OUTDOOR BASICS

What to Wear Hiking: The Right Hiking Wear for Any Environment

Hiking clothes
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

If you are an adventurer, then you probably take quite some time to choose the right hiking wear. It’s a good idea to plan ahead what you’re going to wear while hiking, because the wrong clothing can soon become very uncomfortable in the wild, and that can make your journey impossible.

You also need to keep in mind that when going out in the wild, you are exposing yourself to the elements of nature, and only the right hiking clothes are competent enough to suppress those elements as much as possible, so it’s not only about comfort.

There are boots, pants, jackets, gloves, socks and backpacks, that are specially designed for hikers, mountaineers and adventurers. These clothes play an important role when you are out facing the wilderness.

Hiking Boots

Footwear is perhaps the most important part of your clothing as far as hiking is concerned. Hiking boots are designed in a specific way to help keep your feet warm, dry, and to protect your ankles. There are different types of hiking boots, with each type being worn for different terrain.

Hiking Boots

Let’s list the most popular types of hiking boots, and examine the differences between them:

  • Trail shoes: these are meant for hiking across mostly flat, non-rocky areas, and dry land. They are not to be used when attempting mountain climbing.
  • Trail hikers: hiking boots such as these are for hiking across rough, muddy, and steep terrain. They are usually waterproof, and offer extra protection and comfort.
  • Mountain climbing boots: these boots are designed for taking on the most difficult and awkward terrains out there. Waterproof and tough, with extraordinary durability, and maximum protection and comfort for your feet.

All these boots have their own purpose. But once you’ve found the right type of hiking boots for the right type of terrain and climate, you need to pick the right size. You will rarely buy mountain climbing and hiking boots that are the same size as your everyday shoes. You should always buy boots that are at least one size larger.

If you’re not sure, then just try out a pair for yourself. This is extremely important, because hiking boots are often reinforced and strong, so they can guarantee you extra protection. Buying them in your normal shoe size makes them too difficult to wear.

Keep in mind that your toes must have enough room within the boot, so you can wiggle them. It mustn’t be tight anywhere around your feet, and you should feel more than comfortable when walking with the boots on.

Boots for hiking

When it comes to hiking boots, you should always keep them in a dry place where there’s no humidity. This is because some boots can tighten overnight if they are being held in warm and humid place. This amateur mistake can cost you your adventure plans and the price of expensive hiking boots.

Chossing The Right Socks

Not all socks can be worn underneath the mentioned types of boots. Choosing the right socks may be the second most important thing to pick out of your wardrobe when going out on a hike. You want to make sure that you will be able to walk without any difficulties, because, of course, walking is the main activity you will be doing when going out in the wild.

There are socks designed only for hiking. Some are more durable and some less. The most important features of these socks are extra insulation, breathability, drying speed, thickness, and more.

If you go out hiking and mountaineering often, then you probably have several different pairs of hiking socks. Which ones are the right ones depends on what conditions you will be facing when out in the wild.

Hiking socks

Hiking socks can also be categorized:

  • Simple lightweight socks: these are designed for taking on simple and easy trails. They are thin, and provide basic warmth and breathability.
  • Mid-weight hiking socks: this type is for longer journeys, where you will be facing a rough and partially dry terrain. They have a higher drying speed, and offer extra insulation.
  • Heavyweight/mountaineering socks. They are the thickest hiking socks with all the features at a maximum. These socks are designed to confront the most demanding conditions out there.

These are the types of socks you can wear when going hiking. However, knowing which type is the right one for the occasion isn’t enough. You still need to pick the right size, and make sure that they aren’t too loose or too tight. Choosing the right size can greatly depend on the material the socks are made from.

Hiking Pants

There aren’t any special types of hiking pants. There is only one kind of hiking pants; they just come in different models. It is up to you to choose the ones that fit you the best. Hiking pants are designed to aid your journey, while at the same time providing extra protection from the elements, comfort, mobility, breathability and so on.

Hiking pants always prove that they have incredible resistance to any kind of climate, weather, or any other unexpected situation you might find yourself in.

Wearing pants that aren’t meant for hikers, like jeans, could turn out to be a big mistake. You have to know the difference between pants that are suitable for wearing out in the wild, and those that aren’t.

