Ultimate Guide to Hiking Clothing

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This hiking clothing guide is aimed at explaining the basics. That’s why the guide offers valuable information about hiking outfit essentials, discusses various hiking clothes and their best use, materials, features, proper layering as well as main considerations when choosing your attire. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a list of other articles where you can find additional information about particular trekking clothes, layering, fabrics, properties, features, etc.

What to wear on the trail? Adequate hiking apparel is key to your overall readiness to face the various challenges that await you on the trail. Comfortable and reliable hiking clothing should provide protection against the cold (in the winter), heat and sun (in the desert and summer), wind, and precipitation. As Skurka outlines in his excellent book The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide,

Clothing needs to help you stay cool when it’s hot, warm when it’s cold and windy, and dry when it’s wet; it also has to protect you against scorching sun and abrasive brush.

Nowadays, thru-hikers and ordinary nature lovers often look for multifunctional apparel capable of maintaining their comfort in any conditions on and off the trail. This means that hiking attire must have certain features and characteristics to effectively keep the wearer dry and comfortable in various temperatures and conditions in order to be able to respond to changing environments. Moreover, hiking attire should be durable, breathable, and as light as possible without losing its insulative properties. Furthermore, it should be worn properly because when worn improperly, there are usually consequences for the wearer. These consequences can vary from mild (discomfort) to severe (hypothermia or frostbite if backpacking in a cold environment).

The importance of layering your hiking clothing

Layering is essential, especially when hiking in the mountains. For your apparel, your best bet is to rely on a layered clothing system composed of specialized items that can be easily adjusted and mixed and matched with changes in environmental conditions and your level of exertion. For example, mountainous steep terrain can cause a swift buildup of internal heat, especially while carrying a pack on sunny uphill sections. However, the high altitude also means that you and the environment can cool quickly, and more so if your clothes are wet from sweat. Therefore, it is important to have the ability to remove or add items easily. In cold environments, your outfit should provide enough protection not only against low temperatures, snow, and ice but also against wind. Keep in mind that in windy conditions your body may lose heat much faster than if there’s no wind. Exposed skin is particularly vulnerable and the lower the temperature, the bigger the windchill effect. Your attire needs to be constructed of multiple layers because the thermal resistance of multiple fabric layers under wind assault increases with the number of textile layers.

Hiker on mountain top

The classic layered clothing system consists of three or more layers. Each one of them has its specific functions. For example, the inner layer called also base layer is designed to wick moisture away from the body, disperse it to prevent chilling, and to transport it efficiently to the outer surface of the garment. The second layer called mid layer has one main function and it is to prevent heat loss from the body by trapping air and providing insulation, while the main task of the outer layer is to protect the other two layers from the elements. It’s important to underline that sometimes this categorization may be misleading. Keep in mind that there are too many different environments and conditions so take everything with a grain of salt. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments (experiment with mixing and matching various trekking clothes) in order to be able to respond to changing environments.

Main considerations when choosing hiking clothes


There’s no doubt that feeling comfortable on the trail will make your backpacking trip more pleasant and enjoyable. Comfort depends primarily on the thermal balance, which depends on the weather conditions, exercise intensity, garment properties, and other strictly individual factors like body weight, physical condition, and acclimation status. Although the body has some mechanisms for maintaining the thermal balance, clothing also plays a prominent role in preserving the core body temperature steady. How? The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. Your attire forms a barrier between you (your skin) and the environment. It means that in hot conditions, clothing should be minimized in order not to compromise heat loss. However, your feet will still need protection as well as your skin if hiking at high altitude (clothing protects against UV radiation), for example. In cold conditions, clothing should provide enough thermal insulation as your body will not be able to do it without some help. However, your attire should be adapted to match potential changes in weather as well as to exercise intensity. If you don’t adapt clothing insulation when walking in the cold, heat production will exceed heat loss. This will result in excessive sweating, which will lead to moisture accumulation inside your clothing system. The final result is one or more of the following: discomfort, performance decline, shivering, and hypothermia. Therefore, you’ll need loose comfortable outfit as it plays an essential role in the maintenance of the heat balance.

