What to Wear Hiking: The Best Women’s Hiking Apparel

The Best Women's Hiking Gear is the ultimate guide to exactly what to wear hiking for women.

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Hiking is all about comfort. When you step foot on the trail, you should comfortable and prepared. That all starts with the right clothing. Dress for success, right? But you don’t just want comfort. You want the best women’s hiking apparel that doesn’t break the bank.

I’ve tried my fair share of hiking tops, pants, socks, boots, gadgets… well you get the picture. And today I’m here to share my favorite picks! This ultimate guide to the best women’s hiking apparel will teach you:

  • What to look for in quality hiking clothing
  • Where to shop for sustainable, hiking gear
  • When to find the best deals on the best women’s hiking apparel
  • How to layer all the essential picks for ultimate hiking comfort

Table of Contents

What Not to Wear

First things first: what not to wear. No, this section isn’t about the popular 2000s TV show – it’s about the materials to steer clear of when it comes to hiking!

When it comes to hiking, cotton is not your friend. Cotton absorbs moisture, making it heavy and smelly. Plus it takes forever to dry. While I love my oversized cotton t-shirts at home, I leave them behind when I head out for a hike.

Denim and physical activity just don’t mix. Jeans are heavy, take a full day to dry out, and are just downright uncomfortable. Plus, it’s 2020 – embrace the athleisure trend and opt for comfier pants!

What to Look for in Hiking Apparel

When it comes to hiking apparel, quick drying materials are your best friend. Look for materials like merino wool or polyester blends. These materials are also odor resistant!

Durability is also important, particularly for pants and outer layers. Look for durable rip-proof materials like nylon in hiking pants and jackets.

Warmth layers are crucial for colder weather. Look for insulating materials like down (or a synthetic down blend) or fleece.

The bottom line when picking hiking clothing is to look for brands you know and trust. You want to buy pieces that will last for years, hold up after many washes, and keep you comfortable on the trail. My go-to outdoor clothing brands include Patagonia, North Face, Arc’teryx, and REI.

Read More: The Ultimate Hiking Gear Guide

The Best Women's Hiking Apparel is breathable and lighweight for hot days like this one in Arches National Park.

Where and When to Buy Hiking Apparel

REI

By far, my favorite outdoor retailer is REI. They have expert staff to help you pick out all your gear and apparel, plus a generous return policy! REI also provides expert advice and classes for its community at low or no cost.

REI is a member-owned co-op. Each year, members receive dividends of 10% back on all full-priced purchases.

Save more by having a specific shopping list and waiting for those items to go on sale. I rarely buy full price at REI (but if I do I get my 10% member dividend!).

REI has multiple big sales per year:

  • Winter Clearance in February
  • Anniversary Sale in May
  • Summer Clearance in June/July
  • Labor Day Sale in August/September
  • Pre-Holiday Sale in November
  • Holiday Clearance in December

REI also resells used or returned items at low rates. You can score lightly or never used items for more than half off. I have multiple lightly used pieces from REI and you’d never know they’d were preowned.

Backcountry

Backcountry is one of my favorite online retailers for outdoor gear. Their perks include free 2-day shipping on orders over $50 and simple returns.

Get great deals from Backcountry during their semi-annual sales, in February and August.

Backcountry’s bargain outlet, Steep & Cheap is my first stop when shopping for a specific item . You can get great deals on last season’s styles and save more than anywhere else.

Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah

All The Best Women’s Hiking Apparel

Now that you know what materials to look for and where and when to buy the best women’s hiking apparel, let’s dive into the details.

Moisture-Wicking, Lightweight Tops

When it comes to hiking tops, you want something that will dry out quickly and resist sweat odors. I prefer loose-fitting tops over form fitting ones – after all, comfort is key.

My favorite hiking top is the Patagonia Cool Capilene T-Shirt. It protects you from the sun with built in UPF sun protection and breathes easily. It comes in both long sleeve and short sleeve versions (I have both!). This is the best alternative to your standard cotton t-shirt.

If you prefer to hike in tank tops, my go-to activewear tanks from Old Navy are the perfect budget option. Old Navy’s Breathe On tank line are comfortable, breathable workout tanks perfect for hiking.

If you do choose to hike in a tank top, apply plenty of sunscreen to your shoulders. It’s also a good idea to test out your backpack ahead of time for any scratching or rubbing in uncovered areas.

Durable Hiking Pants and Shorts

For durable, rip-resistant hiking bottoms, I like the North Face Aphrodite line. The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 pants have an elastic waistband, quick-dry technology, and resist abrasion on the trail. They also have hem drawstrings to cinch for better fit or to keep your pants dry when crossing water.

The North Face Aphrodite Motion shorts use the same durable and quick-drying materials. These elastic waistband shorts are comfortable enough for every day activities and practical enough for hiking (largely due to the pockets!).

Your everyday workout clothing can make for good hiking bottoms as well, but won’t be quite as durable as nylon-based pants.

My favorite leggings to wear hiking are Athleta’s Elation Tights. They are ultra stretchy, compression leggings built for yoga. These leggings stretch and move with you on the trail.

My favorite workout shorts to wear on the trail are the Nike Tempo Running Shorts. These classic shorts are sweat-wicking and loose-fitting for maximum comfort.

What to Wear Hiking: The Best Women's Hiking Apparel

Insulating Long Sleeve Layers

It’s important to keep your body warm on the trail by dressing in layers. Stay insulated with merino wool or fleece layers.

My go-to hiking material is merino wool: it’s warmth and odor-resistance can’t be beat. For extra ventilation, I like layers that zip.

