How To Dress for Your Next Hike: 6 Essentials
There’s a big discrepancy between what people think of when they consider hiking. For some people, going on a hike means traveling a great distance through challenging terrain in potentially treacherous conditions. To others, their idea of a hike is walking a gravel trail that starts at one end of the local park, winds through some trees, and loops back to where you started.
Whatever your idea of hiking is, whether it’s a grand exhibition or a local trail, you can’t argue with fresh air and natural surroundings.
You also can’t argue that it’s important to be comfortable and prepared with appropriate clothing for your hike, regardless of how rigorous it is. Chances are, that’s why you’re reading this article.
The purpose of this article is to help guide fans of the outdoors on how to dress for a hike. It’s geared more towards recreational hikers than hardcore outdoor enthusiasts looking to take on the extreme. If that’s you, perhaps this climbing Everest resource might be interesting.
Regardless of where you’re going hiking (at the Grand Canyon or just through the woods), or what the final outcome of your hiking outfit looks like, here are the factors to consider when choosing clothing for a hike.
Just like any other day, you need to consider the conditions you’re going out in. A large part of that is the weather. Check the forecast for a temperature window, and whether you’re expecting any rain or snow. Are you hiking somewhere that’s extra humid or dry?
You also need to consider the conditions of the hike. How long do you plan on hiking? How difficult will it be? Is it going to be muddy? Rocky? What you wear is affected by these factors.
Layering is a useful strategy when heading out on a hike, especially if the weather is questionable or will change during the course of the hike. If you head out early in the morning it might be really cold, only to warm up later in the day.
Dressing in layers is a smart way to ensure that you’re not over or underdressed in terms of warmth. Layering also allows you to select pieces that have different properties and abilities. More on that to come.
This one is obvious, but you want to be comfortable on a hike. You’re going to be active and moving throughout. To be comfortable during a hike you want to consider what to wear as well as what not to wear. Avoid stiff clothing and cotton fabrics that will retain moisture and potentially leave you soggy and cold.
Along with comfort, you want to wear clothing that’s conducive to the physical demands of the hike. Some clothing may be comfortable but lack the performance aspects you need for hiking. For example, soft leggings are stretchy and comfortable, but on a hike, they won’t stand up to being snagged on a branch or scraped on a rock.
The next section goes over features you can get out of performance fabrics that are great for hiking.
Breathable clothing allows your body temperature to regulate more naturally. It’s essential in clothing for hiking because it allows you to press on without your clothes feeling restrictive and stuffy.
When your body temperature rises while hiking, you want clothing that allows that heat to escape, not trap it in. Unless of course, you’re hiking in the cold, in which case you’d be wearing another layer to allow air to circulate through your base layer but retain warmth.
Moisture-wicking properties in clothing mean that you can press through a tough hike and perspire without looking like you got rained on afterward. This is particularly important on your base layer.
Cotton shirts do not do a good job of managing moisture. If you sweat in cotton, it will retain moisture and before long you’ll be a soggy wet mess. This is no good while hiking.
Wet clothes mean you could end up really cold if the sun decides to hide. Wet clothes can also lead to chafing, bad odor, and general unpleasantness.
Insulated clothing keeps you warm by holding in the heat created from your body’s natural heat generation, and added to by the energy exerted when you hike. Jackets are the most common insulated pieces, but any garment can provide insulation.
Down insulation is a traditional type of naturally occurring insulation that is made from goose or duck feathers. However, it’s quite puffy and not the most comfortable or portable for hiking.
3M Thinsulate is an improvement upon down insulation that keeps you warm without adding the extra bulk. It’s also much better for the environment. Check out this vest that gets the job done.
Water-resistant materials are found in raincoats and other outdoor gear. This Brave The Elements Shell, created from 100% polyester, is a lightweight jacket that can be stored easily in your daypack and will keep you dry, regardless of the weather forecast.
Though there’s no shame in smelling like you’ve been outside all day, there’s a fine line between a healthy scent and a ripe odor. If the latter can be avoided, it should be.
