Hiking: What to Wear

What to wear to go hiking depends on where you are, what your conditions are, how long you are hiking, and personal comfort.

Hiking Gear: What’s on your back?

Clothing is an important part of planning for your hike. As a hiker, you want to be comfortable, safe, and able to move. The two words you will hear most when considering what to wear hiking are ‘layers’ and ‘wicking’! As you move throughout the day, your body temperature will change: as you warm up, you start to sweat, and you want that sweat to be removed from your skin as efficiently as possible. You may want to start in a long-sleeve shirt or light jacket on a crisp fall day, however, after a mile or two of movement, you likely want to take that jacket off and hike in your shirtsleeves, putting the jacket back on if you stop for a shady lunch break. Hooray for layers!

Wicking material is fabric that pulls moisture away from the skin. In this case, the moisture is your sweat, which if it soaks your shirt or pants can lead to uncomfortable chafing and chills. Wearing items that (1) pull sweat away from the skin and (2) come on and off easily make for the most comfortable hike. Cotton, while a wonder material in normal clothing, soaks up sweat and holds on to it, leaving any clothing item sodden, soggy, and happy to chafe your skin. Ditch the cotton and opt for synthetic or wool materials for best wicking abilities.

The basics

Undergarments: Undies and bras are key! Leave the lace at home and opt for a supportive and comfortable sports bra. Underwear that is of a polyester or wool blend offer the best in breathability and moisture wicking for our sensitive nethers. Though they are awesome, you don’t have to buy Patagonia undies, just opt for a synthetic blend.

Socks: Synthetics or wools are also critical to healthy, happy feet! Cotton socks get soggy, bunchy, and lead to blisters, so opt for a sock that fits well, and hopefully extends to above the ankle bone to avoid getting dirt and such sifting down your socks (dirt on your skin causes friction, which leads to blisters!).

Tops: Shirts need to give protection from the sun, warmth on chilly days, and protect our skin from chafing pack straps. Again, my two favorite words: Opt for moisture wicking and layerability!  Synthetic t-shirts are great as base layers (the first layer after your sports bra) or as a single layer on hot days. One versatile top is a wicking long sleeve shirt that has sleeves you can roll up when it gets warm. Many of these also offer built-in UPF sun protection.

Bottoms: Pants, shorts, skirts/skorts or athletic dresses, they all work! Choose this piece of clothing based on your comfort, and what environment you will be hiking through. For example, if you plan to be scrambling over scree and brush or walking in an area with ticks or poison ivy/oak, pants are probably the best source of protection for your legs. Yoga pants, everyone’s favorite gear this year (!) are amazingly comfortable, but they also catch easily on rocks, brambles, and thorns, tearing and snagging easily. 

Shoes: See this post for info on shoes, there’s so much to be said here!

Hats: One of your hiking essentials, hats offer protection from sun, rain, and give warmth depending on the season and need. 

Hats! Fun, not just functional

Many hiking clothing articles can be quite expensive; it’s worth looking into end-of-season clearance deals or buying used.

What do i wear?

My go-to basic hiking gear setup includes pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sports bra, hat, and running shoes. In New Mexico, I spend a lot of time in the sun and try to keep most of my skin covered; we also have large temperature swings during the day, so my pack generally has a vest and windbreaker-style jacket as well. Personal preference aside, wear what’s comfortable and what enables you to hike confidently. Moisture-wicking materials and layering are key.

Woman at the summit of Mt. Whitney, tallest mountain in continental USA.
Elated to be at the summit of Mt. Whitney, tallest mountain in continental USA. August 2022.

This is the basic set up for hiking clothing. Given that we are on the cusp of fall, in the next post we’ll talk about special seasonal clothing considerations!

Leave a Reply