What to Wear Hiking: Complete Guide to the Basics

Whether your hiking up Mount Everest or taking a stroll through public land, here is an essential list of what you should wear when hiking.

When you step out into the Great Outdoors on a hike, you’ll need to ensure you’ve got the right kit for the task at hand. Sure, hiking doesn’t require much than your regular clothes, but if you want to take the sport seriously, then you’ll need specialized gear to enhance your experience on the trail.

What you wear on your hike depends on a variety of environmental factors. The weather plays a massive role in hiking, and you’ll need to ensure you have the right clothing to meet the demands of the trail.

If you’re hiking at a cold location, make sure you strategically wear your layers, allowing you to peel them off as the temperature rises, and you start to feel warm.

Whether your hiking up Mount Everest or taking a stroll through public land with your family, here is a list of all the equipment you need.

Critical Factors for Consideration When Selecting Hiking Clothing

Looking good on the trail in the latest hiking fashion is awesome, but it’s expensive. When selecting your gear, make sure you work with a budget and buy the best equipment and clothing you can afford.

When choosing your hiking gear, you need to consider the following factors.

  • Safety – The Great Outdoors is a beautiful and unforgiving environment. If you don’t prepare yourself for all the possible environmental conditions you might encounter on your hike, then there’s no “off” switch to mother nature. Ensuring you have the right kit to stay dry in a rainstorm, and protect you from hazards on the trail, is essential for every hiker.
  • Comfort – It’s tempting to take to the trail in a cotton t-shirt. While this dress code is fine in warm weather, it’s a recipe for disaster in the cold. Cotton is a light and airy fabric, but it also soaks up sweat. After a few hours on the trail, your body will be working at full tilt, and you’ll find yourself sweating profusely. Your sweat will drench a cotton t-shirt, leaving you feeling cold when you stop moving.
  • Affordability – Premium hiking brands know how to charge for products. If you’re thinking about buying new clothing for hiking, then take some time to shop around for affordable deals that save you money on your kit.

What to Wear Hiking – The Definitive Guide

Wearing the right clothing on your hike is critical if you want to enjoy the experience. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each of your gear items individually.

Moisture-Wicking T-Shirt

As we mentioned earlier, hiking is all about staying comfortable during your walk. Cotton t-shirts are a big no-no in this case. Instead of wearing a cotton tee on your hike, invest in a t-shirt with flexible and moisture-wicking fabrics.

Columbia’s Thistletown T-Shirt is an ideal tee for hiking, This shirt moves the moisture away from the inside of the shirt, to the outside.

As a result, you stay dry during your hike, even when you’re pouring sweat. The shirt won’t cling to your skin like a soaked cotton tee, and it keeps body odor to a minimum.

Moisture-wicking tees are available from a variety of brands, and you don’t have to go with a hiking brand to enjoy the benefits of moisture-wicking material. Leading sports companies like Nike, have a comprehensive range of t-shirts available in moisture-wicking and breathable materials, at an affordable price point.

Upper Body Layers

Layering is an important technique that hikers must learn to master. Depending on the air temperature of your hiking trail, you might need more or fewer layers to meet the environmental conditions. Let’s look at a layering technique for winter walking, and you can use this as a guideline for your layering technique.

The Smartwool Merino 1/4-Zip Top is an excellent choice for a light jacket to go over your moisture-wicking t-shirt. This model zips to your neck, keeping you warm. The merino wool material lets the top breathe well, keeping sweat build-up at a minimum.

A hooded down jacket from Patagonia or Canada Goose is a great option for a heavy jacket to help you hike through cold weather. These jackets are both lightweight and warm, and it’s easy to stuff them into your daypack if the weather warms up.

A heavy jacket is essential in cold-weather hiking, and it could save your life if you find yourself caught out in the cold overnight.

Rain Jackets and Windbreakers

When the weather turns bad, or if your hiking in wet, windy, and rainy conditions, you’re going to need a windbreaker or rain jacket to keep you warm and dry.

Choose a water-resistant model, with a breathable and stretchable fabric. Select a jacket with Gore-Tex construction for the best resistance against wear and tear while you’re hiking.

You can choose to wear a rain jacket, but it if warm outside, then you might get away with wearing a rain poncho over your t-shirt.

However, if you’re hiking in cold conditions, getting wet can mean the difference between life and death. If your skin has is continuously exposed to the cold through a soaked t-shirt, then hypothermia is only a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Gore-Tex material offers fantastic rain protection. Choose a jacket that has features like vents and an adjustable hood. Make sure your jacket packs down so you can store it in your daypack if the weather warms up.

