WHAT TO WEAR HIKING IN FALL
Mastering the art of fall hiking layers is all about getting just the right combination of base, midweight, and outer layers. Finding a good balance of warmth and breathability may be a little tricky at first, but there’s a simple method that’ll help you nail it every time.
At Bearfoot Theory, we specialize in breaking down the barriers to the outdoors—and women’s fall hiking outfits most definitely fit into that category. In fact, we’ve even got a ton of our favorite layers to share with you. Read on to learn all about layering and dressing for cooler conditions, plus how to stay prepared for changes in the weather.
Here’s our outdoor women’s guide to what to wear hiking in the fall.
The Best Fabrics and Materials for Fall Hiking Clothes
A golden rule for female hiking apparel during any season is to wear quick-drying and moisture-wicking fabrics like wool-blends or synthetics (nylon and polyester). Always avoid cotton and denim because they retain moisture. The best hiking clothes for fall will keep you insulated, but not hot, and have enough breathability so you’re comfortable no matter which way the weather turns.
The key is to layer, layer, layer.
In this photo, I have a long sleeve midweight layer around my waist, ready to deploy as soon as the winds pick up, along with extra layers in my pack.
Fall Hiking Base Layers
A good base layer will do two things: keep you warm and regulate your body temperature. This way, you won’t overheat or become hypothermic while wearing wet clothes that cling to your body. These pieces are the building blocks of a fall hiking outfit (winter, too) because they are closest to your body and are easy to add on to as needed. Start with these core items next time you hit the trail.
Short Sleeve Hiking Tee
Layer a hiking tee beneath your midlayers, like this Capilene Cool Daily Shirt by Patagonia. Made of recycled polyester-jersey, this fabric dries quick and pulls moisture away from the skin, so you stay dry when you start breaking a sweat during the final push to the summit. Not to mention, it’s nice to have the option for short sleeves if you’re out in the sun, the weather warms up, or you get hot hiking uphill.
Warm Yet Breathable Leggings
As the weather changes, you’ll want to upgrade your hiking leggings to something that provides a little more warmth. These REI Co-op Streelowe Leggings are thicker than normal leggings providing all-weather versatility, yet the moisture-wicking fabric allows your legs to breathe on the uphills. They are super comfy with a waistband that doesn’t slip while you’re on the move. Note these run true to size or even a little big, so there’s no need to size up.
Fall Hiking Midweight Layers
Midweight layers give you the right combination of warmth and breathability. These are essential when it comes to determining what to wear hiking in fall. Wear items that provide insulation and have good coverage to trap heat but are still lightweight and easy to layer. Here are the versatile midweight layers we recommend.
Long Sleeve Top
Add the Janji Transit Tech Meridian Half-Zip long sleeve top to your list of fall hiking clothes for warmth and adjustability. The half-zipper gives you coverage or ventilation, depending on the conditions, and when I wore it in Rocky Mountain National Park, I found it to provide solid wind chill defense when I was above treeline. It’s got a super cute, fall-inspired pattern that is fitted but not too snug. It was easy to layer over a short sleeve t-shirt without feeling too tight (although you should size up if you prefer a looser fit). As a bonus, the Janji brand uses a portion of their profits to help provide clean water, sanitation, and hygiene education to every public school in Nepal.
On cool fall days, wearing an insulated vest is a game changer, especially for you ladies who run hot and need to let your armpits breathe. A vest reduces the weight or bulk that an insulated puffy jacket would have, while providing necessary warmth for your core. This REI Co-op Groundbreak Insulated Vest is water resistant, has two pockets for your essentials, and when zipped all the way keeps your neck warm in the wind.
Hiking in the Janji Transit Tech Meridian Half-Zip
Fall Hiking Outer Layers
Even if you run hot, packing an outer layer and extra pieces for warmth will help you be prepared for any sudden changes in the weather or the fact that the sun goes down earlier. For example, in September, I was hiking a 14er in Colorado on what started out as a beautiful, sunny day at the trailhead. Two hours later on the summit, it was extremely windy and cold at the summit and then hailed on the way down. You might not always end up needing your outer layers, but you’ll be glad to have an extra line of defense against the elements when the conditions call for it. It’s worth sizing up your daypack so you can fit everything you need.
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulating Hoodie is a durable jacket that provides a ton of warmth without leaving you a hot, sweaty mess. It’s easy to layer under the vest if it gets really cold. While it won’t function as a rain jacket, the synthetic material is water-resistant, and will fight off moisture if it starts to drizzle. Plus, this hoodie is so lightweight that you will barely notice when it’s on, and it’s easy to stash in your pack whenever you take it off.
While it isn’t as warm as its insulating counterpart, nothing beats the wind and rain like the Patagonia Torrentshell rain jacket. The fall season can bring unpredictable weather, which makes rain gear an essential clothing item on most fall hikes. This rain jacket is made from 100% recycled nylon materials and when you aren’t using it, it won’t take up much space or weight in your pack.
If you’re pretty certain it is going to rain, it’s also worth throwing a pair of rain pants in your pack as well.
Staying warm in my Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulating Hoodie
Fall Hiking Accessories
Toss a pair of gloves in your pack, as these are essentials for your fall hiking outfit. On cold mornings or mountaintops, the Icebreaker Sierra Gloves are made of merino wool so your fingers stay toasty warm and breathe well. As a bonus, they’re touch-screen compatible so you can still use your phone or GPS device to take photos or navigate while you are hiking.
Is your fall hike surprisingly chillier than you thought it would be? Find yourself in windy spot for lunch? Pull on the REI Co-op Wallace Lake Beanie to keep your ears and head warm. Luckily, some female hiking apparel (this one included) is cute, functional, and durable. Triple whammy.
Made from recycled polyester, I learned just how versatile the Buff is on my Everest Basecamp Trek a few years ago. When the wind started to howl I just pulled the Buff up over my neck, mouth, and nose and I was a lot more comfortable. I also used one in Patagonia when hiking the W Trek in Torres del Paine. Wearing it as a headband over my hat, the Buff served as an ear warmer and prevented my hat from blowing away in the wind. It has a UPF rating of 50, so it even provides sun protection.
Wearing the REI Co-op Wallace Lake Beanie
Fall Hiking Footwear
Waterproof Hiking Boots
In the fall when you are more likely to encounter chilly rain is the time to make sure your hiking boots are waterproof. Wet feet might not be a deal breaker in the summer, but in the fall when temps drop, soggy boots can be a serious problem resulting in numb toes or gnarly blisters. Waterproof hiking boots have a water-repelling membrane (often made by Gore-Tex) that is layered into synthetic or leather materials. They are typically heavier and less breathable, but they are also warmer. In my opinion, the best pair of waterproof women’s hiking boots are the Oboz Sawtooth II Low Bdry Hiking Shoes.
While you should say no to cotton socks all year round, it’s even more important in cooler, wetter months to wear wool on your feet. Wool are much better at regulating temperature, wicking away sweat, and keeping your feet dry in rainy conditions. My go-to for hiking socks? Darn Tough all day long….and I love the new Darn Tough Treeline Micro Crew socks for their function and fun pattern.
Standing on the top of a 14er in Colorado wearing my Oboz Sawtooth II Low Bdry Hiking Shoes.