Fall Hiking
Clothing And Gear Guide
For Female Hikers

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

Use this fall hiking clothing and gear guide to extend your customary hiking season by a month or two.

The guide lays out how to choose the best hiking clothing and trustworthy hiking gear so you stay warm, dry and comfortable through the changing autumn weather.

And note this small secret:

  • It can also be used for tackling spring time trails, or for three season car camping. Keep it handy!
Use Hiking For Her's fall hiking clothing and gear guide to get ready for fabulous hikes in cool weather. #hike #hiking #hikinggear #gearguide #hikingclothing

Here's the scoop
right up front

You need this fall hiking clothing and gear guide because:

  • Dressing in layers guarantees optimal comfort during fall hiking, but you might need a few hints on how to choose the best pieces for your layering system.
  • Adding a few things for comfort and safety to your ten essentials list is easy - without adding a lot of weight to your backpack (or breaking your budget).
  • Trail footwear that served you well on warm, dry summer days? Reconsider it to preserve your safety and comfort on wet, muddy autumn trails.

Hiking For Her is a proud affiliate of REI Co-op, meaning the images on this page take you to their hiking clothing and gear.

  • You pay nothing extra when you purchase using the links.
  • Hiking For Her receives a small commission.

A note about sizing

If you'd prefer some fall hiking clothing recommendations which focus on extended sizes, read this:

  • Top Extended Size Layering Pieces For Fall (coming soon)

Now let's get you geared up

for some great fall hiking!

Fall hiking clothing
and gear guide:
the art of dressing in layers

Sure, you can grab a hoodie from your workout gym bag, or dig through the house clothes pile to snag an extra shirt before you head out to the trail head.

But a smart hiker facing cool weather trails (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.

Your base layer should be
moisture wicking

Don't include your sports bra and underwear in what hikers call your base layer.

  • Maybe those are the sub basement layer??

Instead, think about what goes against your skin, on top of your undergarments.

You want it to feel good, but work hard for you as you work up a sweat.

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.

This REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Crew Top is a great choice:

  • Sizes XS - XL
  • Soft against your skin
  • Moisture wicking and fast drying polyester
  • Easy to move in, thanks to flat seams, raglan sleeves, and side gussets (extra fabric in armpit areas for active arms & shoulders)
  • Long enough in back to provide an anti-chafing barrier to your backpack's hip belt
  • Seven color choices!

Sizing tip:

This shirt is meant to fit your form. If you like a looser base layer as this woman does, order one size up.

And if you like a bit of hand protection on a chilly morning, here's a top base layer which gives you all of the above features AND thumb loops:

  • Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew Neck Base Layer

Your middle layers should vent sweat and heat away from your body

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 from your body heat trapped in your hiking clothes.

Either way, here's the solution:

Choose fall hiking clothing that allows you to uncover and cover as many times as needed during one hike.

A versatile choice for a midlayer to layer over your base layer long sleeve shirt is a zippered hiking vest.

  • Read the trail logic here

You can go two different ways with vests:

This lightweight hooded vest performs well in damp conditions, thanks to ripstop nylon and a durable water repellent (DWR) finish.

Full length front zipper for thermoregulation

Hood zips down into the collar so you can get it out of the way when you don't need it.

  • REI Co-op Active Pursuits Women's Vest, sizes XS - XL

Trail tip:

This vest can double as a warm cushion & moisture barrier  on top of a wet backpack when you sit down for a snack.

Your second vest option: do what the birds do and harness the power of down.

This REI Co-op Women's Down Vest weighs just a hair past 6 ounces!!

And 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

Word of warning: lovely hiking vests like this one may begin to accumulate in your gear locker.

  • It's okay, it happens to us all eventually.

Heading into really cool, damp
hiking weather?

Chances are all of the hiking 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 mid layers.

REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights:

  • Sizes XS - XL
  • Moisture wicking, quick dry polyester
  • But don't fear odor build up; the fabric has a mineral-based LAVA finish
  • Although fitted, the flat seams, easy moving waistband and crotch gusset give you plenty of room to hike
  • Ankle coverage, so these play well with hiking socks: under or over, your choice

If you tend to feel miserably cold on the trail when others do not, take a look at these thicker tights:

REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Tights:

  • Midweight gives you a bit more fabric than above, and therefore warmer legs and hips
  • If the environs (or you!) warm up, peel these off quickly from beneath your hiking skirt

Trail tip:

Intrigued by the idea of striding down the trail in a skirt?

Not into tights?

Some female hikers find tights too thin to do much good in terms of trapping body heat.

And sometimes too see through (revealing) to be suitable for the trail.

Think leggings!

In particular, these ROYAL Step Up 7/8 Leggings available at REI Co-op, for lots of reasons!

  • Waistband is wide to eliminate chafing from your backpack waist belt
  • Double layer crotch gusset gives you freedom of movement when bending or squatting
  • Made from polyester fabric using recycled PET bottles, so you can feel good about wearing them, plus Spandex to combat bagginess
  • If you're a hiker who braves trail blow downs or rock scrambles to get where you're going, you'll love the double layered knees

Or read my review of prAna Pillar 7/8 leggings!

Care tip:

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, too.

  • Baggy leggings are not a good trail fashion statement
  • Plus, annoying!

Head and hand

Never underestimate the value of a warm hat and weatherproof gloves 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.

  • Small investment of money yields a large payoff for your comfort and safety
  • Smart hiking: it's the Hiking For Her way :)

Here are two good lightweight hiking hats to stash in your backpack:

REI Co-op Insulated Waterproof Hat features a brim to keep rays  or raindrops out of your eyes plus flaps to keep your ears cozy

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!

Hiking gloves come in an entire universe of choices.

Let's make this easy on you.

Here's the pair just right for this fall hiking clothing and gear guide: REI Co-op Wind Pro Fleece Glove.

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!! You know why you need that ;)

Outer layers for fall hiking
perform 3 major jobs

Your jacket and pants are your outer layers.

These items of outdoor clothing have 3 big jobs:

  • provide ventilation options, similar to mid layers
  • protect your skin from moisture and temperature changes
  • provide room for all of your other layers, so your movements are not restricted

You may feel overwhelmed by all of the choices you face.

That's why this fall hiking clothing and gear guide includes recommendations for you!

Look for coziness

You've gotta love fleece for its ability to insulate your body while keeping moisture and wind at bay.

This REI Co-op Women's Fleece Jacket is super affordable, and 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.

  • Hip length is the right length for wearing under your backpack

Also look for venting options

in a hiking jacket

In a jacket, look for chest vents (diagonal small zippers you can open and close as needed) and 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:

REI Co-op Rainier Women's Rain Jacket:

  • Jacket is rated windproof to wind speeds up to 60mph (!!)
  • Durable water repellent (DWR) finish gives you moderate rain protection
  • Pit Zips!! We love pit zips!!
  • Sizes XS - 3X and lots of color options

Trail tips:

  • Adjust the drawcord hem and cuffs for additional ventilation or weather protection
  • Stow the hood in the neckline when not needed

What about pants?

You want moisture repellent pants as an outer layer for fall hikes, for so many reasons:

  • early morning or late afternoon dew laden vegetation along the trail
  • unexpected rain showers
  • creek crossings that don't go as planned
  • sitting on wet logs or damp rocks during lunch

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's a pair to love:

REI Co-op Classic Sahara Convertible Pants for women in sizes XXS - 16, available in petite lengths too

Relaxed fit makes striding down a trail wearing leggings or tights underneath joyful rather than binding

Zippers on lower legs make boot removal and sock adjustments easy

Color coded zippers remove the guesswork when you take off the legs

Trail tip:

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.

Do I really need rain pants?

