight, wool shirts is the fabric can be fragile. Backpack hip belts can rub holes in the shirts. Despite this, wool shirts are still a great addition to your hiking wardrobe.
Tank tops are another option to wear hiking in hot weather. They are available in wool and nylon/polyester performance blends too.They can also double as a warming, core layer in cooler weather. Some hikers complain about their backpack shoulder straps rubbing their skin when wearing tank tops though.
Related Hiking Post: 24 Awesome Tips for Hiking in the Heat
Do you want some protection from the sun? Choose a lightweight, long sleeve shirt. I personally prefer short sleeves in the heat, but others swear they stay just as cool or cooler in thin, long sleeves. Many performance, synthetic fabrics include UPF protection.
Convertible hiking pants are a popular choice for both men and women if your hike starts out in cooler weather. As the temperatures rise, just zip the bottom of the pants off and voila, you have shorts.
Some hikers like nylon running shorts because they are loose, comfortable, and lightweight. I like to have pockets on my shorts and pants and alot of running shorts don’t have pockets, so keep that in mind if you prefer pockets too.
I have a couple of pairs of polyester/nylon shorts that I love for hiking and kayaking. I found them at Sam’s Club for under $15.00.
A hat also helps protect you from the sun and rain. A wide brim, moisture wicking hat is a great choice. My family loves ball caps, but they do not protect your ears and neck from the sun like a wide brim hat does.
What to Wear Hiking in Winter
The main goal when choosing what to wear hiking in cold weather is to stay warm and dry. Wet clothes are not only uncomfortable, but can be dangerous in the cold.
Choose moisture wicking, synthetic or wool fabric. I know I keep repeating this. You can still sweat in the winter, and it is important that your clothes wick perspiration and remain as dry as possible.
Layering is your friend as temperatures fluctuate. It is easy to put on or take off a layer as needed. You will be warmer wearing layers than just a shirt and a heavy coat.
Start out cold and add layers if needed to help prevent sweating. Once you start sweating and get wet, it is harder to get dry and warm.
Base Layers When Hiking
A versatile, long sleeve, base layer shirt can be worn by itself, as the base layer under your fleece or jackets, and even to sleep in. Instead of old fashioned cotton thermals, opt for wool or synthetic shirts.
Moisture wicking, long sleeve, athletic shirts are also another option. These best selling shirts are cheap enough to order several in different colors.
Base layer pants are great if it is really cold when you are hiking. They are also good to sleep in. Leggings and yoga pants can double as your base layer or hiking pants.
Insulating Layer When Hiking
A fleece jacket or pullover is the next layer when you are hiking in cold weather. Fleece is available in light, mid, and heavyweight, so choose one based on how cold it will be and also take into consideration how small it will pack down.
I love fleece jackets! I wear one everyday in cool weather, hiking or not.
Another insulating layer option is a lightweight, down jacket like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer or Patagonia Nano Puffy. If it is not too cold, this can be your top layer as they are warm despite how thin they are.
Outer Layer When Hiking
Your outer layer in winter is usually a wind and water resistant jacket/coat that provides a final protective shell. This may be your down jacket, windbreaker, or heavier coat depending on the temperatures and conditions.
Synthetic down is usually cheaper and dries quicker if it gets wet. Although real down jackets and premium brands can last for years, they are also expensive.
Try a department store brand or check out this affordable down jacket (available for men and women) if you are on a tight budget.
If you are hiking in snow you will want to wear soft shell pants ( your rain pants can do double duty) or ski pants, consider gaiters, and wear waterproof boots.
The Best Hiking Pants
Many people worry about what pants to wear hiking. They often ask if they can wear leggings hiking or if they can wear their jeans.
Sure, you can wear leggings. In fact, they are pretty popular on the trail. Some hikers say they are not as durable and protective if you are hiking through a lot of brush or scrambling over rocks, but neither are shorts in hot weather. So, you decide. Plus, like I mentioned , you can wear them as a base layer or sleep pant.
Should you hike in jeans? Probably not. But I confess – I have. Jeans or any cotton pants are usually heavy, more likely to chafe, and take forever to dry if they get wet.
So when choosing what pants to wear hiking, pay attention to the material. You guessed it – synthetic materials/blends are best.
Cargo pants are great with all their pockets to stash things, but check what kind of fabric they are before buying, since many are made of cotton.
Columbia has affordable hiking pants, and you can’t beat Academy’s convertible pants that are less than $30.00 if you are shopping on a budget.
Hats and Gloves
A warm hat is extremely important when hiking in cold weather. Some people sleep in their hat when backpacking and camping in winter. A wool or fleece toboggan is an excellent choice.
Gloves are critical in protecting your fingers from frostbite in the winter. Your hands if exposed will quickly feel like they are freezing. Consider both regular fleece gloves and waterproof, insulated gloves.
Rain Gear for Hiking
Not matter what season you are hiking in, you should always bring rain gear.
Some hikers pack both rain jackets and rain pants. If you are planning on doing a long distance hike, I would take both. If you are going on a day hike or shorter trip, check the forecast. Most hikers don’t wear rain pants unless is it raining a lot.
A good rain jacket should be waterproof (not just water resistant), breathable, lightweight, and pack small.
The Best Underwear for Hiking
Your choice in underwear when hiking may seem unimportant, but think about it. You’re wearing some great moisture wicking clothes, but your cotton undies are staying soaked. Umm.
Don’t be surprised at the cost. People often ask how many of these undies you get for the price and the answer is one! Wool underwear is another option. Some best selling brands are SmartWool and Icebreaker.
Hiking Shoes and Socks
Keeping your feet comfortable when hiking is so important, and the best way to do that is to wear good hiking shoes and socks.
Wool and synthetic blend socks wick sweat, dry faster, and can help prevent blisters.
Good hiking socks can be found in low cut and boot length, depending on your preference, what kind of shoe or boot you are wearing, and what the weather will be like. Darn Tough and SmartWool are two favorites.
Some hikers swear by socks liners to protect their feet and help prevent blisters. Check these out!
Hiking Shoes and Boots
Choosing the best hiking shoe or boot will vary for each individual hiker. Sure, there are some brands that are more popular than others, but what works for one hiker may not work for the next.
I love my trail runners. Other hikers prefer a sturdy hiking boot.
Some good brands to check out are Altra, Oboz, Salomon, Keen, Hoka, and Merrill. My brother has had great success with some affordable Columbia hiking boots.
Hiking Clothes Recommendations
You really only need a few basic clothing items for hiking. Even if you are going on a multi day backpacking trip, you probably won’t be packing an outfit for every day. Just remember the importance of layering and the different fabric properties.
Now that you know what to wear hiking, it is time to get a few things ( or check your closet for clothes you already have ) and hit the trail. Just like hiking gear, everybody will like different items and brands more than others. As you hike more and expand your hiking “wardrobe”, you’ll discover your favorites.
Be sure to let me know about your favorite hiking clothes!
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