Hiking is one of the most exhilarating outdoor activities that can lead you to see and experience the beauty that our environment has to offer. Trails unfold before you as you explore nature’s wonders, and each step immerses you deeper into the wilderness, leaving behind the noise of the modern world.
But before stepping outside, it is essential to gear up with the right clothing that will keep you comfortable and safe while backpacking or going on a thru-hike.
In this post, we will guide you in choosing the perfect hiking clothes and outdoor gear for your next adventure.
What Makes a Great Hiking Outfit?
An excellent outfit starts with the basics – a comfortable pair of pants, a lightweight hiking shirt, and good footwear that guarantee protection and comfort while hiking or trail running. In addition, the outfit should guarantee comfort, protection, and functionality for different hiking conditions you’ll encounter.
Here are some key elements that make a great hiking outfit:
- Moisture Management: Choose hiking clothing made from moisture-wicking materials that draw sweat away from your skin and help it evaporate. This will keep you dry, preventing discomfort and chafing.
- Layering Capability: Layering is essential for adapting to changing conditions and exertion levels. An excellent hiking outfit includes multiple layers that can be easily added or removed to regulate body temperature.
- Protection from the Elements: Your outfit should protect you from sun, rain, wind, and other environmental elements. This includes wearing a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and clothing with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) for sun protection, as well as a waterproof and wind-resistant outer shell for rain and wind protection e.g. gore tex jacket.
- Durability: Hiking involves rugged terrains, branches, rocks, and potential abrasions. Choose hiking clothes made from durable materials that can withstand the demands of hiking activities without tearing or wearing them out easily.
- Comfortable Fit: Your outfit should allow for a full range of motion and provide a comfortable fit. Avoid clothing that is too tight or restrictive, as it can hinder movement and cause discomfort during a long or strenuous hike.
- Quick-Drying: Opt for clothing that dries quickly to keep you comfortable if you encounter rain, river crossings, or sweat. Quick-drying fabrics prevent moisture from lingering and help regulate body temperature.
- Proper Footwear: A great outfit includes appropriate footwear that offers good traction, support, and protection for your feet. Hiking boots should fit well, provide ankle support, and be suitable for the terrain you’ll be traversing.
- Functionality and Pockets: Look for clothing with functional features such as multiple pockets for storing essentials like a map, compass, snacks, or a phone. These pockets should be easily accessible and secure.
- Insect and Tick Protection: If you’ll be hiking in areas with insects or ticks, consider clothing treated with insect repellent or wear clothing that covers your skin to minimize exposure.
- Versatility: A great outfit is versatile and can be adapted to different hiking conditions. Choose clothing pieces that can be mixed and matched to create different outfits and accommodate various climates and temperature changes.
What to Wear When Hiking
When choosing what to wear while hiking, your clothing should be based on the climate, as well as the type of hike you are embarking on.
For instance, if it is chilly you might want to opt for a long sleeve shirt or top paired with a pair of pants made with waterproof materials. Additionally, always remember to bring along layers so that you can add or take off depending on the weather changes.
For bottoms, light but durable hiking pants are recommended because they provide both breathability and protection from the elements. Look out for features such as pockets, adjustable waistband tabs, and cuffs to make sure that you have all the modification options necessary for added comfort while walking or running.
In terms of footwear, there are multiple options depending on the type of terrain, climate conditions, and personal preferences.
- Lightweight hiking shoes are a must-have for any outdoor enthusiast because they provide the right amount of cushioning and grip. Also, they are ideal for day hikes or less demanding trails with well-maintained paths.
- Hiking boots, on the other hand, provide more ankle support, making them suitable for rugged terrains, rocky trails, or backpacking trips.
- Trail running shoes are light and offer excellent grip and flexibility. While primarily designed for trail running, they can be suitable for hikers and backpackers, or even thru-hikers. They also provide good cushioning and responsiveness, but they may not offer as much ankle support as traditional hiking boots.
- Barefoot shoes are a superlight option with almost no cushioning, that allows you to “feel the trail” better. Some hikers prefer them over other options, especially for day hikes. However, for rocky trails or when coming across sharp stones, the thin soles can cause pain.
Understanding the Terrain and Climate
By understanding the terrain and weather of your hiking destination, you can make informed decisions about the type of clothing and gear you’ll need to ensure comfort, safety, and enjoyment during your adventure.
