What to Wear When Hiking – Everything You Need to Know

Hiking can be an excellent way to unwind and enjoy Mother Nature. But if you enter the wilderness ill-equipped, you could be in trouble. For example, not wearing sufficient layers during the winter can lead to hypothermia. Or if you don’t wear waterproof boots, and step through a puddle, you could develop a fungal infection (or even trench foot). In this article, we’re going to talk about what to wear when hiking. For experienced hikers, these tips might sound obvious. But for beginners, they’re not so obvious.

What to Wear When Hiking – Tips For Each Season

When preparing for a hike, you first need to see what the weather is going to be like. Obviously, you’ll dress differently during the summer than you would the winter (and vice versa). For example, if it’s an exceptionally hot summer day, you’ll want to wear things that will A) Keep you cool, and B) Shield your body from UV light. Likewise, during the winter, you’ll want to focus on things that will keep you warm and dry. Let’s take a look at what to wear hiking based on what season it is.

Waterproof Boots – Great For Any Season
What to Wear When HikingA good pair of waterproof boots (like the Merrell Moab Mid Hiking Boots) will help keep your feet dry during a hike. No matter where you go in the world, you’ll inevitably find water. The only exception is if you’re hiking in the desert, in which case, you don’t need waterproof boots. When thinking about what to wear when hiking, a good pair of waterproof boots is a must-have. They are recommended no matter what season you are in.

What to Wear When Hiking in the Summer

What to Wear When Hiking

On a hike during the summer, you’ll most likely come across rivers, streams, or other bodies of water. For this reason, make sure you’re wearing a comfortable pair of waterproof boots. When learning how to dress for hiking, pack an extra pair of shoelaces. They will serve as a backup in case your first pair of shoelaces get damaged.

Also, check the recent weather for where you’re going. Has it rained within the last few days? If so, there will probably be a ton of puddles. You definitely don’t want to walk through these wearing regular sneakers. While you’re at it, buy a pair of waterproof socks. Buy Dexshell Ultralite Waterproof Socks since they one of the best. Look at how the water rolls right off them:

To prevent yourself from overheating, wear a light shirt. The shirt shouldn’t fit too tightly (unless it’s a breathable material). Otherwise, you’ll overheat. When planning on what to wear when hiking, bring a pair of sunglasses and a hat. You’ll want to protect your scalp and eyes from the harsh UV light. Finally, I almost always recommend that you wear long pants.

Long pants serve a ton of benefits. For example, you’ll stay cleaner and be better-protected against brush and insects. If it’s extremely hot outside, then shorts are probably fine. Just know that they don’t offer the same protection as a pair of pants. If the trail is “groomed”, then wearing shorts is usually an okay move. If you’re confused about what to wear when hiking during the summer, start with these items and work your way up.

What to Wear When Hiking in the Winter

What to Wear When HikingFor deciding on what to wear when hiking in the winter, think about insulation. You want things that will prevent body heat from escaping. Your best option is to invest in wool clothing. Why wool clothing, and not something like say, cotton? Because cotton absorbs sweat, which in turn, causes it to lose its ability to insulate. If you become too chilled, it can lead to hypothermia, disorientation, and even death. So make sure that you stay away from cotton!

Wear wool socks and wool underwear as well. As we mentioned earlier, you’ll want to wear waterproof boots no matter what season- this includes winter. Obviously, you’ll want to focus on layering (wearing several layers of clothes). This will keep your core warm, and is great because you can always remove layers if it becomes warmer. Finally, consider investing in a hat and pair of gloves.

What to Wear When Hiking

When learning how to dress for hiking, hats are something most hikers stubbornly ignore. Yet, it’s one of the best pieces of clothing for modulating body heat. When you’re hot, take it off, and when you’re cold, put it back on. Plus, a good hat will prevent your scalp from harsh UV rays. If it’s exceptionally cold, consider buying something called a “Balaclava” (like the Alaska Bear Windproof Balaclava). They’re cheap, and will protect your head and face from the cold.

Hiking Boots and Other Footwear

When learning about what to wear when hiking, you need to place a lot of emphasis on protecting your feet. Earlier, we talked about why waterproof boots were the best option for this. But they aren’t the only option. Below are a few other things you can buy when preparing for a hike:

What to Wear When HikingWhen the weather is hot/dry, and don’t need to cross any water, then sandals are a good option for hiking. Just make sure that the trail you’re walking on is clean. If you’re walking through brush, I highly advise against sandals. Most people don’t even consider sandals when thinking about what to wear when hiking. But they do have their place. If you want something that’s easy to slip on and off, that’s comfortable, and that will allow your feet to air out, then sandals are the way to go. Another benefit is that they’re usually cheaper than hiking boots.
Hiking Shoes
What to Wear When HikingHiking shoes are a step up from sandals, but a step down from boots. Consider them a nice “in-between” option. When learning how to dress for hiking, know that hiking shoes provide a lot of comfort. Since they cover the entire foot, you’ll still be protected from brush, bugs, and water (if they’re waterproof). Most cost about $50 (like the Columbia Men’s North Plains Trail Shoes). If you’re lost about what to wear when hiking, consider hiking shoes. They offer a nice blend of comfort and protection.
Mid-Weight Boots
What to Wear When HikingA mid-weight boot sits in-between a hiking shoe and a heavy boot. A good example is the Wolverine Fletcher Mid Waterproof CarbonMax Hiking Boots. They offer more protection than a standard hiking boot, but at the same time, are still fairly comfortable. They work well for long and short hikes, and usually cost around $100-$150. Keep in mind that since they weigh more, you’ll be doing a bit more work during your hike. But the benefit is that you’ll have much more protection.
Heavy Boots
What to Wear When HikingWhen choosing what to wear when hiking, heavy boots are also an option. These provide the maximum support, and will drastically discourage the chances of twisting an ankle. For light, casual hiking, they are overkill. However, for rougher terrain with constant changes in elevation, they are a recommended option. These will usually run you about $150. As you can imagine, they’re not the most comfortable option on this list. For this reason, you should spend some time breaking them in before your hike.
Mountaineering Boots
What to Wear When HikingAs their names imply, mountaineering boots (like the Wrangell GTX Mountaineering Boots) are designed for climbing mountains and other rocky terrain. They’re actually considered more like ski boots than hiking boots, but I still wanted you to learn about them. The key characteristic about these boots is that they offer extreme support for feet and ankles. A single pair will cost you about $275. Due to their lack of comfort, they’re not recommended for lighter hikes. In those cases, you’re better off buying sandals or hiking shoes.

Hiking Socks – Types and How to Buy

When picking what to wear when hiking, you want to spend some time thinking about socks. By choosing the right socks, you’ll have a much better experience during your hike. Here are some of the main reasons to make sure you buy a good pair of hiking socks:

  • Cushioning: Will make the hike more enjoyable.
  • Fewer Blisters: Blisters can be painful and annoying.
  • Water Protection: Waterproof socks cost more, but are worth every penny.
  • Better Boot Fit: Helps make sure that your hiking boots fit more snug.
  • Cold Protection: Decrease the chances of getting frostbite on your feet.

These are a few of the main reasons to not skimp out on a quality pair of hiking socks. Over the past few years, hiking socks have evolved quite a bit. Nowadays, they’re made from all kinds of durable materials. Overall, this will provide the hiker (you) with a better experience.

Buying The Right Socks

When deciding on what to wear when hiking, here are some tips for buying the right socks:

  • Avoid Cotton: Cotton takes forever to dry and readily absorbs moisture.
  • Use Wool: This will keep your feet warmer and dryer. Note, they are pricier.
  • Use Synthetics: If your feet sweat a lot, consider switching to synthetic rather than natural fibers.
  • Tightness: The sock should fit snug, but not tight.
  • Seams: To avoid more points of pressure on foot, buy socks with flat seams.
  • Fabric Loops: Smaller, denser loops are better for absorption and cushioning.
  • Elastic Stretch: This will help them hold to your foot during your hike.

To care for your socks, make sure you wash them inside out. This will help you wash away all the sweat, salt, and skin particles that have accumulated inside. Also, to keep your socks soft over the long run, always wash them with a small amount of fabric softener. Finally, allow them to air dry. A dryer is typically too hot and can cause them to shrink. This might sound like nitpicking, but you don’t want to spend $20 on a pair of socks only to have them ruined a week later!

Hiking Packs

The last thing to consider when choosing what to wear when hiking is hiking packs. This technically isn’t a piece of “clothing”, but it’s still something you wear, which is why we’re talking about it in this article. When preparing for a hike, you’ll want a backpack that suits your hike. For example, taking a fanny pack on a mountaineering adventure would be a horrible idea. Likewise, you won’t need a massive backpack for a light, casual hike. Let’s take a look at your three main options:

Fanny Pack
What to Wear When HikingAs you can imagine, fanny packs are designed for lighter hikes. They are basically small pouches that you attach around your waist, and that contain different compartments for storing things. Some also contain loops for hanging stuff. If you’re hiking on a designated trail that’s relatively short and you’re with other people, a fanny pack will most likely be okay. A quality pack (like the Everest Lumbar Waist Pack) will cost you about $15.
Day Hiking Pack
What to Wear When HikingThe next thing option to consider when choosing what to wear when hiking is a day hiking pack. These are designed for lighter loads, and typically don’t come with chest straps. You can find day hiking packs that come with things like hydration systems, chest straps, and much more. But obviously those are going to cost more. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Teton Sports Oasis 1100 Hydration Backpack. It comes with a hydration system, plenty of compartments, and is perfect for single day hikes. But for longer hikes (those lasting several days), a day hiking pack is not recommended.
Heavy Duty Pack
What to Wear When HikingThe final option to consider when choosing what to wear when hiking is a heavy duty pack. An example of one is the Explorer Tactical Hiking Backpack. As you can see, it’s very large, very bulky, and comes with tons of compartments. That’s a trend that you’ll see across all the heavy duty packs out there. They’re perfect for hiking long distances. If it’s an extended trek, you’ll want to make sure you’re able to fit everything you need to fit into your pack. Most heavy duty packs also come with specialized padding and chest straps to help you deal with the weight of the pack better.

What to Wear When Hiking – Bottom Line

Not only will choosing the right clothing make your hike more enjoyable, but it will also keep you safer. If it’s cold out and you don’t dress properly, you could easily succumb to hypothermia and die. Of if you don’t wear waterproof boots and walk through a puddle, you could develop a fungal infection. When choosing what to wear when hiking, refer back to this article as often as you need to. That way, you’ll be fully prepared for your hike.

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