One of the most common questions I get about spending time outside is what to wear hiking. 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. Just be sure to dress in layers so you can add or subtract clothing as your temperature changes. It’s also important to always bring a lightweight rain jacket 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 too 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 2021.
Wondering what to wear hiking? Below is a list of the best hiking clothes that I wear in some combination on every single hiking or backpacking trip I go on.
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.
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 dry fast. 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 to 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. For more tips on how to dress for seasonal hikes, check out these blog posts:
- Winter hiking clothes and cold-weather layering basics
- What to wear hiking in the Fall
- Sun protection for hikers
Best Hiking Clothes
Moisture-Wicking Hiking Tee
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 to my body. It comes in a men’s version as well.
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. It’s available in a men’s version as well.
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 when carrying a daypack. 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.
Check price: REI
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.
Some outdoor women prefer wool for warmer layers. 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 as well. Icebreaker has strong animal welfare standards which is also very important to me.
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.
>> Check out our favorite lightweight, insulated jackets for more options
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.
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 that will keep you dry in heavy downpours. It’s got a fully adjustable hood, vents, and packs down into its own pocket.
>> Read our guide to the best lightweight rain jacket for travel and hiking for more options
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.
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.
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.
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 road trip up the California coast, 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.
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.
For those extra cold days when you need something thicker, these Patagonia Pack Out Hike 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.
>> Check out our roundup of the best hiking pants for women for more options
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.
Check price: REI
Any sports bra that you can move comfortably in and feel supported will work well for hiking. These days, I’m loving the Patagonia Wild Trails Sports Bras. I pretty much wear them every day, 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.
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 that they stretch out over time.
Check price: REI
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.
>> See our guide to the best hiking underwear for more of our favorites
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.
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 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.
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.
>> Read more about the best women’s hiking boots & shoes in this guide to finding the right pair
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
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.
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.
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. If you don’t need to bring lots of extras and want to stay as lightweight as possible, the Gregory Nano 18 is a smaller option that still has enough space to store snacks, water, and layers.
>> See more options in our guide to the best daypacks for hiking
I hope this guide gives you a good idea of what to wear hiking so you can be comfortable and safe on the trail.
If you have a specific hiking destination in mind, here are some additional packing & gear lists to reference:
- Hawaii Packing List for Hikers & Outdoor Enthusiasts
- W Trek Packing List for Hiking in Patagonia
- California Beach Vacation Packing List
- Southern Utah Packing List
- Havasu Falls Packing List
Do you have any hiking gear or clothing favorites? Let us know in the comments below!