Are you hiking for the first-time? It’s time for a “fit check”. While fashion might not seem important, what you wear while hiking can make all the difference. You don’t need to buy an entire new wardrobe to prepare for your first hike. In fact, you might already have the perfect outfit. These tips will help you dress appropriately.

Check the weather

The answer is obvious: you can’t choose what to wear unless you know the conditions for which you are dressing. Remember that the weather conditions at the trailhead, or even in the town nearby, may not be the same at your hiking destination. Storms are more likely to occur at higher elevations or summits. It’s best to prepare for the worst possible weather.

Utilize What You Have

You can buy hiking-specific clothing, but you probably already have the items you need to get started. Activewear that wicks moisture, such as what you wear at the gym or when running, can be worn on most hikes. Clothing that is comfortable, flexible and offers protection from the weather, poisonous or spiky plants and bugs, as well as protecting you against splinters and stinging nettles, can be worn on most hikes.

You should replace your hiking boots after 350-500 miles, depending on the conditions. Photo: Maria Fuchs, Getty Images

What Shoes Should You Wear Hiking?

A bad experience on the trail is a result of sore feet. Wear any closed-toe, sturdy athletic shoes for your first few hikes. Choose a pair that you’re not afraid to get dirty. Sneakers work well for easy-to-moderate trails. However, you might want to consider shoes that provide extra support and traction for steep hikes. Are you ready to purchase a pair hiking shoesThere are a few options.

Hiking and Trail Running Shoes

Trail running shoes aren’t just meant for speed. These shoes are preferred by many hikers over boots, as they are light and flexible while offering grip and support. They also reduce fatigue because they lower the weight that your legs lift with every step. Trail runners are great for day hiking, or backpacking with light to moderate loads. If you want to move fast and don’t require extra ankle support, these are a great option.

Low-top hiking shoes are ideal for day hikes or treks that require a lighter or medium weight backpack. They should provide more support and a stiffer feeling than a trail runner. These shoes often have a thicker upper that can withstand abrasion by sharp or rough stones.

Hiking Boots

Choose a boot that has ankle support if you are prone to ankle injury or will be carrying heavy packs. Mid-cut boots are popular with hikers. They rise just above the ankle. These are ideal for long treks but are overkill for shorter dayhikes. Avoid combat boots with a high rise. They are heavy, and can cause blisters when not properly adjusted.

Materials

When choosing hiking shoes, consider waterproofing and breathability. You might need waterproof boots if you plan to spend a lot of time hiking in mud or snow, or crossing shallow streams. These boots are less breathable than non-waterproof ones. This means sweat is trapped and the boots will take longer to dry if they are soaked in deeper streams or puddles. Many hikers choose synthetic, breathable shoes with mesh panels for summer hiking. These shoes dry quickly if they get wet.

Consider the outsole as well. It is the part that anchors you to your trail. If you are hiking in mud or on slippery surfaces, you will want a sole with larger lugs. Look for soles with sticky rubber that are flatter and have a larger surface area to maximize the contact of the shoe with the ground.

It’s best to try out different pairs of shoes in the store. You can then decide which pair is right for you. As you hike more, your preferences might change. Make sure to choose a shoe or boot with a good fit that is supportive enough for your terrain. Your local retailer’s sales associate can help you find the right fit. If you are buying leather or burly hiking shoes, plan a break-in time before taking them out onto the trail.

Laying out your kit is a great way to avoid forgetting backpacking gear.

Hiking Bottoms

Running shorts can be worn in summer as long as they are not thorny or you will not encounter low temperatures or mosquito swarms. Leggings and breathable, flexible pants provide more protection than shorts. Just be aware that leggings can tear on sharp objects. Avoid cotton pants and look for pants that dry quickly when they are wet. They should also be light to avoid overheating. You should choose durable fabrics instead of thin ones, if you will be climbing over rocks and walking through low branches or brush. It’s important to have a fit that is comfortable and allows for freedom of movement when high-stepping or navigating uneven trails.

Hiking skirts are great for hikers looking to have more movement and breathability. ( Don’t knock it until you try it). It is best to choose pairs with integrated spandex shorts.

Hiking Tops

It is better to wear athletic tops for hiking rather than T-shirts. They wick away sweat and keep you comfortable. If you plan to wear a heavy pack, avoid wearing tank tops. The straps may chafe your shoulders.

Some hikers prefer long-sleeved shirts in colder temperatures. Long-sleeved T-shirts or baselayers can help regulate your body temperature if you are prone to cold. Remember that hiking will generate a lot of heat, especially if you are climbing steep hills. If you want to adjust the temperature, wear a short sleeve shirt on top of a lighter long sleeve.

Underwear for Hiking

Underwear

Wear whatever makes you comfortable for your first hike. Have a favorite boxer for exercising? You’ll probably be comfortable in them while hiking. Your preferences may change as you begin to do longer hikes and backpacking trips. Cotton is not preferred by most hikers because you will be sweating and nobody likes feeling damp. Wear something comfortable that will allow you to move for long periods of time. Avoid anything with visible seams, as they can cause chafing.

Sports Bras

In general, sports bras provide more comfort for hiking than normal bras. Avoid bras with large buckles and straps that could chafe under your backpack straps if you are wearing a heavy bag. Your favorite sports bra that you use for other activities will likely work for hiking as well.