Hiking Pants

It would also be extremely wise not to wear shorts when going out in the wild. You never know when you might accidentally pass through poison plants, like poison ivy. Your skin is very sensitive to any kind of poison leaves, or plants with needles on them.

A nasty rash or an infection is the last thing you need out there, so make sure not to expose your skin. Even if you are sure that you will not be going through any kind of vegetation that might hide some nasty plants, it is still recommended that you wear real hiking pants.

You can never precisely predict the weather, so you want to be sure that you are at least wearing decent pants to provide you with the much needed protection. Remember, you are going out in the wild. There are also a lot of insects and bugs that would like to taste your blood and give you a nasty bite, so make sure you don’t offer them the pleasure of doing that.

If you are to go on a hike during winter when the weather is really cold and bad, it’s a good thing to wear long underwear underneath your hiking pants. This mostly serves as an alternative when you don’t have the proper winter hiking pants. They are basically the same as any other hiking pants, only with extra layering that provide additional warmth and insulation.

Hiking Jackets

The climate and weather are what determine which is the most suitable clothing to wear when going out in the wild. So, the first step in choosing the right jacket for your journey is knowing what kind of weather awaits you. If you are not sure, try predicting it enough to know what you should wear.

There are a few types of jackets you can wear when going hiking:

  • Shell jackets: the shell jacket is the best one you can wear when it’s windy, and cold. It comes in either double or triple layers that offer great protection against rain and snow as well. It is featured by high insulation, breathability, and it is waterproof. Shell jackets can be further categorized into:
    • Hardshells – which are mostly the triple layered ones. They have the highest percentage of insulation and protection against the elements.
    • Softshells – which are the double, or even single layered jackets. They offer more breathability, and less insulation than the hardshells. Often worn when the weather is stable.
  • Insulated jackets. These jackets are meant to be worn in the most extreme and harsh weather. They got their name from the very purpose they were invented for, which is keeping you insulated of course. This means that the insulation that this jacket offers is at an all-time high. They are often worn by skiers and mountaineers, because they usually face the coldest and most rigorous weather. Insulated jackets also have high water resistance, and they are really easy to pack.
  • Fleece jackets. The fleece jacket is a soft, lightweight jacket, that is usually worn during dry weather, and when it’s not too cold. It is most often worn underneath other jackets, and it serves as an extra insulator. The jacket is soft, and will keep you warm.

Choose wisely which jacket is the right one for the occasion. No matter if you are going on a short hike, trekking or backpacking, the right clothing is essential.

Hiking Jacket for rain

Now, when it comes to picking the right torso clothes, you also need to know what to wear underneath your jacket. This will most likely depend on what jacket you will be wearing. If you are going to wear shell jackets, there is no need to put on several shirts, like most people have a habit of doing.

This can be a big mistake, because you will raise your body heat even more when you start hiking, and when that happens people usually take of their jackets at some point to cool off a bit.

If your body heat plummets during that time, you won’t feel it, but you will feel it later on, and there is a high chance of you getting a fever after that. It is enough to wear a tank top, a t-shirt, and a long sleeve shirt underneath your jacket.

If you’re hiking during high temperatures, wear only what you wear underneath your jacket, because you don’t want to risk getting sunburned. Again, it all depends on the weather, so don’t rush your decision what you should wear.

Backpacks

Every hiker will bring a backpack with them. What backpack you should bring will depend on the duration of your journey. For example, if you’re going hiking for the weekend, the right backpack would be a lightweight one.

A lightweight backpack is featured by one large compartment on the back, and several small ones on each side. It is usually big enough to bring food, water, and to store some extra clothes, which is somewhere around 30-40 litres in size. There are, of course, other larger backpacks for special occasions.

The heavyweight backpacks are used for long trips that usually last more than 5 days. These tend to have several compartments, with most of them existing for a special purpose. These backpacks are up to 70 litres large, they are waterproof, and offer enough space to store several things and items inside it.

Hiking Backpacks

Always know what you need to bring so you don’t store too much stuff inside your backpack. This will harden your trip, and make you travel much more slowly. Bring the right amount of food and water (with a little extra to account for emergencies), along with some extra clothing and accessories. Also, it is recommended that you always bring backpacks with high insulation and that are waterproof.

