What To Wear Hiking:
A Dilemma
For Women Hikers

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

Looking for ways to solve that vexing dilemma of what to wear hiking?

Cut to the chase with this handy Hiking For Her

What To Wear Hiking infographic.

What to wear hiking is a nagging question for women hikers. Make your hiking clothing decisions easy with this infographic from Hiking For Her.

Need more details, maybe some specific recommendations of the stuff that fits well and looks good?

Who doesn't!

Every woman hiker has stood in front of her closet or chest of drawers and asked herself how to choose hiking clothes for a great day on the trail.

It's a dilemma on three levels:

  • You want durable, protective hiking clothing that stands up to the mud, dust, rocks, roots and brush on the trail.
  • You want to stay warm but not too warm, dry under all conditions, and as comfortable on the way back to the trail head as you felt during the first few minutes on the trail.
  • And you want to dress for a hike without sacrificing style: you want to look good in your hiking attire!

Solving the
what to wear hiking

I get all kinds of email from women wondering which pieces of athletic clothing to purchase for their hiking plans.

And when I write back, I always ask them two questions:

1. How long have you been hiking?

Most hikers sort themselves into three categories:

  • Beginner: never been hiking or only on a few hikes
  • Intermediate: several seasons of hiking in moderate conditions
  • Hard core: hike every week, year round, rain or shine in all kinds of terrain

2. How much money do you want to spend?

Typical answers I hear:

  • The bare minimum to get me onto the trail
  • A modest amount for a functional piece of hiking clothing
  • As much as it takes for a performance piece of athletic clothing that will last for many seasons of hiking

So what do I tell them?

I'm happy to share with you what I recommend to women hikers who ask me what to wear hiking, right here on this page.

That will save you the time and energy of emailing me, right?

To quickly give you an answer to your hiking attire questions, I'll group my suggestions into these categories (based on the questions I asked above):

  • Low cost hiking wardrobe essentials for beginning hikers
  • Moderate cost functional pieces of hiking clothing that will last for several seasons
  • High end performance athletic wear for hikers who are in it for the long haul

All of this clothing is something I myself have purchased and worn on daily training walks, hiking trips, day hikes and backpacking adventures over the decades of trail time I've enjoyed.

Low cost clothing essentials
for beginning hikers

My assumption is that as a beginning hiker you will have modest hiking goals at first.

It's a good idea as a newbie to:

  • hike only in good weather.
  • use well maintained trails with modest amounts of elevation gain and loss.
  • stick with mileage in the 4 - 8 mile range per hike.
  • not tackle backpacking trips just yet unless you're with seasoned trail veterans.

If any of these assumptions don't fit your situation, drop down to the next category for recommendations on what to wear hiking.

My clothing recommendations
for beginner hikers

Start off with just a few basic pieces of hiking-specific clothing.

In fact, prioritize your purchases to just 3 things:

1. Sturdy, protective hiking trail footwear. I wear a pair like these Salomons:

X Ultra 2 low hiking shoes

2. Comfortable moisture wicking shirt:

REI Co-op Sahara long sleeve shirt for women

3. Non-binding shorts that wick moisture, similar to these.

You can start looking at a good pair of hiking socks, too.

Total cost: somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 US.

Moderately priced
functional hiking clothing
for intermediate hikers

As your hiking skill set expands, you're going to turn your attention from fashion and cost to something much more valuable to a woman hiker: performance.

You want pants that stand up to trail grit.

Jackets that block UV rays, wind, and moisture.

And hiking clothing that comes out looking great after many, many wash and dry cycles.

Alas! With enhanced performance comes an expansion in your hiking budget as well.

So be strategic about adding high quality hiking clothing to your gear closet.

Here's what I do: I make a wish list, and add one piece of durable, wicking or water proof hiking clothing to my repertoire every season.

Before you know it, you'll have plenty of versatile hiking clothing layers!

Mid-range athletic clothing suitable for rugged day hiking and short backpacking trips includes:

  • A water repellent jacket.
  • A versatile, sun protective long sleeve shirt with adjustable sleeve lengths.
  • A durable pair of hiking pants

Approximate cost: $175 US (less if you shop end-of-season)

High end
performance athletic wear
for women hikers

If you're a rabid, bleary eyed full speed ahead kind of hiker (no, wait - that's me...)

What I meant to say is that if you count yourself among the hikers who will hike in any weather, tackle any terrain, and smile in the face of sleet and hail, this category of hiking clothing is for you.

I have learned the very hardest lessons on the trail when my outer layers failed to keep me as dry as possible, and when my base layers and wet pants clung to me in a cold downpour.

It's moisture that you really need to pay good money to avoid.

Luckily, there are plenty of companies waiting to take your money. In return for high quality hiking clothing!

Here are the fundamental hiking performance pieces I use routinely, after years of trial and error:

It's hard to predict the total cost, and it doesn't matter because you're going to build this wardrobe slowly.

  • To speed up this process, ask for these items as gifts, or every week be sure to scour the REI outlet.

For more detailed information about the best womens athletic clothing for hiking, including underwear tips, go here.

Now you know
what to wear hiking

Blue sky, big mountains and an alpine lake outlet

Regardless of your level of hiking, you now have some idea of great hiking clothing to add to your gear locker.

Begin to think of hiking clothing as fundamental, important pieces of hiking gear.

  • Every bit as important as boots, backpacks and trekking poles.

Wear the right clothes on a trail, and you'll have a fantastic time!

Or at least be prepared for what Mother Nature tosses your way.

Send me your questions about what to wear hiking by using the Ask A Question link if you're still not sure how to hit the trail in style AND comfort.

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What To Wear Hiking

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  • You get high quality, trail tested products from reputable merchants, with no extra costs.
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Thanks for your support! It is deeply appreciated because it allows HFH to keep sharing the best hiking tips with all of our virtual trail buddies.

Female hiker leaning on boulders with hiking poles and backpack

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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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.

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