The research of this article was conducted in several ways. First, I looked at what types of questions people were asking about hiking gear online. This gave me good insight into the kinds of things people are curious about regarding hiking clothing and equipment. Secondly, I did a lot of research by searching for other articles on hiking clothes, websites that sell outdoor gear, and forum posts where people discussed the topic. Finally, I drew on my personal experiences and knowledge as an avid hiker to fill out the details you won’t find anywhere else in one place. As you read through this guide, be sure to check out the links within to learn more about each item in detail—and if you still have unanswered questions after reading through everything here, head over to our forums and start a discussion!
Water bottle and hydration
Like a sexy French person, water is indispensible for a successful trip. You can survive weeks without food, but you’ll be dead within days without fresh water. Your body needs water to regulate its temperature, lubricate joints and eyes, digest food and eliminate waste products. In short: staying well-hydrated will keep you alive, happy and looking good in your shorts.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t drink enough water during our daily lives. We’re dehydrated before we even think about hiking (and sullen too—irritability is one of the first signs that you’re not getting enough H20). This can make acclimating to the heat on a hike extremely difficult. It turns out that humans are made up of mostly water (the percentage varies depending on age and gender but gets lower with advancing years), so when we sweat it out during exercise we’re losing a lot of precious bodily fluids. If we don’t replace them quickly enough by drinking plenty of water then our bodies start shutting down—all those vital functions I mentioned earlier aren’t happening as well as they should be, making it harder for us to continue our hike. The less hydrated we are, the less efficiently our bodies are cooling themselves down through sweating; ultimately this process can turn against us in a vicious circle if we don’t have sufficient reserves because it makes us sweat even more while sapping our energy levels at the same time.
The weather is going to dramatically affect what you should wear and bring hiking.
The weather will likely be the biggest factor in determining what to wear and bring hiking. The temperature, precipitation, windchill, conditions of the trail, terrain and elevation of your hike are all important considerations for your clothing and gear choices. If you are on a popular trail during peak season, chances are that someone else has already hiked it recently. Visit the National Park Service website or Yelp to look at reviews from recent hikers. You can also use AllTrails to find out the conditions of a trail before you go.
Once you know what kind of weather to expect, start building an appropriate outfit.
If it’s hot, wear a hat to keep the sun off your face and neck.
Wear a hat to keep the sun off your face and neck. A wide-brimmed hat is great if you’re hiking in open terrain where there’s little shade from trees. If you’re hiking through forests, then a baseball cap or cowboy hat will do the trick. If it’s really hot and you’ll be sweating, wear a bandana or sweatband to keep the sweat out of your eyes.
If it’s cold, wear a hat to keep your body heat in.
Your body loses a tremendous amount of heat through your head, so wearing a hat is imperative, especially if it’s cold outside. (If you’re hiking in the summer when it’s hot out and you’re doing more sweating than shivering, you won’t need one.) Nowadays, hats for hiking fall into two main camps: those made from wool and those made from synthetic materials. Wool is warmer than synthetics because it has better insulating properties—that is, it retains heat better—which comes in handy on chilly days up at higher altitudes. But synthetics have the advantage of being quick-drying if they get wet. The best hats are snug, warm ones that cover your ears but don’t totally engulf your head like a woolly mammoth-sized beanie would. Avoid flimsy ones that let cold air through or flying off (no pun intended) in the wind; these will rob you of warmth instead of providing comfort and protection.
Sunglasses are essential both in the snow and the sun.
It’s not necessary to buy expensive sunglasses, but it is important to make sure you buy a pair that will protect your eyes. People with light-colored eyes are more susceptible to UV damage than those who have dark-colored eyes. Also, while it’s tempting to wear sunglasses outdoors all day long because they can be so comfortable and flattering, try not to put them on until you actually need them. Your eyes do adjust when exposed to sunlight, and if you don’t give them the opportunity, they’ll be weaker in future exposures. In addition, avoid wearing sunglasses at night and never wear them in snow or heavy rain becomes it will cause glare which will increase your chance of having an accident. Finally, don’t wear your sunglasses indoors—it’s rude (to others) and makes you look ridiculous!
Keep your eyes safe from UV rays in all lighting conditions with sunglasses.
As a rule, it’s best to wear sunglasses outdoors. They’re your first line of defense against UV rays. If you’ll be hiking in the sun, remember to bring sunglasses. On snowier days or if you’re hiking at high altitudes where there’s a lot of glare, consider wearing ski goggles instead of sunglasses. Polarized lenses are another option that can reduce glare when you’re out in the elements.
When it’s misty or foggy, try a pair of yellow-tinted sunglasses. These will help cut down on glare while still providing UV protection for your eyes and surrounding skin (the sun can reflect off water droplets and cause burns).
You should always wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB blocking for outdoor activities like hiking and climbing, which can put your eyes directly in the path of the sun for extended periods of time. Make sure the glasses not only have good lenses but also provide adequate side protection from stray rays by having a wrap-around style or wide frames that block the light coming from all directions.
Dress for the season and environmental conditions.
We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. In other words: you can hike in any season if you dress for it. But what does that mean exactly?
Dress in layers. This is an important rule of thumb for dressing for winter conditions. You might start off hiking and be fine in a t-shirt and shorts but then when the temperature drops or it starts snowing, you need to layer up to stay warm. Avoid cotton at all costs especially during cold weather hiking trips because once it gets wet it stays wet. When wool gets wet (which can easily happen during a winter hike or when you fall through thin ice) it will still keep you warm until you can change your clothes or get back inside where things are heated.
Wear an outer layer that is windproof and waterproof if possible. Good outerwear should also be breathable so that sweat doesn’t build up underneath where it can freeze or cause chafing and irritation to skin. If there isn’t much wind on a given day, these outer layers may not be necessary but always have them nearby just in case!
After reading this article, you should now be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to prepare for your next hiking adventure. You now have an understanding of what to bring, and you’ve seen examples of some of the best products on the market today. If you’re still feeling unsure, I would encourage you to practice packing a few times before your trip. In addition to giving you confidence in your choices, this will also allow you to adjust or take out items if they feel like they’re taking up too much space or adding too much weight. Remember: it’s better to have less stuff than more stuff that weighs you down!
Ready? Set? Go forth and conquer!