What to Wear Hiking

Bra: Your best bet is a pullover sports bra without clasps—metal or plastic clasp parts can dig into your skin if they end up under your pack straps.

Tank top/camisole: A versatile piece, this lightweight top can add core warmth on cool days or work as a lighter alternative to a T-shirt on warm ones.

Base layer top and bottoms (long underwear): Available in lightweight, midweight and heavyweight fabrics: Select weight based on anticipated temps and whether your metabolism runs hot or cold. A crewneck top is more affordable, while a pricier zip-neck lets you adjust as you get hot or cold. Bottoms can be worn under shorts for sun protection or warmth. Wear them under hiking pants, and perhaps rain pants, when conditions get stormy. Read Underwear (Base Layer): How to Choose for more details.

Should you wear undies under long underwear? There’s no right or wrong answer, so do whatever is most comfortable. Undies underneath are not needed and fabrics can bunch up uncomfortably, but some people like the added support and warmth.

Head-to-Toe Clothing Options

a hiker adjusting their convertible hiking pants

You always need to pack a base layer, mid layer and outer shell (rain jacket and pants) to be properly prepared for any hike, but what you wear while on the trail might vary. Below is a rundown on those clothing options:

Hats: If you’re hiking in the desert or other relentlessly sunbaked environment, wear a wide-brimmed hat or a billed cap with a sun cape attached. A wide brim can also be a plus to keep rain out of your eyes if a soggy forecast suggests bringing a waterproof hat. For cool conditions, pack along a wool or synthetic cap to insulate your head.

Shirts: A wicking short-sleeve T-shirt is fine in warm weather, and a wicking long-sleeve top is fine for cool conditions. For a sun-drenched day, wear a long-sleeve UPF-rated shirt (many have a flip-up collar for neck protection).

Shorts, pants and convertible (zip-off) pants: Hikers love zip-off pants because they don’t have to choose between pants and shorts. Quick-drying fabrics are the rule here and some hiking shorts with built-in liners can double as swimwear. Cargo pants and shorts are also popular because hikers love to have places to stash things.

Yoga pants and tights? Great for flexibility, but not so much for encounters with sandstone or bushes.

Hiking skirt, dress or skort: Functional touches include stretchy yet durable fabrics and built-in liners (in skorts).

Gloves and socks: Go thicker or thinner based on the weather. Socks need to be taller than your hiking footwear, and packing a dry pair is wise in case you wade too deeply in a creek or your feet start to blister. Insulated and waterproof gloves are best for wintry conditions, and mittens are always warmer than gloves made of the same materials.

Gaiters: On the trail you might see what looks like legwarmers atop a hikers’ boots. Called “gaiters,” these accessories keep trail debris, rain and even pests like ticks from invading your boot tops.

Mid Layer: Fleece and Puffy Jackets

a hiker wearing a puffy jacket

This is the layer that provides your primary warmth. A standard recommendation is to bring two options, a lightweight fleece top or jacket, and a lightweight puffy jacket that compresses well to fit in your daypack. Adjust as needed for your specific trip.

Fleece jacket: On colder days, you can wear it while hiking. On a cool day wait until a rest break to slip it on. Fleece comes in lightweight, midweight and heavyweight: Select weight based on the forecast and whether your metabolism runs hot or cold.

Fleece pants: If severe cold is a possibility, fleece pants are a nice mid-layer addition. On most hikes, though, long underwear bottoms offer all the added leg warmth you might need.

Puffy insulated jacket or vest: If conditions will be mild, a fleece jacket is sufficient. If things could get cold, then also pack a puffy. Standard down, the insulation inside many puffy jackets, loses much of its warmth-retaining ability if you get it wet, so synthetic insulations are a better bet. You can also bring a jacket filled with water-resistant down or a hybrid that combines a synthetic fill with water-resistant down