When you’re going on a hike, you need to be adequately prepared. You can’t simply slip on a pair of sneakers, grab your leather jacket, and head for the hills. And the longer the hike, the more preparation you need.
In the following guide, we’ll show you what to wear when hiking in all seasons, covering the best hiking clothes and accessories, as well as important hiking attire you may have overlooked.
What to Wear Hiking: Important Considerations
Good hiking clothing must take all of the following into consideration:
Safety should play a big role in determining which hiking clothes are best for you.
If you’re hiking in areas known for venomous rattlesnakes, consider wearing thick hiking boots and loose trousers. Long pants and sleeves are also advised in areas where you may be bitten by ticks carrying Lyme disease.
Non-slip hiking shoes are good for steep slopes. Insect repellant is needed to protect against pesky insects and Lyme disease. Sun protection is essential for hot weather hiking.
Your safety, and the safety of any pets or children you have with you, should always be a priority.
Hikers often use the phrase “cotton is rotten”, referring to the fact that cotton clothing retains moisture and holds onto all of your sweat. Natural moisture-wicking materials like merino wool and synthetic materials like polyester are better suited for hiking clothes.
You should also be able to move freely. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and maybe a little climbing—the last thing you want is a tight pair of hiking pants that prevent you from lifting your knees or a tight hiking shirt that stops you from bending over. By the same token, however, your clothes shouldn’t be so loose that they are constantly getting in your way.
Can you use your new hiking clothes anywhere else? Are those hiking boots good for climbing and casual walks? Is your winter hiking jacket could for general cold weather conditions? The more versatile your hiking clothes are, the more you can justify the high price tags that these items carry.
Are you happy to wear your new hiking clothing or do you dread needing to wear them? You’re going to be spending a lot of money, so it’s important to find clothing that is comfortable and fun to wear.
As noted above, practicality is important, but the clothing shouldn’t feel like it’s made out of trash bags or human hair. Comfort is key, and quality hiking clothing can be both practical and comfortable.
Cost (and Value)
High-quality hiking clothes aren’t cheap. It’s practical, well-made, and durable so inevitably, it’s also expensive.
The last thing you want to do is blow your budget on a new pair of hiking shoes, only to realize you don’t have enough cash left over for anything else.
When purchasing hiking clothing, do your research in advance. Plan your purchases. Prioritize. And look for savings wherever you can find them.
Just remember that not all hiking clothing is equal and you often get what you pay for. Rather than looking for the cheapest items from brands you’ve never heard of, look for discounts, sales, and end-of-line items. Do your research. Check customer reviews. Pay attention to the materials.
What to Wear Hiking: Essential Clothing and Accessories
From specialized shoes and socks to shirts and jackets, the following hiking clothes will ensure you’re covered and prepared from head to toe.
Hiking Socks and Underwear
Good hiking socks and underwear will keep you comfortable throughout your hike.
The best hiking socks are made from merino wool, a comfortable, warm, odor-free, and moisture-wicking material. It’s also an expensive material, but a pair of merino wool socks won’t cost you much and it’s a sound investment that you can keep for years.
Women should look into sports bras and for cold-weather hikes, both men and women should invest in thermal underwear.
Hiking Shoes and Hiking Boots
Whether you opt for hiking shoes or hiking boots is partly down to personal preference. What are you most comfortable wearing and which option offers the most versatility?
The type of hiking should also be considered. Hiking boots are often best for winter hiking as they offer more coverage and grip. Hiking boots are also more likely to protect against snake bites, thorns, and abrasions. But if none of these things are a major concern and you’re not comfortable wearing boots, a good pair of hiking shoes should suffice.
In really hot weather, you can look into hiking sandals, which are very comfortable and cool.
For summer hiking, shorts or skirts may be preferable. For winter hikes, longer and thicker is better.