For most hikes, I prefer a midweight merino wool layer, like the REI Merino Midweight Half-Zip. This durable, yet lightweight, layer provides plenty of warmth for mild days or early mornings.

For a more versatile layer, I opt for the Patagonia Better Sweater. This ultra-warm fleece layer is sporty enough for hikes, but stylish enough to wear with jeans.

Warm Down-Filled Jackets

For colder temperatures, down jackets are the best way to stay warm. I recommend the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie (also available in a hoodless version). This 850-fill down jacket is water-repellent and has both internal and external pockets. Plus, this jacket comes with its own compression sack for easy packing.

For colder, below freezing environments, opt for a down jacket with more fill (higher down fill = more warmth).

Water-Repellent Rain Jackets

When it comes to rain jackets, you want to make sure you have one with Gore-Tex. This patented technology integrates waterproof, breathable fabric into the best rain jackets.

My go-to rain jacket is the REI XeroDry GTX Rain Jacket.  This jacket is longer than many on the market (which is important to tall women like me!). It comes with core vents that provide enough breathability to avoid overheating while hiking.

Read More: 10 Day Hiking Essentials

Breathable Undergarments

Breathable and sweat-wicking undergarments are key. For underwear, I prefer the Exofficio Give-N-Go or Modern Collections. These breathable underwear are quick-drying and odor resistant, perfect for longer, overnight hikes.

Exofficio also makes breathable, quick-drying sports bras and bralettes like the Give-N-Go 2.0 Bralette. If you prefer more support, I like the Nike Swoosh bra. This is the bra I wear for high impact workout activities.

What to Wear Hiking: The Best Women's Hiking Apparel

Dry Wool Socks

Your feet are the most important body part when it comes to hiking. So protect them! Merino wool socks will dry quickly, an incredibly important factor when it comes to hiking. Wet feet = blisters = awful hiking experience.

I buy all my hiking socks from REI. Their store brand has a wide range of thickness and heights. When wearing my hiking boots, I prefer taller socks like the REI Midweight Hiking Crew Socks.

If you’re prone to blisters, I recommend wearing a pair of liner socks underneath your merino wool hiking socks. The REI Merino Wool Liner Crew Socks will keep your feet dry and reduce rubbing and chafing.

Lightweight, Waterproof Hiking Boots

Your shoes can make or break your hike. For longer hikes or rougher terrains, I opt for hiking boots. Boots provide more stability, ankle protection, and strong grip for scrambling rough terrains. Look for a pair of boots that are waterproof, like the Keen Terradora II Waterproof Mid Hiking Boots.

For shorter hikes, I like to wear lightweight, trail running shoes like the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoes. You won’t be weighed down with heavy boots, but don’t lose any of the traction and grip.

If you plan to do any swimming or wading, I recommend packing a pair of waterproof sandals, like Chacos, in your hiking pack.

Touchscreen Friendly Gloves

For colder weather, gloves are key to keeping your hands warm. Look for touchscreen-friendly gloves, like the SmartWool Liner Tech-Compatible Gloves for mild weather. For colder days, choose the Black Diamond ScreenTap Gloves.

Read More: 7 Best Hiking Smartphone Apps

Hot and Cold Weather Hats

It’s always important to protect yourself from the sun when hiking. For a wide-brimmed sun hat that shades your neck and ears, I recommend a Stetson merino wool hat.

I prefer a baseball cap to shade my face when hiking. My favorite baseball cap is the North Face Horizon Ball Cap – it’s quick-drying and breathable! Just don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears and neck!

For colder weather, bring along a warm beanie to get your head warm. I love my REI Lightweight Logo Beanie.

UV-Protective Buff

Popularized by the TV show Survivor, Buffs are a hiker’s best friend. You can wear them seemingly infinite ways: as a headband, beanie, neck cover, face cover… the list goes on!

I like to keep my CoolNet UV+ Buff around my neck for sun protection and pull up to cover my face when needed.  It’s also great for keeping dirty hair out of your face on longer, multi-day backpacking trips!

The Best Women's Hiking Apparel is breathable and lighweight for hot days like this one in Arches National Park.

How to Layer Your Hiking Apparel

Layering is the key to comfortable hiking. Dressing in layers allows you to strip down as it gets warm and layer back up as the temperature drops.

  1. Start with base layers over your undergarments. In colder weather, this could be a long sleeve merino wool layer underneath a breathable t-shirt and wool leggings under your hiking pants. In warmer weather, your base layer may just be your hiking top.
  2. Layer on additional insulation like your merino wool or fleece zip-up. In cold weather, your down jacket goes on over your insulation layer.
  3. Finish your layering with sun and rain protective outer shells, like a rain jacket, hat, and buff.
 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to All the Best Hiking Gear

Having the right hiking gear is just as important as the right hiking apparel. Every hiker should carry the 10 Hiking Essentials on the trail. For the best hiking gear, including my favorite Osprey Tempest 20 Hiking Backpack, check out my ultimate hiking gear guide!

What’s your favorite piece of women’s hiking apparel? Mine is definitely my down jacket! Let me know in the comments below 🙂

What to Wear Hiking: The Best Women's Hiking Apparel
What to Wear Hiking: The Best Women's Hiking Apparel
Hi, I’m Julia! I’m a national park lover and avid planner on a mission to visit every U.S. national park. My goal is to empower you to visit America’s national parks by providing super-detailed national park guides and the tools to grow your hiking and camping skillset so you can feel confident outdoors.

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Hi, I’m Julia! I’m on a mission to see every United States national park and I’m happy to have you along for the ride. Here I share super-detailed itineraries and guides to help you plan the national park trip of a lifetime.

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