Here are the steps you need to follow:
- Research the location: Start by researching the location where you’ll be hiking. Determine the elevation, climate, and typical weather patterns for that area during your planned season. You can check this guide to understand some common hiking mistakes most people make, and how to avoid them.
- Temperature Ranges: Understand the temperature ranges you can expect during your hike, including daytime highs and nighttime lows. This information will help you determine the appropriate clothing layers to bring.
- Precipitation Levels: Check the historical precipitation levels for the hiking area. Consider the likelihood of rain or snow.
- Altitude and Exposure: Higher elevations often come with cooler temperatures and increased exposure to wind and sun. Take into account the potential impact of altitude and adjust your clothing choices accordingly.
- Terrain and Trail Difficulty: Evaluate the terrain and trail difficulty of your route. Steep and mountainous landscapes may require more durable clothing while bushwhacking or backpacking might necessitate protective layers against thorns or abrasive vegetation.
- Microclimates: Some trekking areas may have microclimates, where the weather can vary significantly within a small geographic area. Be prepared for potential microclimate changes and pack versatile outdoor clothing options to adapt to those variations.
- Seasonal Considerations: Different seasons bring different weather patterns and conditions. For example, summer hiking may require more lightweight and breathable clothing, while winter hiking demands warm and insulated layers
Understanding Key Fabric Properties
When choosing the perfect hiking clothes, it is also important to understand the different fabric properties and their individual benefits. Remember that different materials will offer varying levels of performance, durability, and comfort.
Here are some key fabric properties you should consider when selecting your apparel:
Water-Resistance – If you plan on doing a lot of hiking in rainy conditions, then you need to opt for water-resistant fabrics that will keep you dry while out on the trail. Look out for waterproof breathable membranes or DWR coatings as these features will help keep moisture at bay without sacrificing breathability.
Breathability – Wearing sweat-wicking fabrics is essential if you want to remain comfortable during your trips. Breathable fabrics such as high-grade wool, synthetic microfibers, or nylon are ideal for wicking away moisture while allowing air to pass through and regulate your body temperature.
Stretch – Choose fabrics that offer good stretch to ensure better freedom of movement when walking. Look for spandex-blended materials that comfortably fit without causing chafing or discomfort during long treks.
Durability – Fabrics that are lightweight yet durable will serve you well in the outdoors. Invest in quality materials that can hold up against wear and tear from everyday use and frequent washing.
Best Fabric Materials for Hiking Clothes
Here is a breakdown of some of the most popular fabric materials used for hiking apparel. Perhaps the most important property is a fabric’s ability to wick moisture.
Merino wool is one of the top fabrics for hikers due to its natural water-repelling properties and ability to wick away moisture from the body even when wet. This lightweight yet durable material also offers superior temperature regulation in chilly conditions while being breathable enough for hot climates. Additionally, it reduces odor, making it an ideal choice for strenuous hikes.
Synthetic material is a great choice for natural materials like wool as they offer superior levels of breathability and dry quickly. In addition, synthetic materials provide a snug fit that offers support and comfort without sacrificing movement freedom.
Polyester, for instance, is a reliable and versatile fabric for hiking clothes, offering moisture-wicking, quick-drying, durability, and lightweight properties. It is a popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts and is commonly used in base layers, shirts, pants, and outer shells for hiking adventures. It’s also used in combination with merino wool to improve durability.
Nylon is a good fabric choice due to its durability, lightweight nature, quick-drying properties, breathability, wind resistance, and Ultraviolet protection. It has a softer feel than Polyester while exceeding the durability of Polyester, however, it pills more easily. It also takes longer to dry than Polyester and both don’t wrinkle, stretch or shrink easily.
Spandex blends, also known as Elastane or Lycra, are synthetic fibers that add elasticity to fabrics. When blended with other materials like polyester or nylon, it enhances the flexibility and stretchability of the fabric. They are commonly found in hiking shorts, pants, base layers, and performance shirts.
This lightweight material is known for its excellent wicking properties and ability to keep your body temperature regulated during warm hikes. It also offers good stretchiness which allows for better mobility while walking or running outdoors. Although not very durable, polypropylene fabrics are still a great option for hikers who want to stay cool and dry during summer hikes.
Waterproof/breathable membranes, such as Gore Tex, are widely used in outer shells and rain jackets. These fabrics offer excellent waterproofing to keep you dry in wet conditions while allowing moisture and perspiration to escape, keeping you comfortable and preventing overheating.
Dressing in Layers
When it comes to hiking clothes, layering is also essential. By dressing in layers, you can regulate your body temperature and moisture levels according to the weather or your activity level to varying degrees.
