What to Wear Hiking

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What to Wear Hiking

Technically hiking doesn’t require any special clothing, and if you are just getting started with short, simple trails, my recommendation is to just get out there. Just make sure to layer so you can add or subtract as your temperature changes and always bring a raincoat when there’s even the slightest chance of rain. Once you start to advance to more challenging conditions and terrain, however, what clothes you wear hiking can be the difference between having fun and being uncomfortable – whether that be too hot, too cold, or wet.

It took me hiking over 200 miles on the John Muir Trail and an 11-day trek to Everest Basecamp to really dial in what hiking apparel I like best, so I wanted to share the specifics what’s currently in my closet. On every single hiking or backpacking trip, I go on, I am wearing some combination of the performance pieces shown below.

Not sure what to wear hiking? Learn how to dress for both function and comfort on the trail in a variety of conditions with this hiking apparel guide.

— Wicking Shirt —

My go-to shirt for every backpacking trip is the Nike Pro Core Fitted shirt.  It is made of polyester, which is perfect for wicking sweat. I took two of these on the John Muir Trail and alternated between them every few days. They never got too smelly, and the material is soft and never sticks to your body. If you want something a little less form fitting, go with the Nike Scoop Legend t-shirt.

What to Wear Hiking: Nike Pro Core Fitted Wicking T-shirt

The only time I don’t wear this shirt is when I’m hiking on a hot summer day with a light day pack. In that case, any old tank top will do…but keep in mind that if you wear a tank top, you may experience some rubbing on your shoulders from your pack.

— Warm Layers for Upper Body —

Layering is important and depending on how cold it is going to be, I have a couple different options for this.

SmartWool Midweight Base Layer: If it’s a wee-bit chilly, and I need a basic long-sleeve shirt, this is what I bring. It zips at the neck for extra warmth and breathes well due to the wool material. Because of how small it packs down, I almost always bring this backpacking, and I also wear it to bed on camping trips.

What to Wear Hiking: SmartWool Midweight Base Layer Top

 North Face Thermoball Hooded Jacket: I just got back from an 11-day trek to Everest Basecamp and wore this day and night. It’s super lightweight and I never felt sticky or sweaty in it, and the hood was a great addition to keep my head warm on windy days. The cut is flattering cut (doesn’t make you look like a marshmellow), and it’s slightly long so you don’t get any backdraft. The Thermoball jacket is made of Primaloft – a synthetic material – that still provides insulation when it’s wet, scoring points over down. This is a great jacket for winter-hiking and also makes a effective and comfortable layer under a ski shell.

North Face Hooded Thermoball Down Jacket

— Rain Jacket —

The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, and you need to be prepared. Getting wet can not only be uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous. If there’s a chance of rain, I pack bring my North Face Dryzzle Shell which is made with a Gor-Tex Paclite membrane which will keep you dry in heavy downpours. It’s got a fully adjustable hood, pit zips, and it’s totally windproof.

North Face Dryzzle Shell Rain Jacket

— Exercise Shorts —

Any old shorts will do as long as they are comfortable. I love hiking in spandex/yoga shorts because they provide for the most mobility, and there is no loose fabric that can get caught on branches or other obstacles on the trail.

For the least expensive option, go to Marshalls or TJ Max where you can usually find some cute yoga shorts in the exercise section. Road Runner Sports also has a great selection of reasonably priced exercise shorts.

Lately I’ve been hiking in Road Runner Sports Compression Shorts. They hit right at the mid-thigh, aren’t too tight in the waist, and are flattering on that hiney.

— Long Pants —

When it’s cooler, you can probably guess that I swap out my spandex shorts for leggings. At the moment, I’m really liking Under Armour Fly By Run Leggings which have a little mesh in the back to keep your calves cool. If you don’t like spandex, I recommend these Dynama Pants, which are cute, comfy, and can be worn on the trail or around town.

For those extra cold days when you need something thicker, I recommend The North Face Winter Warm Tights. They are fleece lined, extremely comfortable, including the waistband, and can double as pajama pants.

— Rain Pants —

I don’t typically pack rain pants on day hikes unless the forecast predicts heavy rain. If you are backpacking, however, it’s always a good idea to have a pair of these just in case you get caught in a downpour. These Marmot Preclip Full zip rain pants are great because you don’t have to take your boots off to get the pants on.

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— Sports Bra —

I own several of these Under Armour Heat Gear Alpha Sports Bras and love them. I wear a 36D and find the medium size to be supportive enough for hiking even though it doesn’t have underwire (I wouldn’t suggest it for running though). They are very comfortable, wick sweat, and can also double as a bathing suit when you stumble on that perfect swimming hole.

