Picture this - sun shining, the fresh breeze gently fanning over your skin, birds chirping, picturesque scenery all around you. Or maybe this - golden leaves on century-old trees, the murky sky above you, chilly wind whistling in your ears, the ground beneath your feet damp from a recent drizzle.
Sounds pretty fairy tail-like, right?
But now, imagine this:
You're in the first scenario, and you're incredibly hot, you feel like you might evaporate from the heat, you have a sunburn on your shoulders, your feet are scratched up, with your backpack is overflowing with all the excess layers you've taken off to make yourself more comfortable.
Your feet are wet, socks completely damp, the wind chilling you to the bone, rain getting to your skin through all of your non-waterproof clothing.
Our point is, even the best of times can be ruined by the worst clothing choices.
Luckily, we're here to help you make the right decision and choose what to wear hiking wisely. That way, you'll ensure that you can enjoy your hiking adventure to the fullest - without having to worry about your clothes on the trail.
So, without any further ado, let's get right into what you should wear hiking.
Check The Forecast
As you probably know, what you generally wear greatly depends on the weather. Hiking is no different.
It's crucial to remember that what you decide to wear hiking will be one of the determining factors in how good of a time you'll have on your hike.
So, before you start doing packing or putting together your hiking outfit, take a moment to check the weather forecast and see what to expect on the day of your hike. We know that these may vary - but having a general idea of what to expect will significantly simplify your preparation.
And planning and preparing become even more important when you're considering thru-hiking.
The type of climate determines daily weather conditions - so, don't expect sun and heat if you're going hiking near Seattle, WA, for example.
Keep in mind that even though the forecast says that the weather will almost certainly be one way, you should still pack layers and be prepared for slight weather variations. A waterproof outer layer is a must-have in that sense.
Different Clothes For Different Strolls
So, we've already established that weather affects your clothing choices. That brings us to the next point - there is no universal hiking clothing for every season and every weather condition.
That's why we've split this list into different categories of hiking apparel that match different weather conditions - from inner layers that trap body heat to warm-weather-friendly outfits and beyond.
Let's jump right into it, shall we?
What To Wear Hiking In Cold Weather
Cold weather requires more base layers, waterproof clothing, different materials - and, all in all, more preparation.
Since weather conditions are more unpredictable during the fall and winter months, you must be ready for swift weather changes and precipitation in any form.
Hiking apparel companies are aware of that and have started making hiking clothing that's suitable for all these weather conditions - giving you the comfort you need during those demanding cold-weather hikes.
In this part of the guide, we'll talk about both fall and winter hiking clothes since both seasons require similar hiking attire.
The first of the two cold weather seasons requires loads of waterproof clothes and layers - base layers, a mid-layer, and an outer shell. With fall being of the most unpredictable times of the year (along with spring), you can't take any good weather for granted.
Rain might start in the blink of an eye and go on for hours, and having the right protective clothing can be a lifesaver.
Winter, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more predictable since rain isn't as likely to surprise you in most areas, and snow is pretty much a given.
But, the question still stands - what to wear hiking in winter?
Well, the same protective clothing is necessary for both seasons; we've outlined some options below.
Base Layer Hiking Clothes
Beneath all your protective, outer layer clothes, you need to have your base layer garments to keep you warm and comfortable.
Here's what we mean by base layer clothes:
- Hiking shirts, tops, hoodies
- Leggings or yoga pants
There are a few things hikers must keep in mind when choosing their base layer garments. Since they'll be the thing that touches your skin on the hike - unlike outer layer hiking clothes - it's vital that they feel comfortable on you.
Additionally, there are other qualities that you should keep in mind when searching for the best base layer items:
- Material (fabric)
While you probably prefer to wear natural materials during your everyday activities, you'll want the complete opposite for your hiking endeavors.
Synthetic materials are able to fulfill more of the demands activities such as hiking put on base layers of clothing.
The main quality that the fabric needs to have is moisture-wicking abilities. That means that it moves sweat off of your skin easily so that you don't feel all soggy and icky while wearing it. When you pair it with good, breathable outer layers, you've got yourself a winning combo!
Some of the most popular material choices are merino wool (natural material), polyester, and spandex. Just pick fabrics that work best for you.
When it comes to weight, we have three categories - lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight.
We're not actually talking about how heavy these materials are, but which weather conditions they are suitable for:
Lightweight base garments are suitable for moderate to cool temperatures, midweight is best for cold, and heavyweight for below-freezing temperatures.
An additional factor to consider is your own circulation and activity intensity.
If you fall into the "cold hands, cold feet all the time" category, you might want to go up a weight when choosing your hiking undergarments and vice versa.
When it comes to fit, the important thing is that the garment is snug on your skin. That's vital because it's the only way for these garments to wick sweat successfully while trapping body heat.
Always try these items on before buying something; don't rely on advertising phrases such as "athletic fit." You'll have to wear these in some challenging weather conditions, so making sure it fits right will be crucial.