Wear comfort should also be an important consideration when choosing hiking attire because it affects not only your well-being but also your performance and efficiency. Actually, many people consider wear comfort to be number one in consumer expectations. Wear comfort of hiking clothes depends on various properties and characteristics such as elasticity, fiber composition, knitting construction, textile’s finishing, etc.

When talking about hiking outfit, psychological comfort is related to the feeling that some garments “look right” in some way while others don’t. This can be true even under severe hazardous conditions when protection has great importance to personal health. The psychological comfort of hiking clothing depends on factors such as aesthetics (garment’s suitability, construction, quality, color, style, etc.), performance, cost as well as the wearer’s perceptions of the environment as a whole.


Functionality is another important factor to be considered because it gives the wearer confidence that his or her outfit works well and won’t interfere with the performance. Functionality of a garment is directly related to its type, design, fit, form, fabric, as well as performance expectations, and the wearer’s perception. For example, the clothing design should allow for maximum performance in a dynamic environment. Nowadays, functional outdoor apparel should 1) provide engineered fit without restricting movements, 2) offer a great deal of comfort, and 3) allow the wearer to perform complex movements.


Hiking attire needs to protect the wearer from environmental extremes and to reduce the risks of injuries due to bad weather. Both hot and cold environments can be dangerous so reliability is another important factor that you need to take into account when choosing a garment. Most people perceive clothing as reliable based on its durability and resistance to abrasion and, to a lesser extent, some properties like loss of shape, pilling, wrinkling, drape, change in color and so on.

Inner layer – base layers and shirts

The inner layer should be comfortable next to the skin as well as moisture-wicking and quick-drying to ensure quick and efficient moisture transportation to prevent chilling, encourage evaporation, and keep the body cool (or warm) and dry. Depending on the temperatures and the level of sun exposure, you have two options – a short-sleeve hiking shirt or a long-sleeve base layer.

The primary purpose of base layers and hiking shirts is to manage moisture. The first layer of clothing should keep you dry by being able to wick moisture away from the skin to the next layer. In addition, it should also disperse this moisture so that it can evaporate more quickly into the atmosphere. Moreover, it should ensure good ventilation which is essential for intensive outdoor activities like hiking and backpacking.

Basic materials

Polyester, an oil-based polymer, is the most popular fiber for hiking shirts and base layers. Black base layer - top and bottomThe performance of polyester shirts and base layers – and, for that matter, wool and nylon, too – depends primarily on the fabric’s weight, weave, and blend, plus the garment’s fit and styling. However, what makes polyester a premium base layer textile? Polyester is strong and durable, abrasion-resistant, hydrophobic in nature, wicks well, dries quickly, doesn’t shrink when washed, is readily modified, and on top of that, it is relatively inexpensive. These properties and characteristics make polyester the most widely preferred fiber in the textile and apparel sectors and one of the most widely used fibers for outdoor and extreme weather clothing. On the contrary, it’s uncomfortable to wear next to the skin (especially in hot conditions), relatively unbreathable, generates static electricity, retains odors (stinks after a short workout), and feels clammy when wet. Polyester apparel can also be difficult to clean because polyester is resistant to chemicals and water. Polyester is often blended with other fibers in various ratios such as 80/20, 65/35, 50/50, 35/65, etc. The idea is to use its advantages over other fibers while minimizing its weaknesses. Polyester is used in blends mainly because of 1) its durability and 2) its ability to maintain moisture management. Popular blends include cotton/polyester, polyester/viscose, and wool/polyester. It’s interesting to note that most people don’t know just how popular this fiber is among the manufacturers of clothing because they often use various commercial names for polyester and its modifications such as Terylene (first polyester fiber created in 1941), Coolmax (modified polyester), Capilene, Dacron, Primaloft, Microfiber, etc. Merino wool is widely used in activewear and sportswear, especially for base layers because of its superior water vapor permeability and quick-drying properties. Some find that merino wool underwear next to the skin is the non-malodorous ideal for warmth and versatility. Merino is premium quality wool – light, soft, and supple, with great insulative properties. Moreover, it is naturally antimicrobial and therefore more resistant to odor-causing bacteria, which makes it perfect for long-duration wear. When wet, it feels less clammy and less chilling. However, its fibers absorb more water than polyester. Merino wool fiber can absorb up to 30% of its dry weight in moisture vapor and what’s interesting is that you may not even feel wet. The reason for this is the fiber construction of merino wool – the exterior of the fiber is hydrophobic and tends to repel water, while the interior of the fiber is hygroscopic and attracts water. This can be either an advantage or a disadvantage in cold conditions. It can be an advantage because of the perception of drier skin (as your wool layer absorbs moisture from your body) you get. It can be a disadvantage because of potential moisture absorption from the environment. The biggest downside of merino wool is that it is much more expensive than polyester.  It’s also less durable and not as wear and abrasion-resistant as polyester. It is worth adding that some manufacturers blend merino wool and synthetics for better thermoregulation, comfort, and increased durability.