Over the five decades I've been hiking, my answer has evolved to an emphatic YES, you do need rain pants in your backpack if you're on a fall hike and the trail head is more than a mile away from your destination.

Here's what I carry in my backpack, year round:

REI Co-op Talusphere Pants:

  • Available in petite, tall and regular lengths
  • Full length leg zips for easy on and off over boots, and for ventilation options galore
  • 2.5 layer waterproofing but no stiffness or crinkly noises when you walk
  • Roomy, to easily accommodate all of those layers mentioned above

Read more in my REI Talusphere rain pants review

Fall hiking clothing
and gear guide:
let's get to the gear!

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.

  • Just in case
  • Just because
  • Just 'cause I want you to be safe (the real reason)

That's why they're included in your fall hiking clothing and gear guide!

Fast emergency shelter

A lightweight tarp can be used to sit on when there are no dry options but someone has to rest.

You can pitch it overhead for a rain shelter or wind block when someone is injured or ill on the trail.

And a thin, almost weightless space blanket (shiny reflective material) can trap precious body heat when you have to spend the night out of doors.

Be the smartest hiker on the trail:

  • Carry protection against elements + warmth for less than $20 US, with an all-weather blanket like this one.
  • 12 ounces
  • 7 X 5 feet footprint
  • Layers of polyethylene film, aluminum and Astrolar reinforcing fabric for durability
  • Reflects lots of body heat back to you
  • Grommets for pitching overhead or staking to ground
  • Bright color for instant visibility to Search & Rescue

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!

Trail tip:

If you hike with a trail buddy, human or canine, it's neighborly to offer them a dry place to sit, too.

Illumination options

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).

  • This Black Diamond Astro Headlamp is fit for purpose
  • A small, lightweight LED flashlight can also earn a spot in your backpack if it's as nice as this Fenix E12 model

Fast hot water

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.

Or stash a bottle for when you return hours later, cold and damp and achy!

Available in a galaxy of colors, and three different volumes:

  • 12 oz
  • 16 oz
  • A big 20 ounces for sharing your favorite hot trail beverage

More gear options in our
fall hiking clothing
and gear guide

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?

  • You can re-purpose them for car camping, spring hiking, and travel plans.

Moisture proof, insulated sit spot

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.

REI Co-op Flash Sit Pad

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:

Take this gear with you when you travel or car camp, to customize your lumbar support and cushioning.

  • Can be used as a pillow, too

Weatherproof day hike backpack
for women hikers

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

  • Removable waist strap so you can use it for carry on when you travel
  • Woman specific fit
  • Small volume, just right for hikes during the short fall season daylight hours

Fall hiking clothing
and gear guide:
tips on footwear

If you're a hiker who prefers the least amount of weight possible on your feet, the mud puddles and slick rocks of 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.

And low cut boots with sketchy tread aren't going to stand up to full blown rain storms.

  • Or the stealthy mud puddles awaiting your unsuspecting feet

Instead, consider these hiking footwear choices which have earned a spot in our fall hiking clothing and gear guide:

Merrell Women's Moab 2 Mid WP Hiking Boots:

  • Available in wide and regular widths
  • Ankle height to keep out the mud puddles
  • Affordable price point if you're just getting started with fall hiking footwear

Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Women's Boots:

  • Higher price point but more ankle coverage and great support
  • Waterproof liners and water repellent uppers combine to keep your feet dry on fall hiking trails without a lot of weight on your feet

Fall hiking clothing and gear guide:
 all wrapped up

Which is simply a way to say that the information and trustworthy recommendations in this fall hiking clothing and gear guide hand you a neat and tidy roadmap for safe, happy fall hiking.

  • Also makes a handy gift guide when your loved ones ask how to support your fall (or anytime) hiking and camping habits ;)

If you'll be extending your hiking season into truly cold weather, with increased levels of risk, you'll need these detailed tips as well:

Home page > Best Hiking Tips >

Fall Hiking Clothing And Gear Guide

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