by Diane Spicer
What to wear hiking when there are so many choices of athletic clothing for women hikers??
That's a pivotal question involving the vast and wonderful world of athletic apparel for women.
And one which every hiking female ponders, and wrestles with, and tweaks from time to time when building a hiking clothing layering system that works.
Athletic clothes for women are easy to find, but it takes a bit of thought to pull together your own hiking layers.
If you're not asking yourself "what's the best hiking clothing?", you're not paying attention ;)
Athletic clothing for women has a subset of outdoor apparel marketed specifically to hikers.
And you can get even more customized from there:
But the good news for all females is this:
Hiking clothing = adventure apparel
You don't have to confine your choices to the hiking sub-niche when looking for the best clothing to wear on a hike.
Which means that hiking attire doesn't have to look masculine, drab and unappealing.
To help you sort out all of the options in women's hiking apparel, I'm giving you a peek into my own collection of athletic clothing.
I've spent decades (not even kidding!!) perfecting my hiking clothing list, and would love to share it with you.
These foundational pieces of my hiking clothing layering system come with me on day hikes, 14 day hiking trips, plus everything in between, and have never let me down.
Let's build up the list of best athletic clothing for women hikers from the inside out, shall we?
other words, let's pile on layers of womens hiking clothing until we
have a hiking layering system that can be put on, and taken off, as
needed for changing trail conditions.
And why not begin with the athletic clothing for women hikers that is designed to touch your skin?
That's where comfort begins.
But it's also where performance matters.
let's take a tour of the best athletic clothing for women, based on my
decades of hiking experience and keen eye for new developments.
What you put next to your skin matters on a hike.
Your base layer performs important jobs on a hike:
One more thing:
This layer can't be too bulky, because you'll be layering more on top of it even in warm weather.
Oops! Don't forget about softness and the need to minimize any chance of chafing.
I hope you're not surprised to hear that you should leave under wire bras at home!
Put that these "must haves" together, and you have to discard natural fiber clothing made of cotton.
Sure, cotton will absorb your sweat easily & wick it away from your skin, but will not release the moisture quickly.
That leaves you with a wet soggy under layer that is unpleasant and potentially dangerous.
Instead, turn to the fibers and fiber blends available to hikers to build up your hiking wardrobe.
This area of your body is highly personal.
It might take a few tries before you find the right amount of snugness, support, ease of removal and fabric thickness.
Read reviews of athletic clothing for women whenever you can, as in the links below, to get a hint about whether or not this will work for you.
Then experiment until you get it just right.
It's such a relief to find the perfect sports bra!
You might already know that sports bras are available in a dizzying array of fabrics, styles and colors.
But here's the bare minimum to consider when selecting a sports bra to ensure that it becomes one of your favorite pieces of sports apparel:
1. Will this bra be easy to get on when I'm confined to a tent with very little elbow room?
2. How easy will it be to get it off once I'm sweaty and hot?
3. How much support do I need?
4. Is this fabric moisture wicking, odor absorbent and fast drying?
I have 2 companies that I've returned to again and again.
For low impact day hikes, I wear a sports bras like this one.
Here's why I love it.
The fit is comfortable, the fabrics keeps the moisture away from my tender non-sun exposed skin, and it's easy to get on and off.
For longer hiking trips, when I'll need more support, I turn to Moving Comfort.
This company (started by athletic women, of course) really understands how to build in support without sacrificing comfort. Doesn't the name say it all?
They don't skimp on design or fabric, either.
Which means you're going to pay more for these sports bras. For me, it's worth it because of the performance I get from them.
And I've kept my Moving Comfort bras for up to 5 years of trail time, despite lots of washing and drying.
NOTE: This company's sizing tends toward the small side. Order up a few cup sizes if in doubt. And it's now re-branded as Brooks.
For maximal support and a design that feels like a dream to wear, here's my go to choice:
You definitely get what you pay for.
It's an investment in comfort in the sense that you put it on and forget it.
For specific recommendations on the best plus size hiking sports bras, read this.
Didn't find what you were looking for? Use the blue TOP button
on the right to jet back up to the search box.
Again, we're in highly individual territory for this hiking base layer.
I like slide-y fabric such as nylon blends because they play well with my hiking pants when I clamber over logs or stride uphill.
A cotton panel in the crotch is soft and helps draw moisture away.This is important on backpacking trips, to avoid infections.
Don't expect underwear made completely of cotton to dry quickly after a summer shower, not even overnight hanging up in your tent if it's humid.
Also pay attention to the cut of the underwear.
I recommend that you aim for a mid rise cut which covers you enough to prevent chafing, and is slippery enough to move with you during your hike.
Here are two of my current favorites:
As with sports bras, it may take a few tries before you find the magical base layer.
And you may need several types for seasonal and activity level gradations.
For more tips based on what I know works well on the trail, read this.
What about "long underwear"?
Or read my review of prAna leggings, great for yoga class AND the trail.
Tights are also an option for chilly fall and spring hiking if ...
You're looking for easy on/off leg openings to deal with your trail footwear.
You're also wanting midweight (for insulation) yet moisture wicking fabric.
So many questions about the best womens mid layer for hiking!
Here is my pick for a sleeveless summer shirt that draws my sweat away from my back, protects my shoulders and back from the rough materials in my backpack, and looks good for more than a few washings:
For cooler weather, I turn to merino wool with a zip neck so I can regulate my temperature according to the amount of work I'm putting in on the trail.
