What To Wear Hiking? Your Complete Guide
Hiking clothes are an important part of any hike. The right clothing will keep you comfortable and safe, so, it’s important to consider what kind of weather may impact your adventure. Here are several things to consider when choosing hiking clothing:
What to Wear Hiking – General Guidelines
If you’re prepared to approach your hiking gear more thoroughly, you can shop with the following tactics in mind:
Key Fabric Properties
Wicking: A fabric’s capacity to draw moisture (sweat) away from you and move it to the fabric’s outer surface, where it can dry quickly. This is important in a base layer or any clothing that comes in contact with your skin.
Insulating: The ability to insulate, which is crucial for your mid-layer and essential to keeping you warm. Although clothing doesn’t produce heat on its own, if it is effective at insulating, it can trap the heat that your body generates.
Waterproof and windproof: These properties are crucial in an outer layer or “shell,” as they prevent the rain from soaking your clothes or the wind from sweeping away the heat that your body generates. Be aware that “water- and wind-resistant” jackets only provide moderate weather protection because they do not completely block rain and wind.
Breathable: This is important in all of your layers because it promotes quicker drying of your wicking layer. The sweat that is wicked off your skin dries slowly if your layers don’t breathe together, and you risk getting soaked by your own sweat.
Waterproof/breathable: Advanced shells provide this coverage combination, but even the most cutting-edge technologies prioritize wind and rain protection. Therefore, when humidity and exertion levels are high, they have trouble breathing.
Sun protection: A garment’s ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating will aid in shielding skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Basic Fabric Choices
Wool: While traditional wool clothing may have been itchy, modern wool clothing is not. Because of its fine fibers, merino wool in particular is soft, breathable, moisture-wicking, reasonably quick to dry, and not prone to odor retention.
Polyester/nylon clothing: Clothes made of polyester or nylon are more reasonably priced than those made of merino wool, perform better at wicking sweat and drying quickly, and frequently are made of recycled materials. One drawback of synthetic materials is their propensity to smell funky, which is why some clothing has an antimicrobial treatment to eliminate bacteria that cause odors.
Fleece: Although fleece jackets are actually made of polyester, their warmth is due as much to their soft, thick fibers as to the chemical characteristics of the material.
Polyester/nylon jackets: These synthetic materials shield you from rain and wind in their “hard shell” form (raincoat or the outer layer of a puffy jacket). They frequently work in conjunction with specific coatings or laminates.
Silk: Silk has a poor ability to wick moisture, making it unsuitable for a demanding hike. Due to its chemical modification to improve wicking, treated silk performs better. Although silk has a soft, opulent feel, it is not particularly durable or odor resistant.
Cotton: Cotton is infamously bad at wicking and drying. If you don’t mind feeling clammy and sticky in the heat, you can wear it. However, wearing cotton next to your skin in cool weather is a recipe for hypothermia, which is why seasoned hikers say “cotton kills.”
Layered Garment System
Layering your upper body clothing is essential when performing aerobic activities outside (where you have no control over the weather or temperature). This will allow you to remove or add layers as the temperature or your level of activity changes. An insulation layer, a shell layer, and a base layer make up the traditional three-layer garment system. A base layer is worn all the time, but an insulation and shell layer are only worn when necessary.
The lower body’s layering of clothing typically include underwear and a pair of hiking pants. It may be necessary to wear waterproof/breathable overpants in extremely rainy conditions, whereas long (thermal) underwear bottoms may be preferred in extremely cold conditions.
However, because long underwear bottoms are difficult to remove when the weather or activity level changes (you must first take off your boots and pants), many hikers avoid wearing them. Therefore, hiking pants, which come in various materials for various conditions, typically serve as the main source of insulation for the lower body. It’s important to remember that proper upper body insulation is more important than lower body insulation because the lower part of the human body loses heat at a much slower rate than the upper part.
The layered clothing system for the upper and lower body, as well as the various types of hiking clothing, are covered in detail in the sections that follow.
Depending on the weather, a base layer is a piece of clothing that is worn next to the skin. T-shirts, long sleeve shirts, tank tops, and other basic clothing can be used as base layers. These clothes’ primary job is to transfer moisture (perspiration) to your outer layers and thus keeping you dry. Staying dry is especially important when it’s cold outside because damp or humid skin and clothing quickly lose body heat. This is because water transfers heat much more quickly than air as it has a thermal conductivity that is 25 times greater than that of air.
