Packing for a first hike or a long trail can be overwhelming, and you need to choose the best item for the purpose of each of your trips in order for you to be comfortable. So what do you use the most? It’s not your flashlight, your tent, or even your cookware. It’s your clothing.
Choosing the best hiking clothes can be a long process, but once you find the right gear for you, you’ll never have to worry about it ever again.
Some of the terms in relation to clothing are confusing, and each article of clothing needs to be carefully selected according to entirely different criteria. That’s where this article comes in, as we provide you with some guidelines to picking the best gear. Eventually, you will develop your own preferences as you clock up experience on the hiking trail.
Pack smart: Find key pieces that will take you from morning to night – anywhere. Always keep the weight in mind to avoid having to purchase new gear for every type of trip you make in the future. Easy-care fabrics in subtle, well-fitted styles and neutral colors are always a good choice. Avoid tight or badly-fitting clothing. Comfort is King and pockets rule!
Modern fabrics: Every time you shop for gear, build your range by making make sure you include garments made from fabrics that offer at least one of the following characteristics:
- Wrinkle resistance
- Sun protection
Insect protection: Insect protection can be valuable or even mandatory for certain destinations, and you could consider clothing lines that are treated with specially engineered insecticides.
However, if you’d like to save money and avoid this feature, you can always use insect repellents to do the job for you.
Our “Best Of” List
As you need to apply different principles when you choose each item, we have summarized the key criteria for putting together a great working wardrobe containing a few of the best hiking clothing items that will cover a whole range of possible conditions.
Best Hiking Pants
What to look for: Rugged, versatile pants are called for when you go hiking or backpacking. Activities can range from standard hiking across even terrain to climbing angles, stepping across boulders and taking an unexpected dunk while crossing a stream. You need a good, comfortable fit with plenty of room in the crotch.
Great hiking pants should be soft and stretchy, water-resistant and should dry out fast after splashing through a stream. Excellent moisture wicking is essential to keep you comfortable during strenuous hiking.
Although you don’t expect serious protection from the cold from an all-rounder, the fabric should be thick enough for a cold early morning or evening plus keep you fresh during a long day of strenuous hiking.
You should also look out for a good number of pockets that are easily accessible from sitting and standing positions, and that can be opened one-handed using prominent pulls on durable zippers.
Our recommendation: prAna Stretch Zion Convertible pants
Specific features: It is made from prAna’s ‘Zion’ water-repellent stretch fabric for an all-weather light- to medium weight hiking pants. The abrasion-resistant nylon & spandex blend shrugs off wear and tear in rough conditions. The Stretch Zion fabric dries out amazingly fast, wicks moisture well and won’t chafe.
Best use: Any outdoor or general use, although very cold conditions may require an additional layer or different pants.
Description: The design allows a generous crotch without being too baggy or hindering your knee movement, and the 3% Spandex provides extra give for exaggerated movements. A small belt adjustment lets you tighten the waist for perfect fit.
The prAna Stretch Zion pants comes with eight pockets including four deep side pockets in a two-by-two arrangement on both sides of the upper legs for easy storage of a GPS, fire lighter or knife. The rubberized pulls are reliable and easy to use with one hand.
When temperatures soar, simply zip off the legs to give you a comfortable and stylish pair of cargo shorts. Perhaps the best feature is the ventilated gusset which provides all-day comfort in high temperatures – an added boon which allows you to take fewer changes of clothing when you go on a multi-day hiking trip.
Related products: prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Shorts
Best Hiking Boots
What to look for: Selecting the right hiking boots can be a minefield as there are so many factors to consider. Options range from ultra-light trail running shoes to heavy waterproof hikers. The expected terrain will profoundly influence your choice, as will other factors like personal fitness, the weight of your backpack and your hiking expertise.
If you can only manage an escape to a trail twice a year carrying a heavy pack, it is likely that you will need more ankle support than someone who hikes across even terrain every weekend with only a light daypack.
You can choose from four broad categories of outdoor footwear with varying support, waterproofing, protection from the cold and ankle support.
Trail Runners are super light with soft soles and prominent lugs and are ideal for smooth terrains such as gravel roads. Hiking shoes are very light, and a stiffer sole offers better foot protection, but there is no ankle support and hiking shoes are best used for smoother day hiking with a minimum load. Hiking boots are best for general use to prevent ankle injuries and provide support on rough trails, and you can choose between light, medium and heavyweight hiker boots. The fourth category is mountaineering boots for climbing and freezing conditions.
