Fashion kills weather – this saying is probably not that unfamiliar in today’s fashion world. Once in your life, you might have seen a group of young girls wearing short pants or mini skirts walking through the freezing winter cold.
However, this isn’t the case with hiking outfits. The right choice for hiking clothes will make your day. While choosing the wrong set of clothes will turn your hiking adventure into a disaster. When hiking, you expose yourself to nature. Beautiful but also unpredictable.
For this reason, appropriate clothing when hiking is essential and a must. So, let’s start to prepare for your journey by finding out what to wear when hiking.
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What To Wear When Hiking By Season
When you’re indoors, no matter how the weather is, you can always enjoy the utmost comfort with modern technologies, like air-conditioners or heaters. But, when you step outside the thick walls, you’re alone without any protection.
Being outdoors means that you’re exposed directly to all kinds of weather conditions. Especially when you join those hike adventures on remote mountains or in wilderness areas, weather changes are sudden, and very unpleasant sometimes.
For this reason, during your hike adventures, you need to select the right clothes. A suitable outfit will protect your body and ensure its performance.
Luckily, weather changes on the Earth generally follow specific patterns, forming the four seasons. And it’s nothing new that each season has unique features. Based on this common knowledge, let’s start to choose what to wear when hiking by season.
A quick tip is whatever you choose to wear, layering clothes is the key in “hiking fashion.”
Spring is the perfect season to hike. The sun shines brightly, but the temperature remains cool. Birds start chirping, and green seeds start sprouting. But at the beginning of spring, you might be caught in sudden rain showers or small snowstorms— Some traces of the stubborn winter.
In spring, Mark Twain can count up to 136 different kinds of weather within 24 hours. The weather is nice, yet frigid. Then, what should I wear for spring hiking adventures?
The primary purpose of the base layer is moisture-wicking. When the weather is warm, a thin t-shirt or lightweight short/long sleeve top will do the job. You can also settle with long underwear or long johns. They’ll be perfect to combine with other garments when necessary.
The mid layer provides insulation and heat retention. You can choose insulated jackets ranging from fleece pullovers or sweaters to puffy coats. It depends on the weather conditions of your hiking trails. For the bottom, hiking pants or yoga pants are not only durable but also excellent insulation clothing.
Now comes the outer layer, which protects hikers from wind and rain. Spring is famous for sudden rain showers. So, check the weather forecast and pack a rain jacket and rain pants.
Don’t worry that your waterproof gear will shield your body entirely from the air. These gears are made of breathable fabric, called a membrane. Your sweat can escape, but no fluid from nature can enter.
Also, make sure to wear boots instead of regular running shoes or sneakers. Thawing ice and snow in early spring make the trails wet, muddy, and thus, slippery. Rivers and streams are also filled with water from snowmelt. Therefore, waterproof boots will keep you dry and safe under these trail conditions.
Summer is hot and dry. Thus, the keywords for hiking clothing are light and loose. You’ll need a hiking outfit that is lightweight with breathable fabric such as nylon and polyester. If you just hike on smooth and paved nature trails, trail running shoes are acceptable. Or your feet can breathe better in hiking sandals.
Even though it’s crazily hot while trekking, you don’t want to expose your naked skin to the summer’s deadly UV rays. So, try to equip yourself with a long sleeve shirt, sun sleeves, a hat (a sun hat with a large brim is the best), and sun protection cream.
Autumn is as fickle as spring. It might be sunny and warm when you start your hiking adventure, but then the last sunlight is waiting in the cold when you reach the summit. So, again, you should follow the layering basics.
There’s not much difference from spring hiking clothing. For the base layer, you can choose between a long and short sleeve hiking shirt. But at least, say goodbye to shorts and welcome thicker hiking leggings. Now, you can’t depend on freezing wind to wick up your sweat, so clothes from moisture-wicking fabric are necessary.
Then for the mid layer, a puffy jacket might be too much on sunny fall days. So, go for an insulated vest, light and warm. If the temperature drops, you can wear an insulating hoodie on top of the vest. Also, make sure to bring a rain jacket along to shield your body from sudden colorful rains from the trees and random showers from the sky.
For footwear, it’s time to switch from hiking sandals or trail running shoes to waterproof hiking boots.
The weather condition in winter is harsh and cruel. But hiking in winter has its own charm: In the vast white wilderness, against the icy wind, a small figure never stops until he or she reaches the snowy summit.
It’s not easy to wind against nature. More than ever, it’s essential to layer your hiking outfit correctly in the harsh winter conditions. If you want to make it through the whole hiking adventure.
For the base layer, you need warm long thick underwear. Better to find undershirt and pants in synthetic materials or merino wool, which are brilliant fabrics that keep your body dry all the time. No moisture means the cold outside won’t affect your core temperature. Keeping your body warm is the key to successful winter hiking adventures.
The mid layer is crucial in winter because it retains your body heat. A thick jacket from down, wool, or fleece will be helpful. If you plan to hike to the top of a mountain, double wear the mid layer is advisable. In winter, it’s all about warmth.
The outer layer of a hiking outfit needs to provide protection against harsh weather conditions but also need to ensure breathability. For winter, you need to choose jackets with a higher waterproof rating (between 5,000 to 20,000).
There are two types of the outer layer, or some people call it the shell layer. Hardshell jackets provide better waterproofing, while softshell jackets are specialized in insulation and users’ flexibility. So, make your choice depending on your needs and preference.
