What to Wear Hiking: A Women’s Guide to Outdoor Apparel

Wondering what to wear hiking? In this post, I share the best hiking clothes that I wear in some combination on every single hiking or backpacking trip I go on.

Learn what to wear hiking for different weather conditions and get recommendations for the best female hiking apparel.

One of the most common questions I get about spending time outside is what to wear hiking. What do you need to wear to stay comfortable, dry, and safe on the trail?

Technically, hiking doesn’t require any special clothing and if you are just getting started with exploring the outdoors and choosing short, simple trails, my recommendation is to simply get out there in the clothes that you already have. The key is to dress in layers so you can add or subtract clothing as your temperature changes.

Once you start to advance to more challenging conditions and terrain, however, your hiking outfit can be the difference between having fun and being uncomfortable (and possibly unsafe) – whether that be too hot, too cold, or too wet.

In this post, I share the best hiking clothes that I wear in some combination on every single hiking or backpacking trip I go on. My team and I have tried a ton of different women’s hiking clothing, and over the years, I’ve really dialed in on what to wear hiking and the hiking apparel features and materials that work best.

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Quick Tips for What to Wear Hiking

Dress in layers

One of the most important tips to keep in mind when deciding on what to wear hiking is to dress in layers.

When you layer your hiking clothes, you can easily add or shed pieces of clothing depending on temperature changes or how strenuous the hike is.

Typically, the layer closest to your skin should be a moisture-wicking tee. Then you can add warmer layers like a long-sleeve shirt, a wind-breaker, or an insulated jacket.

If you know you’ll be adding or shedding layers throughout your hike, be sure to bring a daypack with you so you can easily carry extra layers.

Choose synthetic materials

Ideally, hiking clothes should be made of moisture-wicking materials that are quick-drying.

Cotton is not a good choice for hiking because it doesn’t dry quickly and can leave you feeling chilled when wet.

Synthetic materials like nylon and polyester (ideally made from recycled materials) are better choices because they wick away moisture and are breathable.

Dress for different seasons

What you wear hiking may change depending on the season. Winter hiking will require more warm layers and insulated gear while hiking in the fall may mean dressing for cooler and wet conditions. For summer hiking, it’s really important to protect your skin from the hot sun.


Best Hiking Shirts for Women

Moisture-Wicking Hiking Tee

For hiking, you’re going to want a moisture-wicking, breathable short sleeve 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 to my body.

I have these in several colors and pretty much live in them during summer. Also, since I travel in my van, I look for clothing that can be worn several times before it really needs to be washed, and these shirts meet the mark.

My only suggestion is to choose bolder colors over lighter colors, since the lighter colors show dirt more.

Shop the Patagonia Capilene T-Shirt at:

Kristen hiking on rocky trail with hiking gear and trekking poles
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park wearing Patagonia’s Cool Capilene T-Shirt

The Patagonia Cool Capilene shirt is also available as a long-sleeved option. 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.

Shop the Patagonia Capilene Long-Sleeve Shirt at:

Warm Long Sleeve Layer

Layering clothes is important in order to 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 a midweight baselayer with you.

One of my go-to choices for a mid-weight hiking base layer 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.

Shop the Patagonia Capilene Thermal Zip-neck at:

Kristen wearing standing next to river in Alaska looking out snow-capped mountain range
The Patagonia Capilene Thermal (hooded version) was a staple on my Alaska backpacking trip.

Some outdoor women prefer wool for warmer layers. Made from sustainable merino wool, this Icebreaker 200 Zone Half-Zip baselayer is incredibly soft and provides excellent warmth even on cold days.

It is pricey, but this is one of the more durable wool layers I own and also serves as a functional layer for winter sports as well. I wear the crewneck version of this top every single day when I ski.

Shop the Icebreaker 200 Zone Half-zip at:


Best Hiking Jackets for Women

Whether you choose a heavier insulated jacket or a lighterweight jacket for your hike depends on the season and the climate you are are hiking in.

Heavier Insulated Jacket

If I’m hiking at altitude, during the shoulder season, or if there is a chance of cold temps, I bring my Arc’teryx Atom Insulated Hoody as an outer layer. It feels like you’re wearing a cloud and it’s very warm thanks to the insulation.

The cut is also 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.

Shop the Arc’teryx Atom Hoodie at:

Kristen wearing Arc'teryx Atom hoody with tall, barren Colorado peak behind her

Lightweight Insulated Jacket

If I need a lighter jacket as a “just in case”, the Arc’teryx Kyanite Fleece Hoodie is my go-to.

