What to Wear Hiking

 A woman adjusts her hat while hiking

You might hear hikers say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. This article will offer some dos and don’ts for your hiking attire.


What to Wear Hiking (the Quick-and-Dirty List):

  • No denim jeans or “I love to hike” cotton tees: Cotton holds onto water, so it keeps you feeling sweaty in hot temps and chills you if things turn cold and wet.
  • Polyester, nylon or merino wool undies (and everything else): These materials move sweat off skin and dry fast, so they’re ideal for next-to-skin layers such as briefs, tees, sports bras or long underwear, and for socks. That moisture management ability means those materials work well for all the rest of your clothing as well.
  • Comfortable yet sturdy pants: Trails have twists and turns, so you need to move freely. Branches and boulders, though, can shred thin, stretchy tights or yoga pants.
  • A warm jacket: Polyester fleece works great for this, though a puffy jacket (with a polyester fill or water-resistant down inside), is smart for colder conditions.
  • A rain jacket: “Waterproof/breathable” is the key phrase, meaning it will block rain and wind, but will also let you sweat without feeling like you’re wearing a plastic bag. In seriously soggy weather, pack rain pants, too.
  • A brimmed hat: Keeps your head dry and protected from the sun. The brim helps keep rain and sun out of your eyes. (Bring some sunglasses, too.)
  • Sturdy shoes: You don’t have to have leather boots, but your footwear should provide support, protection from rocks and roots, and traction on wet and dry surfaces.


Clothing Strategies

a hiker zipping up his various layers

If you’re ready to think about your hiking outfit more holistically, then you can shop with the following strategies in mind:

  • Embrace layering: In this tried-and-true strategy each clothing layer has a unique function, and you add or subtract those layers to adapt to changing conditions. For more details, read Layering Basics.
  • Anticipate conditions: Your health and protection is utterly dependent on what you packed, and your climate-controlled exit vehicle is many miles away. Forecasts can be off, so be ready for conditions to turn cooler, wetter, snowier or hotter than predicted.
  • Focus on function, not fashion: No one looks good when they feel miserable.
  • Think about comfort, durability weight and price: Gear buying involves tradeoffs, so decide both your preferences and your budget before you shop. Ultralight gear can be a great choice, but it will also lighten your wallet.
  • Get good hiking boots or trail shoes: One of the most important things you’ll wear on the trail, shoes are your first big decision. For advice on shopping for them, read our Hiking Boots: How to Choose article.

Key Fabric Properties

detail of a pair of shorts with sun protection and quick-drying features

Regardless of what hiking clothing is made of or looks like, you need different layers to have different properties:

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