by Diane Spicer
What is the best hiking clothing for women hikers?
It depends on your point of view.
You can regard its main job as valuable pieces of hiking gear to protect you from all this:
Gettin' it done, as serious hiking gear.
While making you look good on the trail, that is.
Women hikers want cute hiking clothes and fun hiking outfits no matter what we're doing:
So the second big job of hiking clothing is to satisfy our curiosity about what to wear on a hike and still look cute as we break a sweat.
Let's use this comprehensive Hiking For Her outdoor clothes guide to find out! It will help you decide how to dress for hiking in all seasons.
By the end of the guide, you'll have a detailed answer to the question "What clothes should I wear for hiking?" plus some solid recommendations for the best hiking clothing for women hikers.
Let's work our way through each big category of hiking attire.
That's the only way to cover all the hiking clothing essentials a female hiker needs.
Will this guide include fashionable hiking clothes?
I'll let you be the judge of that.
My main purpose here is to share exactly what I know works and looks good, based on decades of trail time.
Because that's how trail sisters roll! All the functional + cute details, all on one page.
Click on these links to go right to that section of the hiking clothing guide.
Fair warning: I did the leg work, but choosing the right "cuteness level" for your hiking clothes is up to you ;)
Unfortunately, not every outdoor clothing manufacturer offers a wide range of sizing.
Some of the hiking clothes on this page will feature extended size options, others won't.
To be complete, these articles are tailor made for you (and I bet you didn't miss that little clothing pun)!
And there are some trailworthy and cute hiking skirts available, too.
At REI Co-op, you can see all the plus size hiking clothing right here.
Now let's get into the details!
It's fitting that we start at rock bottom, because your feet are your interface with Mother Earth as you hike.
Here's a thorough explanation of why boots are the most important part of any girl's hiking outfit.
These details on trail shoes help you decide if you even need to hike in sturdy hiking boots!
Here's a quick peek at a waterproof pair of women's hiking boots recommended by Hiking For Her.
These KEEN Targhee III Mid boots are comfortable right out of the box. They feature durable soles for less rocky trails. And pamper your feet with cushioning to get you started in comfort!
And these Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero hiking shoes are a fave for lots of reasons:
breathability, stability, and great grip on dicey roots and rocks.
Can you see the difference between these two types of footwear for hikers?
Boots give ankle support along with more cushioning for arches. Trail shoes give you a lighter footprint and more breathing room, in a literal sense!
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. Here's how:
Pull on thin liners topped with reinforced toe & heel thicker technical hiking socks.
Here's a good combo:
You can break this rule if you're wearing lightweight trail shoes or (gasp) sandals.
Why are hiking sandals frowned upon?
Don't risk a foot injury that can leave you unable to return to the trail head.
Take a deep dive into how to buy hiking socks for all type of hiking here.
If you're on a trail with frequent shallow water crossings, do this:
Lash a pair of lightweight sandals like these Teva Tirra sandals to your backpack. This smart move will save a lot of frustration.
You can always go with the workhorse of durable water shoes, like classic crocs. Note the huge drainage holes.
But I thought we were going for cute ;)
Now that we have firm footing as women hikers, let's get dressed from the skin outward!
Be methodical about choosing hiking underwear.
It needs to play well with your layering system, as well as feel good against your skin.
And that means starting at ground zero: hiking panties that move with you.
There's no sense in wearing cheap cotton underwear. This goes double when you're a hiker tackling serious trail.
You need high performance underwear. Each pair must do these big jobs, over and over again:
Cotton doesn't do all that for you.
Here are some great choices to keep you a happy hiker:
Sizes XS - XXL, and lots of colors in these ExOfficio Give-N-Go Bikini Briefs that wash and wear like a dream.
This hipster style covers the area where your backpack hip belt hits. That's important for protection against chafing, especially as a backpacker.
Some gals don't need to bother with this particular piece of hiking clothing. They can pull on a shirt and hit the trail, no bounce involved.
And for some of us with generous endowment, plus size sports bras as a base layer are a must.
It's tiring to bounce with every step.
And it leads to fatigue with chest and back muscles.
