Not sure how to dress for your next hike? I can help with that – this guide features everything you need to know about dressing for hikes, from what kind of socks to wear to choosing the perfect jacket!
You can technically wear whatever you want – hiking is pretty much just walking, and you can walk around in anything. But you won’t always be comfortable, which is exactly why this guide is here to help you! I’ve listed all the best fabrics for hikes, as well as the features you should look for in hiking clothes to stay comfortable even after long hours on the trail.
It’s essential to dress in layers when you go hiking. Start with a synthetic t-shirt, and then add a lightweight fleece hoodie or even a thin insulated jacket, depending on the season.
The main mistake people make is thinking that just because it’s hot outside now, they won’t need a jacket in the evening. But you never know what can happen – you might stay out longer than you planned to, the weather is unpredictable, and the temperature drops drastically as the altitude rises. Even if it’s extremely hot at the trailhead, it might be freezing cold at the end of the hike.
In addition to that, it’s even more important to dress in layers when you’re hiking in the winter. A lot of times you’ll get so hot during your hike that you will start taking off your clothes even when there’s still snow on the ground. That’s much better than sweating profusely and then walking around cold places in clothes that are drenched with sweat.
When dressing for hikes, you should always choose clothes that are comfortable and not fashionable. You’re usually out on the trail for hours, and it’s important that you feel good while you’re out and about hiking. Skip the cotton t-shirts with cute logos and go for breathable clothing that will feel comfortable even after 8+ hours on the trail.
You might not look super fashionable in the photos, but you will feel awesome, and you’ll complete the hike without getting blisters or experiencing chafing.
It’s important to consider everything you might encounter on the trail and choose clothing that is appropriate for the conditions you are expecting. If you know that you’re going to be climbing rocks, you want to wear something that’s durable and that won’t tear easily.
If you’re hiking through the forest, go for long sleeves that will protect you from bug bites and tree branches. And if you know the terrain is still wet, wear shoes that offer good grip and traction on soft terrain. In any case, make sure that your outfit is appropriate for the trail conditions, and you’ll have a great time hiking.
When choosing a top for hiking, it’s essential to pick the right material. It should be lightweight, breathable, and preferably moisture-wicking. Stay away from cotton t-shirts – cotton absorbs moisture and dries slowly, which is not what you want for summer hikes. The heat and the constant moving will have you sweating a lot, and a cotton t-shirt will get soaked and stay wet for hours.
Polyester t-shirts are a great option for summer hikes. They’re super thin and lightweight, so you will sweat less. Plus, polyester is a moisture-wicking material that won’t absorb any of the sweat, ensuring you stay dry.
Another popular option is Merino wool. Although it might seem counterintuitive to wear a woolen t-shirt when hiking in the summer, Merino wool is actually great for temperature regulation. It keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, plus it does not absorb any moisture.
Also, this material does not absorb odors, so even if you get a little sweaty, the t-shirt will still smell fresh. That’s why Merino clothing is very popular with campers who have to pack for weeks or months in advance.
Color is also important. You should wear lighter colors in the summer – stay away from black t-shirts. Darker colors absorb more heat, so they really aren’t a great option for hot weather. You’ll also want to avoid floral patterns since those attract bugs. Take it from someone who ventured out into the forest wearing black floral pants – learn from my mistakes when you can.
When choosing a top for a cold-weather hike, breathability remains the most important factor. Go with a t-shirt or a long sleeve shirt that is comfortable, moisture-wicking, and breathable. Pair it with a hoodie or a sweater, put on a good jacket, and you’re set!
The Hanes t-shirts are a great option for hikes. They’re entirely made from polyester so they are quick-drying and moisture-wicking. These tops also feature double-stitched seams for extra durability, they’re machine washable and available in a long-sleeved version.
The Merino Protect t-shirt is another excellent top for hiking. It’s made from Merino wool and it’s great at regulating body temperature. The t-shirt keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, plus it’s odor resistant so you can wear it for several days without it getting smelly.
The toughest call you need to make in the summer is whether to wear shorts or long pants. There are pros and cons to both, but it mostly depends on terrain type and conditions.
You will be hot whether you wear shorts or pants, so don’t base your decision just on that. Instead, think about where you will be hiking. If the terrain is overgrown, bushy, or there are a lot of bugs and mosquitoes in the area, it’s always long pants. Shorts might feel more comfortable at first, but after a few mosquito bites, you will start to regret that decision.
Convertible pants are a good option here. They are long pants with removable legs, so you have the best of both worlds. Wear them as pants while you’re hiking through the forest but turn them into shorts when crossing streams or just chilling at a campsite. Just don’t forget to apply sunscreen, whether you’re wearing convertible pants or classic shorts.