I took this jacket with me to Italy and was really impressed with how it performed on cooler hikes. I layered it on top of my Patagonia Capilene shirt and it was perfect for cool fall temps.

This jacket is a bit bulkier than other lightweight jackets, but it breaths well so if you have the right layers on underneath, you should be comfortable wearing it throughout your hike.

Shop the Arc’teryx Kyanite Fleece Hoodie at:

Kristen on hiking trail in Italy using trekking poles and wearing leggings and long-sleeve fleece
Wearing my Arc’teryx Kyanite jacket while hiking three-months pregnant in Italy

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, but don’t trust it as a rain jacket. 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.

The Houdini only weighs 3.4 ounces, so it’s really a no-brainer to throw in your pack if you’re hiking in an exposed area.

Shop the Patagonia Houdini Jacket at:

Kristen posing for photo on trail with arms outstretched holding trekking poles and standing on one foot. She is wearing a Patagonia Houdini jacket on a very windy day in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hiking in the Patagonia Houdini on a very windy day in Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Women’s Hiking Shorts

Any old shorts will do for hiking as long as they are comfortable.

I personally like 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.

The downside of leggings is that there are typically no pockets.

Legging Shorts

Lately, my go-to legging-style shorts have been the lululemon Wundertrain 6″ High Rise Shorts. They also come in a 4″ and 8″ length depending on your preferences and height.

The waistband stays put, and the material is soft yet thick enough to be durable. I personally prefer all my hiking shorts to be a dark color since you often sit on rocks or the ground when you take breaks, and darker colors don’t get as dirty.

Kristen smiling for photo on hike in Hawaii with ocean and tropical landscape behind her
Hiking in lululemon Wundertrain High Rise Shorts in California.

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. Several of us ladies on the Bearfoot Theory team own and love these!

They have an elastic waistband for comfort 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. They make 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.

Shop The North Face Aphrodite shorts at:

Female backpacker wearing The North Face Aphrodite Shorts while backpacking in the Sierra mountains of California.
BFT Team Member, Linda, wearing the North Face Aphrodite Shorts while backpacking in the Sierra.

Another great pair to check out is the Patagonia Baggies. These are versatile active shorts that also look cute for walking around town post-hike.

A tried and true favorite, Patagonia Baggies 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 draw cord.

Shop the Patagonia Baggies shorts at:


Best Women’s Hiking Pants

Women’s Hiking Leggings

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.

I LOVE the lululemon Wundertrain High Rise 25″ tights on warmer days. They are quite breathable so you don’t end up too hot, and they come in lots of fun colors (I personally prefer darker colors since they don’t show dirt as easily).

The ones in the photo below are the 25″ length, but they also come in a 28″ length if you’d prefer them to cover your entire ankle).

These are high-waisted and hit me just above the belly button, and the waistband doesn’t roll over when you move (which is a huge pet peeve of mine with leggings).

If you don’t like spandex, I recommend these North Face Aphrodite 2.0 Pants, which are cute, stretchy, and lightweight and can be worn on the trail or around town.

I love the elastic waistband which doesn’t dig at all as you hike, and the loose fit means the pants breathe quite well.

Shop The North Face Aphrodite pants at:

For those extra cold days when you need something thicker, these Brooks Momentum Thermal Pants have a thermal layer that insulates on chilly hikes.

The elastic waistband is super comfortable, and they are loose enough to fit another baselayer underneath if it’s really cold.

Shop the Brooks Momentum Thermal Pants at:


Best Hiking Rain Gear for Women

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, the REI Co-op Women’s Rainier Rain Jacket is a lightweight (and budget-friendly) rain jacket that will keep you dry if you end up hiking in the rain.

It’s got a fully adjustable hood, vents, and packs down into its own pocket.

Shop the REI Rainier Rain Jacket at:

Kristen hiking on trail in misty, rainy weather wearing rain jacket with tall mountainous peaks in background
Another option for extra wet climates is the Arc’teryx Beta LT Rain Jacket. It’s a bigger investment than the REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket, but the performance in a downpour can’t be beat.

Rain Pants for Hiking

I don’t typically pack rain pants on day hikes unless the forecast predicts a decent amount of 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 Rainier Rain Pants are great because they are full zip, so you don’t have to take your boots off to get the pants on.