Start with a moisture-wicking base layer that can quickly move sweat away from your body to keep you dry. Then, add an insulating layer such as a fleece or down jacket to provide warmth. Finally, top it off with a waterproof outer layer to protect you from heavy rain or wind. For the coldest temperatures, you can even add extra layers in between to keep you warm.
Layering: Building a Versatile Hiking Wardrobe
Remember, the key to effective layering is the ability to add or remove layers as needed to regulate your body temperature during a difficult hike. This ensures that you stay comfortable and protected throughout the journey, regardless of changing weather or activity levels.
Here’s how you can create a layered outfit:
Start with a base layer that sits directly against your skin, such as a short sleeve hiking shirt in summer and a long sleeve in cooler temperatures. Add longer-length base layer bottoms in winter. Look for synthetic blends that effectively wick sweat away from your body, keeping you dry and comfortable.
The mid-layer provides insulation and helps trap heat close to your body. Depending on the conditions, choose a mid-layer such as a fleece jacket, synthetic insulated jacket, or down sweater with long sleeves. Jackets like these provide warmth while remaining lightweight and packable.
The outer shell layer serves as protection against wind, rain, and snow. Wear a waterproof and breathable jacket with features like sealed seams and adjustable hoods to keep you dry. It should be roomy enough to accommodate layers underneath.
Opt for versatile pants that are comfortable, durable, and offer mobility and a side pocket or two. Convertible pants with zip-off legs are practical as they can be converted into shorts in hot or warm climates. Consider pants with water-resistant or quick-drying properties for rainy conditions.
Protect your head and face from the elements with a hat, cap, or beanie. Choose options that provide insulation and shield against rain or wind. Consider a neck gaiter or balaclava for added warmth in colder conditions.
Select the appropriate hiking footwear for the terrain and conditions. Ensure they fit well and provide good ankle support and traction. Pair them with cushioned hiking socks that prevent blisters and keep your feet dry in wet environments.
Don’t forget to include hiking accessories like gloves or mittens, depending on the temperature. Light gloves can provide sun protection and grip, while insulated gloves are essential for colder hikes. Consider gaiters to protect your legs and feet from debris, snow, or wet environments.
Choosing the Right Base Layer for Moisture Management
You should always select a base layer that effectively manages moisture and keeps you dry & comfortable.
Here are some factors to consider:
- Material: Look for layers made of moisture-wicking materials.
- Moisture-Wicking Properties: Check the product description or label to ensure that the base layer has moisture-wicking properties.
- Fit: The base layer should be snug enough to maintain contact with your skin and efficiently wick away moisture, but not too tight to restrict movement or cause discomfort.
- Odor Control: Some layers feature anti-odor properties, which can be beneficial during multi-day treks. Merino wool, in particular, has natural anti-microbial properties that help prevent odor buildup. Silver yarns can create a bacteria-free zone and thus prevent bad odor from developing.
- Weight and Thickness: Lightweight layers are suitable for high-intensity activities, while heavier basecoat layers provide more insulation for colder conditions.
- Seam Construction: Look for layers with flatlock seams or minimal stitching to reduce friction and irritation against your skin, enhancing comfort during long hikes.
- Sun Protection: If you’ll be hiking in sunny areas, consider a base layer with built-in UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) to shield your skin from harmful UV rays.
- Versatility: Choose a base layer that can be worn across different seasons.
- Durability: Opt for basecoat layers that are durable and long-lasting.
Protecting Your Feet: Hiking Socks and Footwear
Hiking footwear is essential for any outdoor adventure because it can make all the difference in your comfort and safety whether you’re tackling a short day outing or embarking on a longer backpacking trip. Invest in quality footwear that fits your feet well and is appropriate. Additionally, bring extra pairs of socks to keep your feet dry.
Some hikers might prefer to hike barefoot. However, you should understand the challenges of barefoot hiking before embarking on your next outdoor trip.
Opting for hiking shoes or boots comes down to personal preferences. The best footwear for you might not be the best option for someone else.
Guide to Choosing the Correct Footwear for Hiking
Keep these things in mind when choosing the best hiking footwear for your next adventure:
- Comfort: Your footwear should be comfortable and provide the right support for your feet. Make sure to try on the shoes in-store or order a size up if you are ordering online, as ill-fitting footwear can cause blisters, pain, and discomfort during hikes.
