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 lightweight rain jacket for hiking 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 (and possibly unsafe) – 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 of what’s currently in my gear closet in 2020. If you’re heading somewhere specific here are some of our favorite packing & gear lists to reference:

On every single hiking or backpacking trip, I go on, I am wearing some combination of the best hiking clothing pieces detailed below.

As it goes with all of the information shared on Bearfoot Theory, please remember to Leave No Trace. That means dispose of waste properly, minimize your impact, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others. And if you’re not familiar, we recommend brushing up on proper trail etiquette.


Wicking Hiking T-Shirt

For hiking you’re going to want a moisture-wicking, breathable tee. Patagonia’s Cool Capilene T-Shirt is my favorite for hiking and for everyday wear. This shirt provides 50+ UPF sun protection, and it’s a flattering and well-fitting shirt that won’t hold onto sweat or odor as you’re moving around. I also appreciate that it doesn’t cling.

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

The Patagonia Cool Capilene shirt comes in both men’s and women’s versions, and a long sleeve version, too. Lately I’ve been choosing the long-sleeve version, in order to protect my skin from the sun, especially when hiking at altitude. Even with long-sleeves, it breathes well and never leaves me feeling too sweaty.

Patagonia Cool Capilene long-sleeve shirt is a great hiking layer that breathes well and protects your skin from the sun.

If you’re more of a tank top girl, that works too!…but keep in mind that if you wear a tank top when you hike, you may experience some rubbing on your shoulders from your pack. If you want a tank built for the outdoors, the REI Active Pursuits Tank Top is a budget-friendly tank top that is great for hiking. It wicks moisture, dries quickly and the stretch fabric moves with you.

REI Active Pursuits Tank Top is a budget-friendly tank top that is great for hiking.

New to Hiking? Read: Back to the Basics – Hiking 101 Tips


Warm Long Sleeve Layer

Layering is important so you can stay warm in changing conditions. If the weather takes a turn for the worse or you’re out longer than you think you’ll be and the temperatures start to drop, you’ll be happy to have an a midweight baselayer with you.

One of my go-to choices for a mid-weight hiking baselayer is the Patagonia Capilene Thermal Zip-neck. Maybe you’re seeing a trend here, but I like Patagonia because of their environmentally friendly practices (this shirt is made from 50-100% recycled content). It’s warm, yet breathes well, and because of how small it packs down, I almost always bring this hiking and backpacking. I also wear it to bed on camping trips.

Patagonia Capilene Thermal Zip-neck

Some outdoor women prefer the wool. Made from sustainable merino wool, this Icebreaker 200 Zone Half-Zip baselayer is incredibly soft and very warm. They are pricey, but this is one of the more durable wool layers I own and also serves as a functional layer for winter sports. I also prefer Icebreaker over other wool brands because they have strong animal welfare standards.

The Icebreaker 200 Zone Half-Zip baselayer is incredibly soft and very warm mid-weight layer for hiking

Packable Insulated Jacket

If there’s any chance of it being cold, I bring my Arctery’x Atom LT Insulated Hoody. It’s super lightweight (it feels like you’re wearing a cloud), warm, and packable, and the hood is a great addition for keeping your head warm on windy days. The cut is flattering (it doesn’t make you look like a marshmallow), and it’s long enough so you don’t get any backdraft. This is a great jacket for cold weather hiking and camping, and it also makes an effective and comfortable layer under a ski shell.

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

For additional insulated down jacket options, see this blog post.


Light Windbreaker

The Patagonia Houdini is hands-down the best lightweight windbreaker I’ve tried. This jacket is made for warmer weather where you want some protection from wind or bugs (or even the sun). It’s also water-resistant and breathable which is great if you’re in a location prone to periodic light rain. A traditional Gore-Tex rain jacket (see below) is important if you’re hiking in an area prone to lots of rain and where it can get cold.

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

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 my Outdoor Research Aspire Rain Jacket which is made with a Gore-Tex Paclite membrane which will keep you dry in heavy downpours. It’s got a fully adjustable hood, vents, and packs down into its own pocket.

This Outdoor Research rain jacket is essential if there's rain in the forecast. 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.

Read our entire guide to finding the best lightweight rain jacket for travel and hiking.


Hiking 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. Lately, my go-to spandex shorts have been the 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.

