What to Wear Hiking: Your Complete Guide

Do you want to know what to wear hiking?

You shouldn’t wear your everyday clothes on a hiking trip. It could result in a bad trip. You wouldn’t think about that until it was too late. But the right clothes to wear hiking is an important thing to consider.

Wearing the right clothing and footwear on your hiking trips can result in a very positive experience. This is because you won’t be dealing with the problems of wearing the wrong hiking clothes. You’ll be hiking in comfort, and that matters.

In this guide, I’ll explain what to wear hiking, no matter what time of the year or what kind of hiking you’re into.

In this article:

The DON’Ts of What to Wear Hiking

You should be aware of a few DO NOTs of what to wear hiking. Wearing these types of things could make your hiking trip miserable.

Stay away from these two types of fabrics: Cotton and Denim.

Cotton collects sweat and moisture and then holds it into the fabric. In the summer, this makes you extra hot and stinky. In the winter, this exposes your skin to moisture, leading to wintry weather injuries like frostbite.

Stay away from cotton as a base or insulating layer.

Denim is just as bad as wearing cotton in most cases.

Denim holds sweat and moisture just like cotton and isn’t very breathable. However, it’s a widely used fabric by those who hike.

Denim also restricts movement and can be hazardous when you need additional movement abilities, like stopping yourself from falling.

If you want to know what to wear hiking, cotton and denim aren’t anything you should consider in your wardrobe.


The DOs of What to Wear Hiking

There are plenty of Dos for what to wear hiking to consider. This has come from the many years of experience of the hikers out there willing to share it.

For starters, the best fabrics to choose clothing options are synthetics such as polyester, nylon, spandex, and synthetic wool.

These fabrics are moisture-wicking and breathable and still offer the comfort you need to make the most of your hiking adventure.

Choosing synthetic fabrics over cotton and denim will significantly improve your overall hiking comfort.


What to Wear Hiking from Head to Toe

Now let’s look at what to wear hiking from your head down to your toes.



Start with a comfortable hat. The type of hat will depend on the season and weather conditions. A sock cap or beanie might be ideal for keeping your head and ears warm during the winter. A brimmed hat during the summer is ideal for keeping the sun and sweating off your face. Some people can’t do hats. If it’s cold outside, consider ear warmers to help improve your comfort level.


Upper Body

You want to practice layering, which I’ll explore later in this article. Laying is important during cooler and wintry weather. It will keep you from having a miserable hike. But no matter the season or temperature, your upper body should have garments that help remove moisture (like sweat) from your body. This is going to keep you comfortable. Your upper body layers should protect you from the cold, the sun, bugs, and the wind or rain.


Lower Body

The hike conditions are important considerations for what bottoms to wear while hiking. You might wear shorts in the summer, but you might deal with briars and ticks on your bare legs if the trail is overgrown. You could wear a pair of tights or yoga pants if the trail is easy, but rugged trails might rip the thin, stretchy fabric. There are durable hiking-specific pants with a convertible option in case you want to make them into shorts. A hoodie is okay, as it can be removed if you’re getting too hot. Get yourself your own Hiking with Shawn Hoodie today. Use code HWS2023 for 10% off your entire order.


Gloves and Socks

Protecting your hands and feet while hiking is critical. You should wear gloves in the cold to protect your hands and fingers from cold weather hazards. There are many types of gloves, but insulated waterproof gloves are the best. You can also get glove liners to promote extra warmth. Socks are also important. Hiking-specific socks are made to keep you comfortable on the trail. Most of these socks are made from synthetic wool fabrics. For colder weather, getting thicker wool socks is the way to go.



Gaiters are a great option for longer hikes or along trails that are rugged in conditions. Gaiters are worn around your ankle and over the tops of your shoes or boots where your foot goes in. These are worn to prevent dirt and debris from entering your shoe or boot. Having to stop to empty your boots every mile can get old quickly. A gaiter option is best for you if you struggle with getting stuff in your shoes or boots while hiking. During colder weather, gaiters can also provide additional insulation for your feet.


There are many types of hiking footwear for many occasions and comfort levels.

Depending on the difficulty of your hike, you might wear hiking sandals, shoes, or boots. In most cases, you’ll want a shoe or boot option. Hiking sandals can be reserved for easy and light trekking options, but they’ll typically be uncomfortable during more rugged hiking.

There are many different types of shoe options for hiking. You can get shoes that are made for hiking. Some of them are even waterproof. The waterproof hiking shoes are typically heavier and hold moisture due to their being waterproof. Another shoe option is using trail runners, which is very popular among hikers who prefer shoes. Trail runners’ downfall is that they are not waterproof in any way.

Hiking boots are the most common footwear used by most hikers. You can get them in many lengths, including below and above the ankle. You can also get waterproof boots but like with waterproof shoes, they hold moisture, and they’re heavy.

Normal tennis shoes, sandals, or crocs are NOT good options for hiking footwear. That’s because these shoes were not created for outdoor use. The bottoms of the shoes matter because the tread needs to have a grip for outdoor elements that you’ll be exposed to.

