Simple Guide for What to Wear Hiking

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When planning a hiking trip, one of the most important things to consider is what to wear. The right clothing can make all the difference in terms of comfort, safety, and enjoyment. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, knowing what to wear hiking can help you stay comfortable and protected on the trail.

When it comes to hiking clothing, there are a few key factors to keep in mind. First and foremost, you want to choose clothing that is comfortable and allows for a full range of motion. This means avoiding clothing that is too tight or restrictive, as well as clothing that is too loose and may get caught on branches or other obstacles.

Additionally, you want to choose clothing that is appropriate for the weather and conditions you’ll be hiking in. This may include layers to help regulate your body temperature, as well as clothing that is waterproof or water-resistant if you’ll be hiking in wet conditions. 

Choosing the Right Clothes for Hiking

When going on a hiking trip, choosing the right clothes is essential for a comfortable and safe journey. Here are some tips to help you figure out what to wear hiking to ensure you are prepared for any weather or trail conditions.

Consider the Weather

Before heading out, take a look at the weather forecast for the area you will be hiking in. Dressing appropriately for the weather can make a big difference in your comfort level. For hot and humid climates, choose lightweight and breathable fabrics. For colder temperatures, opt for thicker layers and warm fabrics like wool or fleece.

Choose Breathable Fabric 

When hiking, it’s important to choose clothes made from breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics. These fabrics will help keep you dry and comfortable by allowing sweat to evaporate quickly. Avoid cotton, as it absorbs moisture and can lead to chafing and discomfort.

Protect Yourself from the Sun and Wind

When hiking in sunny or windy conditions, protect yourself with a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. For windy conditions, consider wearing a windproof layer to keep you warm and protected.

Be Prepared for Any Trail Conditions

Always be prepared for any trail conditions you may encounter. Bring a water-resistant or waterproof jacket, gaiters to keep debris out of your shoes, and a pair of camp shoes for when you reach your destination. Don’t forget to pack a water bottle and snacks to keep you fueled throughout your hike.

Dress in Layers

Dressing in layers allows you to adjust your clothing as the temperature changes throughout the day. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add an insulating mid-layer, and finish with a waterproof and windproof outer layer. This layering system will help keep you warm and dry in any weather conditions.

One of the fundamental principles of dressing for hiking is layering. By knowing what to wear hiking and how to layer clothing you will set yourself up for success on the trails. To start off with layering basics, the three essential layers are:

Base Layer

Start with a lightweight moisture-wicking base layer, typically made of synthetic materials like polyester or merino wool. This layer helps regulate your body temperature by wicking away sweat from your skin, keeping you dry and comfortable.

When it comes to what to wear for a hiking base layer. I often recommend a t- shirt, long sleeve shirt, or a synthetic button down as a base layer depending on the weather, bugs, and individual preferences. For bottoms I just wear boxer briefs as a base I do not usually wear long johns. If I am wearing running shorts with built-in underwear, I do not carry an additional pair of underwear. Bras should also be moisture wicking and comfortable to prevent chafing on the trails. 

When it comes to fabric materials you are looking for moisture wicking fabrics like a merino wool blend or polyester blend. In most cases I would not go with cotton fabrics unless it is a super-hot day then it can keep you cool. The problem with cotton is that the fabric does not wick moisture well and this is a big issue in cooler temps when you want to be warmer. 

Base Layers

Mid Layer

The insulating layer provides warmth and helps retain body heat. Lightweight fleece jackets or down vests are excellent choices for this layer, as they are lightweight, breathable, and offer insulation without adding excessive bulk.

When it comes to what to wear for a hiking mid layer. I recommend using a light fleece or a light loose-fitting hoodie. This also depends on the weather and conditions. Most of the time I will bring a light fleece unless there will be very hot weather and nights.

Outer Layer

Outers layers are a bit more specialized, and I consider there to be two main outer layers one for insulation or a windproof/waterproof shell. In general, outer layers protect you from the elements weather that be cold, wind, or rain.

When it comes to what to wear for a hiking outer layer for insulation you want to find a down jacket around 650 -800 fill power these are usually a great range of warmth to weight ratio, 800 being the warmest. Here is a list of my favorite budget down jackets.

For a waterproof/wind resistant jacket you generally want something breathable and waterproof, with sealed seams and adjustable cuffs, to keep you dry and shielded from rain, wind, or snow. I do not personally ever use a jacket specific for wind breaking as I have found waterproof jackets to be just as effective.

In really wet conditions it is always nice to bring a designated pair of “sleep clothes” that will be a pair of clothes that should always stay dry. You can wear them while letting your wet hiking clothes dry and then out on the trail place the sleeping clothes in a dry bag or liner. 

Outer Layers

Pants or Shorts

The choice between pants and shorts depends on the weather, terrain, and personal preference. For warmer climates and well-maintained trails, lightweight and quick-drying hiking shorts can provide comfort and freedom of movement. In colder weather or rugged terrains, consider wearing durable and water-resistant hiking pants to protect your legs from scratches, insect bites, or harsh weather conditions.

