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Best Hiking Clothing
For Women:
How To Choose What Works

by Diane Spicer

Wondering how to choose the best hiking clothing for your hiking style? Use these tips for finding the best outdoor clothing for women hikers. #hiking #backpacking #hikinglayering #hikingclothes

The best womens hiking clothing?

That depends.

There are cute hiking clothes and fun hiking outfits.

And there are good hiking clothes.

  • But can they be one and the same thing?

Let's find out, using this hiking clothes guide.

Because if you're reading this, you want to know what to wear to go hiking.

Clothing essentials
to consider before shopping

Hiking clothes for women are valuable pieces of hiking gear, keeping you warm (and cool) and protected from UV exposure, trail grit, and/or bugs.

All this, while looking good on the trail!

Putting together a cute outfit for hiking is one motivation for collecting hiking attire.

But please don't overlook how functional each piece of hiking clothing will be for you on the trail.

Let's take a look at recommendations for hiking clothing essentials in each big category of hiking clothes:

  • footwear
  • base layers
  • mid layers
  • outer layers
  • hats & gloves

Choosing the right "cuteness level" is up to you ;)

Looking for extended size
women's hiking clothing?

Try these articles first:

And some of these hiking skirts are available in plus sizing, too.

An aside:
free hiking clothing for you!

Hiking For Her firmly believes in making things easy.

What could be easier than free hiking clothing that is durable, moisture wicking, and designed for women!

  • Past giveaways have included bandannas, hiking socks, trail dresses and hiking layering systems.

Check the HFH giveaways each month, and you might see a chance to enter to win some fabulous active wear that transitions easily onto the trail, and off again!

Best hiking clothing -
let's get started on your
hiking wardrobe

Now let's step through your best hiking clothing choices, and show you a few worthy options for hiking attire.

  • Click on the photos for more info on what you need to wear to go hiking.
  • If you purchase clothing through the links on this page you pay nothing extra, while supporting the Hiking For Her mission to put trustworthy free hiking tips into your hands.

Let's begin with building a rock solid bottom.

Hiking boots
and other trail footwear

Read why I consider boots the most important part of any girl's hiking outfit.

Trail shoes might also be a good choice if you stick to mellow trails.

Just want a quick peek at a waterproof pair of womens hiking boots highly recommended by Hiking For Her?

If you're in a super big hurry to get on the trail, here's what's on my feet for most hikes:

Out of the box comfort, fairly durable soles for less rocky trails, and cushioning for your feet will get you started!

Socks are so important,
please choose wisely

Trail footwear and high quality socks go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Try 2 pairs of hiking socks if you want to avoid blisters: thin liners topped with reinforced toe & heel thick socks.

This rule can be broken if you're wearing lightweight trail shoes or (gasp) sandals.

Why no sandals on the trail?

Don't risk a foot injury that can leave you unable to return to the trail head.

Heads up exception: If you're on a trail with frequent shallow water crossings, lashing a pair of lightweight sandals like these to your backpack will save a lot of frustration.

The best womens
hiking pants

Pants that fit well, look great on the trail, and stand up to the weather are elusive but well worth the effort to locate.

Look for a fit that doesn't create extra fabric to trip you up, but allows for free flowing movements as you bend, twist, and take big steps along the trail.

Reinforced knees and seat are must-haves if you prefer rugged trails, but be prepared to pay extra for this hiking clothing.

Some pants have built in belts, and some sport a variety of pockets (teeny tiny to spacious).

Need womens petite hiking pants?

Not sure how to size up a pair of hiking rain pants?

  • Here is a recent review with my tips.

Information on extended size hiking pants is here.

These are some options from brands in my own hiking clothing closet, with casual and rugged choices in a wide range of sizes:

A brief pants digression in this hiking clothes guide for
"must have" features

If you consider yourself a hiker who enjoys playing in the dirt and isn't afraid of climbing over blown down tree limbs or wading through mud holes, you'll probably like these hiking pants features.

Zip 'er up!