- Traction: Look for the best shoes with a deep tread pattern, as they provide a better grip on loose terrains such as mud or gravel.
- Water-Resistance: If you plan to hike in the rain, go for waterproof boots with good water-resistant features to keep your feet dry while protecting them from mud and dirt.
- Durability: Invest in quality footwear that lasts. Look for boots or comfortable shoes with a strong upper made from leather, synthetic fibers, or mesh to ensure they can withstand the elements and frequent use.
- Type of Hiking: Your choice of footwear will depend on your style of hiking. If you prefer trails with smooth terrain, opt for light footwear that provides good support. For backpacking trips or hikes on rugged terrain, invest in boots that offer more ankle support and stability. However many thru-hikers opt for super lightweight trail runners, as every gram you save on your shoes is equivalent to 3-4g less weight in your backpack.
Guide to Choosing the Correct Socks for Hiking
- Material: Choose socks made from materials like merino wool or synthetic blends to keep your feet dry by wicking away sweat, reducing the risk of blisters and discomfort.
- Cushioning: Look for socks with adequate cushioning in key areas such as the heel, toe, and sole. Cushioning provides impact absorption and reduces pressure points, enhancing comfort during long hikes.
- Arch Support: Consider socks with built-in arch support to provide stability and reduce foot fatigue. This feature can be particularly beneficial on uneven terrain or for individuals with flat feet or high arches.
- Height: Choose sock height based on personal preference and hiking conditions. Crew socks provide good coverage and protect against debris, while ankle socks offer more breathability in warm weather. Knee-high socks or gaiters can be useful for added protection in rugged or wet environments.
- Seam Construction: Opt for socks with flat or seamless toe seams to minimize friction and prevent blisters.
- Fit: Ensure that the socks fit well without being too tight or too loose. Proper fit helps prevent bunching, slipping, or rubbing, reducing the likelihood of blisters and discomfort.
- Layering: Consider using a thin liner sock under your hiking sock for blister prevention.
Men Hiking Footwear
For short day hikes, light shoes provide great support and cushioning because they are breathable, flexible, and offer a good grip on the terrain.
For backpacking trips or hikes through rough terrain, a durable pair of waterproof boots with good ankle support is recommended. Look for boots with a strong upper made from leather, mesh, or synthetic materials to ensure they can handle the elements and last for multiple hikes.
Extra features such as toe protection can be helpful when tackling rocky trails. Additionally, look for boots that have moisture-wicking lining to keep your feet dry and comfortable throughout the entire hike.
Women Hiking Footwear
When it comes to female hiking footwear, you’ll want to consider the same factors as male hikers: comfort, traction, and durability. Women’s hiking footwear should provide good arch support and cushioning while also being light enough for extended hikes.
Trail running boots are a great choice for day trips because they offer excellent grip on smooth terrain. Also, they have breathable uppers with mesh panels that keep your feet cool in the summer months. They also dry quickly when crossing streams.
If you plan to tackle rugged trails or embark on a backpacking trip, look for waterproof boots that offer extra ankle support. A deep tread pattern will provide a better grip when trekking over mud or gravel. Additionally, look for features such as moisture-wicking lining, toe protection, and breathable materials to keep your feet comfortable in all conditions.
Choosing the Correct Hiking Clothes for Each Season
The season you plan to hike plays a significant role in determining your hiking clothing. For summer, choose light outdoor clothing that offers good ventilation. In contrast, winter requires warmer clothing that provides insulation and breathability. Fall and spring hiking can mix warm and cool temperatures, so dressing in layers is essential.
Here is a breakdown of what to wear in each season.
For summer hikes, light and breathable clothing is essential. Look for hiking shirts made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester designed to wick away moisture and keep you cool in hot conditions. Additionally, opt for hiking shorts with good ventilation such as mesh panels or built-in vents to ensure maximum breathability. The best hiking shorts are quick-drying and allow you to go for a quick swim on the way as well if you come across any streams or lakes, in order to cool down from the summer heat.
UV protection is also essential when hiking in the summer months. Look for shirts and hats made with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) fabric, which blocks out harmful Ultraviolet rays. A sun cap or wide-brimmed hat can help protect your face while keeping you cooler during hikes in direct sunlight. Finally, pack a lightweight rain jacket just in case of unexpected showers on your outdoor adventure and comfortable footwear.
