Hiking is one of the most rewarding outdoor activities and I want to help you get out there and hit the trails! One of the basics to planning a hiking adventure is knowing what clothing and shoes to wear. You don’t need a bunch of fancy gear to enjoy hiking, but comfort and safety are important factors to consider. You will need to be prepared for the conditions and potentially changing weather patterns. I’ll be covering all of that and more in this guide on what to wear hiking as a woman!
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What to wear hiking as a woman
I have been extensively hiking for 5+ years now, including week-long treks in the Alaskan wilderness, day hikes in every US national park, weekend hiking trips around my home state of Washington, and more. So I’ve learned a thing or two along the way and want to pass on that knowledge on to you!
I know it can be daunting when first starting out hiking. If you’re a complete beginner then I recommend also checking out my Beginners Hiking Guide for extra tips on planning, safety, outdoor hygiene, and more. But you’re in the right place if you want to know details on exactly what you should be wearing out on the trails, from head to toe!
Best Hiking Clothes
Layering will be your best friend when hiking. Having multiple lightweight layers will allow you to adjust according to the temperatures and conditions, so you won’t get too hot or cold! Having appropriate outer layers will also mean greater safety when it comes to extreme outdoor conditions and potential hypothermia. If you’re hiking during the spring or summer seasons and know there will be bears in the area, make sure to check out my blog, Must-Know Bear Safety Tips for Hikers. In this section, I will cover head-to-toe layers to consider wearing (and packing) when hiking.
Moisture Wicking Hiking Shirt
Moisture-wicking and quick drying are two factors you should consider when choosing a hiking shirt / base layer. I swear by merino wool hiking tops because they excel in both those categories, plus they are odor-resistant and typically a more sustainable choice. It’s best to avoid cotton if possible (wool, nylon, and polyester are typically better choices).
The Smartwool Merino Short Sleeve is my go-to when opting for something short sleeve. Sometimes I prefer to wear a lightweight long-sleeve shirt for sun protection or the bugs are bad, and in that case, I will opt for the Icebreaker Sphere LS Low Crewe Shirt. My favorite long sleeve tops for cold weather hikes are the Backcountry Spruces Merino Baselayer 1/4-Zip Top and the Stoic Merino Blend 1/4 Zip. Tank tops are also an option for hiking but be mindful of backpack straps rubbing and causing blisters.
Warm Long Sleeve Mid Layer
I often reach for a long sleeve mid layer when hiking. This can serve as a lightweight insulating layer for warm weather hiking, or a layering piece under a heavier jacket in the cooler months. My two favorites are the Patagonia Better Sweater 1/4-Zip Fleece and the Backcountry Synthetic Insulated Hooded Jacket. When I want something super lightweight (like on a backpacking trip) I will opt for the Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullover.
A lot of other blog posts about what to wear hiking don’t seem to mention a windbreaker, and I’m not sure why! I often reach for a lightweight wind layer when hiking because sometimes it’s too cold to wear just a t-shirt but not cold enough to wear a fleece or jacket. In addition, windbreakers are amazing for preventing bug bites and protecting from sunburn. Some are even water resistant and can provide some protection in a rain shower. Over the years I have tried numerous wind jackets and my favorites are the Patagonia Houdini Jacket and the Backcountry Mad Creek Shell. Both of these pack down really small and can almost fit right into your pocket which makes them a great option to always keep on hand and stash in your pack!
This blog post is all about what to wear hiking and in all honesty, I don’t often wear an insulated jacket when actually hiking (only when it’s super chilly!) But regardless, I always pack an insulated jacket and often reach for it during rest breaks. For years now my go-to insulted jacket has been the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hooded Down Jacket. It’s incredibly lightweight, packs down really small, and is very warm for its size.
I only reach for a rain jacket if it’s actually raining, otherwise they can often be hot and sticky to hike in. If you live in a super rainy climate then I would suggest investing in a thicker Gore-Tex rain jacket, otherwise a lightweight option will likely be enough. My favorite rain jackets are the Marmot PreCip Eco Jacket and the Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket. They are both lightweight, easily packable, and have kept me dry in heavy downpours.
When recommending what to wear hiking I always suggest opting for pieces that are most comfortable for your body type and most suitable to the conditions. Hiking shorts are a great choice when hiking in hot climates or if you prefer less fabric on your legs. My top suggestions are the Patagonia Quandary 5in Short, Nike Epic Luxe Tight Trail Short, and the Backcountry Olympus Lightweight Short.
