It’s only natural to have questions about what to wear hiking when you first take to the trail. Regarding your first few hikes, we suggest you head out in whatever is comfortable but don’t forget a hiking jacket, phone, and water.
However, as your hikes lengthen and you delve deeper into the wild, you’ll need some solid fundamentals. It’s a good idea to have a smart strategy regarding clothes. The most basic fundamental layers are crucial for temperature management and aid in protection from the elements.
Good quality clothes can differentiate between a good day and a bad one. Cold weather, rain, sunburn, or bugs will ruin any unprepared hiker’s day. In the last few years of hikes around the world, we’ve experienced various climates. In this post, we share our favorite tips and clothes for what to wear hiking.
Tips On What to Wear Hiking
Make Your Plans
Regarding what to wear hiking, you don’t need everything on this hiking attire list as it all depends on where you’re trekking, the season, your personal preference, and the route aspects.
Every hike, run, scramble, or mountaineering objective starts with the planning phase. Walking through the forest to a waterfall in the summer is not the same as summiting a mountain in the winter. We make last-minute checks on the weather the day before and the morning of any hike and pack accordingly.
We research the route and understand what kind of terrain we will face. It’s a good idea to know the route’s topography and check the weather forecast. Mountain Forecast and Windy is a great resource to check the weather, which forecasts temperatures, precipitation, and wind speeds at various elevations.
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone who has spent time in the wilderness or mountains can say that your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. The clothing aims to help regulate your body temperature, protect elements, and manage moisture.
All of that is best done through a layering system. The layering system may not be as important for short hikes at low elevations in the summer, but since many hikes in the mountains occur at elevation, hikers often face cold temperatures.
As you venture further into the wilderness areas, the risk of a night outside also presents a greater threat, so additional layers are paramount to a safe hike. You do not want to spend a night in the wilderness without some basic forms of protection.
Chose The Right Materials
While layers help manage moisture, the choice of material is equally important. Synthetic materials dry fast thanks to their moisture-wicking qualities. In cool weather like the mountains, if clothes aren’t dry when you come to a stop, you’ll develop a chill fast.
While in hot and humid climates, wet clothes encourage the growth of bacteria and present various hygiene issues. It’s best to avoid cotton as it is slow to dry and heavy. However, the cotton rule can be broken when hiking in the desert heat. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester are breathable, wick moisture away, and durable.
For a more natural choice, try wool or canvas. While it is more cost-prohibitive, wool fabrics are amazing and offer great comfort and performance. The best thing about wool is that it’s not a petroleum-based product. If possible, opt for recycled, Bluesign certified, or natural fabrics.
Invest In Your Hiking Attire
Price tags on quality gear can be eye-watering. However, the investment often pays off in performance and longevity. Cheap items often have a shorter life and thus end up in the landfill sooner. It only adds to consumerism and waste, much like fast fashion. Our favorite outdoor brands are vehemently against this and regularly work to keep their products on their customers’ backs.
The environmentally conscious approach is to purchase quality goods that will last for many seasons and thousands of miles. Check out your local sporting goods consignment store if you’re on a budget.
Do You Need New Hiking Clothes?
The short answer is NO. A lot of this stuff you probably already have at home. Things like wool socks, underwear, and sunglasses are all things I imagine everyone has at home. I’ve added recommendations on what we currently use during hikes. Of course, there are hundreds of comparable products.
We’ve tried to balance all quality gear for performance and value. I recommend several vital fundamentals for everyone, like a decent shell/rain jacket and comfortable boots/shoes.
What to Wear Hiking Checklist
- Sports Underwear
- Wools Socks
- Thermal Layers
- Performance Shirt
- Mid Layer
- Shell Jacket
- Down Jacket
- Hiking Shorts
- Hiking Pants
- Trail Running Shoes
- Hiking Boots/Shoes
- Buff Headband
Ensure you protect your eyes from the sun. Since hiking is an outdoor activity, it’s essential to wear UV protection. UV strength is increased when you’re at elevation or near reflective surfaces such as water or snow. This is important at high altitudes where vegetation is sparse, and UV rays are intense.