Zippers running from ankles to knees are great, allowing me to pull my pants on or off without removing my boots.

  • Also makes a fast ventilation system if zippers run all the way up to your waist, which is unlikely in a pair of pants unless they are rain pants.

Zippers running horizontally above the knees, to allow a quick conversion into shorts when the day heats up, make great hiking clothing.

  • One caution: always wash the bottom half (the "legs") with the top half, even if you only got the top half dirty.
  • You don't want 2-toned pants, right?

Zipper closures, not buttons. I hate fumbling to get small buttons fastened, especially during cold and/or wet weather.

  • Plastic zippers are quick and easy, durable, and silent.
  • Velcro might also be an option, but it sure isn't quiet.

Fabric tips

Durable fabric is a must. You don't want to replace your pants at the end of each season.

Ripstop nylon is a good choice, for its fast drying ability as well as its habit of standing up to rock abrasions.

NOTE: iron-on patches work okay when it's time to patch a hole, but they tend to fall off after a few runs in the washing machine.

If you're on an extended hiking trip and will be washing them away from home, this can become an issue - unless you LIKE revealing the color of your underwear to your trail buddies.

Rain pants:

Buy them one size larger than your hiking pants, so you can pull them on easily.

Look for a pull string or velcro tabs around the waist, for quick adjustments according to the amount of clothing you're wearing.

All of my hints above about zippers goes for these pants, too.

One more thing: buy a dark color, as it tends to hide dirt and tree sap better.

These black pants will work well.

Hiking skirts

Some women swear by hiking skirts, regardless of the weather or the trail.

If you stick to established trails and are comfortable with adding leggings to your outfit for cool weather, give a hiking skirt a try.

The obvious advantage?

  • Pit stops (pee breaks) are really easy, and if you get good enough, squatting is a thing of the past.

You can pull on a pair of cute tights like these for cool mornings and evenings, too.

Why you need hiking gaiters!

Here's a useful add-on to your list of the best hiking clothing: hiking gaiters.

Full disclosure: I love my gaiters. I think every hiker should have a pair.

Why? Feast your eyes on this list!

  • They keep my pants dry on early summer mornings hiking through long grass heavy with dew.
  • They keep me toasty warm on winter snowshoeing adventures by deflecting the snow I kick up onto the backs of my legs with each step through heavy snow.
  • They preserve my expensive hiking pants while I'm scrambling over rocks or through brush.
  • They make creek crossings a snap - no worries about having wet socks or pants!

They're not an expensive piece of hiking gear, but gaiters can make a big difference in your enjoyment of the trail.

And they come in different lengths, for varying terrain:

What more can I say to convince you that gaiters should go along on your hikes?

I have a very old pair of canvas gaiters (Yes! That's how old I am!!) which have been retired after much angst - they're still functional, aren't they?

  • But they're very heavy.
  • And they took forever to dry out.

My somewhat newer pair (circa 1995) of black nylon gaiters are what I rely upon: they  have a Velcro front opening with a snap at the bottom, and dry fast.

I am hoping and praying that my gaiters NEVER wear out... but when they do, those options above will be in my pack depending on whether I'm facing a sandy, rocky, or snowy trail.

Hiking shorts

OK, back to our list of hiking clothing essentials...

Let's say a few words about the best womens hiking shorts.

Hiking shorts need to be:

  • long enough to scramble up a hillside without flashing the world;
  • loaded with pockets to receive my trail snacks, lip balm, trail treasures (feathers, rocks, pine cones, lichens, whatever);
  • durable enough to stand up to "butt belays" over rocks and roots;
  • fast drying nylon to keep me comfortable in any weather;
  • UPF protective;
  • available in colors that hide trail dirt (dark) or keep me cool (light).

How short do you like your shorts? Lots of options! Just click on the length you like for all the details...

Here are even more trustworthy tips for finding the best womens hiking shorts.

The best womens
hiking shirts

Hiking shirts: lots of options!

A few quick tips:

Always choose quick drying, moisture wicking fabrics which accept spot removers without fading the fabric.