Accessories

Bringing additional accessories to wear like sunglasses, hats, gloves, or even hiking sticks, is more than a good idea. Each of these accessories will prove to be more than useful if you bring them.

Sunglasses

Wearing sunglasses while hiking is a big plus, especially if you wear UV protection sport sunglasses. Your eyes become more sensitive if they are exposed to strong light for a longer period of time, so not wearing sunglasses might be more dangerous than you think.

Hats

Always wear a hat when going hiking, period. When hiking, trekking, mountaineering, or doing any other outdoor activity, you will sweat. And if you are sweating that means your body temperature is higher than normal. You lose most of that temperature through your head, so it is important to keep your head as insulated as possible.

Hiking Accessories

Also, if the sun is strong, it is then highly recommended wearing a hat. If the sun is blazing right onto your head for a couple of hours, it will cause nausea, and then vomiting. That means you will lose fluids your body needs, and you will become a burden to both your companions and yourself.

Gloves

Gloves are usually worn by hikers and mountaineers. They are especially useful if you have a hiking stick with you, because they help you get a good grip. Your palms are most likely to get sweaty, which will harden any task that you might want to do with your hands, and that is where the gloves come in use.

It is recommended that you wear the fingerless gloves so you can maintain a grip on whatever you’re holding. This applies to a warmer and dry weather of course, but if it’s cold, you might want to wear winter gloves.

Hiking Stick

A hiking stick will prove to be your best friend if you are hiking across a rocky, muddy, and steep terrain. It’s like having a third, stronger leg, and anyone who has ever used one will tell you it’s a good idea to bring one. Even when it might seem you don’t need it, it is still recommended you bring one along.

Hiking wear and gear

If you don’t find it to be useful, you can always strap it on to your backpack, until you might want to use it.

What You Learned

In this article you’ve been taught not only what to wear when going hiking, but also what to avoid and what to pay attention to, during your journey. Remember, it takes good clothing to avoid the dangers of the elements.

Don’t wear too many clothes, and don’t wear too little. Pay attention to what kind of weather awaits you so you can decide what to wear. Make your hiking trip comfortable and fun, not tiring and boring.

It doesn’t take a genius to know what to wear when going hiking. However, that is exactly what causes you to make a mistake while choosing what to wear. Don’t underestimate the weather and the wild. Take your time in choosing the right clothes, because now you know everything you need to know about the right outfit, for the right occasion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Ryan Freeman

    All I can say is: remember to stay away from cotton when choosing hiking clothes! I read somewhere – and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong – that cotton can absorb something like 27 times its own dry weight. Safe to say, you wouldn’t want to get caught in a storm! Also, on the point of wet cotton, if you do get caught in the rain in cold weather, cotton loses its ability to retain heat and prevent heat transfer. All in all, cotton seems to be a bad choice!

  • Mark Foster

    We have a lot of modern fabrics today made especially for hiking. You can see the list from one of my post. There are many options available now for the modern hiker. 🙂

    Best hiking clothes here: http://myoutdoorslife.com/gear/camping-and-hiking/the-best-hiking-clothes.html

  • Natalie Green

    I was glad to see hiking sticks on your list! I feel like people never really talk about them as much as other pieces of hiking gear, and yet they can provide markedly improved hiking for many who use them. If you choose the right ones, they help with fatigue by giving you an extra boost of support. Be sure to break them in though, because blisters are no fun in the middle of a hike.

  • Mark Foster

    Oh, are you referring to trekking poles or hiking sticks? Yes, these are very useful. It acts a support when you have a lot of gears to carry. One rule of thumb, though. Don’t over pack and have lots of clothes to brings. Bring only the essentials, so you’ll enjoy walking and enjoy the view, too.

  • Rebecca Jones

    Interesting I never really thought about choosing the right socks. I also admit, I have definitely worn jeans multiple times on hikes and they are for sure not comfortable. I read your response about hiking sticks. I never really though about using one before but I would see people using them. Now I know what they’re for! Thanks!

  • Mark Foster

    Socks are very important, too. They protect the feet from getting those nasty blisters! They provide the cushion and comfort we need especially when trekking for hours. When hiking or camping, you need some special equipment and clothes for that. Comfort, mobility and protection must be provided by these at all times.

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