For spring and fall hiking clothing, layers are essential. Look for shirts and jackets with good insulation properties such as down or synthetic fill, which provide warmth without extra bulk during cooler weather. Additionally, look for materials that offer moisture-wicking technology to keep you dry throughout the day. Windbreakers can be useful when hiking in cooler temperatures as they have a lightweight design that still provides warmth in windy conditions.
For pants or shorts, choose ones with zippers for ventilation control to help regulate your body temperature on warm days while keeping you warm on cooler hikes. For cold hikes, consider adding an extra pair of waterproof overshoes to provide an extra layer of insulation and protection.
For winter hiking, investing in quality cold-weather outdoor gear is essential. Look for insulated jackets and the best hiking pants that provide warmth without extra bulk. A good pair of waterproof snow pants should keep you dry on snowy hikes. Additionally, opt for shirts made from insulating fabrics such as wool or merino wool which are light yet warm.
A synthetic fill or down jacket can be worn over a shirt for added warmth when the temperatures dip below freezing. For footwear, look for insulated boots with high ankle support and waterproof membranes to keep your feet dry and warm. Thick socks should always be worn to provide extra insulation from the cold and reduce friction between your skin and footwear. Finally, pack a beanie or balaclava for extra protection from the wind and cold.
Caring for and Maintaining Your Hiking Clothes
By following the proper care and maintenance practices, you can prolong the lifespan of your hiking clothing, keep them in optimal condition, and continue to enjoy their performance on your outdoor adventures.
Here are some tips on how to care for and maintain your clothing:
Read and Follow Care Instructions
Always check the care instructions on the labels of your clothing items. Follow the recommended washing, drying, and ironing instructions specific to each garment.
- Separate by Color and Material: Sort your clothing items by color and material and wash similar colors together to prevent color bleeding.
- Use Gentle Detergent: Choose a mild, non-fragrant, and eco-friendly detergent suitable for outdoor hiking gear. Avoid using fabric softeners as they can diminish the fabric’s moisture-wicking properties.
- Machine Washing: Turn your clothing items inside out to protect their outer surfaces. Use a gentle cycle with cold or lukewarm water, and avoid overloading the machine.
- Hand Washing: For delicate or merino wool items, hand wash them in a sink or basin using a gentle detergent.
- Air Dry: Whenever possible, air dry your hiking clothes by laying them flat or hanging them up in a well-ventilated area. Avoid direct sunlight, as it can fade colors and degrade certain fabrics.
- Tumble Dry Low: If the care instructions allow, use a low heat setting in the dryer. Remove the items promptly once they are dry to avoid excessive heat exposure.
Treat stains promptly to prevent them from setting. Use a stain remover or gentle detergent to target the stain before washing. Avoid using harsh chemicals or bleach that could damage the fabric.
Extra Clothing and Emergency Preparedness
Having extra clothing and emergency preparedness is essential for safety and comfort. Here are some considerations for packing extra clothing and emergency gear:
Layering System: Pack additional base & mid-layers, and outer shells that are suitable for the expected conditions. These layers provide flexibility and allow you to adjust your clothing as needed.
Extra Socks: Bring extra pairs of hiking socks to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. Wool or synthetic socks are preferable as they wick moisture away from the skin.
Insulating Layers: Depending on the weather and climate, pack additional insulating layers such as a down or synthetic jacket, fleece, or a light puffy vest. These layers help retain body heat during colder temperatures or unexpected drops in temperature.
Rain Gear: Carry a waterproof and breathable rain jacket and rain pants or a rain poncho. This protects you from rain, wind, and potentially hypothermic conditions.
Hat and Gloves: Pack a warm hat or beanie and gloves suitable for the anticipated weather conditions. They help retain body heat and protect extremities from cold temperatures.
Emergency Shelter: Include emergency shelter options like a lightweight tarp or an emergency bivy sack. These items can provide temporary shelter in case of unforeseen circumstances or if you need to wait out heavy rainfall or snow.
First Aid Kit: Have a well-stocked first aid kit with essential supplies for treating minor injuries or medical emergencies.
Navigation Tools: Carry a map, compass, or GPS device to help navigate in case of getting lost or disoriented. Make sure you know how to use these tools effectively.
Hiking makes for fun and exciting adventures that require proper preparation and gear, just as other outdoor activities like mountain biking or trail running.
With the right hiking clothing, you can enjoy your hiking experience while staying comfortable, safe, and protected.
Remember to dress in layers, choose the right fabric, invest in appropriate footwear, consider the season, and don’t forget the essential accessories. We hope that this guide has helped you choose the best hiking clothing for your next adventure!