With such a massive array of hiking clothes available from a multitude of outdoor brands around the world, figuring out what to wear hiking quickly goes from being a simple task to an intensive endeavor.
What should I wear hiking? What pants should I wear? Do I really need a pair of hiking boots?
These are all good questions with not always easy answers. The world of hiking clothes is vast, and figuring out what to wear hiking can be difficult. So, I put together this piece to share some of my favorite hiking apparel and recommendations on how to wear them.
The general rule to remember is that, when you’re hiking, you want to layer your clothing. For ultimate versatility and flexibility, this guide is built around that concept. Every item you wear should, for the most part, be able to stack under or on top of other pieces of clothing.
By using layers, you’ll keep your pack light and have the most complete set of hiking clothes with you at all times for whatever conditions the trail throw at you.
This is everything you need if you’re trying to figure out what to wear on a hike.
Wicking Hiking Shirts
A quick-dry, wicking hiking t-shirt is, without a doubt, one of the most important pieces of hiking clothing you need. And the season and weather conditions are going to play a big part in the type of shirt you need.
Keep in mind, since this is a base layer, it sits right next to your skin, which means you should avoid cotton clothing at all costs. Cotton absorbs and holds onto moisture to an unbearable degree (up to 27 times its weight!). Instead, stick to wool or synthetic blends.
In the warmer seasons, pick a cotton-free wicking t-shirt or tank top as your hiking base layer. Especially for day hikes in summer, you likely won’t need anything more.
Polyester blends are often the best material to choose from when choosing base layers, but merino wool is the ultimate—it’s breathable, it will dry quickly and it helps to regulate your body temperature.
- For men, the Smartwool Merino 150 is made from a blend of merino wool and nylon and is highly wicking. They have some cool patterns, too!
- The Arc’teryx Cormac Crew T-Shirt is one of my favorite hiking shirts and is made of air-permeable, quick-drying Ostria stretch-knit fabric, delivering excellent moisture-wicking performance. This shirt also comes in bright colors which is perfect if you’re taking photos.
- For women, the Solar Chill is a stylish polyester t-shirt with wicking properties and sun protection.
- The Titan Trail short sleeve tee also uses Columbia’s Omni-Freeze ZERO™ technology. It’s antibacterial and comes in some fun, bright colors as well.
In cooler temperatures, look at long sleeves or a more heavy base layer for your hiking outfit.
Again, steer clear of cotton and opt for merino wool if it’s within your budget—I promise you won’t be sorry.
- For men, the Smartwool Merino 250 long sleeve shirt is one of the best long sleeve base layers on the market and the one I personally wear in cold weather.
- The Sahara Long Sleeve hiking shirt from REI offers a lot for a simple shirt– including quick-drying polyester/spandex fabric, anti-microbial treatment and UPF 30 sun protection.
- The Men’s Heavyweight Stretch Shirt has a half-zip so that you can adjust it if necessary. The designers made it from a fabric that wicks sweat away from your skin. This piece of men’s hiking clothes is also very warm – yet not bulky.
- The Women’s Silver Ridge Lite Long Sleeve is a wonderful autumn hiking shirt. It is long sleeve so it will keep you warm on those chilly mornings, but it will also wick your sweat away later in the day when it gets warmer. Plus, it also offers UPF 40 sun protection.
- The Women’s Long Sleeve Heavyweight Stretch Top will preserve your body heat and make you feel like you are curled up by the fireplace, even if you are at the top of a windy, freezing mountain.
Lightweight Hoody or Softshell Midlayer
Always bring a lightweight hoody or midlayer when you’re hiking in case the trail conditions change and it cools down, you need extra sun protection or you need another layer for whatever reason.
If rain is in the forecast, you might swap this out with a rain shell—or bring both, depending on how much you want to carry.
- The Men’s Trail Shaker II Long Sleeve Hoodie is for hikers who want to be stylish while on the trail – as well as warm and comfortable.
- The women’s Pilsner Peak Hoodie is a similarly useful all-rounder hoodie for women. It’s a cotton/polyester blend, so it’s absorbent and promotes evaporation at the same time.
- The Women’s Outerspaced III Half Zip Fleece is incredibly cozy – you’ll feel like you are being embraced in a cuddly hug while wearing it. You can wear it by itself on mild days, or layer something over it on cold days.
A softshell layer is perfect for spring or cool evenings.
A softshell should wick away moisture while regulating your body heat and keeping you cozy at the same time.
Usually a softshell will feature stretch fabric or fabric panels for added comfort during aerobic activities.
- I personally love the Better Sweater 1/4 zip pullover from Patagonia, but they make a lot of different clothing options. It’s a sweater-knit recycled polyester fleece which serves well as a lightweight fleece jacket, so it can be worn as its own outer layer or you can stack other layers on top.