Tights/yoga pants are a popular option among the ladies, mostly because they’re stretchy and comfortable. They give you great freedom of movement, but they’re not a very durable option. They will get torn easily if you bump them against something sharp and provide you with zero protection in case you fall. Also, mosquitos can just bite through them.
The best hiking pants for winter are warm and waterproof. You should look for pants that are either lined with fleece or insulated for extra warmth. Waterproofing is crucial for hikes in rain and snow – in case you trip and fall into a pile of snow, you want to be able to just shake it off and keep walking. Regular pants or tights will just soak in the moisture, which is definitely not what you want.
Columbia Silver Ridge pants are one of my favorites for longer hikes. They are convertible pants made from nylon, so they will work for different weather and temperature conditions. Also, the pants are exceptionally durable, very affordable, and seriously comfortable. The fabric is thin, lightweight, and breathable, which is everything you should look for in great pants for hiking!
Columbia also makes great hiking shorts. The Sandy River shorts are a good option for women who prefer to wear shorts in warm weather. The partially elastic waist keeps you comfortable, while the convenient belt ensures the shorts stay in place no matter how much you are moving around.
If you want fleece leggings, go with 90 Degree By Reflex yoga pants. They are insanely comfortable, stretchy, and very affordable. These are tight enough that you will look and feel great in them, but not so tight that you’ll be uncomfortable.
They stay in place even when you’re moving around and the stretchy material means you have all the freedom of movement your need. On top of all that, they are available in two versions, one of which includes a hidden pocket!
There aren’t a lot of great options when it comes to hiking shorts, but the XKTTAC men’s shorts are certainly worth considering. They are lightweight, water-resistant, quick-drying, and feature a total of six pockets. The shorts are made from nylon and polyester with an elastic waist and YKK zipper for ultimate durability.
Your underwear should be comfortable, breathable, and preferably moisture-wicking. Although cotton is usually the best option for underwear, you should avoid it for hikes simply because it absorbs moisture.
For underwear, you should go with something breathable, moisture-wicking, and seamless. Undies with pronounced seams can cause chafing, which is as far from comfortable as it gets. It’s best to avoid cotton underwear since it will absorb any moisture, and the last thing you want is to be walking around for hours in sweaty underwear.
When it comes to bras, you should stay away from underwire bras. Even though they are quite supportive, they are also very uncomfortable. Sports bras are the way to go – they’re a lot more comfortable and they’re available in a wide variety of options. Regardless of how much support you need, there is a perfect sports bra somewhere for you.
What about long underwear? It’s smart to wear it for winter hikes since it does give that extra layer of protection, but should you wear an extra pair of undies underneath? It’s up to your personal preference. If you want the extra support and warmth, go for it.
Just keep in mind that they can bunch up while you’re moving around, so you could end up adjusting them very often. It’s better to skip the long boxers and go for briefs or trunks instead.
Do you wear undershirts? I personally hate them and only wear them when it’s absolutely necessary. But then again, I have a friend who can’t leave the house without an undershirt even if it’s above 30 degrees Celsius outside. This is a matter of personal preference, but try to choose a moisture-wicking fabric for the undershirt, if you want to wear one.
What about socks? You should go with something comfortable, moisture-wicking, and perhaps even cushioned! Stay away from cotton socks because they are notorious for causing blisters. Cotton socks will absorb sweat, which will only make you uncomfortable. Get a pair that is moisture-wicking and breathable (like bamboo socks) for the most comfortable hiking experience.
Meriwool boxer briefs are great underwear for men. The Merino wool keeps you comfortable regardless of the temperature, plus it’s moisture-wicking and odor resistant. Also, the boxer briefs are tight in the legs, which means they won’t bunch up under your hiking pants.
The Balanced Tech seamless hipster briefs are a great option for the ladies. The underpants are made from polyester, nylon, and elastane, so they’re comfortable, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. They’re also very breathable, and even more importantly, tagless.
Go with something like the Under Armour Limitless for a sports bra. It is comfortable and supportive, with molded cups (no underwire) and hook-and-wire closure. The bra features thick straps and mesh inserts for better breathability.
This type of sports bra is great for women who usually require more support in the chest area. If you don’t need a lot of support there, you can pick up something without any padding for even better breathability.
Thermal underwear lined with fleece is great for hikes in extremely cold weather. This particular set is made from polyester and spandex, so it’s also moisture-wicking and quick-drying, in addition to being very warm.
The stretchy fabric fits really well and gives you great freedom of movement, while the cuff and leg-hem straps ensure the mid-layer stays in place even when you’re shedding the outer layers.
Darn Tough socks are actually an excellent option for hikers. They’re made in a variety of different prints and colors, with different options for men and women. These socks are made from Merino wool, so you can wear them for several days at a time and they won’t get smelly.