Rain pants are one of the essential pieces of hiking clothes, seeing as how they provide you the much-needed protection from any wet weather conditions.
When looking for the right pair, you'll want to check a few main characteristics:
- Water-resistance - Surprise, surprise, the main reason you're getting them is to protect you from water.
- Breathability - Many waterproof materials end up feeling very unnatural and uncomfortable on the skin, and don't let it breathe. That's why you should look for ones that give you protection - while also allowing breathability.`
- Articulation - As we've said, these materials often end up being chunky and unnatural to touch, making it difficult to move in the clothes. Try to find a pair that gives you some range of motion so that you don't feel excessively restricted on your trek.
You should always have a piece of clothing that you feel comfortable in - be it a pair of hiking leggings or a thin pair of sweatpants - underneath the rain pants. Waterproof materials can get uncomfortable and cold when worn directly on the skin.
Another essential for hiking in cold weather would be a rain jacket. They don't differ much from rain pants in terms of characteristics you should be looking for, really. An ideal rain jacket should have the following characteristics:
Pretty much all hiking clothes should be lightweight. You'll be carrying a bunch of gear; the last thing you want is to add more weight to an already packed backpack. That's why most hiking apparel brands produce their items from lightweight materials.
However, not all jackets are the same. At times, manufacturers might neglect breathability for a more lightweight feel or make jackets less wind-protective at the cost of their weight.
So, before you decide on buying one, read online reviews first - or try multiple brands in person.
The rain jackets' main objective is to provide you with the necessary protection from downpours. So, it's no wonder that waterproofness is a crucial characteristic.
And, we're not only talking about a light drizzle or brief showers here; we're talking even heavy rain and snow that can surprise you on the trail.
You want something that can guarantee that none of your base layer clothing will get damp while still being lightweight enough to not be an annoyance or an additional burden.
Even if you have the most water-resistant jacket ever made, you'll be annoyed for the entirety of your hike if you cannot move in it well.
So, when looking for a good rain jacket, you need to make sure that you have enough mobility in your shoulders and arms. Don't forget to test this with all the base layer clothes that you'll have on during the hike.
Try doing a range of motions, turn left and right, raise your arms, and the like.
If any of these feel strained, it's probably a sign that you either need a bigger size or a different model of the jacket.
Any avid hiker knows that you can get into some difficult environments and hazardous terrains during your hike. So, simply put, you need the outer layer to be durable enough to withstand those challenges.
Check online reviews and see which brands are favorites among hikers - and start there.
A crucial quality of any rain jacket is breathability. You can have all the rain protection you want - but if you feel like you're wearing a trash can, you'll absolutely hate it.
And, to be quite honest, it's not necessary to feel like that in order to get the best protection:
There are many amazing materials that manufacturers use that can grant you a pleasant feel as well as rain protection.
What To Wear Hiking In The Summer
Some would say that hiking during the summer is somewhat simpler than during the winter since you don't have to worry about lousy weather ruining your trek, nor do you have to include as many layers in your hiking outfits.
That's not the whole story, though.
While those things are generally true, the spring and summer months carry some difficulties that still require choosing the best hiking clothes for the occasion.
One of the things to keep in mind when hitting the trail during spring and summer is sun protection. SPF is necessary year-round, but UPF clothing and hats are a must-have in the hotter seasons.
Sun can get extremely strong at high altitudes - and your risk of getting a sunburn increases with each step upwards.
To help you prevent sunburns, sunstrokes, and other sun-related problems, you need to get yourself a hiking hat. Ideally, it should be a wide-brimmed hat that would not only shield your face but your neck and chest area - which are equally prone to burning - as well.
We've discussed rain pants - which are lifesavers during the fall and winter months - but now we can talk about "regular" hiking pants.
They are perfect for a spring hike, as well as a summer one since they are made from light, breathable materials that'll keep you cool even on the warmest of days. Furthermore, the fabrics are ripstop and durable, which means they won't tear if you happen to fall or if they get caught on a stray branch.
Another notable thing is that hiking pants are usually made with a higher amount of spandex - which makes them less restrictive and gives you much more mobility.
Most hiking pants have drawcord cuffs so that you can cinch them up higher on your legs if needed in hot weather or when crossing water.
A good choice for simpler summer hikes, where the trail is cleared, and there isn't a high possibility of coming across dangerous wildlife.
If you just cannot stand fabric on your legs in hot temperatures, hiking shorts are for you. They'll give you the right amount of mobility and comfort on hot summer days.
However, on more complex and demanding outdoor adventures, we recommend opting for convertible pants instead. They'll protect your skin from all of the potential risks and damage along the way - but you can still turn them into shorts when needed.
While you might prefer a cotton or viscose T-shirt on the trail, most expert hikers will agree that it's better to choose materials that are moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and breathable. Pretty much all the best hiking clothes should meet these requirements.
