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What to Wear Hiking: Clothing for Men and Women

What to wear hiking

There are a bunch of situations in life where we find ourselves reaching for clothes that we’d rather not wear, just to make sure we fit in with what’s expected. Weddings, job interviews, work etc. I truly admire those who manage to not let their wardrobes be dictated by what is socially acceptable. I can’t say I’m quite that brave! Being out in the wild, however, is one of the few occasions where it actually doesn’t matter at all what your clothes look like. But it REALLY matters how well your clothes perform. So long as they do a good job at keeping you comfortable whilst hiking, they’re in. (And if they happen to look great too, then you’ve totally nailed hiking clothes!)

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What to wear hiking in summer

What to wear hiking in summer

Knowing what to wear hiking in hot weather can be trickier than you may first think. The main thing you’ll struggle with is keeping cool and sweat management. So your clothing should be good at moisture wicking with the ability to dry quickly.

What to wear hiking in winter

What to wear hiking in winter

Your underwear probably won’t be any different to summer choices. Although, I certainly favour big, cosy, ‘boxer-style’ undies for extra warmth during thw winter months.

What to wear hiking in spring and fall

Hiking in the shoulder seasons can become a little more tricky to plan for, depending on where you are hiking. It may be that you wear everything you would for summer hiking, and carry a few winter layers in your backpack. That way, you’re prepared for whatever the weather may throw at you.

  • Leggings


    One excellent addition to your hiking wardrobe during spring and fall is a pair of leggings. Hiking specific leggings offer warmth and breathability. They also make slipping a pair of waterproof pants on and off in rainy conditions much easier than when wearing hiking pants. I wear Columbia Titan Peak Trekking Leggings.

Top tips for choosing hiking clothes

  • Avoid cotton at all costs. It holds moisture, is very heavy and uncomfortable when wet, and it takes ages to dry.
  • Choose items that you love. If you feel great in them, you’ll wear them more.
  • Try to avoid cheap clothing that won’t last. Ideally, each item should last you for years.
  • Hiking clothes can be expensive, so seek out the sales!
  • Spend on the essentials first (waterproof jacket, socks, footwear, baselayer).
  • You can get away with wearing a few less technical items to start with (shorts, vest, midlayer, cap). Once you’ve got the funds, you can start investing in more technical versions of these items.
  • If your hiking clothes get damaged, try to fix them before buying new. Alternatively, see what the clothing brands’ policy is on repair — get them to do it for you!
Man hiking in the mountains

What to look for when choosing hiking clothes

The number one thing to consider when choosing hiking clothes is comfort. Easy right? Try it on. It feels great. Bingo!

Unfortunately choosing what to wear hiking isn’t quite as simple as that (although it’s a great place to start!)

The below factors will contribute to the overall comfort of your hiking clothes, whatever conditions you are hiking in. So when deciding what to wear hiking, be sure to check that each item is fit for purpose to be as comfortable as possible.

01The fit of your hiking clothes

You can get away with ill-fitting clothing in everyday life. But when hiking, even the smallest misfit can cause a lot of discomfort.

Generally speaking, your hiking clothes should be:

  • Fitted but not tight — they shouldn’t cause any kind of restriction
  • Not baggy — excess fabric can cause rubbing and chaffing
  • The right length — pants that are too long can get super muddy and heavy, whilst tops that are too short create drafts through your midriff
  • The right size — pants that are too big at the waist can ride up underneath your backpack

Get the fit right and you’re halfway there to a highly comfortable set of hiking clothes.

02Fabric properties of your hiking clothes

The fabric of your hiking clothes is the next most important thing to consider, once you’ve got the fit right. This is where things get a little more complex, so stick with me!

Each item of hiking clothing has a specific job to do, mostly determined by the fabric with which they are made.

Desirable properties of hiking clothes:

  • Temperature control – keeping you cool when it’s hot or keeping your warm when it’s cold.
  • Moisture wicking – moving moisture (sweat) away from your skin.
  • Quick drying – moving moisture away from your clothing into the atmosphere — quickly!
  • Odour control – preventing bacteria from growing on your clothes.
  • Breathability – allows air and moisture vapour to move through the fabric.
  • Waterproofing – stopping water from getting inside your clothing.
  • Windproofing – preventing the wind from penetrating your clothing.

Each of the above jobs, when done properly, contribute to the overall comfort of your hiking clothes.

03Types of fabric for hiking clothes

  • Synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon or blends)

    Good at: Drying quickly, moisture wicking, not holding water
    Bad at: Odour control, providing warmth when wet

  • Merino wool

    Good at: Moisture wicking, odour control, temperature regulation, providing warmth when wet, breathability
    Bad at: Drying quickly, rinsing your bank account!

  • Goose down

    Good at: Keeping you really warm, packing down small, breathability
    Bad at: Providing warmth when wet, waterproofing, drying quickly

  • Polyester fleece

    Good at: Drying quickly, moisture wicking, not holding water
    Bad at: Odour resistance

04Clothing technologies

  • Gore-tex

    This is a brand of semi-permeable fabric. It is a waterproof and breathable membrane that is added to clothing or footwear, and repels water but allows air and water vapour (sweat) to move in and out.

  • Polygiene

    Polygiene odour control technology prevents odour-causing bacteria from growing on your clothing. Fabric is treated with silver salt which has antimicrobial properties.

NOTE: Not every item needs to tick every box. For more details on what properties each item should ideally have, skip back to the sections on ‘what to wear hiking’ in summer, winter, and spring and fall.

Don’t be put off by the volume of technical hiking clothing on our list. We’ve been hiking for years and have accumulated stuff over time. The more you hike, the more you’ll realise what you do and don’t need, and what to wear hiking in different conditions and seasons.

Whatever hiking clothes you do end up wearing, make sure they’re comfortable from the moment you put them on to the moment you take them off.

Happy hiking!

Joey Holmes

Joey Holmes
Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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