Thermals made of polypropylene, a petroleum-based synthetic, might be a good inner layer. This textile is lightweight, quick-drying, and relatively cheap but it has a reputation for becoming stinky. Having said that, some fantastic technical base layer textiles such as Helly Hansen’s LIFA® fabric are crafted from polypropylene.

Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew Men'sHelly Hansen (HH) is among the pioneers in the field of textiles and gear for sports and work in the mountains. The use of the classical layered clothing system actually begins with the development of LIFA in the 1970s.

Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew is a lightweight, breathable, and functional long-sleeve base layer designed to provide excellent moisture management during aerobic activities such as running, hiking, and cycling. To put it simply, this 100% LIFA® base layer fits well, feels good, and is made for high performance in a wide range of temperatures and conditions.

See the Men’s HH Base Layer on Amazon See the Women’s HH Base Layer on Amazon

Cotton has excellent properties for everyday clothing as attire made of an all-cotton material are soft, breathable, and comfortable. However, cotton absorbs moisture quite rapidly and tends to hold it making the garment wet and clinging. Moreover, cotton as a typical hygroscopic fiber takes longer to dry. This means that cotton base layers and shirts aren’t suitable for most conditions. For example, they aren’t recommended for night hiking when temperatures drop. However, wearing a cotton shirt is actually a great choice for desert hiking because it’ll keep you cool for longer than other fibers. What seems like an inappropriate choice for other environments is welcomed in a desert climate – there won’t be chafing because your shirt will dry off quickly in the desert (since it’s is hot and dry). There are also cotton blends with synthetic materials. These blends combine the advantages of cotton such as breathability with those of the man-made material.

What to wear depending on weather conditions

Choose a lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored shirt from polyester for warm weather hiking. It will wick the sweat from your body and dry quickly to provide good airflow and cool comfort on the trail. Cotton is best for hot weather backpacking so it’s recommended to have a cotton t-shirt if hiking in hot weather conditions. Choose a shirt/base layer that fits better under outer layers for cold weather hiking. No matter the temperatures, however, ventilating features are a must, as is a longer-than-normal torso length so that your lower back is not exposed to cold air.

Young woman wearing base layer


Second layer – fleeces, sweaters, and softshell jackets

The mid-layer should provide thermal insulation for additional warmth and comfort. Thermal insulation of a given fabric depends on several factors. Among them:

  • The ability of the material to trap enough air inside the core of its fibers.
  • Weather conditions such as temperature, presence or absence of wind, etc.
  • The lining/shell and its air permeability.