Darn Tough socks also feature seamless toes, comfortable ankle fit, and cushioning in strategic places. If you’re going on a long-distance hike of several days, these are definitely the socks you want to have on your feet.
The right jacket is very important for winter hikes. It should be warm, lightweight, packable, and allow for freedom of movement. You don’t want a bulky jacket that doesn’t let you stretch your arms properly, and you certainly don’t want a thin jacket that’s not going to keep you warm.
Also, there’s not one single jacket that is perfect for all winter hikes. What you should wear depends on the weather, trail conditions, and also the type of hike. Are you just walking around the forest, or are you planning to climb any mountains? If the jacket will get bumped on sharp rocks, you also need to look for something durable and tear-resistant.
When it comes to insulation, you need to choose between synthetic and down insulation. Synthetic insulation like Primaloft usually performs better in wet weather, but down insulation tends to be warmer and more packable. The key difference is wet weather performance, so definitely pick up a jacket that is insulated with synthetic if you will be hiking in the rain or snow.
The main advantage of down is that you can have an incredibly thin and lightweight jacket that is just remarkably warm. Down insulation is also very packable, and the best down jackets can usually be folded to take up minimal space in your backpack. Some hiking jackets even fold into their pockets for ultimate portability, and this is common with both synthetic and down jackets!
You should also pay attention to the water and wind resistance of the jacket, especially if you’ll be hiking at higher altitudes. The best jackets are waterproof, wind-resistant, and breathable enough that you won’t sweat profusely when you’re wearing them. The only problem is that the best jackets don’t come cheap.
Three-in-one jackets are also popular for hiking because of their versatility. You’re getting two different layers that you can wear on their own or combine, making these jackets great for different seasons. The outer shell jacket is generally thin and waterproof, while the inner layer tends to be warm and insulated. When you wear them together, you have the ultimate winter jacket.
Do you need a jacket for warm weather hikes? Absolutely! Weather is unpredictable, and you want to have a layer in your backpack that can protect you from rain or wind. The best jackets for summer hikes are thin and lightweight so that you can easily stash them in your hiking backpack.
Usually, it’s a choice between a lightweight fleece jacket and a waterproof windbreaker. Fleece jackets are great if you’re going to be out on the trail even after the sunset. On the other hand, windbreakers are great if it’s really warm outside, but there’s a chance for wind or rain.
Marmot PreCip is a great jacket for hiking in wet conditions. It’s made from nylon for excellent waterproofing, it’s very breathable, and it features zippers on the sides for increased freedom of movement.
The Camel Crown down jacket is a great option for ladies who want something warm, lightweight, and packable. This jacket is great for cold weather hikes since it’s very warm, but still adjustable enough that it doesn’t feel restrictive. Plus it packs into a tiny pouch and takes up very little space in your bag.
Columbia Benton Springs jacket is a great option for warm weather hikes. The fleece jacket is the exact layer you need for those chilly evenings on the trail when it gets too cold to stay in a short-sleeve shirt. It’s soft, comfortable, and lightweight, with a convenient zipper pocket for your essentials.
The North Face Thermoball Triclimate jacket is an awesome outer layer. It’s a 3-in-1 jacket, meaning you get three jackets for the price of one. The inner layer is a synthetically insulated and packable jacket, while the outer layer is windproof and waterproof.
You can wear them on their own – the inner layer is great for a chilly evening, while the outer layer is perfect for protection from the elements. If you combine the two layers together, you get the perfect jacket for hikes in extreme weather.
For even more ideas on great hiking jackets, be sure to check out our buying guides for down jackets, waterproof jackets, packable jackets, parkas, and travel jackets.
There’s no such thing as one perfect pair of hiking shoes. The best pair for the hike depends on the terrain and weather conditions you are facing.
In the summer months, a lot of people will opt for trail hikers instead of classic hiking shoes. They are more breathable, lighter, and they offer great traction on softer terrain. But they’re not always the best choice, especially if you have a lot of steep and rocky terrain ahead of you.
In that case, you might want to pick up a reliable pair of hiking boots. But go for something breathable and lightweight – Merrell MOAB are awesome boots that are available in several different options, including a breathable pair that’s perfect for summer hikes.
Skip waterproof boots, and avoid anything insulated. If the terrain requires sturdy hiking boots, look for ankle boots that are odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, and highly breathable.
Also, it’s very important to get shoes that have a reliable sole. Vibram soles are generally the best option for demanding hikes since they offer the best grip and traction you can hope for. If you know that the trail is challenging with steep ascents and even steeper descents, you need to wear adequate shoes.
Look for deep and multi-directional lugs, comfortable and supportive insoles, and flexible soles for the best mobility.
For cold weather, you should look for waterproof boots with aggressive soles. You need something that will give you enough grip and traction on wet and icy terrain, but also keep your feet dry. Look for insulated boots with breathable membranes that can keep your feet warm, but also let the sweat evaporate.