Cold, Rainy, and Hot Layering Examples

When considering how to layer for specific weather conditions, it’s important to take into account factors beyond just the weather itself. Factors like exertion level and personal metabolism play a significant role in determining the appropriate clothing layers. The following suggestions are tailored for a hypothetical individual with average body temperature regulation, planning an intermediate-level half-day hike.

Hot and Dry Weather Layers

In hot weather I will often wear boxer briefs made up of polyester fabric, short sleeve t-shirts or long sleeve depending on sun intensity with synthetic fabric. Bottoms consist of breathable hiking pants maybe shorts pending sun intensity. If I am wearing running shorts, I omit the boxer briefs and rely on the built in underwear. 

For outer wear I will often still bring a rain jacket especially if there are chances of rain in the forecast. If backpacking or staying overnight, I usually skip the fleece mid layer and will just bring a puffy jacket.

Clothing Layers

Hot, Humid, and Buggy Weather Layers

In hot, humid, and buggy areas I will often wear boxer briefs made up of synthetic fabric and breathable hiking pants or running shorts pending bug pressure and brush. If I am wearing running shorts, I omit the boxer briefs and rely on the built in underwear. 

For the top it depends again on heat vs bug pressure. But usually, a long sleeve or a button down treated with permethrin. Also, if wearing shorts during a buggy area it really helps to have those shorts treated with bug repellent as well. If bugs are extremely bad a mosquito head net may also be necessary.

For layering I will often still bring a rain jacket especially if rain chances are likely. If backpacking or staying overnight, I might bring a fleece mid layer depending on the time of year and weather and will usually always bring a puffy jacket.

Clothing Layers

Cold Weather Layers

Things shift a little in cold weather and the big thing is staying warmer during the hike or backpacking trip. To start off, I typically still wear boxer briefs because I tend to run warm. But if you run cold a long pair of light thermals or running tights under your pants should keep you toasty.

Layering is the key when hiking in colder weather. Up top I recommend wearing a long sleeve shirt, layered with a fleece and insulated jacket as needed. For pants I really like the soft-shell hiking pants which are a little heavier and more resistant to the elements. I recommend bringing your rain/wind gear, waterproof rain jacket and pants in case of windy or precipitation. Also, do not forget to bring a warm hat and gloves.

Clothing Layers

Rainy and Cool Weather Layers

In rainy weather it helps to change layers as weather changes. Hiking in a waterproof jacket and pants can get really hot and steamy. So, when rain lets up adjust your layers and if you get too hot or cold adjust your mid layers.  

For what to wear hiking in rainy and cool weather, I will often wear boxer briefs made up of polyester fabric and hiking pants. Up top I will wear long sleeve shirt and layer up with a light fleece layer and have a waterproof jacket and pants as needed.

If it is a warmer day with chances of rain, I will wear shorts and maybe a short sleeve shirt if very warm. I will still bring a fleece for the mid layer and waterproof outer layer. If going backpacking in rainy weather read this article about my top tips for backpacking in the rain.

Clothing Layers

In summary, choosing the right clothes for hiking is essential for a comfortable and safe journey. Consider the weather, choose breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics, dress in layers, wear comfortable hiking shoes or boots, protect yourself from the sun and wind, and be prepared for any trail conditions. By following these tips, you can enjoy your hiking trip to the fullest.

Choosing the Right Footwear

When it comes to hiking, choosing the right footwear is crucial to ensure a comfortable and safe experience. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the right hiking footwear:

Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots

Hiking shoes are lightweight, flexible, and ideal for well-maintained trails. They are also a great option for those who prefer a minimalist approach to hiking and are what I tend to prefer especially for 3 season hiking. On the other hand, hiking boots provide a stiffer feel and offer more protection on rugged terrain and mud.

Look for Ankle Support

Ankle support in footwear is not as essential as it was once believed. Hiking boots or trail running shoes have both come a long way in performance. I tend to recommend boots in more rugged, muddy terrain, or when carrying really heavy loads. Otherwise hiking shoes and trail shoes offer more pros in my mind. But this it up to individual preferences as well.

As of lately, research coming out are starting to show shifting trends toward hiking shoes and trail running shoes being better for foot function. Hiking boots may have a detrimental impact on ankle function instead of providing more support, (study, study).

But on the flipside, there is research that has found possible correlations to high top shoes and bracing support useful in preventing ankle injuries, (study, study). It will take more time to see where the trends continue to flow in regard to shoes vs boots for ankle support. So, continue to go by personal preference and always do not be afraid of controlled trial and error.

Choose the Right Fit

The right fit is crucial when it comes to hiking footwear. Make sure to try on shoes or boots with the socks you’ll be wearing on your hike. Look for a snug fit that isn’t too tight or too loose, and make sure there’s enough room for your toes to wiggle.