If you want to do a little bit of undercover research to size up your perfect bra for hiking, I recommend Title Nine.
You will have to try on many brands until you find the one with the magical combination of fit, form and function.
Tip: Shelf bras don't always give you the support you might need/want.
It depends on your trail plans.
Flat, wide trails call for medium support.
Anything more rugged,
especially if you're carrying a loaded backpack? That calls for a high
level of support, most important if you have large breasts.
I'm a fan of the built-in cup sports bra. They are more comfortable and supportive. Avoid the yuck factor of the sweaty stuck-together side effect of hard trail work.
Here are a few sports bra options that I know from experience work well on the trail.
Take a look at the easy-on back design and breathability make this Brooks Juno sports bra.
It's a good choice for backpacking.
And the adjustable front straps make it even better.
The wide range of sizing in this Fiona bra from Brooks make it a good bet that you will find your best fit: 30AB up to 38CD-40C.
You'll enjoy the ability to adjust it both front and back.
Here's a Brooks Uplift Crossback bra for cup sizes C & D. It features contoured cups to hold you in place. You can preserve your modesty in sweat soaked shirts, hurrah!
If you're going for encapsulation (yes, that's a real term, dear hiker), this is the bra for you.
Don't subject your hiking sports bras to the high heat of dryer cycles; line dry to extend their life.
To be even more careful, hand wash at home as you would on a backpacking trip.
Or put your sports bras in a "delicates" bag and use that setting on the washer.
Pants that fit well, look great on the trail, and stand up to the weather are elusive but well worth the effort to locate.
They're a solid foundation for day hike attire as well as backpacking.
Look for a fit that doesn't create extra fabric to trip you up, but
allows for free flowing movements. You want full range of motion as you bend, twist, and take big steps
along the trail.
These hiking pants features are a must:
Reinforced knees and seat are must-haves if you prefer rugged trails. But you will have to pay a bit extra for this double layered hiking clothing.
Some pants have built in belts, and some sport a variety of pockets (teeny tiny to spacious).
Need women's petite hiking pants?
Not sure how to size up a pair of hiking rain pants?
Information on extended size hiking pants is here.
These are some options from brands in my own hiking clothing closet. You can select from casual to rugged choices in a wide range of sizes:
Convertible pants may not be the cutest thing on the trail, but boy! are they versatile for variable weather conditions.
These REI Saharas perform well on any trail. They are available in petite, regular and plus sizes, with many color choices.
And what's not to love about these features?
Fast drying stretchy and lightweight nylon fabric, check.
Color coded leg zippers for fast on and off, and reinforced cuff backs to ward off abrasion, check.
Do you hike and backpack through a lot of abrasive terrain or vegetation?
Do you need a high performance moisture wicking fabric to ward off rain, snow and ice?
These REI Screeline pants will give you durability as well as mobility.
And the roll up pants legs give you versatility.
Be sure to protect these pants with hiking gaiters (details below).
You can skip down to the next section of this hiking clothing guide, for a look at shorts.
Or you can consider what to keep in mind when you shop for the best hiking pants like the ones I've shared above
Here are the essential features of the best hiking pants.
Zippers are a hiking woman's friend, in all of their many configurations. Let's call them out:
Zippers running horizontally above the knees make versatile hiking clothing that lightens the load on a backpacking trip.
They allow a quick conversion into shorts when the day heats up,
Zipper closures, not buttons, for pockets and waistband. It's no fun fumbling to get small buttons fastened, especially during cold and/or wet weather.
Zippers running from ankles to knees are great for rain pants. They allow you to pull pants on or off fast, without removing boots.
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, you will need to wash them while away from a washing machine. Hand washing also removes patches, which can become a modesty issue. Unless you LIKE revealing the color of your underwear to your trail buddies.
Buy them one size larger than your hiking pants, so you can pull them on fast and easy.
Look for a pull string or velcro tabs around the waist. These make it easy for quick adjustments to the amount of clothing (layers) you're wearing.
Whenever possible, choose rain pants with zippers that run the full length of your legs. (See above zipper discussion)
One more thing: buy a dark color, as it tends to hide dirt and tree sap better.
