What is Hiking Style?
Hiking style has two definitions in the world of women’s fashion. One is the real deal. The clothes that are function-first, designed to help you reach the summit with performance wear features and weather-minded coatings. The other definition of hiking style is more about achieving an outdoorsy aesthetic. Picture rugged jeans, Chelsea boots and a cabin core inspired jacket. These looks focus more on the vibe of escaping to a mountainside bungalow rather than climbing that mountside. Both versions of hiking apparel make it a top trend for women's fashion. But fear not, you can still look stylish while thru-hiking a long-distance trail. Time to tackle that first definition. Next stop, the basics of what to wear hiking.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” — John Muir
Hiking Apparel Basics
No matter where your wanderlust takes you, there are a few wardrobe essentials for every hiker. Think of these as a springboard you can build off of and specialize to every trail on your to-do list. In general, seek out pieces that have performance and weather-resistant properties. Favor lightweight, packable clothing that won’t take up precious space in your pack. Another good rule of thumb is to look for breathable synthetic fibers or fabrics that layer easily. That way, you can keep up with changes in your body temperature and maximize your comfort on the trail. Ready to build your ideal hiking outfits, ladies? Let’s start at the bottom.
What Boots to Wear Hiking
What boots are best for hiking, you ask? Hiking boots. Okay, we’ll explain what those are. You don’t want to start your hiking trip off on the wrong foot. Literally. When deciding what to wear hiking, kick off your look with sturdy, comfortable women’s hiking boots with great traction and support. Check out the treds to make sure they’re giving you the most grip possible. This way, you can avoid unnecessary slips and falls.
Even if you only plan on hiking in dry weather, it never hurts to have weather-resistant boots. Shop styles with durable, water-repellent coating. Almost as important as finding the right pair of boots, however, is allowing time to break them in. Although some high-priced hiking shoes may require no break-in period, most boots need wearing-in before walking off the beaten path. Of course, a good pair of hiking boots is nothing without a good pair of socks. Avoid getting cold feet with cushioned, breathable socks. Time to step things up a notch.
What Pants to Wear Hiking
We mentioned earlier that performance qualities are key in all women’s hiking outfits. That’s especially true when it comes to hiking pants. After all, your pants are doing all of the heavy lifting on your excursion. In almost every hiking scenario, you want to look out for sweat-wicking pants to keep you dry. Materials like nylon and polyester with breathable weaves are the ultimate trail buddies. For a day hike without much brush or trail hazards, suit up in active wear leggings. Opt for a pair with side pockets to store your essentials close by. Is your hiking adventure more rugged with low hanging branches or thick vegetation to navigate? Go for sturdy hiking pants instead. Extra points for scoring a pair with anti-microbial properties to reduce odor. Your path is clear for your next journey into the woods.
What Tops to Wear Hiking
The final piece of the what to wear hiking puzzle? No women’s hiking outfit is complete without the right top. First, apply all the same rules regarding fabric and activewear properties to your choice in shirt. Then, consider your layering options. Begin with a quality sports bra. Depending on your personal preference and the difficulty of your trail, choose a medium to high-impact style. A sports bra also makes for a great base layer to strip down to on the hottest days of the year. Next, pull on a short or long-sleeve active shirt. Styles with UPF protection are ideal for any hike with prolonged sun exposure. Complete your active ensemble with a hat for proper sun coverage. We’ll get into more detail about variations to your base, mid and outer layers later. But for a casual day hike in mild temps, these layers are a great warm-up.
What to Wear on a Hiking Date
Perhaps you’re here not because you’re a trail-lover, but you’re dating someone who is. Besides interpreting what to wear hiking in general, now you’re pondering what to wear on a hiking date. Deep breaths ladies, the answer is the same. Seriously. The easiest way to look your best on the trail is to feel your best. Don’t risk discomfort or possible injury for the sake of what you’d usually wear on a date. With that said, you can find subtle ways to make what to wear on a hiking first date your own. Try a matching tank and legging set in earthy tones layered with a water-repellent anorak. Or, say yes to active shorts and a performance bra with mesh detailing to keep you cool and confident. Mastering colors that compliment each other will have you looking coordinated and effortless. We told you it was simple.
