Hiking gear: what to wear (without the jargon)

Choosing the right hiking gear can feel a little overwhelming.

There’s layering and wicking, complex-sounding synthetic materials and prices that could make an oligarch blush.

But fear not, the reality of finding suitable hiking wear can be distilled to a few basic principles – and then adapted to the specific needs of your adventure.

For the casual to moderate hiker, these simple rules should leave you in good stead and ensure adverse weather, prickly thorn bushes and copious amounts of sweat won’t leave you a dishevelled mess at the end of a traipse through the backcountry.

But first, a word of warning: what you wear and what you pack should be dependent on where you’re going, how long you’re going for, the terrain you’ll face and the climatic conditions you can expect to encounter.

If you’re unsure whether your kit will be up to the task, seek expert advice. 

Layers upon layers

Layering is probably one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of hiking wear, but the concept is actually very simple.

Think of a series of protective shells, each with their own distinct purpose, which can be added or removed depending on conditions.

The base layer – This is where a moisture-wicking material such as polyester or Merino wool comes in. By drawing sweat away from your skin, a sudden drop in temperature or a period of inactivity doesn’t lead to you getting cold from thermal conductivity.

The mid layer – Now’s the time to get some insulation around your body. Puffy or padded materials work well, as does fleece. 

Outer layer – Finally, you need some protection from the elements. A light-weight waterproof outer layer will ensure your mid layer stays dry – and so do you.

A few no-nos

Cotton t-shirts may be great summer wear but their propensity to become soaked with sweat (and then become very cold if temperatures drop) means they’re best left off the hiking trail.

The same goes for denim – but even more so. Unless you’re Status Quo (and you’re not), denim jeans are about as appropriate as high heels. Leave at home.

For women, yoga pants may be super-comfortable. But they lack the durability to withstand scuffs, scrapes and pointy things. Unless you’re planning on the lightest of hikes, consider investing in something a bit more rugged.

Wearing shorts can be great. But if you’re anticipating ticks, midges, mosquitos or thorny bushes that’ll leave your legs looking like extras from a Tarantino movie, it’s probably best to cover up. 


By layering wisely, you’re sure to find that sweet spot in terms of keeping yourself dry and comfortable with the temperature. But let’s not forget the extremities.

Hats, gloves and thick hiking socks are all effective ways of preventing heat loss – and making your overall hike a lot less unpleasant. Similarly, a jacket hood with drawstrings works well by sealing in the heat around your head and neck.

Good boots are a given (and deserve an entire guide to themselves) Needless to say, don’t skimp on something so vital to your health and wellbeing.

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Jack Davidson is a nine-year digital nomad who's made his home in such far-flung locations as Cambodia, East Timor, Colombia and Hungary. He writes on a variety of topics relating to travel, travel insurance and financial matters for globetrotters and occasional wanderers alike. Jack is also the host of battleface's podcast When It Hits The Fan.