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What to Wear for a Day Hike

What to wear for hiking

Day hiking is a great way to get some fresh air, exercise every muscle in your body, and spend quality time with friends or family. Wearing the right clothing for a hike will help keep you comfortable and safe, so you can focus on your surroundings and your hiking partners.

Best Hiking Clothes

  • Shoes and socks: Comfortable shoes or hiking boots, depending on the terrain. For easy day hikes on well-established trails, you can usually get by with running shoes or low hikers that have a grippy sole. Many people als0 like wearing lightweight hiking boots if they want additional ankle support. Whatever shoes you bring, make sure that they’re well broken-in so you can avoid getting blisters. It’s also best to wear wool or synthetic socks when hiking, not cotton, because they absorb less perspiration which can lead to blisters. Hiker favorites include Merrill Moab hiking shoesKeen Targhee III mids, and Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes, all available for men and women, including wides sizes. Be sure to check out our 10 Best Hiking Shoes and Boots Gear Guide for a wider selection.
Zip-off convertible pants can be used as shorts or long pants.
Zip-off convertible pants can be used as shorts or long pants.
  • Pants or shorts: Lightweight, roomy hiking pants that provide freedom of movement and will dry quickly if they get wet. Long pants, capris, shorts, skirts are all good choices depending on weather conditions. Most hikers prefer convertible hiking pants with zip-off legs like Columbia’s Silver Ridge Pants, Prana Stretch Zion, or REI Sahara Pants (all available for men and women) because you can quickly turn them into shorts if you get too hot or wear them as long pants for insect protection. See our 10 Best Hiking Pants Gear Guide for a wider selection.
  • Underwear: When hiking, it’s best to avoid wearing cotton underwear because it absorbs perspiration and can lead to painful chafing when it gets damp. Your best bet is to wear synthetic boxers or panties that will wick moisture away from your skin and won’t bunch up if you start to perspire heavily. It also helps to wear boxer-style underwear, which can help prevent rubbing between your thighs. The most popular hiking underwear by far are Ex Officio Give N’ Go Boxer Briefs (men) and Give N’ Go Hipsters (women), although synthetic compression shorts also work quite well.
It's best to bring several layers on hikes with variable weather. A short sleeve for hot weather, a long sleeve shirt that can be worn over it for sun and insect protection and a lightweight fleece sweater for cooler temperatures
It’s best to bring several layers on hikes with variable weather. A short sleeve for hot weather, a long sleeve shirt that can be worn over it for sun and insect protection and a lightweight fleece sweater for cooler temperatures
  • Shirts: There are a wide range of shirts that will work for hiking ranging from running and athletic short sleeve shirts to vented long sleeve fishing shirts. You going to perspire when you hike, so try to wear a shirt that will keep you cool and can dry when it’s being worn. Thin wool shirts like a Smartwool Merino 150 Base T-shirt are also very comfortable in warm weather and don’t stink as much when you perspire. Also consider wearing a long sleeve shirt that has lots of pockets and can provide sun or insect protection if conditions warrant, like the Ex Officio Bugs Away Halo Check Shirt. When choosing hiking shirts, consider bringing a few different layers on your hike, like a lightweight shirt that can be worn along with a quarter-zip fleece sweater, in case you get chilled and want to wear something warmer.
  • Hat and Sunglasses: Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses if your eyes are sensitive to light. It’s surprisingly easy to get sunburn when hiking all day outdoors, so cover up with a baseball hat or a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin and eyes. If you’re in the mountains, you might also consider wearing a UV Buff to protect your neck from sun or sunlight reflected off snow.

What to Pack

Those are the basic clothes you need to go hiking. In addition, you’ll want to carry a 20-35 liter backpack containing enough water for the day (usually 2-3 liters), a small first aid kit, a headlamp, rain gear, bug dope, suntan lotion, a map, snacks or lunch, and other personal items. What you bring will vary on the length of your hike, so check out our Day Hiker’s List of the 10 Essentials to make sure you’re properly prepared.

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  1. Something to consider…

    Always start with the 10 essentials. These items are just that essential.

    But keep in mind of area essentials. Like while hiking in AZ I had a snake bite kit and extra water purification. Or in the Pacific northwest I need a rain jacket for nine months out of the year. Things like that.

  2. You should also have enough gear with you to make it through a night, not necessarily comfortably but survivably, especially if you’re on a trail that’s not frequented and has minimal cell coverage. A one pound silnylon tarp can be rigged into a shelter or used as a wrap for a small group people to protect from wind and rain. Even a large plastic bag in your day pack can be useful as shelter. Those extra thin layers, along with the tarp or plastic bag will do wonders against lowering temps, wind and rain.

    On another note, most snakebite kits I’ve seen are based on the now outmoded idea of cutting into the fang marks and then using a suction device to suck out the venom. This is no longer recommended and can do more harm than good. Google “snakebite treatment” for the best procedures. Like most bad situations, the best treatment is prevention. Some of the same links on the search will give a list of best practices for prevention.

  3. 10 essentials, for any non-summer hike (plus 11th essential, blaze orange flag or clothing), for little-traveled trails, or for late starts. I don’t necessarily have all 10 on heavily used loop trails in the morning hours. I don’t take the space-blanket-style bivy and the emergency (stinky Esbit) stove / mug (tea, cocoa, beef bouillon cube, freeze-dried grub)/matches/flint and handwarmer sets on summertime glorified morning trail “runs” with starting temperature of 70 degrees and good cell coverage.

    Insect Shield treated long sleeve “fishing” shirt, convertible pants or those nifty eco-mesh pants, two pair wool socks, broad-brimmed hat, over-hat bug mesh (stashed away). Ex-officio underwear is great for fast drying.
    Rain jacket, lightweight
    Several extra plastic bags, several sizes (big, medium, sandwich), for collecting non-organic trail trash.
    Sitpad (doubles as the stiffener for my 18L soft pack)
    Headlamp with good batteries, separate set of batteries, small pocket flashlight
    Much more water than I need – because water is a handy training weight as well as physiologic requirement
    3 or 4 snack servings (2 Clif bars, misc. gorp)
    Minimalist first aid kit, few paper towels, tiny multi-tool with a knife and scissors, tiny one-use space blanket, whistle, decent compass, bug stick, sunblock stick, “tick key”. Map’s on the phone. If I haven’t been on the trail a zillion times before, I also carry a paper copy.

  4. When it comes to underwear, check out Hanes Performance Boxer Briefs. They work great and are 3 pair for $15.

  5. I’ve yet to find a “convertible” (zip-off) pant that works for me. Main issue is that the zippered seam rubs/drags with every leg lift on the front of the thighs. No thanks.

    And/or the resultant “shorts” come down to the knee, or close to it. This is also an issue with most currently available regular ol’ shorts. When did the grunge look become the hiking standard? Not that we need 1970s-era NBA short shorts, but it’s hard to find any men’s shorts that aren’t (in my opinion) ridiculously long. I usually go with some type of running shorts which have about a five-inch inseam. The baggier the better. Carrying a lightweight pair of longer pants in addition to these really doesn’t comprise any kind of weight or bulk penalty over the “convertible” set ups.

    • I prefer shorts when I go hiking, pants are just too restrictive. I can stand cooler temperatures when hiking in shorts. I’ll even throw on a hoodie and a pair of shorts if I’m only going to go hiking for a few hours. Theres a nice area to hike near my home, so I’ll go for a few hours, then head home.

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