Wool clothing is traditionally chosen for the cold because it feels warmer when wet than most other fabrics. Black softshell and green fleece Down is another widely used natural material. Another fleece alternative (actually, it’s somewhere between mid and outer layers), suitable especially for cold weather and winter sports is a softshell jacket. Softshells are designed for intense activities and combine freedom of movement, wind and water resistance, breathability, and abrasion resistance. Though softshells offer more protection than fleece against wind and precipitation, they are designed for maximum comfort during your outdoor activities in normal conditions. In extreme conditions, you can use a layered clothing system of four garments – base layer, fleece, softshell, and hardshell. Keep in mind that softshell jackets are heavier, less breathable, relatively slow to dry, and more expensive than fleece tops. It is a popular material for manufacturing mid layers as it is light, durable, traps air and provides excellent insulation. However, it absorbs huge amounts of moisture, which significantly reduces its insulative abilities, and is slow to dry. Hence, the outer shell of your down garment should be at least water-resistant in order to keep the down fill dry. Classic fleece tops are often manufactured from polyester so they inherit many properties typical for polyester fibers. For example, they are lightweight, durable, breathable, hydrophobic, quick-drying, and have good resistance to chemicals and microorganisms (though this can be a disadvantage as well because fleece repels cleaning products too). Fleece was meant to be a man-made alternative to wool so it has also many properties typical of this natural fiber while minimizing some of the disadvantages of wool. Fleece is soft, comfortable, highly breathable, and offers good thermal insulation. For example, a fleece top traps still air between the fibers in the pile for additional insulation even in wet weather. In general, the thicker the pile, the warmer it is (be warned that there’s a tradeoff between warmth and breathability and dexterity). The shortcomings of fleece are: it doesn’t compress well, it isn’t wind-resistant, and pollutes the environment. Best fleece mid layers are close-fitting and simple. Close-fitting fleece with elasticized hem and handcuffs is more effective at trapping still air to provide proper thermal insulation. Full or half-zip fleece top allows for better temperature regulation and ventilation when necessary. Some people like wearing fleece hoodies and they can be comfortable indeed but hoodies can’t be very efficient as a mid-layer. In general, features that can reduce the breathability of a fleece top and increase its weight and price such as hoods, pockets, DWR coatings, etc.

Outer layer – insulation jackets and shells

The outer layer should not only add warmth but is also expected to keep you dry and protected from the elements. Most outer layers are manufactured from windproof and waterproof or water-repellent fabrics. Aim for something large enough to cover all your layers beneath. Keep in mind that the more waterproof the material, the less breathable it probably is. A waterproof breathable shell that is soft and light works well in most conditions, though in harsh weather conditions you will need an insulation jacket to protect you from cold, wind, and precipitation. Check to ensure that the seams have been properly sealed because moisture often seeps in through seams and zippers. Clothes made of genuine Gore-Tex fabric have a good reputation; there are other similar materials on the market as well. 2 and 3-layer laminates dominate the market of waterproof breathable jackets. Waterproof fabrics are much heavier, and when they aren’t breathable enough, the insulation is getting wet from trapped perspiration. To avoid this, the outer layer should have excellent moisture management properties in order to allow moisture transfer from the body to the outside environment. Important things about waterproof breathable garments:

  • Waterproofness and breathability are contradictory requirements so, when buying a waterproof breathable jacket, you’ll have to choose between protection and comfort.
  • Waterproof membranes won’t function properly when clogged with dirt and sweat.
  • In rainy conditions, the breathability of your clothing might be compromised. This happens when water is absorbed by the outer shell layer (treat it with a durable water repellent in order to avoid that).
  • During strenuous activities, you sweat a lot so even the most breathable outer layer cannot keep you dry as you’ll get wet from the inside.

Thick clothing reduces the breathability of your garments further so you need to find the balance between weight and functionality. In harsh weather conditions, you will need an insulation jacket to protect you from cold, wind, and precipitation. Thermal insulation prevents cooling of the body and ensures that the body stays warm. However, in cold conditions, your body needs some help from your outfit to stay warm enough. For this reason, your outer layer has to be wind-resistant, waterproof, and breathable. The most widespread shell fabrics are polyester and nylon because of properties such as durability and hydrophobicity. The type and amount of insulation is no less important than the shell fabric. Cotton, polyester, and down are often used for insulation. Insulation jackets filled with down are light, warm, and comfortable thanks to the superior insulative properties of down from ducks and geese. Down is also durable and packable and lasts longer than any synthetic fill. Unfortunately, down is quite expensive and what’s more, it’s not very suitable for backpacking because it absorbs a lot of water, loses its insulating ability when wet, and dries slowly. Synthetic insulations are cheaper and more reliable than down in wet and cold weather conditions. They absorb little moisture and dry quickly. However, synthetic insulations are also less thermally efficient and not as compact and soft as down.

Two hikers with hooded jackets near lake

Hiking pants and shorts

The intended application will dictate the optimal fabric weight, fiber, and treatments for your hiking trousers. For cooler temperatures, a heavier stretch woven nylon fabric is preferred. For warm weather, a lighter and more loosely woven polyester or nylon – perhaps even with mesh vents – would be more comfortable. A permethrin treatment is a must for lighter, loosely woven fabrics during peak bug seasons; otherwise, bugs will bite through where the fabric is flush against the skin.

