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Below I complied a pretty thorough list of clothing items for hiking and especially, backpacking. Each section includes info and some of the items that I’ve personally used and recommend.
Backpacking Clothing Tips
Think about weather and environment conditions. Clothing for hiking depends greatly on how long you’ll be gone, what the weather will be like and conditions you’ll be in.
Is it going to be hot, humid, and sunny? Cold and possibly rainy? Or even winter conditions with snow? Will the trail be nice and clean, or rocky with a lot of gravel, perhaps even stream crossings? Is it overgrown with weeds and tall grasses? These are all things to think and know about before you go out on a hike or backpacking trip!
Pack light. Usually backpackers bring just the set of clothes they are wearing, a pair of PJ’s to change in for the night, and an extra pair of socks and underwear. For warmth and at camp, a “puffy” down or synthetic jacket is great to take with you because it’s easily packable. You can also sleep with it on if you get too cold at night. If it’s cooler you may need an extra mid layer as well.
Layer your clothing. If it’s in the 50’s when you first go outside you may be shivering. But I guarantee you as you are hiking you’re going to warm up and start sweating if you’ve got a winter jacket on. A t-shirt, long sleeve, and light jacket are great for winter layers.
Light Colors may be preferred. If you get any ticks or bugs crawling on you you’ll more easily be able to spot them. Also blaze orange is necessary during hunting seasons!
Merino wool is one of the most popular fabrics for hiking in right now. It dries quickly, is odor resistant, and will still help insulate you when wet-important for helping to prevent hypothermia. It’s expensive, but if you can afford at least a Merino wool t-shirt, or long sleeve base layer, underwear, and a couple pairs of socks it’ll be worth it.
*Do be careful you check the wool content of the item you’re buying. There are a lot of blends and sometimes with cheaper items there’s a lot less wool in it and more synthetics.
Polyester/Nylon are the cheapest materials. They are quick drying which is good, however they can both make you more sweaty and the biggest problem–will retain odors. The reason is that the material creates an environment for bacteria to grow, and that’s the cause of the smell. Natural fibers like merino are preferred because they prevent that.
It’s always advised not to wear cotton, because it will retain moisture way more than synthetics or wool, causing chaffing or blisters. It can also be dangerous to wear if it’s cooler out and rainy. If you get cold and soaked through, it can lead to hypothermia.
Shoes – Hiking Boots and Trail Runners
One wearable item that you’ll always want to have on no matter what is a good pair of shoes! If you’re hiking, the ground can be rocky, wet or damp, and you’ll want to have some decent traction on the bottoms of your shoes. Get a pair of hiking boots or trail runners. Sneakers are fine as long as the bottoms have good soles and lugs built in.
If it’s warm to hot out, you’ll want breathable ventilation in your shoes. Waterproof varieties tend to not be as breathable and can make your feet sweat. Hot and sweaty feet can easily lead to blisters forming. I have a pair of high top waterproof Merrell Moab’s which are super comfortable. But they make my feet so hot in the summer that I only wear them in the winter. They’re perfect at that time of year for keeping my feet nice and toasty!
Non-waterproof trail runners will easily get wet if you step in puddles, however they also dry much faster than thick, waterproof, or leather styles. My personal favorites so far have been Altra’s Lone Peaks. After 5 days backpacking my feet were fine!
Xero Shoes Terraflex are another very lightweight, “barefoot” style zero drop shoe to try. I personally prefer these for just day hiking, however some people really love them for even backpacking.
Some of the brands popular with a lot of hikers include:
There are literally hundreds to choose from. What it comes down to is finding a shoe that fits you comfortably, and for some of us that’s easy. My feet don’t have problems and I rarely have to break anything in. Other people might have to try 5 different pairs before they find something right. If you’re in the latter category then I suggest you shop at REI. They have a great return policy on shoes!
Camp Shoes / Sandals / Water crossing Shoes
Another thing you want to consider if you’re backpacking is if you want to take an extra pair of sandals or water shoes with you. If you’re going on a long hike, it’s nice to have a pair of sandals to change into at camp, to give your feet a rest and to air them out.
They can also double as a shoe to ford streams in if necessary, in that case you want to make sure they have decent grip, or if you’ll be fording a lot perhaps it’s best to bring a dedicated water shoe.
I use a pair of lightweight Xero Shoes sandals and water shoes for these purposes. Some people will just bring a pair of cheap flipflops which work great for just around camp. Others bring crocs, or even neoprene socks.
