If you want to start hiking the first thing you need to buy are clothes that make sure you are safe, warm and comfortable outdoors. This can seem a bit daunting in the beginning. Here’s an easy guide that lists every item of clothing you will need to go hiking. Now you know what you need AND what you don’t need to get going.
Do you need special clothes for hiking? Yes you do
Hiking clothes are not cheap but they are very durable. Most of the things you will buy, you can use for many years. For instance, I have been using my down jacket for over ten years!
Leave your cotton t-shirt and jeans for the city. Jeans are heavy and uncomfortable. They take a long time to dry. A cotton t-shirt is uncomfortable for the same reasons.
If you’re still not sure, I have a separate post that lists all the reasons why you need special clothes for hiking.
It’s also super important to understand the concept of layered clothing – this is why I have a blog post about layered clothing and how it’s the secret to staying comfortable while hiking – you might want to take a loot as well.
So here’s a shopping list of what you actually need:
1. Hiking boots or trail runners
Good hiking boots last for many years and are an excellent investment. You can use your hiking boots during all seasons, trail runners are okay for warm weather but even then you have to keep in mind that they don’t offer the same support and protection for your feet.
You need at least three pairs. Two pairs for walking – so you have a pair you can put on if your socks get wet (from rain, sweat etc). The third socks are for sleeping.
Keep them in a waterproof bag and only use them when you sleep so you have dry and comfortable socks for sleeping.
Of course, in the summer you need lighter socks and in the winter heavier socks.
3. Hiking pants
Hiking pants are much more comfortable than for instance street- or even sportswear.
Long pants are better than shorts even in the summer. Longer pants give more protection from bugs and insects – especially mosquitos and disease carrying ticks.
Ticks are especially dangerous and getting bitten can lead to very serious health issues.
Wear shorts only when you are hundred percent sure that there are no ticks around – for instance, walking on beaches or so high in the mountains, that there is no vegetation.
Hiking pants are also usually strong enough not to tear easily – unlike sportswear or yoga pants.
4. Underwear/warm base layer
In the summer you don’t need a warm base layer. When the weather gets colder, a warm base layer provides a lot of comfort and protection from the cold.
As for underwear, synthetic materials that dry faster might be preferable. For women a sports bra can be a better option.
Since you will be walking a lot, underwear should first and foremost be comfortable, so avoid anything that might cause irritation.
For warm weather, you should bring two pairs/sets so you can switch them every other day. It’s enough to wash the used pair with water.
A warm base layer comes in two parts – top and bottom. Long sleeves and long bottoms are a better option. Merino wool is the best material; it’s warm and breathable.
The base layer should not be too loose around your body to function effectively but it shouldn’t be too tight – make sure you can sit, squat and move comfortably when trying it on.
You need a separate set of warm underwear for sleeping – which you should always keep in a waterproof bag and wear only at night to be warm and comfortable while resting.
5. Hiking shirt
A good hiking shirt breathes well and is made of a strong durable material. In an ideal world, it would be strong enough to protect you from biting insects, such as mosquitos.
Some sportswear might work well for hiking but usually sportswear is designed for a trip to the gym, not the outdoors.
If the shirt is against your body, you need two shirts. You should wash your shirt daily or every second day.
Washing it with water is enough – give it a spin in your washing machine when you’re back home.
6. Fleece and/or down jacket
Depending on the conditions you might need just a warm insulating layer – in which case it’s best to bring either a fleece jacket or a down jacket, or you might need both.
If the weather is not very cold, you can stay warm wearing just a warm base layer and shell and add a layer when you stop for breaks.
If it’s a bit colder you might want to have one more layer available, which you can add on when stopping for a longer break during lunch or at camp for the night.
In colder weather, I usually wear my fleece jacket through the day under my waterproof-breathable shell and add a down jacket when I stop. I find that fleece jackets are more breathable than down jackets.
Cotton or wool is not good for hiking – they take forever to dry when they get wet and can be heavier to begin with and are not as breathable.
I quite like flannel shirts. They don’t handle rain well but breathe nicely.
You need a waterproof-breathable jacket to keep you warm and protect you from the wind, rain or snow. In the winter the jacket may have heavier insulation to keep you warm, for instance a winter parka.
In spring or autumn, the jacket may be lighter and in the summer you might just need a very thin and lightweight waterproof breathable jacket in case the wind picks up or it starts raining.
In any case, it’s good to have a jacket with a hood if the weather gets really bad. It’s also good to have options for ventilation so that you can either close or open your sleeves regulate airflow with ventilation slits under your arms etc.
8. Additional rain gear (optional)
Rain gear is useful when the rain is heavy and can be just a light-weigh waterproof poncho or a poncho and rain pants. I use both and it keeps me completely dry.
The reason you might a separate poncho is that heavy rain for a long period can eventually soak your waterproof-breathable jacket.
I usually just bring rain pants and that works. Only when I’m expecting a lot of rain, do I also bring a poncho.
9. Hat and gloves
Of course the choice of your hat depends on the conditions. In the winter you need a warmer hat, in the summer a baseball cap might do.
I often pack a beanie hat with me just in case – and many times, even during warmer seasons, it’s handy at night when the temperature drops and you are not moving much.
In colder weather I keep a separate beanie hat and light woolen gloves with my sleeping clothes, so that my head and hands won’t get cold in the night.
In the summer, I still always bring a pair of light gloves, to protect my hands from mosquito bites. I treat them wit mosquito repellent, so I don’t have to spray it on my hands.
10. Buff and/or scarf
A buff is a super versatile piece of clothing. Merino wool is the best material because it dries quickly.
It can be worn instead of a scarf or you can supplement your winter hat with it to be warmer.
Wearing a heavy wool scarf is not very comfortable while you are moving, unless it’s very cold. In very cold weather, I wear a scarf when I’m hiking and put my buff on fo the night when I’m inside my sleeping bag.
How to keep your clothes dry and clean during a hike?
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. There are two more I think you would enjoy. First, on long hikes you need wash garments that are in contact with your skin. I have a whole post called “Hiking and hygiene: how to stay clean and comfortable?” – I hope you will find that one useful as well.
Sometimes your clothes will get wet and you need to get them dry quickly. This is why I wrote a post that explains how to dry your clothes and gear while hiking? Have fun out there!