by Diane Spicer
The best hiking clothing functions as valuable pieces of hiking gear to protect you from UV exposure, moisture, temperature extremes, trail grit, and/or bugs.
All this, while looking good on the trail!
As women hikers, we want cute hiking clothes and fun hiking outfits for trekking, walking, day hikes and backpacking.
Can a cute outfit for hiking be both attractive and highly functional for a female hiker's ambitious trail plans?
Let's find out, using this comprehensive Hiking For Her outdoor clothes guide to decide what to wear as a hiker.
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.
Let's take a look at recommendations for hiking clothing essentials in each big category of hiking attire.
Only what has been shown to work over decades of trail time is shared with you here, because that's how trail sisters roll!
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" is up to you ;)
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 I consider boots 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 highly recommended by Hiking For Her.
These KEEN Targhee III Mid boots are comfortable right out of the box, 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 roots and rocks.
Can you see the difference at a glance? Boots give ankle support along with more cushioning for arches. Trail shoes give you a lighter footprint and more breathing room, literally.
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.
Here's a good combo: REI Co-op silk liner socks paired with their CoolMax midweight hiking crew socks.
This rule can be flagrantly broken 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.
If you're on a trail with frequent shallow water crossings, lashing a pair of lightweight sandals like these Teva Tirra sandals to your backpack will save a lot of frustration.
You can always go with the workhorse of durable water shoes: classic crocs like these with huge drainage holes.
But I thought we were going for cute ;)
Now that we have firm footing, let's get dressed from the skin outward!
Be methodical about choosing hiking underwear that will 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 when you're a hiker tackling serious trail.
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.
Cotton doesn't do all that for you.
Here are some great choices to keep you covered:
Sizes XS - XXL, and lots of colors in these ExOfficio Give-N-Go Bikini Briefs that wash and wear easily.
This hipster style covers the area where your backpack hip belt hits, for additional protection against chafing.
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 to size up your perfect bra for hiking, Title Nine has got you covered.
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.
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 that I know from experience work well on the trail.
The easy-on back design and breathability make this Brooks Juno sports bra a good choice for backpacking. And the adjustable front straps make it even better.
The sizing of this Fiona bra from Brooks, plus the ability to adjust it both front and back, make it a good bet that you will find your best fit: 30AB up to 38CD-40C.
Here's a Brooks Uplift Crossback bra for cup sizes C & D, with contoured cups to hold you in place and preserve your modesty in sweat soaked shirts.
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 just as you would on a backpacking trip.
Or at least 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 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 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, with casual and 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 are available in petite, regular and plus sizes, with multiple color choices.
Fast drying stretchy and lightweight nylon fabric, color coded leg zippers for fast on and off, and reinforced cuff backs to minimize abrasive.
If you hike and backpack through a lot of abrasive terrain or vegetation, and 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.
But now that you've seen my top picks for women's hiking pants, you might be wondering how they got on the Hiking For Her list.
Here are the features to keep in mind when you shop for the best hiking pants like these.
Zippers are a hiking woman's friend, in all of their many configurations. Let's call them out:
Zippers running horizontally above the knees, to allow a quick conversion into shorts when the day heats up, make versatile hiking clothing that lightens the load on a backpacking trip.
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, allowing you to pull pants on or off quickly, 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 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.
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.
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 rotation 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, 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?
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 pack, yet give some peace of mind if you're not exactly sure what the day will bring.
OK, back to our list of hiking clothing essentials...
Let's say a few words about the best women's hiking shorts because they're a good 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?
If you stick to established trails and are 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.
There is one company who has skirts dialed in for women hikers:
SkirtSports has a full line of outdoor active skirts.
Hop over there and take a look at all of your choices!
And how fun are these tights?
Pull them on under your skirt for cool mornings and dewy evenings. They're called Triple Pocket, a hint that you'll have plenty of room for stashing small items as you hike or go for a trail run.
Sizes: XS - XXL
Hiking shirts: lots of options!
Before we get into recommendations, 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 a hiker puts trail clothing through - it tends to fade and get misshapen.
However, it feels great in hot desert conditions if you know you have clean clothing to change into at the end of the hike. So don't rule it out completely.
Long sleeved shirts for cold weather 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 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, giving you an array of hiking clothing options.
This ExOfficio BugsAway shirt has so many nice features:
Sure, I use sleeveless shirts ("tank tops") 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.
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, 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:
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!
So let's start with worst case scenario: a rainy day on the trail.
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.
A question that comes into the Hiking For Her mailbox quite often is about fleece as an outer layer.
Fleece jackets keep you dry and toasty when the temperatures dip into the thirties and below AND it's dry.
Fleece maintains some body warmth while wet, but don't rely upon it as rock solid rain gear.
Lots to like about this REI Rainier rain jacket.
It's a low price point for all of 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.
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 will work easily when your hands are cold.
These are examples of 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, just click the "shop similar products" link and you'll see more great examples of hiking jackets with these features. (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 may eliminate the need for a mid layer, but if it's roomy enough you can always add that vest!
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 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 Columbia Flash Forward jacket will keep 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 but 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, 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 purchasing tips for your jacket quest?
Look for these important features in your wind proof hiking jacket:
Go for a looser fit, because you will be pulling this jacket out of your 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!
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, and for 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?
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?
As a hiking woman, consider 2 things over and beyond your personality:
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.
So before we look at hats, let's consider hiking headbands.
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.
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 help keep body heat where it belongs, and they don't feel constraining.
Here's another choice, only $10 in lightweight cotton/spandex and 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 and every 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 the hats you should consider adding 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!
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!
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?
This pair of gloves is nice because it won't weigh you down: Seirus Xtreme Hyperlite gloves.
Remove the bulky mittens to make gear adjustments without compromising hand warmth or dexterity.
Versatile, too: these can be used 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.
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, highlighting the best bargains for female hikers.
However you choose to shop, now you know that hiking clothes have 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?
As a member of REI Co-op in the U.S., you're going to receive member rewards that save you money and time, help you learn new things and travel to new places, 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 that is durable, moisture wicking, and designed for women!
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!
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.
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.
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