Our recommendation: KEEN Men’s Targhee II Mid WP Hiking Boots
Specific features: The contoured heel lock and aggressive 4mm multidirectional lugs provide excellent traction to let you tackle uneven terrain, while the ESS shank ensures torsional stability and the mid-cut 6” collar protects your ankles.
The weight is 17.4 oz per shoe, and the additional protection of Targhee’s stability shank and its roomy, sturdy toe-box for pain-free downhill hiking make the small increase in weight a good trade-off.
Best use: Light to medium difficulty trails under most conditions. If you have a pre-existing injury or are concerned about twisting an ankle, a higher cut with better ankle support will be necessary.
Description: For all-round performance it would be hard to beat a lightweight hiking boot with a high cut collar around the ankle for protection from bruises and sticks while stabilizing the ankle. The KEEN Targhee II Mid WP Hiking Boot comes in 7 colors and makes a handsome addition to your all-season best hiking clothing collection for both experienced and novice hikers.
It is manufactured with a combination of resilient textile and waterproof NuBuck upper leather, with a rubber sole and a removable Dual-density compression-molded EVA midsole which will protect the soles of your feet from bruising.
Waterproof but breathable membranes increase the Targhee’s warmth in colder weather, but will still keep you comfortable on a 10-hour hike. The KEEN.Dry TM waterproof breathable hydrophobic mesh membrane lining will keep feet dry when you go splashing through mud, puddles or slush.
KEEN recommends that you order a ½ size larger than your regular shoe size as the style runs about a 1/2 size small. Generally, if you are unsure, choose a larger, rather than smaller size.
Related products: KEEN Women’s Targhee II Mid WP Hiking Boot
Best Hiking Socks
What to look for: If you get a good pair of breathable shoes, don’t prevent the shoe from doing its work by wearing cheap fashion socks. 100% cotton is also not recommended for hiking as it absorbs sweat, dries very slowly and can promote the formation of blisters.
The comfort of your feet depends on the perfect combination of the right sock and shoe, and the comfort is worth some effort to find the best balance between cushioning and insulation.
Colder conditions call for mid-to-heavyweight socks, but you need great moisture-wicking in any sock, or you will end up with soggy conditions where you least need it. Lightweight outdoor socks form an essential part of your collection of best hiking clothing and are usually worn without additional inner liners in warm conditions.
Our recommendation: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Pattern Mid Crew Socks
Specific features: PhD has cleverly placed mesh ventilation zones in their socks to maximize moisture and temperature control. PhD socks provide significant moisture wicking, and they use a unique 4 Degree Fit system of two separate elastic areas to ensure good stretch and creaseless fit.
Best use: Hot weather hikes or anytime you need moisture control when wearing shoes or boots. Not ideal for wearing with heavy hiking or mountaineering boots.
Description: The toe seam is constructed with a flat knit design to be durable and very comfortable. The sole and shin areas are lightly cushioned to improve impact absorption.
The inevitable high wear areas on each sock feature the patented PhD ReliaWool technology to increase durability and improve cushioning without adding bulk. These socks are great for multi-sport use and are available in the standard short and Mid Crew (6″) height.
Related items: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mid Crew Socks
Best Waterproof Jacket for Men
What to look for:“Ultra-light weight” comes to mind. You are unlikely to be wearing your waterproof jacket during the entire trip, and it will be carried around in your backpack, so the lighter, the better. However, getting caught in freezing rain or continuous downpours can quickly spoil your outing, so it’s better to be well prepared.
You should consider the cut, fabric, pockets, vents and the quality of the zipper and seam finishes.
Our recommendation: Montane Minimus Waterproof Jacket
Specific features: This little gem of a rain shell comes in at only 8.2 ounces and bundles up to the size of one large apple for easy storage in a quick-to-reach pocket on your backpack or daypack – or attached to your gear with the handy clip on the stuff sack. It is well constructed from revolutionary Pertex Shield+ fabric to keep you dry inside and out while you finish your trek. The Pertex Shield+ is noted for its exceptional breathability to maintain your comfort during rainy conditions.
Best use: Rainy weather and moist conditions with humidity. If it gets colder you may need to add a fleece or other warm layer underneath.