Smart Wool is a great company that I've been doing business with for years and years. Their products hold up to all of the sweat and abuse I throw at them, and look good, too.
Here's my favorite style.
Don't let the price throw you.
This is an investment piece that you'll wear again and again for spring, fall and winter hiking.
This fabric holds up, I promise you!
For a less pricey option, you might want to consider this type of shirt from UnderArmour.
I wear it when I don't care as much about thermoregulation or durability.
Another important mid layer athletic clothing option is a hiking vest.
In my opinion, vests are the best hiking clothes you can bring along on a hike.
You can read my review of one of my favorites.
Here's another good option because it packs down small yet keeps your core area warm for its modest price point.
I've got my eye on this one, because it has a hood for an extra margin of safety in windy conditions:
Many of my fleece vests are from this company.
I'm not even going to tell you how many colors I own (you'd need both hands)!
They are a bit roomy, so if you want something snug against your shirt, you might want to try a size smaller than usual. It's all about trapping warm air, and ease of movement.
I wear these even when I'm not hiking because I like them so much.
Hiking pants are going to have to stand up to sharp rocks, mud and sometimes blood, gritty and dusty trails and so much more.
It's important that your pants have enough room in the thigh and knee to accommodate uphill and downhill strides, which are of different lengths.
They need to have pockets to hold lip balm, hard candy, eye drops and whatever other little detritus you carry along on your hikes.
And they shouldn't be baggy or droopy.
I've had good luck with these pants.
|Columbia Saturday Trail Convertible Pants - Women's | REI Co-op||
The zipoff option may not win fashion awards, but certainly has saved me when the temperature swings wildly or the bugs get bad.
I like my hiking pants to be a bit roomy, so I can tuck in a shirt or wear my long underwear simultaneously.
This company really pays attention to women's fit, and I have a lot of Columbia pieces in my hiking clothing closet for that reason.
Here's another option to consider for women's hiking pants, although they're not for everyone.
And if you're hunting for womens plus size hiking pants, you'll find these ideas helpful.
Sometimes you need less fabric between you and the trail.
And that's when you need to find the very best womens hiking shorts on the market.
These ideas will help you achieve thermoregulation as well as all of the other functions a great pair of hiking shorts will accomplish for you.
Didn't find what you were looking for? Use the blue TOP button
on the right to jet back up to the search box.
Finally we come to the outer layer of your hiking clothing layering system.
Go here to read about rain gear features you should consider.
Now that you're fully informed, this is where you need to be smart about your spending. You only have so much in your budget for high quality athletic clothing for women, but ask yourself:
How much is staying warm and dry worth to you?
If you are a casual hiker and don't anticipate having to stay out in the elements day after day, choose a low to mid range set of rain/wind gear.
But if you know that you'll be miles and miles into the backcountry and need protection from Mother Nature as you hike or explore, please consider raingear as a necessary investment.
I've had Arcteryx gear for several seasons now, and I'm never going back.
This is the jacket I rely on: Beta LT from Arcteryx. Note that it's more of a shell, not a heavy or thick rain jacket.
I chose it on purpose for its ability to keep the layers beneath it dry, and my torso warm and dry.
I don't like tight or heavy jackets, preferring to keep a high degree of mobility.
So I wear a sports bra, long sleeve underwear shirt, fleece shirt and a down or fleece vest under this jacket.
See the versatility? I can thermoregulate as the weather changes.
This jacket holds up season after season, packs down small when I don't need it, has a hood that I can use or fold into the collar, and believe it or not, is on the low end of the price spectrum for this amazing brand.
If you want more protection, you can take a look at their other styles and find exactly what you need for the type of hiking you do.
You're very fortunate to have all of these choice in athletic clothing for women. There wasn't always such a wealth of options! In fact, I borrowed outdoor clothing from my dad when I first started.
If you just can't bring yourself to invest in this type of jacket, here's a good starter option from a very reputable company. And it gets great reviews!
I'm something of an expert on the evolution of athletic clothing for women in the rain gear department, given my long years of trail time!
So here is what I recommend:
As with all pants, in a quality pair of hiking rain pants you want
Invest in a durable pair of pants regardless of where you're hiking, something along the lines of this pair:
Nothing says security and comfort more than dry pants that protect your leg muscles from cramping, abrasion and cold wind.
You should carry 2 pairs of pants if you're on a backpacking trip, unless weight is of the utmost importance.
Again, your pants protect you from the elements, poisonous plants and insects, and abrasions when sitting on a rock pile.
Not to mention the weather.
Choose athletic clothing for women wisely!
Hey, not a bad idea!
Put some of these examples of athletic clothing for women on your birthday and holiday wish list.
Athletic clothing for women can make your head hurt if you don't know how to approach making a good decision for your style of hiking.
Email me if you have any questions about the brands I recommended. As I've mentioned, I've been around the block a time or two with all of them, and know they'll work for you.
But let me know if you need more details, I'd be happy to answer all of your women's hiking clothing questions.
Or zero in on the best hiking clothes for your plans.
We can chat about athletic clothing for women, or anything else on your mind about hiking.
Before you go, a few more resources for you in your search for the best athletic clothing for women who hike:
Athletic Clothing For Women
Purchasing any of this athletic clothing for women using the above links will result in a small, happy miracle: Hiking For Her will receive a small amount of money to continue running this website, and you will pay nothing extra.
Thanks for using my carefully selected links, it helps keep the hiking tips flowing like a mountain stream in high summer!
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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