Best Clothes to Wear Hiking
Suit up and get climbing.
Nothing ruins a good hike like bad clothing. The outdoors are unpredictable, which means your hiking clothes need to be prepared for heat, wind, rain and anything else Mother Nature decides to throw its way. And since your summer hike is presumably a couple miles (or more) long, you’ll need to bring everything you might need with you. When it comes to the best hiking clothes, where does one start?
“Stay dry, stay cool and always bring an extra layer,” says transformational coach Lisa Taitelman. “You never know if rain is on the horizon or if the weather will get cold. Having all the essentials will help jumpstart your journey and add a little bit more pep to your hiking step.”
Choose Breathable Fabrics
Breathable, moisture-wicking and fast-drying fabrics are key to your line-up of the best hiking clothes. “Merino wool, silk and polypropylene will protect you from UV exposure, humidity, trail grit, abrasions and insects,” says founder of Hiking for Her Diane Spicer. “Add additional layers of fleece, down and water-resistant fabrics to keep yourself warm and dry in less than ideal weather conditions.”
For summer hikes, your instinct might be to wear as little clothing as possible. But certain types of hiking clothing can prevent heat exhaustion, which can lead to heatstroke. “When you're hiking in hot weather, your natural instinct is to wear less, not more,” says Jenny Kotlyar, Hiking Coach and Founder of Limitless Hiker. “But that actually makes it worse. When it's hot, you want to make sure as much of yourself is covered as possible. Wear loose hiking clothing for breathability. When I first started hiking, I made the mistake of hiking one mile round trip in 104-degree weather in a sports bra and leggings. I got heat exhaustion on the way back to the car while others were fine because they were dressed appropriately for the weather.”
When it comes to hiking shoes, Taitelman cannot stress enough the importance of waterproofing. “There is always going to be some form of water on the trail,” she says, “and there’s nothing worse than wet socks and wet shoes on the terrain. Hiking back with heavy, wet shoes and soggy socks is a surefire recipe for blisters.”
Layer, Layer, Layer
When the temperature is more moderate, Spicer recommends three layers for optimal hiking clothing. The first layer of clothing is a base layer, which can both trap and release warmth, as well as handle moisture accumulations. “Your base layer contacts your skin, so choose it for its softness, moisture-wicking and ventilation,” she says.
Next up is a mid-layer of hiking clothing, which insulates and modulates body temperature (particularly useful for fall and spring hikes, which usually range in temperature). “An example is a zip-up vest with or without a hood,” Spicer says. “Consider the same fabrics as your base layer, along with fleece or down (synthetic or natural).”
Finally, choose an outer layer (like this jacket) that will help protect against the elements and keep your other hiking clothing warm and dry. Like other pieces in your wardrobe, the best hiking clothes can show off your personality, especially when it comes to color. But color can also provide functionality. “If you're hiking around hunters or during hiking season, you need to wear bright colors like orange and green so the hunters see you,” says Kotlyar. “If you're hiking in the hot months, generally lighter colors are better because they keep you cooler instead of wearing black.”
Stay Away From…
Cotton! “Cotton is not your friend as a hiker,” says Spicer. “It holds onto your perspiration and makes you feel clammy and cold when the temperature dips, even during a rest break in the shade. Hypothermia can happen to anyone caught in a thunderstorm wearing jeans and a t-shirt, too.”
Kotlyar couldn’t agree more. “Don't wear cotton or jeans on a hike,” she warns. “First of all, you're going to be very uncomfortable. Second, cotton is not moisture-wicking, it actually stays wet. Which is the exact opposite of what you want your hiking clothing to do. The goal of your hiking clothing is to keep you dry and warm if it's cold, and cool and comfortable if it's hot.”
For women, Spicer also recommends avoiding clothing with skinny straps, push-up bras, tight jeans, skimpy shorts and other clothes that constricts skin. “You want coverage and ventilation to prevent chafing, blistering, sunburn and insect bites,” she says.
Besides hiking clothing and shoes, there are a few extra details that can make a summer hike more enjoyable. To prevent blisters, Kotlyar recommends always wearing wool socks (or synthetic wool if you struggle with an allergy). “You want to make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your feet dry,” she says. “Wool is moisture-wicking. I bring two pairs of wool socks and change them out at lunch.”
Even in summer, changing conditions (especially at higher altitudes) mean temps can plummet. “A pair of fleece gloves and a beanie weigh nothing but are a good insurance policy against fast changing conditions,” adds Spicer. “And a hiker can never have too many pockets, including a few with zippers to hold important items.”
Ready to shop new clothes before your next summer hike?