Hiking pants

There are many different kinds of hiking pants suitable for various environments and temperatures so you have plenty of choices. The most important thing in a pair of hiking pants is to keep you dry and cool and not to allow moisture build up inside your clothing. Man wearing convertible pantsSoftshell hiking pants are rugged, light, allow great freedom of movement, provide moderate warmth, resist wind, and repel water. They are also flexible, stretchy, and comfortable no matter what you’re doing. Softshell pants are stylish but functional and suitable for cool/cold weather activities like backpacking, bushwhacking, climbing, skiing, and snowboarding (pair well with a more robust belt). You can wear softshell pants with a lightweight base layer in the cold. Features you want include a thigh pocket, zippered gussets on the lower leg, and instep patches. Fleece pants are soft, warm, comfortable, and fit nicely – ideal for camp and for supplementing your sleeping system when it’s really cold. They are also durable, breathable, and quick-drying, which makes them suitable for a variety of outdoor activities like backpacking, hunting, fishing, winter sports or work. Fleece pants are particularly good for layering under-shell pants when it’s cold and wet. Keep in mind that since fleece pants are usually made of polyester, the fabric might generate static electricity. The outer side of a pair of fleece-lined pants is generally made from polyester/nylon for more durability and better weather protection. The lining is warm but not bulky and you won’t need an additional thermal layer underneath your pants unless hiking in very low temperatures. Fleece-lined pants are suitable for a multitude of activities in cold, inclement weather. Convertible pants for backpacking are usually manufactured from quick-drying fabrics such as polyester and nylon. Zip-off pants are good for backpacking in variable temperatures and changing weather conditions, especially if a big temperature change is expected due to elevation gain or loss as well as when the weather turns cool or windy during your summer hiking trips. If it gets too hot/cool, you can always zip-off/on the legs. It won’t take you more than a minute to do so. Convertible pants offer good protection from heavy vegetation when backpacking on maintained trails. They will protect your legs much better than shorts in case you have to deal with insects such as mosquitos or flies. The downside of the convertible pants is the presence of zippers as they can be very annoying, especially when hitting your knee while walking or pressing into your knees when you kneel down. Generally, if you choose a pair of well-designed zip-off pants that fit properly, you won’t have to make a compromise with your comfort. Hiking pants, whether convertible or not, should have a gusseted crotch and articulated knees for maximum freedom of movement.

Rain, waterproof or hardshell pants are best for windy, wet, and cold conditions. Rain pants need to be long enough and loose-fitting or stretchy as they will probably be worn over other pants and thus should fully cover them without restricting movement. Full-length zippers allow you to pull them on over your shoes, boots or crampons, and for ventilation. They are usually made of nylon and waterproof breathable material. Unsurprisingly, quality rain pants are heavier and/or more expensive, while most light options aren’t very durable. Avoid wearing rain pants in summer because shorts and convertible pants are usually much better options in warmer conditions as they’re much more breathable and dry quickly when damp. Snow pants are similar to rain pants (they are designed to keep you dry in bad weather) but they are best for hard-charging performance in winter’s cold snow. Snow pants usually have wide-leg openings with zippers to accommodate different styles of ski and snowboard boots.


Shorts are preferred by many backpackers (though it seems that shorts aren’t as popular among women as they’re among men) as they provide excellent ventilation, freedom, and comfort. Moreover, they are lightweight and offer great breathability in hot weather as well as freedom of movement while negotiating any kind of terrain. Shorts and hiking pants make a good combination for changing weather. Though some hikers use shorts even in cold weather, they’re best for backpacking in hot conditions. Bushwhacking isn’t recommended as walking through dense thickets of thorny bushes and small trees might result in discomfort, pain, and bloody legs.

Accessories – headwear, gloves, socks, and gaiters

Some accessories can be an indispensable part of every hiker’s gear depending on the season, location, conditions, and personal preferences. Here’s a list with more information about some of the most important accessories to consider for your next hiking trip.

