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.
My go-to shirt for every backpacking trip is the Nike Scoop Legend t-shirt. It is made of polyester, which is perfect for wicking sweat. I took two of a similar Nike Shirt, the Nike Pro Core Fitted t-shirt 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. The Nike Scoop Legend t-shirt is just less fitted than the Nike Pro Core Fitted t-shirt.
The only time I don’t wear this shirt is when I’m hiking on a hot summer day with a light daypack. 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.
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 marshmallow), 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 an effective and comfortable layer under a ski shell.
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 Venture 2 Rain Jacket 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.
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, like these R-Gear High Five 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.
When it’s cooler, you can probably guess that I swap out my spandex shorts for leggings. I love my Nike Power Legend Tights but they seem to no longer be made. Smartwool’s Ph.D. Tights are very similar if you’re looking for tights. 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 SmartWool Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms.They are made of merino wool. extremely comfortable, including the waistband, and can double as pajama 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.
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.
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.
My favorite Montrail hiking boots were just discontinued 🙁 but I just found an incredible new favorite. Currently, I am wearing Oboz Bridger B-Dry Hiking Boots and love them. They are waterproof, provide lots of support and unlike most boots, are comfy right out of the box. Full review coming soon.
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.
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