You will typically find me hiking in pants. This is because I don’t like sun exposure, I prefer not to get leg scratches from bushes/trees, and mosquitos love me. I usually prefer to wear hiking leggings / yoga pants but for long hikes or when it will be brushy I usually opt for durable pants.
For summer hiking you will often find me in the Backcountry Green Mountain Trail Tight and during winter I love the Backcountry Frary Fleece Tight. My recent favorite pair of hiking pants are the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant. They also make a convertible pair which is a great options if you like hiking in shorts and pants.
I have only ever had to hike in rain pants a handful of times. They are usually very hot and sticky, so I wouldn’t recommend hiking in them unless it’s very rainy or if you’re on a multi-day trip and cannot afford to get your hiking pants wet. My top suggestions are the Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Pant and Marmot PreCip Eco Pant (pro tip: this style is also offered in short and long inseams!)
Wool Hiking Socks
The style of hiking socks you choose will be dependent on your shoe type, the weather/conditions, and your preference for cushioning. Whatever you choose I would always go with a merino wool option as they are the most breathable, moisture wicking, odor resistant, and will help prevent blisters.
My go-to hiking socks when wearing boots are the Smartwool Classic Hike Light Cushion Crew Sock but I prefer the Smartwool Performance Hike Light Low Sock when wearing lower-profile trail runners. In winter I usually opt for something thicker like the Smartwool Hike Full Cushion Crew Sock. Pro tip: if you’re prone to blisters or particularly sweaty feet, try adding a pair of lightweight toe-sock liners under your hiking socks, like these ones from Injinji. They might look a little funny, but I promise your feet will thank you, especially after many miles on the trail!
Sports bras are a personal preference when it comes to fit, support, style, and material. My go-to material is merino wool because of its moisture wicking, quick drying and odor resistant nature. The Icebreaker Sprite Racerback Bra has been my favorite for some time now. The Patagonia Wild Trails Sports Bra is also a good choice for something even more supportive.
It’s important to choose underpants that are breathable, quick drying, and comfortable. Everyone’s style preference will be different but I would suggest choosing merino wool when possible. I can recommend the Icebreaker Siren Thong and the Smartwool Seamless Bikini Underwear.
Choosing the right hiking footwear is so important, which is why we made a full guide on the best hiking shoes for women. This guide will help you choose what type of hiking shoe you need for the type of conditions, terrain, and the style of hiking you plan to undertake. In addition, one of my favorite pairs of hiking shoes are the Columbia Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Amped Hiking Boots (great ankle support!) and I love the La Sportiva Bushido II Trail Running Shoes when opting for something lighter.
Best Hiking Accessories
In addition to hiking clothing, there are some must-have accessories for stay comfy and safe out on the trails.
I find that women’s specific hiking backpacks fit so much better, and I have heard other women say the same thing. We are shaped differently to men and having more adjustable hip and chest straps makes a huge difference. I love the Osprey Tempest Women’s Daypacks and own both the 24L and 34L versions. Another great choice is the Patagonia Refugio 28L Backpack. Think about how long you’ll be hiking and what layers you’ll need to bring with you. Don’t forget to pack the 10 essentials, and make sure to save room for snacks!
It’s important to protect your eyes from the sun when hiking, in both summer and winter. Opting for a pair of polarized sunglasses will offer the most protection from the sun and annoying glare. I love the Smith Shoutout Chromapop Polarized Sunglasses, which are an investment. A super affordable pair I can recommend are the Goodr Circle G’s Polarized Sunglasses.
Protecting yourself from the sun is a must when hiking and wearing a sun hat is one of the easiest ways you can make that happen. I often wear a basic cap like the Patagonia P-6 Label Trad Cap but will opt for a wider brim hat like the Outdoor Research Wadi Rum Brim Hat when it’s especially hot or for long hikes in the sun. Don’t forget to pack your SPF, and reapply often!
Neck gaiters are a handy piece of gear to own. They can be used to protect your neck and face from the sun, wind, and cold, as a face covering when being courteous to others, as a headband, and as a sweat rag. In fact, some people also like to dip them in water as a means to cool off on hot days! A good option for summer hiking is the Outdoor Research Echo Ubertube Neck Gaiter, and I can also recommend the Merino Wool Buff and Skida Tour Neckwarmer for winter hiking. Another item you may consider packing is a pair of gloves.
The above should have covered everything you need to know about what to wear hiking as a woman! I recommend checking out my beginners hiking guide for suggestions on what to pack for day hikes (including the 10 essentials and a printable packing checklist!)
Women’s Hiking OUtfit Ideas
Below are some hiking outfit ideas to help give you inspiration on what to wear hiking as a woman! I have also provided links to similar items when certain pieces are sold out or no longer available.