Best Selling Hiking Jackets

Bestseller No. 1
Amazon Essentials Men's Lightweight Water-Resistant Packable Puffer Jacket, Navy, X-Large
  • Cold-weather style is easy with this versatile water-resistant lightweight puffer jacket featuring a full-zip front and stand-up collar
  • With a stand-up collar, zip pockets and elasticized cuffs; packs neatly into included carrying bag with drawstring closure
  • Outfit the entire family with comfortable, quality clothing from Amazon Family
  • Winter made better: we listen to customer feedback and fine-tune every detail to ensure quality, fit, and comfort
  • Model is 6'1" and wearing a size Medium
SaleBestseller No. 2
Columbia Women's Arcadia II Jacket, Black, Small
  • ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Columbia Women's Arcadia II Jacket features our signature, air-permeable protection that’s waterproof and breathable to shield you from drizzle to downpour.
  • ADJUSTABLE FEATURES: This shell top jacket features an adjustable storm hood, drawcord adjustable hem, and zippered hand pockets for ultimate comfort.
  • LIGHT & PACKABLE: The waterproof, lightweight design packs into your hand pocket for convenience on days when the weather is unpredictable.
  • DURABLE FABRIC: 100% nylon 2L fabric with a 100% polyester mesh lining keeps you warm, yet remains breathable.
  • OMNI-TECH: Our Omni-Tech technology features air-permeable protection that’s waterproof and breathable. It provides excellent waterproof protection, keeping mother nature's elements out, at the same time allowing the inside to breathe.


When hiking, its best to choose lightweight material’s in your clothing that is both water-resistant and moisture-wicking. Ladies can wear spandex or leggings for a comfortable fit. Leggings don’t catch on branches along the trail, and they offer you the most mobility out of any type of shorts or pants.

There are plenty of offerings from leading brands like The North Face, but you might find the price tag a little on the expensive side when shopping for your kit.

We recommend you select a pair of shorts from your wardrobe that you enjoy wearing for prolonged periods. Try to avoid baggy shorts, as they catch on obstacles along the trail, and they also lead to chafing on your inner thighs.

Look for features in your shorts like adjustable elasticated drawstrings, mesh pockets, and fast-drying materials. If you’re planning on wearing leggings, then the waistband can also act as a pocket.

Pants and Sleeves

When the temperatures drop, you’ll need to ensure you have the right gear to meet the demands of the environment. Ladies can choose fleece-lined leggings for extra warmth and comfort. As a bonus, you can wear your leggings with your regular casual clothes when taking trips to the store and running errands.

Sleeves and pants are also essential hiking gear for walking in grassy areas. Lyme disease caused by a bite from the Lone Star tick can end up causing health complications for the rest of your life. Wearing long pants in grassy areas helps to prevent ticks from latching onto your legs.

As an additional tip, make sure you remove your pants after your hike and have a friend or family member check you for ticks. Long sleeve shirts are great for keeping the bugs off of your skin, and they prevent sunburn in hot weather.

We recommend that you don’t hike in jeans. The denim will start to cause chaffing after a few miles of hiking, and you’ll have to turn around or suffer through the pain. Choose lightweight pants designed for hiking. Select a pair that feature design components like removable zipper legs on the lower half of the pants, and construction with top-quality materials, such as Gore-Tex.

Best Selling Hiking Trousers

SaleBestseller No. 1
Columbia Men's Silver Ridge Convertible Pant, Breathable, UPF 50 Sun Protection, Gravel, 34x32
  • ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pant features our signature UPF 50 fabric for protection against harmful UVA and UVA rays as well as breathable, wicking fabric that pulls moisture away to keep you cool and dry.
  • HANDY FEATURES: This men's durable convertible pant features one zip-closure security pocket, side pockets with hook and loop closure, and mesh pocket bags for ultimate convenience and security.
  • ADJUSTABLE FEATURES: This men's convertible pant features a partial elastic waist, gusset detail, and zip-off legs for the ultimate comfortability.
  • CLASSIC FIT: This pant is crafted of a classic fit for ultimate comfortability while active days outside.
  • OMNI-SHADE: Be safe and protected. Omni-Shade blocks UVA and UVB rays to help prevent sunburns and long-term skin damage. The tight weave construction with UV absorbent yarns block the full spectrum of harmful UV rays.
SaleBestseller No. 2
Columbia Men's Rapid Rivers Pant, Flax, 34W x 32L
  • OMNI-SHADE: Be safe and protected. Omni-Shade blocks UVA and UVB rays to help prevent sunburns and long-term skin damage. The tight weave construction with UV absorbent yarns block the full spectrum of harmful UV rays.
  • HANDY FEATURES: This men's stretch pant features two side pockets to keep your smaller items secure.
  • ADJUSTABLE FEATURES: This men's stretch pant features a partial elastic waist and gusset detail for the ultimate comfortability.
  • ACTIVE FIT: This pant is crafted of an active fit with our signature comfort-stretch fabric for ultimate comfort during active days outside.
  • ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Columbia Men's Rapid Rivers Pant features our signature UPF 50 fabric for protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Rain Gear

