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What To Wear Hiking: The Essential Hiking Clothes Checklist

Everything you need to know about choosing the right outfit for hiking, for men and women.


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Our ‘What to wear hiking’ guide to men’s and women’s hiking outfits includes the essential clothes, footwear, and accessories to take with you for day hikes in various climates and conditions, from hot summer hikes to cold winter days on the trails.


We’ll also share some quick tips on how to choose what to wear hiking, why layering is important when putting together a hiking outfit, and how to know whether an item of clothing you already own (or are considering buying) is suitable to take on a hiking adventure.

This hiking checklist is sponsored by REI and covers what to wear hiking, from head to toe.

What To Wear Hiking: Men’s and Women’s Clothes

Here’s a quick high-level checklist, and if you need to buy hiking clothes, scroll down for specific clothing recommendations:

Base layers

Your base layer will lie against your skin and is the foundation of your hiking outfit. This layer is important for insulation, as well as wicking sweat away from your body to keep you comfortable and dry.

In warmer weather, your base layer will also provide you with a level of sun protection, which is particularly important in areas with a high UV index, and at higher elevations where the sun can be more intense.

It’s a matter of personal preference, but some people choose thin long sleeve base layer shirts to wear hiking in summer because they find it beneficial to have that added protection from the sun and other elements, year-round.

Base layers are typically made from Merino wool, polyester or nylon, or a blend of two or three of these quick-dry, breathable materials.

Base layer top and pants

Depending on the climate you’ll be hiking in, many people will opt for a long sleeve top as their hiking base layer.

For hiking in summer and hot weather, you can also buy short sleeve and vest base layers.

Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer For Hiking Best Hiking Outfits Trail and Kale
Smartwool Merino 150 Long Sleeve Base Layer ($85)

This Merino base layer from Smartwool wicks moisture and helps regulate your temperature when hiking.

It’s highly versatile as you can wear it on its own in warmer weather, or layer it under other clothes for winter hikes.

For hiking in cold weather, also consider wearing full or three-quarter length merino pants underneath your hiking pants, for extra warmth.


Like your base layer tops and pants, your underwear should be quick drying and therefore either made from a wool (such as Merino wool) or synthetic, technical sweat-wicking fabric – much like your base layer top and pants.

For women, a sports bra made from synthetic materials is a good choice to wear under your baselayer top, rather than a regular bra.

Patagonia Barely Bra at REI Best bra for hiking trail and kale
Patagonia Barely Bra ($49)

This Patagonia Barely bra is a personal favorite for hikes and other medium and low-impact activities.


Your hiking clothing mid-layer helps to regulate your body temperature as you hike while offering some protection from the elements.

Fleece or other synthetic zip-up top or jacket

Many people opt for a lightweight zip-up fleece sweater as their hiking midlayer for the upper body.

What to wear hiking Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Jacket at REI Trail and Kale
Women’s Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Jacket ($110)

We’re loving Cotopaxi’s range of eco-conscious fleeces, like their bright Teca full-zip men’s and women’s fleece jackets.

For colder weather, you can double up and have two mid-layers for extra warmth.

Puffy insulated jacket (either a synthetic or down jacket)

Synthetic or down puffy insulated jackets such as this Patagonia Nano Puff insulated jacket are very popular for hiking as they’re so versatile and lightweight.

These synthetic insulated jackets are also available in lots of different colors (not just black).

Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie
Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie ($250)

Your synthetic or down jacket can be worn over your fleece mid-layer, pack down small in your daypack when you’re not wearing them, and offer an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio for cold-weather hiking in winter as well as fall, spring, and cooler summer days.

Hiking pants or shorts

Most people prefer to wear pants, rather than shorts on hikes, even for summer hiking when the weather is warmer.

This is because pants provide better protection for your legs from insects such as ticks and mosquitos, as well as from sharp rocks, branches, and stinging flora (if you’re unfamiliar with the risks ticks pose to your health, read: Ticks and hiking (or trail running)).

For maximum versatility, choose convertible pants like these that allow you to zip off the lower leg if you want to change from pants to shorts.

Lululemon convertible hiking pants what to wear hiking
Lululemon Convertible High-Rise Hiking Jogger ($198)

Pants like these convertible high-rise joggers from lululemon offer a stylish yet technical option for hikes, with full-length coverage, rip-resistant material, and zippers for converting them into shorts.

They’re available in men’s as well as women’s sizes, in a range of colorways.

For a more traditional style of convertible hiking pant, these REI Co-Op Sahara pants are also a great option to consider.

You could also consider wearing yoga pants or running leggings for more mellow hikes where you don’t expect they’ll get damaged by vegetation. They’re designed to be worn while you’re active and getting sweaty, so are a popular option for many people.

For some good leggings options, read the best lululemon leggings for running.

Top (waterproof) outer layer

Your top layer is typically a waterproof jacket, ideally with a hood.

Waterproof jacket

Your outer layer is an important item of hiking apparel to have with you on all hikes because even if you don’t expect it to rain, a waterproof jacket will protect you if it does, and help keep you warm if the wind picks up or you end up staying out longer than planned.

While some of the more technical hiking rain jackets can set you back hundreds of dollars, these men’s and women’s rain jackets are a cost-effective way to ensure you have protection from the rain and wind.

What to wear hiking waterproof rain jacket trail and kale
REI Co-Op Rainier Rain Jacket ($90, women’s is pictured)

They’re made from breathable fabric and feature an adjustable hood, zippered hand pockets, and ‘pit zips’, which allow you to unzip the area under your arms for some extra ventilation when you need it.

Waterproof pants

If you’re going to be hiking somewhere that could get particularly wet, also consider waterproof rain shell pants that you can wear over your regular hiking pants.