That’s why wearing clothing with antimicrobial properties is a good idea when going on a hike. Especially if you’re hiking with others.
Antimicrobial fabrics are treated with agents that attack microorganism growth that comes with extended wear and perspiration. Wearing a base layer made with antimicrobial fabrics ensures that you’ll be fresh throughout the hike for drinks afterward.
Quick-drying is different from moisture-wicking. It does exactly what it sounds like; it means that it will dry quickly once it gets wet.
Think about the way bathing suits usually dry pretty quickly in the sun once you get out of the water. You might want to wear quick-drying clothing on a hike if you’re anticipating rain showers, or perhaps swimming in a creek or lake that you come across.
Don’t overlook the importance of choosing underwear for a day of hiking. If your underwear is uncomfortable, there goes the comfort and enjoyment of the day. Honestly, what is worse than picking wedgies and chaffing your way through a hike.
Choose underwear made from a performance blend of fabric. That will ensure you’re supported, dry, and comfortable throughout the hike.
We already covered the part where you consider the conditions you’re going to be hiking in. This is what you want to think about when deciding between shorts or pants. If you can’t decide, you can select a lightweight pair of shorts and layer them over lightweight pants or joggers.
What about those zip-off pants? While they are somewhat practical for avid hikers, they really aren’t necessary for most people. Not to mention, you won’t get any use out of them outside of hiking. Let’s be honest, zip-off pants are just about the nerdiest thing you can wear (no shame it’s your thing, though).
Shorts: Shorts will probably be your go-to choice whenever going for a hike on warmer days. A great option for hiking shorts is the Flex Short. This pair is so lightweight, you’ll hardly notice you’re wearing anything at all. The 100% polyester design makes it a fast-drying short that can double as swimwear—perfect if you plan on taking a dip somewhere along the trail.
The All Day Every Day Short really does live up to its name. That includes going on hikes. It’s a soft and stretchy short with zippered front pockets.
Zipper pockets are great for hiking. They allow you to keep items on hand and know that they aren’t going anywhere. Perfect for items like chapstick, a mini tube of sunscreen, or energy gummies.
Pants: Wearing pants on a hike is ideal if the weather is a bit cooler. They also have the added benefit of keeping your legs protected from the sun, dirt, or any critters you might encounter such as ants or ticks.
The All Day Every Day Pant makes for a great hiking pant as it does for basically everything else. They are comfortable and flexible while offering durability that will stand up to the toughness of the trail. It’s also available as a jogger.
Another jogger that’s a great option to wear hiking is the Stadium Jogger. It’s a lightweight jogger that will keep you covered and cool along the trail. Also, it looks a million times better than zip-off pants—you’ll want to wear them on days you’re not hiking as well.
A performance t-shirt makes is the ideal base layer to wear hiking. This shirt has all the performance aspects you could ask for. It’s highly breathable, moisture-wicking, and antimicrobial. It also comes in a long sleeve.
A mid-layer is anything you might wear over a t-shirt and under a jacket. This is an essential choice for hiking because dressing in layers is usually a good move.
A vest is a versatile mid-layer that will keep your core temperature warm without compromising your movement. This vest has zipper pockets, four-way stretch, 3M Thinsulate, and is water repellent. It works just as well as an outer layer.
Like the rest of your hiking outfit, the jacket you choose to bring with you is determined by the weather and the items you wear it with.
For lighter options, consider the Crosstown Bomber or the All Day Every Day Jacket. Both of them are super comfortable and have multiple zippered pockets for stashing hiking essentials.
For a warmer option, go with the Better Than Down Bomber, which is both insulated and water repellant.
A shell layer for hiking should be lightweight and packable as well as weather-ready. Look no further than the Brave The Elements Shell. It’s windproof, waterproof, lightweight, and ready to hike. It’s everything a shell layer should be.
The perfect hiking outfit is made up of layers chosen intentionally for hitting the trail. Consider the performance fabrics available and how they can benefit you on your hiking excursion, and remember that the best hiking clothes for you are probably something other than a safari outfit.