- The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is a staple in my wardrobe, too, keeping me warm when I need it but never overheating. This is one of the best pieces of hiking clothes on the market, in my opinion. It’s an excellent all-rounder hoody that’s great for the trail or the brewery for a cold one when you’re done hiking.
- The men’s Ascender is a zip-up hooded softshell jacket that’s wind and water repellent making it a versatile addition to your hiking wardrobe.
- The women’s Kruser Ridge softshell is a wind and water-resistant shell that is great for hiking up mountain trails or just hanging out around the campfire in the evening.
An alternative to a single heavy mid-layer is to add an extra lightweight midlayer and then layer with an insulated midlayer on top of that.
If it’s going to be really really cold, this is the way forward. It adds an extra layer and allows for added versatility so that you can adjust your clothing as the day goes on.
Of course, this also depends on how much you want to spend and how much you want to carry. If you are on a long backpacking trek where every extra bit of weight in your luggage matters, you might want to bring as few pieces of clothing as possible.
- The Men’s Steens Mountain Full Zip Fleece is super versatile – you could wear it on a long backpacking trip or just a jaunt to the shop on a chilly day.
- The Women’s Mountainside HW Fleece just might be the fuzziest, coziest thing you’ve ever worn. You’ll feel like a mountain goat, born to live amidst the cold and rainy peaks.
They say there’s no such thing as bad weather—just the wrong clothing.
Hiking Windbreaker or Rain Jacket
Don’t know what to wear hiking? Check the weather. If you’re at higher altitudes, expect wind and bring a windbreaker. If there’s rain in the forecast, expect and prepare for wet conditions and bring a rain jacket. Whatever the weather is supposed to be, make sure you bring the appropriate layers.
- By far, one of the best hiking rain jackets on the market—and my personal favorite—is the Arc’teryx Zeta SL. The SL stands for superlight, and it’s rough and rugged while taking up minimal space in your daypack.
- Not only does the men’s Watertight II Jacket have waterproof material and an adjustable storm hood, but it also can be stuffed into its own hand pocket so that it can be easily stored at any time.
- The Men’s Outdry Ex Featherweight Shell Jacket also offers heavy-duty rain protection – and it looks pretty cool too.
- The women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket is a breathable, packable rain shell that comes with a hood – which will keep the drizzle off your head. It also has a drawcord adjustable hem, so you can cinch it up tight and stay as dry and toasty as possible.
- The Women’s Outdry Hybrid Jacket is ideal for a rainproof shell. It’s waterproof, breathable and fully seam-sealed, so it will keep you dry no matter what weather you encounter.
If you are heading out on a day hike somewhere really cold, opt for a down-insulated jacket instead. It will be highly compressible for easy packing and it offers more warmth for its weight than any other material.
Also, since down jackets are usually designed with down inside a shell material, they will usually act as a rain jacket, resisting wind and water, as well.
This type of jacket is not cheap, but it’s a total game-changer. It has two different layers, an outer waterproof layer and an inner layer made of thermal material. This makes it a jacket that you can wear three different ways. You can wear them zipped together for ultimate warmth. Or you can wear the inner layer on a chilly day. Or the outer layer by itself when you want rain protection but don’t need extra warmth.
When it’s warm, you can’t skip over a pair of hiking shorts! This is another staple item when figuring our your hiking apparel. You’ll want hiking shorts that are wicking, breathable and flexible, so as not to limit your range of motion.
- The men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pant is a fantastic choice for maximum versatility. If you need pants, just zip on the legs. Want shorts? Zip ‘em off. You can also wear these in most seasons.
- I’m personally not a fan of convertible pants—they’re just not my style—so I prefer trail running shorts when I hike. The Titan Ultra is a staple in my bag.
- Women are slightly more spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking shorts. Spandex/yoga shorts are a popular option and are available just about anywhere.
- The Anytime Outdoor Capri not only looks good but it’s water repellent and stretchy for maximum comfort. They’re not exactly shorts, but they’re shorter than pants and they’re great for hiking.
Especially in cooler weather, you should opt for a pair of long hiking pants or leggings instead. If you’ll be hiking in tall brush, keep the ticks away by tucking your pants into your socks.
Typically, men wear long hiking pants and women opt for yoga pants. Yoga pants or leggings are great for women because they’re comfortable, stretchy, lightweight, multi-functional and they wick sweat, meaning you can wear them for almost any activity.
You can also opt for convertible pants, which are especially helpful if you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip. For general use, they’re not my favorite, so I tend to stick to regular long pants, instead.
- For the male hikers out there, the LIVSN Flex Canvas Pants are a game changer (and my favorite pair of hiking pants right now). They’re incredibly durable and will serve you well in changing conditions.
- Female hikers might prefer the Luminary Legging or the Women’s Titan Peak Trekking Legging as they are made with a comfortable, stretchy and moisture-wicking material.