Consider the Trail Conditions

The type of trail you’ll be hiking on should also influence your footwear choice. For instance, if you’ll be hiking on rocky or uneven terrain, it’s best to opt for a shoe or boot with a sturdy sole and good traction. If you’ll be hiking in wet or muddy conditions, look for footwear with waterproof or water-resistant materials.

Consider the Climate

The climate is another crucial factor to consider when selecting hiking footwear. If you’ll be hiking in hot weather, choose breathable shoes or boots that allow for airflow. In colder weather, opt for insulated shoes or boots that will keep your feet warm.

In summary, choosing the right hiking footwear is essential to ensure a comfortable and safe hiking experience. Consider the trail conditions, climate, ankle support, and fit when selecting your footwear. Whether you choose hiking shoes or hiking boots, make sure they are comfortable, durable, and suited for the type of hiking you’ll be doing.

Choosing the Right Accessories

When planning a hiking trip, it’s important to choose the right accessories to protect yourself from the elements and ensure a comfortable and safe journey. Here are some tips on choosing the right accessories for your next hiking adventure.

Protect Your Feet with Hiking Socks

Hiking socks are an essential accessory for any hiking trip. They are designed to provide extra cushioning, support, and protection to your feet, which can help prevent blisters and other foot injuries. Look for socks that are made of moisture-wicking materials, such as wool or synthetic blends, to keep your feet dry and comfortable.

Consider Gaiters for Snowy or Wet Conditions

Gaiters are an excellent accessory for hiking in snowy or wet conditions. They are designed to cover your boots and lower legs, providing an extra layer of protection against the elements. Gaiters are especially useful in deep snow or wet conditions, as they can prevent snow or water from entering your boots and soaking your socks.

Wear Sunglasses for Eye Protection

Sunglasses are an important accessory for hiking, as they can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and glare. Look for sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection and are designed for outdoor activities. Polarized lenses can also help reduce glare and improve visibility on sunny days.

Protect Your Head and Face 

A wide-brimmed hat is an excellent accessory for hiking, as it can provide shade and protect your face and neck from the sun’s harmful rays. Look for hats that are made of lightweight, breathable materials, such as nylon or polyester, to keep you cool and comfortable on hot days. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, including your face and neck, to protect against sunburn and skin damage.

Choose the Right Gloves

Hiking gloves are an important accessory for any hiking trip, as they can provide extra warmth and protection to your hands. Look for gloves that are made of breathable, moisture-wicking materials, such as wool or synthetic blends, to keep your hands dry and comfortable. Consider gloves with touchscreen compatibility, so you can use your smartphone or GPS device without having to remove your gloves.

Overall, choosing the right accessories for your hiking trip can make a big difference in your comfort and safety on the trail. By investing in quality hiking socks, gaiters, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and gloves, you can protect yourself from the elements and enjoy your hiking adventure to the fullest.

Choosing the Right Backpack

When it comes to hiking, choosing the right backpack is crucial. A good backpack is not only essential for carrying all the necessary supplies but also plays a significant role in ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience. Here are some things to consider when choosing the right backpack:

Consider the Length of Your Hike

The length of your hike will determine the size of the backpack you need. For day hikes, a smaller backpack with a capacity of 20-30 liters is sufficient, while multi-day hikes require a larger backpack with a capacity of 50-80 liters. It’s essential to choose a backpack that can comfortably carry all the necessary supplies for the duration of your hike. Finding your backpacking weight is one way to help determine the size of backpack you need.

Choose the Right Size

Choosing the right size backpack is crucial for ensuring a comfortable fit. The backpack should fit snugly against the back and not shift around during the hike. It’s essential to measure the torso length to determine the correct size backpack. Most backpacks come in different sizes, so it’s essential to choose the right size for your body type.

Look for a Comfortable Fit

A comfortable fit is essential for a successful hiking trip. The backpack should have a padded hip belt and shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly across the body. It’s also essential to choose a backpack with adjustable straps to ensure a custom fit.

Consider the Weight and Durability

The weight and durability of the backpack are important factors to consider. A lightweight backpack is ideal for long hikes, while a durable backpack can withstand rough terrain and harsh weather conditions. It’s essential to choose a backpack made from high-quality materials that can withstand the rigors of hiking.

Choose a Backpack with Good Ventilation

Hiking can be a sweaty business, so it’s important to choose a backpack with good ventilation. Look for backpacks with mesh panels or air channels to allow air to circulate between the backpack and the back. This will help keep you cool and dry during the hike.

When choosing a backpack, it’s important to consider the price, functionality, and other factors that are important to you. By taking the time to choose the right backpack, you can ensure a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right clothing for hiking plays a vital role in ensuring your comfort, safety, and overall enjoyment on the trail. By following the layering principle, selecting appropriate fabrics, and considering the weather conditions and terrain, you can dress smartly and be prepared for any hiking adventure. Remember, comfort and protection should be your top priorities, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of nature while staying safe and comfortable. So, gear up, dress appropriately, and have fun.

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