The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Clothes - What To Pack
When it comes to backpacking clothes, there are a lot of options and it can be overwhelming to figure out what you need to pack.
In this guide, we’ll go over what clothes to pack for backpacking and why.
This video below is a great place to start. I walk you through all the clothing categories and possible items to pack from each.
Below the video, I go into even more detail on backpacking clothes and some additional items you might want to consider when backpacking in the mountains.
I break down each category from underwear to jackets, so that you can feel confident for your next backpacking adventure.
Watch, read, and get ready to pack!
WHAT CLOTHES TO PACK FOR BACKPACKING
Underwear, Bras and Socks
In general, you want to avoid clothing made of cotton, especially on items that come into contact with the skin (more on this below).
For underwear, I usually just use the built-in underwear in my hiking shorts, or bring synthetic underwear because it drys quickly.
For bras, this really comes down to personally preference.
Most sports bras are made with moisture wicking material, which is what you want.
Sports bras are probably the best option here, however, I’ll be honest - sometimes I wear a ‘normal’ bra backpacking. It just depends on how I’m feeling.
Believe it or not, a ‘normal’ bra is actually more comfortable for me, so if I’m not expecting there to be any high impact, I’ll wear that instead of a sports bra, simply because it’s a lot more comfortable.
For socks, I use Stance socks. I know that’s super specific, but they’re seriously the only socks I hike with and I love them!
I always bring one pair to hike in and one pair to sleep in.
What to Hike In
As I mentioned above, you want to avoid hiking in cotton clothing.
Cotton does not dry quickly. In fact, it holds onto moisture, which can leave you feeling sweaty in hot temperatures and chilly if the temperature drops.
Instead of cotton, look for clothing made of polyester, nylon, or merino wool. These materials dry fast and move sweat off the skin.
The moisture wicking ability of your hiking clothes is especially important for the layers that touch your skin.
Personally, I opt for wool base-layers to sleep in (more on sleepwear below) and polyester clothing to hike in during the day.
During the warm Summer months, this is an example of that clothes I’ll hike in:
The sunshade shirt has SPF protection, it’s lightweight, and it’s moisture-wicking.
If you’ve seen any of my backpacking vlogs, you’ll notice that I really do wear this on just about every trip. On longer trips, I wear it multiple days in a row.
Other options for hiking clothes are synthetic t-shirts or tank tops, but just make sure you pack enough sunscreen to protect yourself throughout your entire trip.
If it’s too cold for shorts, I usually wear synthetic workout leggings - they dry fast and I find these to be the most comfortable option.
HOWEVER, they’re typically not the most durable hiking pant option.
Don’t wear your favorite pair of yoga pants hiking. They’ll eventually get ruined.
If you have to climb over rocks and hike through thick brush, you might want more durable trekking-specific pants such as these convertible Prana Pants.
Mid-layers are all about warmth.
It doesn’t matter where you’re backpacking, you need to pack mid-layers.
Even if you’re backpacking in the desert, it can get cold, especially at night.
While it’s important to check the weather and pack for it, in general, I always bring one fleece and one puffy jacket - ideally with a hood.
These can worn separately or layered for additional warmth. If I’m expecting a cold trip, I’ll bring a thicker jacket as well, and then I can layer all three!
Don’t skimp on the mid-layers. Having a couple layers packed makes it very easy for you to layer up or layer down throughout the day, as needed.
You can also wear these layers to sleep for added warmth.
Don’t underestimate the weather. Temperatures can drop drastically at night or even during the day if an unexpected storm rolls in.
While you always should check the weather before a trip, it’s often unpredictable in the mountains, and you want to be prepared.
Personally, I would much rather carry a little extra weight in my backpack (in the form of extra mid-layers), than be miserably cold on a backpacking trip.
Here are some of the mid-layers I currently use:
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
(my go-to hooded jacket)
(this is my go-to fleece that can double as a pillow if needed #winning)
Patagonia Prow Bomber Down Jacket
(I’ll bring this, in addition to the layers above, if I’m expecting it to be a colder trip)
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Even if you don’t think it’s going to rain, bring your rain gear.
A good rain jacket should be waterproof and have an adjustable hood. This layer can also be used on extremely windy days to block the wind and keep you warmer.
I always pack a least my rain jacket on every backpacking trip.
Rain pants should also be considered.
As I mentioned in the video above, I usually don’t pack rain pants for desert backpacking trips, but this is totally up to you.
Depending on when and where you’re hiking, rain pants might be necessary, and I want you to at least know they’re an option!
In the mountains, where intense storms can roll in fast, rain pants are definitely a good idea. When combined with your rain jacket, they’ll help keep you dry and warm incase you get caught in a storm.
As mentioned earlier, I use wool base-layers for sleeping. I will bring a base layer that is slightly thicker or lighter depending on how cold I’m expecting it to be.
As I mentioned above, I also bring a pair of socks to sleep in.
I think it’s always a good idea to bring a set of clothes to sleep in only.
That way you can change out of your potentially dirty sweaty hiking clothes, and put dry clothes and socks on for the night.
It’s SO nice to hop into your tent with clean dry clothes after a big day of hiking!
The last few items to consider are accessories like gloves, hats and sunglasses.
If it’s really cold, you might want to bring a hat and gloves for warmth.
If it’s hot and sunny, consider a brimmed hat for sun protection.
Don’t forget a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes!
There you have it - your ultimate guide for what clothes to pack for backpacking!
One of my biggest tips when it comes to packing for a backpacking trip is to pack slowly and when you’re relaxed.
Don’t try to frantically get all your stuff together in 10 seconds before you need to be out the door.
Take your time, pack mindfully and really think through what you’ll need to stay warm and dry.
For example, I get cold a lot easier than the average person, so I know that I really need to make sure I pack enough mid-layers so I can stay warm - even if my hiking buddies aren’t packing as much.
This post was all about backpacking clothing, but if you want to learn more about what gear to pack, check out some of my other resources here:
If you have any further questions, just let me know in the comments below, and make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel for all my videos!
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