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February 05, 2021

What you decide to wear while on a hike depends on a few key factors: the weather, the season, and the location. If you’re planning a hike, make sure you’re prepared with all the essential clothing and gear for an intense excursion. How you dress while hiking in the wild can influence your safety while outdoors. With our brief guide on what you should wear when hiking, you’ll ready yourself for a challenging hike in any weather or terrain without putting yourself in danger.

The Essentials

Before diving into the specifics, you should know there are some pieces of essential gear that you can’t go without. A hiker who doesn’t prepare these articles of clothing is doing themselves a disservice and could put themselves in harm’s way. Check these items off your list before considering anything else:

  • Comfortable footwear (athletic shoes or boots)
  • Durable socks
  • Non-chafing undergarments
  • Water-resistant base layer
  • Backpack
  • Clothes that protect your entire body
  • Light jacket
  • Hat and sunglasses

With the basics covered, you can begin altering your outfits based on the specific aspects that will affect the challenge of your hike.

Watch the Weather

Before you get dressed for a hike, make sure you know what you’re up against. Keep an eye on the weekly forecast and pick the best day for your hike based on days with fair weather. You may be able to handle slightly inconvenient weather on a hike, especially on a multiday hike, but if there’s a storm system in the forecast, it’s best to postpone the trip.

Pick out your outfit based on the weather and keep yourself prepared for surprises. Don’t forget to fill up your backpack with emergency supplies just in case.

Preparing for Rain or Snow

Light rain or snow doesn’t have to get in the way of a hike that you’ve been planning all week. If you think it may rain, or if it is raining, make sure all your outside-facing clothes are waterproof. Wet clothing may make you feel colder and can induce hypothermia if conditions are severe enough.

And your choice of footwear can save you from soggy feet. You aren’t running—you’re hiking—so pick boots that will keep your feet dry while you trudge through mud or snow. Make sure they fit properly to keep your feet from feeling sore. Shoes can be heavy to carry, so during a multiday hike, choose your footwear based on the worst weather you could face. If you’re taking the hike off the beaten path during a snowy day, consider bringing snowshoes.

Handling Sudden Temperature Shifts

Layering your clothing doesn’t just keep your body warm. If you prepare for a cold hike with layered clothes, you can remove those layers after your body warms up or the outside temperature increases.

Alternatively, if the temperature suddenly drops, packing extra layers can keep you comfortable during the last leg of your hike. Keep some extra insulating layers in your pack to stuff under your outer shell during a sudden freeze or chill.

Seasonal Style

Once the seasons change, you may want your style to shift—even while out on the hiking trails. When hiking on wilderness trails, your outfits may not actually change too much. However, if the weather is too warm or too cold, you’ll want to protect your body with the right choice of clothing. The following guidelines will help you choose the proper protective clothing based on the season.

Preparing for Winter

In some locations, like the American south or southwest, winter provides the perfect weather for hikes—brisk, dry conditions that aren’t too hot or cold. For most of us, the winter means it’s time for snowy, icy, freezing conditions that can negatively impact a hike.

If you’re a risk-taker who loves an extreme winter hike, prepare yourself for any conditions with snow boots, a waterproof outer shell coat, and waterproof pants. You’ll also need a warm hat, gloves, and goggles to keep snow out of your eyes.

Even if snow isn’t in the forecast, you may face several inches of snow that have been sitting there for days—or even weeks. This snow could be tough and icy, so be careful if you try to power through it. Equip yourself with snowshoes and consider bringing crampons if you want to hike on any icy rocks.

How To Stay Safe and Cool in the Summer

During the summer, it may be tempting to dress lightly for any and every trail. For some trails with light activity, all you really need is a tank top, shorts, shoes, and a pack with your water bottle. However, if you plan on hiking through plant growth and underneath the shade of trees in the woods, wearing clothing that will protect your skin is crucial.

When dressing for a hike in the deep wilderness, wear breathable clothes that cover your skin. If your body heat can escape through breathable pants or a water-resistant base layer, your body will stay cool despite the coverage. Wear a hat to prevent unwanted pests from hiding in your hair. Athletic shoes along with breathable socks can keep your feet comfortable and safe against hidden dangers. Wear hiking boots for long hikes.

Gearing up for Your Hike’s Location

You can do some easier hikes on a whim, like short hikes with paved paths or a trail you know like the back of your hand. However, not all hikes are this nice to the average hiker. What you wear when hiking often varies on the trail or location. Hikes may include a creek you can wade through or a quick rocky climb on an alternate path that may require waterproof boots or footwear with extra traction.

If you have any specific activities you want to do while on the hike or at a destination at the end of the hike, be sure to pack accordingly. You may know of a secret swimming hole or a beautiful camping spot—whatever your activity, be sure to bring a backpack that can carry all your equipment.

Do Your Research

Often, a popular hiking trail or national park will have a website that provides essential advice for hikers. Hearing what you need to wear on the trail from park rangers themselves is your best resource for packing and planning outfits. Click around on the website to discover everything you can before you set out on your journey.

No matter where you plan to explore, Escape Outdoors can help you prepare with our expansive catalog of the most popular outdoor lifestyle clothing brands and their seasonal clothing lines. Find the best equipment to prepare for your next hike with us!

What You Should Wear When Hiking


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