Hiking Clothing For Every Season
Now that you’ve conquered the first leg of what to wear on a hike, let’s get into the nitty gritty. The time of year when you hit the trailhead sets the stage for what should make it into your pack. Scroll on for our women’s checklist of what to wear hiking for every season.
Pro Tip: Regardless of the time of year of your hike, location is everything. Springtime on the PCT will have a different packing list than spring on the Application trail. Research your specific route, the weather forecast and check with others who have visited before for their expert perspective.
What to Wear Hiking in Spring
Picture your everyday spring wardrobe. Odds are, it’s filled with transitional pieces to bridge the gap between winter and summer. You’re not using super bulky layers and heavy lining, but you’re also not down to the thinnest, lightest clothes either. Follow these same guidelines when prepping what to wear hiking in spring. Layer your performance tee with a fleece or flannel mid-layer. We recommend something you can easily remove if you heat up halfway through the loop. Shrug on a full-zip jacket or a button-down plaid shirt that you can tie around your waist. Now, you are set for when the sun starts peeking out. Spring also leans toward rain in many parts of the world. A good water-proof jacket and pair of rain pants are key. While we’re on the subject of changing seasons, let’s transition to the fall, shall we?
What to Wear Hiking in Fall
Fall is the perfect time for reconnecting with nature and the cozy clothes in your closet. From deciding what to wear apple picking and to selecting your most sincere pumpkin, you’re likely spending your days outdoors. So why not add hiking to your autumn itinerary? For women, what to wear hiking in fall follows a similar pattern as what to wear hiking in spring. Depending on what time in fall, your mileage may vary. If the middle of the day still feels like summer, skip thermals and extra layers in your pack. Save that space for water. Instead, try a pair of zip-away hiking pants. Keep your legs covered in the morning and evening, then switch to shorts for relief during high noon. Shorts are also necessary if your travels take you across any creeks or water passes.
If you’re trekking in the latter half of autumn, it’s time to buff up your base layers. Set yourself up for success with long sleeves made from merino wool, modal or other moisture-wicking fibers. Trade in your spring fleece mid layer for a quilted puffer vest to preserve your core temperature. We hope you’re warming up, because winter is up next.
What to Wear Hiking in Winter
Craving the sound of your feet crunching snow and a mountainside in your sights? Then it’s time for a wintery hike. When researching what to wear hiking in winter, maintaining body heat is everything. Sure, you’ll warm up as your muscles get moving. But, trust us, having a few extra layers is a smart strategy for this time of year.
Hang onto your puffer vest from fall, or trade it in for a full-sleeve puffy jacket. Depending on how low the temperature dips, add an outer layer as well. Materials like GoreTex will block wind and snow from freezing up your workout. If you find a style with a hood, that’s a bonus for extra comfort in the cold. Did you know you lose 7-10% of your body heat through your head. Stay sharp and stylish with a cable-knit beanie. Don’t forget to layer your pants, too. Leggings or long underwear beneath your hiking pants are a lightweight yet warming combination. Once you’re done flexing your wilderness side, head to a cozy lodge and change into some apres-ski fashion. Can you smell the hot cocoa yet?
What to Wear Hiking in Summer
It’s hard to stay inside when the sun is shining, so grab your sunscreen and head to the backcountry. When choosing what to wear hiking in summer, light-colored shorts, short sleeves and tank tops are the way to go. Make sun protection a top priority with sunglasses, UV-resistant clothes and a brimmed hat. Dry trails call for styling biker shorts—unless, you’re planning on taking a dip in any swimming holes along your route. In that case, we suggest running shorts with a built-in mesh layer to help you dry faster.
For a standard summer jaunt, think about switching up your shoe options, too. Trail runners are a breathable alternative to boots and hiking sandals, such as Tevas, are trendy and practical for rock-hopping. These warm-weather tips aren’t just for summer though. Tropical hike in Hawaii, anyone?