These black rain pants will work well on the trail.
REI Talusphere pants are full zip.
Great news: they are available in both petite and regular lengths.
Lightweight but durable fabric will keep these rain pants in your hiking clothing line up for a long time.
They're easy to pull on, and keep legs warm for snowshoeing as well as cool rainy hikes.
More tips on choosing the best rain gear, including jackets, here.
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're not an expensive piece of hiking gear, that's the truth.
But an investment in a good pair of gaiters will 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?
Whenever you're facing a sandy, rocky, or snowy trail, dig them out of your backpack and you're all set!
And they weigh nothing inside your backpack.
The difference between hiking leggings and hiking tights is pretty much in the eye of the beholder.
Just be sure they're well designed. You want freedom of leg movement and a waistband that won't sag or bag as you hike through your day.
Try these technical legging on your next hike:
Sizes XXS - XL and lots of stretch in these Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights.
But take a close look at the strategic reinforcement on these hiking leggings. They'll last a long time for your investment!
The adjustable waist prevents them from sagging, too. And that feature is handy for that time of the month, right?
If you're on a hiking clothing budget, be sure to check REI for sales on leggings and tights for hikers here. You can score some serious deals!
Everything just noted above for leggings applies here as well.
You want well designed yoga pants if you're going to be taking them out of a yoga studio.
Read my review of a pair of prAna yoga pants. I wear them for yoga class as well as hiking, and find them suitable for moderate hiking plans in mild weather.
They also go nicely under rain pants and act as a thin base layer when temperatures dip.
Now it's time to get short with you.
OK, back to our list of hiking clothing essentials...
Let's say a few words about the best women's hiking shorts. They are a solid choice for what to wear when hiking in hot weather.
The best hiking shorts are:
How short do you like your shorts?
Lots of options!
These REI Trailsmith shorts are great for warm and hot weather hikes because of the short inseam (4.5 inches), allowing you to vent body heat quickly.
They have a bit of stretch, and lots of pockets for snacks and small trail gear.
Is that too much leg exposure for the mosquitoes and spiny branches you'll encounter on your hike?
These shorts have a 9 inch inseam, covering more thigh area.
Same durable, lightweight and stretchy fabric as those Sahara pants above.
Sizes 2 - 16, with 3 color choices
Don't forget those zip off hiking pants you looked at just a moment ago.
Before you move on, here are even more trustworthy tips for finding the best womens hiking shorts.
And you can read a HFH review of some Title Nine hiking shorts by Kuhl, paired with a great tank top, right here.
Some women swear by hiking skirts, regardless of the weather or the trail. That link takes you to some testimonials.
It's easy to think of a hiking skirt on a hot summer trail: bare legs mean more ventilation.
Another obvious advantage?
Do you stick to established trails? Are you comfortable with adding leggings to your hiking outfit for cool weather?
You can take a hiking skirt for a spin on more than just summer trails.
Take a peek at all of the skirts for women hikers available at REI here.
Hiking shirts: lots of options!
Before we get into recommendations, a few quick tips:
Always choose quick drying, moisture wicking fabrics.
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 a hiker puts trail clothing through. Cotton shirts tend to fade and get misshapen.
However, it feels great in hot desert conditions. So don't rule it out completely.
Long sleeved shirts for cold weather? They should be able to wick away perspiration without leaving you a soggy mess.
Short sleeved shirts are great for spring and fall layering under a jacket.
This Patagonia Cool Trail shirt is made of capilene. Perfect for temperature regulation, and moisture wicking.
Comfortable, nice easy cut, and pretty colors, too.
But sometimes a versatile long sleeve shirt can take the place of a short sleeve shirt. This gives you an array of hiking clothing options but doesn't add bulk to your pack.
This ExOfficio BugsAway shirt has so many nice features:
Sure, I use sleeveless shirts ("tank tops") in warm weather because I heat up fast.
But here's a tip:
Avoid tank top styles with super narrow straps. These shirts leave you vulnerable to chafing from pack straps.
This shirt is tank top style but the wider shoulder straps are compatible with a backpack.