Look for sun protective weaves, with UPF ratings (more info on that here).

Cotton tends to be too heavy, and not good at releasing moisture or odors.

Also, cotton doesn't stand up well to the dozens of washings each year I put my clothing through - it tends to fade and get misshapen.

  • It also hangs on to food spills and stains, outing me as a trail slob.

However, it feels great in hot desert conditions if you know you have clean clothing to change into at the end of the hike.

Sleeve length matters

Long sleeved shirts for cold weather should be able to wick away perspiration without leaving you a soggy mess.

  • No tight cuffs or collars, please - I want my hiking clothing to provide me with full range of motion as I'm scrambling up rocks or snow banks.

Short sleeved shirts are great for spring and fall layering under a jacket.

  • A V or U neck gives you the most room for full head and neck movement on the trail.

But sometimes a versatile shirt can take the place of a short sleeve shirt, giving you an array of hiking clothing options.

This ExOfficio BugsAway shirt has so many nice features:

  • vents on front & back
  • UPF 30 fabric
  • adjustable sleeves
  • hidden zip pocket
  • insect treatment good for up to 70 washes

What about tank tops?

Sure, I use sleeveless shirts in warm weather because I heat up quickly.

But here's a tip: Avoid tank top styles with super narrow straps - these shirts leave you vulnerable to chafing from pack straps.

The examples of trail worthy shirts above will give you an idea of how you can layer these shirts, too:

  • sleeveless top beneath the long sleeve shirt for cool summer mornings is one way to go.

Sports bras for the girls

Some gals don't need to bother with this particular piece of hiking clothing, and can simply pull on a shirt and hit the trail.

And for some of us who are generously endowed, plus size sports bras as a base layer are a must.

If you want to do a little bit of undercover research, try this.

Heads up:

You will have to try on many brands until you find the one with the magical combination of fit, form and function.

  • Once you do, buy several and rotate them through your hiking clothing line up.

Tip: Shelf bras don't always give you the support you might need/want.

  • Factor in how much sweat you'll produce, and you might find nipple chafing a problem in these less sturdy bras.
  • Bonus tip: Don't subject them to the high heat of dryer cycles; line dry to extend life.

So how much support is enough?

Flat, wide trails call for medium support, but anything more rugged, especially if you're carrying a fully loaded backpack, calls for a high level of support for generously endowed female hikers.

I'm a fan of the built-in cup sports bra - definitely more comfortable and supportive if you want to avoid the bounce and the sweaty stuck-together side effect of hard trail work.

Here are a few sports bra options to consider:

More womens
hiking underwear tips

Be methodical about choosing hiking underwear that will play well with your layering system, as well as your skin.

And that means starting at ground zero: panties.

There's no sense in wearing cheap cotton underwear when you're a hiker tackling serious trail.

Why not?

You need high performance underwear, meaning that each pair will wick away your perspiration, dry fast, give you adequate coverage, protect you from chafing, and have enough flexibility to move with you.

Sounds challenging to figure out?

Read these tips about how to choose the best womens hiking underwear.

Hiking jackets
for all seasons

Hiking jackets...

Seriously - can a woman ever have too many hiking jackets in her trail wardrobe??

Some women are crazy about jewelry, I'm crazy about hiking jackets - they're my favorite piece of hiking clothing.

And it's not because I'm vain!

  • Mother Nature forces me into it :)

Rain jackets keep me dry and warm - no hiking hypothermia for me, thank you very much.

So let's start with worst case scenario: a rainy day on the trail.

Choose your rain jacket

To choose a great rain jacket for your outer layer of weather protection, look for breathable fabric that you can keep waterproof in your own washing machine.

Also look for taped seams and zippers that will work easily when your hands are cold.

Fleece jackets keep you dry and toasty when the temperatures dip into the thirties and below.

Note: Fleece maintains some body warmth while wet, but don't rely upon it as rain gear.

  • Instead, be sure your rain jacket fits over your favorite fleece garments.

This is a nice mid-range rain jacket.

