Hiking Clothes 101: What to Wear Hiking

It’s important to be prepared for changing weather conditions on a hike. In this post, we’ll go over the basics of hiking clothes including what to wear on a hike, how to layer, and some examples of hiking clothes for women.

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Guide to hiking clothes for beginners including layering, what to pack, and clothing examples

What to wear on a hike goes way beyond shirts and pants. Being properly prepared requires you to pack layers and give yourself options.

Check out this video for all the info!

HIKING CLOTHES 101: What to Wear Hiking (summer hiking clothes and all about layering)

Hiking Clothes Basics

Clothing Material

In general, avoid cotton clothing when it comes to hiking.

Cotton holds onto moisture, so it keeps you feeling sweaty in hot temperatures and cold and wet if the weather cools down.

Instead, clothes made out of polyester, nylon, and merino wool are all great options for hiking clothes.

These materials dry fast and move sweat off the skin.

When you see the term “moisture-wicking” in the clothing description, that means that the fabric is designed to pull sweat away from the body to the surface of the fabric so it can evaporate faster. That’s what you want!

Hiking Pants

easy hiking in sedona

First, let’s talk about hiking pants.

A lot of hikers choose to wear pants to better protect their legs from not only branches and boulders, but also ticks and other bugs.

For hiking pants, you want a comfortable pair that’s breathable and durable.

Personally, I’ve had a lot of good luck with Kuhl pants! I have 2 pairs and love them!

Below are the hiking pants that I have:

What about yoga pants for hiking?

Yoga pants (or workout tights) have become a very popular option for hiking.

I’ve worn them hiking many times because they’re so comfortable and stretchy!

I even have fleece-lined yoga pants which I love to wear on colder hikes.

The main downside to hiking in yoga pants is that they’re not durable, and mosquitos can typically bite right through them.

They can easily get ripped on branches and rocks, so maybe don’t wear your favorite pair!

Hiking Shorts

In the Summer months, I tend to wear shorts when I go hiking because I live in Utah and the desert can get hot!

With this option, your legs are much more exposed to sunburn, mosquitoes, rough rocks, and branches that you might brush up against.

I have a variety of hiking shorts ranging from athletic/running shorts to more durable trail shorts with zipper pockets. I like both!

You can find hiking shorts in all different lengths to fit your personal style.

I really love the Patagonia Nine Trails shorts for hiking. I also have a really cheap pair of running shorts that I got at TJ-Maxx years ago that I wear all the time!

The durable black shorts with zipper pockets that I mentioned in the video above are from Athleta.

Hiking Shirts

Patagonia Capilene Cool hooded shirt for Summer hiking
Patagonia capilene cool t-shirt is great for hiking

For hiking shirts, you again want to look for clothing that’s not made of cotton. Basic merino wool t-shirts are my go-to’s.

You can find merino wool from many brands.

I adjust what I wear based on the season.

One of my other favorite Summer hiking shirts is the Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody. (I wear a size medium.)

The Patagonia “Capilene cool” fabric is perfect for hot and sweaty hikes because it’s made to keep you cool!

It also has sun protection so I don’t need to keep reapplying sunscreen to my arms and shoulders all day.

They make tank tops and shirts out of the same material.

Dive Deeper >> 5 Ways to Stay Cool While Hiking in the Heat

On colder hikes, I’ll usually choose a warmer or thicker base layer to hike in. I love wool baselayers.

Amanda day hiking in utah

How to Layer Clothes for Hiking

Base Layers

The hiking pants, shorts, and shirts that we talked about above are going to be your first layer of clothing.

A base layer is the clothing that’s in direct contact with your skin.

Again, you really want to make sure that you have moisture-wicking clothing here.

This includes making sure that your bra and underwear are also moisture-wicking!

For colder hikes, you might need to consider a warmer base layer.


A Patagonia fleece makes a great mid-layer for hiking
The Patagonia Nano Puff hoody is a great mid-layer for adding warmth while hiking
Patagonia mid-layer option for hiking

Once you have your base layers figured out, it’s time to move on to your warmer layers, also called mid-layers.