Shop the REI Rainier rain pants at:

Kristen sitting on rocky overlook above waterfall wearing rain pants and rain jacket
Having rain pants on a wet day of hiking can be a lifesaver

Best Women’s Hiking Undergarments

Sports Bra

Any sports bra that you can move comfortably in and feel supported will work well for hiking.

I personally prefer ones that aren’t too strappy since they are easier to put on. I’m a 36D, and I really love the lululemon All Powered Up Bra for when I want high-impact support.

Another favorite of mine is the Nike Swoosh Bra. It’s got a really simple design, wicks sweat, and can 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.

To be honest, I’ve been pretty disappointed with a lot of underwear I’ve tried. They either shift around, stretch out, or show panty lines.

After testing out literally dozens of pairs, my favorites are the lululemon Invisiwear Boyshorts.

Hiking Socks

Cotton socks aren’t great on the trail because they slide around and are infamous for causing blisters, so when you are hiking, choose a hiking sock.

Many hiking socks are made with wool which actually helps reduce sweating and keeps the sock snug against your foot to prevent unwanted rubbing.

My preferred hiking socks are 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 also uses eco-friendly and sustainable wool, which I love, and they also make some socks without wool, including the CoolMax socks below.

Shop the Darn Tough socks at:


Hiking Footwear

Hiking Shoes

Footwear is arguably one of – if not the 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 X 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.

Shop the Oboz Sawtooth X BDry shoes at:

Hiking Boots

If you prefer a higher ankle boot with a little more support that you can also use for backpacking, then the Oboz Bridger BDry is an excellent shoe with just the right amount of cushion and no break-in period required.

Shop the Oboz Bridger BDry boots at:

Close up photo of women wearing Oboz hiking shoes standing on rocky overlook on hike in Colorado
Wearing the Oboz Bridger BDry on the top of a Colorado 14er

Hiking Accessories

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 (Use the code BEARFOOT20 for 20% off).

Alternatively, I’ll hike in a regular baseball cap type of hat, like this Patagonia Trucker Hat.

Kristen wearing Wallaroo Sun Hat while making coffee with jet boil on Catalina Island with ocean views in front of her
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.

Shop Buff neck gaiters at:

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.

Shop the Oakley Feedback Aviators at:

Hiking Day Pack

Don’t forget a daypack to carry your hiking essentials. I like the Osprey Mira 22 Liter Daypack for long day hikes so I can carry lunch, my camera, and extra layers.

Shop the Osprey Mira daypack at:

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

Do you have any hiking gear or clothing favorites? Let us know in the comments below!

Looking for the perfect outfit to wear on your next hiking adventure? Check out our blog post for some awesome ideas and inspiration! From breathable tops to comfortable hiking boots, we've got you covered with all the tips and tricks you need to create a stylish and functional hiking outfit that's perfect for women. Whether you're hitting the trails for a leisurely stroll or tackling a more challenging hike, we've got all the essentials you need to stay comfortable and stylish on the go.

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37 Comments

  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!!

    1. Angie, I have a pair of the La Sportiva Nucleo’s as well! Great to hear they are working for you.

  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…

  15. Hi I also work with tourists, as a mountain guide, and what you write on your article is very useful for me, thank you

  16. Hiking is one of the best adventurous sports and I have always wanted to try it with my friends. Thanks for sharing these wonderful insights on clothes required for hiking.

  17. Hello Kristen,
    Thank you for the wonderful tips. I have been getting into hiking for the last couple of months, as it is a great activity and I am able to spend more time outside. I still have not bought the whole equipment, as it is an investment and I do not want to spend that much money in one go… Something that I have to invest in, are the shoes… I have been using timberland shoes and impregnated the shoes, for them to be waterproof as I think it is very important, after reading the pros about waterproofing shoes here: https://nano-care.com/products/impregnation/
    Do you think the shoes should be higher up in my must buy equipment, or do I get along fine with my Timberland shoes?
    Thank you

    1. It really depends on what kind of terrain you’re hiking in. If you’re hiking in wet conditions, a fully waterproof might be worthwhile. But if you’re hiking on mostly dry trails, your Timberlands should be fine. For more info on waterproof vs non-waterproof hiking boots, check out this blog post.

  18. It’s very nice idea to write an article for this topic. I noticed that many people can’t understand about their trekking clothes so i will share this blog with them. I am sure this article will be very helpful to your readers. Keep sharing your ideas!