A base layer should control moisture while also shielding your skin from UV rays and chafing from a backpack. It should be made of a material that is both soft to the touch and odor-resistant. Base layers differ by sleeve length, fit and materials.
1. Base Layer Materials
Merino wool and polyester are the two materials most frequently used to make base layers for hiking. For aerobic activities like hiking, cotton base layers are not advised because they absorb too much moisture and can’t keep you warm and comfortable.
The most typical fabric used for base layer clothing is polyester. It wicks moisture away from the skin effectively, dries quickly, absorbs very little moisture in its own weight and is very light. However, polyester typically only provides mediocre breathability and has poor odor-resistance (even when treated with antimicrobial agents, which will eventually be washed out).
Due to its excellent comfort, natural odor-resistance, breathability, and superior warmth retention even when wet, merino wool is becoming more and more popular in the outdoor clothing industry. It’s important to remember that Merino wool can be knitted into incredibly thin fabrics that work fantastically during summer days, so it’s not just appropriate for cold weather.
2. Fit and sleeve length
Base layers can be divided into loose-fitting base layers and tight-fitting base layers. For warm weather, loose fitting base layers work best because they allow for more ventilation. Contrarily, tight-fitting base layers are ideal for cold weather because they prevent the entry of cold air.
Base layers with short sleeves are typically worn in extremely warm weather (as a standalone garment), while base layers with long sleeves are worn in all other seasons so that moisture can be transported to the outer layers more effectively.
The best shirts for hiking are the ones that feel great on your skin, minimize friction, and don’t limit your movement. Since there are so many options on the market, it’s crucial to choose your hiking attire carefully.
The three main qualities to look for in hiking shirts are temperature regulation, odor-control, and moisture management. You can combine all of these features with the best material, and you’ll be ready to begin your hiking adventure!
1. Hiking Shirts Materials
Hikers frequently choose fabrics made of polyester and synthetic materials. They are the most prevalent material in outdoor clothing stores and typically fairly affordable. If your shirt gets wet, it will dry quickly because synthetic material is known for its moisture-combatting properties! The only issue with synthetic material is that, if your shirt picks up body odor, it probably won’t stop stinking until you wash it.
The term “blend material” refers to a mixture of nylon and spandex. These blend materials, which use thin, flexible, and soft material, are typically more flexible than polyester and cotton. A shirt with a higher blend is what you need if you’re looking for something that will fit you well and move with your body while you’re hiking. Blend materials don’t have strong odor control, so they retain any unpleasant odors until they are washed. This is their only drawback.
When a base layer is unable to provide enough warmth, a mid-layer is worn over it. You can wear more than one mid-layer at once if the temperature calls for it. These clothes’ primary function is to keep you warm. A mid layer should be quick drying, moisture wicking, and well-packable in order to not take up too much room when carried in a backpack. Different materials and designs are used in mid layer clothing.
Mid Layer Materials
The typical materials used for mid layers when hiking are polyester fleece, Merino wool, goose down (used as a jacket’s insulation layer), or synthetic fill. A brief summary of these materials is provided below.
When it comes to mid layers, polyester fleece is the preferred synthetic material. It is affordable, absorbs very little moisture, dries quickly, and moves moisture from the base layer to the outer layer effectively. But compared to down or synthetic fill, polyester fleece doesn’t offer as much warmth for its weight. Moreover, it is less compressible.
Due to its lower thermal efficiency (lower warmth-to-weight ratio) and higher price compared to polyester fleece, merino wool is rarely used for mid layers. It also absorbs more moisture, takes longer to dry, and is only moderately durable.
Given that it is made up of clusters that can hold a lot of body-warmed air, goose down is more compressible than any other insulation material and offers a good warmth-to-weight ratio. However, goose down loses its ability to retain its loft when exposed to moisture or water. Therefore, only dry conditions are suitable for using clothing with down insulation.
The warmth-to-weight ratio of synthetic fill is typically higher than that of polyester fleece but lower than that of goose down. As with goose down, it doesn’t compress as well.