This is the layer that’s going to add warmth.

Something like a polyester fleece or a puffy jacket with synthetic fill are great options to wear on colder hikes, or as extra layers in your backpack on warmer hikes in case the weather changes.

The general rule-of-thumb is to pack two mid-layer options on every hike.

For example, you could pack something like a lightweight fleece and a compressible puffy jacket. That’s what I usually do.

However, you can and should adjust what you bring (and how much) for your specific hike.

Depending on the hike, you also might need to consider a warmer layer for your legs as well.

The layers can be worn separately, or layered on top of each other for even more warmth.

Mid-Layer Examples:

1) Fleece

Fleece comes in different warmth levels and thicknesses.

On cold hikes, you can wear a fleece while hiking over your base layer.

If you don’t need it while you’re actually hiking, you can have it in your backpack to put on when you take a break.

I have a lightweight Patagonia grey fleece and use this all the time as a mid-layer. I wear a size medium.

2) Lightweight Puffy Jacket

A lightweight puffy jacket is one of the best mid-layers because it’s lightweight and compressible, but provides a lot of warmth for its size.

For your puffy jacket, synthetic insulations are better than down. If a down jacket happens to get wet, it’s no longer going to keep you warm.

A synthetic-fill jacket, like the one I mention below, will still insulate even if it happens to get wet.

Personally, I like at least one of my mid-layers to have a hood. A hood will go a long way to keeping you warm!

I have a Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody and love it!

This jacket is warm, windproof, and water-resistant. It’s easily packable and a great mid-layer to have on hand. I wear a size medium.

Outer Layers

Arc’teryx rain jacket
Rain pants for hiking

Your outer layers are all about rain and wind protection.

Keeping dry is key to avoiding hypothermia so you’ll want a rain jacket and rain pants to keep you dry.

It’s important to take your specific hike into consideration when packing your hiking clothes.

I always pack a rain jacket in my backpack, even if the weather says it’s not going to rain.

The weather is often unpredictable in the mountains and even if it doesn’t rain, a good rain jacket will help block the wind too.

Note >> A jacket that’s “water-resistant” is not the same as a jacket that’s waterproof.

A water-resistant rain jacket or pants will eventually soak through, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

In addition to your rain jacket being waterproof, you also want to make sure that it’s breathable so that it doesn’t trap moisture as you move and sweat.

I have the Arcteryx Zeta SL Rain Jacket.

This is a super light and packable shell for trekking that’s waterproof and made with a breathable Gore-Tex. I wear a size medium.

For rain pants, I have the REI Essential Rain Pants in a size small. These rain pants are okay. They’re lightweight and breathable, but I do question how well they would hold up in a prolonged downpour.

If you live somewhere that sees rain often, you might want to consider a nicer pair. Since I live and hike mostly in the desert, these rain pants are just fine for the rare occasions that I need them!

Information on different hiking shoes and what might be best for your hike

Other Clothing Considerations

Bug and Sun Protection

Depending on where you’re hiking, you might want to consider additional sun and bug-protective clothing.

For example, if there are lots of ticks, mosquitoes, and/or flies, then you might want to consider long sleeves, long pants, and clothes with built-in insect repellent or bug-net clothing.

You also might want a hat and UPF-rated clothing to offer more sun protection.

Hiking Socks

Have I mentioned that you want everything to be “moisture-wicking”?

That goes for your socks too! Again, I like to look for wool socks. The brands Darn Tough and Smartwool both make nice socks.

Hiking Shoes

Check out this hiking shoes guide for all the details on different hiking shoes and what might be best for your hike!

What to Wear Hiking

That covers the basics of what to wear hiking!

In general, you really want to do your best to anticipate the conditions that you’re going to experience, and then pack the appropriate clothing.

Things like the time of year, location, climate, and weather forecast should all be factored into what you wear (and pack in your backpack) on a hike.

Layering is key. Being able to add on, or take off layers as needed will set you up for a comfortable hike.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!

More Day Hiking Resources:

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