Home / Gear Reviews / Clothes and Footwear / Core Clothing for 3 Season Hiking and Backpacking

Core Clothing for 3 Season Hiking and Backpacking

Hiking Up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Mt Washington (New Hampshire)
Hiking Up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Mt Washington (New Hampshire)
Leaving Torridon - Scotland
Leaving Torridon – Scotland

I use 9 clothing items (not including hats, socks, or gloves) for three season hiking and backpacking. It’s amazing how many different scenarios they are sufficient for.

Environmental Needs

Most of the hiking and backpacking I do is in New Hampshire and Maine, up and down the East Coast on the Appalachian Trail, and occasionally in Scotland. All of these regions have a mountain maritime climate where ocean effect precipitation hits mountains, producing ample rainfall, mud, bugs, and 3 season weather ranging from 20 degrees in early spring, up to 100 degrees during summer heat waves.

Here’s how I partition my hiking clothing items:

  • Normal Suit
    • Item 1: Bug Shirt
    • Item 2: Trekking Pants
    • Item 3: Underwear
    • Item 4: Fleece Top
  • Stop
    • Item 5: Insulated Jacket
  • Storm
    • Item 6: Rain Jacket
    • Item 7: Rain Pants
  • Sleep
    • Item 8: Sleeping Top
    • Item 9: Sleeping Bottoms

Bug Shirt

I wear my long sleeve bug shirt all the time for hiking because it’s treated with Insect Shield (Permethrin) to help me avoid Lyme disease carrying ticks and protects me from the sun. I wear an Ex Officio’s Halo Check Shirt which is synthetic and easy to rinse out. It has have integrated netting vents to help me stay cool and dries very quickly when rinsed out.

I’ve been wearing Insect Shield Clothing since 2008 for most of my hiking, backpacking, and off-trail hiking and hardly ever have to use DEET anymore because it protects me so effectively.

How serious is Lyme Disease in the Eastern US? Read this. 

Trekking Pants

I always wear long pants for 3 season hiking for all the reasons listed above. For on-trail hiking, I wear RailRider’s Eco-mesh Hiking Pants, (also pre-treated with Insect Shied) which have venting zippers that run down both legs, backed by bug resistant mesh for venting. These pants are also synthetic and dry very quickly when rinsed out. Eco-Mesh Pants are a little delicate, so I often switch to tougher RailRiders Bushwhacker Pants when hiking off-trail, which are also pre-treated with Insect Shield.

RailRiders EcoMesh Pants
RailRiders Eco-Mesh Pants


I wear Under Armour Heat Gear Boxer Jocks for hiking because they prevent chafing between my thighs when I sweat. They also stand up well to continuous use on trips and dry quickly after washing. In very hot summer weather, I switch to Under Armour Mesh Series Boxer Jocks which are cooler to hike in and equally durable.

Rab 100 weight Polartec Fleece Pullover
Rab 100 weight Polartec Fleece Pullover

Fleece Top

I wear a 100 weight fleece pullover I picked up in 2010, made by Rab, but any 100 weight Polartec Fleece pullover will do. It’s my primary mid-layer insulation worn over my bug shirt in cool weather or under a rain shell. Fleece is very effective at wicking moisture away from a base layer and stays warm when wet. In previous years, I’ve also worn fleece grid sweaters such as the Patagonia R1 Pullover and Patagonia R1 Hoody, which are also excellent wicking garments, but not as warm as a simple 100 weight fleece half or quarter-zip sweater.

Insulated Jacket

I wear a Montbell UL Down Jacket. This is a very simple insulation garment. I wear it in camp at night in cool weather or over my fleece sweater. I don’t bother with a hooded insulated jacket in three season weather because I prefer wearing a fleece hat.

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket, RailRiders EcoMesh Pants, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Shoes
Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket, RailRiders EcoMesh Pants, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Shoes

Rain Jacket and Rain Pants

I really like rain shells from Outdoor Research and I’m using a Helium II, which is very light weight and straddles the gap between a rain jacket and a wind shirt. It’s not a very breathable rain jacket, but I don’t wear it to stay dry in the rain, I wear it to stay warm.

I don’t buy any of the breathable fabric nonsense the outdoor industry spouts off about; if it’s raining in warm weather, you’ll get soaked from your sweat. If it’s raining in cool weather, you’ll get soaked from condensation inside your jacket. The key is to stay warm by trapping your body heat, which the Helium II does quite well when layered over a fleece to prevent heat loss.

If you get yourself a Helium II, you’ll find that the DWR wears off pretty fast if you’re constantly stuffing it into your pack. Rather than proofing it with Nik-wax DWR, I spray mine periodically with old-fashioned Scotch Guard, like your mom used to use on your rain boots. It’s easier, longer lasting, and cheaper.

For Rain Pants, I prefer Montane Minimus Rain Pants because they have narrow legs that aren’t baggy. They’re delicate though and not intended for off-trail travel.

Sleeping Top and Bottoms

I always carry a separate sleeping top and bottoms, although what I carry varies on the expected temperatures at night. I try to keep these are dry as possible, so I have something warm to put on when I get to camp and to help me sleep.

In cool to moderate weather, I wear a Patagonia Capilene 1 Silkweight LS jersey and Patagonia Capilene 1 Silk Weight long underwear. In hot weather, I switch to an EMS Techwick SS Jersey, although I almost always wear my long johns, unless it’s stifling hot, when I wear boxer jocks instead.

The Items I Don’t Carry

Running shorts – I haven’t run in about a decade and I’m not about to start. Walking is my speed and I can do it all day.  Plus I wear long pants for a reason: no ticks on me.

Insulated pants – I only wear insulated pants in winter and only when we’re sitting around in camp melting snow for drinking water, although I often carry them for emergency use during winter day hikes. If it gets cold during 3 season weather, I’ll put on my sleeping long underwear under my hiking pants for additional warmth or just get into my sleeping bag/quilt and go to sleep.

Extra long sleeve and short sleeve shirts – I don’t bother. I just rinse out my bug shirt more frequently and if it’s very hot, I wet it down to stay cool.

See Also

Andrew Skurka suggested that I write this post, so you could compare his core clothing list to mine. We both carry similar items.


It’s a spartan amount of clothing, but it works for me.

Support SectionHiker.com. If you make a purchase after clicking on the links above, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.


  1. It’s made using extract of flowers, so maybe it doesn’t harm the environment at all.

    • i was curious about this as well so i quickly googled it and saw that it can be harmful to fish, so it may be worth further investigation. (and what i found also said it can be harmful to cats. i’m assuming for the same reason certain flea/tick medications are – they can’t metabolize them.)

      • It’s completely safe once its dried on your clothes. It’s also quickly breaks down when exposed to sunlight (when in liquid form). This topic has been beaten to death on my posts about using permethrin to treat clothing. I suggest you read those.

  2. What about a base layer under the bug shirt?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *