Whether you’re new to hiking or a veteran hiker, it helps to have the best gear on the market. Ahead, we’ll give you some tips on what to look for in hiking clothes, as well as a list of apparel to get you started.
How to Select Hiking Clothes
If you’re new to hiking, you might just throw on any old clothes you’d wear to the gym and hit the mountain. While some of these clothes might fit the bill for a while, they probably aren’t the best selection for longer hikes.
Here are some things to look for when selecting apparel for your next hike. Even hiking veterans could use some of this information to make sure they’re getting the most out of their hiking clothes.
New hikers might be inclined to wear a cotton T-shirt out on the mountain. These shirts are fine for short hikes, more extensive hikes will need appropriate clothing. Cotton will trap your body heat and sweat, which will cool you down as you climb.
Once you’re higher on the mountain, the temperature will drop, and you’ll get cooler. If you’re wearing cotton, your sweat will attract the cold air, and you’ll end up shivering. On my first hike, I quickly shifted from being too hot to too cold in my cotton T-shirt. I ended up turning back far sooner than I would have because I just wasn’t comfortable.
Synthetic, moisture-wicking material is the best selection for longer hikes. The breathable material will keep you cool and dry at lower elevations and will regulate the temperature as you climb. Skin-tight shirts work well if you’re comfortable with the tight fit, but they aren’t a necessity.
Polyester is one of the best materials you can choose for hiking. It releases heat, so you don’t sweat as much, and keeps you warm as the temperature drops. Clothes made out of this material are more durable than cotton, so you can use your hiking clothes for a long time without replacing them. Nylon is another strong option here as well.
When the weather gets colder, Merino wool is another excellent selection. This fabric is effective at regulating your temperature, but it also does a good job eliminating odors. Merino wool will do a better job keeping you warm, but you can also use it for some warm-weather hikes.
Short vs. Long Sleeves
When deciding between short sleeves and long sleeves, a lot of the consideration comes down to the temperature. You’ll also want to consider how high on a mountain you want to hike, though. If you’re going to higher elevations, short sleeves might be too cold – even in the dog-days of summer.
If you’re prone to sunburns, you’re probably better off choosing long sleeves. Choose a cool, moisture-wicking material, so you don’t overheat – but getting a sunburn is a good way to ruin a beautiful day on the mountain.
Prepare for Rain
It’s always a good idea to bring a rain jacket in your hiking backpack in case the weather takes a turn. If you’re confident it won’t rain, bring a poncho at the very least.
Ponchos work well enough to keep you, and your hiking backpack dry if it starts to rain, but you’ll probably want to invest in a good rain jacket if you’re serious about hiking. Not only are they more stylish, but they’re more comfortable and do a better job keeping moisture away.
Choose a lightweight, breathable rain jacket that keeps the rain out without trapping internal moisture.
Pants and Shorts
You’ll want to stay away from cotton on your shorts and pants, just as you would on your upper body. Apart from that, deciding between pants and shorts is relatively easy. If you’re hiking at low elevation on a hot day, you’ll probably want some lightweight hiking shorts. If you’re going higher, choose pants.
You can also opt for convertible pants on warmer days. These pants turn into shorts, so you can make adjustments on-the-fly based on the temperature and climate.
If you’re going off the path, it’s probably best to stick to pants. Certain areas are prone to ticks and poison ivy that can make you itch for days.
Minus33 Merino Wool Chocorua Midweight Crew
Minus33 Merino Wool create Merino wool clothing for hiking and general use. The is an excellent in-between shirt for hiking on warm to cool days. If you’re staying at low elevation, you might want to switch to the lightweight version of the shirt. If you’re climbing up a mountain, the mid-weight is a fantastic choice.
On colder days, the tight Chocorua works as a base layer, and on warmer days it wicks moisture from your skin as you hike. Since I live in a climate that changes with the seasons, I love to have a shirt that I can use in the fall, winter, and spring.
Some people prefer their base layer to be skin-tight. While this shirt hugs your body, it can be a bit baggy if you’re exclusively looking for a base layer. This shirt is designed for more all-around comfort, so you might want to look elsewhere if you only want a base layer.
- Precise measurements
- Odor control
- Fire resistant
- Insulates when wet
- Moisture wicking
- Not warm enough for some
- Can be a bit baggy if used as a base layer
- Neck is a bit wide
Helikon-Tek Outback Line
The Helikon-Tek Outback Line are comfortable pants for active individuals. If you’re looking for hiking pants, these should fit your needs. They’re stretchy, comfortable, breathable, and waterproof. There isn’t much more you need in a good pair of hiking pants.
The spandex in these pants allows you a complete range of motion without ever feeling like you’re stressing the fabric. I’ve had pants that I was sure would rip in half while scaling a mountain, but these took everything in stride.
They’re incredibly durable, so you won’t have to worry about ripping them on a rogue branch or rock. If you want hiking pants that you can wear during a regular day, though, these might not be the best fit. Some users will doubtlessly have a problem with the velcro fastener (which I happen to love), and the nylon composition makes these pants a bit noisy when you walk.
- Very durable – can handle rougher conditions
- Lightweight, breathable pants
- Elastic fabric allows for a greater range of motion
- Water rolls right off
- Unique, comfortable pocket layout
- Some users will dislike the velcro fastener
- Too much of a slim-fit for some
- Make noise when you walk
Columbia Sandy River Cargo Short
If you’re hiking in the hot summer months, the Columbia Sandy River Cargo Short is a preferred option for many. These are lightweight, breathable shorts that can handle the movement needed to tackle more difficult trails.
These shorts are 100% nylon, so they wick moisture and dry easily if it starts to rain. The pockets are a bit shallow, but they’ll fit keys and other small items you need on your hike. The pockets also zip closed, which is a necessity for me because I’ve been known to lose some important things through my travels.
- Very quick-drying
- Adjustable waistband
- Secure, zip-closed pocket
- Shallow pockets
- Too short for some people’s taste
- Wrinkle easily
Yuedge Outdoor Multi-Performance Hiking Cushion Socks
These hiking socks from Yuedge provide a nice middle-ground between regular socks and thick winter socks. They’re fantastic for most applications, but you might want to try thicker socks if you’re hiking in the coldest conditions.
Other than that, these socks have a supreme construction. They cradle and pad the foot nicely, and I started to notice fewer aches in pains in my feet after a long hike. If you regularly get blisters on your feet, try these socks out and see if they make a difference. They do a great job wicking moisture so that you won’t stink-up your shoes with these.
- Breathable and moisture-wicking
- Fantastic odor protection
- Design reduces pressure on feet
- Thick cushioning prevents blisters
- Some users reported durability issues
- Not thick enough for winter hikes
- Not as stretchy as some users expected
Vapor Apparel Sun Protection Long Sleeve T-Shirt
The Vapor Apparel Sun Protection shirt is a great selection for those who want a cool hiking shirt but are trying to avoid a sunburn. As a fair-skinned individual, I know the struggle of finding a cool, comfortable shirt that keeps the sun away, and this one did the job adequately.
While this shirt is too lightweight for colder hikes, it works perfectly as a substitute for a short sleeve shirt on a hot summer day. The microfiber breathes easily and wicks moisture so that you won’t have too much of a problem with sweating.
- Available in a variety of colors
- Offers UV protection
- 100% microfiber, moisture wicking material
- Lightweight and breathable
- Fits well for taller individuals
- Some users reported durability issues
- Too tight around the chest for some
- Stains very easily (stay away from white)
A Complete Hiking Wardrobe
With these options, you should have a solid foundation upon which you can start building a hiking wardrobe. I recommend using the Vapor Apparel shirt and Columbia Sandy River Cargo Shorts for warmer weather, and bring out the Helikon-Tek Outback Line pants and Minus33 Merino Wool Chocorua Midweight Crew when the weather turns.
When it gets a bit cooler, you can still wear the Minus33 shirt as a base layer, making it one of the most versatile options on this list.