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.

If you’re not a big fan of hiking in spandex or are looking for shorts that are more versatile check out the North Face Aphrodite Shorts. They have an elastic waistband (COMFY!), and the shorts are loose-fitting but not baggy or saggy. My favorite feature is the pockets. I’m so used to hiking without them in my spandex, I forgot how useful pockets can be. It made it easy to access my phone for photos or to carry my ID and credit card if we were headed to the store. Finally, the material dries quickly, whether they are wet from a swim or stream crossing.

North Face Aphrodite Shorts // What to Wear hiking in summer

Another great pair to check out is the Patagonia Baggies. They are great versatile active shorts that also looks cute for walking around town post-hike. A tried and true favorite, these are water-resistant and even have mesh pockets, so you can get them wet without having to think twice. They’re also lightweight and stretchy, with an adjustable drawcord to boot.

These comfy shorts are great for wearing hiking. Learn how to dress for both function and comfort on the trail in a variety of conditions with this hiking apparel guide.

Hiking Pants

When it’s cooler, you can probably guess that I swap out my spandex shorts for leggings. Not only are leggings a comfortable and multi-functional piece of clothing, but they’re also super flattering and work well for almost every activity. Whether you’re hiking, going on a long drive up the coast on CA-1, or hanging out in town post-yoga, these Prana high-waisted leggings are a go-to. As a bonus, they wick sweat so you don’t feel hot or uncomfortable when you’re on the move.

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

If you don’t like spandex, I recommend these REI Co-op Taereen Pants, which are cute, stretchy, and lightweight and can be worn on the trail or around town.

REI Co-op Taereen Pants // Best Women's Hiking Apparel

For those extra cold days when you need something thicker, these Patagonia Peak Mission Tights will keep you warm. They’re cozy and warm for cold weather hiking yet moisture-wicking so you’ll be comfortable while you’re on the move.

Patagonia Peak Mission Tights // What to wear hiking in cold weather

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 REI Co-op Talusphere Pants are great because you don’t have to take your boots off to get the pants on.

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.

Sports Bra

These days I’m loving the Nike Swoosh Sports Bra. I pretty much wear them everyday, even when I’m not hiking. They’re supportive enough for hiking (I’m a D Cup) and other outdoor activities even though they don’t have underwire. They are very comfortable, wick sweat, and can also double as a bathing suit when you stumble on that perfect swimming hole.

Nike Swoosh Sports Bra is a great bra for hiking

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 Hipster Briefs. These cute hipster panties stay put so you aren’t dealing with wedgies, and you won’t have any panty lines. The only downside of these is they stretch over time.

Ex Officio Hipster Briefs // Best Women's Hiking Apparel

If you prefer a more traditional cut, check out the Ex-Officio Bikini Briefs.  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.

We feel so strongly about finding the best pair of hiking underwear we’ve written an entire guide that includes all of our favorites.


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. 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.

Darn Tough socks are one of our hiking clothing essentials. 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.

Sun Hat

A hat is key for being comfortable when hiking on sunny days – I almost never hike without one. Really any old hat will work as long as it’s lightweight, comfortable, and protects you from the sun. I personally like wearing something that provides maximum sun coverage, and my #1 favorite sunhat is the Wallaroo Sedona Hat. Alternatively, I’ll hike in a regular baseball cap type of hat, like this United by Blue Trucker Hat

Not sure what to wear hiking? Learn how to dress for both function & comfort on the trail in a variety of conditions with this women's hiking apparel guide.
On Catalina Island with my favorite Wallaroo Sedona Hat

Buff

Ever since I did my Everest Basecamp Trek, I love wearing a Buff when I hike. A Buff provides extra sun protection on your neck, and they can be used to cover your face in the wind. Right now, I’m finding a buff extra useful in the time of social distancing as a way to cover my face when I encounter people on the trail.

A Buff provides extra sun protection on your neck when you hike, and they can be used to cover your face in the wind.

Sunglasses

Any pair of sunglasses will do, but the pair I’ve been rocking for the last few years are the Oakley Feedback Aviators. They are lightweight and have no-snag nose pads, which means the nose pads don’t get stuck on your hair! Plus they block 100% of harmful UV rays.