Headwear and eyewear

Various factors affect the relative amount of heat you lose from your head in cold conditions. Proper headwear such as warm hats, balaclavas, face masks, headbands, neck gaiters, etc. is important on cold days to counter heat loss and conserve body heat. Wool headwear is warm even when wet but can be too bulky so many people prefer man-made materials, especially for technical items. Hoods provide protection against rain and snow. Head nets protect well against bugs such as mosquitos and flies, however, be warned that head net won’t effectively protect you against bites unless you wear it over a ball cap so that no netting is flush with the skin. A visor to shade the eyes from the sun is an ideal addition together with a sun-protection hat. Dark UV-protective glasses or goggles are also essential at high altitudes, especially on snow. Sunglasses should absorb all ultraviolet light and at least 90 percent of visible light. Glacier sunglasses cover the entire eye socket and offer comfort and protection for backpacking, climbing, skiing, and other snow sports in the mountains above the tree line as well as on ice and snow surfaces. Don’t underestimate the UV radiation from the sun because it increases rapidly for every 1000m above the sea. The lack of appropriate eye protection can lead to severe eye injury from overexposure to UV radiation.

Neck gaiters are ideal for colder climates. Just as standard gaiter fit around the wearer’s lower leg, neck gaiters fit around the neck and can reach up over the ears and nose. For extreme cold, a balaclava can be added. This covers the head, neck, and face leaving only a slot for the eyes. Worn together the combination is warm and provides for moisture movement, keeping the wearer drier and warmer.

Gloves and mittens

Finger dexterity and sensitivity are significantly affected when the ambient temperature drops, especially if it gets lower than 4.4 C (fine finger functions are almost entirely lost at that temperature). This will impair the ability of your hands and fingers for performing fine tasks so you’ll need a pair of gloves or mittens to protect your hands from cold. Gloves and mittens are essential for backpacking in cold environments. For snow or winds up high, a waterproof glove or at least wind-resistant outer mitt is necessary. Insulated mittens are better than gloves for cold conditions because they’re always warmer. However, since gloves offer finger dexterity needed to do most tasks in cold environments, they’re the primary cold weather handwear and not the mittens. The principles behind layering clothing also apply to gloves and mittens. For example, in extremely cold weather, your best option is to use a layered system of two or more layers. Traditional layered systems consist of:

  • An inner layer (usually synthetic or wool liner gloves) intended to keep your hands and fingers warm and to transfer moisture to the outer layer.
  • A weather-resistant and breathable outer layer (mittens or outer mitts) that protects your hands from rain and snow. Retention cords that loop over the wrist will help you remove the outer layer to accomplish a task that requires fine finger dexterity. Moreover, they ensure the wearer knows where his/her glove is at all times.

Of course, there are various possible combinations that you can use depending on the weather conditions and your preferences. Fingerless gloves, or ones made of thin silk or synthetic material, are good for operating cameras. If you are stuck and inadequately equipped, use spare socks as mittens, and cover them with plastic bags or stuff sacks, to save your fingers.

Hiking socks

Socks are one of the most under-appreciated parts of the clothing system but they are very valuable. Having two or three pairs of good hiking socks can be critical, especially during long hikes. The main functions of hiking socks are to absorb perspiration, reduce friction, provide insulation from cold temperatures, cushioning, and better protection for the feet. Merino wool and synthetics such as acrylic and polyester are widely used because of their superior wicking properties. Merino socks are made of hydrophilic natural material and are guaranteed to keep your feet warm in winter and cool in summer. Generally, merino and merino blend socks are preferred for winter hiking as well as for walking in cold conditions. Synthetic fibers are designed to wick moisture faster than cotton or wool and dry more quickly. Some synthetics are perfect for summer hiking as well as for walking in warm conditions. Other fibers such as Thermolite and Hollofil have been developed to provide better insulation for the feet in cold conditions.

Improper wear can cause hot spots and blisters. In cool/cold weather, layering your socks can be very beneficial. Double-layer sock systems are very popular among seasoned backpackers as the first layer should be a hydrophobic material so that your feet stay dry. The outer sock should also be made of hydrophobic material (which is also durable and abrasion-resistant). In snow and bitter cold, layering your socks and using vapor barrier liners will keep your feet warm. In extremely wet conditions, you might add a waterproof breathable sock over the other layers.


