woman-hiking
Jo Richards
Jo Richards

What to Wear Hiking: The Best Outdoor Clothes & Outfits

Hiking is awesome! You get out into the fresh air, see nature from a more intimate and personal perspective, and get some exercise.

To make the experience even more memorable and comfortable, it’s worth giving some thought to your clothing. After all, you don’t want to be out on a mountain trail in high heels, do you? That one’s obvious. But if you’re inexperienced, read on. There are a number of other no-nos worth … er… knowing.

Several factors play into planning your next hike and what you wear. The comfort we’ve mentioned, for one. But there’s also practicality and endurance. Let’s take a look at what to wear on a hike, no matter what the weather.

By the way – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. That’s an old hiker proverb. Here’s the proof.

Start with Hiking Undies

No, we don’t mean undies that hike by themselves. It’s often overlooked by newbies that your standard everyday undies aren’t necessarily the best option for a good long hike.

Cotton undies, for example, are not great, especially when your bits and special parts get hot and sweaty. Invest in a pair – a few pairs – of merino wool (fancy) polyester (less fancy) or nylon undies.

They deal with moisture, sweat and heat much better than cotton, and you’ll thank yourself once you hit the second hour of a tough walk.

By the way, undies include shorts, vests, bras and even socks. In fact, socks are the most forgotten item on this list – stay away from cotton socks! When they don’t absorb the sweat, you may develop blisters… and your feet are obviously the most important body part for hiking.

In general, the undies rule applies to anything directly touching your skin. Keep it dry!

Choosing the Best Hiking Clothes

When it comes to hiking clothing, you deserve to give yourself the best options. Practical and comfortable hiking outfits will make your pastime more enjoyable, and ultimately more fulfilling.

Hiking Trousers, Pants & Skirts

As with underwear, you want to be comfortable in clothing that deals with moisture (internal and external). But you also want a certain ability to move – for freedom of movement. And even with that said, you want to account for the rough terrain you’ll be traversing.

If you have some insight into the terrain you’ll be on, some options may present self. For example, trudging through swampy wetlands or forests will probably require some long pants. Mosquitos, bugs, parasites, and scratchy branches will eat up exposed legs in a hurry.

Tights or yoga exercise pants will not do well if you’re climbing sharp rocks. And unless your worst ground is a slightly gravelly road, dresses and skirts are probably not a good idea in general.

Hiking Tops, Tees & Shirts

Your preference of style is one thing – short, long, or no sleeve, for example. But whatever your choice, it has to have one quality – it must be a wicking fabric.

Wicking fabric is an odd-sounding term that basically means that it draws moisture off the body. Polyester is the most commonly used wicking fabric. Also, the aforementioned merino wool and nylon are used. As you can tell, these are synthetic materials that use specific manufacturing processes.

Hiking Jackets

Selecting a proper jacket requires a bit more thought than the previous categories. For one thing, this may largely depend on the season and weather.

If there is one rule, it’s that the jacket should be packable. A little further down, you can read about the value of preparing in layers. Should you need to remove your jacket, you should be able to shove it into a backpack or at least stow it efficiently.

Make sure you also know whether your jacket is waterproof, breathable, or just warm. A jacket that gets heavier when it’s wet may cause problems if you get caught in a downpour. A rain jacket will resist external wetness and deal with sweat efficiently.

As a side note, if you are in a wet climate, pack a pair of rain pants too if you can. If your concern is cold rather than rain, try a fleecy-lined or puffy polyester fill jacket.

Hats

It goes without saying that a good hat should keep the sun off your face. But it also keeps rain out of your eyes. Though peak caps can work, a hat with a brim all-around will also look after your neck and the sides of your face. There are some great breathable canvas and leather hats out there to choose from.

Add sunglasses for the cool factor.

Shoes & Boots

It’s both the most important item and the easiest to choose. Make them sturdy. Make them strong. They should cover your entire foot. They should be able to work in wet and dry situations. And they should be able to handle the rough ground.

Though hiking boots are specifically designed and probably the best choice, you can get away with a good solid shoe provided it ticks the boxes. We’d skip the trainers.

Strategizing your Hiking Outfit

There are a lot of articles out there explaining how to look stylish when you go out hiking. It’s a good idea to take most of these with a pinch of salt. When it comes to hiking, style should definitely be a secondary issue.

Hiking is fun but can get unpleasant really quickly if you’re casual about it. Functionality is the name of the game. And besides, you’re not going to feel particularly stylish when the rain is coming down and you’re out there in the wrong gear, cold and sore.

Choosing what to wear when hiking starts by always checking the weather beforehand, and keeping in mind that even that can sometimes be wrong. Your best bet is to employ the layering strategy. Choose clothes and apparel that can be put on and taken off in layers.

The best clothes for hiking all serve a specific function, and will ideally fit into a backpack, especially if it’s a long walk.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Clothing Terms: What to Wear on a Hike For Comfort

When shopping for hiking clothes, pay attention to the labels and what they mean:

Wicking: Wicking pulls the sweat off your body. This is important for the undies!

Insulating: Helps you stay warm via the middle layer (shirts, vests, light jackets, hoodies, etc)

Sun protection: Clothes are available that offer UV protection.

Breathable: Try to make all the layers breathable. This helps with the wicking, otherwise, the wicked water may get trapped between layers, defeating the purpose. More expensive options can offer both breathable and waterproof factors in the same outer garment.

Waterproof: Resists water, so useful in jackets, rain pants, and shoes.

Windproof: Different to “wind-resistant”. Windproof totally protects from cold wind and (sometimes) rain.

Best Fabrics for Outdoor Wear

Most of the time, the best materials for hiking clothes tend to be synthetic. Keep an eye out for these in the labels:

  • Fleece
  • Merino wool
  • Nylon
  • Polyester
  • Treated silk (in a pinch)

What Not to Wear

Avoid these at all costs, no matter how stylish you feel you need to look:

  • Bad, soft, or flimsy shoes
  • Bras with clasps (annoying when wearing a backpack)
  • Cotton (No cotton anything!)
  • Denim (No jeans or jackets)
  • Secret or no-show socks (Creates chaffing opportunities)
  • Silk (It’s sweaty and stinky! Treated silk is slightly better, but not much)
  • Heavy clothes
  • Overly loose or baggy clothes
  • Flimsy, thin clothing

A Quick Note on Backpacks

You may be unsure about what size backpack to bring, especially given what this article says about being able to stow layers. As a guide, a 30l backpack is considered adequate for a day trip on a hike.

Depending on your experience, length of the hike, and other factors, you may need a smaller or bigger pack. A multi-day hike, for example, will require space for a tent.

If your hike is a specialist hike, like a mountain climb, you may need extra gear. But keep in mind that being able to pack your layers is important, so use that as a starting point.

Final Thoughts – Go Hiking, but be Sensible

Much of the hiking wear we’ve outlined here may feel like common sense. And for the most part, the clothing tips will enhance the fabulous time you want to have on your hike. Remember that it comes down to a balance of things.

Preparedness for the weather, terrain, and the unexpected to some degree will serve you well. Today’s choices for shoes, high-tech fabrics, and smart design goes a long way to looking after you in this regard. You might also gift yourself a few little hiker trinkets if you’re serious about taking on the habit.

Comfort must also be considered So keep in mind these tips around what not to wear, and you should have a great time out on the trails! Don’t forget to stretch, and see you around.

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