When it comes to protecting yourself from the rain, you’ll need a set of rain gear to ensure you stay dry and warm during the downpour or shower. A poncho is lightweight, and you can fit it into your daypack without taking up too much space.

We recommend rain ponchos for light showers in warm conditions and a full rain jacket with insulation for avoiding the rain in colder climates.

Fast-Drying Underwear and a Sports Bra

Getting soaked in the rain is fun in the beginning, but it quickly becomes a pain. After the storm subsides, you’ll need to dry out your gear as soon as possible. This strategy avoids chafing in the folds of your skin in your groin and between your inner thighs.

Ladies can rely on sports bras made with moisture-wicking materials for their hiking bra. Most sports bras don’t have an underwire, but they still provide excellent support when running or hiking.

Look for a comfortable fit in your underwear, and with Gore-Tex fabric, you can even take a plunge in the swimming hole if you find one along the trail. The fabric dries quickly, especially in hot weather.

Quick-drying underwear is also a must for any hiker, male or female. As mentioned, wet underwear will cause chaffing, ruining your hiking experience.

If you do find that your underwear won’t dry in time, or you have wet clothes, try smearing some Vaseline on your inner thighs and the folds of your skin. The Vaseline reduces the friction, minimizing the chaffing of your skin.

Woolen Socks

Many first-time hikers make the mistake of wearing cotton socks on the trail. Cotton socks might be the comfy option when you’re at home or running errands, but they’re a terrible choice for hiking. Cotton socks have too much movement in the fabric, and they absorb moisture.

As a result, cotton socks will stretch when moist with the sweat of your feet. As the fabric swells, it distorts with the movement of your feet inside your shoes or hiking boots. Trying to walk miles in poorly fitting socks ends up in blisters all over your toes and the soles of your feet.

Instead of wearing cotton, try a wool sock for your hiking. Wool socks help to reduce sweating, keeping the sock tight against your foot, preventing the slippage that causes blisters. Choose wool socks with additional padding in the heel and ball of the foot for extra comfort when walking.

Best Selling Hiking Socks

Bestseller No. 1
Dickies Men's Dri-tech Moisture Control Crew Socks Multipack, Heathered Colored (6 Pairs), Shoe Size: 6-12
  • Soft Breathable Moisture Control Fibers
  • Arch Compression Support and Stability
  • Ventilation Channels Enhance Air Flow
  • Durable Reinforced Heel and Toe
  • Fabric content may vary by color
Bestseller No. 2
Women's Hiking Walking Socks, FEIDEER Multi-pack Outdoor Recreation Socks Wicking Cushion Crew Socks(5WS18105-M)
  • Cotton75%, Polyester fibre22%, Spandex3%. Medium fits women’s socks size 4.5-7 (US).
  • MESH VENTILATION ZONE - Precision knit, breathable fabrics can better wick perspiration, keep feet dry and make outdoor activities easier and more enjoyable.
  • FULLY CUSHIONED - Thickened toes and heels, high density, high elasticity, can ease the impact, reduce friction, effectively protect your feet from the blisters, while providing shock absorption and durability.
  • EXCELLENT ELASTICITY - Elasticized arch brace, good flexibility, to avoid the rotation of the sock during the movement; elastic ribbed cuffs, not tight or loose, durable and comfortable.
  • HIGH PERFORMANCE ATHLETIC SOCKS - FEIDEER outdoor recreation socks are comfortable, breathable, moisture-wicking cotton socks, ideal for trekking, walking, running, camping, hiking, skiing, cycling and other outdoor activities.

