Best Active Clothing
For Women Hikers

How to buy the best active clothing for hiking is a skill, almost an art, because as a female hiker you want to purchase the best athletic clothing that can be:

  • used for more than one outdoor (as in "sweaty") activity;
  • washed dozens and dozens of times without losing shape or function;
  • layered or un-layered as needed;
  • pulled out of your pack without looking like the dog's breakfast.

Is this asking too much for adventure apparel?

Never!


Best active clothing
for women hikers

Trying to figure out what to wear hiking is an art as well as a science.

To buy the best hiking clothes for your trail plans, you'll have to do a balancing act between these features:

  • versatility;
  • durability;
  • performance;
  • price point.

Let's tackle these one at a time.

'Cuz tackling is active, right?


Versatility

Hikers and backpackers know that buying a piece of hiking clothing for just one narrow purpose is a bad move.

You want to have a small tried-and-true collection of athletic clothing that takes you on the trail, and off again.

Therefore, run from the ads that zero in on a narrow temperature range, or are meant only for warm dry climates.

Look for performance pieces of active clothing that can take whatever you're going to dish out, and come out looking great.

Better yet, performing well for you under all kinds of conditions as high performance hiking attire.

Here are some of my best active clothing tips to make your shopping adventures more fruitful:

  • Buy zip-off pants that double as shorts. Don't like the way they look? Try these, I love them!
  • If you need petite hiking pants, read this.
  • Wear a hiking skirt that takes you from trail to your favorite pub for dinner. Be sure to read the comments from other women who agree that a trail skirt is a smart move.
  • Leave an easy on dress in the car, great for enjoying dinner on the way home from the trail.
  • Choose a hiking shirt that can be worn as long sleeves, or short sleeves, depending on insects, weather, sun exposure, and the amount of bushwacking you need to do.
  • Wear 2 pairs of socks, and remove one of the layers (either the thin liners, or the heavier outer "hiking" socks) as you change activities: walking, running, canoeing, or biking.
  • Layer on a hiking vest as soon as you feel chilled. Peel it off and stow it in your pack when you feel warm enough.
  • Too warm? Hike in shorts!
  • Don't be frustrated by hiking clothing companies that ignore you if you don't fit into their narrow size ranges. Instead, read this!



Durability

Don't throw away your money on less than stellar brands. Stick to the quality manufacturers to get the best value.

How to assess quality?

  • Look for companies that have been in business for a long time. They want loyalty, and will earn your trust by supplying high quality products. (see recommendations below)
  • Ask other hikers you meet on the trail what their favorite pieces of active clothing are, and be sure to ask the brand name.
  • Go to a used clothing store and look for hiking shirts, shorts, pants, hats and jackets. Which companies seem to be over-represented? Those are the ones making gear that lasts long enough to be recycled!
  • Browse through an outdoor gear store and feel every brand's fabrics. Look at the seams, the zippers, the button holes. Which brands seem sturdy to you?


Performance

Buy only what you need, not what the magazine ads tell you to buy.

A beginning hiker needs basic active clothing that will stand up to a few hikes under mild conditions.

Notch up the types of hiking, and the performance of the athletic clothing must also ratchet upwards, or you risk your safety and comfort.

  • Cotton kills. If you've never heard that hiking mantra, consider yourself warned right now. Read about hypothermia so you'll stay away from cotton hiking clothing, regardless of how cheap it is.
  • Dress in layers for the trail, meaning your base layer must be accommodated by the layers above it, yet perform well on its own when you get overheated or the weather improves.
  • Pay for the features you need, especially waterproof outdoors clothing. You might flinch at the price points, but technical gear will keep you safe.
  • Be sure your active clothing is machine washable, and preferably drip dry. You don't want to be a slave to your hiking clothes, right?
  • Concerned about UPF sun protective clothing being worth the extra money? Read this before you decide to skip sun protective hiking clothes.

Price Points

You get what you pay for.

But don't pay more than you have to!

There are 3 ways to go about building up a high performing, durable and versatile hiking wardrobe.

Choose the one that resonates most strongly with you:

  1. Buy discount outdoor clothing only.
  2. Shop end-of-season and close out sales only.
  3. Purchase replacement items or must-haves as you need them, but only from companies you trust. (see below for who I trust)

I would not recommend buying used active clothing except for high end jackets or rain gear. Read this about where to find used hiking gear.



How to buy active clothing for hiking and beyond

Active clothing for women hikers should be able to handle other activites like rafting the Canning River, ANWR, Alaska, USA


Let's make this short and sweet, shall we?

My 5 best tips for buying active clothing for women hikers:


1. Stick to reputable brands for hiking attire.

  • I have my favorites, based on decades of experience wearing their products. And I name names below.
  • Yes, I'm picky. And I stick with what works. What's wrong with that?