Waterproof Rain Pants To Wear Hiking From REI Trail and Kale
REI Essential Rain Pants ($60)

REI offers a range of these Essential Rain Pants in men’s, women’s, and kid’s sizes – definitely worth stashing in your hiking backpack in case of a downpour!

Hiking daypack

For all but the shortest and most mellow of hikes, a hiking daypack is essential to take with you, as it will allow you to carry water, spare layers of clothing and other important hiking essentials.

For maximum versatility, choose a daypack that’s suitable to wear hiking but can also use for other everyday adventures such as going to work, the gym or school.

This Lululemon LiftOS hiking backpack is a great example of a versatile, compact backpack with a 25 liter capacity: plenty of room to pack most day hiking gear.

Lululemon hiking backpack LiftOS what to take hiking
Lululemon LiftOS 25l hiking backpack ($198)

For a list of the ten essentials to take with you hiking (in your backpack!), read our essential hiking checklist, and also check out our full list of the best hiking daypacks for more backpack options.

Hat and sunglasses

For most climates, a hat is a good idea. It will help protect your head from the elements, including sun and wind exposure, or in the case of a warm beanie hat, provide extra warmth on cold and windy days.

Sunski Headland best running sunglasses Trail and Kale

Don’t forget your sunglasses – even on an overcast day, sunglasses reduce eye strain and protect them from UV rays, sun, wind, rain, and blown debris.

Head over to our running and hiking sunglasses buying guide if you need a new pair that will stand up to the trails.

Hiking boots, shoes or sandals

You have a few options when it comes to choosing hiking footwear.

Depending on the terrain, climate and duration of your hike, you may choose to wear either hiking boots (or hiking shoes) or more minimal footwear such as trail running shoes, which tend to be more lightweight than boots, but less supportive and protective.

Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX Boots Trail and Kale
Saomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX hiking boots ($165)

When it comes to boots for hiking in, these Gore-Tex Salomon boots are highly-rated and a favorite of ours for all but the coldest of winter hikes on account of them being such great all-rounders – they’re lightweight, waterproof, protective, and comfortable all day.

For more hiking boots to choose from, visit our men’s and women’s best hiking boots buyer’s guide, and also check out our best trail running shoes buyer’s guide if you’re considering more minimal footwear than burly boots.

As well as boots, trail runners and hiking shoes, for hot summer hikes you could also consider hiking sandals as an option.

Hiking socks

There’s no point in having great hiking boots if you don’t have comfortable socks that are suitable for hiking.

Great hiking socks should be soft, comfortable, sweat-wicking, and stay in place over many thousands of steps.

Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Socks Womens gift ideas for mothers day trail kale 2

Most hiking socks, like these Darn Tough Micro Crew socks, also have reinforced heels and toes, and optional added padding under the heels and balls of your feet.

Other accessories you may want to take hiking

You may also want to consider taking the following items with you:

3 Quick tips for choosing hiking apparel

When you’re choosing what to wear when hiking, remember these three important rules for selecting hiking clothes material:

1. Choose either synthetic materials, such as polyester (including fleece) and nylon, or wool such as Merino wool

These fabrics are made to be sweat-wicking and quick-drying. Make sure your hiking outfit doesn’t include any cotton attire – including denim jeans.

Cotton does not wick moisture, gets heavy when wet, and stays cold and wet for a long time. Do not go hiking in jeans or cotton pants, tees or shirts!

2. Look for comfort and durability features

While it can be tempting to just choose a hiking outfit that looks trendy or cute… function, comfort, and durability are key considerations when selecting what apparel will be best for wearing on the trails.

With that said, with so many choices out there it’s easy to find hiking clothes that tick all of those boxes.

Hiking apparel is not only designed to withstand some wear-and-tear, including brushes with brambles, nettles, rocks, and other obstacles that you may encounter but it’s also made from materials that stretch and allow you to move in with little restriction.

3. Think about your hiking attire as being in three layers:

  • Base Layer – Your base layer is worn over your underwear, against your skin.
  • Mid Layer – Your mid-layer is a warm, long-sleeve layer that goes over your base layer. For winter hikes you may need to layer on two mid-layers to help keep warmth in. On your bottom half, your mid-layer is your hiking shorts or pants.
  • Top (Waterproof) Layer – Your top layer should be a waterproof rain jacket, ideally with a hood.

Layers are important in hiking as well as other outdoor activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, and running.

This is because they allow you to add or remove layers to regulate your body temperature and your level of activity (and sweat), as well as the weather and altitude conditions, change while you hike.

Even if the weather seems nice before or at the start of your hike, conditions can change very quickly, especially if you’re hiking in the mountains or in a more extreme climate.

So, it’s important to bring those additional layers just in case you get caught out by the weather or end up staying out longer than anticipated.

Seasonal considerations

What to wear for summer hikes

For hiking in hot weather during summer or in year-round hot climates, your top priorities are to stay cool and avoid excessive sun exposure.

Before you go out in a vest tee and short shorts though, bear in mind that it may also be important to cover your body for protection against insects and other wildlife, and plants such as poison ivy that you may brush past as you hike.

Long pants and long sleeve tops will also provide some sun protection, as will a wide-brimmed hat.

Winter hiking apparel

If you’re new to hiking then Spring, Fall, and Summer are easier to prepare for than Winter hikes because for winter hikes you’ll typically need more, warmer layers, and additional warm hats, gloves, socks, and insulated hiking boots.

Staying dry and warm is a key priority when hiking in winter!

For hiking in snow and icy conditions, definitely consider taking hiking poles and traction devices to put on over your boots, such as these micro-spikes, or mini crampons.

Additionally, make sure you’ve packed enough hiking essentials in your daypack for your winter hike.

For a hiking gear checklist, head over to this post next.


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