What to Wear Hiking in Hawaii
One of the main attractions of Hawaii is the land’s breathtaking natural beauty. From the beach all the way up to the volcanic mountains, there’s no shortage of wonders to discover and enjoy. So, of course, you’re thinking of what to wear hiking in Hawaii? The simple answer is shirts and shorts to match most of Hawaii’s warm and humid climate. But if your backcountry quest takes you into the mountains of Maui, pants and long sleeves are the way to go. Want to look a little less sporty in your vacay photos? Pair your athletic bottoms with a relaxed, graphic T-shirt that you can knot at the waist. Carry a backpack or a one-shoulder bag with a dry change of clothes and a rain jacket. No need to avoid rain showers or waterfalls while on The Road to Hana.
What Shoes to Wear Hiking in Hawaii
Does saying Hawaii have you already packing your flip-flops? Save them for the beach. When choosing shoes to wear on a hike in Hawaii, stick to either hiking sandals, trail runners or sneakers. Sport sandals and regular sneakers come in handy on dirt trails, such as the Bamboo Forest. However, if you’re headed to tougher island terrain like the Haleakala National Park on Maui, trail runners are your best bet. Prevent the sharp lava rocks from breaking your stride with sturdy soled shoes. Say "Aloha" to happy trails.
Pro Tip: Many hikers and outdoors people know the phrase “Leave No Trace". It refers to conserving and appreciating the natural world as you found it. Keep this in mind, especially when hiking in the delicate Hawaii ecosystem. Clean up after yourself, admire wildlife from a distance, respect cultural sites and listen to Native Hawaiians.
Style Tips for Hiking in All-Weather Conditions
You’ve got the basics down. Now let’s dive into what to wear while hiking a mountain trail in high and low temps. But first, a disclaimer: We’re not equipped to tell you how to survive extreme weather conditions just through fashion. For excessive heat and cold, it may be necessary to consult medical and hiking experts before setting out. Stay hydrated, pace yourself and always plan ahead. That being said, here are a few style hacks for hiking in extreme hot and cold weather.
What to Wear Hiking in Hot Weather
A small but helpful consideration for what to wear hiking in hot weather is the color of your clothing. Every little bit counts when it comes to avoiding heat exhaustion, so come prepared with light-colored clothes. Shades like khaki and cream absorb less heat than darker hues. In addition to covering up your face and body with hats and sunglasses, don’t forget about your feet and hands. The last thing you want during the toughest section of your hike is burned extremities. Closed-toe shoes in pale colors are a must in these conditions, as are sun-gloves. You’ll thank us later.
Pro Tip: Gloves with grip also team well with trekking poles or a hiking staff so you can summit with ease. Choose this outdoor equipment when you want extra stability and less force on your knees while backpacking.
What to Wear Hiking in Cold Weather
Just as light colors are helpful in the heat, darker colors are helpful in the cold. Black is always in style, but if you want variety to your backpacker’s assortment, try a high-saturation red or blue. Vibrant colors in safety orange and neons are a style standout in women's fashion trends. These hues are also helpful if you encounter heavy snowfall on the trail. Darker and brighter statement colors contrast the white landscape, making you easier to spot by other hikers or rangers. Now you know what to wear hiking in very cold weather. Stay safe out there.
Pro Tip: Another potential hazard of winter hiking is sunburn from the snow reflecting the sun. Protect your face from exposure with hats, face masks and goggles. Don’t skip the sunscreen (no matter the temperature).
Hiking Apparel Don’ts
Before we leave you to find yourself in the wide, wild world, we have a few last tips for you on what not to wear hiking. Though some don’ts are obvious (i.e. formal clothes) others may surprise you. For example, did you know cotton doesn’t make the packing list? While this natural fiber is usually a closet treasure, cotton lacks moisture-wicking power. Especially in cases of changing temperatures, wearing wet clothing can be detrimental to your hike and health. Save your denim for another day and choose items made from wool or poly blends. Yes, that includes socks, too.
Another no-no is any item that will chafe. When selecting women’s hiking outfits, give each piece a test run. Walk in your socks and boots to make sure they don’t blister. Try your trail shirt on with your backpack to know if a texture irritates your skin. Stay ahead of the game by periodically checking for wear and tear so you know what to replace. Don’t forget to spruce up your hiking pack by performing a deep clean after its most recent sojourn. It’s all in the details.