2. Get to know the companies that cater to your particular size and fit needs.

  • Buy one piece of hiking clothing cautiously, put it through its paces, and either pass it along to another hiker or "adopt" it into your athletic clothing closet.

3. Be an early adopter.

  • Jump on the latest color, fit, fabric or modification for the brands you trust.
  • This approach might cost you a bit of extra money, but no waiting around for gear reviews to pop up!

4. Don't be an early adopter.

  • Let the kinks get worked out of the latest greatest jacket or pants, and then buy a pair the next year.
  • Or buy steeply discounted gear (see above) when the season is over.

5. Stick to one brand if you want to build a bomb proof layering system that fully integrates and performs well.

  • Why guess whether or not a new jacket will play well with your vests and shirts?
  • Some brands run a bit small, others are very generous. Mixing brands can create chaos if you have to return them for one size up or down.

My recommendations for
active clothing companies

Hiking has been part of my life for almost fifty years.

What to wear hiking has changed, and changed again, over all of these years.

I've seen heavy woolen pants and waxed cotton jackets give way to lightweight moisture repellent fleece and that magical stuff called rainproof Goretex.

You need to take a close look at the companies I'm about to name, because I've gotten great versatility, durability, and performance for fair price points from them year after year.

These are not your super cheap brands, but they are high performing, widely available, and they truly make an effort to understand the outdoor clothing needs of women hikers.

In no particular order, here are my recommendations for the Top Ten companies that sell active clothing for women hikers:

  • Ex Officio
  • Royal Robbins
  • SmartWool
  • Kuhl
  • North Face
  • Patagonia
  • Arc'teryx
  • REI
  • Sierra Designs
  • Columbia


And the gear stores that I return to again and again? Those that have earned my trust.

These are my exclusive sources of active clothing, along with hiking gear in general. I use them because they have generous return policies and have been in business a long time.

Among my favorites:

  • REI, a gear coop founded in Seattle WA; I've been a card carrying member since 1977.
  • Outdoorplay: founded in Oregon, originally for kayakers but now carrying all the good stuff for hiking and camping.
  • Getzs: You might not have heard of these folks, but they've been providing great outdoor gear for work and play since 1900 in Marquette, Michigan. Not familiar with Marquette? It's in the Upper Peninsula, a rugged, wintery place that values solid, reliable outdoor gear.
  • Sierra Trading Post: a hodge podge of close out stuff - it's like a constantly evolving, giant yard sale! I've scored some amazing deals on jackets, pants, socks and boots from this company founded in 1986.
  • Mountain Gear: You don't have to hike or camp in the mountains to take advantage of their great gear deals. The founder started out with just his sewing machine, and grew into a Spokane, WA business that loves to mark down items.
  • Altrec: They offer price matching on current gear, multiple payment options, and their website is one of the easiest to negotiate for womens hiking clothing.

Build your hiking clothing wardrobe one season at a time

Best hiking tip: Buy the performance pieces you really need, and then build a wardrobe around them.

Adventure apparel changes as your hiking skills increase, but you've got to start somewhere.

I consider a top performing jacket, durable pants, wicking shirt and base layers (both top and bottom) to be a great start.

  • Be willing to pay for these, because they protect you from the elements (jackets and pants) or hug your skin.
  • Durability is a given with the top brands listed above.
  • Patagonia is one company that never disappoints. My husband owns the world's record for one of their fleece jackets: 20 years and counting, looks great, and still blocks wind and cold!

Don't overlook the absolute necessity of a well fitted sports bra for hiking.

  • Lightweight moisture wicking bras are great for warm weather.
  • The level of support and coverage you want will change as your hiking activity level changes, so you'll need more than one sports bra in your hiking wardrobe.
  • Don't neglect to toss them when the fit goes haywire. You deserve great support!


Throw in a fantastically fitted pair of hiking boots or trail shoes, and their loyal companions, socks, and you'll be bombproof on the trail.


Then buy a few foundational items to have handy once you're off the trail, like a hiking skirt or skort paired with a cute hiking shirt.

  • Stash these in a small duffle bag in your car, so they're handy whenever you're ready to step off the trail.
  • Switch out the stuff that gets ratty or baggy, or use it for doing yard work or paint jobs at home.
  • Have fun shopping for the new styles and colors - it will give your hiking routine a lift! Just don't neglect good fit and performance.
  • Add active clothing to your "hiking wish list" and encourage your family to give them as gifts for your birthday.
  • Keep trying different companies until you find the best hiking clothes, and then keep those companies in business by sending your money their way. Give them feedback about what works, and what you don't like.

Active clothing for women hikers

These tips and tricks should get you started on the worthy goal of building a practical, versatile and high performance active clothing wardrobe for your trail pursuits.

Still have questions?

Use the CONTACT link at the top left of this page to send them my way. I'm happy to answer them!



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