The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Clothes for the Desert - What To Pack

When it comes to backpacking clothes, there are a lot of options.

In this guide, we’ll go over what to pack and WHY for a desert backpacking trip in the Spring, Summer or Fall!

I break down each category from underwear to jackets so that you can feel confident for your next backpacking adventure.

Watch this video and then see below for more details!

Underwear, Bras and Socks

For underwear, I usually just use the built-in underwear in my shorts, or bring synthetic underwear because it drys quickly.

For bras, I switch between a sports bra and a normal bra depending on how I’m feeling. A normal bra is actually more comfortable for me most of the time, so I usually go with that and bring a sports bra along to change into later if needed.

For socks, I use Stance socks (linked below). They’re the best hiking socks! I always bring one pair to hike in and one pair to sleep in.

Women’s Quartz Hike Sock
Women’s Rhosite Outdoor Sock
Women’s Berthoud Outdoor Sock

What to Hike In

There are a few options for material, but I recommend wool or synthetic. These two fabrics are quick to dry and quite durable. Personally, I opt for wool base-layers to sleep in (more on sleepwear below) and synthetic clothing to hike in during the day.

During the warm Summer months, this is an example of what I’ll wear hiking:

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. I wear it multiple days in a row on longer trips.

Other options for hiking clothes are synthetic t-shirts or tank tops, but just make sure you pack enough sunscreen to protect yourself.

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 as durable, so if you have to climb over rocks and hike through thick bush, you might want more durable trekking-specific pants such as these PRANA PANTS.


Mid-layers are all about warmth.

While this is a DESERT backpacking clothing guide, don’t be fooled - it can get VERY cold at night in the desert!

It’s important to pack for the weather you’re expecting, but in general, I bring one fleece and one puffy jacket - ideally with a hood. These can be layered for additional warmth.

If I’m expecting a cold trip, I’ll bring a thicker jacket as well and 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.

Here are some of the mid-layers I currently use:

PATAGONIA NANO PUFF JACKET (my go-to hooded jacket)

PATAGONIA FLEECE (my go-to fleece)

(I’ll bring this, in addition to the layers above, if I’m expecting it to be a colder trip)

Rain Gear

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.

Rain pants should also be considered. As I mentioned in the video above, I usually don’t pack rain pants for desert backpacking trips because if there’s a chance of rain in the desert, there’s usually a flash flood warning and I do not go hiking.

But depending on when and where you’re hiking, rain pants might be necessary. I want you to at least know they’re an option!



As mentioned earlier, I use wool base-layers for sleeping. Depending on how cold I’m expecting it to be, I will bring a base layer that is slightly thicker or lighter. As mentioned above, I also bring a pair of socks to sleep in.

PATAGONIA THERMAL TOP (I use for sleeping):

SMARTWOOL THERMAL UNDERWEAR: (similar to the ones in the video)

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 sweaty hiking clothes and put dry clothes and socks on for the night to stay warm.


The last few items to consider are accessories like gloves, hats and sunglasses.

If it’s really cold, you might want a hat for warmth or you might want a brimmed hat for sun protection. This is totally up to you.

Don’t forget the sunglasses to protect your eyes!

There you have it - your ultimate guide to backpacking clothes for your next desert backpacking trip.

If you’re headed into the mountains, everything is basically the same, but you might want to more heavily consider rain pants and extra mid-layers to make sure you stay warm and dry. Storms tend to roll in more frequently and quickly in the mountains.

Lastly, if you need to know what GEAR to pack for backpacking, check out this “17 Things to Pack for Backpacking” post.

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!

xo Amanda

What to Pack for a Desert Backpacking Trip