It's roomy, technical enough to keep you dry on soggy day hikes, and will stand up to a stretch of rainy weather on a backpacking trip.

The hood will protect your face and neck, eliminating the need for a rain hat under some conditions.

And don't forget about the versatility of fleece vests.

  • They're my favorite mid layer of hiking clothing for snowshoeing, and for starting out on summer trails early in the morning.
  • Make great pillows for a post-lunch nap, too!

Not a fan of fleece?

Use a thin down vest like this one instead.

Let's call out some features:

  • Stylish enough to wear off the trail
  • Insulates you when wet
  • Can be packed down small inside your backpack
  • Also makes a comfy pillow or neck support inside the tent

What's not to love?

Winter jackets
for cold weather hiking

Winter jackets keep you dry AND toasty on chilly fall trails or on a snowshoe hike.

Pick the features that mean the most to you.

Here's where I invest the most money to enjoy:

  • a looser fit so it goes over my layers,
  • several pockets to stow gloves and hats and lip balm,
  • waterproof outer layer and a zip-out inner shell so I can adjust the warmth factor,
  • a detachable hood to be stowed when not needed,
  • cut a bit longer in back so when I sit down on something cold I have an extra layer of insulation,
  • adjustable cuffs (usually velcro - avoid snaps or buttons) so I can get the sleeves over my gloves/mittens.

A word of advice for beginners:

Wait for end-of-season sales if you can, and score a fabulous jacket with all of those bells and whistles.

Otherwise the sticker shock of a warm jacket just might be detrimental to your hiking health budget.

Or make it easy:

  • The photos above take you to (potential) sales prices, along with details on each jacket.

Wind proof jackets -
an important subset

Windproof jackets like these, worn over your layering system, keep you warm while the wind howls.

A few things to note about each:

The fully adjustable hood on this jacket will keep your face, ears and neck well protected.

It's hip length, with a draw cord waist to further protect your body heat.

Here's a different style for day hikes:

A pullover windbreaker is lightweight but able to stop a cold breeze from stealing your body heat.

The kangaroo pocket for hand warming, and the pretty print, are also pluses on this jacket.

Take a close look at this jacket for rugged conditions, or unpredictable weather patterns where warmth and protection can become important in a hurry:

This is a two layer jacket, so it's able to stand up to wind and it also can shed snow if you're wearing it snowshoeing.

It has flaps and guards and gusseted underarm panels to prevent the cold wind from finding your delicate skin.

How about some general tips for your jacket quest?

Look for these important features in your wind proof hiking jacket:

  • ripstop, moisture proof fabric,
  • a kangaroo pouch or deep close-able pocket to store small stuff,
  • a hood that cinches down around your ears and keeps your hat on,
  • an easy on & off style.

Again, I go for a looser fit because I'll be pulling this jacket out of my pack and whipping it on quickly when the wind whips up.

Of course, there will be days when you don't need a jacket at all!

Female hiker sitting on a blue tarp in the snow surrounded by her hiking gearSometimes the less hiking clothing, the better!

More hiking clothing to consider:
an array of hiking hats

Hiking hats: Here's an example of hiking clothing that can let your personality shine through.

So many styles and colors - which is right for you?

Consider 2 things over and beyond your personality:

  • your hairstyle,
  • and your backpack.

A ponytail or bun will make your hat fit funny, unless you can pull the tail out through the back of the hat, or put all of your hair comfortably up on top of your head underneath the hat.

Or you could try a "ponytail headband". You pull your ponytail through a hole in the back, which accomplishes 2 things: warm ears, and a tidy tail.

Here's the one I use:

TrailHeads Ponytail Headband
Female hiker on green hillsHiking clothing needs to fit your body, and the weather conditions.

And a cozy headband to cover your ears on a frigid day on the trail sounds good to me!

I stash one in the top pocket of my backpack, or my jacket pocket, so I can don it or store it as needed.

Choosing the right hats
can be tricky...

Even if you have short hair, a big hat will bump the back of your pack with each and every step - definitely annoying.