I’ve already mentioned the Merrell MOAB – it is one of the best pairs of boots for hiking, simply because of the incredible variety. There are dozens of different versions of the MOAB boot, ranging from a breathable low-cut shoe to an above-ankle waterproof boot.
The one thing they all have in common is the amazing Vibram outsole that performs extremely well even on the most difficult hiking trails.
Hiking shoes from KEEN are also very popular, thanks to their rugged outsoles and durable uppers. The Targhee is one of their most popular models – these waterproof boots are breathable, supportive, and feature some very rugged outsoles that give you all the grip and traction you need on hikes.
Some people prefer trail runners to hiking shoes because they’re more flexible and lighter. Salomon Speedcross 5 is a great trail running shoe that’s an excellent alternative to a proper hiking boot.
It has deep lugs that bite into terrain with ease for good grip and traction on different terrain types and it’s so flexible that the entire shoe bends along with your foot. Plus it’s breathable, supportive, and very comfortable, for the best hiking experience.
Many people will choose sandals instead of shoes for hikes in warm weather, and they’re not totally wrong. Something like Keen Whisper is great for a hike on a hot summer day since it’s breathable enough that your feet won’t sweat, but still protective enough that you can confidently tread even over rocky terrain.
Plus they have non-slip outsoles with multi-directional lugs, so the grip and traction are on par with what you get from proper boots.
What are some other essential items for hiking, apart from the basics?
The first thing that comes to mind is sunglasses, but I don’t ever leave the house without those. If you are going to hike for hours under the sun, you will need a good pair of (polarized) sunglasses to get you through the day.
It’s also smart to bring a hat, especially for summer hikes on exposed trails. It will shield your face from the sun you don’t get sunburnt, and it will also protect you from a heat stroke. And in the winter, a nice woolen hat can protect you from frostbite and snow.
Gloves are an important accessory to have for winter hikes. There are lots of different types of hiking gloves out there, but usually, it’s a choice between thin liner gloves or thick insulated gloves. The former is better if you’ll be climbing rocks since you have a better grip on them. The thicker insulated gloves are usually waterproof and warmer, but they tend to be a bit bulky.
If you’ve actually read everything so far, then you already know that cotton is the worst fabric for hiking. It’s thick, heavy, and it absorbs moisture, which makes it the most useless fabric for situations when you’re constantly moving around and sweating. It’s so bad that you shouldn’t even wear cotton underwear, let alone a t-shirt or pants.
Another fabric you should not even consider for hikes is denim. Don’t even think about wearing jeans on a hike, unless you want to be in pain the entire time. They’re thick, restrictive, heavy, not breathable, and absorb moisture. Plus, jeans take forever to dry – if you’ve ever experienced an unexpected rain shower while wearing jeans, you know just how nightmarish they can be.
So, which fabrics are actually good for hikes? Merino wool is one of the best options out there, especially for underlayers. If the garment is going to be in direct contact with your skin, you’ll be very comfortable if that garment is made from Merino wool. The material is lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, and does a great job at regulating temperature.
Polyester is also popular for hiking gear. It’s thin, durable, breathable, water-resistant, quick-drying, and very lightweight. The same goes for nylon – the material is very similar to polyester, both in performance and pricing. One thing to note is that synthetic materials like polyester and nylon are much more affordable than Merino wool, which makes them the more popular choice for most hikers.
Gore-Tex is a waterproof and breathable fabric membrane that is often used in jackets and shoes. It performs remarkably well in wet and cold weather, and it’s easily the best option in its category.
Gore-Tex is also quite expensive and items that are made with this waterproof membrane are never cheap. But they are exceptionally durable, incredibly breathable, and 100% waterproof, so they’re definitely worth every single penny.
The ideal hiking outfit depends on the season. In the warmer months, you should go with lightweight and breathable clothes that don’t absorb moisture or odors. But in the colder months, it’s all about layering and insulation.
For summer hikes, you want clothes that are thin and comfortable. You’re going to sweat more, so it’s best to go with moisture-wicking clothes that are breathable and quick drying.
That’s also partially true for winter hikes, at least when it comes to underlayers. Those should always be breathable and moisture-wicking, and then just add layers until you’re warm enough.
Also, you shouldn’t be afraid of taking your clothes off on a winter hike. So what if you’re so warm you want to walk around a snowy peak in a t-shirt? If you don’t take your jacket off, you will probably sweat. And if you eventually start feeling cold, you can just put that jacket on again. That’s exactly why layers are important regardless of the season.
Additionally, accessories are just as important in both summer and winter hikes. Sunglasses, hats, and even gloves are items that should always be in your hiking backpack. Just choose season-appropriate accessories and you’re all set!
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.