Some would describe an ideal hiking T-shirt as one with long sleeves since it protects your arms from the sun and other possible dangers. You can even find special UPF hiking shirts that'll ensure that you don't burn without having to lather your torso with sunscreen.
Although it doesn't technically fall into the category of clothing, hiking footwear may just be the most important part of your hiking gear. Think about it:
You'll be trekking through some challenging, diverse terrains, wet and dry surfaces - all while carrying a large, bulky backpack on your back.
You need to give your feet the proper support to carry you through these adventures. That's where the hiking boots and hiking shoes come in - and there's a wide range of models available, too.
These obviously don't fall within the fall/winter hiking attire but can be useful during your summer hikes.
Now, we aren't huge fans of hiking in open footwear, but we can't deny the benefits they can have on certain hikes:
- Ultimate breathability - No need to elaborate on this one; the open shoe design says it all.
- Low weight - With all that excess material off, you don't have to worry about this type of footwear weighing you down.
- Easy water crossing - If you know that your trail has some parts that require crossing bodies of water, these will be your best friends.
However, we don't recommend wearing hiking sandals as a beginner. Rather stick to the tried and true, sturdy pair of hiking boots.
Hiking Boots/Hiking Shoes
The all-time favorites within the hiking community are hiking boots. There are innumerable reasons - but most of all, they give you support on even the most demanding of hiking trails.
If you ask an experienced hiker, they'll tell you that if you don't have a solid pair of hiking shoes, you shouldn't even bother setting foot on a trail. That isn't only because of the support aspect, but because of the reasons outlined below.
A twisted ankle is one of the worst imaginable hiking scenarios. It not only means that that particular hiking trip is over but that you'll be on the sidelines for the next few weeks, too. Nobody wants that.
So, let's minimize the possibility of that happening right now:
Find the best hiking shoes that will give you all of the necessary ankle support even on slippery, rocky, obstacle-filled mountain trails and rugged terrain.
However, many people will wrongly assume that the best ankle support is offered by clunky hiking boots that pretty much stop your circulation and don't move with your feet. That's not the case, though.
The best hiking shoes will provide support while still molding to your ankles and feet to give you the best of both worlds.
Ankles and feet go hand in hand (or shall we say "foot in foot"), and they also affect your whole posture. That means that if your feet are poorly supported, your whole back will carry additional weight - and you'll end up hunched over and with back pain.
When looking for a good hiking shoe, look for a cushioned footbed that'll give your feet the necessary support, as well as the much-needed comfort.
We can agree that there's nothing worse than wet feet in wet socks, all wrapped up in wet shoes in the middle of a long trail - regardless of how hot (or cold) it might be.
Well, actually, if your feet get wet in cold, bad weather, you're also risking getting sick, in addition to being uncomfortable.
On that note, the best hiking boots will keep your feet dry in all weather conditions - no matter how much water you might step into or how much rain or snow falls during the hike.
While you probably knew about hiking boots, you might not have known about the role of hiking socks. Well, they play a huge part in a successful backpacking trip.
On a cold winter hike, it's of the utmost importance that you keep your feet warm. Frostbites are a real thing, and experienced hikers can testify to that.
Also, if you want a blister-free experience, make sure you invest in a good pair.
You'll mainly find socks made of synthetic materials. However, merino wool socks are getting more attention these days - and to be honest, merino wool is becoming a go-to choice for hiking clothing in general.
What To Wear Hiking - Conclusion
Well, you came here wondering what to wear hiking in summer and winter months - and all months in between. And we did our best to give you the necessary answers and prepare you for your next hiking adventure by suggesting the best hiking outfits.
To help you remember everything we've talked about, here is a quick rundown of what to wear hiking:
Base layer clothing is the layer that will actually have direct contact with your skin, so you want it to be moisture-wicking and breathable - while still giving you warmth.
During the fall and winter, the weather conditions require additional protection on top of base layers - such as water-resistant hiking jackets and hiking pants. You can add a pair of insulated and waterproof gloves to keep your hands warm and cozy.
During the summer, hiking shorts will allow you to enjoy your hikes without the extra hiking layers - but we still recommend hiking leggings or pants that will protect your skin better.
Hiking shirts are good for all of the same reasons, as they have moisture-wicking abilities, can be UPF protective, and save you from uncomfortable scratches or insect bites.
Now, UV protection is a must year-round - especially during the sunnier spring and summer months. That doesn't only apply to your face but also chest and neck protection, which can be achieved with a wide-brimmed hat in combination with regular application of SPF.
And lastly, we have hiking footwear as one of the most important hiking essentials. Trail shoes provide you with ankle and foot support; they're water-resistant and can protect you even when the terrain turns rocky.
Hiking sandals are a less popular option, but they can come in handy in warmer weather on water-abundant trails.
So, we hope we were able to help you choose the best hiking clothes for yourself and enjoy your next hike worry-free, knowing that you came prepared - with all the right hiking essentials.
Now, hit that trail and have some fun!