Hiking Boots or Shoes

Your shoes are possibly the most crucial part of your hiking gear. You’ll need a pair of hiking boots if you plan on traversing rough terrain on challenging hikes. We recommend a high-top hiking boot to protect your ankles, in case you stumble or put your foot wrong when navigating obstacles.

Low-top hiking shoes are a great choice for easy trails, and you can even get away with using cross-trainers on some beginner trails.

Make sure your shoes or boots have a good grip with a robust tread pattern and look for shoes that are both waterproof and breathable.

Best Selling Hiking Boots

Bestseller No. 1
Columbia womens Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Amped Hiking Boot, Elk/Mountain Red, 8 US
  • ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Features our lightweight, durable midsole for long lasting comfort, superior cushioning, and high energy return as well as an advanced traction rubber sole for slip-free movement on rough ground.
  • HANDY FEATURES: Treacherous days out on the trail are comfortable and worry-free with this boot's waterproof full-grain leather and suede bootie construction and its durable mesh tongue for breathability.
  • ADJUSTABLE FEATURES: The Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Amped hiking boot features a lace-up closure for an adjustable, secure fit.
  • FEMININE STYLE: This women's waterproof hiking boot delivers a style with durability with it's contrasting color combinations and soft suede exterior.
  • OMNI-GRIP: This multi-terrain traction system matches specially formulated compounds and treads to specific environments. A dual-zone winter tread pattern ensures solid footing on surfaces such as ice and snow.
SaleBestseller No. 2
Timberland White Ledge Men's Waterproof Boot,Dark Brown,10.5 M US
  • WHITE LEDGE MENS HIKING BOOTS feature premium full-grain waterproof leather uppers for comfort and durability, seam-sealed waterproof construction to keep feet dry in any weather, and rustproof, speed lace hardware with hooks at top for secure lacing.
  • LOOK NO FURTHER for trail-ready performance and style. Our selection of men’s hiking boots, waterproof hiking boots, casual boots, and casual shoes is designed to fit in with your outdoor-ready ensembles, whether you’re heading to the summit or downtown.
  • TIMBERLAND BOOTS are synonymous with quality workmanship. Whether you're looking for mens boots, womens boots, or kids boots, Timberland has you covered. For the best in hiking boots, rain boots, work boots, casual shoes & boots & more, choose Timberland.
  • WHAT YOU NEED IN THE OUTDOORS: Timberland isn't just for high-quality mens, womens, and kids boots. We have the gear you need for all your outdoor adventures, including jackets and coats for outdoor activities, backpacks and luggage & outdoor accessories.
  • THE BEST IN OUTDOORS: See how Timberland's line of outdoor wear stacks up to hiking boots and outdoor gear from brands like Columbia, Merrell, Vasque, Oboz, Hi Tec, Doc Martens, Uggs, Muck Boots, Keen, Maelstrom, Justin, Hunter, Bogs, Nike, or Sorel.

Hiking Daypack

You’re also going to need a daypack for your hike as well. The daypack stores all of your hiking necessities, such as water, snacks, and your additional gear. The size of your daypack depends on your activities and the length of your hike.

We recommend you choose a model that has a mesh back. The mesh back prevents your back from touching the pack, allowing air to circulate and dry up the sweat before it starts to stick to your shirt and cause it to creep up your back.

Read: The 5 Best Daypacks for Travel 2020


Every hiker needs a hat to keep the sun off of their face. Baseball caps protect your face, but they do nothing to keep the sun off of your neck and ears. We recommend you go with a medium-brim circular-style hat that protects your entire head from the sun’s harmful UV Rays.


The sun can get very bright as it moves higher in the sky, especially on clear days. A good pair of sunglasses with polarized lenses will ensure that your eyes don’t have to strain to block out the extra light.

Sunglasses also protect your eyes. They safeguard you from bugs, dirt, and debris floating in the wind.

Wrapping Up – Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

Your last item to wear when hiking – is sunscreen. As mentioned, the sun is intense, and overexposure to UV rays results in a nasty sunburn. Your hat will protect your head, but your arms and legs require protection as well.

Choose a factor-50 sunblock for the best protection, and remember to reapply it every few hours for optimal protection from sunburn.

Adrienne is a traveller and blogger with many years experience of the outdoors life. An adrenaline junkie at heart she loves to try different sports and activities all year round. With a degree in journalism she combines her love of sports with writing here at BeActiveOutdoors.com Contact adrienne@beactiveoutdoors.com

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