Oakley Feedback Aviators are great for hiking. They are lightweight and have no-snag nose pads, which means the nose pads don't get stuck on your hair!

Hiking Shoes

Arguably one of the top three most important gear decisions for hiking. It’s essential to have a good pair of sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes with good traction. For a low ankle, hiking shoe, I love the Sawtooth II BDry by Oboz, which is lightweight, yet sturdy and waterproof with a grippy bottom that gives you plenty of traction for hikes in all types of conditions and trails.

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

If you prefer a high ankle boot with a little more support that you can also use for backpacking, then the Oboz Premium Bridger BDry is an excellent shoe with just the right amount of cushion and no break-in period required. A portion of the sales from this shoe also go to support Yellowstone Forever, the official non-profit of Yellowstone National Park.

The Oboz Premium Bridger BDry is an excellent hiking boot with just the right amount of cushion and no break-in period required.

You can read more about our favorite women’s hiking boots & shoes in our guide to finding the right pair.


Hiking Backpack

Don’t forget a daypack to carry your essentials for day hiking. I like the Osprey Mira 22 Liter Daypack for long day hikes so I can carry lunch, my camera, and extra layers. If you don’t need to bring lots of extras and want to stay as lightweight as possible, the Gregory Maya 16 is a smaller option that still has enough space to store snacks, water, and layers.

A daypack is essential for carrying snacks, water, and extra layers when hiking. Learn how to dress for both function and comfort on the trail in a variety of conditions with this hiking apparel guide.

Read our complete guide to the best daypacks for hiking and how to choose the best one for you.


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

I hope this blog post gives you a good idea of what to wear hiking so you can be comfortable on the trail.

Got questions or comments? Leave a note below or join the conversation in the Bearfoot Theory Outdoor Adventurers Facebook group.

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

29 comments on “What to Wear Hiking

  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.

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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!!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. i just bought myself the la sportiva nucleo gtx hiking boots and i absolutely love them! a sales person at rei recommended them, after i tried on about 3 pairs at the store. it felt so good after i put them on, they feel so light! i’ve hiked with them at yosemite and i love them!!

  8. Hi ! I just discuvered your blog and I really love it ! I am from France and live in a city close to the montains (Grenoble) and a blog like yours is like my bible ! Keep writting posts with a lot of advises for beginiers and others !
    (sorry for the mistakes, I am not used to write in English!)

  9. Great guide dear. Very informative. I recently researched and wrote an article on best hiking shoes for women that are comfortable and stylish. It seems companies out their focus on comfort than how the gear looks. I guess for me as long as the boots are comfy, waterproof and kinda chic, I will be happy.

  10. Merci pour tous les bons conseils!
    Reste une question… Je devrai marcher à peu près 25 km par jour pendant 6 semaines sur un terrain de difficulté moyenne à difficile avec des montées et des descentes, dans un climat chaud variant de 10 à 30 degrés.
    Je me demande encore si je dois opter pour des souliers de marche avec ou sans GORE-TEX.
    Le GORE-TEX me tiendra au sec de l’extérieur en cas de pluie mais rendra mes pieds humides à l’intérieur et donc risque d’ampoules.
    Le GORE-TEX est parfait pour l’hiver mais pour l’été, je n’en suis pas si certaine. J’ai l’impression qu’ils seront trop chauds.
    Que me conseilles-tu?

    1. Hi Jocelyne, you are right that Gore-Tex might be a bit too hot in the summer. If you’re going to be hiking in a warm climate you might want to consider a more breathable option. Also don’t forget to pack extra socks and change socks frequently. When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (20+ miles a day) I often changed my socks at least 3 times a day; this helps keep your feet dry and protects you from blisters.

  11. Hi there
    i Work as a mountains guide in morocco atlas mountains i did a lot of treks with a lot of people its very usefull for me what you mentioned in your article thank you very much

  12. In your picture where you are standing by the JM Wilderness Inyo sign – what is hanging off your pack waist belt (orange) and what do you use it for? Thx

  13. Great list!
    Totally team hiking leggings! Don’t go without anymore 😀
    Nothing else to add besides: I also “wear” natural sunscreen on my skin and self-made lip balm on my lips 😉

  14. You made such an interesting piece to read, giving every subject enlightenment for us to gain knowledge. Thanks for sharing the such information with us to read this…

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