Gaiters are used to keep the lower leg dry from snow, ice, and mud. They will also keep twigs, rocks, and debris out of your trail runners or boots or at least will reduce the amount of dirt, grime, sand, dust, and rocks that get in your shoes. Gaiters are particularly effective when walking down scree slopes as they protect your legs from bits of rock. They’re also quite useful for the desert as well as when going through the snow. Gaiters with waterproof (and breathable) fabrics should be an integral component of your cold-weather clothing system as they will keep your legs below the knee dry. The most common style is the open-toed variety also known asan alpine gaiter. Its length should reach to just below the knee. Zippers, snaps, and hook-and-loop fasteners can help close the open front. Elastic cuff, adjustable neoprene strap (it goes under the boot), and drawstring and cord lock will keep the gaiter snug to your boot and won’t let the snow in. There also randed gaiters that completely cover the boot down to the welt as well as overboots that completely cover the boot for high-altitude mountaineering or very cold temperatures. These two types of gaiters are used with plastic mountaineering boots and crampons respectively.

Hiker with headwear and gloves

Waterproofs, ponchos, and umbrellas for rainy weather

It is difficult to stay dry while walking in rainy weather. Those wearing waterproof hiking clothes tend to sweat inside them. The main problem with waterproof clothing is that it is ineffective in keeping you dry. How’s that possible? The answer is both easy and intuitive. The reason is that your shell fends off water coming from outside but it doesn’t let internal water vapor to escape, which leads to moisture buildup inside your clothing system. This moisture:

  • Seriously reduces your garment’s capacity for ensuring thermal insulation.
  • Leads to an unpleasant feeling of clamminess.
  • Leads to excessive cooling.

That’s why you need waterproof breathable clothing.

Helly Hansen Seven J JacketWant a lightweight shell jacket to protect you against the elements while living an active life? Then, look for a versatile rain jacket with attractive features.

Designed to provide a dry and comfortable outdoor experience, the Helly Hansen Seven J Jacket is a great all-round rain jacket that offers full water and wind protection on and off the trail. It’s stylish and looks great but more importantly – it’s well-made, easy to pack, and can be used as both a rain jacket and a windbreaker during hiking excursions, fishing trips, and other outdoor activities. It functions best in warmer weather but the cut fits well even when wearing additional layers underneath for more warmth in winter.

See the Men’s Seven J Jacket on Amazon See the Women’s Seven J Jacket on Amazon

Gore-Tex or similar breathable jackets and pants with vents or zippered areas under the arms and down the legs are preferable because they ensure better ventilation. In an intense rainfall as well as in extended periods of rain, no outfit can breathe properly, so you will get wet from the inside no matter what. In those circumstances, light clothes and an umbrella or loose-fitting poncho may be the best compromise. A good poncho with a hood covers everything (head, back, pack, etc.), breathes well, and keeps most of your body dry. Moreover, it is lightweight and can be a very efficient windstopper.

Using an umbrella can be a good option when it’s windless or in light wind as it’s the most breathable option of all. The biggest downside of using an umbrella on the trail is that you’ll have to hold it all the time while walking. Even though you won’t see many people hiking with an umbrella, it doesn’t mean that it won’t serve you well in rainy conditions.

Alone hiker in a green forest


To sum up, hiking apparel should keep you safe and comfortable on and off the trail. It should also be extremely resistant to abrasion and support performance, i.e. provide increased mobility for the reaching motions performed. Your hiking clothes should promote evaporation and transfer of liquid sweat and moisture vapor away from the body. Moreover, they should provide a buffer from wind and rain.

Layering your clothing is essential for backpacking. In general, a layered system with a suitable base layer, fleece top, convenient trousers, and wind-resistant and waterproof breathable jacket, provides versatility for almost all conditions. Wear the underwear and the outerwear for active situations, adding the fleece in harsh weather. Remember that it takes time and practice to adjust hiking clothing so don’t hesitate to experiment and try various combinations to find out what works best for you.


Related Articles

Characteristics of Hiking Clothing

Layering for Hiking Explained

Properties of Cold Weather Apparel

Guide to Gloves and Mittens for Cold Protection

Guide to Headwear

Waterproof Breathable Clothes

Fleece and Fleece Jackets

Best Softshells and Softshell Jackets

Best Pants for Hot Weather

Insulated Jackets Basics


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