As far as socks for hiking goes, there really are so many, but the absolute best kind of material to get are those made with Merino wool. They’re pricey, expect to pay around $10-20 for one pair, however the good brands will last a very long time, and won’t soak up sweat or stink. They’re quick drying and comfortable. You can literally wear them for days hiking!
If you’re prone to blisters, you might want to try toe socks. They feel a bit weird at first, but they greatly help reduce moisture and friction that creates blisters on your toes. There are full sock and liner versions. The liners are very lightweight, and are made to wear underneath a normal sock. I’ve tried these and was skeptical at first, but after wearing them on a number of hikes I actually really love them and they’re part of my main kit now.
Some popular brands of socks for hiking include:
- Darn Tough – these are the best. Simply because they have a lifetime warranty. You can literally send them your old socks with holes in them and they will replace them for you for free! Get a pair for each day of the week and you’re good for life!
- Injinji – toe socks. Helps against blisters!
One other thing you might want to consider for a cool weather backpacking trip are Down Booties. They’re like sleeping bags for your feet! They can give a lot of extra worth to your feet while sleeping at night, as long as your feet have a bit of warmth to start with when you put them on.
I primarily wear pants when hiking. If I know the trail is clean and it’s hot in the summer and not buggy, then I’ll wear shorts. Pants just feel safer to me. You can be ok walking through tall grasses, stinging nettle, won’t get bit up by mosquitos, don’t have to worry about sunburn, and can even spray them with Permethrin to help prevent ticks. Yeah you may sweat a bit more, but there are plenty of lightweight options where that’s not been a big issue for me, even on hotter days.
I personally prefer pants over leggings-mosquitos can bite through leggings, and loose fitting pants feel cooler to me in the summer if I’m not wearing shorts. You’ll also see some backpackers wearing a pair of leggings under their shorts as a layering option when it’s cooler out.
In the winter, you may want to layer a pair of long underwear under you pants for extra warmth. This is a base layer mostly for around camp, sleeping, or if it’s extremely cold out. You’ll warm up quite a bit if you’re moving.
Whatever style and brand of pants you get, it’s recommend that they’re lightweight and made with a quick drying material. That way if it rains or they get wet from a stream, they’ll dry in a couple of hours when the sun’s out!
Lightweight Hiking Pants to try:
- Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Pants – I really love these pants for the summer. They’re the lightest pair in this list, and so comfortable.
- Duluth Flexpedition Pants – These are also quick drying, but a bit heavier, so better for spring and fall, and even winter. If it’s below freezing you can layer them with long underwear.
- Outdoor Vitals Satu Pants – A thicker, sturdier pair of pants. I wouldn’t wear these in the hot summer weather, but for spring/fall/winter they’re excellent! They have a unique side vent feature which really does help!
Other great styles for women:
- Kuhl Freeflex Roll-Up or Trekr Pants
- North Face Aphrodite Pants
- Eddie Bauer Trail Tights – As I mentioned above, I’m personally not a fan of hiking in leggings. But if you like to, I recommend checking out Eddie Bauer’s Trail Tights. They hold up well to abrasion and are fairly odor resistant!
- Base layer/long underwear – Smartwool and many other brand options are available.
- 32 Degrees – budget option synthetic long underwear or leggings
- REI Silk Baselayers – these are a different option for layering under clothing, or using as PJ’s. They are super ultralight(pants are 3oz), and are also see through-not to be worn by themselves. I have the pants and they work well as long underwear!
Skirts..wait what? While hiking? Yeah…it is actually thing, among both women, and men believe it or not! If you think it might be something you want to try, check out a few hiking skirts:
For short and long sleeve shirt base layers, I will 100% recommend merino wool. It won’t trap odors and of course is quick drying. I wore the same merino wool t-shirt everyday on a 5 day 4 night backpacking trip, getting hot and sweaty hiking, and when I got home it only barely smelled!
Another option for shirts is a very lightweight long sleeve. These are for sun and bug protection, or in case it’s just a little bit chilly out. They’re made of delicate fabrics however, so you do have to be careful you won’t be hiking among a lot of brush. They also make great lightweight sleepwear!
A thicker warm layer that’s breathable is important for hiking in cooler or winter weather when you may need more than a t-shirt. You have options from a long sleeve wool shirt or hoodie, to a fuzzy synthetic fleece, or even a lightweight jacket. And if you’re sick of rolling up your sleeves but want to keep your core warm, try a fleece or down vest!