There are many sunglasses options, and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to ensure they have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Our favorites are the Smith Lowdown 2 and Knockaround Premium Sport sunglasses for hiking.
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You should pack at least one type of hat to give an added layer of sun protection. We commonly use a ball cap, but a well-designed sunhat with a wide brim is most effective.
It’s all a matter of personal preference. On a sunny day, you’ll see a lot of sun on the trail, so it’s important to protect yourself. My favorite hats are the LoPro Trucker hats from Patagonia.
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It’s best to wear underwear that wicks away moisture from your body for multiple reasons. The first is that moisture pulls away heat from your body when you’re in cold temperatures. However, more importantly, it keeps you dry in hot weather and reduces the risk of chafing or discomfort. It’s also antimicrobial, which is super important.
I know chafing might sound a little comical, but it’s a real risk when the distance starts to add up — just ask any endurance athlete. For men, I have a couple of pairs of Smartwool wool boxer briefs I’ve been hiking with for years now. For women, it’s about personal preference, but the Patagonia Barely wool underwear comes in both bikini and thong versions.
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We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of socks. You will want to keep your feet dry while walking around. Most importantly, wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
Try to avoid cotton socks as they are known to cause blisters since they slip, rub, and hold moisture. My favorites are Darn Tough merino socks, and my feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont! We also love Smartwool and Farm To Feet!
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This is specific to winter hikes and went temperatures dropping below freezing. In general, we do not wear thermals. If the temperature is above freezing, you’ll be too hot. It’s an essential item if you’re in alpine conditions while hiking, snowboarding, scrambling, or camping.
We recommend that base layers fit snug and are made from a noncotton material like nylon or wool. We’ve had a lot of baselayers, but our favorites are wool base layers from Helly Hansen and Smartwool.
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I love to wear a comfortable shirt on hot days made from a performance fabric that handles sweat. You should look for a fabric that is lightweight, breathable, and has quick-dry qualities, such as merino wool, nylon, or polyester.
We’ve tried a ton of hiking shirts, but we think the Outdoor Research Echo Shirts are a great value. They have long-sleeve, short-sleeve, and tank top options, but I wear long-sleeve shirts more these days for added UV protection.
Try a wool-based shirt if you’re on the fence about synthetics. They’re more comfortable than synthetic shirts and perform equally well. The only negative to wool shirts is their price. If you’d like to learn more, we have a post on our favorite hiking shirts.
Shop For Outdoor Research Echo Shirt
On the trails, you often come across cold temperatures in the mountains. A comfortable sweater is a great way to remain warm in the mornings and evenings. A comfortable sweater or mid-layer is a great way to remain warm in the mornings and evenings.
There are a couple of options for hiking mid-layers. You can choose a fleece, thermal, down jacket, or softshell jacket. It depends on what you find comfortable and the weather on the trail. We have a multitude of mid-layers.
The mid-layer is the one piece of hiking clothing that does not have to be technical. A hiking-specific mid-layer will perform better. However, it’s easy to get by with a comfy fleece or flannel shirt. There are also a plethora of hiking-specific mid-layers that blend insulation and technical shells together. One that stands out, in particular, is the super popular Arc’teryx Atom.
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There are only a few items we recommend everyone has, and one of them is a down jacket. A down jacket is a staple for travel and outdoor activities as it’s versatile. They pack down and fit easily in a backpack. However, despite their lightweight nature, they can offer a lot of warmth.
We always recommend you bring a down jacket on any hiking trip. When dealing with the mountains and vast temperature shifts, it’s a great way to keep warm without eating up too much space in your hiking backpack.
My favorite down jacket is the Arc’teryx Cerium, as it manages to blend the perfect balance between lightweight, performance, style, and fit. No matter the month or season, it’s always down jacket season in the mountains!
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The essential article of clothing for hikers is the shell jacket. You have two options for shell jackets, and it is a good idea to have both as it depends on the climate. One option is a sturdy multi-layer rain jacket, and the other is a lightweight windbreaker.
They’re both great items on the trails, as the shell jacket protects you from the wind and rain. If there is a chance of rain or cold weather on the trail, we always pack GoreTex shell jackets.
