What to Wear Hiking

What to Wear Hiking

If you’re just getting started hiking, you’ll likely have some questions on what to wear out on the trail. After all, what to wear hiking is just as important as — if not, more important than — what gear to bring. Believe me, it’s never fun feeling ill-prepared, too hot, or too cold while halfway up a mountain or in the middle of a forest. To make sure you’re ready for your next hiking trip, use this day hiking checklist as a guide.

This post is part of our Hiking 101 series, where we cover all of the things we’ve learned over the years hiking.

Key considerations for hiking attire

In general, there are a few key principles when it comes to dressing for hiking:

  1. Think in layers. Temperatures can vary when you’re out in the wilderness. For example, if you are hiking through a forest, it may be cool under tree cover but hot on exposed sections of the same trail. Layers and clothing that can perform double duty will make it easier for you to adapt depending on what Mother Nature brings.
  2. Consider your clothing material. In general, you’ll want to stick to moisture-wicking material and wool, and stay far away from cotton which tends to be heavy and difficult to dry.
  3. Know your terrain. This may seem like common sense, but it’s important to know a bit about where you plan to hike. If you’re hiking in a rainforest, you’ll likely want to choose water-resistant clothing. If you’re hiking in a desert, you may opt for protective head wear (e.g., a wide-brimmed hat or buff to keep sand from flying in your mouth). 
  4. Check the weather forecast before you go. This is another tip that may feel like common sense, but we can’t stress how important it is to research where you are going. For example, is rain in the forecast? Has it snowed in the last week? This will help guide your planning.
  5. Small investments in hiking clothing make a big difference. When we first started hiking, we initially resorted to wearing what was already in our closet — workout clothes, a pair of running shoes, athletic socks. While there’s nothing wrong with this, we quickly found that clothes meant for hiking also meant a much more comfortable hike! For instance, I’ll take thick wool socks and a pair of hiking boots over athletic socks and tennis shoes any day of the week (and my feet will thank me for it every single time). If you plan to hike a lot, trust us, a little investment in hiking clothes will go a long way.

What to wear hiking checklist

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1. Hiking boots

We covered this in our essential hiking gear checklist, but we wouldn’t have a complete list on what to wear while hiking without talking about hiking shoes. Hiking boots are one of the most important pieces of hiking gear because, unlike tennis shoes, they are made to provide you with traction and support over long distances and variable terrain. For the casual hiker, low-cut hiking boots are typically sufficient. However, if you plan to backpack, you’ll want higher-cut boots which offer better stabilization and support.

Our pick for women: Columbia Women’s Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Hiking Boot

Our pick for men: Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Men’s Boots

Favorite brands: Merrell, Northface

2. Moisture-wicking tops

Wearing breathable, moisture-wicking tops (t-shirt, tank top, or long sleeves depending on the weather) as a “base layer” will help you better control your temperature. In general, your standard workout top can do the trick here. Avoid cotton when possible since cotton tends to be heavier, soak in moisture, and take time to dry.

Our pick for women: Nike Women’s Crew Training T-Shirt

Our pick for men: Under Armour Men’s Tech 2.0 Short-Sleeve T-Shirt

Favorite brands: Patagonia, Nike (Dri-Fit)

3. Hiking pants

Although not as fashionable as yoga pants or joggers, we converted to lightweight, breathable hiking pants and never looked back. Plus, once you’re on the trail, you’ll notice that this is trail fashionable. A great pair of hiking pants can keep you both warm in colder months and cool in warmer months. We particularly like pants that can convert into shorts. This is yet another example of one piece of gear working harder and smarter for you! Another benefit of hiking pants is that they typically have a lot of pockets for accessibility, which comes in handy on the trail.

Our pick for women: pRana water-repellent pants

Our pick for men: Columbia convertible pants

4. Light jacket

Assuming you’re not hiking in the extreme cold or snow (more on that in the future), a light jacket should suffice on top of your base layer. You’ll want something that you can easily pack away once you start sweating and is either wind and/or rain resistant depending on the terrain.

Our pick for women: Marmot Tempo Softshell Jacket

Our pick for men: Marmot Lightweight Waterproof Jacket

Favorite brands: Patagonia, North Face, Marmot

5. Wool socks

As odd as it sounds, wool socks are an absolute game-changer and completely worth the small investment. Wool socks are much thicker than your average athletic socks, meaning more protection for your feet. Keep in mind your feet will be constantly knocking against your boot when hiking. The extra padding will be appreciated!

Additionally, wool has amazing properties that make it so ideal for hikers, backpackers, and campers. It has both cooling and warming properties, dries quickly, and can keep you warm even when wet. When our wool socks started to wear, we bought this exact new pack off of Amazon and found these to be just as good quality as others we’ve bought at stores like REI (plus, at a much more affordable price).

6. Buff

Buffs are optional but perhaps one of our favorite fashion items for the trail. Along our same theme of versatility, buffs can be used in a wide number of circumstances — whether that’s to keep warm during colder months or to prevent dust from flying in your face on a particularly dusty or sandy trail. While you can buy any brand, we think the original Buff brand is worth the investment.

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Ready to hit the trail? Put your hiking gear into action.

Read our posts on our favorite hiking trails, national park trips, and more. We’ll also continue to build out our Hiking 101 series, so stay tuned!

This post contains affiliate links to products and services we love. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your supporting our blog!

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