Shirt Brands to check out:
- Decathlon – lots of good choices of Merino wool blends.
- Smartwool Long Sleeve, and Short sleeves
- Merino Tech – you can get a free pair of socks with many of their items, just note the women’s shirts run short, so if you’re tall size up or get the men’s version!
- Appalachian Gear Co. – very expensive, but made in the USA and great quality! The t-shirts have a blend of Alpaca wool and Tencel.
- 32 Degrees – synthetic materials, but a super budget option. A lot of times you can find them on sale for under $10! Good for day hiking or camping where you can switch out your clothes.
Popular Sun Shirts include:
- Outdoor Vitals Tern or Altitude Sun Hoodies – The Tern is made from merino wool, this is one of the lightest long sleeve merino hoodies out there. And the Altitude is synthetic but even lighterweight, coming in at only 3oz for a large. It’s worth it to bring along!
- Patagonia Capilene
- Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie
- Columbia Silver Ridge – long sleeve button down shirts with easy roll up sleeves.
- REI Sun hoodies
- Lightheart Gear Fleece Hoodies
- Senchi Designs – Hard to find it stock but a crazy ultralight option.
- Alpha Cruiser by Farpoint Outdoor Gear
- Hiker Hunger Summit Hoodie
- Outdoor Vitals Ventus Hoodie – I love this hoodie. It’s only around 8oz, ultralight, ultra packable, breathable, and keeps you a good deal warm when hiking in cold temps. It has ventilation under your arms too!
- Appalachian Gear Co Hoodies – Their hoodies are expensive, but very comfortable and all natural 100% alpaca wool fibers!
The most popular style jackets with backpackers are “puffy” jackets. Like everything on this list, they’re lightweight, and also compressible and easily packable! They’re not really meant to be used while hiking, but instead to keep you warm at camp and as an extra sleep layer.
As for materials, down fill is usually more compressible and lighter, however if it gets wet it won’t insulate you as well as synthetic. Synthetic materials have come a long way and now there are ultra light options for jackets for backpacking that work just as well too, unless you’re going out in extremely cold weather.
- Outdoor Vitals NovaUL, NovaPro, or Vario Jacket – The Nova’s are one of the few puffy jackets out there with pit zips for ventilation. The Vario is a lightweight synthetic that I own and love. The material on this is so soft, I just wish it came in more colors! I also owned their older model “Lofttek jacket”, and have been very happy with it.
- Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket- They have a synthetic jacket which is very popular among backpackers, lots of color choices if you customize it, only thing is that it’s not the nicest looking. But if you’re a backpacker, you don’t really care much about that lol.
- REI has a ton of puffy coats to choose from. Check out what’s on sale!
Decathlon – has several good budget options including vests. They’re not the lightest, but will do the job keeping you warm!
32 Degrees – has really great prices and pretty good quality as well on puffy coats and vests. I own one of their lightweight puffy jackets without a hood and like to layer it underneath a wind shell jacket.
I also recommend Merino wool when choosing underwear for hiking. The natural odor and bacteria resistance is really worth it and important. Although keep in mind, It’s underwear. It’s still probably going to stink a little bit-but way less than synthetics will. It feels good against your skin too, and ladies…if you don’t want your bras get super sweaty and stinky, you HAVE to get a merino wool bra! In fact I find it to be the most essential out of all “merino wool” clothing items to purchase.
Women’s sports bras:
You may or may not need one of these, depending on the weather:
Hats – for the sun and/or rain. I have this Sunday Afternoons Bucket Hat which works great in most situations for me. For when it’s very hot in the summer it would be nicer if it had some ventilation up top, however then it wouldn’t be waterproof. Some people like baseball or trucker style hats, or even Visors, there’s a big variety available. You can pair one of those with a rain jacket too.
Gaiters – these keep the dust and dirt out of your shoes, keeping them and your socks cleaner. There are both thin nylon and thicker material varieties. The lightweight ones aren’t waterproof, so if you’re going hiking in the winter you should get the thicker ones that will also keep the snow out!
Gloves – for cold weather hiking and around camp in cooler temperatures. Merino wool liner gloves work great for hiking in. I also love this pair of Zpacks wool gloves. These styles tend to keep your hands just warm enough without overheating while hiking.
Do you have a particular clothing item you use and recommend? Help others out and let us know in the comments below! 🙂