What to wear hiking

How to Layer Up

Layers are one of the most important things to know about what to wear hiking. Layers will help keep you warm when hiking in colder conditions. There are many advantages to hiking in the winter, including fewer bugs and less humidity. But hiking in the cold is dangerous if you can’t keep your body temperature warmth regulated properly.


Base Layer

Your base layer is your wicking layer. This consists of moisture-wicking pants and shirts that are designed to remove sweat from your skin. These layers are best next to the skin and synthetic such as wool, poly/nylon, or spandex. A thin pair of running tights and a compression shirt makes for a great base layer when it’s cold.


Insulation Layer

The next layer is your insulation layer. These are your hiking pants or insulated tights. This is also your layer for your main shirt and insulated garment over your shirt, such as a hoodie or throw-over fleece sweatshirt. It’s best to choose fabrics that do not consist of cotton or denim as your insulated layer. This layer should be breathable and also help to wicker moisture.


Resistance Layer

Your resistance layer is what you wear to resist your body from the elements. This is for suits, shirts, and bottoms that resist water and wind. These options may include rain jackets, pants, or a rain poncho. You might also wear a simple windbreaker jacket. For a heavier-resistant event such as snow and strong cold wind, you may use a puffy jacket or a thick jacket with resistant features. This layer’s job is to keep rain and wind off your body.


Sun Protection Layer

The sun protection layer is what you want to wear hiking to keep yourself from getting sunburned. This might include sun protection sleeves, longer shirts during the summer, and brimmed hats. There are lightweight, warm-weather jackets and long-sleeved shirts to help prevent sunburn and harmful rays from impacting your body. Don’t forget about protecting your lower body, too.


You need to consider a few important things when it comes to layers and what to wear hiking. Always anticipate conditions. Bring plenty of layers on hikes that you’ll need the most. Your hiking clothing should be about function and not fashion. Looking your best while being uncomfortable and miserable shouldn’t be an option. Make sure you consider the comfort, weight, and prices of layering items you get. Shop around if you have to and try different products until you find your best match.


All About Fabrics

There are many different fabrics for clothing choices for what to wear hiking. It’s important to understand the basics of each type of fabric. There are pros and cons to every type of fabric worn.

  • Denim and Cotton: Soaks up sweat and moisture and holds it into the fabric. Starts to stink very quickly. It can be hazardous when the temperature is cold.
  • Wools: The best type of wool are merino and synthetic. These dry fast, wicker moisture, and are very breathable. They don’t smell, either. Alpaca wool is great for colder days. The downfall of wool is price. Wool is usually very expensive.
  • Poly/Nylon/Spandex: Clothing made out of polyester, nylon, and spandex are often choices of professional athletes and fitness gurus. They’re proven to be an idea for outdoor conditions like hiking. They breathe well, wicker moisture, and dry fast. They’re always the cheapest type of clothing, too. The main con is these fabrics typically smell bad after moderate use.
  • Fleece: Fleece is a type of polyester that has insulation properties. Like poly, it breaths and helps to wicker moisture. It’s typically cheaper than wool items, too. This type of fabric is a great option when the weather is colder.


What to Wear Hiking for Each Season

When it comes to knowing what to wear hiking for each season, you must consider all the circumstances involved. We’ll take a look at warm weather and cold weather seasons. Everything in between should be relatively predictable of what to wear. In uncertainty, always bring extra layers just in case.


Warm Weather

Before choosing what to wear hiking in warm to hotter weather, consider the elements you’ll face.

If there is a lot of sun exposure (grasslands, areas with fewer trees, etc.), wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and shorts might mean you’ll be exposed to harmful sun rays.

If the trail is overgrown, your bare skin could be snagged across briars, weeds, branches, and twigs. Ticks and other biting insects could easily attach to you in overgrown conditions. Plants such as poison ivy, oak, and sumac also pose the hazards of touching your bare skin.

However, shorts and t-shirts are great when hiking along trails in good shape. Having that kind of ventilation can help keep your body cooler.


Colder Weather

Whether the weather is cooler or colder, your focus should be on keeping warm but not getting hot enough to sweat.

If it’s cold and you start to sweat, it can be hazardous to your safety. sweat means cold air can hit it and make your skin even colder, leading to hypothermia or frostbite.

You want to layer up to properly dress yourself for hiking in the cold.

The purpose of laying up is to have the ability to shed layers off as your body gets warmer. Choosing lightweight layers will help reduce the weight of carrying extra clothing in your pack when you have to shed it off.

It’s always good to bring an extra pair of top and bottom layers (and socks) and keep them in an airtight bag if needed. For example, if you fall into a creek, you want to get into dry clothing as quickly as possible. An extra-layer kit will help you accomplish that.

It’s better to be safe than sorry about what to wear hiking in colder climates.


Now that you know what to wear hiking, you can start making practical changes to your wardrobe that will increase comfort and breathability during your hiking trips. Use the advice above, and you’ll have a better experience hiking, no matter the weather conditions. If you’ve enjoyed reading this article and want more hiking tips, subscribe to my monthly newsletter today. It’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime you want.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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