If you’re wondering what to wear hiking in the fall, you’ve come to the right place. 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, the layers and clothing we share with you here is great for any fall outdoor activity from hiking to camping to road trips. 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). Avoid cotton and denim because they retain moisture which can make you cold. 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.
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 hiking outfits, 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 mid-layers, like this Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt by Patagonia. Made of recycled polyester jersey, this fabric dries quickly 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 Active Pursuits Tights are a little 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.
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 a long sleeve top like the REI Co-op Active Pursuits Quarter-Zip Pullover to your list of fall hiking clothes for warmth and adjustability. The half-zipper gives you coverage or ventilation, depending on the conditions. It’s fitted but not too snug and is easy to layer over a short sleeve t-shirt without feeling too tight (although you should size up if you prefer a looser fit).
Check price: REI
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 the necessary warmth for your core. This Patagonia Nano Puff Vest is made from recycled materials, has a water-repellent shell, two pockets for your essentials, a drawstring at the hem, and when zipped all the way keeps your neck warm in the wind.
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 while hiking in the fall 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, 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 all the fall hiking apparel 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 a rain shell, and the REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket is our current pick. 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 recycled ripstop nylon 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.
Check price: REI
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, these Outdoor Research gloves provide a lightweight, warm layer. 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.
Check Price: REI
Is your fall hike surprisingly chillier than you thought it would be? Find yourself in a windy spot for lunch? Pull on a cozy beanie to keep your ears and head warm. Luckily, some female hiking apparel (this beanie included) is cute, functional, and durable. Triple whammy.
Check Price: REI
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.
Fall Hiking Footwear
While you should say no to cotton socks all year round, it’s even more important in cooler, wetter months to wear wool or a comparable synthetic on your feet. Wool socks 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.
Waterproof Hiking Boots
In the fall when you are more likely to encounter 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 slightly heavier and less breathable than non-waterproof hiking boots, but they are also warmer.
What are your favorite clothes and layers to wear hiking in the fall? Let us know in the comments below!