The most adaptable jackets are those with zippers as they make it simple to control your body’s core temperature. If you start to get too warm, you can simply unzip the jacket. This was very handy for me when I was hiking the Big Sur. Pullovers are another option for mid-layer clothing, and these are typically more durable than zippered jackets because they don’t have a zipper that could break down over time.
In warm weather, a shell can be worn over a base layer; in colder climates, it can be worn over a midlayer. It’s crucial to remember that a shell layer significantly reduces the breathability of the layered clothing system and is typically only worn in windy and wet conditions. The fabric is less breathable the more “waterproof” it is. But thanks to modern materials, manufacturers can now create reasonably breathable fabrics that provide effective rain protection. But bear in mind that no breathable material is 100 percent waterproof.
The three types of shell layers are insulated shells, water-resistant shells (softshell jackets), and waterproof/breathable shells (rain jackets).
a. Waterproof/breathable shells
The best defense against rain and wind is provided by waterproof/breathable shells, also known as hard shells or rain jackets. Additionally, they can be packed very compactly and are extremely light. They are less breathable than water-resistant shells, though. They use coatings or membranes to be “waterproof.”
b. Water-resistant shells
Water-resistant shells, also known as soft shells, are much more breathable and comfortable than waterproof/breathable shells but provide less protection from wind and rain. Soft shells typically combine weather protection with insulation and are made of two materials: a polyester fleece on the inside and a tightly woven, DWR-treated fabric on the outside.
c. Insulated shells
Water-resistant or waterproof/breathable shells that use a synthetic fill are referred to as insulated shells. When excellent insulation and weather protection are required, insulated shells are typically the best bet.
Pants must offer defense against the environment (rocks, vegetation, etc.) and weather. In warm weather, shorts are acceptable, but only on well-maintained trails where protection from the environment and the terrain is not necessary. As pants come in such a wide range of insulation and durability levels, not every pair is appropriate for every circumstance.
Hiking pants are typically made of nylon or polyester fabrics in varying densities. Since nylon is so strong and abrasion-resistant, it is the most popular material for hiking pants. Although polyester is less strong, it also has slightly better breathability and moisture-wicking capabilities (even though these qualities also heavily depend on the fabric’s thickness).
Highly resilient materials like Cordura can be used to further reinforce the more abrasion-prone areas of a pair of pants.
Softshell fabric, which is smooth on the outside and has a brushed lining for insulation on the inside, is typically worn in cold and windy conditions for better insulation and protection against the wind, while heavy rain necessitates the wearing of waterproof/breathable pants (hard shell) over hiking pants for adequate weather protection.
Most hikers understand the value of a good pair of hiking pants, but when it’s hot outside or there are particularly strenuous days on the trail, we opt for hiking shorts. Most of our favorite contemporary hiking shorts are not only more breathable and quicker to dry, but they are also remarkably tough, have useful storage, and have convenient waist adjustments for customizing fit.
The majority of hiking shorts are made of nylon or polyester, just like hiking pants. Due to their lightweight construction, these materials offer excellent freedom of movement and are comparatively durable, breathable, and moisture-wicking. Elastane or spandex is frequently used in designs to give them more stretch, which is great for everything from high-stepping over logs to pitching a tent.
The increased thickness also increases the shorts’ toughness, making them ideal for sitting on uneven surfaces, brushing up against rocks and branches, and withstanding the strain of a heavy backpack.
As moist/wet feet quickly become cold, the primary function of socks is to transfer moisture from the feet to the lining of the boots. Additionally, wet or moist feet increase friction, which leads to blisters. Socks need to be breathable, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking. For good comfort, they must also offer some minor insulation and cushioning.
Typically, a blend of fibers with various densities is used to make hiking socks. They can be separated into two categories: those with a predominance of Merino wool fibers and those with a predominance of synthetic fibers. Since socks do offer some insulation, thick socks are advised for cold weather while thinner socks are advised for warm weather. Cotton socks are not recommended for hiking because they absorb too much moisture, which leads to blisters (from increased friction) and conductive heat loss.
Merino wool socks
As Merino wool fibers are insufficiently strong and flexible, they are never used exclusively in the making of so-called Merino wool socks. Instead, Merino wool fibers are typically combined with nylon and spandex (for durability) (for stretch). However, merino wool fibers can make up to 70% of the fabric. High Merino wool content socks are naturally antimicrobial, have good breathability, and keep feet warm even when wet.
