What to Wear Hiking: The Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Apparel

Hiking is a popular outdoor activity among Aussies, and it's not hard to see why. With so many beautiful national parks and trails at our doorstep, it's an excellent way to get outdoors and enjoy Australia's natural beauty.

Of course, dressing appropriately for hiking is about far more than fashion. Summer trails and cold-weather hiking require different clothing to keep you stay comfortable, safe and protected, letting you focus on exploring the great outdoors!

To help you get started, we've put together the ultimate guide on what to wear hiking. The Adventure Experts at K2 Basecamp are always here to help, so feel free to pop in store with any questions when shopping for clothing your next hiking trip.

This guide will cover:

- Shoes vs. boots
- Socks
- Shirts and Jackets
- Pants and Shorts
- Sun Protection
- More Tips

Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots

Choosing the right footwear is essential for staying comfortable, supported, and protected on your next hike. Although there are a variety of options to choose from, the primary factor to consider is whether you need hiking shoes or boots.

Hiking shoes are shaped like regular running shoes but offer much higher grip and stability required for rugged terrain and unpredictable weather conditions. They're perfect for day hikes and designed to provide comfort and support on easy-to-moderate trails.

Hiking boots are a more robust option for longer and more challenging hikes, providing additional ankle support and durability for carrying heavier loads or for multi-day trips. Overall, both options will help reduce fatigue and injuries, allowing you to travel further with less strain.

When it comes to choosing the perfect shoe or boot for you, we always recommend choosing an option with good traction, waterproofing, and breathability that also aligns with your personal preferences. We love the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II Leather waterproof shoe for mountain walks and the occasional long-distance hike, and the Asolo TPS 535 waterproof boots for ultimate multi-day hike support. Both come in men's and women's options.

Make sure to factor in a break-in period before your trip to avoid those pesky blisters!

Hiking Socks

A good pair of hiking socks should never be overlooked. The right pair of socks will help prevent blisters by keeping your feet dry and warm, and providing support while you're on your feet all day. They fall into three main categories, each with its own benefits: wool, synthetic, and hybrid blends.

Wool socks are great for colder conditions as they have warmth and moisture-wicking properties, while synthetic socks are ideal for warmer weather because they are lightweight and breathable. Hybrid blends offer a mix of the benefits of both wool and synthetic materials, meaning they won't fill up your boot with fabric but still provide warmth and comfort.

Pick your perfect pair of hiking socks by taking into account weather and terrain, and steer clear of cotton because it retains moisture and does not wick sweat, which can lead to blisters. Always pack two pairs, just in case.

Hiking Shirts

When selecting a hiking shirt, consider the weather conditions you are likely to encounter as well as the length and intensity of your hike. For warmer weather, a lightweight tank top made from synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon is an ideal breathable option. These materials wick moisture away from your skin, allowing it to evaporate, and provide ventilation to keep you staying cool. Lighter colours also reflect the sun's rays and will be cooler on your skin.

On the other hand, for cooler weather, a t-shirt with long sleeves made from a heavier fabric such as merino wool or flannel can provide added warmth and insulation. Go for dark colours because they absorb and retain more sunlight.

Another important consideration when choosing a hiking shirt is the fit and features. Look for a shirt that is comfortable and provides a full range of motion. Many hikers prefer shirts with a looser fit to provide additional ventilation, while others like a more form-fitting shirt to reduce potential chafing. Additionally, look for shirts with features such as sun protection, insect repellent, and quick-drying fabrics. These features can make your hike more comfortable and enjoyable, especially if you plan to be out on the trail for an extended period.

Hiking Jackets

Between rain jackets, softshell jackets, down jackets, and insulated jackets, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. When choosing a jacket for your next hike, consider the weather you'll be adventuring in and what features you prefer.

If you'll be hiking in colder weather, then a down jacket or synthetically insulated jacket is ideal for helping you stay warm and dry. Make sure to consider the 'fill power' of your new jacket. Fill power is a measure of the quality and insulating ability of the down feathers used to fill the jacket, with higher fill power (700-900) indicating better insulation and warmth retention for sub-zero temperatures.

An insulated hiking vest, softshell jacket, fleece jacket, or mid-layer jacket is also great for layering because they are lightweight but offer additional warmth. You can never go astray with extra layers!

Alternatively, warmer weather calls for a more lightweight jacket. Materials such as nylon or polyester are great for breathability, preventing you from getting too hot and sweaty, especially when paired with underarm ventilation zips.

