If you’re just getting started, it can be tricky to know what clothes to wear hiking. As more and more people head for the hills, more issues (and search and rescue missions) are starting to arise from hikers being horribly unprepared for the terrain or environment they’re hiking in. I’ll give you a quick starting point and obviously you may have to tweak this if you live in a either an extremely warm or extremely cold environment.
Your best bet is to research, research, research. Check the weather ahead of time to make sure you’re prepared for the temperatures and any storms that may roll in. Gather information about the trail conditions to see if you’ll need crampons, snowshoes or technical climbing equipment.
This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience, see my full disclosure for more info.
What clothes to wear hiking:
All the non-cotton clothes! Some examples of non-cotton materials are nylon, polyester, spandex, wool, silk, or any blend of the above. You’ll want to stick these synthetic materials on the trail to help keep you warm and relatively dry. Synthetic clothes will dry out way faster than cotton if you get rained on or accidentally fall into a creek and will also help you retain more body heat when wet than cotton would.
One common complaint is that synthetic clothes hold on to body odor forever and always once you’ve really hiked and sweat in them, but honestly…. You’re hiking! You’re gonna be sweaty and smelly anyway, so, who cares?
I do hear merino wool and silk clothes don’t hold on to odor, but they’re usually significantly more expensive than synthetic clothes. So, I haven’t made that investment yet. Instead, I just throw on my same old, same old, smelly poly-pro blend shirt and call it a day. #sorrynotsorry
You’ll want non-cotton:
- Socks and underwear
- Shorts or pants to hike in
- Short sleeved shirt to hike in
- Lightweight long-sleeved shirt or fleece, for sleeping and/or cold days
- Puffy down coat (or a synthetic one) for cold nights or high elevations
- Leggings or thermals for sleeping
- Hat, gloves, and fleece buff for colder temps
You’ll also want good rain gear or possibly a hard shell, insulated coat for cold/winter hiking. I also only bring one hiking outfit and one sleeping outfit for any given trip. Packing new clothes for each day is going to get real heavy, real quick! The only thing worth carrying duplicates of is socks – make sure you always have a dry pair of socks to sleep in, even if you’re ‘hiking’ pair gets wet, and possibly two pairs of underwear, so you can wear one and rinse/wash one, let it dry and then rotate them.
Where to get hiking clothes:
Now, if you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you probably know I’m a huge fan of REI! I know I’m going to get quality products, great customer service and easy returns if I need to…. But even I can admit their prices are not always so great.
Don’t get me wrong, for most outdoor gear I do believe you get what you pay for and you do want high quality gear that will work and last a long time, that usually comes at a higher price.
When it comes to hiking clothes, though, synthetic clothes are synthetic clothes are synthetic clothes, and usually you are just paying extra for a brand name, in my humble opinion. Just taking a glance – one women’s “hiking” shirt is $40-60 and “hiking” pants are even more!
An easy way for new hikers to cut costs is to find cheap hiking clothes. One disclaimer here: I only recommend cutting corners and discount shopping for your basic hiking clothes and base layers. If you’ll be going ice climbing or legit mountaineering, you’re probably going to have to invest some serious money into a good hard-shell jacket and pants to keep you protected from the harsh elements.
Alright, back to the goods, one of my favorite places to stalk for synthetic hiking clothes – pants, shorts, and shirts – is on thredUP. Most of their stuff is second hand (but they have very high standards of what can be resold, basically there can’t be any sign that it’s been worn before) while some is new, with tags still on. Searching for clothes on there though is so easy, their filters are awesome. I think my best buy to date on there was a pair of Exofficio pants for $6! And I’ve gotten other synthetic shirts, shorts and leggings for $3, $4, and $5. If you’re new to thredUP, use this referral link for a $10 gift from me 🙂
More great places to check for synthetic clothes and base layers are at stores like TJMaxx, Marshall’s, or Ross in their active wear or athleisure departments.
If you’re looking for puffy jackets and insulating layers – steepandcheap.com can be an awesome resource for you.
The cool thing about hiking is that you don’t need too much gear to get started, especially with day hiking, but I do want to make sure you have the clothes you need to stay warm and comfy out there.
Let us know your favorite place to shop for hiking clothes in the comments below!
For more tips on what to wear hiking and backpacking, check out these posts:
- 7 steps to find the perfect hiking shoes
- Campsite safety tips
- How to choose the best backpacking tents
- How to choose the best backpacking pack
About the author, Mallory Moskowitz:
After studying Recreation, Park & Tourism Management, Mallory spent several years teaching environmental education, guiding hikes, and leading backcountry trips. Her life-changing trek from Georgia to New York on the Appalachian Trail is what sparked the creation of Your Adventure Coach, to share backpacking tips and resources with as many new hikers as possible.