Socks made exclusively of synthetic materials are stronger and dry more quickly than socks made of merino wool. Their downside is that they are not naturally antimicrobial and do not retain heat when wet.
No matter what time of year you’re preparing for a hike, a hat is essential when thinking about what to wear hiking. In the winter, it will help keep you warm. In the summer, it can protect your head from sunburn and heat exhaustion. If you do not wear a hat when hiking in hot weather, your body might overheat and cause dizziness or fainting spells. The hat also helps keep ears warm in cold weather climates by trapping heat around them so they don’t have to work as hard at warming themselves up (like when they’re exposed to wind). According to some studies, the head loses 10% of total body heat.
In most cases, Merino wool or polyester fleece is used in making hiking hats. Hats made of polyester fleece are typically worn in cold and very cold conditions while hats made of merino wool are typically worn in more temperate (but not warm) conditions. Polyester fleece is believed to have a better thermal efficiency (warmth-to-weight ratio) than merino wool.
It’s important to protect your fingers from the cold because they are one of the body parts most susceptible to frostbite. There are two methods for choosing hiking gloves: “all-in-one gloves” and “layered handwear” (more than one pair of gloves is worn at the same time).
All-in-one gloves are typically quite thick, offering both insulation and weather protection (rain, wind). All-in-one gloves, however, have very limited functionality because they can’t maintain a comfortable temperature for your hands as the weather or level of activity changes. As a result, many hikers prefer to wear multiple pairs of thinner gloves, each pair serving a particular purpose.
Layered handwear is layered similarly to upper body clothing; the first layer, a pair of liner gloves, wicks away perspiration, the second, a pair of fleece or gloves filled with synthetic material, which acts as an insulator, and the third, a pair of waterproof/breathable mittens, acts as a shell to protect from the elements (wind, rain). With this system, your hands remain cozy no matter how active you are or how the weather is; you only add the second and third layers when necessary. But compared to purchasing a pair of “all-in-one” gloves, implementing this system is significantly more expensive (you essentially need three different pairs of gloves).
The wrong pair of hiking sunglasses can have a negative impact on your eyesight down the trail, whether they slide down your nose, continually fog up, or don’t provide enough protection from the glare.
A good pair of sunglasses will not only shield your eyes from the sun, but they will also provide excellent defense against debris like dirt, sand, and snow that can get in your eyes.
What is the Right order of the three layers of clothing?
The first layer you should apply is the base layer, which will be in direct contact with your skin. The middle layer, also known as the insulating layer, is the next layer and is typically either a puffy jacket or a fleece sweater. The outer layer (or shell), which is typically a windproof and waterproof jacket, is the last layer you put on.
Should your base layer be tight or loose?
Base layers should be tight but not uncomfortable because you want them to fit close to your body without feeling constrictive. If there are spaces between your skin and the base layer fabric, you will feel colder. The base layer is most comfortable when it is directly against your skin.
How should a mid layer fit?
A mid layer should fit to your body, leaving enough room to wear a base layer underneath and enough room to wear an outer layer on top. Try on a mid layer in a store while wearing a base layer and outer layer to get a sense of how it all fits and feels together.
Why is cotton bad for hiking?
Cotton is unsuitable for hiking in the first place because it retains moisture and dries extremely slowly. Wet clothing will quickly make you very cold because water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air. Cotton is quite thick and heavy, taking up more room in your backpack, which is the second, though less significant, reason.
Can you wear jeans hiking?
Denim, which is made of cotton, is what makes jeans. Therefore, wearing jeans while hiking is not advised for the same reasons that you shouldn’t wear cotton.
Can you wear yoga pants or leggings hiking?
Day hikes can be done while wearing yoga pants or leggings, preferably those made of spandex or nylon (not cotton). Hiking pants are advised for multi-day hikes or backpacking because they are much more resilient and weather resistant. If it starts to rain, your yoga pants or leggings won’t wick water away nearly as well as hiking pants.
What ethical outdoor clothing options are available?
I try to only purchase equipment from businesses with solid sustainability programs, but it can be challenging to determine which businesses are truly sustainable and which are simply greenwashing.