We have a couple, but I love my Arc’teryx Zeta FL Jacket for its lightweight construction and performance. Arc’teryx makes the best outdoor apparel on the market, but expect it to come with the highest price tag. Other great options that are far more affordable are the Patagonia Torrentshell and the REI Drypoint.
A lightweight windbreaker is great for those warmer days where a chance of rain looks unlikely. They can help you out in a pinch against a surprise shower, chill, or even hordes of insects. A light windbreaker also packs down small and fits easily in a backpack.
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A great pair of shorts are self-explanatory for keeping yourself cool on a hot hiking day at lower elevations, and on warm weather days, we love a pair of hiking shorts. Of course, it all depends on the terrain and landscape, as sometimes a pair of hiking pants can remain cool while protecting your legs from thick brush or rocks when scrambling up a trail.
You don’t need to get too fancy with shorts, as athletic shorts will do the trick. I spend most of my days hiking in shorts. They are far more agile uphill and less likely to snag on branches or rocks. My personal favorite as we get more into trail running is the Arc’teryx Aptin shorts.
Hiking Short Recommendations
Lightweight pants made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when hiking as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos and branches.
Lightweight pants made from synthetic material are tremendous to wear for hikes. It’s what we wear most days when hiking as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos and branches.
There are two different hiking pants that we love to wear on our travels the Keb Trouser from Fjallraven and Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants. The most versatile would have to be Outdoor Research pants that are lightweight, look great, and are extremely comfortable. We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a staple, but they are heavyweight, not great for quick dry properties, and extremely durable. If you want to mix it up, you can opt for hiking leggings — Tasha loves those!
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This is one of those obvious things that is easy to forget at home. I like the simplicity of a canvas belt that has a locking buckle. I’ve had one that’s lasted almost four years without any issues.
Canvas belts treated us well, but we’ve now opted for a Jelt belt. Jelt is a B-corporation based out of Montana that creates elastic belts from recycled bottles. The belts are tremendous for physical activities as they are slim, lightweight, and comfortable.
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We have a collection of buff headbands and bring them everywhere. They’re great for many reasons, such as sun/wind protection, a scarf, a headband, or an ear warmer.
We always have one in the backpack no matter the hike and consider it one top hiking accessories. I imagine most people have one or two of these by now!
As I’ve said before, cold evenings and nights are frequent at elevation, so a nice beanie to keep your head warm is always nice to have in your pack. It’s small, and covering your ears is one of the best ways to warm up.
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Heavy winter gloves are not necessary on the average hike, but a lightweight pair is great for those prone to cold hands. If you’re trekking in cold temperatures, consider a pair of lightweight and weatherproof gloves that protect your hands from the elements.
There are a lot of gloves purpose-built for hiking, jogging, or general sports activities that would be great for your trip. It’s also tremendous in protection from sharp rocks on scrambles or sections where you need to grip rocks.
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I could write dozens of articles on the best shoes for hiking. Truthfully there are a ton of variables when it comes to footwear. Things to consider are terrain, fit, style, and intended use. I have several different options for footwear when it comes to the trail, and I choose based on the day.
Choose a shoe that best fits your everyday needs. A trail running shoe is perfect for most hikers as it is capable on and off the trail. That way, you get plenty of use out of your investment. Low elevation and easy hikes are on well-maintained trails, so a good pair of hiking shoes or tennis shoes are more than adequate.
It would be best if you also were cognizant of your body’s health. Do you have previous injuries, or are you prone to ankle rolls? If you need extra support, do not hesitate to choose the best option for yourself. For most, these will be high-ankle boots.
There has been a long debate on whether you need high-top boots or low-cut shoes to protect your ankles. Truthfully we own both types and like to wear high tops on muddy trails or areas with thick vegetation and shoes in warm and dry destinations. A still sole in boots helps carry weight on multi-day camping trips.
Trail Running Shoes
We both have the Arc’teryx Norvan LD3, and they’re great on the trails. They’re heavily cushioned, protecting your feet from uneven or rough surfaces. The tread pattern is aggressive but forgiving, so they feel comfortable on gravel surfaces or in the gym.
