by Diane Spicer
If you're reading this fall hiking clothing and gear guide, it must be getting close to October in the Northern hemisphere!
You're in the right place.
These tips will help you choose the best hiking clothes and trustworthy hiking gear so you stay warm, dry and comfortable on day hikes and backpacking trips through the changing autumn weather.
There are plenty of hiking opportunities left on autumn trails, and guess what!
You might have all of the glory (mostly) to yourself, as people's thoughts turn to football, baking, and pumpkin spice everything.
I urge you to extend your summer hiking season by a month or two with this updated-for-2019 cool weather guide for women's outdoor clothing and gear.
More ways to use this guide:
Keep it handy!
This guide takes you through both components of safe fall hiking.
Outdoor clothing for chilly weather:
Hiking gear for safe fall hiking:
Maybe you should bookmark this page and come back several times. Bring a pumpkin spice latte ;)
It's going to take awhile to cover all of the many ways you can keep yourself warm, dry and smiling on a chilly, damp hiking trail.
But in reality, you need this fall hiking clothing and gear guide for only three reasons:
Hiking For Her is a proud affiliate of REI Co-op, meaning the links and images on this page take you to their hiking clothing and gear.
They've been in the outdoor clothing and gear biz for a long time, and I trust them to deliver the quality goods for myself, and for you.
If you'd like fall hiking clothing recommendations which focus on plus sizes for women hikers, read this:
Sure, you can grab a midweight hoodie from your workout gym bag.
Or dig through the clothes pile on that chair next to your bed (just me?) to snag an extra long sleeve shirt before you head out to the trail.
But a smart hiker facing cool, unpredictable weather (that's you!) makes very deliberate choices about fabric, weight and design in order to maximize the chances of a safe, enjoyable hike.
Let's start with the basics: your best base layer choices.
Instead, think about what nestles right on your skin, on top of your trail worthy undergarments.
You want that layer to feel good, but it must work hard for you as you work up a sweat in cool temperatures.
So a long sleeve top with a relaxed neckline is an ideal choice for your moisture wicking base layer, if it's made of the right material.
Here's another great baselayer choice:
Wick moisture and regulate your temperature on fall hikes, and then re-purpose the shirt as a single layer for summer backpacking mornings and evenings:
Fall hiking weather can be tricky.
A day can start out dry and fairly warm, and then turn on the water spigot.
Or the opposite scenario can play out: you dress appropriately for a cool rainy day but half way through the hike you're cooking under bright sunshine from your body heat trapped in your hiking clothes.
Either way, here's the solution to being sweaty but wanting to stay warm:
A versatile choice for a midlayer to layer over your long sleeve shirt base layer is a zippered hiking vest.
You can go a few different ways with vests.
Your first smart move would be to invest in a super lightweight but insulating down vest, like this high quality one from a trusted company:
Because it will serve you well year round, and ride along with a small, light footprint in the bottom of your backpack when not needed.
It is a delightful mid layer on chilly trails. You can literally feel your body heat being recirculated back to your torso!
And if the day warms a bit and the wind kicks up (a likely fall scenario), it's a great windproof outer layer with roomy pockets.
Your second vest option for torso warming is also pretty spiffy.
This REI Co-op Women's Down Vest weighs just a hair past 6 ounces!! It packs into its own pocket, for easy stowing in your backpack.
The tall, breeze repelling collar plus soft fabric against your skin treats your chin and neck right.
Chances are, all of that vigorous exercise will work up enough body heat to keep you comfortable, but some women end up shivering despite the rigors of the trail.
If this sounds like you, heed this advice:
A pair of leggings or tights as a base layer beneath your pants will keep your legs cozy - but give you plenty of flexibility and freedom of movement.
You can also sleep in a clean pair of these handy leg coverings if you're on an overnight or longer backpacking trip.
Take a look at some viable options for fall hiking layers.
A pair of Mountain Hardwear Tanderra tights give you something a little extra along with comfort and insulation: woven panels in the seat and knees. So no worries about sitting on abrasive rocks!
Keep your leggings and tights from wearing out too quickly by line drying them.
The heat of the dryer will encourage them to lose their shape.
Are you always the coldest one on the trail?
You need thicker tights, like these.
Read my review of prAna Pillar 7/8 leggings.
Or stride down the trail in a long skirt.
