5 Pieces of Apparel Every Hiker Should Have

If you plan to hit the trails this summer, there are a few essential pieces of hiking clothes that every hiker should take along.  Whether you are hiking in the Deep South or the Rocky Mountains, you should be prepared for all types of weather conditions.  Bright sunny skies can turn to cold pouring rain in a matter of seconds.  With this being the case, it is extremely important to carry along, the best hiking clothes possible to ensure a safe, successful hike. 

Breathable Hiking Shell

A breathable hiking shell will be among the most important pieces of gear in your backpack.  From the rugged Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Nevadas, afternoon thunderstorms are almost a daily occurrence, and as such, it is essential to carry along a fully waterproof jacket to protect you from the rain.  Getting drenched on the trail will make your hike miserable, and it will also increase your chances of contracting hypothermia.  While any waterproof jacket will protect you from the elements, a breathable shell will give you the performance you need if you truly want the best hiking clothes possible. 

Best Hiking Clothes - Waterproof ShellCredit: Amazon.com

On the market today, there are a number of waterproof fabrics that claim to be breathable. Waterproof Gore-tex fabric is the most common type of fabric used for shells, but apparel made with eVent and Polartec Neoshell are truly some of the best, most breathable hiking clothes on the market today.  There has been much controversy surrounding which fabric has the best breathability, but review after review seem to indicate that eVent is more breathable than Gore-Tex.  Take for example the Montane Trojan and Athena jackets, which were just named the most breathable waterproof shell in Backpacker Magazine’s annual gear guide. 

If you plan to do much heavy hiking, a more breathable jacket is certainly advised, but regardless of fabric type, a waterproof shell is one of the best and most essential hiking clothes you will need to pack for your next trip.


Best Hiking Clothes - Light Insulating JacketCredit: Amazon.com

Light Insulating Jacket

If you plan to hiking on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail, chances are an insulating jacket may not be an essential piece of gear.  However, if temperatures can swing in your geographic location, an insulating jacket will be one of the best pieces of hiking clothes to pack away. 

The type of insulation in your jacket should be determined by where you are hiking and personal preference.  Fleece is one of the most common types of insulating fabrics, and it has numerous advantages including superior comfort and range of motion.  Fleece, however, is generally not windproof and it usually weighs more than an alternative synthetic insulating jacket. 

Synthetic insulation was developed as an alternative to down, which has a superior weight to performance ratio.  If you plan to hike in the summer, chances are a lighter synthetic insulating garment will be perfect for your situation.  Generally, synthetic jackets are lightweight and windproof but are not quite as breathable as the fleece alternative.    

As noted, the best type of insulation can be quite subjective, but nonetheless, an insulating jacket should be included in everyone’s inventory of hiking clothes.


Best Hiking Clothes - Wool SocksCredit: Amazon.com

Wool Socks

One quick word of advice when hiking: never wear any cotton.  Whether in a t-shirt or in your socks, cotton garments might be comfortable, but when cotton gets wet, it stays wet.  When you are on the trail, you want sweat and water to escape and evaporate off of your body and your feet.  If you happen to get your feet wet, cotton socks will ensure cold, sopping wet feet for the rest of your hike.  Wool socks, however, dry quickly and they keep your feet at a good temperature even if your feet get soaked. 

Brands such as REI, SmartWool, and Fits make some of the best wool hiking clothes on the market, so do yourself a favor and ditch cotton from your hiking clothes.  Wool is simply the best way to go for hiking.  Unfortunately for the price conscious, wool clothes cost more, but if you want superior performance on the trail, wool socks are the only hiking socks you should buy.


Best Hiking Clothes - Convertible Hiking PantsCredit: Amazon.com

Convertible Hiking Pants

While convertible-hiking pants are not necessarily essential, this piece of gear will quickly turn into one of the favorite pieces of hiking clothes in your dresser.  Depending on your location, an early morning hike can be quite chilly, but by midday, this chill will be replaced by a harsh, beating sun.  If this is the case, why not stay warm in the morning with pants, and when the weather starts to heat up, simply zip off the lower half of your pants to “put on” your shorts? 

REI and Columbia make some great, lightweight convertible pants that are water resistant and will protect you from the sun.  Additionally, most well designed hiking pants will use fabrics that allow sweat to easily evaporate off of your body.  In the end, unless you are extremely concerned with the weight of your pack, a good pair of convertible hiking pants will quickly become one of the best, most favor pieces of hiking clothes in your pack. 


Best Hiking Clothes - Hiking Base LayerCredit: Amazon.com

A Proper Hiking Base Layer

The first piece of hiking clothing anyone should put on before a hike is a base layer made out of polyester.  Polyester is lightweight, breathable, and fast drying.  Let’s say it again: just say no to cotton.  Cotton might be comfortable, but when it gets wet, it will stay wet. 

Again, a good base layer will cost quite a bit more than a simple cotton shirt, but there is just no substitute if you want to use the best hiking clothes. 

Choosing the best hiking clothes for your hike

When it comes down to it, personal preference and comfort almost always win out when selecting what clothes to bring on your next hike.  But if you want a safe, comfortable experience on your next hike, be sure to pack along the five different pieces of hiking gear mentioned above.  So if you leave the cotton behind and pack along a waterproof shell and insulating jacket, you will most certainly have the best hiking clothes for a successful journey.