Environmental hazards such as thorns, snakes, and ticks may necessitate longer trousers, but you’ll also be walking, stepping, and even climbing, and if you’re doing all of this in hot or warm weather, you’ll want something light, airy, and stretchable.
Just like hiking pants, your shirt should be comfortable and practical for the weather conditions. That could mean light, thin, and airy, but it could also mean thick and waterproof. Think about sun protection, moisture-wicking, and environmental hazard protection, as well as comfort.
You could skip a jacket altogether in the spring and summer, but in cold weather it’s essential. A rain jacket will keep the wet weather away and provide some protection against the cold.
Look for a good water-resistant and windproof jacket that you can wear on a cold winter hike, a snowboarding trip, and any other time you need to stay warm and dry. A good jacket can last you for many years to come so this is one area where spending more makes sense.
You don’t need to bother with any specific hiking hats. It’s all about keeping the rain or sun away from your face,
Sun protection is very important when hiking and a simple baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat will suffice. For cold weather, look for a hat that covers your head and ears, or just buy a rain jacket with a hood.
What to Wear Hiking in Spring
Hiking boots are best for a spring hike as they’ll deal with hard, soft, and muddy ground, and you can expect to encounter all three in the spring.
Wear long sleeves and chose trousers instead of shorts and skirts. Waterproof outer layers are important, as are windproof jackets, but you can start to shed some of this clothing near the end of the season.
As the weather heats up, grab a hat to keep the sun off your face.
What to Wear Hiking in Summer
You’re going to need that hat throughout the summer and should also lather yourself in plenty of sunblock.
Wear light and loose clothing but don’t forget about environmental hazards and wildlife. Wear hiking sandals if you want, but hiking shoes are also suitable for summer hikes. Alternatively, stick with a pair of good sneakers.
What to Wear Hiking in Fall
As far as hiking attire is concerned, your fall outfit should look similar to your spring outfit. You’re dealing with moderate conditions and temperature fluctuations, as well as trails that can be everything from dry to muddy.
The fall is also hunting season across most of North America. Check the dates for hunting season in your state and confirm whether or not there will be hunters near your chosen trail.
If so, pick up some blaze orange (also known as “hunter orange”) clothing and accessories. This clothing has a distinctive color that’s not seen in the wild and it is not detected by deer, so hunters wear it as well. You will stand out and let hunters know that you’re not for shooting!
What to Wear Hiking in Winter
In the winter, you need to layer up or wear thicker clothes. Insulated and waterproof gloves, rain jackets, and rain pants can all help in the winter. And don’t forget the socks, as a pair of high-quality merino wool socks can make a huge difference when you’re splashing through puddles and trying to keep your feet warm and dry.
What Should You Not Wearing While Hiking?
You should refrain from wearing cotton underwear and socks as it clings to moisture and smells. You should also avoid anything that is unnecessarily heavy or tight, as it will weigh you down and restrict your movements.
Denim is one of the worst things you can wear as it ticks most of those boxes.
Can I Wear Leggings for Hiking?
Yes, you can wear leggings and yoga pants for a hike. Ideally, you should look for hiking leggings that are weather-resistant, moisture-wicking, and very durable, but if you’re just going on a short summer or spring hike, the leggings you already have should suffice.
What Should a Beginner Wear Hiking?
Wear what makes you comfortable and provides adequate protection against the winter and the environment. Focus on moisture-wicking clothing in hot weather and waterproof and windproof clothing in cold weather.
Summary: What to Wear Hiking in North America
Whether you’re wearing the best hiking shoes, jackets, and boots or opting for low cost options, what matters is that you’re comfortable, safe, and protected against the elements.
Hiking clothes can be expensive but hiking itself is an easy activity that everyone can enjoy. So, if you have a limited budget then start small, stick with the basics, and work your way into it. When you’re thinking about 10-mile trails, climbing steep mountains, and bracing wet and windy weather, you can start investing in more merino wool underwear and thick leather boots. Until then, just try to enjoy yourself!