Description: The hood is wire-peaked and three-point adjustable to enable a snug fit, and is, therefore, motorcycle helmet compatible. The hood can be folded away completely when not used. As an addition your hiking clothing range, we really like the 360° reflectivity of the Montane Minimus.
The weak point on many rain shells are the seams, but the Montane Minimus’ seams are micro-taped to keep the weather firmly out. The full-length front zip lets you slip into the shell fast, and has an excellent quality YKK AquaGuard zipper with a sizable pull to let you operate it quickly without fumbling. The internal storm flap combined with a rain drain will prevent accumulation of water.
It can be disconcerting to lift your arms and receive a blast of cold water from the hem area. The Montane Minimus is designed with articulated arm inserts to let you move your arms without experiencing that nasty hem lift. The cuffs are shaped to prevent heat loss and water trickle, and have loop tabs and adjustable hooks to let you use mitts or gloves.
There is an adjustable hem to further prevent the elements from reaching you. There are two hand pockets plus a generous sized zippered, mesh-ventilated chest pocket.
Fit Tip: The Montane Minimus can be used in all seasons, but order up to 2 sizes larger to allow layering for colder weather
Related products: Montane Men’s Minimus Pants
Best Waterproof Jacket for Women
What to look for: There is no need to stop your exploration when it rains! Again, you will need “ultra-light” for hiking and backpacking, but ladies need an entirely different fit. A ladies’ rain shell should be a little longer than men’s jacket and should also be well cut to prevent the exaggerated hem lift when you raise your arms. Vents under the arms are critical, as are the quality of the zippers and the seam finishes.
Our recommendation: Goretex Outdoor Research Women’s Aspire Jacket
Specific features: 13.2 ounces makes it heavier than our choice of men’s jacket, but the Gore-Tex fabric is waterproof, sturdy and the garment is very well constructed. It dries out fast after use, and packs up small for easy storage in your backpack.
Best use: The excellent venting system makes it fantastic for hiking and walking in humid and rainy conditions at normal to cool temperatures. Layering with fleece or another warm jacket may be required if it gets very cold.
Description: The Gore-Tex is breathable and will allow moisture to evaporate to keep you dry and comfortable while you carry on along the trail or wait out the storm.
The arm vents are an outstanding feature of this garment: Outdoor Research added hem-to-bicep zippers on each side that allows completely free arm movement as well as superior individual ventilation and temperature control with two-way zippers.
The cuffs are shaped, and the hook-loop bands make it easy to close the cuffs or adjust them for mitt or glove use.
You can roll up the hood and secure it with a neat little velcro tab to keep it out of your way when you don’t need it. Both the hood and hem have strong drawstrings to provide a tight fit around your face and to prevent the jacket from riding up during activity.
There are two zippered hand pockets, as well as two arm pockets. These provide plenty of storage, and the entire jacket folds up into the left-hand jacket pocket with a neat zipper closure.
This jacket is great looking, long-wearing, and a very comfortable rain shell for a very reasonable price
Related products: Outdoor Research Women’s Aspire Pant
Best Outdoor Toque or Beanie
What to look for: A top quality winter hat can literally be a lifesaver when you encounter unexpectedly cold weather out-of-doors. Look out for a lightweight, snug fit that is warm, soft and won’t irritate your skin. A double brim lining will help to protect your ears from the elements, and a simple, tapered construction works best outdoors.
Our recommendation: ArcTeryx Arc Mountain Toque
Specific features: Available in a range of colors, the ArcTeryx Mountain Toque is fully reversible to add some style to your hiking day, and also added comfort when you change sides on alternate days while on a multi-day hike.
Best use: General hiking and outdoor work when you expect to be outdoors for long periods of time
Description: It is a wool & acrylic blend with a clever use of thermal fleece in the unique under-banding design. The ArcTeryx Arc Mountain togue will wick moisture, and it will retain warmth even if it gets wet.
The tapered six-dart construction improves fit for more comfort and warmth. The snug, shorter fit provides protection without irrelevancies or hindrances, and the thermal fleece band on your forehead will provide hours of comfort.
It was designed to provide a snug fit when you encounter a range of outdoor conditions, so one size will not fit all. If your head size is larger, consider trying a larger togue
Related products: Arcteryx RHO LTW Beanie
Best Hiking Gloves
What to look for: The importance of good gloves can easily be overlooked, but a pleasant day can turn into harsh conditions unexpectedly and let you face low temperatures, the wind, rain or even snow.