Note: In all four seasons, besides bodywear and footwear, there are other necessary accessories. Sun protection, insect repellent spray, and extra pairs of socks (wet socks are deadly) are necessary. When it’s cold, make sure to pack gloves, wool socks, and a hat. In nature, humans are fragile.
If you’re still unsure about layering hiking outfit, check out this video:
Types of Fabric for Hiking
Hiking clothing is all about protection against nature. For this reason, compared to everyday fashion, there are as many fabrics used in hiking clothes. But there are still enough for you to choose.
- Polyester/ Nylon: Nylon is versatile and used in all three layers, even in shoes and hats. It’s cheap and durable. But, polyester/ nylon can be uncomfortable when worn as a base layer if you have sensitive skin.
- Wool: Wool is a better option for the base layer. It’s soft, stink-free, and can wick away sweat effectively. But it comes with a higher price. No wind resistance, no waterproofing, no quick-drying, you should only use wool for the base layer.
- Fleece: Polyester fleece is used in mid layer clothing. It provides wonderful insulation capability at low weight and low cost. The only disadvantage is polyester fleece cannot protect you from the attack of strong wind. So don’t wear this material as the outer shell.
- Down: Another popular material for the mid layer is down. It’s perfect for dry and cold winters. But don’t let it get wet, or else down will lose its selling point.
- Silk: You might get shocked when seeing the word silk on the list of hiking fabrics. But silk provides excellent insulation at super low weight. However, it’s not a common material because silk is expensive and delicate. Definitely not something for hiking adventures in the wilderness.
There are two types of fabrics that are extremely popular in daily wear: cotton and demi. However, in hiking clothing, you have to stay away from them.
In hiking, cotton kills. Cotton cannot wick away sweat, meaning wet clothes. They will absorb coldness from the outside and reduce hikers’ body heat. In cold weather conditions, you have to stay away from cotton clothing to avoid hypothermia—the cause of many tragic hiking accidents.
Demi is a great and stylish material but not for hiking purposes. It’s durable, but it’s heavy and doesn’t provide any insulation or waterproofing capability. It just adds more weight to your shoulder.
Cheat Sheet for Different Hiking’s Weather Conditions
After getting to know many types of fabrics, you might wonder what you should wear in certain weather conditions. Here is a small cheat sheet on how to layer your hiking outfit from inside out in cold and warm weather.
In cold weather conditions, first, start with a wool top and tights. You can also choose synthetic material if you are hiking somewhere with high humidity. Second, cover yourself in a fleece top and pants for insulation. An additional jacket will be excellent in case the weather drops at the end of the day or on the summit.
On top of the 2 layers, wear a pair of waterproof pants and a thick jacket. You can choose a softshell coat if it’s a dry winter or a hardshell jacket for better waterproofing in wet trail conditions.
In cold weather, gloves, a hat and a buff, and hiking boots are a must. And if you want extra protection from moisture and wet for your lower legs, a pair of gaiters will be perfect.
Find out more about hiking clothing in cold weather from this video:
In hot weather conditions, first, you can wear a thin synthetic top for the base layer, but it’s not compulsory. Insulation is not necessary on hot days, so you can choose to wear sporty shorts instead of hiking pants. For the outer layer, a thin softshell jacket is sufficient enough.
In hot weather, a hat and sunglasses are a must against deadly UV sun rays. Luckily, you will have more choices in footwear on hot days than cold days. If you are hiking on easy trails, you can opt for trail running shoes or hiking sandals instead of hiking boots. They will save your feet from all the sweat.
Here are some tips for hiking clothing in hot summer weather:
Whether it’s freezing cold or steamy hot, always bring extra pairs of socks. Two things can ruin your hiking adventures: cotton clothing and wet socks.
Choosing the right hiking outfit doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to fashion. While sticking to suitable fabrics, you can play around with colors and patterns to create your own unique style, catching the lens of any photographer.
Essential Checklist – What To Wear When Hiking
You might feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of clothes and accessories needed for a single hiking trip. Some people cannot even sleep well the night before, especially right before their first hiking adventures.
What have I packed? Are they all I need? Did I make the right decision with my hiking outfit? These questions seem to bother you constantly. That’s why this small checklist is here to help.
Some of the things listed here might not be necessary, depending on the season. So go through it, decide what you actually need and want. Then use the checklist for your final check. With it, you should be able to sleep soundly through the night and be ready for your hiking adventures.
What To Wear Hiking Checklist
How should I dress for hiking?
Choose a hiking outfit that is suitable for the weather conditions and trail conditions. You’ll never go wrong if you follow the layering basics with base, mid and outer layers.
What kinds of paints and socks are suitable for wet hiking?
Paints and socks from synthetic material are a perfect choice for hiking in wet conditions. They keep you warm and get dry quickly.
Should I wear jeans for trail hiking?
Jeans are not a wise choice for trail hiking. It’s durable but heavy and not stretchy, which limits your movement and flexibility.
Should I wear running shoes for trail hiking?
On easy and even trails, running shoes can handle easily. But for utmost comfy and safety, you should choose lightweight hiking shoes or hiking sandals in summer and waterproof hiking boots in winter.
Is it necessary to wear a mask while hiking?
At this time of the pandemic, you might need to wear a mask even when you are outside hiking. Only when you are hiking near other hikers on crowded trails. But if your companions are birds, trees and flowers, there is absolutely no need for a mask.