However, if you’re big on trail running, it’s tough to beat the Salomon Speedcross 5. They have a diehard following and food, which is a good reason. The lightweight shoe is high on comfort, and the aggressive tread pattern ensures you always have a grip. We’ll burn through a pair of these each summer. Of course, you’re not a local trail runner until you’ve owned a pair of Speedcross.
Most easy hikes are on well-maintained trails, so a good pair of hiking shoes or tennis shoes are more than adequate. We mix it up, but if you plan to take any big mountain hikes/scrambles, PLEASE wear hiking-specific shoes or boots. Too often, people get in trouble with the wrong footwear on a trail where a slip could mean serious injury or death.
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A Natural Shoe Option
There’s a strong argument that many of the foot and joint issues that plague modern-day humans are from overdesigned shoes. Shoes cause our feet to move unnaturally and restrict natural muscle movements. The result is weak feet. Vivobarefoot crafts natural shoes designed with minimal support, allowing the feet to move naturally. It’s like walking barefoot.
We’ve been trying out the new Tracker Forest ESC on our hikes and have been impressed with the performance of a boot that also feels as if we’re barefoot. These new boots are naturally water-resistant. The non-slip sole and exceptional arch grip for gripping and sticking to surfaces are the most interesting. Inside the boot is an air mesh lining that allows for proper airflow. They are broad, thin, and flexible to promote the foot’s natural movement.
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When it comes to hiking, it’s tough to beat purpose-built synthetic boots as they are lightweight, breathable, quick-drying, and often waterproof. While hiking in the mountains, loose rocks are a real threat on the trails, and it’s a good idea to wear decent hiking boots or shoes.
I’d say wear what you’re comfortable with, but if you have plans to head to the wet areas, it would be good to bring a pair of high ankle boots. Ankle-high boots are for protection against thick brush, bugs, and loose rocks.
So owning a good pair of hiking boots will come in handy if you explore different climates. We love the Merrell Moab II that comes in both women’s and men’s versions and high and low-cut versions.
They are not the most technical boot, but they’re always reliable and never give you a blister. I took a brand new pair on a backpacking trip and hiked 30 kilometers daily in them with no threat of blisters. Most importantly, they’re the best value for hiking boots!
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Peak Design Capture Clip
This has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design Capture Clip allows a camera to be clipped onto your backpack strap or belt. It must be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used to carry our camera.
This has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows a camera to be clipped onto your backpack strap or belt. It must be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used to carry our camera.
The clip feels secure and robust, with a straightforward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies, which has changed how we photograph it. The access it provides to your camera is much better than a camera strap allowing it to swing and bang into everything.
It’s handy and a must for anyone who wants to carry their camera on hikes but does not have to fumble around in their bag whenever they want to take a photo.
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If you’re not going on an overnight backpacking adventure, a daypack should be more than enough to hold your belongings. No matter the hike, you will want a daypack to store your belongings. My daypack usually consists of a shell jacket, down jacket, hiking poles, bear spray, snacks, water, gloves, chapstick, a buff, camera, first aid kit, navigation, and an emergency blanket.
While not everyone needs an alpine pack, the key to take away is to opt for the correct size pack. I love a versatile size around the 30L mark. 30L gives enough room for gear-heavy days, but it’s light enough for light short treks or walking around town. Any nice backpack will do the job if you don’t have plans for big hikes.
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This is a non-negotiable item if you’re in bear country. Some parks even require visitors carry the deterrent. Bear spray should be on your person and not in your pack. We each have a neoprene sleeve that holds our bear spray on our belt pocket or places it in our vest. It’s easy to reach in case of an emergency which is the most important detail.
It’s a good idea to make noise while hiking in the bear country, whether singing, ringing a bell, clapping, or banging your hiking poles. Be wary of blind spots on your hikes, such as tight bends and forested sections of the trail.
This is a list of some of the many items we pack when hiking. What we bring revolves around the time of year and the forecasted weather. If you want a more extensive list, check out what to wear hiking for women, hiking for men, and our full backpacking checklist.