Socks

Most of the items on this list can be worn with any athletic clothing. If there is one place to spend more on hiking-specific clothing, it would be socks. The right pair of hiking socks can mean the difference between an enjoyable hike and one with blisters and pruney feet.

Hiking socks can be made from wool or synthetic materials that dry quickly. They provide cushioning to keep your feet comfortable for long distances and are often better at preventing blisters than regular socks. Choose socks that are higher than your hiking shoes’ cuffs to avoid chafing. Wool or synthetic socks should be chosen according to the temperature you will be hiking in (lighter in summer, heavier in winter). You can choose the level of cushioning that you feel comfortable with. Just make sure to get socks that fit properly, as bunching and slipping could lead to blisters.

You may want to wear liner socks underneath your hiking socks if you are prone to getting blisters. This will reduce friction on your skin. Many trail runners and long distance hikers prefer compression socks because they promote blood circulation and speed up recovery.

Pack an extra pair (or two) of dry socks in your backpack for overnight hikes or wet or cold hikes.

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you have to be wet. A waterproof outer layer keeps you dry. 

The Best Layers for Hiking

Having options is important on the trail. As you hike, conditions may change and your body’s temperature will fluctuate. Wear lightweight layers (shorts and pants in the summer and baselayers when it’s cold) against your skin.

Wear or carry a middle layer, like a wool hoodie or fleece, unless you are hiking in an area where the night temperatures are always above 70 degrees. You may be sweltering in your car but you’ll never know if you get cold on your hike.

A puffy jacket can be a great insulating layer in colder temperatures. It can be stored in your backpack while hiking and pulled out to keep warm while you eat or enjoy the view. Bring a hat, gloves or mittens for cold hikes. Pack two pairs of gloves. One pair is for the trail and one pair for when your stop.

Sun Protection

You’ll want do everything you can to prevent sunburn, especially at high altitudes (yes, this is true even in winter). Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen in addition to your sunscreen. Long-sleeved shirts with light sleeves, such as sun jackets, can save your life on exposed trails.

Rain Protection

Pack a raincoat if there is even the slightest chance of rain in the forecast. For short day hikes, you can use any waterproof layer. If you are going on a long trip or hiking in a very wet environment, then ensuring that you have a waterproofed hardshell is essential. A poncho will keep you dry and warm in almost any weather.

They’re not necessary for dayhikes but are great when staying dry and warm is important. Rain kilts keep your legs dry and warm in a downpour. They are more breathable than rain pants, but they will not block out sideways squalls.

Pick synthetic fabrics such as wool or polyester, and don’t wear cotton. 

Hiking Clothing Materials

There are many choices when it comes time to choose what to wear on a hike. Each has its pros and cons. The most common materials in hiking clothing are listed below.

Nylon

The synthetic material is used in many hiking clothes because of its durability and good wicking abilities. Nylon garments may dry slower than those made of other materials because it absorbs water. Although nylon is more resistant to snags and scrapes than other materials, its weight is not as low as that of polyester or polypropylene.

The use of Polyester

The synthetic material is preferred for its wicking properties and rapid drying. Polyester is a durable material that’s great for people who sweat a lot. Polyester clothes tend to hold more odors than other fabrics.

Wool

Wool is soft and a great insulator in cold weather. Wool breathes well and keeps you warm without making you sweat excessively. Wool clothing tends to stretch but is less durable and dries slower than synthetic materials. Wool is also more expensive.

Polypropylene

This material, once ubiquitous in hiking clothing, is now found mostly in blends. This material is less breathable than nylon and polyester, but it does a great job at trapping heat.

You will need different gear for different seasons or weather conditions. (Photo: Thomas Barwick via Getty Images)

Adapting your hiking clothes for each season

What you wear for hiking depends on where you live. In general, you can adapt your outfit to suit the season.

Winter

Layers are key when the temperature drops. To protect yourself from the elements, wear baselayers, insulating layer, and outer layers that are water- and windproof. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on a winter hardshell jacket? If it fits comfortably over warm clothing, your rain jacket will work in the snow.

With the help of gaiters, vapor barrier and warm socks, your hiking boots can make it through snowy conditions.

Spring

This time of year, the weather can be unpredictable. Prepare for rain and carry extra layers of clothing in your backpack just in case the temperature changes during your hike. You want to be prepared for everything? You can adapt to the terrain by wearing shorts or zip-off pants over leggings. Wear shoes or boots that have wide-spaced lugs.

Summer

Dressing for the warm weather is easy. Consider sun protection and bring an insulating jacket if you are hiking at high altitudes or in the dark.

Fall

As in the spring, you can expect to encounter a variety of weather conditions in autumn. Pack a windblocking layer, hat and gloves. Your raincoat can also double as a hooded windbreaker.

When jeans get wet, they don’t wick moisture from your body; they retain it and take forever to dry. 

What not to wear hiking

Cotton

Cotton clothing such as t-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts and sweatpants are fine for short hikes. But, for longer treks, you should leave them behind. Cotton is a moisture-retention material that can make you feel clammy or, worse, hypothermic. Choose wicking fabrics like fleece and wool shirts. Cotton’s cooling properties are ideal for hikes in hot, dry climates.

Clothes that You Care About

On the trail, you’ll get dirty, sweaty and perhaps even a bit roughed up. It’s part of the adventure. Wear clothing that you wouldn’t mind staining or ripping on a hike.