Finally, consider the features you like in your hiking jacket. Ensuring it fits well and is comfortable to wear is essential as you could be wearing it for extended periods, so look for adjustable cuffs and hems to help you loosen or lighten the fit as needed. Consider pockets for storage, ventilation options, and reflective elements for safety. If you're hiking in an area with lots of wind or high altitude, a jacket with a hood is great for keeping your head and neck protected.

If you may be encountering rainy or windy weather, then a durable rain jacket or windbreaker with a waterproof membrane is essential. Go for materials like Gore-Tex that will keep you dry while allowing moisture to escape, such as the below jackets;

Last but not least, consider weight and packability. A lightweight, packable jacket is ideal for hiking because it won't take up much space in your backpack and can be easily carried with you.

Hiking Pants and Shorts

There are a few key things to consider when choosing your pants or shorts for hiking, but it primarily comes down to the weather and terrain you'll be in.

For warmer weather or less rugged terrain, shorts are great. We recommend hiking shorts that are made from lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking fabrics that keep you cool and comfortable, like the ones below;

For cooler weather or more rugged terrain, long pants are more suitable. By choosing long hiking pants made from durable and water-resistant fabrics, such as nylon or polyester, you'll protect your legs from unwarranted scratches, bugs, and other obstacles. Look out for features like articulated knees and reinforced cuffs for extra versatility and protection. Denim jeans are a big no-no as they're bulky, heavy, and not flexible enough for hiking movements.

No matter what type of hiking pants or shorts you choose, make sure they fit well and allow for a full range of motion to keep you moving confidently on the trail. And, if you want the best of both worlds, go for long pants with zip-off legs!

Sun Protection for Hiking

If chosen well, hiking clothing can play a crucial role in minimizing your risk of sunburn and skin damage next time you're exploring the great outdoors. Look for clothing made from fabrics with a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating. UPF ratings range from 15 to 50+, with higher ratings providing greater protection from harmful UV rays.

Additionally, choose clothing that covers as much skin as possible while still keeping you cool, such as nylon or polyester long-sleeved shirts and pants. Hats with a wide brim or neck flap can also protect your face and neck. Remember, UV rays can penetrate clouds even on overcast days, so it's important to always be cautious.

More Tips

Function Over Fashion

Durable fabrics and clothing that can withstand the wear and tear of hiking are absolutely crucial. Consider the comfort, weight, and functionality of your hiking clothing rather than your overall fashion statement before purchasing, because there's nothing worse than discomfort when you're on the trails!

In particular, understand different fabric properties such as wicking, insulating, waterproof, windproof, breathable, and waterproof/breathability and how they suit your hiking needs. We also recommend swapping your cap for a wide-brimmed hat.

Layering is Key

Layering is a fundamental aspect of hiking attire. It allows you to adjust your clothing to changing weather conditions and activity levels.

When it comes to your base layers, we do not recommend cotton because it doesn't wick moisture away from your body and can lead to discomfort and chafing. Instead, opt for moisture-wicking fabrics like merino wool or synthetic blends that dry quickly and prevent chafing. We recommend wearing a long sleeve shirt or pants on top of your base layer to provide extra sun protection and warmth if needed. Never underestimate how much warm clothing you may need.

How to Choose the Right Mid-Layer

A mid-layer is a layer of clothing you wear on top of your base layer and provides insulation while allowing ventilation. Whether you prefer natural fibres like merino wool or synthetic materials with good ventilation and UV protection ratings, choosing the right mid-layer for hiking will help you regulate your body temperature and stay comfortable on the trail.

Long sleeve t-shirts make excellent mid-layers because they are available in different materials for different purposes. A light merino wool layer is perfect for staying warm without adding bulk to your hiking outfit, whereas blended synthetic fabrics are better for providing good airflow and breathability while still adding insulation.

Keep Season in Mind

Always keep in mind the different seasons and conditions you'll be hiking in. In warm weather, lighter colours and breathable options can help you stay cool and a wide-brim hat can provide extra sun protection.

In cold weather, layering up with a base layer, mid-layer, softshell jacket, and insulated down jacket is a no-brainer. Rain pants and a rain jacket are essential for wet weather. Personal preference plays a role in choosing what to wear hiking, but prioritize function and comfort over fashion.

That’s All Folks

We've said it once and we'll say it again - dressing appropriately for hiking is crucial. With the information provided in this guide, you can make informed decisions about the hiking clothes you take on your next trip to stay comfortable and safe no matter where you're exploring.

From hiking footwear and clothing to outer layers and accessories, remember to choose wisely and enjoy your next adventure! If you'd like personalised advice on the clothing to get for your next hiking trip, come and visit us at K2 Basecamp to check out our range and get personalised, expert advice.