  • Possibly even headache inducing!

A baseball cap might do the trick for shading your eyes on a sunny day but be the worst possible choice on a rainy day. Ever had to endure the steady drip of cold rain down your neck?

  • Count yourself lucky if you answered no!

I have many different hats, all chosen after much trial (trail?) and error, to cover the range of weather possibilities:

  • a rain hat with a wide brim (Seattle Sombrero) that cinches down around my chin in windy weather,
  • a snug felt-lined woolen hat with no brim for cold weather but plenty of great ear coverage (handmade in Iceland, a memento of a great trip),
  • an earflap hat for those cold and/or snowy days,
  • a baseball cap with a brim to shield my eyes on sunny days, and
  • a "dork hat" (so named for the way it makes me look) for hot sunny days when I want to shade not just my eyes, but my entire upper body with its wide brim and wicking fabric.

From an admitted hat enthusiast, here are the types of hats you should consider adding to your hiking clothing repertoire:

Versatile bandannas

Bandannas: Another chance to flaunt your personal style as you don your hiking clothing!

These amazing little beauties soak up sweat, they're handy for dunking into ice cold streams to cool you off fast, and they come in an eye popping array of colors and fabrics.

One tiny square of fabric, so many uses!

I never leave home without this time honored functional piece of hiking clothing.

Hiking gloves - why you need
more than one pair!

Gloves: I have yet to find the ideal pair, but I never give up searching through bargain bins.

To see the styles and brands I wear, read this.

  • For snowshoeing, I prefer finger gloves over mittens so that I can quickly get my shoes on and off when it's cold.
  • For hiking on chilly mornings, a thin pair of gloves work great, and in fact I carry 2 pairs to swap out when one pair gets wet.
  • For spring and fall hiking, I have a pair of fleece mittens that fold back (with magnets to hold the mitten part back) to reveal finger gloves underneath.
  • For sunny days when I want to protect my skin from excessive UV exposure, I use these sun gloves!

I also carry a heavy duty pair of mittens for winter snowshoeing expeditions - these are life savers when the wind kicks up and my hands feel like claws around my hiking poles.

This pair of gloves is nice because it won't weigh you down.

Versatile, too: these can be used as liners beneath those heavy duty mittens I mentioned.

  • Remove the bulky mittens to make gear adjustments without compromising hand warmth or dexterity.

These are midweight gloves, for cold and damp conditions.

If you hike with a smartphone for taking photos or GPS navigation, you'll appreciate the touch screen compatibility.

Where to shop for the
best hiking clothing?

So what's a hiker to do when faced with the bewildering array of women's hiking clothing?

However you choose to shop, now you know that there are hiking clothes with special features which you need to pay attention to if you want your trail time to be comfortable.

Because who wants to hike in less than the best hiking clothing?

  • Your adventure apparel should be top notch.

Be brand loyal

I've learned to stick with the brands that deliver the goods, trail mile after trail mile.

If you're just starting to ask the question "what to wear hiking", read this first.

Need some suggestions for beginner hiking gear and clothing?

If you want to cut to the chase and get a glimpse into my "athletic clothing for women" closet space, go here.

  • I name the names I trust, and explain my logic in light of my long experience with these brands.

That should wrap things up!
(I think we've covered it)

Which is a little hint to ask for some of the best hiking clothing for your next birthday or holiday.

If you don't ask, you don't receive, right?

Now that you know which hiking clothes to wear, don't be shy about asking for additions to your hiking attire wardrobe.

For even more hiking gift ideas, read these tips.

And if your gift givers are on a budget, here are some ideas for hiking gear less than $25.

Now here's a little wrap up just for you:

What to wear hiking is a hot topic with women hikers. Tips from Hiking For Her will get you on the trail in style and comfort. #whattowearhiking #hiking #backpacking #hikingclothes #outdoorclothing

Where to go next?

Try these tips on the best women's athletic clothing to round out this hiking clothes guide.

Home page > Best Hiking Tips >

Women's Best Hiking Clothing

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