Weather protection and sound insulation are your main requirements to keep your hands warm and fully functional. Numb fingers can be dangerous while traversing tricky ground, and in extreme cases, frostbite can be a real threat.
Like most outdoor products, you need to consider the use you expect from your gloves.
The layering structure is crucial to making good gloves. The outer layer is usually waterproof. The palm and finger areas must provide proper grip for holding on to tools, gear or when doing light climbing. The insulation layer consists of synthetic, natural or a mix of the two fibers. Like a rain shell, you may not need your gloves on every day of your hike so that the weight can be a considerable factor.
Fleece gloves will stay warm even when wet, and they dry fast. Fleece will wick away moisture under normal hiking conditions, and as they are thin, you can still grip your camera, GPS or zipper pulls.
Rain mitts are essential if you face rain or the wind, and can be worn over your fleece mitts for extra warmth. Rain gloves are usually made from a very tough, thin material to preserve finger and hand dexterity.
Remember that even 100% waterproof gloves all have a great big hole where you have to stick your hand in, and under extreme conditions, nothing will keep all that water out! That’s when the insulation layer needs to work well to keep your hands warm.
You may even consider carrying a pair of both kinds of gloves.
Our recommendation: ArcTeryx Agilis gloves
Specific features: ArcTeryx used Fortius 1.0, a lightweight and durable nylon & spandex blend to construct the exterior and combined it with a Gore-Tex insert which is both waterproof and breathable. The palm and fingers have been reinforced with a leather layer. The Fortius 1.0 and Gore-Tex combination provides abrasion resistance with stretch, with Gore-Tex permeability to enable moisture transfer and prevent overheating.
Best use: Wet, active conditions like spring skiing and snowboarding. Not suitable for strenuous climbing.
Description: The insulation layers differ to respond to separate conditions. The back of the hand is more exposed during cold weather, and ArcTeryx used a mid-weight (100g) PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation for more warmth.
Higher ergonomic performance levels are required from the palm and finger areas, and ArcTeryx used light-weight (60g) PrimaLoft® Gold Insulation Eco with Grip Control on this area. The insulation is denser to prevent packing out over time to preserve your dexterity, and a unique internal taping Grip Control technology reduces slipping between layers by binding palms and fingers to the outer shell.
A brushed liner runs from your fingertips to your wrist in a “draft tube” to transport moisture away from the fingers to the permeable Gore-Tex section.
The design is anatomically shaped for an excellent fit. The low profile on the short cuff is made possible with Velcro®, adjustment strips and integrated elastic to let the gloves fit well under less roomy jackets and shell cuffs. The webbing loop at the tip is handy for clipping your ArcTeryx mittens together, and twin removable wrist leashes keep those gloves safely retained
Related products: Arcteryx Teneo Glove
Best Lightweight Shirt
What to look for: What would we do without the flannel shirt? Plaid or plain – it is not only an outdoors staple but a fashion staple. It is practical, hard-wearing and versatile. The traditional fluffier surface of winter flannel acts as an excellent insulator while a lightweight shirt with high cotton content will increase cool comfort in summer.
The casual style Bernal shirt works well for both outdoor adventuring or everyday wear and can be worn on its own, or with a T-shirt for an extra layer if it gets colder.
Our recommendation: ArcTeryx Bernal L/S shirt
Specific features: ArcTeryx used their trademarked Sawyer Sawyer™ cotton-rich (60%) nylon blend flannel with a very soft, lightweight feel for casual comfort for this shirt.
Best use: General outdoor use, but not suitable for very cold conditions.
Description: The reason why we chose the Arcteryx is not only because of the quality of the fabric but also because of its design. The design fits better because the cut is based on articulated patterning. It moves with you to provide excellent mobility, and the gusseted underarm design won’t restrict your movements in the outdoors.
A stylish laminated chest pocket in a contrasting color stands out, and it bears the distinctive embroidered ArcTeryx bird logo. The shirt is finished with the classic button-up front and cuffs.
Related products: Arcteryx Brohm SS Shirt
The advances in manufacturing techniques and combinations of new textiles have improved the features and quality of outdoor garments enormously.
We can choose from hiking gear for a range of different conditions. Using the guidelines we have provided will make it easier for you to choose – or at least narrow your choices down, and have a great deal of fun testing every item to your own satisfaction!