It's called the Salomon XA Tank Top.
This lovely Henerala Racerback tank top from Title Nine comes in a variety of sizes and colors:
Or size up this sleeveless shirt and short combo. It is available only at this female owned and operated outdoor clothing company!
The examples of trail worthy shirts above will give you an idea of how you can layer these shirts, too:
Can a woman ever have too many hiking jackets in her trail wardrobe??
Some women are crazy about jewelry. Me? I'm crazy about hiking jackets. They're my favorite piece of hiking clothing.
And it's not because I'm vain!
So let's start with a worst case scenario: a rainy day on the trail.
Here's how to choose a great rain jacket for your outer layer of weather protection.
Lots to like about this REI Rainier rain jacket.
It has a low price point for all the features you get:
This jacket is a more technical rain choice.
It's a GORETEX breathable shell, so layer beneath it for warmth.
Available in plus sizes as well.
A question that comes into the Hiking For Her mailbox quite often is about using fleece as an outer layer.
You can rely on fleece jackets keep you warm when temperatures dip into the thirties and below.
Fleece maintains some body warmth while wet, but don't rely upon it as rock solid rain gear.
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:
Also look for taped seams and zippers that are managed with ease when your hands are cold.
These are examples of good hiking jackets found at REI.
By the time you read these words, they may have been marked down, or replaced with something similar. It's all part of the hunt for great hiking clothing.
If you get a "no longer available" message? Click the "shop similar products" link and you'll see more great examples of hiking jackets. (It's tough to keep up with REI's ever changing inventory.)
Look for a snug hood like this one to block wind and help keep your face and ears warm.
An insulated jacket eliminates the need for a mid layer, but if it's roomy enough you can always add that vest!
Be sure to choose a jacket that fits your arm length but accommodates your layering system.
Wait for end-of-season sales if you can, and score a fabulous jacket with all of those bells and whistles.
the sticker shock of a warm jacket just might be detrimental to your
Or make it easy:
Windproof jackets (a review) like these options, are worn over your layering system. This keeps you toasty warm while the wind howls.
A few things to note about each:
Note the adjustable hood on this Columbia Flash Forward jacket. It's perfect for keeping your face, ears and neck well protected.
It's hip length, with a draw cord waist to further capture your body heat.
Here's a different style for day hikes:
This windbreaker is lightweight. Yet it's able to stop a cold breeze or light rain from stealing your body heat.
The zippered pockets are deep enough for hand warming, and the pretty print is also a plus on this jacket.
Take a close look at this jacket for rugged conditions! In unpredictable weather patterns, 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.
Look at the features that shield your delicate skin from cold wind. They include flaps, guards and gusseted underarm panels.
How about some general purchasing tips for your jacket quest? Here they are!
Look for these important features in your wind proof hiking jacket:
Go for a looser fit.You will be pulling this jacket out of your pack and whipping it on super fast when the wind whips up.
Of course, there will be days when you don't need a jacket at all!
Please don't overlook or dismiss the versatility of mid layer vests.
Throw one in your backpack for all seasons on the trail.
Fleece vests are my favorite mid layer of hiking clothing for snowshoeing!
You can also use them as a midlayer when starting out on summer trails early in the morning.
This is the vest I recommend: Patagonia Classic Synchilla Fleece Vest.
It's made of 100% recycled, double sided polyester fleece.
Not a fan of fleece?
Use a thin down vest like this one instead.
Let's call out some features:
What's not to love?
If you're in a hurry, here are all the details on how to choose hiking hats.
Hats are an example of hiking clothing that lets your personality shine through.
So many styles and colors - which is right for you?
As a hiking woman, consider 2 things over and beyond your personality:
A ponytail or bun will make your hat fit funny.
Here's the fix: pull the tail out through the back of the hat.
So before we look at hats, let's consider hiking headbands that keep your hair out of your face.
Ever try a "ponytail headband"? You pull your ponytail through a hole in the back, to accomplish 2 things: warm ears, and a tidy tail.
Here's the one I use.
And a cozy headband to cover your ears on a frigid day on the trail sounds good, doesn't it!