— Quick Dry Undies —

Quick dry undies are essential for staying cool, dry, odor-free, and clean on the trail, and there are a bunch of options to choose from. I’ve pretty much tried them all. Patagonia, Ice Breaker, Ex-Officio…and who takes the cake? These Ex-Officio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini Briefs. These cute hipster panties stay put so you aren’t dealing with wedgies. If you prefer a more traditional cut, check out the Give-N-Go Bikini Brief.  These underwear are also great for traveling when you don’t have access to a washing machine. Soap em up in the sink and within an hour they are dry and ready to go.

— Wool Socks —

Cotton socks slide around and are infamous for causing blisters – so when you are hiking you should always choose a light wool sock, even in summer. Wool actually helps reduce sweating and keeps the sock snug against your foot to prevent unwanted rubbing. I love cozy SmartWool socks for lazing around camp at night, but my preferred sock for hiking is made by a company out of Vermont called Darn Tough. They are cushioned in all the right places and over 22 days with these on the John Muir Trail, I didn’t form a single blister.

— Shoes —

My favorite Montrail hiking boots were just discontinued 🙁 so I’m currently on the search for the next best thing. I recently got the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX Boots and have been really impressed so far. They were comfy right out of the box but stiff enough to handle rocky terrain. Full review coming soon.

What to wear hiking: Montrail Mid-Enduro Outdry Leather Hiking Boots

— Accessories —

Sunglasses: Make sure they have UV protection. If you use a camera often, you might also want a pair of croakies so you can secure them around your neck when you are taking pictures.

Original Buff: I didn’t hike regularly with a buff until my Everest Basecamp trek, and I think I’m a total convert. It kept the hot sun off my neck, protecting my skin, and when the trail was dusty it kept dirt from getting into my sinuses.

Hat: I always hike with a baseball cap for sun protection. It also prevents the sweat from beading down my face.

Hopefully this provided you some good options for what to wear hiking given your local conditions. For more hiking and camping advice, check out the posts below.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO WEAR HIKING? AND WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU HAVE? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, TWEET ME, OR WRITE ME A POST ON FACEBOOK

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This post was produced in collaboration with The North Face and contains affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase, I receive a tiny bit of compensation at no added cost to you. I only write about products that I truly love, and any purchases you make help keep this blog going. Thanks for all of your support, and if you ever have any questions about any of the products featured on my site, please email me. Thanks! Kristen

There are 12 comments on this post.

About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

12 Comments on “What to Wear Hiking

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  1. Yesss, Darn Tough! So glad to see them getting a shout out…since I found them a few months ago, they’re the only sock I’ll wear running or hiking.

      Same. I’m still wearing the two pairs that I took on the John Muir Trail a couple years ago and they are like new.

    Thanks for the list! I love your site. I’m preparing for a JMT hike this summer in July and I’m trying to figure out which pants to bring: I have Marmot Lobo convertible hiking pants/shorts, leggings, and the same REI fleece pants you mention. The leggings are a little heavy, so I’m leaning towards leaving them behind, but it just feels strange to not bring leggings along. Thoughts?

      Leggings are a must for me. I just got these Arcteryx leggings and I think they are going to be my new go to: http://bit.ly/22gDLDc I haven’t hiked in them yet, but I skied in them the other day and really liked them. I also like these tights by Mountain Hardwear: http://goo.gl/qTLBmx.

      If you bring leggings then you can probably swap out the convertible hiking pants for a pair of shorts.

        Hi Kristen! This post was super helpful! It looks like the Mountain Hardwear leggings are pretty much sold out everywhere now. Also, the link to the Arcteryx leggings doesn’t seem to go to a specific product. Do you have any recommendations for other leggings/tights? Thanks!!

          Ah sorry about that and thanks for letting me know. I’ll update the post now with some new links.

    Glad to see that my list matches your almost exactly! Different brands here and there but the same exact list. I’m a big fan of spandex shorts and pants specifically because my thighs touch and having anything baggy at all will leave me pretty chafed. Thanks for sharing!

    These are great choices! My pack list is very similar, including the merino long sleeve and same Patagonia Nano Puff. The only thing I would add for those new to hiking/camping: Check out Uniqlo. The Heattech and Airism lines are a great and affordable option for base layers, underwear, etc. I also like their ultra light down vests for another packable layer.

    When you did the JMT did you switch out of your boots and wear the Tevas for water crossings? Can’t really imagine hiking with wet shoes/socks! Thanks

    It was a very Informative and helpful list but I understand it was mostly directed towards ladies. Leaving aside the socks, boots,rain jacket and down jackets, could you add something specifically for men. I mean with your experience you could easily gather what is popular among competitive male hikers.

    This addition would make this a very comprehensive and wholesome piece.

    In any case it was a very helpful article. Many thanks to you. And do keep writing your thoughtful and very practical article’s. I have found your blog the best among all others I have read till now.

    Thanks and the very best.

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