A hiking friend of mine recently reached out, she was about to leave for a 4-day backpacking trip and was in the classic “I don’t know what clothes to bring!” predicament.
Once the weather starts to turn chilly again, the fear of being cold, or worse, wet and cold is real. On the other hand, you don’t want to lug around a bunch of extra, unnecessary clothes for 4 days on the trail if you don’t have to.
I realized I finally have my hiking outfits and clothing system dialed in well enough that I no longer panic or stew over what to wear hiking and backpacking. Plus, I almost always wear every single piece of clothing I pack, which is the goal, not to pack too much extra stuff.
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Spoiler alert – I also always pack in layers, so my backpacking clothes don’t actually change that much from season to season (except maybe winter!)
What to wear hiking and backpacking in Fall
Let’s start with your hiking outfit
These are the clothes you’ll wear during the day, while you’re walking, throughout your whole backpacking trip. Please only bring one set of hiking clothes. I once heard someone ask – wouldn’t you save some weight by only bringing new clothes for every other day instead of every day?
Or you could get a little crazy and actually only bring one set of hiking clothes, ultralight and super easy. (And also what most backpackers do.) Make sure that all your clothing items are made of synthetic material that will dry quickly and help keep your body temperature up if it does get wet.
Cotton becomes very heavy when wet, doesn’t dry quickly and could very likely lead you to hypothermia if you got soaked in the chilly fall temperatures.
I usually wear a short sleeved synthetic tshirt, capri leggings or hiking pants, with FITS socks and my hiking boots during the day. Then also pack a fleece or fuzzy sweatshirt that ideally is just worn at night around camp, but it could double as an extra hiking layer if it’s real cold or windy out during the day.
Next is your sleeping outfit while backpacking
Pack one outfit that is designated for keeping you warm and dry at night. So, you’ll have two outfits total, one for day time hiking and one for sleeping. Your hiking clothes might possibly get soaked during the day in a rainstorm, which is fine – as long as you have a pair of dry clothes to change into at night to sleep in or wear to warm up in case of an emergency.
I wear a long-sleeved synthetic t-shirt, that was part of a base layer or long john set, and then I’ve been loving LuLaroe leggings to wear around camp and to sleep in while backpacking. Unless I know it will get well below freezing, then I may pack thicker, fleece leggings instead of the LuLaroe ones. I also add in some warm, fuzzy sleeping socks, that again are designated to stay dry and not to hike in, and my fleece jacket or fuzzy sweatshirt that I love because it also has a big fuzzy hood that covers up my head and neck really well.
Plus I almost pack a puffy jacket to wear at night or on high, windy peaks. Depending on the forecast I’ll either pack a lighter weight Northface Thermoball jacket or if it’s going to be closer to freezing, I’ll bring my thicker, down winter jacket.
A side note about underwear, only because this also came up with my friend as she was preparing for her backpacking trip. She asked how many pairs of underwear I would take for a 4-day trip?
I kinda thought for a second that she was fishing for my blessing for her to pack 4 pairs of underwear – which was not going to happen. Brace yourself, especially if you’re brand new to backpacking, I would only pack two pairs of underwear. You wear one, then rinse out the other and hang it from your pack or tent at night to dry, then swap them. Wear the rinsed pair the next day, and rinse out the dirty pair and repeat. OR on my long-distance hike, in the summer heat, I went commando and that worked out soooooo much better for me.
Extra hiking clothes to bring
The only other clothing related items you should be packing are rain gear and possibly gloves, a warm hat for sleeping, a baseball style hat for hiking, a fleece buff and/or gaiters depending on the weather and trail conditions.
I used to always carry a rain coat and rain pants, but more recently have been leaving the rain pants at home. That is a personal decision you’ll have to make, and even I weigh before each trip, if it were going to be really cold the whole trip I may add the rain pants back in.
Some people prefer a giant poncho that goes over yourself and your pack instead of a rain jacket, again that’s personal preference.
Gaiters are usually something that I would only wear in the snow or slushy early/late season snow, but some hikers like to wear them any time there could be mud, or just every time they hike to help protect their legs and keep nature out of their boots. Again, that’s a personal preference sort of thing.
Hopefully this gives you more clarity on exactly what you should be wearing and packing for your next Fall hiking or backpacking trip!
Leave any questions or Fall hiking must haves in the comments below 🙂