Never underestimate the value of a warm hat for your safety and well being on fall hikes.
This tip is so important that you might want to add these nearly weightless but priceless items to your hiking ten essentials, and carry them year round.
Here are two good lightweight hiking hats to stash in your backpack.
A generous brim will keep rays or raindrops out of your eyes, plus flaps to keep your ears cozy.
Don't like the look of a hat like this? You'll forget about looks and pull this one on quickly when the wind kicks up!
Really don't like the look of it?
How about this one?
This REI Co-op Fleece Beanie is a close fitting head cover to keep your body heat locked down.
Too cute to use it just for trail days!
And so lightweight that you'll forget it's in your backpack after a long, hot summer - but dig for it anyway when fall drizzle greets you.
Cold hands are a miserable reality on some fall hikes, especially when you're trying to grip your trekking poles.
So carry at least one pair of weatherproof gloves with you on fall hiking trails.
Here's the bad news:
Hiking gloves come in an entire universe of choices.
So let's make this easy on you.
Here's the pair that earns a place in this fall hiking clothing and gear guide: REI Co-op Wind Pro Fleece Gloves.
Why these gloves?
Palms are synthetic suede, which bends with each hand movement as you grip trekking poles - and stands up to abrasions, too.
Wind resistant, so pull these out when you're facing gusts.
Built in nose wipe!! Just in case ;)
Now it's time to get serious about repelling wind and rain from your body in this fall hiking clothing and gear guide.
Your jacket and pants are your outer layers.
These items of outdoor clothing have 3 duties:
You may feel overwhelmed by all of the choices you face.
That's why this fall hiking clothing and gear guide includes recommendations that are trail approved for you!
You've gotta love fleece for its ability to insulate your body while keeping moisture and wind at bay.
This REI Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece Jacket is so handy on (and off) the trail.
Fleece can stand up to moderate amounts of drizzle and still keep you warm, perfect for fall hiking weather.
Or wear this one under your rain shell. Tip: Hip length is the right length for wearing under your backpack.
Look for chest vents (diagonal small zippers you can open and close as needed) and/or pit zips (yup, right where you'd expect from the name).
Inexpensive hiking clothing usually does not have the added feature of venting options, so if you're a beginner hiker doing fall hikes you might have to work with your mid layers to keep yourself temperature regulated.
Or take a look at this REI jacket which delivers a lot of features for full on rain protection without breaking the bank:
You want moisture repellent pants as an outer layer for fall hikes, for so many reasons:
You get the idea!
Water repellency does not mean that all moisture will be kept away from your skin.
Instead, expect the fabric to dry quickly, and to provide some protection against skin chafing if it gets wet.
Here are two pairs to love:
These Columbia Saturday Trail straight leg pants have comfort features like stretchy breathable fabric and gussets for best range of motion in your legs.
They also give you a thermal reflective lining to keep your legs warm.
Not too thick or bulky to pull on a baselayer first!
And the slimmer legs will be easy to cover up and protect with your gaiters on muddy trails.
By the way, that's a great fall hiking tip. Protect your hiking pants from grit, mud and moisture with gaiters.
REI Co-op Classic Sahara Convertible Pants for women in sizes XXS - 16, available in 3 lengths: versatile choice!
Relaxed fit makes striding down a trail wearing leggings or tights underneath joyful rather than binding.
Color coded zippers on lower legs make boot removal and sock adjustments easy.
These are lightweight pants, perfect for dry but cool trails.
Read why I wear them in my review here.
Convertible pants are great for the weeks in between summer and full on fall, when days may still be quite warm but skies can cloud up quickly.
Having pants that convert to shorts, and back again, give you the versatility you need to stay comfortable and protected when the weather forecasters tell you
big fat lies optimistic stories.
Over the five decades I've been hiking, my answer has evolved to an emphatic YES with a caveat:
So let's not mince words: you need rain pants.
Here's what I carry in my backpack, year round:
Read more in my REI Talusphere rain pants review
The hiking Ten Essentials are really clear on what to bring to keep yourself as comfortable as possible while remaining safe on a hike that goes sideways on you.
But consider them the bare essentials.
For less than ideal hiking conditions, or days when the weather forecast is a bit dodgy (which describes fall hiking, doesn't it!), you need to add some things to your pack.