I stash one in the top pocket of my backpack, or my jacket pocket, so I can don it or store it as needed.
Stretch fleece ear bands like this one are ideal to keep body heat where it belongs. They don't block sound, a good safety feature.
And they don't feel constraining.
Here's another choice, only $10 in lightweight cotton/spandex. So easy to stash in a jacket pocket!
Even if you have short hair, a big hat will bump the back of your pack with each step - definitely annoying.
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?
I have many different hats, all chosen after much trial (trail?) and error, to cover the range of weather possibilities:
Here's Outdoor Research's Seattle Sombrero for your viewing (and trail) pleasure.
From an admitted hat enthusiast, here are more examples of worthy hiking hats. Please consider adding them to your hiking clothing repertoire.
This is one of my favorite hats: KUHL Uberkuhl Cap.
It's adjustable without catching your hair in the back.
And its broad brim blocks UV rays from your eyes and face.
Get even more serious about face and neck protection with Outdoor Research Oasis sombrero style hat, with UPF 50 fabric and a long cord to keep it in place in the wind.
The brim contains foam, so it stays in place to shade you.
A beanie style head cover is a smart choice for underneath a jacket hood.
This one rolls up small, but traps a lot of heat on your head and feels good over your ears.
Speaking of ears!
Full ear coverage on a sunny day is important if your skin is sensitive to burning.
This hat has you covered, plus the flaps are detachable.
Maybe we're having way too much fun with hiking hats.
On to the next piece of hiking clothing to add to your gear list!
Here's 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!
Bandannas (a full explanation) are my 11th Essential.
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.
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.
Need some examples of what's on the market?
This pair of hiking gloves is nice because it won't weigh you own: Seirus Xtreme Hyperlite gloves.
Remove the bulky mittens to make gear adjustments. You won't compromise hand warmth or dexterity.
Versatile, too. Use them as liners beneath those heavy duty mittens I mentioned.
These are Black Diamond 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.
This is a common question for beginner hikers, so let's answer it.
Your favorite pair of jeans are a comfortable choice for daily activities.
But they will work against you on the trail.
And let's answer the most important question you can ask about wearing cotton jeans on a hike.
Cotton traps moisture against your skin. And it is reluctant to release it.
That makes wet cotton heavy and soggy.
This doesn't sound like such a tragedy when you're in your own backyard mowing the grass, or on a run around a local park.
You can change out of that soggy pair of jeans, or shirt, in a jiffy!
But when you're on a hiking trail, you want moisture wicking materials to channel it away from your skin.
And you don't want your hiking fabrics to hold onto the odors of perspiration and trail dirt, do you?
As a hiker, it pays big dividends in comfort and safety to avoid cotton in hiking clothing.
Make time to seek out the best hiking clothing made from the best fabrics for hikers.
And now you know exactly how to do that, by using this guide!
Whew! We covered a lot of territory in this Hiking For Her hiking clothing guide.
And you hung in there with me!
But you may be wondering if there are any other things you need to know about how to shop for women's outdoor clothes.
Like this question...
What do you do when faced with the bewildering array of women's hiking clothing?
You can buy brand name hiking apparel from trusted sources. That's what this guide is about.
You can troll the bargain bins and discount deals of online outlets and gear companies.
You can sign up for Hiking For Her's weekly email updates.
However you choose to shop, now you know!
Hiking clothes have special features you need to pay attention to for comfort on the trail.
Because who wants to hike in less than the best hiking clothing?
As a member of REI Co-op in the U.S., you're going to receive member rewards that save you money and time.
REI helps you learn new things and travel to new places.
It provides events where you can meet some trail buddies.
And so much more.
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.
Hiking For Her firmly believes in making things easy.
What could be easier than free hiking clothing? Durable, moisture wicking, and designed for women!
Check the HFH giveaways each month. You might see a chance to enter to win some fabulous active wear. It will transition easily onto the trail, and off again, because it's built that way.
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 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.
There are DO and DON'T rules for what to wear hiking, and I've summarized them right here for you!
Women's Best Hiking Clothing
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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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