- The Women’s Saturday Trail Stretch Pant is so delightfully stretchy that they can be worn over your thick, winter leggings to give you another layer of rain protection.
- If it’s going to be cold, fleece leggings like these Women’s Glacial Fleece Printed Legging Pants will hug your legs and keep them warm and cozy no matter how cold the wind blows.
I don’t usually bring rain pants unless the weather predicts wet conditions and heavy rainfall. That said, if you’re hiking on a longer backpacking trip, you should always carry a pair of these in your pack.
- The Arc’teryx Zeta SL Pant is a pair of emergency packable rain pants in the superlight category. If rain is in the forecast, make sure you’ve got a pair of these in your pack.
- The Men’s Rebel Roamer Waterproof Pants keep you dry by completely sealing out the elements – but they aren’t uncomfortable or clammy.
- The Women’s Storm Surge Rain Pant is a lightweight layer you can carry in your backpack and slip on when it starts to pour, so you don’t end up soaked at the end of your hike.
Merino Wool Socks
What should you look for in hiking socks?
First of all, the material. I said it before and I’ll say it again—wool is where it’s at. Merino wool socks are a dream. You can also get thinner socks for warm weather and thicker socks for colder weather.
Second of all, good hiking socks should cushion your feet. The seams should always be flat so they don’t rub against your foot and the fit should be snug but not tight.
These are some of my favorite brands who make hiking socks:
Any hiking underwear should have moisture-wicking properties. Once again—steer clear of cotton underwear at all costs! Synthetic underwear will help to prevent chafing and keep your nether regions cool.
Don’t wear anything that will rub against your skin and cause irritation. In other words, this is not the time to wear your sexy lace thong, even if you’re on a hiking date with someone you like.
Women will also need something on top, and sports bras are the obvious choice. Patagonia, Odlo and Icebreaker all make excellent sports bras (so I’ve been told), or you can browse a full selection by category at REI.
Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes
The hiking boots or shoes you choose for a hike are extremely important. They are the difference between feeling fine at the end of the hike or having excruciating blisters and sore feet.
Good hiking shoes = a good hike!
A good pair of hiking boots should have good ankle support, as well as cushioned soles. They should also have gripping rubber outsoles so that you won’t slip when walking on roots, gravel, grass or rocks.
Waterproof material is also an important consideration. Having wet feet on the trail is the worst and will lead to chafing, blisters and overall misery.
Personally, I prefer to be quick on my feet, and I opt to hike in trail running shoes instead of hiking boots or shoes. Trail running shoes are lighter and easier to pack, too, so they take up less space in your bag if you’re traveling somewhere.
With that said, these are some of my favorite companies who make hiking boots and trail runners:
Another option is hiking sandals, but those aren’t really my jam. I think closed toe shoes are the better choice when you’re hiking, but to each their own. If the weather is warm and it’s hiking sandals you want, check out some of these brands:
Neck Gaiter or Scarf
Wrapping yourself up with a neck gaiter or a scarf will help you avoid the cold. It’ll brace wind that stings your face and blows down your neck. You can also use them in the summer to keep your neck from burning in the sun.
What’s a neck gaiter? It’s a super-versatile little piece of microfiber moisture-wicking material that goes—you guessed it—around your neck, almost like a sleeve. During the winter it will help keep your neck and chin warm. And during the summer it keeps your neck from burning while wicking moisture away from your skin.
If you’re worried about the sun, a neck gaiter is exactly what you need. If made for hot weather, like the Solar Shield from Columbia, you’ll stay cool while it wicks perspiration (polyester at its finest!) and blocks harmful UV rays from the sun.
Hat for Warmth or Cap for Sun Protection
Scientists have recently debunked the myth that you lose most of your body heat through your head. But even so, it’s still important to keep your head and ears warm. Wear a cozy hat when you are hiking in cold temperatures. It’ll protect you from the elements.
In the summertime, you’ll want to protect yourself from sunburn and heatstroke with a cap. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat will protect your hair, eyes and skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
The Creek to Peak cap has zero cotton so it doesn’t absorb sweat. It’s breathable, stylish and keeps the sun off your face.
Don’t forget a hiking backpack to carry all your essentials. If you’re on a day hike, 15L-25L should do the trick, depending on where you’re going and how much you need to carry.
- For men, I love the Osprey Talon 22L pack.
- For women, the comparable version—built for the female frame—is the Osprey Tempest 20L.
If you need something a little larger, check out my full review of the Osprey Talon 33L—one of my favorite all-rounder backpacks for long day hikes or overnight hiking adventures.
The right hiking clothes can mean the difference between an uncomfortable ordeal and a thrilling, rewarding hike. When your clothes are keeping you warm and dry, you can focus your attention on those stunning views. You’ve worked so hard to reach them.
So what are you wearing for your next day hike? Let us know in the comments!