That's why they're included in your fall hiking clothing and gear guide!
And I promise, it won't cost a lot.
A lightweight tarp can be used to sit on when there are no dry options but you need a rest break or a lunch spot.
And a thin, almost weightless space blanket side (shiny reflective material) will trap your precious body heat if you have to spend the night out of doors.
Be the smartest hiker on the trail:
And I'm sure you can see how to use this tarp when car camping, or to provide a protected sitting spot during a picnic at the park.
I carry one in the car, too, because you just never know!
Pair this tarp with a few dollars of sturdy cord like this and you'll be set for creating an emergency shelter that doesn't take up lots of space or weight in your backpack.
If you hike with a trail buddy, human or canine, it's neighborly to offer them a dry place to sit, too. So buy a tarp with that generous 7' X 5' coverage.
It also makes a great floor lining for your backpacking tent, to keep grit controlled at doorways, and to reflect body heat back into your sleeping bag.
Shorter, possibly dim or foggy daylight hours work against you on fall hiking adventures.
Stumbling around on a slippery wet trail in the dark is asking for trouble, in so many ways.
If you have ignored the wisdom of the Ten Essentials, now is the time to add a headlamp to your backpack, and make sure it's got enough battery power (juice).
If you've never gotten really wet and cold on a windy, exposed hiking trail, you might be surprised at how quickly hypothermia can set in.
One way to keep your internal temperature in the ideal range is to consume hot beverages before and during your hike.
A lightweight, fast option to boil water is a JetBoil Flash Java Kit.
Not just for coffee!!
They make it mighty easy to brew up a cup of anything, anywhere along the trail.
If you don't want to fiddle around with fuel, take the easy route to warding off hypothermia:
Fill up a Hydroflask insulated bottle with the hot beverage of your choice before you hit the trail, and enjoy a cuppa before you step away from your vehicle.
Carry one in your backpack and impress your chill(ed) friends.
Stash a bottle for when you return hours later, cold and damp and achy!
Available in a galaxy of colors, and three different volumes:
Read my review here.
You can do even more to up your enjoyment of fall hiking trails.
And the best part about these recommendations conveniently pulled together into your fall hiking clothing and gear guide?
On a fall hike, you will lose body heat through your uncovered head and bare hands, but we've already got you covered with the recommendations above.
You will also lose body heat when sitting on the cold ground, or while perched on a handy but (wait for it) stone cold rock along the trail.
Why not carry this little self inflating cushion, and always know that you'll be comfortable when you sit down on a hike?
Off Trail Tip:
To customize your lumbar support and cushioning, take this pad with you when you travel or car camp, and to sports arenas and outdoor music events.
Short fall days mean less trail time.
But the upside is that you can carry a smaller backpack and still bring the Ten Essentials.
If you don't have a backpack with a rain cover that can stand up to the elements while providing space for your extra clothing and safety equipment, take a look at this beauty: REI Co-op Women's Trail 25 Pack
If you're a hiker who prefers the least amount of weight possible on your feet, the slick rocks on fall hiking trails might change your mind.
Your lightweight, minimalist trail shoes can't be expected to protect your ankles from rock abrasions or spattering mud, either.
And low cut footwear choices aren't going to stand up to full blown rain which turn the trail into a quagmire.
So I suggest that you consider these hiking footwear choices which have earned their spot in our fall hiking clothing and gear guide:
If you've used only one pair of hiking socks through the summer season, consider a liner pair as an extra layer of insulation on your less-than-padded feet.
Cold feet slow you down and make you miserable, so add a thicker pair of outer socks, too.
Here's a combo I use for fall hiking:
Want to get really serious about dry feet on a soggy trail?
Use waterproof socks, like these Sealskinz mid length socks:
The trustworthy recommendations and tips in this fall hiking clothing and gear guide hand you a neat and tidy trail map for safe, happy fall hiking.
This season earned its name because trail traffic will fall off to almost nothing as the weeks roll along.
So get out there and enjoy the silence and serenity.
But wear the best fall hiking clothes, and bulk up your Ten Essentials a bit, with the recommendations in this Fall Hiking Guide.
If you plan to extend your autumn hiking season into truly cold weather, with its increased levels of risk, you'll need these detailed tips for safety and comfort:
Fall Hiking Clothing And Gear Guide
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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